Local Current Blog

Martin Devaney on going from local rocker to local DJ

Martin Devaney peruses The Current's local music library. Photos by Jay Gabler/MPR.

Every Friday for the month of May (okay, I taped the shows on Wednesdays), I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the afternoon spinning (okay, mixing digital tracks on a computer) six hours of local music on the Local Current stream. It’s part of a new program that the station is trying out where they bring in a local musician as the “DJ in residence” for that month, hosting the stream from noon until six every Friday. The fact that this stream runs local music 24/7 is a testament to what a rich and diverse scene we have here. But more on that later.

Being the first person asked to participate in this program was both flattering and frankly, a bit scary. I was the guinea pig, the canary down the mine, the…well…maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. But still, despite having been interviewed on the radio dozens of times, I had never been on the other side of the mic and it was a bit intimidating. Some 15 years ago I began training as a DJ at Radio K, but for various reasons that fizzled out. Also, having made several records, most of them didn’t use Pro Tools and when they did, I left that to the engineer. So I was a bit nervous and certainly curious about hosting and programing these shifts. I figure if Sean McPherson can rock the morning show like a champ, I should at least be able to land at adequate. Music assistant Kelsey sat me in my little studio, showed me the program, gave a few tips and I was off. Trial by fire.

A few things concerned me:

How do I not sound like a total dork while filling the time in between songs? Despite recording music and playing shows, I’m one of those people that can’t deal with the sound of my own voice. (Though those close to me would probably refute this statement. It certainly got more comfortable as the weeks rolled on.)

How do I not sound rehearsed? This (thankfully) wasn’t live radio and though there are some scripted bits, I had to sound natural when talking about the tunes. This got easier, but it was a fine line between actually trying to not rehearse, and at the same time to have it in my head what to say, so as to not stammer. I still got a few “uhh’s” in there, but again, as I did more of these, it got better. I certainly helped when I had an anecdote about the artist or tune. Also, I was able to employ a bit of the game show/radio host voice I sometimes fall into when hosting pub trivia. I think it got better…?

How do I make for a diverse and inclusive show? This was a big one. While there are a number of songs that were programmed into the rotation, I had a fair amount of input as to what was played. I felt a big responsibility to represent as much of the local scene as I could. And while I certainly keep my ear to the ground and seek out new music, I’m not familiar with everything and like everyone, not every band is going to scratch your itch (or insert your own cliche here) but that doesn’t mean you don’t play them. Also, I began to receive a lot of submissions—many of which I was able to get on the air, but not all of them. I had many songs I wanted to get into the library, but I couldn’t just play all my friends’ bands and certainly not my own. This ended up being the best part of the job.

As I said before, there is so much quality local music from the last several decades, and a lot of it is in The Current’s library. While The Current mixes local with national (and international) music, the Local Current stream is all local 24/7, so not only can you dig deeper, you have to. This was a fun challenge. I was able to find old favorites like Bellwether and Ashtray Hearts, but also throw in newer bands like Fury Things, Stereo Confession, and Nallo. I brought in several songs that I was able to add to the catalog—like Wizards Are Real and Ripper, which felt great to be able to contribute. It was also a good opportunity to hear some new artists that I’ve heard of but have yet to see, like PaviElle or the Lowest Pair. There was the chance to hear old in-studios and build sets that ran the Birthday Suits into Black Diet into Bomba De Luz into Kill the Vultures. This final week for me—May 29, noon to 6:00 p.m.—includes the only theme set of my shifts, a set of songs that were all recorded at (the recently reopened) Underwood Studios in Minneapolis.

It’s not that this experience was an epiphany so much as a reinforcement or endorsement of what I already believe to be true. We have one of the strongest, deepest, most creative and vital music scenes of anywhere. Ever. Being immersed in all these tunes (especially around the time of Art-A-Whirl) made me feel rather refreshed. It’s why I still hit tons of shows and keep playing my own. The DJ in residence program is an excellent way to include more input and provide more exposure for our local artists that may not always have those avenues. To be able to celebrate their work alongside our local favorites is important and I hope it goes on for a long time. It was a very valuable experience for me not only to be around this music, but to learn what goes into radio programming.

For the month of June you’ll be able to tune in and hear Sophia Eris from GRRRL PRTY bringing her take to things. Soak it up, you guys.

Martin Devaney is a St. Paul musician, record store staffer, and—now—DJ.