Damon DeGraff and Yoni Goldberg Have Oprah’s Favorite DJs
Damon DeGraff and Yoni Goldberg are dGi Management. They handle a stable of celebrity type DJs who are the hottest commodities in A-list clubs. However, DJing in clubs is only a small part of what they do. dGI books their talent for Rolex money at corporate affairs all over the world. The landscape has changed and the DJ with a rap who plays rap, house, disco, 80’s and rock, and is often a bold-faced name in the funny papers, is a commodity that can get maximum value with help from proper management. If it’s the right party, chances are dGi has one of their players playing. The music at these events must often appeal to a crowd with a wide range of tastes, so a mashup DJ, with a well-stocked Serato is called for. I’m going to just put up their press release because it really does tell the story.
“dGi Management is a New York based company offering fully integrated talent management and corporate consulting services. dGi Management’s work is offered on a retained or project-by-project basis. dGi Management manages recording artists, celebrity DJs, record producers, and cultural influencers. Perhaps most widely recognized for its unrivaled position in the global DJ marketplace, dGi DJs are staples of the most exclusive parties around the world. These stellar artists routinely play for a celebrity client list that includes Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Prince, Jay-Z, Diddy, Kanye West, Will Smith, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Michael Bloomberg, and Shaquille O’Neal. In addition to its celebrity clientele, dGi DJs provide music for the world’s leading fashion labels, including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Nike, and The Gap. Their services also extend to industry leaders in media, film, music, and art, including Conde Nast, Hearst, Viacom, Sony, Warner Music Group, Disney, Miramax, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Louvre Museum. Similarly, dGi record producers have established a track record of success, working alongside internationally-acclaimed and platinum-selling recording artists, like Usher, Janet Jackson, Lil Wayne, Jennifer Lopez, and Katy Perry dGi has provided consulting on a wide-range of music, fashion, and cultural initiatives. In particular, dGi has provided consultation services to Fendi, Valentino, Revlon, and ESPN. With an expertise in social and interactive media and unparalleled relationships with event planners, public relations companies, marketing agencies, and celebrities, dGi offers unique insight and forward-thinking strategies to its clients. In addition to its talent management and corporate consulting, dGi partnered with dance music mega-label Ultra Records in 2009 to establish an imprint label dGi Records. dGi Records debut releases are scheduled for late 2010. dGi has been featured in The New York Times, The New York Post, Us Weekly, Complex, BlackBook, Spin, and countless other newspapers and publications”
You guys have an agency. You rep DJs. Yoni Goldberg: It’s called dGi Management. And certainly I think we do a few things, but the primary thing that we do is rep celebrity DJs.
List the DJs you rep. Damon DeGraff: The DJs we rep, we do Rev Run, we do The Misshapes, we do Paul Sevigny, we do DJ Ruckus, we do David Berrie, we do Mel DeBarge, we do DJ Kiss, we do DJ M.O.S., and we have a new producer/DJ by the name of Cory Enemy. YG: And we have DJ Rashida in LA.
I saw Rashida in Atalantic City. She was amazing. I gave her a plug a couple months ago, and while I was down there Molly Sims told me M.O.S. was her favorite DJ. YG: Molly Sims was talking about M.O.S. And then Tammy wrote me the next day saying Molly wants a CD or something.
You rep these pretty hip DJs, and music is mostly mashup music? Or what do they call that type of music now? YG: I think they call it open format music. I think by and large our DJs play open format music. But people like Paul Sevigny and The Misshapes I think have a different style than what Tenjune considers open format.
More rock based as opposed to hip hop based? YG: Right. But ultimately I really don’t think we try to put the DJs into a certain genre of music. Our primary business isn’t doing nightclubs that are formatted with a certain sound. Our primary business is doing celebrity parties and major corporate events. And I think each of those have an expectation that the music is customized for them on that night. So it’s very different than someone who is going to play at 1 Oak on Thursday.
