What does it feel like to do what you love on stage in front of a ton of people? In this episode of Career Relaunch, Lani Love will explain how she relaunched her career from working at an advertising agency to becoming a professional deejay.  Lani shares her thoughts on how to evaluate which opportunities to pursue and how to balance your career and family interests. During the Mental Fuel segment, I’ll discuss the importance of giving yourself some credit, especially when you feel like you’re constantly falling short.

Key Career Insights

  1. At some point, you have to learn to trust yourself and give yourself credit for all your accomplishments rather than being so hard on yourself.
  2. There may be times in your career when you have to take a step back in order to focus on more important things in your life like family or health. That’s okay.
  3. Some opportunities that seem really perfect for you may simply not end up working out, but you have to trust that another opportunity can and will come up if you’re patient and persistent enough.

Tweetables to Share

Listener Challenge

During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I challenged you to think back to one year ago today, then think about all the progress you’ve made over the past 12 months with the things that matter to you. What’s one area of your life or career where you want to give yourself a little more credit?

About DJ Lani Love

DJ Lani Love

Lani Love started her post-college career working in advertising in New York City. On the side, she started deejaying as a hobby, interning with DJ Morsy. When she moved to Chicago, deejaying really picked up for her, and she decided to leave her full-time job to pursue music instead.  She loves deejaying for brands and businesses at  intimate press events, in-store trunk shows, and large scale outdoor activations.

Listen to DJ Lani Love’s full tracks featured in this episode of Career Relaunch:


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Episode Interview Transcript

Teaser (first ~15s): I am more creative and more capable than I gave myself credit for in the past. Learning to trust myself and believe in myself has been something that I’ve learned through all of this.

Joseph: Good morning, Lani, and thanks so much for joining me here on Career Relaunch.

Lani: Good morning! Thank you so much for having me.

Joseph: I am really excited to talk with you today, Lani, because you are the first DJ we’ve got on this show. I want to get into all those details about your life as a DJ and how you became a DJ, but could you just kick us off by letting us know what you’re focused on right now in your career and your life?

Lani: I am DJing, but I’m taking things to the next step and focusing on production and song writing and just trying to figure out work-life balance, the constant battle that everyone has.

Joseph: Can you tell us a little bit more about that song that we heard in the intro? Maybe that’ll give us a good way of starting the talk about this topic of DJing.

Lani: That song is Việt Kiều. Việt Kiều is a term that’s used for Vietnamese people living outside of Vietnam. You could be born in Vietnam and live somewhere else and be called Việt Kiều, or you can be American born, like myself, but have Vietnamese heritage and be a Việt Kiều.

It’s inspired by my experiences as a Vietnamese-American. I wanted to make something that incorporates the two languages that I’m fluent in, Vietnamese and English.

The kind of fun thing about making this song, Vietnamese is a language that has a lot of tones. I think it’s six tones or something like that, compared to most languages which have four. Trying to create lyrics that complemented western musicality with Vietnamese words is very interesting. It was an exercise, because the language has so many tones, and the way your voice fluctuates affects the actual word and what you’re saying.

Joseph: I know in that song, we didn’t get a chance to play the whole thing, but you go on to talk about the Vietnamese language.

[Việt Kiều song] ‘Vietnamese is an interesting language. The words and grammar rules are simple, but if you didn’t grow up a native speaker, pronunciation can be a little tricky.’

Joseph: How much does your Vietnamese heritage influence your actual deejaying or your musical style?

Lani: More than anything, it probably just influences my work ethic. I didn’t listen to too much Vietnamese music growing up. I think I was exposed to a lot of it, but I don’t think it, on a huge level, necessarily influences my musical taste or style. It’s something that is part of my childhood and upbringing. I think, more than anything, it’s just being a child of an immigrant impacted my work ethic.

Joseph: Absolutely. I am kind of like you. I am Taiwanese, but I was born in the United States. There are similar terms for people who are not born and raised in Taiwan but are Taiwanese. It’s hard for that aspect of your life not to influence who you are. It’s very interesting.

Out of curiosity, is that your voice in the song that is going through the Vietnamese lyrics?

Lani: Yeah, that’s me.

