Interview with DJ Rap: Public Shaming Works

If you want to make it in the music industry, it’s not enough to learn the technical ropes – you have to know the scene and its business side. This is the advice of DJ Rap, a Drum & Bass pioneer, the CEO of two labels, and a teacher bent on passing on the knowledge. We caught up with her in light of her recent IDMA nomination, ready to learn.
Interview with DJ Rap: Public Shaming Works
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Urska Jaksa

No social distancing rules were hurt in the process, because we #StayHome and you should too. Now, back to business. For the second consecutive year, Viberate has used various popularity metrics to populate the artist specific categories for the International Dance Music Awards. In a time when all live events, along with the Winter Music Conference, where the IDMAs are presented, have come to a standstill, we're happy to share our conversation with some of the nominees here. 

Charissa Saverio, better known by her stage name DJ Rap, but also as a queen of Jungle, has been breaking beats since the 1990s. Her style-blending album “Learning Curve” was a game changer that propelled her onto stages alongside music legends. She’s a businesswoman and a teacher who instructs other musicians not only how to produce, but also how to succeed in general. Like she says: “I teach life in this business.”

 

You’ve often said that you’re a bit “schizophrenic” musically, as you enjoy different genres and styles. Is that beneficial to creating music, or can it actually hold you back?

Well, it can be a double-edged sword. For the positive part, it stops me from getting bored creatively in many ways. It has taken me around the world as a DJ, playing Tech House as well as D & B, and afforded me the opportunity to work and perform with legends like Bowie, Green Day, and Seal, to name a few, and all the amazing DJs and producers and artists I would never have had a chance to work with otherwise! On the negative, you have to be careful not to alienate your fans or confuse them musically. But I always know my fans are open-minded to music, period, and I'm always pushing myself. I think they appreciate that.

DJ Rap welcomes some genre-hopping, which is evident in this collaboration with Australian DJ tyDi.

You’re a pioneer of Drum & Bass, which surely meant some challenges during your career – bad record deals, being ripped off, and so on. Can you tell us a bit more, so that anyone who’s getting into the business can learn what to watch out for? 

Watch out for the labels. It's still happening, I'm still owed money for records I had out last year. Sadly, people think that's normal. I could call those labels and artists out, but I feel that's their karma – and also what lawyers are for. 

I'll tell you this: a contract means nothing, unless you're prepared to sue, and that's no guarantee that you'll get paid, so it's often a waste of time. The internet is your best friend and a powerful weapon, so use it wisely, and not for every little grievance. I have sadly had to resort to public shaming once before, when owed a lot of money, and of course, that worked. I have learned to only put music out on my own label, no one else will care as much as you do. There's no need to rely on others. If you think you're too small to make an impact, you have never been in a dark room with a mosquito.

"The internet is your best friend and a powerful weapon, so use it wisely, and not for every little grievance."

Besides creating music, you’ve also taught groups and individuals. What is the most important thing to teach a young producer?

Everything you need to know about the music business. The A to Z of production and Ableton, but more importantly, I teach life in this business. How to survive the bad, how to run your own label, etc. Mistakes are our greatest successes. Look at the above; even with all my experience, I can get ripped off with a contract, but did it hurt me? No, it made me work harder on MY label, and in the end, I benefited the most from that experience, while they not only lost me for future releases, they also lost their reputation. If you don't have that, you have nothing.

You’ve done music for PlayStation, Wii, and numerous movies. Is your approach to the production process the same, regardless of whether you’re producing an EP or doing something people will hear while Tom Cruise blows up a helicopter?

Every project is different, and I approach them all differently and organically. I let my brain just vibe and the ideas come, I never put pressure on myself, nor do I make anything so important that it renders me musically impotent. The world will keep turning, all I can do is my very best, then let it go. A wonderful gift I leaned from acting. Do the research, do the work, enjoy the process, let it go.

"I have learned to only put music out on my own label, no one else will care as much as you do. "

You’ve said in the past that sexism is still a part of the business, but that it vanishes when a woman creates a few hits. Do you think that at some point, equality can be achieved?

I would like to hope so, but we’re not there yet. It doesn't vanish after a few hits. What I meant by that is: let your music do the talking, instead of your looks. It will vanish when both men and women stop valuing looks above talent. 

 

The bottom line: do you think women DJs/producers have to work harder to get to the top?

Yes, absolutely, in every way.

The 1994 track helped define the Drum & Bass genre as it is today.

To stay in the game, you have to learn new things constantly. Technology changes all the time. Social media has become really important for musicians, trends change on an almost monthly bases, even people in the business change. How do you adapt?

I enjoy this part, I'm a nerd, I watch progress bars. It's my job. If you don't like technology, you’re so screwed, because you can't stop advancement! I like to stay current only to what is useful, not what is trendy, and I make time to try things out, as it's vital to my business and core success.

 

If we’re not mistaken, the name DJ Rap comes from a friend who gave you a bit of advice about a webpage domain?

No, that's not really true. But that friend did tell me it was a good name for web traffic, when I was moaning to them one day that my name made no sense. He reminded me I also made no sense, so it made perfect sense for me. We had a good laugh over that.

 

Cover photo: Artist’s archive

 

 

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Urska Jaksa

Urska Jaksa

Managing Editor at Viberate
Storyteller with a nerd eye for music data. Believes in the healing power of group singing, while her ultimate cure are live shows.