#Dabeeside Exclusive: Interview with DJ Z of DJBooth.Net
What’s up good people? It’s your boy Trav Dave and I have an extremely special interview for you guys. Hands down, this person has one of my top three favorite sites that I visit multiple times a day. This site is where you go for great hip-hop content and trustworthy opinions on music. I find that this site always puts me on to at least one a new artist a day. I also love how the site showcase upcoming artists with Under 1K followers on Twitter. With that being said, it was only right I reached out to the man, the myth and legend himself to talk about his career and a little hip-hop. One time for Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of DJBooth.net – Brian “Z” Zisook.
Q: Let’s take it back to 2003, at Illinois State you were Djing at the campus radio station. The “internet” had just become a real thing in hip hop. What records were you spinning back then and how did you get your music?
A: Man. Everything from Immortal Technique and Atmosphere to 50 Cent, Jay, and Luda. At the time, all the record labels, both indies, and majors had college radio departments who would service us with both CDs and vinyl for mix shows. The station wasn’t even setup to play music through MP3. Those college radio days from 2002 to 2006 were incredible, though. My radio show, ‘Saturday Night Party,’ was twice nominated for College Broadcasters Inc. awards – we lost twice – and my radio partner Suave and I set up interviews with countless artists, including Bone Thugs, Rick Ross, Akon, Nappy Roots, Chingy, Pitbull, the list goes on and on.
Q: After you graduated College, you were a producer for a Chicago Radio station. What was that experience like working in the corporate environment compared to college radio?
A: I hated it. Hated it. When I was doing college radio, I thought I knew what corporate radio would be like. Unfortunately, it was nothing like what I thought it would be. I was young, naive and I didn’t realize there was no creative control. Eventually, it got to the point where the only way the station could afford to keep me on board was to send me out on remotes dressed in a gorilla suit. I would hand out t-shirts and bumper stickers. That was that.
Q: Let’s talk about DJBooth. When you first discovered the site it was really a site for DJs to review turntables and other equipment. How did you help change the site to what we see now?
A: When I was still at ISU, I came across DJBooth. At the time, the site was only DJ-oriented – turntable, headphone, gear reviews and DJ playlists. I loved it and saw major potential. I reached out to the owner, Dave Macli, and pitched him on contributing original content to the site. Really, I just wanted to have a platform to host my writing and my interviews from the radio station. He called me an hour after I sent my email and we talked about working together. I made it clear I didn’t want and money and he was very receptive to all my ideas. Needless to say, when I walked away from radio about a year later, I made the decision to try to make DJBooth a full-time gig. Slowly, we turned DJBooth into a music discovery and editorial platform, while keeping the original DJ section intact. Once the site started to become really profitable, Dave and I became partners and we turned DJBooth into an LLC. As we grew, Dave and I eventually hired Nathan Slavik, our former Managing Editor. Together, we planned and plotted to make DJBooth a premiere destination for original content. Nathan has since departed, but his impact can be felt through every article we publish.
Q: We all the know the record industry moves slowly most of the times. How did the major labels react to DJBooth in the beginning? Did they understand what you guys were doing with the music you were posting at the time?
A: From the beginning, we always worked with the labels and not against them. We avoided posting incomplete songs and most of the leaked songs from albums prior to their release. In turn, the labels helped to set up interviews with me and invited us to listening sessions and shows. The labels never really understood the value of blogs during their peak from 2009 to 2012, which is a shame, because we could have helped them get to the digital streaming era much faster. DJBooth was one of the first hip-hop sites to stream music using our own player.
Q: I know you and Dave Macli are business partners and you guys have an app now. How did Audiomack change DJbooth and change the game for all artist?
