Rochester’s Resident DJ, Tim Tones, talks with the Rochester Insomniac
Ben – You play a huge variety of clubs, Flower City, Skylark…
Tim Tones – Yeah, yeah, East End as well. I’ve done Pearl and Club One. It’s basically if you have money, I’m there, Hahaha. It’s a small enough city where you can do that. Club residencies aren’t really a thing here like they are in bigger cities such as New York and Vegas. There’s a mutual respect among everyone so there’s no need for residencies. I have my own relationships with clubs and there are certain ones I go to first but the doors always open, and that drives the diversity up.
Have you found that clubs are willing to pay your rate?
Yeah, I’ve never had a problem. That might be attributed to that I love doing this. In my younger days when I was first making my name I would do a lot of shows for free if it were good exposure. My friend James used to talent buy at Dubland underground, he brought Slick Rick one year, Sean Price, other notable rap acts and I told him “Yo I’ll do it for free” because that’s something that I wanted to attach my name to and build my strength on. I knew at that point no one had really seen me, so hopping on a show that I know 200-300 people are gonna be at pays for itself down the line. I was never the guy that was a stickler about money. I’m fair so if you’re my homie things can be worked out.
When did you start putting your hands on turntables?
I first started DJing in 1999. I wasn’t doing clubs or anything but it was the first turntable I had, the first time I bought a record and put it on a turntable. My dad had a turntable in our basement and I remember cutting up a pair of flannel boxers and using it as a slip mat. I think I bought a Del Tha Funkee Homosapien record from a place called fantasy records on Monroe ave. that is no longer there. Started cutting with it a little bit and just fell in love. Before that I was really trying to be a beat boxer because I love the band the roots and they had Razel and DJ Scratch both great vocal beat boxers and scratchers. I would sit there with a mic and my guitar amp and just try and do that…. Realized that I wasn’t naturally gifted at that type of stuff, so I said I’d just be a regular DJ. From there, got my first little starter kit in the basement practices hours on end, it’s really a labor of love. You get the one little inkling of ‘okay, I learned how to do this’ and you just keep going. That stuff was all before the clubs and it gave me the confidence to be a club DJ, for a long time I was just a straight hip hop DJ that would just do open mic events and straight hip hop events. Those were really fun, but I got to a point where I would want to rock a crowd, and I got to a point where I found an opening in the club scene through my friend DJ Ease, he gave me the plug and a couple of other friends gave me the plug too and that was it.
What was the first club?
I want to say probably Dubland. The first parties, college parties and things I did were downstairs at Dubland. And it wasn’t a RipRoc event; my buddy used to book like the college’s sorority and frat parties. I remember a couple of those, probably 06-07, and I said WOW this is fun, were just playing music and kids are wylin out. From there it was on, started building up a name in the east end, started doing my own night. That’s really what hit it off in terms of me getting booked by other clubs, doing upstairs at Dubland and lugging all my shit in their and just turning that into a spot so that is was taking away from other peoples business. Then it’s like ‘Well let’s get Tones in here cause he’s doing good things over there’. Dubland ended up closing and it was a lucky Segway.
What is your favorite style of DJing?
I’m a Hip Hop DJ first, that’s the foundation. Every time I play on turntables it’s cutting and scratchin and mixing, I just add in more up to date flavors. A lot of house music I play a lot of, people call it trap music, that’s still hip-hop music. To me everything is hip-hop, that’s some type of dance music, its all derivative of hip-hop.
Do you do production work?
I do, mostly Hip Hop production. I’m not the dude that will sit in the studio and write like ten tracks a day or whatever, I write when I’m inspired to write. I have my beats and I’ve collaborated with people throughout my career.
Doing so many different things with DJing, what kind of gear are you working with?
If I’m DJing, a lot of the clubs I DJ at already have turntables there, but the standard is two turntables. They could be Technics those are fine; my favorite turntables are Vestax though. Technics is the original, but Vestax came out and kind of revolutionized the turntable. They put a straight arm on it making it easier to scratch on. You have greater range of pitch control. It’s very usable. It’s gotta be a Rane mixer, I used a Rane 56 with a midi controller. There are a lot of dope mixers out there now, pioneer is also good. PC laptop, I never converted to Mac. As for production, I use Reason 4.0, which is a VERY basic version but I know it, it’s like having that one guitar and you just can’t leave it because you know it so well. I mostly use it for hip-hop production, I know the samplers really well, how to tweak them out. For a lot of other original production I use Ableton, which is far more advanced and way more powerful than I think even the most current Reason is.
Do you fucks with CD turntables?
