Do you still remember that very first moment when you absolutely fell in love with the music, vibe, and this new scene you have just discovered? To the point where you actually said to yourself (or something of the likes)
“YES!! I finally found my passion (or calling) and THIS is what I want to pursue in life! This is where I am the happiest and I am so excited to have discovered this music and I want to get involved in any way I possibly can!”
Ok maybe not all of you were as enthusiastic like I was but you get the point.
I certainly still remember my first moment, the date was June 6th, 2006 in San Diego California in what transpired to be one of the best Summers of my life. I had discovered something new that absolutely blew my mind and never did I think life could be this good with music as unique as……Tiesto’s “In Search of Sunrise” album haha, true story I came from the Trance world!
Shortly after, I picked up an interest in DJ’ing which is usually the next path most people take once they soak all of this in (i.e. “I can do that too, but better”). I couldn’t be happier at that moment, with a newfound passion in life and pursuing something I absolutely love was a feeling I will never forget! I knew since Day-1 I was going to do whatever I could to make an impact in the scene as a DJ and live happily ever after…..right?! Right…
Fast forward 7-years and its Fall of 2013. By this time, I have already played most of the major venues in Los Angeles, secured a few local residencies including Frenzy Afterhours (Avalon’s premiere after-hours event), produced my first-ever electronic music festival in Guam (my home) AND……I couldn’t have been more depressed, empty, and sad….yep. Thinking back on those days, I was clearly in some denial that what I was doing was bringing me some form of joy or happiness when in hindsight it wasn’t.
I think most of us (artist and industry peers) go into this denial state because we can’t come to terms that something we love and are passionate about is actually making us sad and depressed. It’s a tough one to swallow for all of us and still a tough one to digest even as I’m typing this out but let’s be real here….who here hasn’t heard stories of superstar DJs being depressed af or big-time promoters having anxious breakdowns or agents/management/pr completely losing their shit? To me, nothing is sadder when a person who worked so hard to get to where they aimed for only to be buried by the surmounting pressure of stress, anxiety, and depression when they actually reach their goals….that’s fucked up but it happens ALL THE TIME especially in the electronic music industry.
We chase, chase, and chase everything only to realize that what we were chasing only lead to future problems we didn’t know was even waiting for us as a result of reaching our goals. An artist who goes on tour to eventually find out how annoying and stressful traveling and jetlag can be on their mind and body. Promoters who throw big shows find out they are getting more haters and backlashes from their peers (sometimes friends). Agents/Managers who sign big artists to their group only to find out none of them have loyalty for them. Reaching our goal is an amazing feeling but it doesn’t come without a small headache (or sometimes big ones)….ever heard the saying “more money, more problems?” Well the more goals and milestones you reach the more problems will arise based on the new situation you have placed yourself and this continuous motion of reaching your goals but hitting a new problem can lead to anxiety and depression because the cycle never stops. The harder you work, the more problems you will need to deal with due to the new circumstances that arise.
By the end of 2016, I was ready to call it QUITS with this entire electronic music industry bullshit. The problems that surfaced from reaching ALL of my goals almost became too much to bear, for every milestone I hit I was faced with yet another problem whether it’s money, business & personal relationships, my mental well-being, or just even finding MEANING as to what the fuck it is I’m even doing with all this? I was beyond depressed at this stage already but still in denial that what I was doing was my “passion” and that it made me happy!
Where I was mentally and emotionally by the end of 2016 (beginning of 2017) is where most industry people make a hard-decision on whether to continue the good fight or to call it quits. Being 8-9 years deep in committing to this scene and having lost a lot of $$ from mistakes I made trying to reach goals along with failing relationships was enough for me to question everything:
“How can something that brought me so much joy in the beginning lead to so much misery and pain even when I have reached every goal I have ever chased after and set for myself?”
While the thought of quitting did brush my mind, let’s just say it was a quick brush before I made the decision to keep pushing on. However, this time I didn’t want to just go after goals only to hit a depression wall so I knew I had to approach this journey differently or else I would end up in the same situation I was in, and perhaps really hang it up for good this time.
As I’m writing this blog post, it is currently March 2019 and I can honestly say I am no longer depressed. Do I still have moments of anxiety? Hell yeah I still do! But I have become aware of it and more importantly, I am now able to channel that anxiety towards the right place. It didn’t take me overnight to figure out how to re-wire my mental state in order to reach happiness and contentment doing what I absolutely love instead of buried by all the stress and anxiety that comes along with reaching your goals and living them.
