For most of the last two decades (and in reality it was much longer), DJs sustained themselves through gigs — touring if they were prominent enough, playing locally and supplementing their income with a day job if they were not.

There were other revenue streams, to be sure — publishing, licensing and even selling a few copies of a record, since DJs also don’t really have a choice about being producers anymore. But in size and scope these other streams paled in comparison to how much of a DJ’s livelihood came from gigs.

It was a devil’s bargain that nobody asked to sign but everybody had to.

For much of the last year, everyone has been publishing interviews with artists promoting records or what not and there’s been a surreal quality to them. We’re living in a world right now where dancing in groups larger than six is more or less illegal, and curfews make it far more likely you’ll see the sunrise only if you wake up early rather than stay up late. We’ve long argued that dance music served a utilitarian purpose. It’s in the name: to make you dance. Yet with no clubs, festivals — nothing but illegal or unethical shows, much of the world is asking if dance music in a pandemic is purposeless.

Much of our coverage of COVID-19 and the pandemic lockdown has been focused on this question: What is a DJ supposed to do when their job is now illegal? Rich people can apparently wait it out, release records like normal and write self-absorbed Instagram posts about how much they’re suffering without brunch. What about the rest of us?

Brawther is not just one of the greatest deep house producers and DJs on the planet. He’s someone that’s put a lot of thoughtful advice about the post-pandemic music industry into action. Aside from diversifying his revenue and learning new skills, he’s built a thriving Patreon community based on attractive perks and constant engagement through mixes, streams and podcasts. And the strangest part is that he’s achieved this despite being, as anyone who knows him can tell you, a person who was broadly uncomfortable with promoting himself on social media or hyping himself in the press.

“You might have thought that you lost everything,” he said about DJs at the start of the pandemic, “which, in a lot of respects, you have.” What do you do then? We started at the start of the end.

I know everything seems to happen either five minutes or five years ago in COVID time, but do you remember what you were doing back in March 2020 as the lockdowns began?

I was about to play my second live show. I decided I would play live [in 2020]. I played the first live set at Tresor in Berlin and the next one was going to be in Amsterdam for my friend from SlapFunk.

I planned a trip with my wife, and my mother-in-law had come to Lisbon to watch after the kids for the weekend. But it was canceled and then every other event in Holland was canceled.

That was the start of the end, let’s say. My mother-in-law was also stuck with us for like a month and a half, which in hindsight was kind of nice, because it meant another pair of helping hands. I haven’t played a gig since then.

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What was your longest gap between two gigs before this?

When I first started trying to do this for a living, back in 2011, I think the longest I might have gone without a gig was a month. Since then it might have been two or three weeks.

But I have to say that being able to have back-to-back weekends with my family has been a good thing. It had been such a long time since I can remember being able to spend that kind of time with my wife and my kids at the same time, back-to-back. I feel like I’ve gained that out of losing gigs.

When everything happened and the reality started sinking in I began to wonder, Okay, what am I going to do now? You might have thought that you lost everything, which in a lot of respects, you have.

But sometimes things seem to happen in your life in a very organic way. You start thinking about something and suddenly you start seeing references to it. What’s interesting is before COVID started I’d been on some kind of self-improvement journey, trying to understand what I wasn’t doing well enough to make my life better. I had plans and all these different ways I had to get my career to another level. So when COVID happened I was at the peak of that mindset and felt like I had to do something.

Before I started Patreon I began to think, Okay, I’m not going to have any gigs. That’s for sure. I don’t think I want to play gigs at a bar with people sitting down in cages with lines and everything. I would probably take it, I guess! But I need to think about something else, I can’t count on gigs anymore.

Somehow that fucking Nike slogan is true. You can’t wait for someone to just take your hand to do it. You don’t have to wait for approval. Just do it.

What made you pick up Patreon and what did you know of it? Prior to the pandemic, it had been adopted by very few people in electronic music. I knew about it mainly from YouTubers, podcasters and artists who began using it when the ad market died.

I mostly remember hearing the name “Patreon” on podcasts that my children were listening to. They would mention things like, “It’s thanks to Jason and David on Patreon that this podcast is available.” I understood it was some kind of crowdfunding thing for creators but I really looked into it for the first time and thought, Oh wow, this is really interesting. It started in 2012, I think, and was something like Kickstarter, but now they’ve put everything into the subscription model.

Everything about it was really resonating with me. I looked into who was doing it and what they were offering. It all seemed to be coming from a very good place.

