At the youthful age of 29, Gardena, CA native Ronald Turner II, gives insight on having a career as a disc jockey which has taken him from collegiate parties to international events in Ghana.
LAS: We live in a society where many people just use a playlist on their iphone and call themselves a DJ. What’s your advice for those aspiring to get into the profession?
DJR: It’s true now a days people are using their phones, tablets, and computer apps to DJ. I still think its best to have a mixer and turn tables as opposed to a controller because it feels most authentic and you get the most respect that way. Even people who aren’t DJs will come up to you and say, ‘whoa, you have real vinyl.’ Going into a club, you can take a controller but you may not get hired as often or reach the same levels.
Beyond whatever tools you’re using, know your music; know how to read the crowds. You have to know how to adjust your sound on the fly, that’s the key to being a great DJ. Before you start booking gigs, do your research by listening to other DJs. Go to a dive bar, EDM (electronic dance music) party, an old school Motown club-whenever you hear songs that you’re not familiar with but the crowd loves, write it down and add it your mix. You might get a corporate gig playing Indian music or 70s disco or 80s Depeche Mode. Be prepared regardless of your audience.
LAS: What has been one of your biggest accomplishments as a DJ?
DJR: I’m the 2014 McDonalds Flavor Battle Champion. It started in November 2013 with twelve DJs from three regions. The first two rounds was based off internet votes. We had a one minute video clip of us DJing. I was then one of three finalists selected to go to New York. Judges were DJ Clue, Element, Spinderella, Just Blaze and Funk Flex was the host. One of the biggest challenges that they gave us forty songs that we had to use. They weren’t songs that are typically used in DJ battles so we have to be extremely creative. We had about a week with the songs and it took hours of preparation.
By having pre-selected music it leveled things out and put all of the competitors on the same playing field. Being a DJ is about making the crowd respond and being creative with whatever you have. The battle was challenging, it made me dig deep and it pushed me to my limits. I won the battle by two points, 84 to 82. It was a close call. I won $10,000 and I was the DJ for the McDonalds All American game in Chicago in March and I’ll be spinning at a couple upcoming conventions.
LAS: When you’re a new DJ, oftentimes, people want you to work for free. How do you begin to make this a business?
DJR: Early on, most DJs are going to have to work for free. I spent about $2,000 on my initial equipment which isn’t even a lot of money considering you could spend $10,000 for a mobile set. Initially I may barter that I would DJ for free but I had to get at least $50 for supplying all of my own equipment.
It’s about letting clients understand the costs you would incur if, for example your speaker blew out during a gig I would have to get it fixed, on top of not getting paid, I’m losing money to please a client.
You also start to charge based on demand. I may get double booked or have multiple offers for the same night so you have that leverage to say someone else is willing to pay for the service you want for free.
To get to a point where you can do corporate gigs, festivals and even weddings you have to do research to know what market prices are then negotiate; because without the music there would be no party. You have to know your value and the more experience you have you learn how to talk to people and make certain requests. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get paid up front, but if you wait until the end of the night, you’ve already done your job and people can try not to pay you. So it’s best to have contracts in place.
LAS: How has your college education at FAMU (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) helped you in your career?
DJR: My decision to go to FAMU is because my entire family attended the university. The last time we counted, about forty relatives were alumni. I had other options but I just felt the most conformable continuing the legacy. Being there is what made me decide to take up DJing. Prior to college I was just producing. I didn’t start DJing until the end of my tenure in college because I wasn’t hearing music that represented LA or anywhere other than the south.
I always planned to attend college and major in music but I ended up studying computer science. My dad suggested majoring in something other than music so I could find a job that could support my entertainment aspirations.
College gave me a major advantage; it gave me my network. A lot of people try to reference that Bill Gates or Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs didn’t graduate college but they still went at least for a year and that was the start of their careers. Even now, many of my out of state gigs are because I have friends from FAMU across the nation. Going to college and taking classes like marketing also helped me to learn other business skillsets.