This is the first installment of #ItsMyTime, an ongoing RumbaTime series highlighting up and coming artists, musicians, and influencers in the creative space.
Statuesque and sophisticated, at first glance Alex Merrell is what many post-grad NYC 20-somethings aspire to be: cultured, well traveled, with killer style and a well-written blog. It's hard to believe that this same girl sitting in Toby's Coffee typing away at her keyboard is an up-and-coming DJ that can count an international tour with Taio Cruz, Olympic ceremony headlining performance and starring role in a Sony headphone campaign under her belt. We spent an afternoon with Alex checking out her go-to spots in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (her new hood) and finding out just how this Vancouver native manages one of the coolest gigs, ever.
1) Most kids don't fill in the "I want to be a ____ when I grow up" statement with "Professional DJ" ----How did your family/ childhood experiences influence you in that respect?
I grew up with parents who never had regular day jobs and always encouraged me to chase my dreams and make a living doing something I truly loved. I don't remember ever having a babysitter and instead was the kid who was brought along to everything. My parents' friends were all musicians, actors, writers, photographers and artists, so being surrounded by that much creativity as a child must have inspired my passion for the arts.
2) When did you know that you wanted to be a DJ full time and how did you get your big break?
If someone had told me when I was a kid that playing music and making people dance was a real job, I would have known then. I didn't realize it could be a career until I lost my day job at 21 and found myself dreading being in another office. The cubicle was always going to be there, so I took a risk. Six months later I was opening at the Hollywood Palladium for DJ AM and a year later I was headlining a Vancouver Olympics closing ceremonies event.
3) You DJ for Taio Cruz. That's kinda cool. Tell us how that collaboration happened!
Two years ago I got an email from a scout asking me to audition for Taio's band but I was DJing in Romania that weekend. I asked if I could come in another time and never heard back, so on a whim I tweeted at Taio that I'd heard a rumor he was looking for a DJ. Despite having over two million Twitter followers, he saw the tweet and had his tour manager bring me in to audition. My first gig with him was two weeks later, performing at the American Music Awards Pre Show. We have the best time on the road and it's given me so many opportunities internationally. We DJ’d together for 150,000 people in Morocco this year - it just keeps getting better!
4) What is like being a female DJ in what has traditionally been a male-dominated space? How do you use it to your advantage?
When I started, I had multiple male DJs tell me that I would never have real talent because I didn't start before everything went digital, that I would suck and still get booked based on how I looked. I'm one of those people who is only fueled by the word "no" so all that did was make me more driven to be good at what I do. Part of the reason I kept my real name when I started performing was because people would read the flyer and think I was a guy. I've always wanted people to hear the music first, dance first, and then if they notice there's a woman on the decks have that be a bonus, not the focus.
5) Word on the street is you just launched a new blog called VagabondBlog.com --- what can we expect to see?
I launched VagabondBlog.com this summer as a platform to document my cultural exploration and share my on the road finds. The process is very organic for me so rather than adhering to specific topics, I'll showcase only what I find inspiring, be it an up and coming musician, travel tips for a particular region, a fashion designer, a great piece of tech, an important charitable cause, a recipe... And every Friday there's a playlist to kick off the weekend. In the coming months I plan to bring on guest contributors and continue shedding light on alternative ways to travel and explore.
6) The music biz is notoriously tough to crack--- what advice would you give to someone who wants in?
I think at the end of the day all the best things in life - the incredible job, the amazing relationship, good health, positive change locally and globally - are worth fighting for. What else would be worth our time on the planet? No one is handed their dream job. You have to know it's going to be hard, follow up on every lead, create your own opportunities, be nice to everyone you meet, stay at it despite the countless disappointments, and know that at the end of the day it will all be worth it. The ones who become successful are the ones who never quit.
For more about Alex and her travels, visit VagabondBlog.com