Music is the Spice: An Interview with DJ Mickey D

DJ Mickey D recently spoke with Liam Sweeny of RadioRadioX.

When you think of a DJ, you might think of turntables and scratching, record skipping and beat tracks and all kinds of bending of time and space. But DJing, in its simple reality, is providing a soundtrack for an experience. We might think that DJs play music tracks, and the good ones are talented, but maybe it’s more to the point that DJs play the crowd itself.

DJ Mickey D has a wealth of experience playing different crowds, from “Rocking New Year’s Eve” with Ryan Seacrest to DJing for Mary J. Blige. And with a show called “The Spice of Life”, he shares with his crowd a special little mix of his own.

RRX: On your website, you talk about DJing never being a job, but a passion. And you’ve DJ’d for such people as Mary J. Blige and Jay Z. So, most people would see your resume as a dream come true. When you talk about it being your passion, there is also a job in there. How do you keep it a passion when there is so much work involved?

MD: I started DJing when I was 13. It gave me such self-confidence which I needed because I had low self-esteem due to being born with a cleft-lip and palette. I found that I was able to connect to people through music and make them smile. Over the years I have always volunteered to DJ for all sorts of worthy causes like Operation Smile fundraisers, Boys & Girls Club, the list goes on. I always make sure to give back and my gift to give is music. I think that’s how I stay passionate about music. It always gives me confidence like nothing else in my life, and I always make sure to play gigs that are changing the lives of others.  

RRX: When you open for a superstar, when you open for a Jay Z, it’s probably not the same as when you open up for your cousin Mark. There are, I imagine, requirements, conditions you have to navigate through that you wouldn’t on a smaller gig. And I’m not talking state secrets; just a different level. What might be some differences? 

MD: I created the opportunity to open for Jay Z as well becoming Mary J Blige’s tour DJ. That’s the first and most significant difference. Jay Z was on his “American Gangster” tour and when we hit the Hammerstein in NYC the dream gig presented itself. Funk Master Flex was opening the show and had to leave early while Jay Z has been delayed and was coming in late. I approached the tour manager and told him that I was an awesome DJ and wanted to play.  It turned into an unbelievable 40-minute set of old school NYC hip hop in front of a sold-out crowd. It was a similar situation with MJB. The front of house engineer was playing boring music at the top of the show so I approached the tour manager and asked if I could DJ. I had researched Mary’s influences and put together a sample playlist of what I would play. The next day I auditioned in front of the tour manager as well as Mary’s manager and the gig was mine. It’s important to note I didn’t get paid extra to DJ and I still had to perform my stage-managing duties. But I knew the experiences would be amazing and pay off in the long run.

When creating these amazing opportunities, it’s important to stay humble and true to the task at hand. Just because you have a massive sound system to play on and thousands of people to play for doesn’t mean that’s your opportunity to become DJ number one and create an energy that is not conducive to the opening acts or headliner taking the stage. My name was not on the marquee or the flyer. My job was to play music that set the crowd up for the show to take them on their journey. 

If I could offer someone one piece of advice to a DJ that finds themselves in the position of opening for an act of any caliber, don’t play their tracks during your set!

RRX: You have a show, called the “The Spice”. I saw that you had Whoopi Goldberg on the show for the season two finale. And also, climatologist Ginger Zee. It’s a diversity that speaks to a show called the “The Spice”. Can you tell me a little bit about the show, how it started? Who was an interesting person you’ve had on that surprised you?

MD: When the pandemic began, and we went into lockdown I quickly became bored with livestreams. There was no connection between the performer and the audience. And we needed to connect to one another. I started throwing Zoom dance parties and that evolved into the virtual events company Uru Connects with my partners Chris and Kerstin. My role is director of events so I began experimenting with different ideas for music centric virtual events. This is when The Spice was born. A show where friends gather each month to tell stories and share memories that remind us how essential music is to our lives. The first season was completely virtual. The second season was streamed live from a private social club in Brooklyn called Club Curious. This club is a creative space created by my friend and the owner of the craft nonalcoholic beverage Curious Elixirs. Having the guest in person with a small feast of friends gave the show such amazing energy that I decided to take The Spice on the road this summer. First stop is Arlington, VA on 6/12 with Meghan McCain and Kyra Phillips. 

