Compass Convos: DJ Ekin

Kodi Vonn

The People’s A&R

There’s no denying the field of DJ-ing has become over-saturated. The tech has improved and access to it is much easier than during the industry’s initial heyday. So it’s easy for amateurs to also mistake the craft as easy.

“Everybody now can be a DJ if they wake up in the morning,” says DJ Ekin, host of Tampa’s Hot 101.5 and Most Connected DJ.

Everything may not always go my way, but I'm beginning to see the #blessings around me more clearly. #tunnelvision #teamekin #hot1015 #tampa #djlife #warbyparker #bandbasher

A post shared by DJ Ekin (@djekin) on

The on-air personality broadcasts shows in Tampa, Milwaukee, and New York. He also hosts a series of online interviews, titled “MyPlace,” featuring artists such as The Chainsmokers, DJ Khaled, and Zendaya. Ekin maintains a close relationship with the industry and notes the changes taking place within it.

“You have celebrities now where their thing wasn’t working as much so they become DJs because it’s become this thing of, ‘I got the hottest songs in my computer. So if I drop them and you already wanted to see my celebrity, then I’m fine.’ ”

Ekin was raised in the Bronx—his father collected music, his brothers DJ-ed. Military ties helped Ekin get to the UK, where he landed his first professional music opportunity.

“If I had it to do all over again, I might not have come back. I might have just stayed over there, because I think the game in the UK is pretty dope,” says Ekin.

Similar to arguments being made about the present state of other industries—say, the NBA—the game isn’t what it used to be.

“I was brought up on you searched out the music. You kind of guided the people on what was hot,” Ekin says of the difference.

Yet Ekin has grown with the industry—taking up acting, writing, producing, and founding the youth nonprofit I Care About Me.

In Bandbasher’s sit-down with Tampa’s Most Connected DJ, we asked him his thoughts on the industry and his advice for music career hopefuls.

Office hours today w @tblightning @streetlacedpromo from 2p-5p! #djlife #tampa #streetlaceddjs #boltssocial #gobolts #yeezy #hot1015 #nhl #nevernotworking #hockey

A post shared by DJ Ekin (@djekin) on

Bandbasher: You’re known as Tampa’s Most Connected DJ. How did you earn that title?

DJ Ekin: Everyone wanted to be the #1 DJ or the Best DJ. My thing was, you’re only as good as the shots that you get. You’re only as good as the people who know you. So my plan was that no other DJ’s phone would get more calls than I got, or people would take more calls from that person.

I feel like my phone is quite heavy. When I make a call, people take it. That comes from doing good business too. I do what I say that I’m going to do.

Bb: How did you get the name DJ Ekin?

Ekin: Ekin actually comes from what used to be a strictly, solo love of Nike paraphernalia and a slight case of dyslexia.

Bb: What’s involved in being a DJ? What’s an aspect of it people don’t realize?

Ekin: I think the biggest aspect that people don’t realize—and I think even a lot of DJs now don’t realize it—that you’re actually the conductor of the party. I think now with the computer, everybody has access to MP3’s, and this same stuff that now people just walk in.

DJs need to get back to understanding this: Stop thinking your life depends on your last song. If you are working with a promoter or somebody who would fire you for the last song you played, then you’re probably not in the right place.

Because I can get a team, I can get flyers designed, and I can promote. But when we get to the turntables, most [promoters] can’t do that. So stop devaluing yourself.

Bb: Do artists email you links to their songs constantly? Do you automatically delete them?

Ekin: I think on average I’m getting 75 to 100 emails a day with songs and music in it. I respect that and I appreciate that because that means that people feel like I’m a tastemaker.

I will say for people who send those things though, and especially new artists, don’t just spam us. Reach out, you know, build a relationship because nine times out of ten I’ve probably gotten the same song from five different people, but I may or may not open it.

But if you hit me and I know you and you [say], “I sent you this email,” our relationship is going to make me go back and open that one quicker or make me check it out.

Bb: From your perspective, what does it take to become successful in the music industry?

Ekin: Everybody who’s in the industry who’s making it in some form or fashion told me this, “You have to believe in you first. Because if you start doubting yourself at any time, then where are you?”

Let’s look at Jay-Z. Nobody would sign Jay-Z. Then they went back and decided to do it on their own and now look at it.

The average artist is an overnight success in ten years. It’s overnight to you because you see it now. But there is a lot of work that goes into 21 Pilots. Look at Macklemore. I’m sure bunches of people said you don’t have it. And five million albums later he’s set for the rest of his life if he just chills.

Bb: How have you seen music and the industry change since you first started?

Ekin: When it comes to the industry, I think that slowly but surely the artists are really taking control back.

When I was first learning about music it was a lot about the artists. It was a lot about what the artist was doing. And then it became everybody’s life was ran by a label. And we just saw this year what Chance the Rapper did, and how he refuses to sign with a major label. And he won some Grammy’s. And his whole operation is independent.

#tbt to that time I rocked party shirts w the dude @wizkhalifa! 📸: @bdotscales #tampa #taylorgang #pittsburgh #djlife #fashion #zara #hiphop #atlanticrecords #hot1015

A post shared by DJ Ekin (@djekin) on

Bb: You talk to a lot of celebrities for your series MyPlace. How do you approach preparing for interviews?

Ekin: I think the biggest thing with me and interviews is I honestly feel like I belong there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan first off of the industry and I’m also a fan of people in the industry.

I will ask anything that I feel is relevant. But I also am not looking to make a YouTube clip or embarrass people in our interview. But I feel like I would be doing a disservice to the people that are watching me if I don’t ask the real questions.

To use the catchphrase, I just be me and be real. When I sat with 50, I’m a fan of 50 but it became two dudes just hanging out. He was real. He was straight with me.

Bb: Have you had a moment where you said to yourself, “I finally made it”?

Ekin: Nah. Hm-mm. Because I want so much. There’s so many things that I want to accomplish still to this day. There’s so many things that go through my head everyday. And then you look at people like Jay-Z, like Diddy, or like Oprah. You watch where they started from and the things that they’ve accomplished and you’re like, there’s a lot more to be done.

Bb: Who are some of your favorite recording artists?

Ekin: I’d have to say people that aren’t here, like Michael Jackson and Prince. They made music that, to me, lasts to this day.

It’s not that I don’t respect a lot of people that are out now. I do. I’m a big fan of Jay-Z. Honestly, what’s crazy is I’m a big fan of Treach from Naughty by Nature. I’m a big fan of Drake; I’m not going to lie about that. I’m a big fan of J. Cole.

A lot of the music I hear now, I’m not sure if I’m going to want to run that back in ten years at a party.

Bb: What keeps you busy nowadays?

Ekin: What’s keeping me busy nowadays is I don’t think that I’m finished. I think I got a lot more to learn. I think I got a lot more that I want to do and I’m far from finished.

I think what’s happening to me too is that I’m maturing in where I want to be in the game. At first it was all about “Oh my god, they know me. Oh my god, I’m spinning. They know me.”

Now it’s way more about the business and it’s about what I can offer to the next set of people behind me.

I think that’s come way more into play. I think I’m far from finished but I think this next twelve to eighteen months is going to be special. I think so.

Edited for length and clarity.
Header/Cover Image via Facebook / DJ Ekin