The Art of Staying Young: As The Years Fly By DJs Adopt Different Tactics To Keep Father Time Away

By  | 

In being careful to remain relevant and appealing to younger generations, mobile jock Kevin Porter in Rock Hill, S.C., says he stays in shape by regularly walking and watching what he eats, and also subscribing to Top Hits USA to stay current with new music.

“I try to stay away from a lot of fried foods,” he says, “and I’ve quit eating wedding cake at every event.”


Beyond those healthy aspects, Porter says he’s also keeping up with young people by training his 11-year-old son Braden to become a DJ, taking him to events whenever kids are present.

Leading up to the upcoming graduation ceremonies and parties, we’ve asked today’s mobile DJs how they continue to appeal to younger audiences.

As we age, what ways have we found to continue drinking from the fountain of youth to maintain both our physical and professional relevance?

What types of music do we listen to in order to stay current? What publications or blogs do we regularly read in order to keep up with the younger generation?

Do we color our hair, or are we careful to keep aware of fashion changes?

“Most DJs tend to stick with what they know and what they’re comfortable with,” says Jay Friese of Signature Sounds in Bristol, R.I. “If you want to do events geared toward a younger clientele or want to keep floors packed at any event, you really need to have your finger on the pulse of the music industry.”

In keeping up with the latest music trends, Friese says he’s a member of four record pools, plus he gets serviced directly through the Def Jam label.

“On top of that, I’m constantly listening to other DJs’ sets to hear what tracks they’re playing that I may have missed,” he adds. “And I always try to incorporate new music in my sets at most type of events—unless, of course, my client only wants a specific genre.”

Besides keeping up with tunes, Friese says he also regularly peruses online sources such as Facebook along with DMS and DJCity.

“I also try to go to the gym three to five days a week to train, mainly doing CrossFit,” he says. “I also stay in top of fashion trends and hairstyles, though I don’t watch the reality shows.”

Over in the Midwest, mobiles tell us that mixing it up with the youth and surrounding themselves with young people works best in order to stay current, at least for school dances.

“I try to have young people be the lead for our kids events,” says Keith “K.C.” KoKoruz of The Keith Christopher Entertainment Group in Chicago, Ill. “At my age, I have the confidence that the school needs to know that we’re all professional, insured, well-managed, etc.”

Besides subscribing to Promo Only’s Pool digital service to stay current with music, KoKoruz says he relies on his younger staff to take the lead as he maintains the role of manager and administer.

“Personally, I think the majority of the [older DJs] who do things like color their hair look fake, and I think that most clients and their guests can tell the difference,” he says. “Unless you have ‘celebrity’ money to hire the best people, I just choose to be my own age.

“Again, I choose to not be a performer for the younger crowd. I choose to represent myself as the boss who cares for the client by overseeing my people on the job. For example, if we’re at a large homecoming dance, I may have 10 people working the event doing various things, from those who do set-up to the lighting techs to photo-booth operators to the strike crew.”

Blake “DJ Sticky Boots” Eckelbarger in South Bend, Ind., says his late father was a master at maintaining relevance as a DJ, by constantly staying engaged and active with both new music and youth-oriented events.

“When I was still in high school and DJing more and more all the time, my dad was in his mid-50s, but still rocking homecomings, proms and other school events every weekend—not to mention buying new music every week,” he recalls. “He always had the local Top-40 station playing in the car to keep up with tunes and he truly enjoyed the music—even though he also loved Big Band and the ’50s and ’60s oldies of his own high school and young adult years.

“My dad continued to DJ high-school and middle-school events until his early 70s, and was the only senior citizen I’ve ever known who could sing along to ‘Get Low’ or the latest Katy Perry record – definitely an inspiration.”

Now, at age 42, Sticky Boots says he tries to emulate what his dad did by constantly staying in touch with whatever new music is current.

“Of course, as a producer of a nationally syndicated Top-40 radio mix show, The HyperMiXx, that’s kind of my job, too,” he adds with a chuckle. “Every week I’m analyzing airplay, sales and streaming data for new music; watching for trends; and seeing what records are breaking and what songs are gaining strength or falling.

“I’m talking with all the major record label reps every week to find out about new music, new artists and what’s in the pipeline. I’m constantly discussing new music with my fellow radio DJs and programmers, to see what people in other parts of the country are buzzing about.”

Probably most importantly, Sticky Boots says he goes out into schools and colleges every weekend, playing the hits, testing new music, and getting requests and feedback from kids about what they really want to hear.

“It’s in these places I’m hearing about brand-new records that are exploding out of YouTube as the next viral dance sensation or the next artist to watch,” he says.

Sticky Boots subscribes to several online music services to help get the latest music, but explains that even the best of those songs tend to be behind the curve of what the kids are actually enjoying.

“So the best information comes from the streets themselves and from the label’s A&R people who are signing and developing these new artists,” he explains. “Pools are fine for a typical wedding or private event, but for schools you need to be more proactive and you may have to download a record occasionally from iTunes or SoundCloud before it even appears in a mainstream pool.”

The same concept can apply to fashion, Sticky Boots says, though he says he’s not trying to look or act like he’s 18-years old again.

