I Was Going Blind Because Of My Work

At first, I thought it was the stress of a new job. Four months later my right eye was still blurry.

The doctors couldn’t figure it out – my eyes were acting as though I were seventy-five years old! (Their words)

We thought it was a bad batch of contacts or solution. I had no issues while wearing glasses so this seemed likely. My ophthalmologist ran about a dozen tests while hammering me with questions… but everything came back normal. No abnormalities, no answers. Still borderline blind in one eye.

“Ok try these contacts, use only these eye drops, make sure you don’t look at your screen for more than twenty minutes at a time.”

I had marching orders from my Russian doctor and hoped that I’d be able to actually see my laptop while DJing the rest of the summer. Weeks passed but still, nothing. All the while however I had a sneaking suspicion there was a culprit they were not accounting for: Sleep.

I had just begun a new job a few months prior. With that came a 6:45 alarm instead of never having to set one! I was DJing full-time for over two years, and with that came a DJ’s sleep schedule. Weeks, months had passed but I was still averaging about six hours a night, 2-3 less than I had been getting previously.

Nor was I even recovering on weekends. Often I’d be DJing until 2 in the morning, unable to sleep in with my body-clock getting me up at 7.

I knew this was an issue but I hadn’t prioritized it properly, until now.

Back to Basics

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. – Peter Drucker

My first step in regaining control of my sleep schedule was simply to track it, each and every day. What time did I get myself to bed? How many hours did I end up getting?

I set reminders in Google Calendar to remind me to get to bed at 10:30 and track the previous night’s sleep. These two things alone got me on track within days. And what do you know, a week later my blurriness problems disappeared. I no longer hated my work and my overall mental disposition improved.

The cliche moral is get your damn sleep people! We all know it until our body starts complaining and getting in the way of our ambitions.

International Resorts Pt 2: Paradise Preparation

Standing in my room and mildly overwhelmed, I stare at various cables and adapters scattered across my bed.

I nailed my first international gig, the hard part’s over! …Right? 

Sure… just don’t forget a single thing you’ll need to DJ for two weeks straight. In a country you’ve never been to before. Whose native language you haven’t spoken for over a decade. In a class you only passed because your teacher didn’t show up for the final.

No pressure dude.

So how exactly did I prep for my first international resort gig as a headlining DJ?

The Traveling DJ’s Gear List

Since I’d be abroad for two straight weeks I wanted to ensure I had everything I needed. Twice as much, actually. You don’t want to be screwed if anything breaks, I took the same approach that I take for wedding prep. Two of everything, as much as I can help it. 

In speaking with my booking agent all I needed was my laptop and music, controller optional.

Here’s what I ended up packing:

  • Power
    • Extension Cord
    • Backup Laptop charger
  • Audio Cables
    • Pair of TRS -> TRS
    • Pair of TRS -> XLR
    • RCA
    • ⅛”
    • RCA – > ⅛”
  • 2 USB cables
  • 2 Headphones
  • Backup Laptop
  • Backup Controller
  • Flash Drive

As far as flying with gear goes, you can straight up check your flight case though I prefer to keep my actual controller with me in the plane. My S4 just barely fits in my carry-on if I pack my flight case with clothes instead.

But if you can fit your controller in luggage, why bring a big bulky flight case? Having your flight case offers easy setup with a built-in laptop stand wherever you play. It also makes your rig look ‘legit’ as opposed to a metal laptop stand and all-in-one controller.

It sounds corny but the sad fact is that a DJ’s appearance matters as much as their performance. 

Flights & Getting Through Customs

I’d need a passport which I already had. On top of that I signed up for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry so I’d have as many speed bumps or potential complications removed ahead of time.

Prepare, prepare, prepare! Work ahead of time to pave the way for when you need it most. A concept I live by as much as possible, crucial for weddings and other important gigs.

You never know what craziness you’ll run into especially when catching a flight, so spending $100 to speed through security when every minute counted was a no-brainer. 

Now once I got on my flight they passed around a customs information sheet. Basically they don’t want folks bringing too much merchandise in or out of the country that would otherwise be taxed. A laptop and controller (classified as a musical instrument) won’t give you any problems. Any more than that and it will look like you’re there on serious business which might incur some questions.

Security was rather straightforward after paying a ~$10 entry fee. Not bad right? 

