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Collegian exclusive: MAKJ talks performing and DJ AM

By Jesus J Montero | Posted May 28, 2015

As a teen, Mackenzie Johnson, now better known as MAKJ, was pursuing a career as a professional race-car driver in China. It wasn’t until MAKJ purchased his very own DJ equipment and returned to the United States where he first explored his interest in DJing. Trained by the late DJ pioneer DJ AM, MAKJ has his fair share of hits.

 

MAKJ has collaborated with artists such as Hardwell, Lil’ John and Showtek. His collaboration with Hardwell, “Countdown,” peaked at the No. 1 spot on Beatport just three days from its release with more than 4 million views on YouTube.

 

MAKJ has toured worldwide at festivals like Electric Zoo, Coachella and TomorrowWorld. His high-energy live performances match the quality of his original and edited songs. MAKJ’s set consist of produced big room house music and a newfound direction in hip-hop.

 

Before MAKJ was set to perform at The MID in Chicago, he answered a few of our questions.

 

You pride of yourself on your DJ technique when performing. Why is that important to you?

 

It’s important to someone that owes a car dealership that they want to have the best stuff on the front lot. I began as a DJ and was never a producer, and I just kind of fell into producing. I had to produce to be a DJ. It’s changed so much from four years ago.

 

I’ve melodied out a little bit in the past couple of months just because I’m playing so much new music that I want to play the full song of it. I wanted people to actually listen to the music and groove out a bit. With this whole house music movement people just want to groove.

 

It’s the only way I can show people I’m a DJ. SPIN posted a video of me recently scratching and people still thought it was fake when the video camera was right there showing that I wasn’t!

 

MAKJ at The Mid. Photo by Jesus J. Montero

 

How is it performing in Chicago?

 

It’s hard, man. Chicago is one of those towns that you have to be on point. It’s difficult. Chicago has been one of the markets that it’s been really hard for me. I mean, I can go anywhere now and they’ll be fans there, but Chicago is one of those cities that you have those people that’ve been with you from the start but you want to keep growing because you want to show the people that been doing it for a long time.

 

Chicago is a hard market. Everyone is so educated in house music that if you do something wrong it’s going to be blasted out. It’s a market that you have to be on point you have to be on your A game.

 

When publishing your music, you’ve bypassed major labels and released content through social media directly to your fans. Why do you use this method to release music?

 

You can go the pop scene and sign with a big label and just release on that label countless amount of times if you sign an album deal with them. They’ll also give you a big flat fee for all your records while having a certain amount of time to finish it. Or you can do it the way I like to do it which is, have a song and release it two days after I made it instead of waiting on the labels to give it the go-ahead.

 

Don’t get me wrong, that’s the professional way of doing it but just sometimes spot balling it like when Deorro and I did a day later after we finished it, we released it and it turned into a big thing. That’s what we did with the CoCo remix.

 

I’m doing the work of the PR agencies. There’s going to be a time signing to a major label and releasing an album because I’m going to need that help like writing songs, top lines, and introducing me to other big names. Like Avicii, he got help with working with all his top liners.

 

What’s the craziest experience you’ve witnessed traveling and performing around the world?

 

Knock on wood, there hasn’t been anything that crazy that’s happened. I would just say traveling and just seeing a lot of different things in the world. Experiencing different cultures to different foods that has been crazy to me. I’m from a small town in California, it’s like a 40,000-people town so for me to jump on a plane one day and go to 15 different countries in a matter of a month it’s just nuts to me it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve done that.

 

How was it growing under DJ AM’s wing, someone who is so recognizable in the DJ community?

 

I was friends with him for about four to five years. In those years I learned so much. I learned how he was as a person. I really didn’t pay attention to what he was doing as a professional DJ. He was a person who I looked up to. He was a lot like an older brother; that was the connection with Adam.

 

Is there any advice you have for the younger generation pursing a career as a producer and DJ?

 

Don’t take s**t from anyone. Don’t think your s**t stinks. That’s when you’re going to start second-guessing yourself. Never second-guess yourself as a producer, you’re going to be your own worst critic for sure. The funny thing is that the more of your music that gets supported, the more music that people hear, every song that you do, your second-guessing yourself even more. You’ll start saying, “Is this song as good as the last one?” Have good friends that would tell you if it sucks or not. I have five solid friends that would tell me if it sucks of not. Just do you.

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