Clinton Sparks If you are “unfamiliar” with Clinton Sparks, then you must not own a radio. From his multiple DJ shows in various states (plus his nationwide Sirius Satellite show) to his stellar production and mixtapes, to…..wait!!! Don’t want to give it away yet! Check out this article and Get Familiar with the real Clinton Sparks!
Interview by Rob Schwartz
WHO?MAG: How were you first introduced into DJing? Clinton Sparks: I’m not sure if I have an answer that really makes sense. I started in my bedroom when I was about 10 years old with my mother’s stereo. Honestly, I don’t know what made me think that I can DJ or have interest in starting to DJ. I do know that later on people that influenced me were people like DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ’s like that, but what made me press those buttons on my mother’s stereo and play those records back and forth, I don’t recall. No one around me did it. There weren’t any DJ’s around me then. It wasn’t cool to be a DJ then, so I’m not sure what got me involved with it. I hate giving that answer, but that’s the real answer.
WHO?MAG: How did you first break into radio? Clinton Sparks: I first broke into radio around 1998. I was producing a lot of stuff in my basement studio. What I would do was take popular records that were on the radio and take the acapellas and make my own beats and remix it. It was good enough that the big station here in Boston used to play all my remixes. The station would tell labels about me and how I made beats, but they never paid attention. When I used to go up to the radio station when they played my stuff, I started paying attention and absorbing how radio worked. At this time I wasn’t even trying to be a radio DJ. I just did mixtapes, but I wasn’t doing it for the reason that cats are doing it now. I just did it cause I wanted to put my stuff on CD so that people around my city could hear it. So I ended up getting hired on the morning show. After being on the morning show, people started pushing my beats to labels and they still weren’t paying attention. I was wondering what it took for these people to pay attention. There was this mixed show on Sunday nights, so I was trying to get on that show, but they kept telling me “we don’t know you, we don’t wanna know you, don’t call us any more, we’re good, we already have DJ’s.” I kept calling periodically every few months for about a year until I made this demo and then drove down there. Then I knocked on the door & the guy was like whatever, I don’t have time for you. I said, “Can you give me 5 minutes of your time? You might find a champion without even looking.” If you don’t like it, I will never bother you again. He knew that I called so much, that if he listened, I would stop bothering him. He was like “alright, whatever, so he had me sit there for about 2 hours. I think he was just trying to make me wait it out and just leave. So it was kinda like the end of the day and he was getting ready to leave and turned back like “ah, this guys still here?” So he was like “alright what do you have?” So I popped it in. He kinda had his back towards me but enough so, you know how you can tell when someone likes what they here when they smile? Well, I can see his cheek come out from his face and he was like, “is this you?” I’m like “yeah”. He said ” you did this and did that?” Literally after a year of telling me know, he asked me after 5 minutes if I could start in 2 weeks. That’s basically how I started radio and that was actually a 10 city syndicated mix show called Suparadio.
WHO?MAG: You said that was back in 1998, how do you think radio has changed since then? Clinton Sparks: It’s way more hiphop. As far as the crossover stations, hiphop consists of most of their playlist. That’s basically how it’s changed for me. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough not to deal with the politics on some of the restraints that most DJ’s have on radio. My first station that I was within Boston was pretty loose and lenient. They kinda let us play what ever was hot. At the Baltimore station, the PD there was pretty cool too. All he wanted was hotness. He just wanted to make sure that your show was hot & not really tie you down. As far as radio, it got to a point where the program directors trust what I’m doing so they never question me. So when I went to Baltimore, they already new what I sounded like and other stations that were picking up my show are picking it up because they know what I sound like, not to tell me what to play. Luckily, I have always been able to do what I want to do.
WHO?MAG: How does an upcoming DJ get his mixtapes circulated? Clinton Sparks: I can tell them what I did and they can follow or take pieces of it and figure it out. I basically just pressed up my own CD’s. It’s a lot of time and money. A lot of people make a CD and are like “Yo, can I send it to your site” then they think they are about to blast off, but it takes a lot more that that. Especially now because the world is now oversaturated with DJ’s. Everyone wants to be a DJ now. Everybody has a mixtape and 90% of them are garbage. What I did was obtain a store list, which is not hard to do. You can get it online or at the library. I just pressed up my own CD’s, packed all my packages together, wrote them all a letter, shipped 20 CD’s free to all the stores, told them this is who I am and this is what I do. If you like what you here, hit my contact number. I did that as well as hop in my car and actually went to meet these guys at the stores that pushed the mixtapes. I actually hit up the whole northeast driving around doing that. That kinda got me in the door doing all that and then it just started spreading. I started doing mixtapes in 1997, so about 3 years later, bootlegging got really serious. Once you have a product that’s in demand and what the bootleggers want, they will bootleg them immediately. Bootlegging, believe it or not, helps the DJ tremendously. You don’t make killer money on mixtapes, you do that more for popularity. I just want a million people driving down the street playing Clinton Sparks mixtapes cause to me, Clinton Sparks is a brand name and the goal I am trying to achieve is to get that name branded so much so that people will associate that name with quality. This way you know if I come out with something else, you will know the quality you get.
