Michael Antonia is a wedding DJ. He will also blow your mind. Those two things are not often synonymous, but trust us when we say, he will obliterate any ideas you have of what a wedding DJ is. He also happens to be a brilliant creative, designer, business owner, and all around good human. Read on to hear what he’s got to say.
Hi Michael! For our readers who aren’t yet familiar with your work, can you share a bit about how your path led you to becoming a DJ?
I have always been a hustler. When I was 9 or 10 years old I had a little bike shop in my basement and I would build bikes from scrap parts and sell them to the older kids. When they broke them, I’d buy them back for pennies on the dollar and flip them again. I had 2-3 paper routes, I mowed lawns in the summer, shoveled driveways in the winter, ever industrious! I took that money and bought records, thousands and thousands of records, because I’ve also always been an obsessive music collector. Soon after college I learned that I could make money playing records and I never looked back. But that wasn’t enough, I also produced dance nights, parties, concerts, small corporate events and later graduated to producing multi-million dollar marketing initiatives for fortune 500 companies. In those days I DJed a lot. Sometimes up to 4-5 days for corporate stuff AND 4-5 nights a week in clubs. I was lucky enough to play with everyone from Pearl Jam and Grandmaster Flash to Daft Punk and Diplo. But it wasn’t all jam packed nights with amazing artists, I was grinding it out on the club / festival circuit for five years in New York and five years before that in Seattle. In that time I was surrounded by drugged out club owners, back stabbing “colleagues”, and audiences who thought way more of radio pop than they did of the craft of being a turntablist… plus, the money and hours, were terrible. Instead of making another slight course correction to navigate my life into tolerable waters, I just crashed the ship and swam away.
I never meant to be a wedding DJ, I fought pretty hard against it in the beginning… but as it turns out i’m pretty good at it. In 2007 I moved to LA without knowing a soul, during the worst financial crisis in recorded history. My wife was pregnant and I needed a job so I applied my experiences and talent to possibly the most undesirable (to me at that time) career ever. Turns out that it was the best decision I ever made. I saw a wide open lane in the wedding industry. Wedding DJs were (mostly) dorks who said stupid shit on the mic, wore terrible suits, and played the world’s worst music ever. Or they were real DJs too ashamed to actually advertise that they were, in fact, wedding DJs. So I set out to change people’s perspective and bring something fresh to it.
Even though I went into it kicking and screaming, I found that the wedding / event industry employs some of the most talented, funny, creative, sharp, and most importantly NICEST people I have ever met! Before I knew this, I built my own new professional network by pulling from my past lives in events, film, marketing and advertising. So from the start we were marketing to professionals and artists from outside the wedding world. From the beginning we had strived to make something funny, something authentic, something against the grain, but first and foremost… something FUN! We have been fortunate enough to find like minded artists to collaborate with which really makes it all worth while.
It still makes me feel funny to say I am a wedding DJ at a dinner party, but it makes me feel pretty awesome to say that I work with my best friends, and make people TRULY happy every weekend creating art that I am incredibly proud of.
I would have never chosen this career, but I’m so grateful it chose me.
What types of creative work do you like to pursue outside of music?
My other big love is furniture & design. I started working for The Ace Hotel in the very early days and that discipline gave me a real keen love for interiors and working with artists and fabricators. That love prompted me to start YEAH! Rentals (our mid century / industrial furniture rental company) 7 years ago. I feel like the people who appreciate our brand of design are wildly under serviced in the event world, so after spending years as a fan of the form, I decided to try my hand at adding something tangible to the world. We launched our retail line (YEAH! Furniture) in the spring of 2015 and I continue to design and commission pieces for both retail and rental. The Flashdance now houses 6 companies and covers nearly every aspect of event production, whether it be furniture and props from YEAH! Rentals, photo/video/design from YEAH! Weddings, or a damn good DJ.
Where do you find inspiration? Do you ever get blocked creatively, and if so, what do you do to pull yourself out?
I try to surround myself with people who are better at something than I am, so I am always learning and continue to be inspired. I naturally gravitate to people from different fields with very different interests than mine. I don’t really hang out with DJs and furniture designers, you know? That would be boring for me. Finally, I spend a lot of time reading & traveling. I’m not blocked creatively very frequently and I think it is mostly because I have too much to do… My creative process is a response to my workload, not the other way around!
Tell us a bit about how you read the crowd at events… How do you go about selecting a certain song? Or setting a mood?
I have no idea. I start by playing music I love or that I would want to hear in that situation and I observe and experiment until I get it just right. I have always been good at reading people, no magic potion or recipe, I think I’m just lucky…
How do you go about curating a set for each client? To what degree do you plan out your sets vs allowing the vibe of the crowd to guide your next move?
I don’t really plan sets. I have a lot of mini sets, (3-10 songs that go well together) and I try to weave those together if possible, but my main “plan” is to not have a plan. I go into it expecting nothing and allow intuition to guide me. Whenever I try to plan it out, or think, ‘I’ll do this because that’s what they want’ I’m always off. I find that if I like what I’m doing, that energy is infectious and people are naturally attracted. Then it is simply a matter of fine tuning to their mood.
To be a successful DJ, you have to be incredibly diverse in your music taste. How would you describe your taste or style? How has it evolved over time?
I have really broad taste in music, which I think comes from collecting and consuming for a really long time, so I don’t know that I could tell you my style… but I guess the word that would describe it best would be soul, not soul music (though I adore soul music) but music from any genre with soul. It has changed and grown and matured a lot over the years — as I learn more, I love more! The music that makes me the happiest right now is stuff that most people have never heard before. It thrills me to play something for a friend that I know they will love and that they have never heard before (new or old).
What have been some of the most challenging aspects of creating and running your own business and what have you done to address or overcome them? The most rewarding?
I am a bit of a workaholic so I would say the biggest challenge for me is balancing my family life and my business so that my whole life is well rounded. Doing that is time consuming and expensive, so it requires patience, faith that the work will come, faith in my employees, and the desire to lead. In the beginning I just needed to get jobs and go do good work. Things are far more complex now. However, I have quite a bit more free time as a result and I can spend that time working on the things I am really good at instead of e-mails & logistics which I am not an expert at. Having time for my family is very very rewarding.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into DJing or just a creative or small business in general?
Hahaha. Ummmm, that is a big question. I have a lot, but the cliff notes version is: Don’t take anything for granted. Get a great book keeper. To the extent possible, do the things that you are an expert at and pay people to do the rest. Practice. Be really nice to everyone. If you are an artist trying to make a living from your art, do whatever you can to avoid turning your art into something that you hate to do. Never settle.
Image: James Moes