Joseph: I’d love to get into that later, just how you actually go about creating each of these songs. Before we go back in time, can you also just give us an example of some of the places where you have deejayed?

Lani: I started deejaying in New York. I played at various bars and clubs there in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I moved to Chicago, just like club, nightlife scene but started doing a lot more retail, brand, and corporate events. I did a little bit of that in New York, but Chicago is where that really took off for me.

Now, I’m LA-based, doing the same sort of thing. I often travel for gigs. Sometimes, it’s a corporation or a big company like Tesla Motors. I deejayed in San Francisco, their showroom opening. I did that for them. Upcoming, I am teaching a conference in Texas at the end of next month.

I kind of float around for various gigs. Sometimes, it’s for fun, like me adding a gig to existing travel, like my recent Vietnam trip.

Joseph: I want to go back in time a little bit with you, Lani, and just explore what you were doing before you were a DJ. I know you were not always a DJ, and you were working in the advertising industry. Can you just tell us briefly about your time in the advertising industry? Then we can move forward from there.

Lani: I was a brand strategist for about eight year, full-time, 40 hours a week, realistically 50 plus. I worked with brand clients to identify better ways to connect with their target audiences. Sometimes, it would be a branding issue, like a way they talk about themselves, the product attributes that they were highlighting. Other times, it was a communications or channels issue. They weren’t engaging enough with their audiences on various social or digital platforms.

I worked with a lot of packaged good brands, like Pampers, Kellogg’s Cereal, Mike’s Harder. I would just write creative briefs that would help guide the development of ad campaign.

Joseph: I remember when I used to work in brand marketing, where you worked with a lot of agencies like yours. On the one end, that kind of work that you just described, Lani, sounds really exciting and really rich. At the same, from the people I knew who work in agencies, I know that sometimes life at an agency also has its challenges. I’m just curious, what made you decide to leave that world behind?

Lani: I worked on a lot of big agencies, the Saatchi & Saatchis and Leo Burnetts of the world, where I think I got lucky with both teams. I had really great bosses, co-workers, mentors.

I think when you work for bigger agencies, sometimes you’re also working with bigger clients, which means they are slower to change. The work can be really stressful, because there is so much at stake with large budgets. You might not get the creative fulfillment that you are hoping for a career in advertising.

When you look at the talent in agency life, there are so many creative people and people who are really excited to tap into their creative potential, but if your client is not ready for it, or if your agency maybe isn’t supportive of it, you don’t get to use your creative mind as much as you’d like.

Joseph: At what point did you start to figure out that you wanted to walk away from that world and start to pursue life as a DJ?

Lani: I think it was two parts. One, like what we talked about, is advertising careers having their various challenges, maybe not being as creatively fulfilling as one would like. The second thing is just deejaying was really picking up for me. I went from playing about one to two times a month to one to two times a week, and then I got to a point where I was playing three or more times a week. I just felt like, ‘Maybe there’s enough momentum here for me to see what would happen if I gave this more of my attention or all of my attention.’

Joseph: I am trying to imagine. You are working full-time, 40, 50, maybe more, hours a week during the day in your day job. How did you actually get started as a DJ?

Lani: I started as an intern for this DJ Morsy out of New York. This was pretty much the same time I started working in advertising actually.

I’m originally from California. I had been a California girl my whole life. When I moved to New York, I literally didn’t know anyone. I think I had three casual acquaintances, a friend from college radio, a friend’s ex-boyfriend from high school. I really didn’t have many close friends. Moving to New York, I felt like if I am going to make this move worth it, I need to pursue everything that I’m interested in.

Sometime during my first year in New York, I was like, ‘I need to learn how to deejay,’ because has been a goal of mine. All through college, I was just too shy and timid to really pursue it. Also, deejaying was more cost-prohibitive then, because you had to get the turn tables. Controllers weren’t an option.

I started shadowing this guy that I met in Brooklyn. I had been following him on Myspace for years. He was nice enough to work out an arrangement with me, where we would meet up once a week, did the intern type thing. He would spend some time showing me the fundamentals of deejaying, beat-matching, transitioning, blending. I really owe him for helping me get started.

Joseph: This world of deejaying is something I know absolutely nothing about. At the same time, I think probably everybody listening to this show has, at one point in time, crossed paths with a DJ if you’ve attended any sort of event or a party.

