Owning his mark on the Philly nightclub scene for over a decade, DJ Carl Michaels first served us with his vast catalog of grooves and good music vibes while putting them to work in helping put Philly nightclub Shampoo on the local entertainment map. From that sudsy time in his music life, the esteemed local DJ would go on to own residencies at an array of venues in and out of Philly’s gayborhood, including Voyeur, Boxers Philadelphia and Club Paradise in Asbury Park, NJ, which is owned by legendary music producer, Shep Pettibone. (“Vogue” Enough said).
Besides making you dance and slay for your lives, Mr. Michaels also spends his DJ days focusing on music production and taking his love for deep house and transferring it into a handful of exciting new events that will be throbbing your way in the very near future.
The whirling local DJ was kind enough to stop by Philly Mixtape for a good ol’ fashioned music tea, where he spilled about all of his future plans, as well as how he got his humble start on the local music scene and just want words of wisdom he would give to an aspiring DJ who had just picked up their headphones for the very first time.
Take a seat at the music tea with DJ Carl Michaels below, and for all of his local music truth, check out his freshly rewerked official website right here.
Since this is your first time spilling it all on Philly Mixtape, go ahead and break some music tea mugs on how you got your start in this crazy music business.. Well, I started DJing when I got a gift of cash from my grandmom when I was 16. I blew the entire thing on two massive speakers and a DJ mixer and a turntable. I started by connecting the turntable and my parents tape player. I was excited at the idea of overlapping music, beat mixing wasn’t even in the equation – I listened to Q102, mostly dance and urban stuff, so I would make mixtapes with the goal of having it sound just like the radio. From there, I started to go to raves and I met a lot of great people – it was a new world for a pretty closeted gay kid from the burbs. There was a lot of freedom…and dance music! I have always been drawn to 4/4 dance beats so it was like a wonderland to me.
I got more and more involved and landed myself a job at 611 Records, Philly’s most legendary underground dance music store. First I would travel up and down the east coast to set up mixtape stands at parties, where we sold tapes and tee shirts. It was fun. I got to see all the freaks, make friends, and make a little bit of cash. From there, I was spending time with my friends learning how to DJ. I started working at the store a year or so later and became the house music buyer, making sure we had enough of all the dope new house records for our regulars. I became a store manager after a while and then got tired of the retail grind. The owner (Philly techno pioneer Nigel Richards) had started a record label – we put out vinyl releases at first and eventually signed a distribution deal with a major label affiliate. This gave us a budget, so we put out some commercial mix compilations–Frankie Bones, Derrick Carter, Nigel Richards, Dieselboy–and I was in charge of the day-to-day – licensing tracks, coordinating artwork, press releases, advertising. It was amazing experience. Eventually, Nigel offered me the opportunity to release my own mixed CD. I was floored at the opportunity and I put together a compilation called DiscoDubHouse. It sold a good number of copies and it made money, so I was really happy and grateful. It floored me when I walked into a Tower Records in San Francisco and they had my CD. Around that time, I did a lot of touring to support the CD, along with a 611 tour and a 35-city tour sponsored by Porn Star Clothing. Myself and DJ Dayhota from Chicago criss-crossed the country for “Two Bitches On Tour.” It was fun, exhausting, a big mess and a lot of fun. I got to see the country and do what I had always dreamed about along the way.
In that same ear, myself and three friends–DJ Willyum, my buddy Kevin V, Sean Thomas–had also started a party at Silk City Lounge where we went back and forth on four turntables. We called it the Philadelphia Experiment. It was a wild success every month for about five years. That helped solidify all of our DJ cred in the Philly house scene. I guess you could consider that my “start” – it spans about 8-10 years, but it feels like a blip.
Do you remember the first album you ever listened to? I was attached at the hip to my big sister Karen. The albums I vividly remember are the Xanadu Soundtrack (my sister loved Olivia Newton John, which explains my obsession with her) or Air Supply. She was in junior high school…it was all the rage.
Any albums on the horizon this year that you can’t wait to get your headphones on? That’s a tough question for me because I don’t really obsess or keep up with release dates. But I am hoping for something new from Goldfrapp this year, which seems likely. I need a new dance album from her – the past few have been pretty mellow, which is great, but I’m a dance music guy so the dance albums get more airtime from me. And Jessie Ware – she could clear her throat and make it sound like angels. I’ll take anything from her anytime.
Okay, so let’s spill about today’s music world. It’s no secret that the music industry has certainly changed over the years, and while we could dish about that topic all damn day, what is one thing you personally see both negative and positive about today’s rapidly ever-changing music market? I try to take things as they come and accept whatever I can’t change. One negative is that artists make less money for their actual work making music. If they don’t tour, they don’t make a living. I am eternally grateful to be able to listen to unlimited streaming music, but it just doesn’t feel right that I could listen to an album 50 times and the artist makes about 30 cents (probably way less). The subscription cost for the streaming services doesn’t even cover what a full album would cost to purchase. But things change and people make it work. Technology is great, but artists need to make money in order to make magic.
On the positive side, more people are empowered to make music and release it commercially via the web. There is so much good music out there, especially in the dance music and indie dance world, that it is literally impossible to keep up. I could surf the internet or Spotify for days at a time and still be missing half of what’s out there. I am impressed by the volume of new artists making music – not shitty music, actual good, well-produced music. Whether it’s made on a laptop by a single producer or a 4-piece band, technology has enabled people with good taste to share their art with the world. Before, you had to find a label to sign your music, press it on to vinyl or CD, and get people to run to stores to buy it. A lot of talented artists were turned off because it seemed out of reach.
Getting down to your vibes for a moment, what are some of the things you do in your daily life routine for creative inspiration? Exercising keeps me energetic and inspired. For creative guidance, I make Spotify playlists that capture what I think my sound would embrace. I will listen to a few of those tracks, meditate a bit and then start to work on a track. My mood always dictates what comes out of me – I have always been a deep house guy production-wise, but I have exorcised bad moods by making gritty techno-house. It’s great therapy.
Any personal goals you’re ready to slay this year? Personally, I want to keep saving money and build up some capital to fund new ventures. I want to focus on making cohesive groups of tracks so I can start actually shopping them to record labels. I would love to start my own label but I want to do it right, so that will depend on capital. And since I can’t ever seem to resign from event promoting, I want to throw some fun deep house events that bring people together – all ages, races, genders, orientations. It’s more fun that way.
If you had to serve your wisdom to someone who right now who just sang their first note or picked up their first pair of headphones, what advice would you give to them to keep it all moving along? If you have music in your soul, keep working at it. You know if you have it. Even if you have a naturally good singing voice or a great ear, you are always going to be green in the beginning. You have to allow yourself the time to learn. If you really want to perform for people, you have to hone your craft. Ask advice from others you admire, go to shows, network – it will keep you engaged. It’s easy to get discouraged when you are your only audience. If you have trouble getting gigs, throw your own party. That’s how I started – I didn’t want to beg people for gigs, so I came up with funky party ideas, booked a bunch of good DJs, and gave myself a good time slot so people would hear me spin.
One last sip..what does the word “music” mean to you? Music is my life – I always have music in my head. Music is my therapy and I would be completely lost without my connection to it. There was a while where I got lost in my day work and I started to get detached from music, and I was miserable. I need the release that I get from finding new music, playing it for crowds and seeing what I can make people love.
Oh, last thing – be honest and avoid talking trash. It will get you attention, but it really is bad karma and not the kind of attention that will get people to take you seriously.