MD: During my NYC DJ Series I had Catori from Bespoke Musik as guest. Catori is an accomplished actress and musician who fell in love with DJing while working at The Boom Boom Room in NYC. Under the tutelage of my friend DJ ObAH (Oldskool Beats and Harmonies) who was also a part of the DJ series (at the time of booking I didn’t know about this connection). I learned that Catori has only been DJing for four years and she was already playing massive events such as Burning Man as well as headlining consistently in NYC, LA, and Miami. If I remember correctly, I told her she was a rocket ship.

RRX: There’s something about variety shows, like what I feel Spice of Life is, and correct me if I’m wrong. It’s all in the pattern. Like if you look at something up close, it’s yellow and blue dots; step back, it’s green. So, if you step back from all different types of guests you’ve had on Spice of Life, what do you see?

MD: When I step back and look at the guests that I’ve had on The Spice the first thing I see is friends and family. For the first season this is literal the only people I could convince to come on my show were friends and family. Now that I’m booking more well-known guests and the list grows longer (23 total so far!), I still see friends, but more so I see an entire spectrum of life perspectives that can all be related to music. And that’s the beauty of my show. No matter social or economic status, everyone has the song that reminds them of their mother. Everyone who loves music can relate to every question of every show because we all have soundtracks to our lives. I can ask you what song makes you smile the same way I can ask everyone from a movie star to the guitarist from a heavy metal band (shout out Joey Z LOA!). I mention smile because I am starting an initiative through The Spice to raise funds for Operation Smile, an organization that is near and dear to my heart.

RRX: “Rocking New Year’s Eve”, with Ryan Seacrest, I have to ask about that. Something like that is an intersection between an entertainment event and a historical event. And as a DJ, you have a huge responsibility for stoking the crowd in between segments. It’s high pressure, I imagine, but also high fun. Any neat facts about RNYE?

MD: Every New Year’s Eve for the past nine years I’ve worked as Ryan Seacrest’s audio handler. I run through Times Square with Team Ryan all night making sure he sounds good, can hear what he needs to hear, as well as managing communications for the others in our group. I’ve always said you could never get me to go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve unless you paid me. Be careful what you wish for. It can be a grueling gig with the endless rehearsals and terrible weather (a few years ago it was the coldest New Year’s Eve in 100 years, that sucked). But no matter the challenges, the energy of the show is always amazing and Ryan is awesome to work with. He really sets the bar for energy and professionalism and when it’s cold and wet, he is suffering the same as his crew. But he always pushes through with a smile and so do we because like they say, the show must go on.

RRX: You do a lot of events and play in a lot of places. You’re constantly being put into new situations and having to adapt. So, if you have a choice between a big, huge show or festival, or a small, intimate gathering, is it an easy choice on its face, or does it depend on who’s there? Do you have a ‘sweet spot’ for places to perform?

MD: For me at this time in my life it’s not about the size of the crowd or the venue. It’s all about whether or not I can play the music I want to play. My father passed last year from cancer and this was a very difficult and transformative period in my life. My dad was a DJ also and even though he moved to South Carolina when I was 12 and we didn’t have the closest relationship, we always had music and DJing. So many times he would be at a wedding and hit me up for music to play. We couldn’t talk sports, but we certainly could talk music. When he died, I thought about the amount of anxiety I go through when preparing for gigs such as weddings and corporate events, the panic attacks on the way to the show, and I realized I was having these problems because I wasn’t staying true to myself. I was continuing to endure pain because the money was great. Not to say I didn’t enjoy these gigs; I always rocked the party and have only five star reviews. But when I decided to get real with myself and stop taking gigs because of the money, so many amazing opportunities opened up for me. Now I’m a Love Prophet with Dr. Jah & The Love Prophets as well as the DJ and color commentator for an MMA promotion in Rockland County. I don’t make nearly what I did before but I don’t care. I have so much fun and only play music that I love.

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