Some people say that they can almost tell what you will play so they know that if you play this song, you will play such and such song afterwards. They know your style. Well the thing is on one hand that’s good but then on the other hand that’s when you know it is time to change. So I listen to those comments and I don’t take it as an insult. The unique thing with me as to other DJs is that people who listen to me every day, even though I don’t play like the mixes (as I make it a point not to), there are some songs that just literally go together. For example, if you play ‘Pop a bottle’, you will probably want to play ‘Circles’ right after. Because the songs have a similar energy to them, you want to keep the hype so you go with a certain progression of music. People who listen to the mixes over and over again, even though in a whole hour set they were three mixes that were similar to a mix that I have done, the comment will be ‘I feel like I know what he will play next’. And that’s what happens. But there is statistically absolutely no way I can play exactly like my mix. For a few reasons. One, I make it my business to try not to. Two, I can’t really predict what DJs are going to play before me so there is no way I know what I am going to do before I go on stage. I don’t really plan. Three, I’ve done mixes for so many years, which mix in particular are you talking about? [laughter]
Also, every single major DJ in the world will have a signature that they do. There’s a transition, there are certain things that I will do. So if people think that they are hearing a song that comes after in that way, let’s say I take an acapella of a song and then I mix something else with it, it’s because I am doing my signature stuff. The signature transitions are the things that make you stand out so that if anyone else does it, they will say ‘aw that’s Private Ryan’s mix’. There is a science to it. You will hear sometimes ‘yo that DJ was legit trying to play like Private Ryan’ and it has happened to me before.
How do you get songs? Do promoters and artists send you music? Yes, over time especially now with soca. I play everything but I am at this point where soca artists sometimes send me the songs even before release to get my opinion. I am very honest whether I like a song or not. And a lot of the times I have been spot on. For example, Differentology (I heard the demo and personally messaged Bunji to tell him he had to record it as it was going to be huge), the Antilles Riddim, I told Teddyson John ‘Allez’ was going to be big so I started playing this song. I listen to it for the content, the lyrics and melody and even if it doesn’t have lyrics, is it catchy? Is it something people will like? Artists send me music but I also subscribe to a number of record pools, websites. As a DJ you subscribe to be a member for a period of time and you have unlimited access to high quality music. So I am able to legally download music and have my collection updated. But the research process for me is very long as I just don’t research soca. I research dancehall, hip hop, afro beats, zouk. Because the podcasts, what they do is that they introduce people to music so I will always try to inject something different so people ask what song is this.
How easy it to read the crowd? Or do you come with pre planned sets? Well I don’t pre plan my sets. I come from the era of vinyl and turn tables, there is no way that you could plan out, you would have to be able to adapt to the situation. Now technology has taken us to a place where Serato (which is a program which 90% of DJs use) is a hub for all the music but it doesn’t not mix it for you. You can get it quick and you can play. Reading the crowd is a skill. To able to connect with the pulse of the people is something not all DJs have. But really good DJs are able to take you from the place where you are at and draw you into their world. That is what separates the average DJs from the really good DJs. There is something about when that DJ comes on. What is it that he or she is able to do that gets the people so hyped and when you come off… you know? Reading the crowd for me is not difficult. For me before I go on I like to be in the crowd. And I think what will make me move right now? I like to connect with people I listen to what they are saying. I’ll hear if a woman is saying ‘Oh I wanna hear so and so and nobody is playing it’ or a guy might make some comment. You know you are able to pick up on things and you think ‘alright, I know what I have to do’.
Are there any DJs you rate? On the Caribbean circuit sure, quite a few. Back to Basics and Ringo from New York, DJ Puffy from Barbados, DJ Stephen for being an ambassador of soca music, Black Chiney Walshy and that crew, DJ Vice, DJ Jazzy Jeff. I’m a fan of a lot DJs. These are the DJs I look up to. They are different and not afraid to take risks.
It has been said that songs or soca from certain or the smaller islands don’t get that much airplay. What do you make of that? It’s about timing. The thing is I always try to find the songs from the islands and introduce them and usually try to introduce them in my Miami carnival mix cause by that time most of the carnivals have past and the wave of soca that has come out of the summer time is now fresh. So there will be a lot of crop over music, music from Grenada, Antigua, St.Lucia, some new releases from Trinidad. What might happen with DJs, they might draw for the immediate response songs such as ‘Cheers for life’ but will not experiment with the others. That is not all DJs. When you come to Notting Hill Carnival where so many islands are represented you have to know how to play for the other islands. It is not just Trinidad, other islands exist and you have to learn how to appreciate them as well.
What has been your best country or city to play with and what has been their response? I believe every place has been it’s own magic. I’ll use Barbados and Grenada as examples. Playing in both of them is totally different in terms of the people and the type of energy that they give you. But it doesn’t mean they are having less fun. It is what it is. In people’s response to me, it is consistent across the board in the sense that people who are fans, who are sceptics and people who are new to the brand, for the most part they walk away with a good experience. But I am always looking for feedback. I want to make sure the promoters are happy, I want to know how can I am improve.
Are there any particular countries that are harder to play for? For example perhaps the creole speaking countries? The only thing that makes it harder to play in these countries is the language barrier. When you deal with a party of full French speaking people and you are English you have to find a way to communicate with them. So if you don’t have a working knowledge of how to speak and communicate with them you are going to be lost. Some of my biggest supporters come from the French Caribbean; Martinique, Guadeloupe.
So how do you work with that? Do you have support? Yes and they know English so they know what to say. But even me. I know what to say when so if it is a situation that I am by myself for a gig I can communicate. I am always learning. It is never late to learn something new.
How do you deal with the criticism and negativity, haters that comes your way? One thing you learn is that part of success is that inevitable result. There are people in this world that just exist to bring down anything that is successful. They will say negative things about you, they will criticize you especially as people praise you, they will find your faults. And you just have to let that slide off your back. You have to use that as motivation. Sometimes if you have someone that says, I don’t find that he played that well live, you could actually sift though the bu*****t and find some truth. You might look at yourself and say maybe I could do things a little different. But then there are some who just hate and they say things which are unfounded. You have to deal with criticism at this level.
Find out more about DJ Private Ryan and what he has to say in in Part Three!