To give you an idea of how life as a DJ works, when I went to Splash to see Randy Bettis perform, the bouncer about two feet away from his booth had no idea who he was and told me I should head toward the exit—seems I was a possible perp.
I’ve known Randy for years, I was put on the guest list by Randy, and I could see Randy just above the thug who was glaring at me like I was Bin Laden’s gay replacement. When I climbed over the little barricade and told Randy what happened, he laughed and said “That’s the way it works. No one knows anyone.”
Bettis is a member of an industry that’s usually behind the scenes; the magic makers, if you will. “When I first started playing in clubs i knew that even the drag queen/hostesses usually made more money than I did,” he says. “But it makes sense because they bring in their entourages, and they’re hot!”
Bettis isn’t bitter; just the opposite. In person he’s an ageless Peter Pan who probably still gets carded when he walks into bars like Splash, and his interview was like talking to a kid who’s just discovering the opportunities life has to offer, without any sense of skepticism that comes from existing in the music business longer than some readers have existed on planet earth.
And the prominence of DJ’s is changing. Tracy Young, Bimbo Jones, Paul Oakenfold (and those trailblazers Junior Vasquez and Victor Calderone), DJ’s have started to become stars in their own right, and Bettis is the new kid at the proverbial turntable. Bettis’s career began after years in musical theater (“I did Cats on Broadway about three times”), and after being trained as a gymnast, dancer, and classical flutist.
“I always loved dance music, always went out to clubs,” says Bettis. “Tumbling in Cats for eight shows a week was starting to wear me down. I’d been doing theater since 1985, and around 1997 my body was feeling it. I’d broken two big toes and my ankles were really bad. At the theater one night I decided I was going to pursue being a DJ and create music. A month later I quit Cats.”
Bettis’s break, oddly enough, came about ten years ago at Splash, when he talked the owner into letting him spin during Musical Mondays, the bar’s ode to all things Broadway and beyond. “I figured because of my background in musical theater it would work,” says Bettis, adding, “It did. They moved me to Tuesday nights, and then weekends.”
Disney called next, and Bettis contributed music to the first of the Gay Days compilations discs. Says Bettis: “I built a brand-name of my sound and it opened me up to a huge audience; 135,000 people go down there every year, and they age from eighteen to eighty.” Bettis also holds a place on the Billboard Reporting Panel, which means he’s one of a select chosen few who chart and decide the most popular dance songs.
Music might make the people come together, but it’s in a constant state of flux. DJ’s, therefore, have to adapt. “There are two kinds of DJ’s,” says Bettis. “One who doesn’t care what you think; you’re not coming to hear the popular stuff; you’re coming to hear them.” The second category, which Bettis says he’s a part of, “wants to get the audience going. If they’re not liking my vibe, or the music I’m playing, I usually can change that and give them what they want. You have to listen and pay attention to the dance floor.” A DJ, like any true performer, “has to be a teacher. You need to play what they like, but you also have to teach them new things.”
Nowadays, Bettis doesn’t perform much in New York, in part because “there aren’t any big clubs anymore. It’s mostly bars that cater to a younger crowd, and they want to hear their favorite songs.” Bettis, once again, says this without any sense of disdain. It’s all part of the conversation; his and ours. “It’s an iPod industry,” he adds. “The owners want that pop sound and drinking and no complaining. It’s a little bit of a karaoke effect. Remixes are harder to sing along to; they’re more about the producers than the artists.”
Bettis is doing a lot of benefits, and he’ll be back in the Fabulous Kingdom in July. On Sunday, June 12, Bettis is the spotlight DJ for “Love Shack,” a Fire Island Pines benefit for Trinity Place, the LGBTQ youth homeless shelter. The event goes from 1 to 4 at the High Tea Deck, with a special performance by Love Fest—think Broadway Bares baring even more!
If you want Randy to bare all, you should probably just give him a buzz, or talk to him next time he’s at Splash (if you can keep Thor from shoving you down the stairs, that is).
“I had been around during the disco era,” says Bettis, on beginnings. “I appreciate how special and interesting all that music was, but I was young enough to be in tune with the newer sound. Bridging two or three generations of musical tastes, I’d play new stuff then go into ‘I Will Survive.’ Victor Calderone probably wouldn’t try something like that.”
That’s not bitter; that’s Bettis.
For information on Love Shack, hit the Facebook Page.