Music Prep

I’d be DJing on average 3 hours a day, 13 straight days, and I wanted to be at the top of my game. To have enough music each I’d need several hundred songs.

I immediately got to work on my DJ pools and curate lists, getting up to date on the latest music. I had a decent back catalogue of Latino music in addition to a ton of pop remixes with reggaetón beats. Super handy in a Spanish speaking country.

My most successful gigs were those I had prepared for the most, having the right tools at my fingertips in addition to having enough songs. This meant organizing setlists and properly tagging my tracks with relevant vibes.

My most important tags would be my ‘Staples’ & ‘Get Out Of Jail’ tracks.

Staples are your tried and true songs that have worked for you time and time again. I tag all of these with #staple in the Comments field so I can easily find them.

Drop-in tracks are songs that folks instantly recognize without buildup, no mixing required. Important when you’re in a bind and need to get the crowd back into it real quick. In fact with some of these you’d be doing a disservice mixing them because they kick off with such a recognizable sound, like the horns in House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’. As such I tag these with #dropin so I can find them in 2 seconds in emergencies. For my first resort gig I wanted as many of these on hand as possible. 

Next article I’ll go over how prepared I actually was and how I nailed my club nights despite things not going as planned!

International Resorts Pt 1: Getting The Gig

I was about to begin my beach set under moonlight when a glitter-covered dancer offered me a cup of the local drink mamajuana. It was Wednesday night, beach party night. And the entire resort had come out to dance on the sand as the waves crashed against the shore. And I was the international resident DJ.

Just 18 months prior I was sitting at my desk, staring out at the endless stream of cars funneling down the highway, aimlessly. Kind of like my career.

I was mindlessly cruising through my career, but hardly wanted to get where I was going. I worked in finance making a great living, especially for a mid-twenty something, but man was I miserable. We called it soul crushing work, for sixty plus hours a week.

And now I was about to DJ on a beach in front of fire dancers to get my work in for the day in the Dominican Republic, in well under three hours. I had been commissioned to be this four star resort’s DJ for two weeks, all-inclusive. For twenty-one hours a day I was a guest just like everyone else.

Well, I wasn’t EXACTLY like everyone else. Being in a resort of this size you quickly become a micro-celebrity. It was AWESOME.

For the rest, I ran those fire-dancing parties.

Now you might be thinking I landed this gig because I have over ten thousand Instagram followers. Or dozens of produced tracks. Or I’m booked at the hottest clubs three days a week.

Nope, nope, nope!

7 things you wouldn’t expect

  1. I picked up the gig with a single email
  2. I didn’t have to interview or even submit a mix
  3. I had ZERO international experience
  4. I had ZERO resort experience
  5. Airfare cost me nothing
  6. I could go whenever I wanted, no blackout weeks
  7. I could stay however long I wanted

It all started with a friend of mine who’s a fitness instructor in NYC. She came across a work-vacation exchange program NRG2GO where Yoga instructors teach a class a day at all-inclusive Wyndham resorts in the Caribbean, and in return stay for a significantly reduced rate.

I’m not a fitness instructor of course but the program was also offered for DJs, DJ2GO. They act as your agent and for just 30% the resort rate, stay all week with food, drinks, lodging, everything. Figure out the airfare on your own, but that’s it.

I picked two weeks in April, with snow still falling back home.

Many DJs could land this gig!

Could a bedroom DJ land it? Probably not.

Could a bedroom DJ land this in 6 months? You bet.

Is it paying? No. Is it an amazing time and a stepping stone so that your next international/travel gig is paying? Heck yeah!

All their application required was a photo, a link to your bio/website (made with WordPress) and a one-page media kit (made with Canva). Request the weeks you want to stay at which resort and that was it! Within a week I had confirmation and booked my flights using airline miles, aka free.

Here are just a few highlights from my stay:

  • The pool was turned into a massive foam party each week, that I got to DJ!
  • Wednesday night Beach parties with fire dancers under moonlit palm trees 
  • Knowing everyone by day three; as the resort DJ you’re a microcelebrity
  • Taking over local clubs with the resort’s dance crew and friends
  • Getting mentioned on Travelocity reviews

In the next few articles I’ll go over-

  1. How I Prepared For Paradise
  2. How I Nailed International Dancefloors
  3. How Crazy The Foam Parties Were
  4. My Top Six International Networking Tips

Behind the decks view of getting more gigs.