I Thought I was Destined to be a DJ…Until I Wasn’t

What’s up Green Room Stories? I’m Joyia, and I’m an artist from Toronto, Ontario. A lot of people have described my sound as a slightly darker, more modern Aaliyah. Those are HUGE shoes to fill and I would have never made that comparison myself, but it’s a huge compliment that I hold dear to my heart. However, it wasn’t always like that, and my musical journey has been anything but linear.

I grew up on soul music. My dad was always playing artists like Stevie Wonder, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire…the list goes on. My mom also got my dad into a lot of bossa nova since she’s Portuguese, so I grew up listening to a lot of that as well. I guess the jazz roots have always been a part of me. I also began classical piano and vocal training at the age of 10 after years of singing in the church choir. It was when I was 13 that my music teacher suggested I try writing a song. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.

So, I wrote my first song. I don’t even remember if I even liked it or not, but I remember knowing that this was a form of self-expression that I had never explored before, and that I wanted to continue for a long time coming. I continued to write, and then learned how to play the guitar at home so I would have options when it came to accompaniment. I totally saw myself as an Ed Sheeran or Alicia Keys: just the stage, the instrument, and I. I was convinced that would be my reality, until saw a post on Facebook one day that would change the way I made music forever.

Enter: Swedish House Mafia.

I remember listening to small bits of electronic music, but never really giving it any thought. It was just starting to get mainstream radio-play, and I had a couple of songs that I enjoyed here and there. However, I saw this post about Swedish House Mafia on my Facebook feed one day, and just remember seeing this amazing video for what looked like the biggest concert I had ever seen. So I looked into it. Apparently, I had been sleeping on EDM, and Swedish House Mafia was a HUGE deal. Unfortunately, this show was part of what would be their last tour as a group. Fortunately, I managed to grab tickets to One Last Tour, and ended up seeing them at their stop in Toronto at the Rogers Centre.

That night was like nothing I had ever experienced. Everything that could have gone right went right – we were accidentally given floor wristbands when we had GA seat tickets, we had friends in the stands who were willing to hold our jackets for us so we didn’t need to coat check, we found an amazing spot in the crowd, and we met some really fun people who made the night even better. I had NEVER seen anything like it. The production, the energy – it was a huge dance party. At the same time though, Swedish House Mafia’s music had a grip on the entire audience. Everybody was singing along to every word, and there were parts that live in my memory like it was yesterday. I just remember seeing them up on that huge stage, and at this point, I had never used, touched, or even looked at a DJ controller. The next morning, I watched hours of Youtube videos on DJing and music production, and I had convinced my parents to buy Logic Pro as my early birthday present. And so, the female producer-DJ dream began.

Fast forward a couple months. I had learned how to DJ pretty decently, and I was starting to make my own productions. I would sing and write little hooks here and there, but singing and songwriting had taken a major backseat while I was focusing on learning so many technical elements of production. I had gotten some pretty cool gigs; I DJ’d multiple events for Adidas and Reebok, as well as my ultimate DJ accomplishment: landing a gig playing the main room at the Guvernment, which was one of the biggest (if not the biggest) multi-room, legendary electronic clubs in Toronto (which has since then been bought out and turned into residential/commercial space, and YES we are all still sad about it). I was only 18 at the time, so it was a pretty big deal. I had also gone ALL in as an attendee – I went to Ultra Miami in 2015, and then went to Ultra Europe the following year; something even my most obsessed friends hadn’t done.

Through all of this, I definitely faced a lot of hesitation from my dad, who was pretty unsure that this is where I would end up. He would constantly ask me, “Are you sure this is what you want to be doing for the rest of your life?”

And to that I said, “HOUSE MUSIC FOREVER, DAD.”

Boy, was I wrong.

“I was left completely clueless with who I was as an artist, what kind of music I wanted to make, and whether this music thing was ever actually going to work out for me.”

After a couple of years, a lot of what was being released in the mainstream electronic realm was beginning to sound redundant to me. I had also found that I had never really been able to find my “style,” and I was finding it harder and harder to write. The melodies didn’t seem to be coming as naturally as they had before, and I’ll admit, my ears were starting to get tired of the whole dramatic build up and drop that I kept hearing over and over. I was left completely clueless with who I was as an artist, what kind of music I wanted to make, and whether this music thing was ever actually going to work out for me. I was also just starting university, meeting a ton of new people, figuring out the process of becoming independent, and figuring out who I actually was as at the same time. Over those first two university years, a lot of tough, but essential things happened that allowed me to really grow. I slowly figured out who I was, and it was starting to show in my songwriting.

I found myself going back to my R&B roots. I began writing melodies again, and really focusing on the stories of songs. I was using more jazz progressions, and pulling influences from the music I had grown up on. But more so, I was making music that finally felt honest to myself. The lyrics and melodies started flowing, and the music I was making was finally starting to resonate with myself, and others – which was just a bonus.

“I learned a very important thing: collaboration is at the heart of music, and even though you might be able to do something yourself, you shouldn’t be closed to the idea of letting it fall into someone else’s hands.”

Do I regret the 3-to-4-year electronic music hiatus? Absolutely not. Because of it, I forced myself to learn elements of production that have helped me tremendously when working with other producers, and it has helped me communicate my ideas way more effectively when I’m in a studio. I learned how to record, engineer, and comp my own vocals, work with midi, and a whole bunch of different plug-ins so I can process things and send people somewhat completed demos they can work with. Do I still produce my own songs? Absolutely. They’re just chill R&B/soul instead of high-octane house, and I have some help now. I went from this narrow mindset of being the one-woman show to exploring collaboration, and it’s opened up so many doors. I learned a very important thing: collaboration is at the heart of music, and even though you might be able to do something yourself, you shouldn’t be closed to the idea of letting it fall into someone else’s hands. Sometimes, those people can bring your work to levels you thought were out of reach.

Sure, sometimes I’ll get behind my controller and still throw down a dirty tech-house set for fun. I’ll still listen to some old house tracks sometimes, and they’re really nostalgic. In no way am I trying to bash EDM; to some people, it remains a pillar of their artistry or their emotional escape. Every genre means something to someone, and that’s the beauty of music. I’ll never forget the memories I made and all the great people I met. I’ll have that for the rest of my life. I’ll also say that there’s still a lot of great electronic music coming out; producers have created so many interesting niches. More importantly, I’m forever grateful for the lesson I learned. Sometimes, we need to let ourselves take the wrong path to eventually find the right one.

I may have stumbled, but I eventually found my own way. And yes, dad, you were right.

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