Within Our Borders: Mixes and Remixes. It’s The Exciting World Of DJ Ari
by Lou-Ann Jordan Nov 20, 2023
Our Within Our Borders series is all about the unconventional, or at least what is still considered unconventional in our region. We’ve highlighted entrepreneurs from all over the Caribbean doing something different or working in traditional professions but showing an element of uniqueness. It’s been a pleasure sharing these stories with you.
We’ve covered everything from web developers to sushi chefs, mobile bakers, sneaker designers, hair accessory designers, and a cowboy. Our alumni represent the diversity, talents, creativity, and innovation the Caribbean offers. Now, to join our previous features is a member of an age-old profession, a DJ.
DJing is an art form that has captivated people all over the world. In Trinidad, and possibly in other parts of the region, some of the biggest names in the industry have been DJs, such as Capricorn, Papa Rocky, Teddy Mohammed, Howie T, Dr Hyde, and Star Child. Others, like international favourites like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, and the regional star Private Ryan, have added to the profession’s appeal. It’s easy to see why we’re drawn to DJs.
We’re captivated by the unpredictability of their work—and this isn’t just limited to Trinidad. The field is seen as exciting and possibly exclusive. Also, it’s one of the first professions to offer ‘solopreneur’ status, and that was before we knew what the term meant! It’s also very male-dominated. So, a female DJ made for a very intriguing subject! Enter Trinidad & Tobago’s DJ Ari.
These elements—the versatility, autonomy, and patriarchy of DJing—heightened our interest in featuring Ariel “DJ Ari” Balchan. Over the past four years, armed with her DDR-SR, she has continued to hone her craft, strengthen her skills, and expand her brand among other established DJs. We’re excited to have her discuss her work and her growing prominence in a fascinating occupation still somewhat uncharted by women.
What first drew you to being a DJ?
When I was 10, my dad bought a Hercules DJ controller and two self-powered speakers for our little family events. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my 10th birthday, and he brought it out, and I was fascinated with it for some reason. He wasn’t a professional DJ or anything. He had bought it for fun. However, he encouraged me to come and learn, and from there—that’s where my love for deejaying grew.
How long have you been in the profession?
I started professionally four years ago. In 2019, I began working on local radio. However, I’ve been DJing for 14 years.
What are your “tools of trade”?
My tool of trade is any DJ console, but I have a DDJ-SR for personal use. Also, I have a soft spot for any CDJ, which is a specialised digital music player, and the S9 mixer.
Please share your journey.
As mentioned, my professional involvement in the entertainment industry started in 2019. I was essentially a ‘nobody’ because people didn’t know who DJ Ari was except for the students in my school at Holy Faith Convent, Penal, and a few strangers. I did have a small following on my Instagram page, maybe a few hundred followers, which wasn’t bad back then. The recognition there led to me being asked by the amazing station 103.1FM to be the first and ultimately only female guest DJ on their Sunday show, which featured young DJs. The show was great, and in October of that same year, they asked me to come back and guest DJ at their series of roadshows across Trinidad and Tobago called “the Jingle Bell Jam series”. I did my best, and they scheduled a meeting with me after the last show. I was so lucky they saw my potential and took me on as one of their on-air DJs on the then-Saturday show “The Afternoon Delight” alongside my fave, Crystal Gail Ramsaroop. I worked with 103.1FM for three years, then in 2022, I joined the wonderful Hott93.5FM team, where I am presently. Actually, 1 November marked my first anniversary with the dynamic team.
As a profession, DJing seems to blend self-employment and working for an establishment. How do you balance the responsibilities of working with the radio station while also building your brand, DJ Ari?
Honestly, it isn’t as difficult as you would think because I truly love what I do. Also, my bosses at Hott93 make it very easy for me to take off if I need to pursue personal jobs to build my career. They’re very supportive! Still, I try my best to facilitate both and not let my time on the radio suffer because I love doing radio, especially as it’s where I get to try out new techniques and get familiar with new, emerging music. So, to facilitate both, I try my best to schedule my gigs at times after my radio shift. When I do need to miss shifts, I try not to miss more than two a month.
How do you set yourself apart from other DJs in such a competitive field?
I try my best not to compete. I take my time because I believe my growth comes when I’m not trying to outdo anyone. I work at my own pace and try things I can handle and master before moving on to the next. This has been working for me. In terms of ‘upping’ my game, I use different techniques and transitions that I think crowds would absolutely go feral for. I try to avoid being generic. Also, I look at other DJs as role models, especially those who have been in the business longer than I have.
With the musical pool being as expansive and transient as it is. How do you stay abreast of the latest trends in the music industry?
We use a DJ download pool (MP3 record pool/music pool) in the DJing industry. It’s a subscription service that working DJs can choose to join. DJ pools give us access to an unlimited selection of the latest music for a fixed monthly fee. In addition to the pool, I use trends and social media such as TikTok to see which songs are popular, and most times, it’s an old tune that has regained popularity.
When you perform at events, what strategies do you use to determine the playlist or songs suitable for a particular audience?
I always ask the client beforehand to tell me what they want to hear or what kind of vibe they want. It helps me to get to know my potential audience before the gig. However, during an event, I still watch the crowd and eventually alter my planned set to suit their vibe.
