The World’s Leading Female DJ On Making It Big In The Electronic Music “Boy’s Club”

By Charissa Saverio, aka DJ Rap

I have been in the music business since I was 14 and am still touring, DJ-ing producing music on my labels and kicking ass after 25 years. Sounds fun and easy right? I wish!

Think of an iceberg: you see 1 tenth above water and that is the DJ with the adoring crowd of thousands throbbing to the music they are performing, and their own music to boot. So what are the other 9 tenths that we don’t see? How do we make it happen and why are there so few women at the top of the game? What is the future for us ladies in this business?

Let’s start with ‘why are there so few women at the top of the game’. The answer is one word – production.
I’ve said it a thousand times throughout my career. If you want to be a world-class electronic DJ you also need to be a world-class producer. There is a limited future for you if you don’t produce. If you all you do is play other DJs’ music then essentially you are a jukebox.

If you can’t produce it is just as important to have other talents, for example a talent for business or a love or performing. Here are two examples of mega stars who, in all fairness, are not great producers or singers or even songwriters as they have teams to help them, but they have showed the world the power of what a women can achieve with their vision of art, as great performers with a strong sense of self and highly individual personalities. The first is Madonna who has amazing drive and a great work ethic, and the second is Jennifer Lopez who understands how to market herself and cater to her strengths.

Blue Microphone

Still, don’t want to turn the knobs? If you have a good ear and you can sing, write melodies and lyrics then you can hire an engineer and you will be a triple threat rather than a one dimensional DJ. Many producers don’t know how to operate a hairdryer let alone a studio, yet they have an incredible ear and sense of what the song needs. Not everyone needs to be a button pusher. Know what you are great at, hire someone to fill the not-so-great parts and LEARN from them!

Every single world class DJ in the world also has productions under their belt. This is why I opened up a music school to teach production, especially for women, called Music Tech Collective. I mostly teach privately, but I believe this should be affordable for the masses who have time and budget limitations. hence the online production school was launched two weeks ago!

As children, females are brought up differently from our brothers without our parents even realizing it. Moms are buying us dolls and the boys are playing with hammers with their dads in the garage. They are learning how to take things apart and problem solve, we are learning how to be pretty and cute. This is why the stereotype exists about women hating manuals and boys having no fear of them. It’s not that we don’t understand them or are “stupid”, as I’ve heard many say sadly, we were just brought up to solve our problems in a different way.

Boys were playing in sports and learning guy etiquette. And guess what the DJ world is? A boys club.
So if you were a tomboy like me, you probably fit right in with the boys, and most female DJs I know who are truly successful are kinda one of the boys and learned to be a team player when they were young, rather than painting their nails. Now, I’m not saying more feminine girls can’t be DJs, but I am saying girls who are obsessed with technology, and music over boys usually make better DJs.

This isn’t a trend, it’s an obsession for me and I have been obsessed with it the moment I played with plugs and wires and sat in a studio at age 10. I never played with dolls, but that was me in the mirror singing my heart out performing to the crowds in my head as early as 5 years old. Once I started producing one hit after another I notice something strange happening. At first, all the boys were so nice and encouraging, it was nice helping this chick out, made them feel big taking me under their wing.

But after 5 or 6 major hits, things changed, I began to be a threat musically to their egos. I even had one famous DJ tell me, “you’re becoming a bit too dangerous”. Then I signed a major record deal with Sony and it only got worse. From teasing to death threats, I lost a lot of so-called friends and have always felt that I have been kept somewhat on the outside of things.

Being the only girl who not only wanted, but demanded equal pay, demanded to play on the main stage instead of being stashed away in some back room while the boys had all the fun was getting me a reputation for being a “bitch”. Yawn… So I took matters into my own hands and moved to another country, and worked with people that had an expanded view of what a true artist was really about.

The reason I share this very personal experience with you, is because I want to stress the importance of developing a tough skin, to have unshakeable faith in yourself when others will try to drown you in the quicksand of their hate and fear.

