You may or may not know DJ Vice, but in case you don’t, you might recognize his track “The World is Our Playground,” which has been featured in Bud Light’s latest “Up For Whatever” campaign videos.
Vice, who recently dropped the “DJ” from his name, has been DJing professionally for over 20 years. He was recently ranked No. 11 on America’s Best DJ list. Along with being a resident DJ at some of the world’s hottest nightclubs including Marquee, Create and Encore Beach Club, Vice has also played sets at prominent music festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and Nocturnal Wonderland.
In addition to his musical abilities, Vice is also a businessman. Whether it’s his approach to creating music or his philosophy on dealing with other people, there are lessons to be learned for anyone seeking success, no matter the industry.
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Vice over the phone. We discussed his rise to success and why breaking rules lead to innovation
You’ve been in the industry for 20 years now. Every successful person goes through struggle. Tell us what you’ve struggled most with.
“I feel the biggest struggle for myself is right now, where I’m at in my career. It sounds funny when people are like, ‘You made it,’ because I’m always continually pushing myself to step up to another level in my career. Right now, I’m in the transition between being known as a DJ to being known as a producer. So there’s a big difference between like, ‘Oh, that guy is a great DJ, he’s giving us great music, a great night and great energy,’ and being seen as someone who is, ‘Oh, this guy is an amazing producer, I love the song he produced.’ So I’m in that transitional phase where it’s definitely a struggle trying to be identified as both a producer as well as a DJ.”
You’ve dabbled in a lot of genres. Weren’t you primarily focused on hip-hop at one time?
“In my earlier days, hip-hop is what brought me to DJ. That’s what was the foundation of me getting into understanding what a turntable was and what a mixer was and how to mix records back and forth. It was hip-hop music and it was actually Run DMC’s “Peter Piper”; that was like the first piece of 12-inch vinyl that I really wanted to understand and mix and scratch and do tricks with and all that artform of DJing. So that’s what the foundation was, but once that opened a door, for me, I was a music lover overall so it was like, ‘Alright, well hip-hop is cool but what else can I mix?’ So at a young age I was already trying to blend my sister’s ‘80s records to my brother’s industrial pop music records.”
You have a philosophy where you don’t really believe in following specific rules when it comes to music. How did you develop this philosophy and do you believe that this rings true in the business world as well?
“I 100 percent believe that what I do reflects who I am. So as a producer, when I’m stepping into a studio working on a track, I’m not like, ‘Okay, let’s stick to the 128 bpm,’ and can’t get out of that beat, can’t get that tempo or can’t jump to a 100 bpm or can’t jump to 70 bpm. So I honestly try to just reflect my mood to every time I’m in the studio. I try to capture that into the track that I’m working on. Some days I’m walking to the studio stressed out and I may have a little bit of tension in me and it could reflect in the track being a little bit more aggressive and having more tempo to it. Or another day, like today for instance, I’m gonna head to the studio and I’ve knocked out yoga in the morning, I’m a little bit more at peace with myself, and the track might reflect more of a downtempo vibe of something of the more chill zone and be in the 70/80 bpm range and more melodic.
I also feel that now, more than ever, everyone listens to everything because they have everything at their fingertips. So when I wanna listen to some EDM music, it’s there. When I want to listen to some Drake and Wayne, it’s there. When I want to list to some chillout music, you don’t even have to know what chillstep is, we just type in ‘chillstep’ on the internet and you could probably find an internet radio station and start playing it. So now I feel that people jump genres as much as I do when I DJ.”
In a world where trends come and go at such a rapid pace, how do you stay relevant and create new trends?
“I definitely stay relevant because I do my research and see what’s going on. Whether it’s checking blogs and seeing what music is being released to going to shows and watching other DJs play, even to just travelling and knowing in different cities what records are working that I’ve never heard of. If I’m in Detroit, I meet up with the DJs and I exchange music with these guys. I’m constantly talking to DJs around the world and seeing what’s going on and trading music.
Another big advantage I have is I have a 16-year-old son that keeps me updated with these things and that lets me see not only what’s going on in music but sneakers and fashion as well. So that’s the next demographic of people that are gonna be definitely coming out.”
Does your son aspire to be anything like you? What advice in terms of business and life have you given him?
“He’s definitely not into the DJ game, which I’m cool with. He’s heavily sports-influenced, which I love because it keeps him active and outdoors which is rare for kids nowadays. But the lessons that I’ve been teaching him is just having really positive relationships with people and giving people respect from the first time you meet them with just a simple handshake and looking them in their eye and repeating their name and saying, ‘Nice to meet you,’ because in this industry you never know where people end up. I noticed you interviewed someone like Jesse Waits, for instance, and you see where he came from working as a VIP host to owning a nightclub. You never know where people are gonna go, and just a simple fact of being a positive person and showing people respect can always come back around and might be someone you’re going to work with in the future.
When I’m DJing, I am the person that would turn around and shake hands and make eye contact with people and talk with them. Or if they see me when they have one of my songs or even my podcasts on screen, I’ll recognize. I’ll try and recognize those people; even if you give them a second of your eye contact you know that you connect with someone and that goes a long way for that person to say, ‘Oh wow, you really saw me in the crowd. That was cool.’ I know how much it means because I was that fan before in a crowd watching those DJs play, and I still am!”
You’ve put together some great collaborations in the past, like your partnership with Tumi. How did you put them together?
