Z | VP | Journalist | Trendsetter
DJ Z. The man behind the legendary site DJBooth. What were those key elements in your that made you want to become a journalist? Did you study the Danyel Smith's (VIBE) and Elliot Wilson's (XXL) of the world?
Growing up, my parents exposed me to a wide variety of music and culture. I was fortunate enough to grow up right outside of Chicago, and there's such an amazing culture and diversity which allowed me to be exposed to everything. My parents were both obsessed with music, and my uncle is a musician, so I was naturally inclined to want to be around to listen to music at all times. There was never a moment growing up where music wasn't being played in my house.
I was studying the individuals that you mentioned before I went to college for broadcasting and journalism. I'm 32, soon to be 33, so my generation is the generation where if new music was released on Tuesday, we went to the record store. You also had a subscription to either XXL, The Source, VIBE, or Rolling Stone. The whole idea of being able to receive music before the public got it was always the coolest thing to me. I would be lying to you if I thought all along that this would all be happening right now. My dreams and aspirations didn't even lie in written word, especially being on the internet, which was non-existent during my childhood. I wanted to get paid to speak for a living. I either wanted to be on television, or on the radio. It just so happens that while I was in college, the internet became a huge thing, then came social media, and everything changed.
DJBooth merely didn't start off as the site that it is today. Walk me through the maturation process of DJBooth
DJBooth was originally started by my business partner, Dave Macli in 2003. Dave, like me, was also a DJ in college. He started this site with the intention of having a hub for other DJ's to have a place to go to in order to read up on reviews pertaining to turntables, mixers, etc. We were connected to another DJ, and I saw what the site was, but I was really looking for a home to write about music, and upload interviews that I was conducting on the radio at the time. Instead of building a website myself, I reached out to him and gave him a few suggestions on what he should do with the site and I also told him the things that I could bring to the table. I sent all of this off in an email, which prompted him to call me back 10 minutes later and tell me that he loved my ideas and that he was going to re-format the site to my liking and go from there. We weren't even doing this to make any money. We were doing it for fun. I just looked at it as a bridge to another opportunity. I didn't think this would be the end goal.
You started the site in 2003 at the infant stage of social media, and from there it evolved into what it is today beginning in 2006. How has social media shaped the way hip hop enthusiasts consume editorials today?
Social Media has been a gift and a curse to the publishing industry. Over the last decade, the biggest transition in publishing has been the wave of individuals who used to only consume content on a desktop, or laptop, who now only consume content off of a mobile device. This was a huge transition because, for years, the advertising industry made their bread and butter on desktop and laptops. When the trend went from consuming information on a large screen, to a small screen, it screwed everybody because you can't advertise the same on a mobile device because there's less real estate.
As a result, social media gave publishers a boost because it gave people who are already on their mobile device the opportunity to gain access to the sites through a medium that they were already on. We are at a point right now where so few people actually visit websites as destinations. They just scroll trough their timelines, find the stories that they're interested in, and then hop over if they know the brand. No one goes to most sites anymore. This made publishers have to change the way they appealed to their potential readers on social media, which made the headline suffer. Honest headlines aren't getting clicks. They're being ignored in a sea of Facebook and Twitter feeds which is why publishers have had to resort to tactics that aren't as kosher to garner clicks.
People love the one listen reviews, the depth of topics that are discussed on the site and the overall artistic responsibility that DJBooth represents. How do you stay inspired to produce quality content even though you're the VP of the site?
We live in a time now where everybody is focused on saying, this is what happened. If you read most stories on Hip-Hop or urban music related websites, they only tell you what happened. The truth is if the story is just that, you don't even need to really click through. You probably are going to get 97% of the story in the headline. We at DJBooth aren't concerned with saying this is what happened. Do we run articles like that? Yes, because not everything requires an additional layer. But, there are two questions that we always ask of our writing staff when something comes up, while already considering what happened. The first question is, "Why does it matter?" The second question is, "What does this mean now?" We try to get all of our writers to think in terms of those two things. As far as one listens go, the reality is, there is so much being released, no one is actually sitting with it, so why would we want to present an album review that acts as such? Why not just be open and honest? We aren't going to act like we spent three days listening to this album over and over again. That's the one listen experience.
Where do you see DJBooth heading toward in the years to come?
We have a lot planned. Over the past six months, we've been focusing on the development and growth of our mobile app, "The Plug." Publishers have dwindled over time, and with the proliferation of the app experience, anything you can do to allow your content to be read easier is a step that has to be taken. If you're a loyal DJBooth reader, and you love our content, then you'll love this app. We've taken more of a grassroots approach so far, but we'll be investing more into the app during the next upgrade of it. We're also in the process of taking the DJBooth experience offline. We're looking into doing more live events, and showcases in the New York market which will hopefully elevate some of the artist discoveries from the site into the real world. We've talked with several stations on Sirius XM, as well as Apple Music about taking the DJBooth experience and putting it into a radio podcast again. We don't want to let the editorial suffer so we've expanded our writing team which allows us to have a larger voice. We have writers in England, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, California, as well as some smaller locations. Not to mention, we've brought on several female writers. At DJBooth we have a diverse background of writers and I'm blessed that we have such a diverse staff because they're able to attack editorial from such a unique angle and we aren't just speaking from one vantage point. We are the universal hip-hop listener.