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Before They Were Stars!
January 5th, 2010
I bet I can guess what song is stuck in your head. Is it “United State of Pop 2009″ also known as “Blame it on the Pop” by DJ Earworm? AM I RIGHT?! Yea, I know I’m good. No, that song isn’t stuck in your head? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! Here, have a listen and you can be one of us cool kids. How does that sound?
DJ Earworm has taken the top 25 Billboard hits of 2009 and mashed them all together into this addictive mashup of creative goodness! This isn’t the first mashup he has created as there are tons more such as United State of Pop for 2007 and 2008! I wanted to know the man behind this amazing track that summed up the music of 2009 perfectly so, I present to you: Catherine and DJ Earworm- The Interview.
First off, thanks for taking the time out in Tokyo to answer a few questions for the Muchmusic blog! I got to start with the name though, Earworm? I think it’s pretty original. How did you come up it?
It’s from the German “ohrwurm” which kind of crossed over into English recently. An earworm is a song that gets into your head, and you can’t get rid of it no matter how hard you try! I try to make my music with strong hooks, so I thought it would be appropriate. Also, it seemed memorable. And it wasn’t taken!
From what age did you know that you wanted to become a DJ?
I never knew I wanted to become a DJ until it actually happened. I always loved music, and went to college with a double major in Music Theory and Computer Science, so I knew I wanted to make music and use computers to make it. I used to feel (like many still do) that DJs were lower on the totem pole than “real” musicians since they just played other people’s stuff. And I was playing instruments, writing songs, making original electronic music, refusing to even use small samples in my original tunes.
What/who inspired you to start? I’ll have to admit, it’s not everyday when people decide they want to spin records (plus more, I’m sure) for a period of their life.
Back in late ’03, I had a copy of ACID (a PC-based music program), and I was making a digital “mix tape” of songs I liked. ACID handled beatmatching, so I thought I’d do a DJ-style beat-synced mix to play for myself and friends. I happened to start off the mix with two songs in very similar tempos and the same key, and they blended well into each other. Just messing around, I cut them up and rearranged them a little bit, then gave the mix to my friend who told me, “the beginning of that mix sounds like a mashup, you should do more of those.” So I threw together a few more mashups that seemed to work, then brought them to DJ Adrian at Club Bootie, the U.S.’s first all-mashup party. He told me to put them online and create some sort of moniker for myself. I initially resisted the idea of giving my music away without compensation, but he finally convinced me it was to my benefit. I played around with a few ideas for names and came up with Earworm, but earworm.com was taken, so I decided to use djearworm.com, even though I wasn’t a DJ, figuring that in the remote chance anybody actually asked me to DJ, I’d figure it out! Soon, I was offered my first gig at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, and I ran out and bought a laptop and got some DJ software and learned it in time for the gig…I don’t use records or CDs, and I’m such a computer geek that I don’t think I would have DJ’d before the digital era.
Was this always what you wanted or did you have a different path or interest that you wanted to explore?
I’ve always loved music, and before becoming a DJ, I was producing music, writing songs, playing piano, singing…I’m sitting on a pile of original stuff that I’ve been dying to put out there, just waiting for the momentum to build so that I’m not whispering to the wind. I got big plans!
When I started college I was a physics major. I wanted to be a scientist and make an amazing discovery that would change the world…but as I got deeper and deeper into it, it made less and less intuitive sense, and music was making more and more sense, so I switched….I’m so glad I did!
Take me through the creative process when you are creating a mashup. Do you listen to each song closely, determine which spots go together and start from there? Do you ever get a “DJ’s block”? (Like writer’s block)
There are many different ways I approach a mashup, depending…sometimes it’s a burst of inspiration. Like I was listening to Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” and her background vocals reminded me so much of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ that I just had to try them together, and they happened to work magically.
Many times, there would be a song I really like, and I want to manipulate it in some way, so I’d look through my music collection for songs with similar tempos and keys and try a bunch of them, brute force-style until something gelled. Lately, the technology’s improved so much that the keys can be quite different, but you can still get good sounding results.
But for the most part it’s a combination of intuition, luck, brute force, and inspiration.
I don’t really get “DJ’s block” since I never start with a blank page. So much work and creativity has already gone into the component music that it’s an easy springboard for more ideas…sometimes I can’t make the music make me feel the way I want music to make me feel, so I’ll just drop it and come back to it later. It’s frustrating when it’s a commissioned work though, since I have to produce something, and I have to spend a lot of time with music that doesn’t give me that good feeling, but I force myself to work with it until it feels right.
I see that you are multi talented as you have also written a complete book on how to create mashups! How did that get started? What do you want the readers to take away from reading your book?