“I think it’s important to stay on trend with your fashion, lingo, and music, but at the same time kids are smart,” he explains. “You’re not going to fool them into believing you’re 20 or 30 years younger, and if anything you’ll come off looking like a douche if you try to completely emulate their style and slang.

“You’ll also probably be behind the curve anyway… which is never a good look. Just be yourself, and if you’re in touch with what’s happening, kids will still respect you and simply consider you a cool older person.”

Of course, when it comes to remaining relevant in this industry, he adds that it’s important to stay healthy just in order to stay alive.

“Being a DJ,” he says, “is such a physical thing—especially if you don’t have roadies to do the lifting for you—so staying strong with good flexibility is the key to not getting injured and having the stamina to do your job.

“I maintain an active lifestyle with lots of walking, biking and daily training with P90X3 [workout], which is awesome because it works not just on strength but flexibility and balance, too. A good fitness program goes a long way in making long days and nights on the road easy, especially when you can’t always eat healthy or at regular times.”

Eckelbarger says he also takes breaks, leaves the office on time most days, and generally just takes time to enjoy his life, his family and his downtime.

“At least for me, life is about more than bragging about crushing my 80-hour-weeks at the office or taking every single event I can get,” he says. “Balance keeps us feeling and looking young.”

Down in Goodyear, Ariz., Ray Martinez of Ray Mar Productions says staying young mostly means keeping current with the latest music.

“Just look at Tony Bennett,” Martinez says. “Tony is 90-years old and beloved by so many younger artists, because he keeps up to date with the artists and their music.

When young 20- or 30-year olds meet me they don’t ask my age, but I do tell them that I have over 40 years’ experience in the music industry. That makes me an expert in my field, so they respect the knowledge I have that most younger DJs may not have received.

“The key is doing your homework and being prepared for the job regardless of a DJ’s age.”

Martinez says a legend in the sports world—Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Vin Scully—is another example of someone who has stayed relevant in his career by behaving young, yet utilizing his experience to maintain prominence.

“Vin broadcasted Dodger baseball for 66 years until his retirement this past year, and he’s served several generations of baseball fans,” says Martinez. “Even today, Scully serves as an inspiration to broadcasters and DJs alike. If you know what you’re talking about and come across as knowledgeable, age doesn’t matter. Experience matters.

“I personally have worked with both Tony Bennett and Vin Scully, and have learned a lot from their expertise, the love of their respective fields, music, sports and finally their passion for their work.”

Up in Seattle, Wash., Adam Tiegs of Adam’s DJ Service, is inspired by his own two children—5- and 10-years old—to keep the edge as the younger generation comes more and more into play, and he continues entertaining for grade-school children.

“I really don’t care about fashion,” he says. “I don’t color my hair or wear Abercrombie & Fitch, but what keeps me current is keeping up with what songs are in kids’ movies, reading the Billboard and Beatport charts, especially the charts in DJ Times, and simply listening to and writing down requests at events.”

By downloading music through a subscription to Promo Only (or ERG or BPM or Prime Cuts), Tiegs says he keeps music in his collection that younger people want to hear.

“I also subscribe to a few record labels on YouTube, follow some artists on SoundCloud and Pandora,” he says, “and I listen to specific channels on SiriusXM and Music Choice by Comcast.

“A DJ secret, though maybe not anymore, is BarBangerz. It’s a site started by a local DJ here in the Northwest who supplies DJs with mixable edits, loops and transitions. I love the content—articles, blogs, videos—that’s shared on the site to keep me current with DJ, production and music news.

“But having kids myself—seeing what they’re into and being able to put together playlists with my kids for the events I perform at that require newer, family-friendly music—is the key.”

For years, Scott Goldoor of Signature DJs in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., says he’s been subscribing to Promo Only’s Mainstream and Rhythm Radio music service.

“They hit on 90-percent of anything that younger kids or that the Z-Generation/Millennials are looking for,” Goldoor says. “With so much new music coming out seemingly every day, I also check out Billboard Top 100 from time to time, listen to XM radio every day, and do try to stay on top of current events on television shows, series and the like.

“It also is nice that my girlfriend’s daughter just turned 18, so that helps a little with the pulse on music. In addition, I’m currently in the process of training three new DJ candidates—ages 19, 20 and 22—and I’ve DJed some college and campus parties.

“The trickiest and most difficult to stay up with seems to be the Mitzvah ages and Sweet 16s. We perform at dozens of these events each year, even though we’re wedding specialists.”

When it comes to keeping in shape and maintaining a younger look, Goldoor says he’s fortunate to have a high metabolism.

“I try to stay active, ski in the winter, golf in the summer—walking the course whenever possible, though golf isn’t really a highly aerobic and heart-pumping activity—play some tennis, do mountain and bike-rides, and take part in 5K runs and Spartan & Mud Races here and there.

“I actually think of this whole topic and situation often, as most of my DJs—currently eight on roster now—have been with me for at least 10 to 15 years. We were all in our 20s and 30s, but are now mostly in our 40s with a couple 50s-plus…

“Though my girlfriend does want to do a little coloring of the sides of my hair—especially when it’s short—as my grays are starting to come through a little more and more!”