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Q&A With a 10-Year-Old DJ

We had the opportunity to speak with DJ Niel Mac (real name, Niel McLellan), a 10-year-old DJ with dreams to make it big in the EDM space, to understand how he is already paving the way for his future and how this trend translates to the next generation of Plurals. The youngest cohort of grade-school Millennials are dreaming big and taking the notion of getting ahead to a whole new level. Young Millennials are finding their passions early on and using the fast-paced world of instafame and online accessibility to their advantage. We’ve profiled the rise in super-niche interest Millennials and it is no surprise that some of their focus on what’s unique and up-and-coming has intertwined with the distinctive world of EDM. Built on escapism through intense dance and music in a shared cultural environment, EDM has become an integral part of the young Millennial experience, and the maturity of its after-dark culture has transfixed even those too young to actually attend festivals. The kids rounding out this generation have unfiltered exposure and access to what is beyond their reach, and being raised in a world that increasingly values the entrepreneurial spirit, they are making their passions a reality, despite their young ages.
Ypulse: When did you discover your passion for DJing?
DJ Niel Mac: It was about two years ago when my Dad told me that there was a music festival coming to town, the Sun City Music Festival in El Paso, Texas. I went with my dad, and after seeing a lot of the DJs I thought it would be really fun to be there up on the stage and play for so many people, make people happy with music.
YP: How did you get your start as a DJ?
NM: I started with a small silver mixer that I found on Craigslist and a small computer with 100 songs. There was a talent show audition at my school, and I didn’t know that it was singing only, so I brought all of my equipment and they said I should just do the opening act. The next month they said, “Why don’t you do the dances?” So I started doing the school dances and all of the kids loved me, they went crazy. I knew that I wanted to be a DJ and do what I do. It just clicked. I’ve been doing that for about two years now, and I’ve gotten new equipment like the MK4 track, two speakers, and a whole lighting system.
YP: How do you balance being a DJ with going to school?
NM: Well, right now I’m in 5th grade. I just moved to a different school and started a home-schooling program because I’m going to start traveling. I go to school on the days that I can, and on the days that I have to perform at night or sleep so I can get my rest, I do my work at home.
YP: When do you find time to practice mixing?
NM: I practice practically every day for one to two hours, and sometimes I practice for three. It’s non-stop, no breaks in between, you just keep on going. Sometimes it’s just work, but I really enjoy what I do and it’s fun. I think it comes naturally to me.
Ypulse aside: Older Millennials were encouraged to be as well-rounded as possible and subsequently given a long generic list of activities to pick from, like karate, soccer, dance, and band. But as younger Millennials and Plurals discover exactly what excites them at earlier ages, they are choosing to absorb their energies in learning skills that traditionally would seem beyond their maturity, like coding, cooking, and photography. Becoming skilled in these fields used to require years of experience, but young kids are bypassing old rules and connecting with mentors to learn straight from the source. Mentorship is a new kind of peer-enting, as young Millennials depend on their parents for support and on mentors for knowledge.
YP: How are your parents helping you out?
NM: They’re very supportive when it comes to everything. They push me, they tell me what to do, and they help me when it comes to anything. They’re so supportive.
YP: How did you find your mentor?
NM: We were going to go with a DJ who was advertising online and looked like a really cool guy, he had a lot of experience, but then he flaked. So we looked on Craigslist and found DJ Dragon XL. When I first met him I didn’t even know how to mix two songs together and now I can mix three or four songs at a time.
YP: Was it important for you to have a mentor to get into the industry?
NM: Yes, without him it would’ve been really, really hard trying to learn by myself or learn from videos. Having someone right next to you and teaching you is, I think, a lot better than having someone show you in a video. He’s been there for me a lot, he’s such an awesome guy.
YP: What are your next steps as you continue to learn?
NM: I’m going to go to Austin to the Dub Academy, where I’m going to learn from a mentor to start producing music. I’ll produce mixes and they’ll grade them like in school, and then I might send them out to a production company.
YP: Would you rather keep DJing as a hobby or make it your future?
NM: I’m hoping to go big, and I wouldn’t really like it if it was a hobby. It would be just like playing at the school dance and I kind of got bored of that. It’s almost like a game, but really at this point it’s not a game, it’s more like a business.
Ypulse aside: EDM is a music genre that has gained more attention in the past decade as electronic music technology has developed. Rapid growth in its popularity has blossomed from technological advances, and young members of the EDM audience are as interested in listening to the music as they are in making it. Having instant access online to an infinite library of music’s past, young Millennials and Plurals are in-tune with changes to the music industry, able to adapt to new technologies and change the way music is made for the future.
YP: What do you think about EDM culture in general?
NM: I think it’s a different way of music. It’s more electronic than if you go back to the 70’s or the 80’s which was drums and a microphone. It’s built up so much by technology, and you never know what’s coming next. There might be a totally different genre that might be huge in ten years, and then you have to turn your wheels, and switch everything that you’ve learned, and just start playing what people want to hear. If something does change, I can always switch.
YP: What is you musical inspiration for EDM?
NM: I use almost every single type of music: oldies, new music, old-school hip-hop, I even use rock in some of my mixes. I’m incorporating house, and I also love to do electronic. I think some DJs are really bringing back hip-hop, and some people are really bringing back lots of house. Like in Ibiza there’s lots of house going on, in the summer it was very big.
YP: Are you still going to EDM performances?
NM: Yes, I love to go to EDM festivals to see DJs perform. It’s so fun because I know that one day, I might be up there and be in their position.
Ypulse aside: Young Millennials have seen their older cohorts crash and burn, and are forming a tougher outlook for the future that coincides with their positive outlook. They have also seen their peers find huge success from entrepreneurial ventures and through social media outlets, communicating that with the right avenues, they too can make it big.
YP: How are you getting your music out there?
NM: I have two videos on YouTube, but most of my mixes are on SoundCloud, I have about six or seven mixes up. Without my website I probably wouldn’t be known as much. It advertises me and it gives me PR. If I’m playing somewhere and someone tries to look up DJ Niel Mac and there’s nothing, then they’re never going to learn more about me or hear what I do other than just what they heard without being online.
YP: What do you find hard about becoming a DJ?
Most of the technical stuff when I was learning was very hard and some points I wanted to give up. When I went to Las Vegas to see my mentor it was very hard and stressful, but he taught me a lot of what I do now. [In my area] there are not many mentors and not many people DJ here, so there’s kind of a competition between us. One person said that I’m stealing food off their table. They think that I’ll take away their business.
YP: How do you deal with any negative comments?
NM: I kind of just push them off. Why get all ticked off about it when you can just shrug it off your shoulders and carry on?
YP: What are you looking forward to the most?
NM: I look forward to traveling and being a big name DJ like Tiesto or Zedd. Zedd started out young, he played violin when he was six years old, so he’s an inspiration to me. Right now, I’m taking it one day at a time. In a couple years I should be playing in Vegas, but if I’m not, I still have plenty of time.