Through my own process, I have come to realize the few key steps every industry person should take or at least become aware of to help you combat this fucked-up dynamic of being depressed and sad by your own passion.
While I did begin to feel the sense of anxiety and depression in 2013, it’s not like I was sad and miserable every day. After all, I did manage to reach almost all of the goals I have set for myself by landing a residency at Exchange LA (now Factory 93), playing my first warehouse party with Incognito, throwing my very own warehouse party (also with Incognito), building the brand equity of 6AM, while making time to grow and operate our festival in Guam for 6 consecutive seasons (and now going into our 7th). You don’t accomplish those things by being a miserable person who mopes around in bed all day….I worked my face-off for everything, however, the emptiness continued to grow each year despite accomplishing things that symbolized some sort of “success” to the outsiders looking in.
When I think back to my 13-year run in the electronic music industry I was able to pinpoint periods of my journey where I was actually happy, motivated, inspired, and content with what I was doing. By looking back into the different periods from those moments, I was able to identify the mindset I need to constantly put myself in moving forward to give me the best shot at remaining happy, positive, and content while continuing my quest in turning pro in the electronic music industry.
In the summer of 2011, I had just finished a Sunday morning gig at an “after-after” hours at Joseph’s Hollywood and after my set I decided to stick around and hang out with my industry mentor at the time, Steve Prior. During our chat, I recall complaining to him on not being sure “what my next move was?” The conversation went something like this:
Me: I feel stuck Steve. I am well-plugged into the local gig circuit but there’s something missing I feel. What do you think my next move should be to leverage up?
Steve: Well what exactly do you want to do? You wanted to be a DJ and you’re DJ’ing everywhere in LA now lol….
Me: I know bro, it’s crazy to think that just a few years ago I was crying in front of my bedroom setup (true story fyi) wondering when or where my first gig will ever happen and here I am now with the opportunity to play several times a weekend yet I’m feeling really empty. I thought playing all these gigs would make me happy and clearly that is not the case.
Steve: You’re feeling what every one of us has felt already, you’re just jaded by the cycle and feeling like a hamster in a wheel. So what do you want to do?
Me: You’re right that’s how I feel…..I don’t know, I feel like there’s more to this than just being a DJ you know?
Steve: There are! So many things are happening behind the scenes that make up our entire industry. The DJ is usually top of mind because that’s what the majority sees and let’s not lie…it’s fun to be up there lol. Look, It’s easy to get involved with the wider industry, just go out there and be more than a DJ and contribute to the scene however you can…
AND That’s when it hit me….those few key words of “BE MORE THAN A DJ” forever changed my perspective on how I approached the industry since 2011.
You see, when I was in that “DJ” mentality mode early in my journey I was only able to see things from one viewpoint and that was—>“When is MY next gig? Where will be MY next gig? and who is coming to MY next gig?” ME ME ME~”.
When you only see things from a single angle (i.e. your perspective only) you become selfish and self-centered because all you’re trying to benefit in ANY given situation is yourself with no regards to the greater COMMUNITY. I have never met a selfish and self-centered person who was also truly happy because being selfish is a toxic behavior and no one who is toxic will ever find true happiness, in fact they are miserable people and perhaps the “selfish and self-centered” attitude I had before was creating that emptiness I was feeling after 2-3 years of “MY gigs, MY set times, MY drink tickets, MY MY MY MY” that ultimately drove me to sadness despite all the gigs (and drink tickets) I was getting each weekend.
Being selfless and helping others, in the contrary, is naturally a good thing and it actually makes people feel good both on the giving and receiving end. By taking yourself out of the equation as an artist or whatever independent title you hold in our industry, you start to see a bigger picture beyond just you. By doing this, you are also slowly letting go of your ego which is a detrimental internal chemical that can really fuck you up in this journey ahead (more on this ego epidemic in a later blog post). By seeing things from a multi-facet angle you actually start to understand how everything works and will actually provide you a deeper appreciation and awareness that you are indeed part of something MUCH BIGGER than just you.