A lot of really bad Kickstarters from electronic music artists have been sent to me over the years, from people who want $5,000 to make a music video or $8,000 for touring expenses. I saw the same thing with Patreon — people who had never used it put up something that was basically saying, “I used to make good money at something, now I don’t, so you should pay me.”

Yeah that’s definitely the wrong approach with Patreon and just generally. It’s understandable to ask for donations in a crisis. A lot of clubs have been bailed out and a lot of people have had help, and that’s been really amazing. I think that’s also a positive sign that people are willing to personally support artists and art.

I just recognized that asking for “donations” wasn’t going to last very long. You certainly can’t be asking for donations for years and hope to live off of it. I really didn’t want to use that kind of language. I’m not asking for donations, first of all. I’m offering something. I’m trying to bring value to people. I’m trying to build something here and I think I have something to offer. From everything I’ve read about Patreon too, that kind of language doesn’t really get you far.

Once the doors are open again I want to make sure I’m still here. I want to make sure I’m someone who’s still in the public eye and releasing records and everything and not someone from three years ago who gave up.

You’re offering a lot. I saw you had an unreleased mix from “Do It Yourself” available for a month and that was something I wanted.

I started by giving a monthly track like that. At 50 Patrons I started doing a monthly mix. I’m going to reach 100 patrons and I’m going to do two mixes. When I’m doing the mixes I’m broadcasting live, so everyone can have the one-time experience. I use Mixlr and the archive lives on Patreon. It’s kind of a way to advertise it but then give some extra benefit to the people who subscribe.

I feel like there’s a community building, which I didn’t foresee. Which is great, man.

So you ask why I’m giving the unreleased stuff and all of that. The whole thing is about adding value. That’s very important. If you’re starting a Patreon, the whole question is what can you do to make people feel like their money has been well-spent. It’s not an easy thing to ask money these days — especially these days. So you want to be able to give them your best.

This is wild because you’ve never been someone to push yourself publicly. You’ve always had a charming reluctance to put yourself in the spotlight, either with the press or on social media. Do you think this would have happened if not for the pandemic?

No, it wouldn’t have happened. I did know that I should do more on social media than I was. Before the pandemic, I was thinking that social media is bad and I don’t want it. If I could cut myself away from social media I would do it. That was my thinking, sincerely. I would always say if I could disappear with my family and my studio and my music I’d be happy, and I wouldn’t have to promote myself and my gigs and post pictures with promoters and everything.

Social media is really why I have my career. Things started with MySpace. You made music in your bedroom and then you shared it with MySpace. That’s really how I got in touch with Chez Damier, with Secretsundaze, with Delano Smith, a lot of people. That was the beginning of social media, wasn’t it? Even when Facebook started it felt fresh, there wasn’t all this algorithm stuff.

Even with My Love Is Underground, there were all these people from different countries traveling to the parties and social media had a lot to do with it.

I realized when the pandemic started that I did have a following on social media but I wasn’t really in touch with them. I posted little messages telling people where I’m at and trying to be positive, and I started seeing engagement from real people, people I know are real. That was when I realized that there are real people following and not just the unknown numbers of people that follow a page that make up the majority.

So from going to my career being made by social media, to wanting to cut it out entirely, I realized that cutting social media would actually kill my career. That’s not an option. And since then, the way I behave on the internet has completely changed. I was never the type of guy to take selfies, or make videos. I don’t like my voice and don’t like the way I look. These are standard things other people share too, being afraid they’ll be judged or whatever. And as a producer, sometimes there’s a mystery aspect to it — you don’t want people to know too much.

Okay, so I did the mystery thing for awhile, but that’s gone. I need to act, to keep myself relevant and current and that’s the challenge I was looking for in my life. That’s why I try to film myself. When I did the Patreon intro video, I think I shot it a hundred times. When you start filming yourself, you realize you look bored. Even though you think you might be excited and saying something interesting, you look back at it and you realize you look bored. You kind of have to learn. So you’re going on YouTube and you’re learning “how to present” — how to talk on camera.

There’s an art to that. To us it looks like “just a person talking on TV.” You can’t really appreciate it until you try to do it yourself.

Yeah, you realize what it takes to keep people’s attention. I feel like I have to, like, “smile in my belly” to keep my face lit up somehow because it’s so easy for someone to shut off the video if you’re boring.