I would love to talk a little bit more about your life as a DJ, Lani, and get into some of the details of it, because I think it’s a really interesting world that most people probably don’t really know much about. I want to start by playing a quick sample from another one of your songs called Candlestick Flicker.

[music playing]

Can you tell me a little bit more about that song and the inspiration behind that song?

Lani: This is a song that started in the studio with my friend, Nick Scalise. I took it home and made it into what you hear now. Nick started a bass line and some drums and all of that. When I took it home, I rearranged the drums a little bit, chose different sounds and instrumentations for the bass line, and added the various flourishes to make it feel a little more lively.

Nick is an extremely talented musician and producer. The cool thing is, working with a friend, you get a different perspective, different ideas, but I’ve had a different vision for my music. He comes from more of like an indie-pop world, and I have aspirations to make dance music. I like a little more bass in a lot of my songs.

Joseph: Can you just walk us through your process of creating a track like this? I know in this case you were building off of your friend’s track, but how do you actually go about creating a new track?

Lani: They sometimes start with the bass line. Sometimes, it’s a melody. I’m really melodically driven, so I often hum little rifts and top lines to myself and then will sometimes record those and see, ‘Can I try to build around that?’ and then make it into hopefully a song. Sometimes, it’s an idea, and it’s like, ‘This is just a snippet that doesn’t have legs.’ Other times, I build something out, and I am like, ‘Wow! This could be a song. This can be fun.’

With Candlestick Flicker, for example, just when I was choosing the different sounds, I felt like the tempo of it or the rhythm reminded me of an actual candle and a darker setting. I started thinking about what happens in a night club or around candles, I guess. Dimmer lighting, people get a little close, because you don’t see all the details. Everyone looks a little more attractive and sexy.

Joseph: Speaking of night clubs, we’ve talked a little bit about your process for creating these tracks. I’d love to switch gears a little bit now, Lani, and talk about the experience of actually being up in front of a crowd deejaying. Can you just take us to one of your first moments, when you were up in front of a big crowd and deejaying for the first time? What was going through your head, and what was that experience like for you?

Lani: One of the first times I deejayed for a crowd, probably in New York with my friend Morsy, I mentioned. The earlier gigs, a lot of it is just thinking to yourself, ‘Don’t mess up.’ The technical part of it, blending of songs, the various knobs on the mixer, it’s just not as instinctive as it would be once you are a seasoned DJ. You’re thinking, ‘I want to play this song, because it is cool,’ but you don’t really know how people will respond to it, because you just aren’t as seasoned. I think a lot of it was just freaking out and being like, ‘I hope I am doing this right. I hope this sounds okay. I hope I don’t clear the dance floor.’

I don’t know that everyone worries as much as I do, but I take deejaying pretty seriously. I just wanted to try my best to be good and play something that was different but still fun and familiar.

Joseph: That would seem like an immense amount of pressure to me to be up there, where the entire life of the party kind of rests on you. Do you have any thoughts on how you managed that? It sounds like you did deal with some nerves. How did you actually overcome that and get past that?

Lani: Practice is a big part of it. I feel just comfortable, and I have played on every single mixer. For the most part, it’s just reflex and instinctive. I know all the songs in my catalogue really well. I can kind of just sing along, and I’ll know that, ‘Right after this course is when I want to mix out.’ It’s not even something that I really think about, so I can spend more energy and focus watching the room and seeing how people are responding to various songs.

I also know that, ‘These handful of songs are really great at building the dance floor, and these are various songs that I can use to change the energy of the room to take it from zero to a hundred.’

Joseph: I also want to talk about the business of being a DJ, which is probably not something most of us think about. Have there been any sort of surprising parts of building an actual business for yourself as a DJ? Because there’s also that whole side of it.

Lani: I actually made a diagram on this when I was at Leo Burnett. It’s an x-y axes, one being money and one being how cool a gig is. There’s this small, sweet spot where you make a lot of money and the gig is cool, but a lot of the coolest gigs don’t come with the most money. There’s wedding deejaying, which if I am honest, probably the least cool but can be quite lucrative if you want it to be.