A: Dave and I are business partners on DJBooth, but Audiomack is a completely separate company. There are five owners on the Audiomack side, which was birthed through Dave and my shared experience on DJBooth. It killed us seeing artists give away their music for free using sites like Limelinx or Zippyshare. As for the apps, both DJBooth and Audiomack have apps. The DJBooth app, The PLUG, just launched in full a few months ago, but the Audiomack app has been out for several years and through several upgrades and changes, we’ve managed to rack up millions of downloads.
Q: Can you tell us about some artists that you guys broke on DJBooth that went on to have successful careers?
A: The DJBooth Freestyle Series, which I created to give artists the chance to showcase their skills, really helped to break a lot of artists. Before they were famous beyond the internet, Freestyle Series participants included Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Big K.R.I.T., Machine Gun Kelly, Jay Rock, CyHi The Prynce, Freddie Gibbs, Yelawolf, the list goes on. We also exclusively hosted several big projects on the site, including K.R.I.T’s “K.R.I.T. Wuz Here,” Yelawolf’s “Trunk Muzik” and Ab-Soul’s “Longterm 2: Lifestyles of the Broke and Almost Famous.”
Q: Do you think there’s a downside to streaming services such as Apple, Tidal, Spotify, etc?
A: I love streaming services, I have both Apple Music and Spotify. However, I hate exclusives. I think windowing is a terrible, anti-fan practice that has already begun to decrease and will continue to decrease over time. That said, I see a near-future where artists go directly to Apple to release their album, completely cutting out a label or any middlemen. Like what Frank Ocean did when he left Def Jam or what Chance The Rapper did with Coloring Book.
Q: Starting at college radio, do you think artists feel that having their music played on the radio still matters in order for their career to head into the direction of success?
A: Yes. Without a doubt, for a lot of artists, radio is still a dream. And no matter how much radio has been devalued over time due to the proliferation of streaming services and the rise of playlist popularity, it will remain a dream. Artists just need to understand that radio is a business, not a charity. It costs money to get on the radio. You need a major label or a big budget. Spins are not handed out on the merit of quality. Artists are best served, especially through who do not make “radio music,” just trying to make great records. Radio be damned.
Q: You have been at DJbooth for over 10 years. What keeps your drive alive and motivates you to deliver such high-quality content on a consistent basis?
A: Earlier this month, DJBooth celebrated its 14th birthday. Personally, I have worked alongside Dave since late 2005. This fall will be 11 years of working full-time on the internet. Crazy, right? What keeps my drive alive? That’s a great question. The internet has changed so much over the past 11 years. It’s not the same place it once was. It’s a much faster-paced internet. It’s also an uglier, meaner, more cruel internet. The tone is always harsh and the take must be delivered fast and furious. As an editor, I hate it, but I also get it. I cannot imagine how much change is still ahead, but I know that both the music and publishing industries must continue to adapt in order to avoid death. Sure, artists will always make music, and writers will always write, but both fields need to figure out how to allow more participants to not only survive but thrive. I don’t have the answers, but I know that the first step is only delivering quality. We make plenty of mistakes and we’re not always perfect, but I am very proud of the content that we create and the response from our readers on a daily basis affirms that the work that we are doing is being read and is appreciated.
Q: What’s next for Brian Zisook? Where do you see your success being in 5 or 10 years from now?
A: Another great question. I wish I had a thoughtful answer for you, but I honestly have no idea. I don’t even know what the next two years will look like in the publishing business, so it’s hard for me to forecast where I’ll be at in the next 5-10 years. Personally, I became a father four months ago and it’s been the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Being a parent gives you perspective. I thought I always had the right perspective, but once my daughter was born, it all changed. And quickly. I am trying to currently balance out being an amazing father and husband with working 60-80 hour weeks on the internet. It’s a challenge, but both my personal and work lives bring me great satisfaction. I just need to learn how to strike the perfect balance – if that’s even possible. As for DJBooth, the plan is just to continue to pump out great, quality editorial, along with quality video content and artist discovery tools.
I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. And a special shout to the homie Yoh.
Thank you guys for being dope.
Peace x Power