When I talk to house DJs, or purist hip hop DJs, and the people who book the kinds of clubs that feature that kind of music, they look at the open format kind of music as not real DJing. They discount it completely. There’s a major disconnect between these two types of clubs. The clubs that play house, the purist clubs, and you could say Cielo and Pacha and the majority of joints where open format is king. When I did that big event at Mansion for the New York Night Life Association ,which you helped me with the house heads saw no value in the guys playing open format. How do you speak to that? DD: I think to be honest, it’s on the individual and what they like and what’s their preference. There’s always been the difference in DJs. Meaning there’s always been the Grandmaster Flashes that were the originators of the hip hop style. There’s always been the really big house guys who have done their thing in their way. And I think what we did with the DJs that we represent is created a niche where you can mix the two. If you look at say dance music, it’s becoming more popular within the open format clubs. Or there’s some hip hop guys who are now getting on dance records. I think music as a whole is just merging into itself. There’s still the purest form of it, but to be honest, it’s up to the individual. YG: Purists always discount alternatives. I don’t think Jean Georges thinks Italian food is the same as French food. I don’t think that a baseball historian thinks of golf as something as significant within the American fabric as baseball.
You think that the difference between house music and open format is that profound? Like golf and baseball? Is it that much of a different thing? YG: No, but it’s an explanation for why a purist would find an alternative to be something less.
Indulge me: in the 60s, when I started going out to clubs, it was rock and roll—classic rock. In the 70s, disco changed everything. It was this unbelievable breakthrough in music. In the 80s, new wave, punk, and hip hop started to happen. And at the end house and electronic started coming in. These were genres. Was there a new genre in the 90s? 2000’s YG: I think alternative was pretty significant, maybe not in clubs.
The 90’s saw open format ,I think that’s when it really started. Is open format a genre? And if it is, what is the next genre of music? YG: It’s not a genre of music. It’s a style of DJing, but it grows out of changes in how people listen to music.
Well in the 50s we had folk, and the beginning of rock and roll. Has there been a genre of music since AIDS? Since the mid 80s? DD: I think what open format is, it’s the mixture of all of those. And I think there hasn’t really been, probably up until the 90s, when you look at say, Mark Ronson. He was probably the first one to really start the open format trend. From taking hip hop, to rock, to whatever, and not just mashups. Meaning like taking records and making them blend in a way to where everybody, white, black, Asian, you name it, in a spot can really relate to his set.
What’s going on in the culture of America, in the world, that there hasn’t been a real breakthrough or definable genre of music since the mid 80s? YG: I don’t know how to answer that, but I do know part of what makes open format a sound you hear at a lot of clubs today is technology and the way people get their music. When I grew up, and I’m 28, I spent fifteen dollars on a CD. I was going to listen to every one of those rock songs, or every one of those hip hop songs. Now, if you buy your music, you’re buying singles for 99 cents, or you’re listening to the music for free—illegally downloaded, on MySpace, on YouTube—and it allows people to be exposed to a vast and wide range of music. And people can like an electro song without spending fifteen dollars on the album. They can like a hip hop song without spending fifteen dollars on the album.
So it’s exposure and the way music is available. You have a stable of DJs. What are they doing? What is a typical DJ in your stable? What are you guys working on? DD: It’s funny that you mention, I think now besides doing the majority of the celebrity and corporate events, we have like David Berrie just did a deal with Ultra, which is one of the biggest dance labels in the world. We have a single that’s coming out at the end of the summer. DJ Ruckus did a deal with Orchard Street, he put out another single, he has another one that’s coming out.
What is Orchard Street? DD: It’s another label, an Indie label. I think they bought out TPT after whatever problems they had. So they do a wide assortment, from hip hop, to dance, to you name it. We also have a group by the name of party crash, which is Cory Enemy and DJ Ruckus. They have a group called Party Crash where we have a single coming out on Chuckie’s label Dirty Dutch this summer, a really incredible record. And then we have Cory Enemy, who is probably the most insane producer/DJ that you’d ever want to meet. Like literally. But he’s already done a remix for Oh My God, he has the new Katy Perry single remix, got a bunch of other records that are going to come out soon. I think aside from just the celebrity side and the event side of things, I think we’re definitely starting to move our clients into say a more artist and producer realm.