I made a conscious decision to be like, ‘I have to make a living. I’m an adult. I have bills to pay, a life to live, but I am not chasing money. If I was, I’d probably still be working in an office.’ I was like, ‘Wedding deejaying, no matter the amount of money, I will likely turn it down,’ unless it’s a close friend or some client or something like that.

I have no aspirations to be a wedding DJ. I have no aspirations to own a booking agency and have other DJs work for me. I just really want to work with brands and people and clubs and venues that I am genuinely excited about.

Joseph: What is the impact, if any, of being female or Vietnamese or both on your experiences as a DJ?

Lani: Being female, there’s a little bit of a novelty associated with it, because there are fewer female DJs. I think you often get underestimated. People who are really involved with music and deejaying know that there are many talented female DJs, but people who are maybe slightly step removed don’t know that. They are always like, ‘Oh, you are really good for a female DJ.’ It is like, ‘Whoa, for a female DJ? Why do you have to give that caveat a backhand of compliment?’

There are more female DJs than before but still a minority in the industry. When you look at festivals and all that, women don’t make up as large a part of that population as they should, because there are so many talented women.

Joseph: Speaking of gigs, Lani, one of the things that you talked about in your interview that I read with Rent the Runway is that if something is meant to be, it will happen. What has made you come to adopt that sort of philosophy in your career?

Lani: Sometimes, I would have a conflict, and I’d be really distraught that I couldn’t take on this gig or I couldn’t work with this brand because I just didn’t have the date available. What I’ve realized from doing this for a decade, another opportunity will come around. There might be the one that seems the most ideal, but if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

There have been venues where when they first opened, I reached out, and they already have a booked calendar. I don’t get to play. I’m kind of bummed out. Later, sure enough they’d reach out, and then I ended up becoming a weekend resident DJ. That’s cool.

Generally, I’m a little bit less stressed about things. I just think things will work out one way or another.

Joseph: I also want to talk about the balance between your professional life, Lani, as a DJ and also your personal life. I know that you mentioned you were in New York, and I know you were also in Chicago for a while, and it sounded, from our last conversation, like things are going quite well as a DJ there in Chicago. What made you move back home to LA?

Lani: Between New York and Chicago, I’d been away for a decade. Each time I came home to see my parents, I saw that they were older. That kind of freaked me out, and then I think the thing that really did it—both my parents are okay. I’ll start with that, but—in one week, my dad got in a really bad car accident, like super nasty. It was on an inside street, two blocks from his house. In that same week, my mom slipped and fell in her restaurant and broke her ankle.

That just was a wakeup call and a reminder that they’re mortal, and their time and my time on earth is really precious, so I just upped and moved. It was a really fast move. I think in my mind, I had always known that I would try to be closer to them, but the timing of it was really driven by those two incidences.

Joseph: What impact on your career, if any, has that had on your professional life as a DJ?

Lani: If I’m honest, not the best. deejaying is not like other careers. Your resume does not necessarily carry a lot of weight. It does not matter what I’ve done. Here, it’s a lot of who you know and the various scenes that you associate with. It’s almost like starting over in moving here.

In terms of my business and my gigs, I kind of had to start over, but now I am gigging on a consistent basis in LA. I have my group of people that I like to play with, that I work on music with, which is a newer thing for me. I am in a better place with LA. I feel good about it, and I’m optimistic about opportunities that will come out of living here. Song writing and production alone has been a big goal of mine for a while, and being in LA has really helped me pursue that.

Joseph: When you look back on this transition, Lani, going from someone who once worked in advertising to what now sounds like quite a successful run as a DJ, what’s something that you wish you had known that you now know about changing careers?

Lani: Learning how to be self-employed, there’s a learning curve that goes with that. Plus finding new clients, managing your calendar, bookkeeping, stuff like that. I wish that I had known more holistically all the things that I would be managing in becoming my own boss. It would have been nice to just have a little more awareness about just how I would be working so much.

Joseph: Is there also something that you have learned about yourself from this process of making this shift?

Lani: I am more creative and more capable than I gave myself credit for in the past. Even now, sometimes I have to give myself a little pep talk and be like, ‘You can do this. You’ve done this.’ I think just learning to trust myself a little more and believe in myself has been something that I’ve learned through all of this. It’s been a cool journey and still a work in progress.