For me, I decided to put my “promoter” hat on which marked the launch of our media website & blog www.6amgroup.com as a medium for my team to use our voice and platform to help promote other local events, artists, and labels. It was time I started doing things for the greater community even though our web traffic and brand presence at that time were minimal, it didn’t matter….I started a new path for my journey and I was feeling really good about being more than just a DJ to now a contributor towards the local and national scene. I get amped every time I think about ways to champion the electronic music industry and this was truly the beginning for me to do more for the scene I love and care about. I am not saying you should start a blog site like we did but I will say that using existing and/or available (free) platforms to create something you can build to leverage the industry (and yourself) is going to be crucial in your artist journey ahead, it doesn’t have to be complicated nor fancy, you don’t need permission to get involved so feel free to jump in any time! The entire industry still has a lot of work to do!
Today, we promote and push content from artists and labels all around the world through our website and social media platforms. Locally and nationally, we have promoted some of the best and most talked about house/techno events and festivals in Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities and are continuing to do so. We sometimes even promote for competing events against us! Not because we needed the money (ok sometimes we did lol) but because it feels good for us to do something impactful for the community. It brings me and my team a lot of joy to see our industry peers and event partners have successful turnouts due to our efforts because it means we are ALL building something greater beyond just ourselves and contributing towards the long term success of an entire industry. I am literally smiling from ear-to-ear knowing this is the impact we are making ever since I decided to be more and do more for the greater cause beyond just my own gigs. I feel good and I feel happy every time we lend a helping hand, you should try it too :)
Why do you want to be an electronic music artist? Why do you want to work in the electronic music industry? Why do you want to get involved? What is your end-goal? What are you trying to accomplish?
Those are just some of the questions I ask my students in Phase-1 of ArtistMap and I know this is one of the most uncomfortable sections they go through because my gut feel is they don’t know why they are doing this….not a damn clue.
I know this to be true because it took me 10-years to find my reason on why I am doing this and what it is I am trying to accomplish, but to steer this away from me let’s take a look at your typical answers from most artists and industry peers when being asked their why:
“Because I love the music and it speaks to my soul”
“I don’t know why, I just love it. I can’t live without it”
“I want to create moments that people can enjoy and leave with something special”
“I want to share the music I make and also to play the music I discover to the masses”
“I want to create a meaningful life through something I am passionate about”
or any other cookie-cutter response you can think of….it’s probably been said.
What most of us don’t realize is that those responses are only explaining your “passion” on the surface, which is very different from your purpose and intent which goes a lot deeper. I am forever in debt to the legend, John Digweed, for challenging me to dig out mine. During last year’s (2018) Movement Festival in Detroit, I was assigned to interview John after his set in the press section, what was supposed to be an interview focused on his label, Bedrock’s 20th-anniversary release, turned into a 15-minute off-the-record discussion on passion, purpose, and intent that had NOTHING to do with his upcoming release but everything to do with a state of mind that John wanted me to leave the interview with (I swear he’s my God in the industry).
By the time I had asked my fourth question, the word “passion” must’ve been thrown around like 75-80 times (at least!) – I was also really nervous interviewing one of my idols so lots of words got repeated along the lines and as I was about to get into my fifth question he put his hand out signaling for me to pause and asked kindly to stop the recording, I thought I fucked up and he was ending the interview right there, but to my surprise, he continued with this:
“Listen young man, I think you are emphasizing the word passion a bit too much here and we need to be careful to not let passion drive everything we do and stand for.
Society have put the word passion on a pedestal like it’s some sort of holy grail in life, but if we take a closer look it’s really not that significant nor that important. You see that over there? (He points to the MainStage crowd and continues with) That’s 20,000 people who have passion alright….they either have passion for the music, the djs, the drugs, the festival environment, being with their friends, traveling, etc. I’m sure they ALL have passion for something about this or they wouldn’t be here. But the thing is 95% of that crowd will never be able to find purpose and intent behind their passion for partying at festivals or clubs, why do you think the party-goers are always the first ones to leave our scene?
Your purpose and intent drives out your why and I just can’t imagine anyone justifying why partying every weekend and doing drugs is actually good for them, it’s certainly not sustainable and I have seen the worst of it from that angle.
Now for people like us, who wanted more from this….more than just partying at festivals/clubs and having fun with friends in these environments…we need to find our purpose and intent because there will be a day when what you do gets challenged by society; it could be from your family, spouse/significant others, friends, and life circumstances, you will need to have a strong sense of purpose and intent to find your ultimate reason to continue this journey. Passion doesn’t stand a chance against those forces, but purpose and intent will…or at least put up a very good fight”
I ended the interview right after that and left the festival grounds immediately with watery eyes about to stream down my face in the heart of Motor City Detroit. For the first time in my life, I realized why I had felt sad and depressed despite having a very clear “Passion” in life since 2006 at the tender age of 22….what I was missing was the purpose and intent driving my passion which a lot of us in the industry clearly miss. Without a strong sense of WHY (your purpose and intent); external forces, society’s standards, and imaginary timelines will always work against your passion and succeed in pulling you out of your state of happiness just like it has done to many of our fellow industry artists and professionals who had to call it quits regardless of what their circumstances were.
