If you’ve ever attended a party, club, or private event here in Chicago chances are you’ve been privy to a live AF DJ set by Paul Blair aka DJ Whiteshadow. From his young beginnings in Ohio, Detroit and setting up roots here in Chicago, going on to produce albums for Lady Gaga as well as collaborating with some major brands, he’s worked hard and come a long way.
Over lunch at the Melman’s River North’s spot Ramen San, we talked about his work, advice he would give to those aspiring towards his career path and what’s in store for him in 2015. This is 23 Questions with DJ Whiteshadow.
SLC: To date, what do you think has been your greatest accomplishment?
DJ Whiteshadow: I think turning music into a business for me has been my greatest accomplishment so far. In the past 2 years I’ve started my own publishing company and consulting agency that works with the music industry. I made my own dream job from scratch and I am really proud of that and proud that I got to bring good people along on the ride with me. It’s tough to find good people in the business. I have a good team of people and it took a long time I am proud of the squad that I have.
SLC: Are you still doing the Music Trust?
DJWS: I don’t do that anymore, but my friend Eric Bowler (DJ Evil One) now runs it and continues the good feeling of it. I have always had the same modus operandi. I like to do things in a group, find group of people that are like minded and all wanting to come up together and do something great, bigger than themselves. The music trust was that, collective of local, talented DJs, that didn’t have a platform yet and try to put them together.
SLC: If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
DJWS: I would be a Hawk. Hawks are majestic animals. I love animals to begin with and I don’t know why but when I was a kid I used to sit out growing up in Ohio I used to watch the hawks fly over the fields. They are so chill and look so peaceful so far up above and suddenly they can spot a mouse and swoop quickly and get the job done.
Hawks are majestic animals. I have a tattoo of a hawk over my entire chest
SLC: How many tattoos do you have?
DJWS: I have a lot, too many to count. I just got one on my ribs recently.
SLC: So you love tattoos?
DJWS: I get them when something happens, life events.
SLC: What was it like growing up in Ohio?
DJWS: It was awesome. I was born in Youngstown and then we moved closer to my grand parents. We grew up on a farm, south of Cleveland. My grandpa was a farmer and he had a lot of land. I grew up playing with animals, riding bales of hay around, stuff like that.
SLC: Who would you consider a mentor or someone that’s helped you through this career path you’ve created for yourself?
DJWS: When I was starting out as a DJ I didn’t really have someone tell me what to do or someone I considered a mentor. It wasn’t cool to be a DJ then when I started out, I didn’t know a lot of people doing music. I try my best to do it now for other people though.
SLC: How did working on Born This Way and Artpop and working with Lady Gaga take your career to the next level?
DJWS: (laughs) I disappeared for about 2 years and had to give up my djing jobs at the time, when I headed out to work on the album. After the record was over and done, everyone wanted me to work with a bunch of other people but that’s not he kind of person that I am and that was confusing for everybody. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing the album until the record came out and once the first album came out, everyone was like, “who’s this guy?”
I had known a fair amount of people in the industry and some of them knew that I was working on some stuff. It was all a big blur but it was pretty fast.
SLC: What is the music industry like?
DJWS: The music industry loves you when you are doing something good and when you’re not it’s like the lyric from Outcasts’ Elevators “I live by the beat, like you live check-to-check
If you don’t move your feet then I don’t eat, so we like neck-to-neck.” Unless you are doing something all the time, people don’t really care about you. You could be Coolio one day and Coolio the next day and still be the same Coolio. When I got out, the music business wanted something from me than what I wanted for myself. I liked working with her (Gaga) and wanted to work with her again and didn’t want to dilute what we had already done.
For me it was about setting up business for other people and create something and it was pretty fast afterwards and we started working on the next record; I’ve never been bored working with her.
A lot of producers work with an artist that has success and then they gain success and the producer will do, say 17 other things for 17 other artists and then the producer becomes the star and I’ve never been interested in being a producer that’s a star. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not something I wanted to do. When it comes to making music I like to be behind the scenes.
SLC: What is the one big splurge you spent on when you “made it”?
DJWS: I was doing pretty good as a DJ before. I make ok money and it’s sporadic so I can’t really go out and be frivolous. I bought myself a nice car and an expensive watch, those are man treats. For the most part, I haven’t done anything crazy, I keep it low key; I felt like I deserved it you know. I don’t own a bunch of gold chains (laughs).
SLC: How do you stay grounded?
