DJ ROXY COTTONTAIL OWNS THE NIGHT
DJ Roxy Cottontail has spent the last decade breaking new talent, throwing the best parties in NYC, and, of course, stoking dancefloors worldwide by DJing for crowds Vegas, Hong Kong, Barcelona, New York and Tokyo–all while collaborating with punk and hip-hop legends like Iggy Pop and Afrika Bambaataa, and creating some of the most energizing music along the way (Kate Moss? Such a fun track). In short, this bunny’s got bounce. So who else would we turn to for advice on DJing and general running-the-streets when it comes to nightlife? Read on for Roxy’s tips on how to get started in DJing, the business of being a musical artist and why it’s important to surround yourself with creative and uplifting peeps.
When you were in high school, were there any signs that music would be a career path for you?
I sang and played guitar as a kid. My mom is a music teacher–she retired after 33 years. She tried to teach me guitar, but there was no way I wanted to learn from her. I was 15 or 16 when I got guitar lessons. But my mom always wanted to teach me but I didn’t take lessons from her until later, until after I was comfortable. I started the band, The Fox Deluxe, when I was 15.
We played mostly high school battle of the bands kind of stuff. We played a valentines day dance maybe once and some beach parties. I’m still good friends with the guy who managed us.
Fast forward to you out of school and in NYC: you promoted for other people’s club nights and helped discover other artists. When did you decide to DJ? What made to you take that leap?
I’ve been obsessed with music from such a young age–it’s in my blood. And I’ve always had my ear in music so I kinda feel like that’s a big part of it. But I was really inspired by my first roommate, Justine, who did these really amazing legendary parties called Motherfucker. She really gave me the mindset of, “wow, I can really be a successful female promoting music and DJing out and having fun.”
So I decided to DJ and start doing it for myself around 2005. I started working with this guy Bugsy and doing weekly events with him. He was like, “You should start DJing.” I have this record collection of rare Baltimore club records, punk record, new wave, ‘80s, house, old school, hip hop. I started on vinyl and basically I was like, ‘Can I come practice when you guys are stocking the bar before the event?’ and he was like, ‘Of course you can.’ So thats really where it took off for me. I was surrounded by so many guys and was booking so many guys, I thought, “this is something I can easily do.” And I really do enjoy it and I love being a ham.
How much time did it take practicing behind the decks before you felt ready to go out and rock a crowd?
It took probably two years of spinning on vinyl. Then I had to make the leap to Serato (DJ software) if I wanted to be a traveling DJ. So I did that around 2007. It’s a whole other type of DJing, along with CDJ. You can come to a club with a USB in your pocket and spin a 2 or 3 hour set.
How did you make it from a DJ who was practicing to one who got booked to play at parties and in clubs?
I would open up one of Bugsy’s clubs called Soho 323. I would do opening sets there until I felt comfortable to headline something. It was just a Thursday night weekly party of mine. But then I started getting booked because people would come hear me.
As a new DJ, did you ever deal with that little voice in your head that maybe said you weren’t ready yet? If so, how did you deal?
I had this really strange conflict at first. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh I’m booking myself, when I know so many talented DJs.’ I don’t know why I had issues with that. I was like I don’t want to book myself outside of Thursdays. I want to wait for someone else to bring parties to me and it did happen. I guess I thought about putting myself on (to play) and people judging me for it. But I didn’t let that stop me.
It’s awesome that you promoted your own talent, along with people’s talents, too. What aspects of being a working and touring DJ do people not really know about?
You think that being an artist is really easy, but its also a business too. Music is my art, my medium. I don’t think a lot of people realize you’re going to have to do math and look out for your longevity. I think it could come across that being a rock star is an easy thing. I learned from others peoples mistakes–watching artists and DJs careers launch. Sometimes you do have to sign the bad deals to get good deals, and I’m still learning. But I love it.
What’s the most rewarding part of DJing for you?