WHO?MAG: You previously had your own internet radio show, where do you see the future of internet radio? Clinton Sparks: I’m not sure. I really see satellite radio being the front runner in a few more years. I really look at satellite like cable TV when it first came out. No one wanted to pay for it. Everyone was like “why am I gonna pay for this when I already get it for free.” Now, everybody has cable on there TV. I feel five to ten years from now, satellite radio will be quite similar to that. I don’t think that it will do away with regular radio, but I do feel that everyone will have it as an option for their trucks, cars or home, where they can switch from satellite to regular radio. As far as internet radio, I can’t really comment on that because I really don’t know what’s going on. I know I will be sending in some mixtapes to AOL, so I really am not sure how beneficial that is. They tell me they have over 40 million listeners, but we’ll see. I know when I had an internet radio station back in the day, I was kinda bluffing a little bit to fool the industry that I was of importance. At that time I couldn’t get on the radio so what I would do is just record this show on this CD and my friend would just post it up on the internet. It worked because that is how I met with Eminem and Paul Rosenberg. Now I work with them at Shade 45 because they came to my house back then when they had the internet radio and I kinda finagled my way into industries priorities list when their artists came to Boston. I was on the itinerary cause everyone thought I had an internet show when I really didn’t. I just kinda brainwashed everyone to think that I did so that I could make all those connections.
WHO?MAG: Was it hard making the transition from a DJ to a producer? Clinton Sparks: No, cause like I said, I got on radio to showcase my production. I never inspired to be a DJ and win DJ of the year for satellite radio. That was never a goal of mine. My whole goal of becoming a DJ on radio was to get on a platform where I can showcase my own production. So I consider myself a producer and a DJ, but I use my skills as a DJ to showcase my production. I was a producer all along. I didn’t decide one day that one day I wanted to start producing.
WHO?MAG: You recently won the 2004 radio DJ of the year amongst other awards. Do you feel that DJ’s are starting to get more recognized for there art? Clinton Sparks: Totally. I feel the DJ is getting to be more of the celebrity. Like now, the DJ is the cool dude. He’s the guy who rocks the party and everyone wants to say they’re with the DJ, they’re down with the DJ. I definitely feel that the artform as a whole is finally getting the appreciation and recognition that it deserves. Even back in the day, it was the DJ that was bringing everyone out to the park and the party. It was the DJ on the radio that would break the new records and it was the DJ that would go searching for that new record and find that new record to play. So the DJ has always been very intricate in the artform of hip-hop and now they are finally getting their due credit. I feel that there are a lot of Johnny Comelately’s now who just think it’s cool to be a DJ and really don’t respect it or understand it as much as they should. I’m talking about these guys who just rip songs off the internet and download them to a CD and call themselves DJ’s. They shouldn’t even have the initials DJ next to their name.
WHO?MAG: You recently went from XM radio to Sirius Satellite. From a DJ’s perspective, what are some of the benefits and setbacks stemming from Satellite radio? Clinton Sparks: There are no setbacks, but the benefits are that you are being heard nationally and even internationally because we are played in Canada and on the internet, so it’s actually worldwide. Your listenership is basically unlimited. It’s just an incredibly way to get your music out there to places which you normally wouldn’t. Doing regular radio in Boston, Baltimore, North Carolina, and Connecticut, yeah that’s great, I’m in four states, but that’s the limit for listeners. Now you can get Sirius satellite and be in Iowa, North Dakota, California or Florida and listen to me every Wednesday night live for four hours.
WHO?MAG: How does an upcoming artist get their track played by Clinton Sparks? Clinton Sparks: It’s a matter of it being hot. If it’s hot and it gets in my hands, then it’s getting played. I’m very accessible. I’m not one of those dudes you can’t find. I’m either in the club or on the radio or just hit up www.clintonsparks.com and we listen to music. I’m a DJ, and a DJ is a guy who wants to find hot songs and break it first, so I’m not going to be an idiot. If you got hot songs, then I want to hop on it and blast off.
WHO?MAG: What’s the hiphop scene in Boston right now? Clinton Sparks: Boston has a very strong hiphop scene. There are a lot of underground hiphop artist like Mr. Lif, Esoteric, Akrobatic, and Schizophrenic, and all these guys that have been doing it on the underground scene for a while. Now you have artist that are less underground like Dre Robinson, Smoke Bulga and Crazy Beef and a whole lot other groups like that now that are doing more street hiphop, shooting the videos, pressing up vinyl’s, and getting it played on commercial radio. There is definitely a lot of talent here. What I’m doing is getting enough recognition and respect that people may be like, “Damn, he’s from Boston, maybe there is more talent like him in Boston” and it will make people look inside Boston for talent because there is talent here.
WHO?MAG: What’s next in store for Clinton Sparks? Clinton Sparks: I got the “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed” compilation mixtape pre-album in stores right now. That’s the appetizer. I also have the entrée coming out soon called “Get Familiar Vol#1” which is going to be totally self produced by myself as is the “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed”. The “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed” was a mixtape to introduce my production, so that people won’t think I came out of nowhere and started just producing. It gets them more familiar with my production so that they will be like “oh, okay, he produces? And he has a real album coming out?” That’s basically what that was for. The real album will come out on Koch. I am owner of www.mixunit.com, which is one of the biggest online hip-hop lifestyle website right now. We get about a 4 million unique hits every month. The entire site is being redesigned right now. We did a joint venture with a multimedia company that will revolutionize the way that companies target market their audience. In about 6-8 more weeks, we’re going to get into ringtones to clothing to vinyl to online gaming, basically anything to deal with the hiphop community or relating to where we can be a onestop shop for that. I’m also working on a hiphop children’s television show right now with Jerry Bruckheimer’s production company in Hollywood. It will be like a hiphop version of Sesame Street meets a modern day hiphop School House Rocks. I got talented people involved including Talib Kwali, Akrobatics, and Common to help and teach these young kids. It’s going to be like edutainment, if you will. When I was a kid, I didn’t do well in school, but I knew every rap lyric that was out, so maybe if we teach these kids in a rap form, they will learn a little more. I’m also working on a television reality show and a new card game for the casinos, which my lawyers are in the process of getting the patent for that right now