In his seventh release, J-Hamz unveiled the winners of Digital Empire Records’ remix contest for his original track, “Keep On Lovin’,” featuring lyrics and vocals by Jesse Peters.
We caught up with J-Hamz and spoke about pursuing music and science, the remix package and some of the biggest challenges that he has faced in his career.
Valarie – Welcome, J-Hamz. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
J-Hamz – Thank you for having me.
Valarie – You’ve had an exciting life, filled with music, love, success, failure and most important perseverance. Not only are you a classically trained pianist for the last 20 years but you are also a successful DJ, producer and remixer. Also, you have recently had the privilege of establishing a career as a licensed doctor. Was music always the plan or was becoming a doctor your true calling?
J-Hamz – How things ended up has always really been the plan. I’ve always been very insistent on pursuing both music and science at a professional level, in one form or another. Growing up, people would ask which I was going to pick, and my response would be “What do you mean, ‘pick’? I’m going to do it all.” And I did just that. At certain times, my studies focussed more heavily on one area or the other, but I never stopped working very seriously toward both goals.
I am fascinated by brain chemistry and the inner workings of the mind, so I am privileged that I get to put that to use in ways that can be really life-changing for patients and their families. I also studied piano, which I loved from a young age, along with the in-depth music theory, harmony, counterpoint, and history, all the way through to a music degree and Royal Conservatory diploma. And now, I also produce and market electronic music online.
Valarie – Given you’re a newcomer, what have been some of the challenges/rewards of balancing a personal life, fitting in your studies for school and having a career and how has that changed your life?
J-Hamz – The biggest challenge has been trying to do more things at once than any sane person should try to fit in. You know how people ask, “What do you do?”, and most people proceed to explain their job description? That wasn’t the life for me…job as complete identity. There’s so much more to life than work. So the ultimate reward of decades of hard work, is that the life balance I have been striving for, that optimal blend of science, music, friends, family, fun, relaxation, and travel, will soon be a very realistic and doable goal.
How did I do all these things at once? Sometimes it was too much. To achieve everything I wanted, there were definitely big chunks of time when I had to cut back on fun and just work really hard. There were times I had to go a few months without working on any music projects, or other times, when I pushed through and did it all anyway, it was at the expense of sleep. Wasting time was not an option, I had to use every single snippet of time available to work on something productive, or I wouldn’t have been able to finish everything I needed to.
Delayed gratification is hard. You want the rewards, and you should have some of them along the way, but the big ones won’t happen unless you keep working toward the long term goals. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely worked hard, I had all kinds of jobs and worked during many years of my schooling. But in between those periods of really hard work, I made it a priority to enjoy life along the way. You only live once, you just never know when your time is over. Some years, I chose not to go to school, I really wanted to work and go on awesome trips, or enjoy life in my own city at a slower pace, so I did. Those were some of the absolute best times, I don’t regret doing that at all, in fact I think it’s healthy to do something other than just non-stop school for decades.
Valarie – Your latest release is a remix package, for ‘Keep on Lovin’, which is out now on Digital Empire Records. How was the process of selecting the remixes, for this package?
J-Hamz – Yes! This is the third remix contest that Digital Empire Records has hosted for some of my original tracks. Remix contest time is always a lot of fun for me, building hype, getting the word out there, seeing the entries coming in. Hearing what other producers do with my originals is one of the coolest things. It is so flattering and such an honour that there are producers out there who like my tunes enough to take the time and effort to make my track their project, and to do really creative things that never could have come out of my brain.
Selecting the winners is a long and difficult process, there are many good entries that all have really unique and likeable qualities. I actually spend weeks listening to them over and over before I come to a decision, Digital Empire Records and I then come to an agreement together on which ones we like best. It all comes down to quality and taste, not popularity. We don’t factor in what your social media looks like, or how many plays you have, we really just want the coolest, highest quality entries representing us, it reflects on the label and me. Admittedly, it is a somewhat subjective process, so to anyone entering any remix contest, don’t get discouraged if you don’t win, a lot of it comes down to personal preferences, so don’t take it personally, at the worst, you’ve improved your skills and got a remix out of it! Failure is always a part of getting where you want. I get about 90-99% rejections for my own music submissions and I sometimes it makes me start to question what the point is, but all you need is that 1% to believe in you, and you’re moving forward.
Valarie – You’re based in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada but, so does your DJ partner in crime, Jaculator, together better known as J2 (J-Squared) who is also a fellow doctor/DJ/remixer/producer and are also Resident DJs for the event company – Peep This Entertainment. How did you guys come to work together?