Joseph: The last thing I want to talk about, Lani, before we wrap up is your time at South by Southwest, which I know when we first connected, that was before you were about to play out there. I think it’s super cool that you got play at South by Southwest. First of all, for those people who aren’t familiar with South by Southwest, can you tell us a little bit more about the event?

Lani: South by Southwest is a festival. There’s the interactive portion, film, and music.

Every single venue in the city has some sort of South by showcase. This year I had the opportunity to play for official showcases. That was really amazing, because I got to be on the bill with some artists that I really like and admire. I also got to play in front of people that I admire and look up to. It’s kind of crazy.

It is just this really unique environment, because you have really huge artists in a variety of venues. Sometimes, they’re at a smaller place than they would typically play, and you have a lot of up-and-coming talent on stages being exposed to new audiences.

For myself, that was really cool, because I definitely have some new fans. I don’t even like saying fans, because I feel like I’m still just a small person, but yes, there people who now follow me that are not friends of mine.

Joseph: I follow you on SoundCloud now.

Lani: Thank you.

Joseph: My understanding, Lani, is that South by Southwest started off as a music festival, but now it’s really taken off, especially the film and interactive events, featuring tech firms. I know they’ve got accelerator pitch events. This thing is huge there in Austin, Texas. I’m just wondering. How did you get the opportunity to deejay at such a huge event?

Lani: Part of it was luck. In the past, I’ve had South by opportunities present themselves, but they didn’t work out. I was bummed. This year, stars just aligned, and it was great.

I had the opportunity to play one South by showcase, and I actually had debated whether or not I wanted to go, because a lot artists come to play that festival out of pocket. You get a small amount of money for playing a showcase, and it depends on which showcase too.

I got hit up about another showcase, so I was like, ‘Oh well, to play two, I think it’s worth it, so I’ll do it.’ I went ahead and committed, got my flight, all of that. I think just from committing to being there, I got hit up about other opportunities and then got referred for another one. It went from being one to four showcases just by me saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to be at South by.’

Now that I think about it, a lot of it has to do with just stepping stones. One of the groups that I worked with that booked me, I had worked with them previously in Chicago. I played two of their Lollapalooza after-parties. A lot of it just comes from staying in touch with people that I’ve worked with, and then just being fortunate enough to have people who are nice enough to remember me when they have awesome opportunities like this.

Joseph: I’d love to wrap up, Lani, by talking a little bit more about what you’re doing right now. Can you just tell us what types of events you most enjoy deejaying right now in your life?

Lani: I love doing brand events and day parties. Night life is always going to be a part of deejaying, but lifestyle-wise, I’m trying to be healthy. I’m trying to sleep at relatively normal hours.

I really love working with brands to do store openings, trunk shows, or DJ-like conferences when they come up. I’m also working, spending a lot more time on creating original music, collaborating with other writers and producers to make music.

Joseph: That is really interesting, that difference in lifestyle between being a nightclub DJ, which I think is what a lot of us have in our heads when we first think of the word DJ. There’s also the corporate events. I guess it could start to wear on you, I suppose, if you’re always doing this middle-of-the-night loud dance parties every night.

Lani: You need to see the sun, a fair amount of it, to feel happy and healthy. I really try to have somewhat of a normal schedule, but it’s not possible at the moment. On days where I am not deejaying the night before, I really try to wake up at a normal time.

Joseph: If people out there listening to this are interested in booking you for their event if they are looking for a DJ, how can they get in touch with you?

Lani: They can just find me on my website DJLaniLove.com. I’m on all over social media. I think I’m fairly accessible.

Joseph: We will include a link to your website in the show notes, and we’ll also include a link to your SoundCloud page at djlanilove, where people can listen to more of your very cool original tracks.

Thank you so much, Lani, for telling us more about your life as a DJ, your transitions, the realities of running a DJ business, and also managing the balance between work and family. Best of luck with all your upcoming gigs, and we look forward to staying in touch.

Lani: Thank you for having me.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu is dedicated to helping people relaunch their careers and do more meaningful work. As a public speaker, career consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch® podcast, he shares insights from his decade of experience relaunching global consumer brands to help professionals to more effectively market their personal brands.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.