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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Waits

My First Gig Experience

I was scared shitless. I had finally made the decision to make ‘DJ Taylor Waits’ official and now I actually had to DJ for people - the horror! My friend was having her two-year anniversary of her vintage shop and not only was I her friend, but also her customer and biggest fan. Her shop (Canela Vintage) is full of nostalgic furniture, appliances, and toys from the 90s. The showrooms are filled with early 2000s pop, r&b, and hip hop from an old school radio and personalized youtube video or spotify playlists. Her clothes, shop set-up, and merchandise reflected her aura so much. She was the queen of sharing little pieces of herself with each customer, making each of us feel like we were leaving with a piece of her history, of San Antonio culture. Her shop had grown from simply her idea to a real space and she chose me to celebrate her growth with all of her customers, local artists and vendors, and my own supporters. It was the perfect first gig line up. A crowd full of other artists, designers, creatives, and small business owners all there to celebrate the beginning of the journey of Canela Vintage. And I had agreed to DJ. Imagine being asked to “take the aux” at someone’s wedding, or their son’s graduation. I was one week out and the pressure was starting to get to me. 

Whenever I have a public facing event, I have to practice until I feel like I am damn near perfect before I can present. The unknown is what scares me the most as a DJ. All of the “what ifs”, all of the ways that my gig could get sabotaged or fucked up. In order to ensure the success of the event, and that the energy will be positive and communal, I begin by manifesting my vision for the event. I try to envision what my outfit will look like, what my day will look like in, what I might want to eat before hand, what hula hooping moves I want to show off, and of course, my set-list. I relate my set-list to the bibliography of my dissertation. There is a type of intention done when choosing a set-list. DJs are truly therapists for their crowds, song selection is everything. I wanted the songs I chose to represent Canela, her business’ growth, the representation of its path, and put the same level of intent with song choice as she does with the selection of her pieces. I wanted to not only relate to Canela and her customers, but also to her profession. She was a curator of vintage fashion pieces, making sure each piece told a story, had its own energy, waiting for the right person to come in and see the same potential. I admired how she was in charge of making something “in” or “out” in her shop. I wanted the night to be experienced not just attended. I wanted everyone to leave feeling like they were a part of history, Canela’s history. She was writing her own history, her way. I was determined to develop my setlist the same way. 

I always write out my set-lists as I am a kinesthetic and visual learner. I need to write it own and visualize it in order for it to stick. I write out my setlists based off of time, and how I would like the event to flow. I usually start with more calming and relaxing moods with smaller artists’ music, and usually in the house or electronic music genre. Then, i’ll think of whether or not the party includes alcohol, how long it is supposed to last, and the vibe of the host. A mix of host specifications, crowd reactions, and my own music taste is what gets me to the end. Here is a snapshot of how I planned out that day. 

My outline of musical themes for my first set

I mostly heard 90s and early 2000s in her shop so I wanted that to be introduced early. There were vendors and clothing being sold at the event so I wanted to recreate the daily shopping experience of Canela Vintage for a majority of the time. The event was meant to celebrate Canela but also to bring in some money, so I didn’t want to play too many bangers in a row. As the night continued, I knew the drinks were going to be pouring a little faster and more frequent. I wanted to highlight the middle portion of #HotGirlSummer, and highlight women artists since this was a woman owned business. We would end the night with some Tejano jams, bachata classics, and Daddy Yankee (duh). My setlist was complete, my outfit was picked out, dance moves perfected in the mirror, and I flatironed my hair. Now to execute.

I started my day dancing with my hula hoops and listening to the set list I had developed for that day. I wanted to be in the mood of positivity, of celebration because that’s what the event was - a birthday party! I spent time on my makeup, hair, and outfit. I said my affirmations, got a ride with a friend, and headed to the venue. I was greeted by a bunch of artists trying to have a good time celebrating Canela. Balloons being blown up, beer being brought in, mexican bread and pastries being set up, and lots of talking and laughter. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I knew it was going to be a good gig. And it was. I hula hooped my soul away, got to keep my own bottle of champagne, and assembled my own crew of hype men and dancers. It felt like less of a gig and more like a true party. I finished the day satisfied, sweaty, and empowered and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Looking back, all of my nerves were valid but not necessary. Nerves fuel preparation. I wanted to make sure I came with my shit correct. I was so nervous I spent weeks thinking of the best way to execute my vision for myself and Canela’s vision for her shop. It made me more appreciative of the creative process, and the intention and love that goes into it. I manifested the energy that was going to be necessary to get this done. Throw together the support of my friends and my customer with a bad ass attitude and it’s bound to be a lituation. I had people actually call me and ask to book gigs, follow my instagram page, and listen to my mixes. “I’m sweating cause of you.” 

Having that experience just solidified to me why I started Djing. There aren’t enough Black women doing it, period. I got tired of hearing male-centered, angry, and mediocre songs chosen by a usually male Dj. I never saw myself reflected in the music, I could never really “get into it”. At the core of it, I wanted to hear something different when I went out. I was tired of the same. Since starting my journey as a DJ, I have been able to meet with other Black women and queer DJs who also choose to take a stand against stale music. If you’re also looking for a difference in music selection I would take a listen to HUNY, Kaytranada, basedgrace, or some mixes by SNAKEHIPS. Head to my SoundCloud for more aritists and playlists to listen to! Let’s bring back dancing at clubs, and playing music that sounds good and makes us feel good.

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