J-Hamz – We met a couple of times before we started medical school, and fortunately we ended up in the same class. We have a great electro scene in Edmonton with tonnes of artists always coming through, and we always had fun going to shows and festivals with friends. Production was always more of my focus, but in “I’d Do Anything,” a track we made together, he did a huge portion of the beat work, effects, and hard sounds. We liked recording sets of songs, mostly just for fun and for our friends. It was actually his idea, the DJ duo, so I found a way for us to try it with an events company in town, Peep This Entertainment. We had a couple great opportunities, getting to be one of the openers for Borgeous in 2016 and for Ephwurd in 2017. Lately, he’s been very focussed on work, but I’m hoping one day he’ll re-emerge from hibernation and we’ll record some sets for fun or DJ again!
Valarie – Being a DJ, there is a misconception that you are automatically a producer. What made you start producing? Why is there such a stigma of being a “bedroom DJ/producer”?
J-Hamz – What made me start producing? Initially I just wanted to be able to blend songs together to make DJ sets, for an uninterrupted, continuous flow of music for entertaining. And then I realized that you could stack multiple tracks in really clever and beautiful ways. With the chords and vocal layers from several songs, it could get really dense and complex, which led to me making a bunch of mashups. Eventually, I gave myself a challenge of making a 20 song mashup, which I called Afterglow (bit.ly/JHAfterglow). After that, I thought to myself, I have the musical creativity and knowledge, I need to push myself further. I didn’t get very far working on my first remix, because I thought the ideas were good enough to be a song in their own right, and that’s how it began.
Bedroom DJ/producer, to me it suggests someone who does it as a hobby, mostly for their own enjoyment, maybe to share with friends. Maybe where the stigma comes in is that the term implies it’s at an amateur level, with no real audience…like if a producer makes a song, but nobody ever hears it, does it even matter? If you can blend others’ music, but don’t have the skills to create your own, is that art? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, just food for thought. DJing and producing, each skill kind of legitimizes the other, it’s definitely an asset to be able to do both, like for a DJ, it’s not quite as cool if they don’t have any of their own releases to play, or for a producer, it’s also not quite as cool if you have never played anywhere, or wouldn’t know how to properly DJ if asked.
That being said, I do fit more in the bedroom producer category. I have played a couple of shows, but I get the biggest satisfaction from coming up with original music, collaborating with some of the awesome vocalists I’ve had the chance to work with like Jesse Peters and Michelle Molineux, and polishing the vocals and making everything crystal clear with my audio engineer Jeff Olson. As a bedroom producer, I have the luxury of doing much of it on my own time, from home, within my city, or over the internet, with no night work or touring.
Valarie – 5 artists that you have on repeat at the moment (past or present)?
J. S. Bach
Valarie – Before we go, which of all following would you choose?
Batman or Superman? Batman
Chocolate or Peanut Butter? Chocolate
Hockey or Football? Hockey
Behind the decks or in the crowd? Crowd
Being a tourist or being a tour guide? Tour guide
Be in the studio or on tour? Studio
Old school equipment or new school gear? Traktor!
Nanaimo bars or Butter Tarts? Nanaimo bars
Tim Horton’s or Starbucks? Starbucks does has some good stuff, plus they treat their employees better
SD cards or USB? USB
Valarie – 5 facts about you that we might not know?
1. Swag and merchandise, I’ve only ever given it away for free. Usually to people I made a connection with at shows or music conferences, and once I had a social media giveaway contest. If you want my swag, just come talk to me in person. So far I’ve given away waterproof USB dog tag necklaces with my tunes loaded on them, and USB keys that look like a key.
2. Quality over quantity in my tunes. I’ve got 7 releases out in 4 years. I don’t release that often, but when I do, you can expect something new and unique, that a lot of time, creativity, and polishing went into it. It’s going to have interesting harmonies and chord progressions, multiple layers of melodies interlocking rhythmically with groovy basslines, much more complex than canned vocal snippets over a basic canned beat loop.
3. I’m really obsessed with black clothes, they take up a large chunk of my closet. I got some cool DJ t-shirts printed that I mostly designed myself, with eye-catching white designs on a black t-shirt, a few people were requesting them, I haven’t printed any more than for my own purposes…YET!
4. I have green tea with honey every morning instead of coffee. A day that doesn’t start with green tea is just not right until I get that fix. Travelling, I even bring my own green tea bags and honey packets!
5. I made a recent life choice to only buy delicious gummy vitamins. They taste better, I’m more likely to take them, and swallowing pills is hard. Some sugar, but if I have a handful of candy vitamins, it’s better than half a bag of chips.
Valarie – Thank you, J-Hamz, for taking time out to talk to us here at T.H.E – Music Essentials. It’s an absolute pleasure! Good luck!
J-Hamz – Yes, thank you for the opportunity!