Back in the day, when I was booking DJs, I used to say when a DJ truly becomes a producer, he becomes less of a DJ. Because as a producer, he looks for a certain type of sound. And that sometimes translated nights where he’s only playing music that agrees with that sound. And the sets for many of these famous DJs became fairly monotonous. Is this something that could happen for open format DJs? YG: I think it could happen, but I think it’s challenging to be an open format producer. You can’t produce every single genre of music. I guess unless you’re Rick Rubin. You speak about producers and their DJing becoming monotonous, David Berrie used to DJ at the hottest clubs in New York and around the country five or six nights a week. He was the most in demand club DJ in America. And he stopped to become a house producer and a house DJ. And he stays at home, and will work 36 hours in a row producing house music. He just had his debut at Pacha last week in New York, he’s headed to Pacha Ibiza this week. But I can say in Berrie’s case, it certainly has not made his performance monotonous. I think his background as a DJ, and establishing himself first as a DJ, before establishing himself as a producer, which is the opposite of many house artist, makes him a far more exciting and thrilling house DJ when he performs than most of the people who play at Pacha.
These are all great DJs, and they’re all social DJs. Every one of the people you mention who I know, are extremely club social. Do they have to play, in your mind, a club gig now and then just to stay in touch with it? DD: I think totally. I think always, even going back to the origin of open format with Mark Ronson, you always have to have to the clubs to keep you edgy and keep you fresh. Because a lot of times with the events, the music that you’re playing is not so club-oriented. So if you want that to be a huge part of who you are and to keep your skills on point, you kind of have to.
Otherwise you’re just playing what’s expected from the corporate client. Do the DJs understand that or do you have to drill it into them? DD: They understand it. I think that’s what makes us the best at what we do. Because we understand from A to Z what has to be done from the client to the clubs.
I interviewed DJ DB the other day. And DB was talking about how hard it is as a DJ to make money these days. He basically needs somebody like you. Most DJs, even the established ones who have been used to getting gigs for this much money, even though there’s all these clubs and a world wide audience, with the expenses of travel and all that they need to do corporate events. DJs cannot survive, or should not be able to survive too well, unless they are Tiesto or Roger Sanchez. For the DJ coming up, they need an agency like you, don’t they? Because they need to barter their way with corporate money. This is new. YG: I think the reality is, most DJs don’t really fit into the corporate DJ landscape that Damon created. DD: Because when you look at when this was created, I looked at it as the DJ being an artist. And when you look at any artist from Madonna, to Lady Gaga, to Jay-Z, to Kanye, to anybody, it’s the music aspect, which I think is a large part, but it’s also the marketability.
The visual. All your guys have charisma, they dress well, and they have pride in their appearance. And so the visual is very important. YG: They’re very good looking. DD: So that’s pretty much how we look at it. I think visual, charisma, how you deal with the client is a very huge part. And then to come back to your point, and not to pat ourselves on the back, but I think with any manager, or agencies, or anything, it’s how that person represents the artist as well. Because people don’t want the representation to be some guy who doesn’t really care. You always want to make the client feel 200% comfortable. So whenever they call, their experience from the first interaction to when the DJs going home, it’s a comfortable experience. YG: Steve, too, I don’t think you get established as a corporate DJ when you’re trying to make your way and having trouble paying bills by DJing at clubs. I think you graduate to doing the corporate and celebrity stuff.
Would you groom a DJ? If you see a hot girl, or a good looking guy, who has all the basic stuff, is there a school for this? Would you take people in the future, as your business grows, and train them to be part of it? YG: I see our business growing by seeing the artists that we represent grow. I hope very much that their careers grow to the point where it’s difficult to take on new DJs and train and groom them. I want Berrie to be DJing all over the world, every day, like a Roger Sanchez or Tiesto. I hope that creates a situation where we don’t have the means or time to groom DJs.
I used to book DJs, and I remember a thousand dollars to Frankie Knuckles or David Morales was a lot of money back then. Now DJs get six figures? What are the highest prices your DJs get? Are they getting fifty thousand dollars for some gigs? YG: Yes.
Are they getting more than that for some gigs? YG: Occasionally.