I love to bring to bring people together. I was doing this Monday night party for seven years called Sway–It changed a lot of peeps lives. I know a lot of couples that met there. I know a lot of talent that was discovered there. I know people that were introduced and started working together–just because of this Monday night party in which I brought all these different creative people together. It became synonymous and I miss that. But I’m still doing in New York, but I miss that weekly home. After seven years I had to really love all the talent that I booked there. And that’s what makes it even more amazing. It was a place for me,iIt was my living room. New York is small– I don’t have a living room, so… (laughs). It was all these artists I believed in and DJs and music it was just legendary. When I started it, I didn’t realize how impactful it would be and how long it would run.
How have you dealt with any failure in your career, and if so, how did you rise above it?
I’ve been really trusting of people in the past. And they haven’t taken my career in a direction I wanted to go. I learned a lot from it. You have to have those downs to know and focus on where it is you’re intending to go.
If a girls wants to start DJing, what are the first steps she can take to get going and what steps can she take to build a career in the field?
If you have a friend that has equipment, set up practice sessions. If you have access to a club, you can practice while the staff is setting up. Getting lots of music is a good start. Come up with a name and a brand that you connect to. Music in general is a passionate thing, you have to really be behind you’re putting out there. I think having a website, youtube page or SoundCloud page–some type of place where you can upload stuff to–is good as well.
How much time should a girl dedicate to practicing when she’s first learning to DJ?
It depends how much time you have, but I would give yourself a few days a week to practice. If you think about how much you’d like to be working–say you want to be working (DJing out) 5 nights a week you should be practicing that much. Also, determine what kind of music you want to play, whether you want to be an open format DJ (if you want to play everything) or if you just love house or you just love reggae. Whatever it is you prefer. You should figure out what you like to play, And sometimes when you’re in a different crowd, it changes: like you might start loving to spin disco for a crowd you didn’t know existed that would like it.
Recommend a girl learn on vinyl then go digital?
They’re about to discontinue Technique 1200s. I actually want to switch to CDJ. I feel like that’s a good reason why I should switch to CDJ and you should learn CDJ. It’s a very different european style of DJing. They don’t use vinyl over there–it’s very rare. I feel like that’s where the future is. You can come to a club with a USB in your pocket and spin a two or three-hour set. I do Cerrado also, but there’s a lot of other programs too.
Learning on vinyl is valuable because you really have to feel the music in order to mix it well. With digital applications you can look at a computer screen and mix records but with regular vinyl you don’t have the visual ability, unless you put cue points on your records. I think it’s good (to learn on vinyl) if you have access to it, but investing in vinyl and the gear is a lot of money. I definitely appreciate the art of just hearing it opposed to just seeing a computer screen because I feel like it separates you from the audience a lot and that’s not what DJing is about. It can put a wall up. It’s also created rockstar DJs now.
What about self-promotion–how does that play into getting going and booking gigs?
Twitter, some type of SoundCloud or website are all good. But also, I think trying to work with people you respect is important too. Find other people who love music–other artists and musicians that you can throw parties with.
What about managing all the bookings and stuff. Do DJs need managers?
I’ve been managing myself off and off since I began. I had a couple different managers. But whether you manage yourself or have someone else do it, I think it’s about knowing what you want and not compromising yourself.
How have mentors played a role in your DJ career or when you were promoting?
I’ve had a lot of great mentors from fashion to graffiti to nightlife to dinner theater. I was the late night coordinator at Joe’s Pub in 2005. This woman, Fiona Bloom, had the job she was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ So she handed it to me and this other guy. I didn’t have the skills to do it. At the time I had just started my career in throwing parties–it was a lot of trust for them.
Any additional advice for the girl wants to be promoter, DJ or work in the nightlife industry–even just to find out whether that’s something she’d love to do?
Get an in internship with a nightclub to see how the business is run or work with some kind of publicist, or even intern for another DJ.
Look for good people who are doing good business–that’s what I like to do. There there are some scumbags and in the music industry. Some people don’t go by their word, so it’s a learning lesson. And that happens anywhere. Theres not just shady people not just in music in any business.