Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Origins of "DJ Bolivia"

I get asked quite often why I'm referred to as "DJ Bolivia" when I'm from Canada, not from Bolivia.   In the past, I've usually answered by saying that it's a long story, but the short version is that I thought that Bolivia would be a cool country to visit, even though I've never been there.  I'm going to take a few minutes this evening to explain the full story, for those who are curious.

It all began in approximately 2001, I think.  It's hard to figure out all the details, because a lot of online sites that I'd be able to use to reference dates simply didn't exist at the time.  After all, that's fifteen years ago.  Back then, none of the following existed:  YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Instagram, and thousands of other sites.  In 2001, the internet was still a pretty wild place, without a lot of robust infrastructure.  The only major sites I can remember back then were MySpace, AOL, eBay, and PayPal.  The thought of buying something on the internet was revolutionary (and dangerous).  The apps that I can remember from back then were things like Napster, ICQ, and mIRC.

One night, I was in my studio, having drinks with two of my good friends:  Drew Dudley, and Marc Carnes.  We were listening to music, probably trying to sort out things that needed to be done for Conduct Becoming, and having some Jack Daniels & Corona on the side.

During this particular evening, we got to discussing some potential upcoming shows for Marc.  Marc was a well-known DJ in the Maritimes at that point, and had played at a number of parties in places like Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, etc.  We were discussing how to get Marc booked at more shows, because trying to get booked as a DJ at that time was very competitive.  As I remember it, Marc wasn't sure that he had a great future in DJ'ing, because trying to self-promote or stand out from the crowd was so challenging.  He was a great DJ, but the promotional aspects were the problem.  My suggestion was to build an online presence.

The next three hours turned into a free-wheeling discussion about how that could be done, about the pros and cons of setting up a website, the technical challenges involved, and how to promote.  I think the positions we took were that I was saying it would be easy, Drew was looking at me with a raised eyebrow wondering how I would go about everything, and Marc was playing the Devil's Advocate.

At some point in the argument, the other two weren't convinced that my idea would be feasible or realistic.  I think at this point, I said something along the lines of, "I bet that if you gave me five years, I could turn ANYONE with some basic talents into a famous international DJ and recognized name brand."  This, of course, caught their attention.  Drew agreed to take on my bet, and we decided that it would be mostly a gentleman's wager, but that we'd put a bottle of Jack Daniels on the line.

Marc wasn't convinced that he wanted to be a guinea pig for this project, so I said that I would be the subject of my own bet.  I had already been DJ'ing for a number of years, but mostly at small parties around the university campus, or at the local campus Pub.  I was able to beat-mix vinyl records, although my skills were at a hobby level, not a pro by any means.  I had the basic skills, I had the equipment and records, and I knew how to hand-code websites in HTML.  My tree planting website,, had already been online for a couple years at that point, so I was pretty confident that what I didn't know, I could figure out.  I was the manager of the local campus nightclub at this point, and I also did all the updates and coding maintenance on that website.

My first challenge, however, was what to call myself.  I didn't want to use my own name.  I'm not sure why ... I guess it was because I didn't want my name associated with it, in case it turned out to be a ridiculous disaster.  In retrospect, this was a terrible decision.  I should have used my own name.  Inicidentally, I've considered changing my stage name to my real name at several points in the last few years, but it's difficult, since my web presence and online real estate is already so well established.

Anyway, I needed a stage name.  And this is where the beer and bourbon helped fuel a continuation of the evening's discussion.  When I had tried to name my dog (Dakota) several years before, I had gone through the same sort of challenge.  With Dakota, I had gone through several sets of lists, coming up with different ideas.  For instance, I went through a number of international cities.  Baghad was a strong choice for a while (thinking back to the Gulf War) but then I decided that it sounded too similar to "Bad Dog" and the dog might develop an inferiority complex.  So with Dakota, I eventually moved from city names to American States, and when I got to North Dakota, I realized that Dakota was a great name.  Even better, I had never heard of another dog named Dakota before, so it was perfect.  Incidentally, about ten years later, I read a published list of the most popular dog names in North America, and Dakota was the top name.  I had no idea that my dog wasn't the only Dakota in the world.

So in this context, Marc and Drew and I were still trying to figure out a DJ stage name for me.  Using the same concept that I had taken to figure out the dog's name, we eventually started going through countries in South America.  When we got to Bolivia, we thought, "Hey, this might work."