That was their idea…the publisher asked me if I’d be interested in writing a book on how to make mashups, and I said yes…It was an incredible challenge to finish, it’s like 350 pages, but I’m very proud of it. I reveal almost all my secrets there, so I’d hope that readers are able to make much better mashups after reading it, or at least understand the craft better.
Any other hidden talents?
Besides the songwriting, I have a long-dormant actor gene…
How did you feel when Sean Kingston’s label and Annie Lennox approached you to create a mashup for these hit singers?
So flattered and amazed! I absolutely adore Annie Lennox and was just flabbergasted that she wanted to work with little old me!
What other artists do you wish to do the same for and why?
I’d love to do something with classic rock, Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin…Michael Jackson would be absolutely amazing…music is about communication, and you haven’t communicated unless someone’s heard you. I’d like to work with BIG acts to reach LOTS of people…Also, Depeche Mode, since their music meant a lot to me growing up…
Now on to your amazing success, “United State of Pop”. Congratulations on gaining more than 1 million views on YouTube with each year’s video and marvellous positive reviews. I did happen to discover this eargasm of Blame it on the pop on Perez Hilton’s site and then later tweeted by Ashton Kutcher, who retweeted from Jordin Sparks! Did you ever think you would be heard by that many people and receive the amount of support you have gotten?
Not in my wildest dreams! This stuff was supposed to be underground! When I started I just had too much time on my hands and thought I could make my friends some cool mixes!
I probably have heard it about 100 times now as I have kept it on repeat and I’m pretty much addicted. Do you ever listen to your work once it’s out there? I know there are some artists or actors/actresses who don’t like to listen or watch themselves, is it the same for you?
I love it! When I made each one of the tracks, they made me feel great, and listening to them again, they still do!
I was a bit surprised with the list this year though as I thought the likes of Britney Spears or Justin Bieber, who blew up in 2009, would make it. Were you confused with anyone on the list?
Not at all. I monitor the weekly charts all year, so I have a pretty good idea of where things stand. I had anticipated that “Womanizer” would make it, and in my early sketches, she sang the word “pop” in “blame it on the pop”. It was a snippet from when she sings “lollipop” and I had it in three-part harmony, and it was so pretty! I was disappointed she didn’t make it, but relieved to find Drake saying “pop” in his song. Songs that are popular around Billboard’s year-end cutoff of December 1st often suffer, since their popularity is split in between two years. Justin Bieber simply didn’t chart high enough. Some acts like the Fray or Jason Mraz don’t make it to the top of the charts, but their longevity made up for it.
Is it harder to create mashups with songs already provided for you, such as using the top 25 hits of Billboard?
Yes, but that’s what makes it fun! I like a challenge.
Would you rather use songs that you want to?
The further I go along, the more I realize that music is music, words are words, and notes are notes. In that case, if I’m going to deconstruct and reconstruct something, why not use stuff that’s going to maximally impact my audience?
I know 2009 just ended but, what are you hoping for in the year of 2010 in terms of artists, music, and videos to create the United State of Pop 2010 or in general?
I’m happy that electronic pop is making a comeback…it’s a style I’m very comfortable with, and it’s also easier to manipulate. But no matter, as long as they keep making the hooks, I’ll keep stringing them together.
Most DJs have released albums and done very well on the charts. Are you hoping to make an album full of amazing goodness or what is the next thing for you?
I’d love to make a commercially available mashup album (or single for that matter). An original album too, at some point…I’ve got a lot on my plate right now!
You are known as DJ Earworm, internet sensation, creator of incredible mashups. Do you want to be known as anything else? Being able to claim those titles are pretty remarkable if you ask me though!
Thank you so much. Yes, I want people to hear my original songs too, but I’ll have to change gears a bit for that…
What sort of impact do you want to leave behind for those who have interacted with you in some way, whether it be through Twitter or Facebook or anything? Any advice for the DJ hopefuls out there that may need guidance on getting started?
I hope to inspire people, to nudge them toward realizing what’s possible. I’ve made some amazing personal discoveries and want to share them. I hope to bring just a bit of happiness and comfort to people, to ease suffering to whatever extent I can through this medium.
My advice to aspiring DJs is to be true to yourself, and STUDY MUSIC THEORY…. LOTS.
Any last messages you have to the readers who will be reading this?
Download my free mp3s at djearworm.com!
Oh, and love is the answer.
Here is to hoping DJ Earworm also known as Jordan, (‘cause you know we BFFs now right? Thanks Rodney for hooking it up!) to explode on the music scene within years to come! Actually, I don’t hope… I know so. Listen to him kids, he is good people.