Careers can be a tricky facet of life to nail down. Some know exactly what they want to do with their lives very early on, other don’t figure it out until much later. But knowing what you want out of life is only half the battle, the rest is reserved for working your ass off to get there.
For Sydney electronic music producer and DJ Hayden James, the journey to success wasn’t much different. His first single ‘Permission to Love’ burst onto our radios in 2013, followed by the massive ‘Something About You’ in 2014. Since then, he’s played a number of festivals, supported US act Odesza and is Byron bound again in July to grace the Mix Up Tent at this year’s Splendour in the Grass festival.
I was lucky enough to chat with Hayden about his inspiration, big breaks, tour craziness and advice for aspiring artists.
Like any hobby, being able to turn it into a career is much easier said than done, particularly in an industry as competitive as music. For Hayden, it was all about opportunities.
“I guess it was about opportunity for me. In what I do, anything can happen, literally. Like, I can wake up tomorrow and write a song that will change my life. So, it’s that opportunity that doesn’t exist in a normal day-to-day kind of job for me.”
Before music became his career, Hayden studied at UTS and DJ’d on the side. After completing a degree in finance, he took up a management program at Coles, but he knew he wanted to go further.
“Six months into Coles I had the realisation of “what do I wanna do with my life?” I thought, you know what? I just want more.”
For anyone in a creative field, knowing the point at which you can successfully quit your day job is crucial. Some love the rush of diving in headfirst with little thought, others opt for caution, keeping ties to employment until they’re sure they can support themselves.
After quitting Coles, he continued to DJ in Sydney’s Kings Cross before starting the Hayden James project. Unlike DJing as a “no-namer,” Hayden says the money is in writing and releasing your own music.
“Financially, if you start writing good music, good things will come to you. I think it was just before Something About You, that’s when I started making a bit more money and being able to support myself. I’ve been in the studio everyday now instead of doing something else, so yeah, about a year ago.”
For an artist that has only released two singles and one EP, it’s exceedingly impressive that he has been able to do so much on the back of his current catalogue, including huge international tours and record deals. He does, however, attribute his big break to radio airtime.
“I think ‘Permission to Love’ was big for me in Australia and getting played on Triple J. Whenever you get picked up on a radio station it’s always pretty good, I mean, you just reach so many more people,” says James.
Hayden’s most recent effort, ‘Something About You’ gained much international attention, garnering record deals with Virgin Records in Europe and Casablanca Records in the United States. He also credits his success in Europe to a Microsoft commercial that featured his music.
“I got a sync to a big Microsoft commercial in Europe, so that gave me a lot of airplay and people started to know who I was.”
Is there ever uncertainty about the future? Absolutely, says James.
“I mean it’s quite fickle, you never know how people are gonna react to a song or whatever, you just gotta do what you think is right.”
When placing your entire career into the fans of his music, Hayden is realistic, admitting that it’s rarely something that can last a whole lifetime. Until then, he says he’ll enjoy every minute of the crazy, rewarding ride.
When quizzed on the best parts of his job, he says there are two; the people you meet and the travel you get to do.
“We are literally travelling the world and seeing the most amazing places and I’m paid to do it! Which is just ridiculous.”
But it’s not all about the party, stresses James, there is an incredible amount of hard work that goes on, even in the middle of a tour, to maintain his success.
“Most of the time the people that I meet and hang out with, we’re working really hard, we’re in the studio all the time, we’re not going out to all these parties. Sure, there are moments where you do have a lot of fun, but I mean, one of the main things for me is treating it like a job.”
It’s this kind of rigorous work ethic that sets artists like Hayden James apart from others in the scene. After all, success doesn’t come easy.
As for the craziest thing he’s seen on tour, Hayden recalls an Atlanta rap group called Rae Sremmurd who played the Listen Out festival with him last year. The group happened to bring their own security with them, a fact that a concert goer in Perth learnt the hard way.
“One guy in Perth decided to get up onto the stage and go and hug one of the guys while they were performing. And this bouncer, one of their security guards came up… he just coathangers this guy, and he just gets knocked out straight away, then he grabs him by his belt and just flicks him back into the crowd like a dead fish.”
All craziness aside, I asked Hayden for the best piece of advice he could offer to aspiring artists. “Just keep at it!” Said the producer.
“You’ll doubt yourself all the time, just keep improving.”
He also recommends listening to a wide range of music, something that I agree with wholeheartedly. “don’t just get caught in your little world of what’s happening, it’s so much bigger.”
From small-time DJ to the international stage, doing what you want to do is always possible, as long as you work hard towards it. Stay inspired.
Feature image: www.djungeltrumman.se/