Since that interview, I have dug deep to ensure my purpose and intent is as strong as my passion. What John said on that special day in Detroit saved me from ever having to question my own reason because my purpose and intent are as strong and meaningful as my passion more than ever before. When you truly discover your purpose and intent, no one can take your joy away and that thought is what keeps me happy and content as I continue down this path. I wish all of you industry artists and peers aim to do the same for yourself, if you need help getting down to the core of your purpose and intent to find your “WHY” please check out “The Seven Levels Deep” exercise created by world-renown entrepreneur and life-coach guru, Dean Graziosi. By the time you are done, you wouldn’t be spitting out cookie-cutter answers for your whys, instead, it will be clear, concise, meaningful, and absolutely powerful. This is the strength your passion needs in order to keep moving forward and pushing through so that you can remain happy and content no matter who challenges your passion.
The full interview with John Digweed can be found here. Because we went offline towards the end, I didn’t feel it was right to include all this detail in the original interview but I’m super happy to utilize the ArtistMap Blog to share this story with you all. John truly is a legend on and off the decks and I can’t wait to see him again one day to thank him for saving my passion and allowing me to find a deeper meaning in all that I do within our industry.
The byproduct that’s causing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression in our industry comes from the surmounting self-pressure of chasing with an “expected” result that’s imposed by an imaginary timeline. Whether you’re chasing a gig to play, a label to release your music, or any other chases you might be going after; the expectation of constantly yielding positive results is what will be your ultimate downfall and why you will never be able to find happiness and contentment within the industry.
When your happiness and contentment in the industry is conditional (i.e. I am happy today because I got booked for a gig or signed to a label) you’re setting yourself up for failure or what I like to call a rollercoaster ride of “fuck yeahs!” and “oh fuck!”. I lived a life of conditional happiness within the industry and it sucks balls, one day you’re happy because you got good news on a booking, and next day you’re stressed because you lost a venue. I don’t think I’m bipolar but when you live your life with this kind of mindset you might as well be classified as so.
I have come to realized that I have forced many things during my time in the industry. I have forced myself to do events with people I didn’t vibe with, I forced myself to strike a deal with venues I didn’t want to work with, I forced a partnership I didn’t want to be in, I forced DJ gigs I didn’t really want to play at, and I forced a lot of the people who worked with me and supported me over the years to do shit they didn’t even want to do!
By not letting things happen naturally we start to chase and force things for the sake of doing “something”, and that constant chase usually backfires negatively causing you to wonder why you’re doing any of this at all, because chasing things requires a lot of effort, time, resources, and sacrifices and when you chase something with a great expectation it always (almost) leads to disappointment or the result is never to your “true” imagination on what you thought it would be. This vicious cycle puts people out of the game every day because for many, that last chase might just be too great of a disappointment or failure for them to ever pick themselves back up mentally and emotionally; when that happens…..it’s game over.
In 2011, when I made my conscious decision to give back to the community by launching our website, I also made a decision to relax on chasing gigs because I wanted to shift my attention and efforts into something bigger than just me. The funny thing is when I stopped chasing promoters and venues to book me and decided to put my focus on the online community that’s when the gigs actually doubled! It not only doubled, but the quality of gigs also went up :)
ßbgWhat I have also realized over the years is that some of the best opportunities that ever fell into my lap (or inbox to be exact) were opportunities that presented itself naturally through the course of time with people or groups for who I have tons of respect for. When you focus solely on just your own passion, purpose, and intent without letting external forces dictate your thoughts and action (in this case, chasing shit) you actually create more opportunities for yourself. Let me elaborate better on this, when you focus on your own WORK and what YOU need to do, opportunities will arise through the natural course of time and it will all make sense when that moment comes. It’s happened to me many times over the past 13-years and when I look back on everything, I can tell you that the opportunities that presented themselves naturally are usually the time when things work out to everyone’s advantage because nothing was forced, nothing was being chased, everything came just the way it was supposed to at the very right time. The piece of thought that I no longer need to chase anything ultimately brings me 2great peace of mind and contentment as I continue to embark in the electronic music industry.