Before we had started considering names, we had come up with a short list of qualifications.  This was the list:
1.  It had to be a name/word that was fairly well known to English speakers.
2.  It should also be a name/word that would be recognizable to Spanish speakers if possible (since I spoke Spanish) or at least to some other major language in common global use.  This was a simple requirement designed to increase global marketability.
3.  The stage name had to be a single word, not a pair or words or phrase.  The logic behind this rule was that a lot of famous musicians went by a single name:  Slash, Madonna, Bono, etc.
4.  The name had to roll off the tongue, and sound easy to produce.  It had to sound relatively cool.
5.  A good domain name had to be available.
6.  Most importantly, it had to be a stage name that did not appear to be in use yet, through extensive internet searches (yes, at least Google and Yahoo existed at the time).  I didn't want to be confused with an existing performer, nor to have an existing performer serve me a cease-and-desist order to stop using the name.  I had to make sure that I could put enough information on the internet to establish a "first use" precedent, to protect the name.

We ran "Bolivia" through the list of rules, and it seemed to fit perfectly.  I ran into some minor problems when I tried to check for domain availability for something like "" because it isn't possible to register any country's name as a domain name - the builders of the internet were smart like that, about domain-squatting.  But I thought about it for a minute and decided that "" was adequate, because at least it clarified the purpose of the site.

Most importantly, there wasn't anybody using "DJ Bolivia" that I could find, at least not at the time.  Incidentally, a year or so later, I discovered a "DJ Bolivia" from California who had an account on MySpace before I did, but my main website was set up and running before his MySpace account, so I didn't worry about that.  And no, I don't have a MySpace account anymore.

As we tried to think of any other reason why Bolivia wouldn't be a good stage name, I realized that Bolivia was a country that I really wanted to visit, and that I probably wouldn't find a better choice.  That decided it.  I said, "It's official.  I have five years, and I'm going to win this bet."

So basically, that's the entire story of where "DJ Bolivia" came from.  I started working on a website almost immediately.  I also started practicing more diligently, so I would be ready to play at more venues outside my own hometown.  And I tried to figure out ways to distinguish myself from other DJ's.

The online presence really made a difference.  All of this happened at a perfect time.  I decided that I would record some demo mixes and try to share them online.  There were literally NO websites or services that allowed a person to do this, at the time.  I did some research about the legality of it all, and discovered that under Canadian law, it seemed to be legal to share mixes if three conditions were met:
1.  The mix had to be free, non-commercial, and not creating any monetary gain for myself.
2.  There could be no full and complete isolated commercial songs in the download (by mixing at least 60 seconds at the beginning or end of each song with another song, I was able to meet that rule).
3.  The distribution could not have a negative impact upon the distribution or sale of the original work.  This is a complicated one, but essentially, nobody was going to refrain from buying a vinyl copy of any of the tracks on my demo mixes simply because they had a digital copy of my mix available.  Remember, at the time, it was pretty much impossible to even buy digital copies of music.  Most of the mp3's that were out there were simply rips done by users.  The only service that I think was trying to go into digital music legitimately for online sales was - which went bankrupt.

Putting the demo mixes on my site was a game-changer.  At the time, almost nobody had "fast" internet.  I think I had just gotten one of the very first ADSL lines in New Brunswick a couple years before that.  Cable and ADSL was really only being introduced to a wider public in Atlantic Canada in around 2000-2001, and for the early years of my website, the vast majority of Canadians still online had dialup lines, if they had a line at all.  To download one of my earlier mixes, encoded as an MP3 that was only about 56 megabytes in size (128 kbps bit rate) often took people an hour.

But almost nobody in the world had a site where it was legally possible to download a DJ mix.  My own site was not quite a pioneer in that respect, but it was most definitely a very early adopter.  I got fans from around the world, just because almost nobody else was doing it.  And some of those fans (people like Dan Fernandez at MicroSoft, tProphet from 2600/Defcon, and half a dozen others) are still friends today, and have all helped my hobby DJ'ing career in various and sometimes unintended ways.

Well, that's today's story about the origins of "DJ Bolivia" and of my website.  Drew graciously conceded defeat in our gentleman's bet after a couple gigs that I played at the San Jose Game Developer's Conference and at a couple venues in Japan (thanks to friends and to my website), even though that was technically more like six years after I had started the site, not five.

I'll leave you with links to a couple of my most popular sites, which have somehow accumulated millions of visits and views over the past fifteen years (I'm still scratching my head at that, occasionally).  Even this music blog, which got a fraction of the traffic of my main site or my YouTube channel, has had a quarter million views in the past six years.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for whatever support you've shown me in the past!

        Main Site:
        Music Blog:

And finally, here's a graphic to show what the main page of my website first looked like back in 2002.  What's funny is that this is a 70 kilobyte image file, and I was worried back then about how large it was, because it took a while for people to download on dialup!