For years, the disc jockeys of the world—commonly referred to as "the DJ"—have quietly taken their place in the background of the music industry. Now, the first annual Global Spin Awards plans to change that by honoring them in a ceremony similar to the Academy Awards.
VIBE was in attendance at the Global Spin Awards press conference last month (see photos [HERE]), so we can tell you with confidence that this will definitely be a night to remember.
In an exclusive interview, we sat down with music exec Shawn Prez—one of the event's curators—to discuss everything from details surrounding the award ceremony, why DJs don't get their proper credit, and exactly what made multimedia journalist Sway Calloway the perfect person to take over as host.
VIBE: What inspired you guys to actually make something like The Global Spin Awards actually come together?
Shawn Prez: This award show was something I personally wanted to do for the last 10 years. Unfortunately, we all have busy schedules. I never got around to doing it and really putting it together, but the idea was always there. I just felt like it was a void—a major vacuum in the industry. The industry recognizes all other areas of talent, whether they’re the writers, the producers, or the artists. However, they’ve failed to recognize that our field is the backbone of, not just music, but the entertainment culture as a whole. These DJ’s, they’re the dictators of a good time. They’re the dictators of your nightlife. They are the ones who are out there—when you go to the clubs or you listen to the radio—exposing you to what’s new, telling you what’s hot, and also letting you know what’s going to be hot. For the industry not to recognize such a pivotal part of the music, and the breaking of music, I think it’s been a travesty. I felt that it was just time that these individuals get their recognition and be recognized on a stage in front of their peers.
Why do you think it’s taken so long? Aside from scheduling conflicts, why do you think this is something that hasn’t been embarked on in the 90s?
You know, that’s an excellent question that I really don’t know the answer to. Sometimes the most obvious things in the world often go overlooked. People just take things for granted. It’s interesting to me: if you watch the artist, without the DJ they’re screwed. The artists have the Grammys, AMAs, VMAs, and all different types of awards shows and ceremonies, yet I’ve never heard one artist go on stage and say “Thank you” to a DJ—not even one! Is it a bad thing? Of course. Is it intentional? Maybe not. Sometimes it just goes overlooked. Sometimes you don’t realize just how important a person or entity is until it’s not there anymore. I think it’s just one of those situations where people took the DJ for granted because the artists are the ones out front and selling the records. The DJ was not fully recognized for their own role in helping the artist sell those many records. It’s just an oversight, but it’s definitely a travesty.
It’s interesting you say that, because there’ve been times at concerts where an artist will literally stop performing because their DJ might’ve messed up on a mix. They can’t even go on without the music.
Absolutely. Really think about it though: if that DJ doesn’t have the music queued up, [the entire performance fails]. DJ’s are involved in all areas, whether that be breaking the music, the stage performance, or being the one in the front line. Essentially, they act as A&Rs. They listen to music and will determine if it’s going to be hot. They go in on these records, and [the lack of respect] is just unfortunate. I’m happy that they’re finally gonna get the recognition they deserve, mostly because I’ve been working for so many years in the music industry. I’m happy that I’m part of it. I feel like we’re making history here. There are always moments in time that whether you realize it at that particular moment or you look back years later, things just change—and it could never be the same again. I really think this is one of those times where the DJs are gonna get that spotlight put on them. It’ll really change the way that they’re treated and the pay scale, People need to see that they’re not just background players. They’re the key to the success of some of their artists that you love.
What was the feedback from the DJs themselves when they found out this was actually coming to fruition?
Because I’m not a DJ, I felt it was my responsibility to speak to as many of the DJs involved—a lot of them who happen to be my friends. I went to every single DJ coalition and crew and brought the idea of what we’re trying to do, what we envision, and heard their concerns. Ultimately, I wanted to get the blessing from each of them, whether it was the core DJs, the nerve DJs, or the heavy-hitter DJs. There’s so many DJ crews out there. I was on every single call, including spending quality time speaking to each of them, and all of them said, “Listen, this is perfect. It’s so long overdue. We salute you and applaud you for doing it. You got 100% of our support.” They also came in with their suggestions. A lot of the categories the DJs are nominated in came straight from the DJs themselves. I always opened the lane for conversation on these calls and said, “Listen, y’all got to tell me. It’s y’all out there.”
What is the voting system like?
Ultimately, it couldn’t be Shawn Prez is giving his good friend an award. I had to go back to the drawing board and really sit and think to myself like, “How do I make this non-partisan? How do I make this fair, respected, and credible?” If a well-known DJ is in a category with a DJ who isn’t as well known, and the latter wins, the bigger DJ can look at it and say “You know what? I lost fair and square. This other guy is really doing his thing. Even though they might not be as big as me on a national platform, for what they do they deserved it this year.” We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We looked at the successful models that were out there, one of which is the Oscars. Whenever you see an actor go up on stage, they always say, “First, I’d like to thank the Academy.” We created our own Academy. We put together what’s called the Bureau—the DJ Bureau. This Bureau is a voting body comprised of executives and individuals in the world of DJing—whether they’re club owners, music promoters, bloggers, or writers. We put together this body of individuals that understood the DJ culture. We told them, “Hey, you’ve got one vote and one vote only. Here are your categories.” This is not an easy job, by no means. They had a very difficult job put before them and I think that they rose to the challenge. Each one of them submitted one name, and we tallied up the top 4 or 5 names in each category. Those were the people that were nominated and sent back to the Bureau to pick a winner. This way, it doesn’t allow for cheating or for any one person to dictate a winner. I don’t vote, personally. I let the Bureau do that. The Bureau is made up of men and women, and they pick the nominees and winners, they pick the nominees and ultimately when it comes down I look at it and a lot of times you gotta smile like wow I didn’t see this one coming. It’s 100% based on who gets the most votes.