“All these collaborations that I put out is myself seeking out the brand, which is very rare, because nowadays it’s brands trying to find an artist or DJ to try and attach their brand with. But I reverse it; I seek out brands that I am a fan of. Tumi was a luggage company that I highly respected and appreciated the quality of their products. So I reached out to them and explained to them who I am, what I do and how I use their products, and they were actually surprised at the fact that I used a Tumi backpack as a DJ backpack. So I kinda caught them off guard with that and it wowed them, so it pointed their attention towards me and let me explain to them how I could improve their backpack and make it even better for DJs to use. So that’s how the Tumi collaboration came about. From there, I’m a big fan of running certain products in limited editions, so I came up with the idea of only making 380 pieces of the product and specifically releasing it in selected markets.
So Tumi was kinda caught off guard with that too because they don’t usually do releases in that manner, so that was a new way to approach a global company, and it ended up working. We sold 380 bags out in four-and-a-half hours and it was at a price point of $500. They ended up going on eBay for double, which was even better.”
Many people stop hustling after they reach a level of fame and success, but it seems that even with your popularity rising, you’re still out hustling hard.
“I think it shows genuine brand connection. People have probably seen pictures of me travelling in the past or saw me in airports. Maybe they didn’t notice I have a Tumi bag and now that I have a collaboration it makes sense. It’s not like I’m gonna go out and do Samsonite, because I never would have a brand of Samsonite. So I always try to keep my brand connections as true as possible, and same thing, that’s how the Starter collaboration came about. I’ve always been a fan of Starter since I was in elementary school where I had Starter jackets or Starter hats so I seeked them out and did the same thing.”
You also have your own business. It’s called CRSVR (crossover) at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. What made you want to start that business?
“It came off of my love for sneakers which started in my early DJ days, so some of the first few vinyls that I had was maybe a Run DMC record where they had shell toe Adidas on. Another one I had was an EDE record. It’s a 12-inch and the backside had Eazy-E wearing some Jordan 3s. I saw those, and to me as a young kid, music and fashion are already connected in those pictures. So I started collecting shoes, and once my shoe addiction got pretty heavy, I realized I was spending money and having to wait for shoes. I realized I should try and figure out a way to start a business where I don’t have to wait for shoes, so I can get them early and I can get them cheap. That’s how it kinda started with the idea to start CRSVR (crossover) and to have a sneaker boutique where I could get the shoes that I really wanted and at the same time get them for other people and expose it to new markets. We started in Santa Barbara, California, and after three years of business we expanded to the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Now we have two store locations.”
Did you seek help from business people that have more experience or did you just dive right into it yourself?
“I just dove right in, and there was no retail experience at all between myself and my partner at that time. We basically just opened up blind and figured it out on the way, but the positive thing about that was we were in a smaller market, which is Santa Barbara, but we had no rules and we had no guidelines which led us to be kinda very creative and make our mistakes and learn as we go along, which I think is the reason we were able to eventually get into Las Vegas. We made so many mistakes and learned from that and we’re able to grow from it. I embrace mistakes every time they happen because it’s just a learning process that you have to go through to get stronger as a company.”
Congrats on getting your track featured in Bud Light’s “Up For Whatever” campaign! Tell us a little bit about the inspiration for the song.
“That song came about because I love to travel, and that song explains what we do as DJs and being able to bounce around from city to city, state to state, country to country. That song really just plain and simple says the world is a playground. I used it as that. Every time I go to different cities I take advantage of being in a new marketplace, whether it’s eating at a new restaurant to visiting a retail store to seeing what the fashion is like to playing at a new club that I am gonna DJ. So it really just kinda wraps up everything that I do and want.
I DJed an event for them and a lot of the big execs for them heard me play. They picked up a song that I produced and they said, ‘This is exactly what our brand is about. This is working to stay true to city to city, country to country, where we’re a fan of the music and we’ll use it for other up-and-coming campaign.’ And I had just finished DJing an event for them, and like I said, my relationships mean a lot to me and the people that were there, the way they treated me was amazing. So I was 100 percent into the brand affiliation with Bud Light.”
What is one thing about the EDM industry you would like changed? What do you think the future of EDM is?
“I would say, first and foremost for myself, is that there are no genre-based DJs anymore. I would love to just see people not have to stick with the format of what they are expected to play and be able to just go up and DJ. That’s what I do myself and I really embraced it because I feel that the next generation coming up is doing the same thing I’m doing. I keep mentioning genre bending; that’s what I call it, genre bending, which lets DJs just express themselves in any way they want. So I’m a big fan of that and I support that. I don’t expect to hear the biggest DJs play the same set over and over and over, so I would love to hear new and refreshing sets from DJs.
Where I see the EDM market going: I don’t see it going down; I see it expanding into different collaborations. Whether it be corporate America finally embracing the DJs as well as the festivals, to artists from hip-hop to rock to country to electronic music seeing what they can create that’s new and refreshing.
So at the end of the day, I love music. Music keeps me going and the more there is and the more new mixers to so many genres, I’m all for it.”
Tell us some exciting projects that you’re working on for the future.
“I just signed for Ultra records and I have a single coming out with them at the top of the year, 2015. I also have a single coming out on Dim Mak which is Steve Aoki’s label. It’s actually coming out October 17th — called ‘Everybody Go!’
On top of that, I’m in the beginning stages again working on my second collaboration with Tumi. I’m definitely excited and there’ll be more than 380 pieces this time. I got a little bit of flack from people saying, ‘There’s only 380, it’s sold out,’ so I’ve got to step up the units now.”
Follow VICE on twitter @DJVICE