Yes, I am difficult and yes I can be a bitch. Damn right. If you make money off me and you don’t work as hard as I am or have my best interest at heart, then yes. I’m a bitch to my agent who tells me to chill out when I tell him a promoter is in my bed coked out of his mind and no one there to protect me and I’m in a foreign country alone with this lunatic after a show. I’ve had so many #MeToo moments I’ve lost count.

At one point during my career, I had to take a break and reevaluate who I was becoming, and who I really wanted to be. I didn’t want to be someone who was constantly fighting with everyone just to get a fair shake. So I took 5 years away from the scene and started acting doing totally new things just to see who else was inside my head. I knew who DJ Rap was, but who was Charissa?

It brought me back to life. I stripped away the old me and went through some very painful rebirths, let me tell you! Learning when to say “no”, and step away from the thing that is destroying you while making you rich is hard. But it saved me.

Was my competitive nature the problem, was it my ego? To be honest, I think that had a lot to do with it looking back, I’m sweeter, kinder and a lot more forgiving now. I love my male colleagues even though sexism is still there, woven into the fabric of our being. We are all a lot nicer to each other now, as we are older and no one will put up with this shit anymore. Let’s face it, we can destroy or be destroyed by one tweet these days.

The main lesson I learned along the way was that I had been fighting who I was ever since I was a little girl. After an incredibly traumatic childhood that was horrific in many ways, it was time to lay down my weapons and fight a new fight and stop reliving my past through the future. I went to battle with my ego instead, learned to be grateful for everything I had, having lost it all, and learned the value of humility. The pain of loss and regret.

I tell you this because we can be so competitive, we can make enemies of those who care about us and end up alienating ourselves. You shouldn’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Instead, send your energy into how you can be the best version, the highest version, of yourself. Its a fast climb up and a long way down, and you meet the same people on the way up as down, so, do try to make fewer enemies. Be a great human. They actually make the best people, I’d rather be known as that then a great DJ.

Blue Microphone

So what are the other 9 tenths that we don’t see? This is all about hard work. Preparation, preparation, preparation in everything you do. Become a master at what you do, there is no point if you do it half-assed, as it comes with a price. Loneliness, depression, lack of family friends who are fed up with you being too busy to hang out, jealous boyfriends, no boyfriends. I had to navigate through all of that. I had to learn balance. I had to put me first, and I had to walk away and become single-minded because you have to make hay when the sun shines.

As we get older our priorities change, we value relationships over being famous like we dreamed in out teenage dreams, the reality of life is more apparent than the Grammy you hoped to win singing with that hairbrush. Giving back is more satisfying than performing in from of crowds. Making a difference, being healthy and living with balance and growing into your skin is what the gift of wisdom brings us.

How do we make it happen? I have an awesome blog on this right now on my website, How to get started as  DJ/Producer. There are so many ways you can approach your career but ultimately, it is your path to take.
I think I will give you more value sharing the mistakes I made rather than tips, and you can read all about them on my site anyway.

The future of women in the industry? Well, that’s down to each individual and us collectively standing and supporting each other. We are creating history right now and one day you will share this with your kids. Will the current female empowerment movement really change what is going on? I believe so, even if it is a slow progression. The way to creating lasting change is by letting your talent speak for itself. Surround yourself with people who share your views and morals, have your best interest at heart, and who aren’t afraid to call you out on your bullshit. Finally, make hits, not selfies.





Charissa Saverio (DJ RAP), is the undisputed queen of the turntables and considered to be one of the pioneers in drum & bass and Jungle music. She infiltrated the electronic music scene with unparalleled passion and innovation that has influenced generations of producers and DJs. She has established herself as the owner of her labels Propa and Impropa Talent, produces her own original music, and has collaborated with the likes of BT, Eric Morrillo, Hans Zimmer, Hybid, and DJ Tydi.

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