Callie Reiff: Tangible Energy
How does DJing differ you from more traditional musicians?
CR: I feel like they go hand in hand and there’s the same energy performing live. I come from a very musical family and actually started as a ballet dancer. I was trained with a lot of amazing classical musicians next to me and there would be an orchestra playing with a conductor that would switch BPMs. You would have to adjust to the fast slow, fast slow. DJ mixing is picking up on those differences, it is all about tempo. After ballet I went into drumming and that really helped me to know how to mix properly and explore a groove. DJing at festivals and concerts has the same energy as your favorite live band, but there is a little extra energy that comes from electronic music.
Coming from ballet do you set the beat to a certain BPM in order to have a certain effect on the body?
CR: I would say that it is almost in the back of my mind without realizing it until you asked it. I never really thought about it, but it does make sense. When it comes down to BPM you know the faster it is the more crazy people are gonna go. As a DJ you learn from opening to headlining you learn what's danceable and what’s not. When I’m producing I dance to it as if it could go off in a crowd setting.
What was your first experience DJing at a festival?
CR: It was pretty crazy. I was 15 at my first DJ show ever and played Webster Hall as my first show. Being that age I wasn’t let in otherwise so it was also my first time being at Webster Hall. I reached out to the promoter myself through Facebook Messenger and hustled my way to getting an opportunity to play at Webster Hall and have them trust me. It was a big deal because they were worried about my age. I had to bring both my parents, have X’s on my hands and cause no trouble at all. It was quite a crazy first show and it was also an Electric Zoo after party so it was just packed.
It’s super cool that you had that grit and drive at 15 to just go for it.
CR: Thank you, I think it comes from being born and raised in New York City. My parents also really allowed me to explore creatively and didn’t force me into this traditional career path. They really allowed me to test everything out and so I went from ballet to drumming and when I got to DJing I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
How has your sound changed, you said that your new single is a big shift for you.
CR: It’s been a big journey since I’ve grown up while pursuing music. It made me grow up in a mature way in my actual life and also in my sound by experience and being in the industry. I think I started off trying to immediately produce what I heard was cool and almost prove myself. I have this competitive side so I thought, “oh that’s not so hard I can totally produce that”. Meanwhile it is really hard, it’s hard to produce anything. It was a lot of trial and error and with my sound it was all about energy and the club energy that I thrived off of. Recently I got more into songwriting and working with vocalist and telling a story with each song. I think the goal with this sound and going forward is to make songs that me and my friends would listen to.
You mention a huge impact on the club's energy. How did it work being so young and having the music accessible for older people, how did you navigate that?
CR: It was very strange because like you said I wasn’t exposed to club music until I played. I had a DJ teacher at an early age and he exposed me to a lot of DJ culture and what was happening in the evolution of house, dubstep and what’s popping. Hearing and learning about everything really helped, but not as much as actually going out and playing. You have to feel the music and be in the moment. The more I DJed the more I understood what music I should be playing and I would try things out a lot. I wasn’t afraid to try things because I didn’t have anyone who would be my comparison or developing at the same age and stages as me. I would open for DJs like Skrillex and you just have to bring your A game and go for it.
Dubstep and House completely transferred mainstream music and what’s on the radio when it first came onto the scene. How do you see EDMs larger role in how people write music?
CR: It has completely shifted into every production. Even Country songs have some electronic elements to it. Producers can just add synths now with a computer, it is inside the box. It is interesting that a lot of people in the beginning were looking at EDM producers and saying it’s not producing. You realize that you should utilize the technology that is out because it is really fun and has transformed our music. Music is always continuing to evolve, but right now EDM has basically taken over every genre from the charts to Top 40. The impact of DeadMau5, Skrillex and Calvin Harris has literally transformed the way we produce music.
What’s your process in finding vocalists?
CR: It definitely depends on the certain track or if I know someone that will kill it on the track. I have a lot of amazing and talented friends in music and I’ll go to them even just for advice. Sometimes I reach out to my favorite vocalists on Spotify or tag them in a post and then suddenly we are Face-timing the next week. I’ve never been shy from a cold email or reaching out because that’s how I got here.
What’s the story behind “What If’s”
CR: It is written by Isabella who is the vocalist and collaborator and she is amazing. She is in Nashville right now, but she is from Australia. Right when I heard the top line she sent I felt all the emotions she was going for and started producing right away. The melodies came from her top line and her pre-chorus melody is one of my favorite melodies ever. We have never met in person and that has kind of become the norm for collaborating. It came together really fast and I’m so excited to get it out and show people another side of my sound that I’ve been developing.
The ability to collaborate with anyone has really been explored and normalized during Covid. So what is your overall writing process?
CR: It’s really different for each song. If a singer comes to me with an idea and a melody that will be the starting point. I’ll play around with it and we will then discuss the lyrics and maybe I’ll change it up. I’ve really been trying to dive into songwriting recently and I’ve been writing down notes and have that as an outlet. It’s great to have this feeling and then realize that I can turn it into a pretty cool song as well. I don’t really have a preference because I think it is really fun to have a mix up and it keeps you more creative.
When DJs perform it is usually a remix of the song, is that something that is done live or beforehand?
CR: So they are actually called live edits. A lot of people will do a single that is pitched to radio that is maybe shorter than what they would want to play live. With my new tracks I made certain edits to them when I play them live or over a livestream. I haven’t actually played them in person so I’m very excited to do that. As I’ve been playing them I’ve done small edits to them in production and add them in. You could go super crazy and mix a song in and do a live mashup.
Check out Callie's work!