One of the benefits of being in this business are the parties. Whether its an album release party, a premiere/launch party (T-Mobile always does them big) or a post-awards show bash, free liquor, beautiful people and good music always make for a grand ole time. Some of the best parties I have been to were often DJ’ed by the same collective — S.K.A.M. DJs.
Whether its MIA’s own DJ Irie (isn’t the big weekend coming up?), the lovely Sky Nellor or the legendary D-Nice, the S.K.A.M. crew is always in the mix (see what I did there?). So, who better to talk about celebrity DJ culture, finding a good DJ and what makes a great party, then S.K.A.M. founder Sujit Kundu.
How did you get your start?
Sujit Kundu: I started as a club promoter back when they used to have raves. I was like 15 or 16 and it was more of a bet that I couldn’t throw a party. I did one, made some money and I just kept doing it. And then I went to college thinking I was going to stop throwing parties and become a doctor or lawyer like every good Indian (laughs). Then I went up to school in Santa Barbara [University of California at Santa Barbara] and it was kind of like a wide open market, so I approached the clubs, started doing parties there. As the scenes transferred from dance music to hip-hop, I started throwing hip-hop shows. And early in a lot of hip-hop artists’ careers, they came out to my club in Santa Barbara because it’s so close to L.A., so when they would come do a promo in L.A., they would just drive an hour and half up to Santa Barbara, do my club and make some extra money. That gradually translated into street promotion and then mix-show promotion. While I was doing parties, I got approached by a couple of DJs to start managing them. At the time it wasn’t any money in it. It was just like 100 bucks here, 50 bucks here — that’s what they were making, so I wasn’t making anything. I was just letting them keep the money. Somehow a little celebrity DJ phenomenon came on and they started making real money and I was in early enough in the scene where if those guys blew up, I was already their manager and here I am.
Who were your first couple of DJs?
How managing a few DJs morph into launching S.K.A.M.?
SK: Well, I had a production company [Baby Ree Productions] and when I graduated from school, I graduated with a business accounting degree and I wasn’t going to do that, so it was like, “Alright now, you actually have to make enough money to survive.” So, I started becoming a little more serious then and when I split ways with my production company, my partner took the production, I took the management, and then I started pursuing it. But it was still kind of a side hobby; I still did mix-show and club promotion. I was doing like three different things [at once]. S.K.A.M. is still not the full-time thing. I work at Universal full-time [as VP of promotion], and I have five employees that run S.K.A.M.
How do you balance the two roles?
SK: Well, those guys run most of the day-to-day, I’m more of the owner. They’re really the ones that power and run it. Maybe if they have a question or something [they ask me], but it’s just like a well-oiled machine.
In terms of bringing on new DJs onto the S.K.A.M. roster, how does that process work?
SK: It’s like a fraternity. Two or three of the guys will come up to me and be like, “Hey, we really like this guy;” or “We see somebody doing something good.” Or the opposite could happen. It could be a DJ that’s playing in territories or in an area that we don’t know or we don’t have, and they could be bringing something to the team. Or they might just make decent money and it might financially be worth it. But we do get about 20 requests a week.
And of those 20 requests, how often would you say a new DJ is chosen?
SK: Once every four months. I mean we try to make it limited. I wanted to stop 10 DJs ago.
SK: If it’s the right fit, you know, it evolves kind of naturally.
What makes the right fit? What makes a good DJ? What makes a S.K.A.M. DJ?
SK: There’s two ways to look at it. “Good or bad” is anyone’s opinion, but I think it’s based on how much work you get. I don’t really judge good or bad. I can let the clients judge, so my opinion doesn’t really matter. If I send you out to DJ and the club says you suck, even if I think you’re good, I’m not the one that’s paying for the talent. If I send you to a private event and the client comes back upset, then who am I to say if you’re good or bad? I like to think that a S.K.A.M. DJ is good, easy to work with, on time, professional, not demanding a lot and always keeps the client happy – whether the clients 1,000 people at a club or a special event person that they need to keep happy from top to bottom.
Who are some of the celebrity clients and brands S.K.A.M. has worked with?
SK: I mean anywhere from Louis Vuitton, Versace, Puffy, Sports Illustrated, Tao in Las Vegas… It’s all the way across the board… to Mokai in Miami to LIV in Miami. Because the rosters so diverse, we hit top to bottom everything. That’s why if you go to an All-Star Weekend or a Superbowl Weekend or a Grammy Weekend, you might see three or four or five of us doing all the parties in one night and they might target different genres. You might see one of them at the urban party, you might see one of them at the young Hollywood party, and you might see one of them at a regular club.
Since you go to events all the time, what makes a good party for you?
SK: Just the people that are there. A good party isn’t necessarily the hottest party to get into, it’s a party where I have a bunch of my friends, but I think the clients they have different goals with their parties. Some of them want to increase press; some of them do these events to reward clients that have been supporting them all year.
What advice can you give to aspiring DJs who want get down with S.K.A.M.?
SK: Management companies aren’t employment agencies. It’s not this magic. There’s a misconception that if you sign to a management company, all of the sudden you’re going to get work. We manage the work that you have, so if you’re not that busy to where you’re getting all these calls, you need to get your own hustle on. You need to get your brand up. You need to get your marketing up. You need to get all your things together on your own to a point to where you’re in that demand — to where you have so much work that you can’t handle it no more and you just want to focus on the creative and you need someone to take that work and manage it in a responsible way. Some of these guys were out until four or five in the morning, so they couldn’t wake up at eight o’ clock in the morning to deal with business calls, contracts and deposits. They’re out drinking or partying or DJing to five or six in the morning. Then they might have to get on a flight for four hours during the day and, during that time, business can’t stop, so you need somebody who’s on the ground and able to sort all that stuff out. It’s really a full-time job. Some of the bigger DJs, they have assistants, publicists all the way across the board. So, when you get to that level, then it’s time to search someone out. If you’re just starting off or if you’re only DJing a couple nights a week, the money you’re making… From a financial standpoint too, you have to understand if you’re a DJ making 500 bucks a night, the commission to the parent company is 75 bucks. It’s just no business there, just from a math standpoint. There’s no business there to warrant having a manager. I tell people that and they don’t always like it. They always think that if they’re good that that’s the ticket, but it’s a lot more than that. You have to be around it. You have to be personable. You have to be able to show up on time. You have to be able to dress the part and act the part.