You’re booking your DJs all over the world, how are you picking the spots? Is it more important to be in” the “ spot? Or is it just at the end, man this motherfucker is giving me a hundred grand. YG: I think we’ve always looked at our DJs careers as building a career and not a short-term situation where were trying to get the most money every night. Depending on the job, and this goes for New Years and every other night, I think we evaluate all of the factors, a leading one being money, but a secondary one being the relevance of the job or the impact that the job has on their career.
You named about nine DJs. How many will you end up with in a year? Will it be twenty? Are you comfortable with growing the DJs you have, or having more DJs? YG: We’re not a booking agency. How does your agent mantra go?
Right. It goes mosquitoes, leeches, fleas, cockroaches, rats, agents . Agents are generally frowned upon. They’re traditionally looked upon as some of the lowest forms of life. YG: We are not agents. We’re managers. In managing these artists, we book a tremendous percentage of their jobs. But ultimately, what I like about what I do and the way I identify myself, is by managing the artists and helping to build and grow their careers. One of the ways we do that is through the jobs we book. But whether it’s March 13th or December 31st, we’re always trying to find the jobs that make the most sense for our artists to grow their careers. And obviously money is a part of that, but it’s not the only part.
What about Hollywood. DJs for film and soundtracks. Are you there yet? I wouldn’t say any major motion pictures, but we’ve definitely been involved in supplying music for various things like fashion shows. I think the DJing part is the main source, but to go back on what Yoni said and to answer your question, in terms of growth I think we’ve always been a tight-knit company. Like a velvet rope of the elite. And I think what we’ve always wanted to do was always have the best of the best. It’s almost like private school and public school.
Defining the word “best” is really difficult. Best means to you a person who has a lot of qualities. DD: You’re right, I should say best for what we’re looking for. In some other peoples’ eyes who we have might not be, and that’s their opinion.
What you’re saying is you can have this great DJ, but he’s really not personable, hes not friendly, and he punches the clock and leaves. This guy would not be interesting to you. So the best means, this guy may be the best DJ, but he’s not well rounded enough to be part of your stable. Intern Alice Urmey interjects: When you’re selecting one of your DJs for an event, do you take into account his style? Or does he conform to the event he’s playing? Do your DJs vary enough in style where you would pick one artist for a certain event because of the type of event it is? YG: Fortunately we’re in a position where very often people are calling for a specific DJ because the DJs we represent are very recognizable. That said, when we’re approached open-endedly about a job, I think we do try and make it so that the job and the DJ fit. And I think part of that is our recommendation. But of course part of it is the way the DJ plays on that night. I don’t know that I would say we conform to what the event wants but I think we customize the sound to best fit the event.
Tell me about Ruckus. What’s the rumpus with Ruckus? YG: Ruckus is the most in demand celebrity DJ in America. A few years ago, Ruckus was living in Atlanta and would get good jobs here and there. His career has really exploded. He’s one of, if not the most gifted DJs I’ve ever heard. Incredible personable, incredibly good looking, manages his relationships unbelievably. He’s booked through May of 2011 now.
May of 2011? Every day? YG: There are very few open days.
Do you travel with your clients? DD: Depending on the jobs. YG: I’ll be in Chicago with Ruckus on Thursday and France with him next week.
Does he maintain an apartment? Or does he just live in hotels? YG: Yeah he lives in LA. DD: He lives in LA but he’s hardly ever there. YG: I mean he doesn’t keep a car there or anything. DD: For instance we’ve partnered him with Rev Run, and they have a really awesome show. We’re doing a bunch of festivals this summer in Europe with a bunch of really big house DJs. Everybody from Fatboy Slim, to Calvin Harris, Martin Van Buren, David Berrie is on that as well. So again, we’re branching out into doing a bunch of other stuff. I’m doing some dates in London and Croatia.
I remember Rev Run back in the day, Run DMC and all that, he’s new to you guys. He wasn’t with you last time we talked, was he? YG: I think we were maybe beginning the process.
