The entire music game has changed for Cameron “DJ KC” Childress during the COVID-19 crisis.
His last in-person gig was at the Luxe Ultra Lounge in Birmingham on March 17, before entertainment and other venues closed because of the pandemic. Until that time, the 35-year-old DJ made a living by spinning for radio station V94.9 (WATV-FM), as well as at various clubs, weddings and private events.
“I’ve been booked every weekend for the last nine years,” Childress said. “I (typically) had four or more gigs a week, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and some Sunday nights.”
“I’m no longer able to perform in public, because my gigs require gatherings. With that being limited, it limits my bookings,” he said. The quarantining and sheltering in place “haven’t taken an emotional toll on me, but financially it sucks. I was used to going out at night, so I’ve had to adjust my sleeping pattern. … I’m fine, but I’d rather that things be the way they were. DJing was how I survived.”
Childress has taken his skills to Facebook and Instagram for virtual performances, but it hasn’t been easy.
“It can become annoying when you’re DJing on social media,” he said. Platform administrators will take the stream down because of music rights, “so it’s hard to throw your Cash App handle (a username allowing access to a payment application that enables direct peer-to-peer payment via a mobile device) on your livestream and generate an audience. (The video) goes back up a week later, but by then it’s pointless.”
Even with the difficulty of virtual performances, Childress still occasionally does them, because he loves the direct communication from viewers.
The format “has allowed me to change the way I DJ,” he said. “To actually be able to interact with the public and see their reaction (in comments) while DJing live is great because (the audience) … lets me know they’re enjoying the session, so that’s great for me. It’s more personal on (Facebook) Live because there’s two-way communication, and I think that is so dope.”
Childress has found work through private bookings for parties on Zoom, a platform for video and audio conferences, chats and webinars.
“I’ve been booked by a few doctors to do Zoom parties,” he said. “They’re just looking out for me, and they need a break because there’s so much going on with the coronavirus. They’re away from their families (and) can’t go around their kids because they’re exposed, so they gather on Zoom and have a little party.”
Word of mouth has been a way to get some gigs, Childress said.
“If you’re giving a good performance, (virtual attendees) will come up with something to do and use you, too,” he said. “I’ve done a Wine Down Happy Hour and a few virtual birthday parties” via Zoom and social media.
Private events allow Childress to not rely solely on Cash App tips.
“It’s not donation-based – (a client) books me, and I charge a fee,” he said. “I was booked to do a gig on Cinco de Mayo, and the event planner requested that I do it on Facebook Live. That took care of me.”
Virtual gigs have not been enough to replace his usual earnings, but “it’s been enough to put some food on the table,” Childress said.
Regardless of his ability to earn well from a Facebook Live performance, the Fairfield resident and Fairfield High School grad said he still hops on the ones and twos and DJs just for the love of it.
“Then I’m just performing, like I’m doing a mixtape,” he said. “I don’t do it for money. I do it to make people feel good. There’s a lot going on, so it’s an outlet for them and for me.”
The veteran DJ is using some of his free time to be creative in other fields. He attended Miles College, where he studied computer information systems, so he builds arcade machines and other tech furniture from scratch.
“I take the concept of regular household furniture and turn it into a tech item,” Childress said. “I’ve built a coffee table that’s touch screen, and it plays pinball games and things like that. I made it all; I did the programming and the wood-cutting. I post (on social media), people become intrigued and want to purchase. I’m getting even more orders, so my creations are holding me over.”
This is part of a series about Birmingham musicians in quarantine. This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.