More Than a DJ

Calvin Harris

Many times certain news items make me reflect upon my time as a college student and the months following my graduation. Young, and full of musical arrogance, I had a way of looking down on some of the popular musicians at the time. Remember, the mid 1980’s was a time when hip-hop was forging a new place in the music industry, but I had my doubts about its sustainability. My supercilious demeanor extended toward the disc jockey as well. “How hard is it to play a record“, I thought to myself. “The difficult part is the performance of the singers and musicians“. Just a few years later, I learned to appreciate the role of the disc jockey (DJ) as I began to produce and promote records. In fact, I developed good rapport with several club and radio DJ’s, and some radio program directors. I quickly came to realize that in order for my record to gain necessary rotation; I needed all of the disc jockeys I could find.

As I increasingly worked to promote more music, I found out that not all DJ’s performed the same functions. Many worked more like recording engineers and/or record producers. It was necessary for such DJ’s to provide various mixes for dance music songs; making sure that the song would receive more club attention. Of course, my time working with DJ’s was almost twenty-five years ago, and certainly, things have changed greatly since then. DJ’s are now featured artists and more within the music industry. This week I chose to feature arguably the top DJ today, Calvin Harris.

Adam Richard Wiles, better known today as Calvin Harris, was born on January 17, 1984 in Dumfries, Scotland. He was first attracted to electronic music in his teens and was recording bedroom demos by 1999. At age 17, he started working at a fish factory and in supermarkets to earn money for moving to London, hoping to learn from the local music scene. His earliest success was when he was eighteen: the songs “Da Bongos” and “Brighter Days” were released as a 12″ club single and CD-EP by the Prima Facie label in early 2002 under the name Stouffer. In 2006, Harris signed with Sony BMG and released his first album in 2007 titled I Created Disco.  The album was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry for sales of 100,000 copies in the UK, where it reached number eight on the UK Albums Chart. Harris would never look back after his efficacious debut.

Interestingly, Calvin Harris is known more for his albums of original material, and his production work on the albums. Even though various artists lend guest vocals to songs on his album, Harris also takes the microphone and sings as well. Harris has written and produced tracks for other recording artists, including Kylie Minogue, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Dizzee Rascal, Cheryl Cole, Rita Ora, Example, and Rihanna’s internationally successful single, “We Found Love”, which gave him his first US number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100.  Because of the influence of a large variety of artists, Calvin Harris’ music crosses several electronic music genre lines (electro house, electro pop and nu-disco).

When I viewed one of Calvin Harris’ biographies, it listed him as singer first, then songwriter, record producer and last DJ. I wondered if he viewed himself as a DJ first, or possibly a record producer. Regardless, however he views himself musically, he certainly must realize he is extremely successful. In fact, according to Forbes magazine Harris has earned more money than any DJ ever. He exits 2014 in ninth place on Forbes‘ list of the world’s highest-paid musicians at $66 million dollars. That puts him in the same company with mega money earners like Beyonce, Dr. Dre and Jon Bon Jovi.

A recent article in news attributed Harris’ standing on the Forbes list to appearances and studio production. This news might make parents think twice when their kids tell them they want to be a DJ when they grow up. At one time employment as a disc jockey did not seem to be a career that offered many opportunities, unless it was for a radio station. However, things have changed and DJ’s now have a lot more responsibilities than just playing music at parties. They are now logging major studio time and working to produce major artists. At least that is the case for top DJ Calvin Harris. What is next for Harris? Last month he released his fourth studio album Motion, and I am sure he will produce more songs for other artists in the future. Expect him to sing and write more music as well. Calvin Harris is a little more than just a DJ. For sure.

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