If you don’t get out of your bubble you’re never going to learn anything. I wasn’t a very confident person, even in my music. I just don’t like talking about it, I don’t think it’s great and I always think there’s better music than mine. I really do believe that. But at the same time, if you want to become something better, you have to do something different than what got you to where you are. Everything is possible in life, I always thought that anyway. Instead of wishing for something to happen, just do it. Somehow that fucking Nike slogan is true. You can’t wait for someone to just take your hand to do it. You don’t have to wait for approval. Just do it. So okay, I’m just going to do it and if people think I sound stupid or don’t like my French accent and all that stuff, I really don’t care. I just go for it and slowly, in the end, I feel like it’s starting to be rewarding.

The work that goes into a record label is invisible: people just get the final product and don’t see the process. But the process of what you’re doing now is public. Is this more work than running a record label? or less?

I’m working more than ever. Before COVID even happened I had set up myself to amp up everything I was going to do. I was thinking, Why is my career where it is? Am I not releasing enough? Let me look at someone I admire, for instance, and take a closer look at what he’s doing. Let me do at least as much as he’s doing, because I can’t expect to do less than what he’s doing and expect the same results. So I thought okay, I need to start doing more.

With COVID happening, obviously all these plans were made so I can improve my DJ career or I can increase my gigs or whatever, and that wasn’t going to happen. But I still need to be active and relevant because once the doors are open again I want to make sure I’m still here. I want to make sure I’m someone who’s still in the public eye and releasing records and everything and not someone from three years ago who gave up.

So I’ve taken on as much or even sometimes more than I can handle. I’ve been accepting more remixes and really going for them rather than saying no or finding excuses. I’m doing podcasts every month which is taking more time than I’ve thought because of the editing process that goes with it. I now realize what you probably already know — that when you interview someone for an hour they have all kinds of mechanical “umms” and “you knows.” You have to clean that up so it’s more “intelligible,” let’s say. And you have to piece things together and that can take a lot of time. So that’s another thing I started doing, trying to open myself up to a new audience and using my skills.

And of course during lockdown you have kids and you can’t work with kids running wild from morning to night. That was the hardest. People who don’t have kids, they were bored during the lockdown. If you have kids you don’t have time to get bored. The kids are at school and it’s much more flowing now.

A lot of these sound like skills that you’ll be able to use over and over again, and maybe even beyond a music career, in the strictest sense.

A lot of DJs like myself — we put all our eggs in one basket. Those who were lucky enough to live from DJing, they weren’t really making much money from records. With DJing, the more you play, the more you get paid. There’s a virtuous circle to it.

If a DJ got $1000 for a two hour set, that’s about $500 an hour. That’s a very high paid job. And if you can do that twice a weekend it can be really good money. The reality is that most people don’t make really good money, though. And when you are making a living, it can be more of a precarious existence where you really need the next gig to pay your bills. A flight can be cancelled and the gig is gone and so is the money to pay your bills. A pandemic comes and you have nothing to fall back on. We all have more potential in us, but in the underground scene especially, it can be so difficult to make it as a DJ.

I was thinking that when clubs re-open again, we should take the DJ booth and put it somewhere hidden where nobody can see it. But that’s not going to happen, is it? It’s going to be the opposite because everybody has been watching the DJ this whole time, now more than ever. Oh well.

This has made me think about different revenue streams. I’m dipping my toe in podcasting, I’m doing sample banks, I’m creating a community on Patreon. I’m trying to think of what I can do so I don’t have to change careers or “retrain.”

Do you think deep house can exist without DJs and outside of the nightclub?

Definitely, I think so. I mean look at how people consume music. They don’t only go to concerts to listen to funk or disco. You listen to it in your car, at home with your friends. People love that music.

I’m not saying that clubs are over — they are going to come back. They always do. There isn’t a doubt about that. It’s dark and then the light is going to come back. Right now there are no clubs but there is still a demand for it. I have friends who are giving DJ lessons and they’re booked up. So what does that say?

And of course there is livestreaming, though I myself don’t really care for watching livestreams for DJing. I just don’t like watching a DJ. That’s why when I’m doing my Hazy Grooves show on Mixlr, it’s all audio. During a pandemic I don’t have time to watch someone DJing, you know? I can listen to it but watching him, I can’t think of anything more boring. That’s just my opinion. People were always staring at the DJ in clubs, and livestreams just reinforce that you have to and should be looking at the DJ.

I was thinking that when clubs re-open again, we should take the DJ booth and put it somewhere hidden where nobody can see it. But that’s not going to happen, is it? It’s going to be the opposite because everybody has been watching the DJ this whole time, now more than ever. Oh well.

The place where the magic happens is patreon.com/brawther.

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