Your audience will have diverse tastes at any event or on the radio. What techniques do you use to get and keep your audience engaged or change the ‘mood’?
After having worked at numerous events, I’ve realised you can’t please everyone at once. At events like generic parties where anything goes, it’s really about watching the crowd and seeing what they respond to and catering to suit. For parties focused on a specific genre or artiste, it’s clear what the audience came to hear, so I stick to that. When on the radio, I try to squeeze in one or two listeners’ requests, although we follow a strict format on-air. Still, I add my spin on things with remixes or mashups.
In what way does DJing on the radio differ from working at live events, especially as social media has closed the gap between you and a once distant or silent audience?
Radio is drastically different because the demographic is wider than a single event. Also, I get to practice more techniques on the radio because party crowds don’t necessarily appreciate that. They just want the DJ to “play the music”, and that’s fair! Still, playing at a live event gives me adrenaline and helps me play even better. Ultimately, radio DJing has a more relaxed, chill vibe, but listeners at Hott93 really hype us up and encourage us to continue to give them that party vibe in the comfort of their space.
Your profession is a male-dominated field. Have you experienced any major challenges, and how did you overcome them?
Unfortunately, I have experienced some challenges. There have been males in the industry whom I looked up to who have brushed me off at events. I’ve even had some go so far as to spread rumours about me or downplay my ability to event promoters. Thankfully, that hasn’t been true for all. Some are respectful, considerate, and always willing to help. On my part, I try my best to be respectful of any DJ I cross paths with, even if it’s not reciprocated. Also, I always maintain my professionalism. I prefer to prove the naysayers wrong by showing them what I can do. I refuse to let anyone deter me from doing what I love.
What is one misconception others may have about your profession that you would like to correct?
One misconception is that DJs get paid to ‘party’. This view is untrue. I don’t see it as getting paid to party. I provide a service for events. In addition to preparation ahead of time, a great deal of labour is done during the event. I’m expected to set up and take down my equipment. Often, we DJs must deal with drunk crowd members, or sometimes those who are violent and crude and want to have their song heard. In addition to playing music, I am responsible for ensuring everything proceeds as planned, so I am in constant contact with the host or party planner. Despite these aspects, I enjoy what I do, which makes gigs fun, adding positive energy to every occasion.
Partygoers often randomly request songs at events, not knowing if the DJ has them on the playlist. How do you manage such situations?
I usually have the song they want and entertain their requests. However, if the song does not go with the set currently playing, I let them know I’ll do it later in the night. For example, it may be a fast set, but the requested song’s tempo is slow. If I have a remix of the song that matches the party vibe, then I play it to satisfy the person and the crowd simultaneously. I download it on the spot if I don’t have it because I always ensure I have data. That said, I have encountered some crowd members who have insisted, becoming agitated if I don’t play their songs when asked. Ultimately, I do what I need to for the benefit of the entire audience and not one specific person.
Is building relationships with other DJs and music artistes paramount to industry success in your field?
It is. In this industry, getting swell-headed and forgetting where you came from is easy. I try my best not to let that happen to me. It’s important to stay humble; part of that is having a good relationship with artistes. Doing so provides access to their music and events if they like your vibe. Maintaining camaraderie with other DJs is also great because it can lead to future collaborations and opportunities to learn from and support each other. Another key benefit of building strong relationships with other DJs is that it can lead to referrals and recommendations, which help me grow my career.
What do you love most about what you do?
Honestly, seeing people enjoy the service I provide and helping someone’s event be a success makes my day. It’s probably one of the best parts of the job, knowing that, essentially, I’m tasked with making someone’s day special.
Which music genre is your favourite, and how does it influence your performance?
I love all genres of music! However, if I were forced to pick one, it would be Soca; if I had to pick an artiste, it would be Kes. That said, the type of music I like doesn’t influence my performance, as I try to facilitate what the client or audience wants.
What are the most impactful lessons you’ve learned since starting your career?
DJing is not as easy as it looks. Just because you know how to play music doesn’t mean you can DJ at a party, and that realisation hit me like a ton of bricks at my first party. Back then, I played for myself, playing the type of music I felt comfortable with. Basically, I didn’t play for the audience. I also learned that being a radio DJ and DJing for a party are completely different.
What advice would you give to young, aspiring deejays?
I consider myself a young, aspiring DJ, but if I had to advise on what I’ve learned, it is to continue practicing. Don’t stay with what you’re comfortable with. Always try to learn new techniques. Don’t be afraid to ask other DJs for help because most are always willing, myself included. Also, research new equipment and get familiar with them so if you’re forced to use another person’s console, you already know the layout of it. It’s also a good idea to keep up with trends and new music because knowing older years will only get you so far, especially if it’s a genre you’re unfamiliar with. Lastly, always (and I stress ‘always’) pay attention to your audience.
What is one goal you have for your brand, DJ Ari?
I’ve always admired the DJs on the Soaka stage, which is essentially considered the biggest festival in Trinidad Carnival. One of my goals is to reach that stage one day.
To learn more about DJ Ari or to book her for an event, visit her on her social media channels: Facebook, IG, TikTok, or Twitter. You can also hop on her YouTube channel to see her in action, and don’t forget, you can tune in to Hott93 if you can’t get enough of the versatile DJ.