DJWS: I am nice and I work hard; It’s not my style to come out and say I’m better than someone else or great at what I do. I am just happy to be doing what I am doing. I try to do the best I can at it. I’ve met people that try to be too cool for school but it’s funny to me. You can’t meet good friends in the music industry if you act like a jackass.
SLC: You ever link up with DaInternz (producing duo also from Chicago)?
DJWS: Oh yea they’re awesome dudes, I might be sharing studio space with them out in LA. They are great guys.
SLC: What venue big or small, that you haven’t played at yet, would you want to play in?
DJWS: It’s a little bit weird now because for me DJ-ing is fun again. Back in the day, I had a good friend of mine who was a well respected Detroit techno DJ tell me when I was graduating college that I should never, ever make DJing my job cause “you’ll f-ing hate it.” At the time I thought bull$h!% and I did make Dj-ing my job and there was a long period of time where I wasn’t too happy with it but you do it cause you have to play for money and
sometimes it may be like taking a $1,000 job somewhere, you fly out there you may not know the people or what the people like but you just go out there and play some records.
So then you’re not DJing for fun anymore but just for money and now for me it’s fun again. I get to do whatever I want. Whenever I’m in Chicago I’ll play at sub51 and I can play what I like to play and have fun. It’s cool, i’m back to DJing for fun. It came around full circle.
SLC: What advice would you give someone coming up looking to maybe be the next DJWS or something like that? Someone learning the craft not just into the trend.
DJWS: DJ is totally different now. I would give a different advice to someone 5 years ago than I would a year ago. My advice for anyone that wants to DJ now is to learn how to play music; take music theory classes. There’s so many people. You go from club to club and they are playing the same thing. If you want to be a good DJ don’t expect to make money if you want to make money being a DJ, I don’t know what to tell you.
I was at the W in Austin, TX and heard the DJ there and he was the best DJ I had heard in awhile and. But then you have someone that’s a marquee DJ and it’s so boring, no soul no emotional journey you know.
SLC: What kind of music do you like?
DJWS: I like everything. I like soul music, I grew up in Detroit so I like techno and electro
SLC: So is that what trend you see for music this year?
DJWS: this year will be a good year for soul music to come back.
SLC: Thoughts on the music trends and explosion of EDM and DJing?
DJWS: Everybody that’s a DJ should want to be Mark Ronson. He gives a fuck about what he does and he’s been doing the same thing in one shape or form since he started. It wasn’t like when EDM became big, he started making electronic music.
That goes for me too. The thing about it is when you’re starting off, people want you to do stuff you know.
For me as a DJ and someone that creates music, my mission is I can create whatever you want me to make. I can do it but I never like to pigeon hole myself. I started off making techno and then tried to make hip-hop for a while and then EDM exploded and I didn’t want to do that because once it ended and then people look at me.
I went through it once already with techno; I had a lot of friends that were techno DJs and once that ended they left Detroit and moved to Munich(Germany). I’ll do a remix of stuff. I’ve found that I like trap, electro, music that’s got emotion and angry.
SLC: What are your travel essentials?
DJWS: I can’t go anywhere without my laptop. I like to be mobile so I try not to check luggage. Notepad and my backpack, when I write or draw. My phone, laptop and notebook.
SLC: What are you looking forward to in 2015?
DJWS: I have a few cool strategic partnerships coming up. I’m doing a lot of music initiatives with The W Hotel they are super passionate about music and it being central part of their branding
moving forward in the scope of music business, music doesn’t sell music anymore but there’s ways to make money off music without having people pay to just download a song.
DJWS: The way to do that is to figure out what music does sell, align yourself with the people that actually like music and the getting in business with brands to create content for their brand. I just worked on the BudLight commercial for superbowl and I’m actually in the commercial too.
SLC: Outside of music if you could pick another career what would it be?
DJWS: I would be an architect. I’ve actually thought about going back to school to be an architect. I love building and drawing things. I sketch a lot. I love aesthetics and I design aesthetics for brick and mortar things.
Everybody I know say to me why would I want to do that but I think it would be fun.
SLC: What are some of your favorite buildings?
DJWS: Have you ever been on the blog cabinporn? I like tiny architecture and it’s a blog that I always read and it features all tiny houses from around the world. There’s a distinct beauty in simplicity and for some reason, tiny houses in the middle of the forest really does it for me (laughs).
SLC: You get to pick 6 dinner guests dead or alive, who would they be?
DJWS: Bob Marley
David Lynch (director)
Leonardo Di Vinci
Martin Luther King
Be sure to tune in Sunday when he makes his TV Super Bowl debut on the Budlight commercial