Yeah, I’ve used them. I think I had a rant about this the other day; back when you could only play on or DJ with vinyl were my first couple of years in the game and there were still bad DJs, they wouldn’t mix the records they would just play the records. So you know, if you’re just doing that it doesn’t matter what format they’re on, CDJs CD turntables whatever. To me, I’m not listening, these songs are good but this DJ isn’t making the vibe or making the night his own. Saying that I’ve heard good DJs who use CDJs only I’ve heard good DJs that only use Ableton and mix in Ableton live, and then on the flipside of that I’ve heard DJs who have turntables and try to instill that like quote unquote realness in their sets and it’s just garbage. Equipment is not the end all be all thing, it’s really what your mind is putting into it and what you’re conveying. How you’re mixing or editing a track is what’s important not what equipment you’re using. So yeah if I go into a club and see a young DJ just using the sync button in Traktor, that’s all right, I’m not even opposed to that but did you listen to that mix first. Did you play it at home do you know what that sounds like. Or are you just taking tracks you downloaded and using the sync button because it’s easy. A lot of times, if you sync a track together things change and it doesn’t always sound right, so listening is the most important part of DJing. Knowing your records and knowing what spots are dope on each track and when to play them and where to play them. There are a lot of tunes now that have a shelf life. Say a tune comes out in June and you can play the whole thing and it’s dope, but by October people still may like it but hearing it every week in the club they’re sick of it, so you’re just gonna drop in the hottest part of the track. That is what makes a good DJ.
So there’s a lot of preparation that goes into a night?
There is, it gets easier the more you do it though. Especially listening to the Record Pool tracks cause you know right away when you hear something if it’s gonna stand out or if it’s gonna be filler. You just flip through your track, listen to it, make your cue points and there ya go. Practice with it, make it your own.
Who are your most notable collaborations?
There’s a dude out of New York who’s name is Soul Kahn, he’s in a group called the brown bag all stars, I’ve done tracks with him. I’ve done a track with another guy in that group and it’s called J57, which is still unreleased. I have a track with Amelia Rojas that I haven’t released yet either. For me those are notable collaborations. Ric Rude of course. He’s not too much on the scene but when I first got a lot of my respect was starting with him and we had really great show sets, well organized rehearsed, a lot of switch ups in the show, switching up instrumentals and his original songs. The first original mix tape I did was with him. To me that was one of my most favorite collaborations because it was the first. Then my buddy Marcus, MDot Coop, we’ve got like…. A bunch of tracks together. Some which have been released some which haven’t’. We have enough to put a couple EPs together. He’s my main collaborator now. I’ve known the kid for close to twenty years. We were friends before I started DJing. He was rapping and we would just go skateboard downtown and liberty pole, and he rapped and I was still doing the beat box thing so we had a common bond. He went to school in NYC, then came back and put out a bunch of albums. I’ve always been his DJ, help him out with shows put releases together.
You guys do Let’s Be Friends
Yup, were two years into it now. Probably like 20 parties. We did one in NYC, which went off successfully. Were trying to expand it and do it with friends in other cities. We’ve got a couple new dates coming up here. We created that together, Coop has a lot of really great ideas, a really original thinker, and you know I have my two cents, and I’m a lot of the production end of it, Photoshop and such. We go back and forth on ideas and it’s just a good creative relationship, having someone you can disagree with but know that you can still keep doing it. You get so much further with your end product when you have someone you can argue who has a little bit of a different eye. Your product will be better in the long run.
You guys also did the Genesee Life mixtape together as well.
Yes, we did that under Deli Entertainment, which is Coops thing. I’ve always been a part of it but it’s his production company. When that came out the whole idea was to showcase Rochester talent. Coop hosted it, I mixed it and put it together, we both drew from our resources of friends and put it all together. Everybody sent us tracks and I put them in Serato, recorded the mix, Coop came over and laid down vocals, and it’s like a trip through Rochester.
What the ratio of Hip Hop shows vs. club shows vs. private parties that takes up your time?
There are more private parties and events that go on in the warmer months so I do more clubs in the fall and winter. Birthday parties, weddings, there’s not much that I’m above doing. If you want to pay me I’ll come play your party.
Is this your number 1, or do you have a day job?
Yeah, I have a day job. I’m a firm believer, especially in Rochester, that it’s hard to be a full time DJ. It’s hard to have that be your only income because you start stressing about the money and if someone takes a gig that effects my money and I’m gonna be pissed. You don’t need to be in every club every week in a town like Rochester because people get sick of you. I’ve always had this theory that, you’re only as good as your last show, and if you do a show and people are like yeah that was dope, the next one has to be just as good otherwise people forget about you.
What’s next for you?
The biggest thing in the immediate future is trying to expand into different cities and bigger markets. As far as Rochester, helping coop get his next release ready to drop, putting together a show for that. Growing the lets be friends, always. Build on quality and expand. Take it to the next level.