One of the categories I found pretty interesting is the Celebrity DJ Of The Year. In the era of the “bedroom DJ,” how do you feel about celebrities who feel like they can jump in the mix and add “DJ” to their resume?
S: Well we decided to make it a category because it exists [Laughs]. You can’t disregard it like it isn’t there. A lot of celebrities now consider DJing as their passion. Through doing this, I celebrity DJs that I had no idea were doing it. The lead actor from Lord of the Rings, I forget his name, is a DJ. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?!” [Laughs].
Elijah! There you go. He’s a DJ.
Oh wow [Laughs]. That’s new to me too.
Believe me, I didn’t know it either! I learned so much stuff. If you’re gonna get this thing right, you gotta do your homework. You gotta make sure that the DJs first and foremost felt this award ceremony is authentic and that we understood the culture. It had to become an award because it exists. In terms of how I feel about it, I don’t feel a way one way or the other. I personally don’t DJ, so I don’t take it as personal as people who consider this their craft and they spent hours working to perfecting that craft. For me, it’s neither here nor there.
As far as the award show itself, how was it like putting it together, choosing a venue, and getting Sway Calloway to sign on as host?
He was the obvious choice. When we really sat and thought about who could host this, there were a ton of names that came up, both male and female. With Sway, he pretty much embodied all that we wanted the awards to represent. One minute he’s interviewing the President of the United States, and the next minutes he’s interviewing a local rapper. He gets it on so many different levels. Also, Sway has always carried himself like he understands the culture, but never takes sides. He’s very non-partisan and crosses so many different lines. He’s on MTV, which is more pop culture, but he’s just as comfortable in the most urban settings with some of the most hardcore individuals out there. Him and his partner, King Tek, come from a radio background, so we felt like he really understood the whole culture. He was just articulate; he can get the point across and put his name on the marquee as the first host for the first Annual Global Spin Awards. You can’t hear Sway’s name and say, “Oh, well I don’t know if he should have been the one to do it.” It just fit. There’s one thing I’d like to put out there on his behalf. When I first went to Sway and told him about the idea, within the first five seconds he was in. Sway said, “I’ve been waiting for this event. I have been waiting for somebody to come with this event. I’d be honored if could be the one to do it, to be the first host of it.” He didn’t ask how much he was getting, he didn’t ask the budget, nor did he make demands. As a matter of fact, I’ll do you one better: He said, “Just promise me that you’ll bring me back to do the second annual.” Part of him becoming the host was that we had to guarantee him that he’d come back and do next years.
He showed mad dedication for the job, early.
Yeah. When he did that, it just solidified and confirmed to me that he was the right choice. He totally got it. As far as the venue, we first thought about where we should we do this. Places like Florida and L.A. were mentioned. We needed a venue that could get DJs from literally all around the country in one place. When we really stopped and thought about it, we realized it had to be done in New York. New York is the epicenter of it all. This is the home of Kool Hertz—the one who is credited with starting hip-hop and is also a DJ. I think we just had to bring it back home. As far as the Times Center as a venue, we wanted to set a standard. The Times Center is very beautiful and is an elegant auditorium. This is not gonna be the “hood awards.” This is a dress-up, formal event. Regardless of who you are, the only way to get in the building is if you are dressed to impress. This is for the DJs. So many of us have made money in some way off of these guys and with these guys. We can get dressed up for one night to honor them. That goes for them as well. DJs are so used to being casual and in the DJ booth wearing jeans, but the spotlight is on you for one night; you can definitely go and put on your best outfit to come out and salute yourselves that night.
In your opinion, how far do you think that the Global Spin Awards can go after this year? Do you guys plan on getting it broadcasted on TV or a live stream maybe?
We have every intention on taking this thing global and making it televised next year. We have a lot of networks that are coming out because they are very interested in the concept. They totally understand that it’s long overdue. They’re coming out almost like scouts, if you will. They want to see how it rolls out and see if the DJs will participate themselves. I have no doubt that we will have this thing televised by next year. Once we get there, I think that it’s really gonna change the game. The DJs are no longer in the background; they’re rock stars now! They’re on the Forbes list for God’s sake. They’re selling out arenas by themselves. We definitely want to take this as far as it can go and incorporate as many genres of music as possible, especially with the surge of the EDM DJs and EDM music. From my standpoint, it’s a huge growth opportunity that we intend to really capitalize on.