What is the demand of Rev Run? What kind of crowd is drawn to Rev Run? He’s a really wonderful person, he’s really fun. YG: I think what makes Rev Run so attractive is he’s relevant to a wide audience. They’re sixteen year old white girls who love his show on MTV, and there are sixty year old black guys who think he’s the greatest rapper of all time. And there’s a lot of space in between those two. His music appeals to a tremendous amount of people, and his TV show and twitter has kept him in the spotlight for a younger audience as well.
Do you manage all of the social media for your clients? DD: I think from the beginning we’ve always done pretty much everything for the clients. We’ve been somewhat agent, manager, publicist, whatever it takes to really get the job done because at that time there wasn’t that style of DJ. It was either like the straight hip hop guy who his cousin managed him because that’s just what they did, or it was the big house guy who had the agency. So I think in creating that field, it was new. So we had to be there every step of the way for everything, and it’s just kind of carried on with how we create and handle our business. I guess with the new forms of social media and all these other things, that’s like being a publicist at this point. Magazines are few and far between. YG: I think this gets back to the difference between management and being an agent. Sunday night I was up rewriting Ruckus’ bio, I think I must’ve emailed it to you at 5 in the morning. Last night I was on the call with a magazine in Manila at 2 or 2:30 in the morning. We were on the phone yesterday with a guy who designs MySpace pages for 90 minutes. I don’t think agents do that. We have our hand in every aspect of the artist’s career, including the music that they make. To me that’s exciting to watch and help them build their entire career rather than just commissioning the job.
When was the eureka moment when you guys realized that this was a business? YG: I was in college, Damon must have figured it out. DD: I’m trying to think of that exact moment. I remember the exact point, we did this Armani exchange party on Broadway. And it was New York Magazine, Armani Exchange, and celebrities designed these jeans. I don’t know if it was fashion week or something, but you had everybody from Wyclef to you name it. And Mark was DJing and I was there all suited up and feeling great, and I was just meeting everybody. And in my mind I was like, man it’s at least ten clients in here that I do business with already, either just on the phone or whatever, and I think at that moment was just clarity and saying man we really have something special that were offering these people. Because nobody else was really really doing it. I think at that point I had to look at it as it’s a business. Because if not, and I think a lot of times people think oh it’s just DJs, and I remember people used to say to me, you think you’re just going to manage DJs and that’s going to make money? And I’m like well I’m in it, so I see it and I feel it. And I see one, how corporately people react to the DJs because what we’re giving, but also when they were in clubs. Or even when they were out you would see how the club kids or how whoever would react to what that is. And it was almost like man, we have something special.
You keep mentioning Mark Ronson. YG: Mark was Damon’s first client. DD: Now Mark’s producing and doing whatever. To give a quick back history, I started dGi like ten years ago. Mark was my first client. Then we brought on Samantha, then we brought on Beverly Bond, and DJ Cassidy. And that was the original four people that we had. And then I think from there we just grew the business. So hence a lot of the references to Mark was because that was the beginning. When Mark was doing four or five jobs a night, there were no other DJs. I think even that point too made me realize it was a business, because there was a demand for something and you didn’t have enough to supply it. So I had to be the supplier for the people.
Mark helped immensely with my career. He was my regular DJ at Life. AG: How much were you paying him?
I think 500 bucks. Maybe 1000 AG: Were you commissioning the club stuff? DD: It think I was just coming in then. I think I was very young then. I was working for this other company.
Well Mark could’ve gotten a lot more money someplace else, but that’s really at the time what we could pay for that job. I think everyone else was getting 300 by the way. AG: Did you do Spa? I think he saying Paul was getting 800 dollars or something and Mark was getting 1250 or something. And Paul said none of the DJs could believe that Mark was getting 1250. Obviously Paul went on to DJ for a lot of money.
Yes at Spa Paul was promoting as well. And Mark was a promotion in himself. The thing about Mark was not that he drew more than anyone else, which he did to some extent, but he drew more girls than anybody. The girls came, and they would be standing around the DJ booth and it was just this phenomenon. When you booked Mark Ronson you just had women all over the place. He was hot. Everybody knew he was the next big thing. DD: And he was a really excellent DJ, especially in terms of that format. Because nobody else at that time was giving you hip hop, rock, a little bit of salsa.