Speakers are blaring and, holding headphones in his left ear, sophomore Justin Lee pushes the levers on his mixer with his right hand. New hip-hop beats wind through the house, while the crowd grinds on the busy dance floor. To Lee, this is euphoria.
Lee, a physical therapy major, labels himself as a hard worker when it comes to academics, but he knows some weekends, it’s all about the entertainment scene.
Lee and his friend sophomore Ryan Anderson, who attends Binghamton University, started a small DJ company in their senior year of high school named Next Gen, short for “next generation.” Anderson said DJing was initially a fun after-school activity, but eventually it took a serious route when they both saw the opportunity to profit from it.
“Ryan made the first move and bought some equipment and then I saved up like $1,000 and went out and bought my own equipment,” Lee said. “We started to do little gigs for family functions and got a little money for that. We noticed the more and more we did the more and more we saved up for better equipment such as lights, speakers and a microphone.”
Lee said Next Gen started out small when it came to non family customers. It was when Next Gen got its “big break” at a simple party that it finally took off.
“We did our first big gig, I still remember it, it was for a sixth-grade pool party,” Lee said. “From then, word of mouth just started spreading. I can’t believe where we are right now, we have like over $8,000 worth of equipment.”
Lee and Anderson both have different functions within the business. According to Anderson, he isn’t the most creative person between the two of them, so it was Justin who came up with the name. Anderson considers Lee the creative and business head and himself the financial and legal head.
“It was senior year of high school when I went to the American DJ Expo in Atlantic City and from that I got a whole bunch of business ideas and ways for a business contract,” Anderson said. “Still to this day we are not big on the whole contract thing but I still learned how to run a DJ business and all that so now having that I was able to get more parties of that with business cards.”
Now that Lee and Anderson are at separate colleges, Next Gen works in a much different aspect. Since they are an hour apart, they either travel to each other for big bookings or handle a party solo under the business name.
Lee has had many solo gigs for the past couple of months around campus, at events such as Casino Night, Winter Wonderland and at Lansing High School. He personally feels he still has a long way to go until he gets big exposure on campus. However, Lee said he does not want to rush and would rather it be a slow and powerful build-up when it happens.
Sophomore Camila Neves, one of Lee’s close friends, is a huge supporter and enthusiast of his work. She attended many of his gigs at the college, such as Inside Look and parties in the Circle Apartments. She said she admires Lee’s relationship with the crowd.
“Sometimes I get to tell him to play this song or that song,” Neves said. “I get to, as well as the crowd, put a lot of input into the song choices. This builds a lot of trust with the people there.”
For Next Gen, DJing is more of a profession than a party business. Anderson said mixing music is his own form of expression.
“We were kind of young and people saw us as two little kids just having fun,” he said. “As we got older we got more into mixing and that’s when it became a personal job because it was more than playing in front of a crowd of people. It became art.”
Lee may be an up-and-coming face in the DJ scene in the Ithaca community, but he has been scratching away for the past five years. He said even though he is studying to become a physical therapist, he always sees DJing as his weekend job.
“I just really love music and I just wanted to really continue doing it whether it was for the money or not,” Lee said. “I just love what I do.”
For Lee, there is nothing better than hearing the roar of a crowd when he plays his latest mix.
“I remember when I made this really good mix and the crowd responded back to me and they were going nuts,” he said. “I got shivers and I knew this was it, this was exactly why people DJ.”