DJ Tracy Young Celebrates 25-Year Career, Talks Spinning at Madonna's Wedding
Female DJs are still a rarity, but 25 years ago -- when Tracy Young first stepped into a DJ booth -- it was unheard of. “I would get the strangest looks from people when they realized I wasn’t a man.”
Young owes much of her success to strong women in the industry who helped her along the way. Most notably: Madonna, whom she met in the mid-’90s. Not only did Madge hire her for movie premieres and album releases, but she chose her to spin at her wedding to Guy Ritchie. Madonna’s stamp of approval has led to work with other celebrities: She’s made remixes for P!nk, Rihanna and Demi Lovato. To celebrate her 25 years in the biz, the trailblazer talked to Billboard about gender biases in the dance world, her favorite remixes and what it was like working with the Material Girl: “DJing for Madonna was a priceless experience.”
When you began your DJing career 25 years ago, you were a trailblazer of sorts, as it's a male-dominated field. Things haven't changed much today. Why do you think that is?
It is an interesting question. When I began my DJ career, I did not give much thought to how male-dominated the field was; I just knew that I had this passion inside me to play music and that had to be released. When I think about the path I took and the path that females take today, I think there are still similarities. The DJ industry lacks the conscious mentoring and partnering that it takes to build a female presence, coupled with a gender bias that exists within society itself. Women have to establish a higher level of credibility in order to compete with our male counterparts.
DJs are constantly touring and playing different venues and events. We are playing new music weekly, testing our productions live, getting feedback and seeing what works musically by observing the crowd. We have the ability to go back into the studio and make changes based on these instincts and feedback. It is extremely insightful and is different than sitting in a studio while producing. The opportunity to share the music on a weekly basis with varying crowds gives DJs and producers the opportunity to constantly engage and connect with the dance floor in a different way than other types of artists. I think that connection is a piece of what is driving and shaping this moment.
Looking back now, what was your first big break?
I have had several breaks in my career, beginning in radio at WPGC, which opened the door to other music opportunities, such as appearing on several shows on MTV and BET. I owe a lot to my friend Ingrid Casares, who truly believed in me and introduced to me Madonna in the mid-'90s. I went on to spin many private events, movie premieres and album release parties for Madonna and was personally asked to DJ her wedding to Guy Ritchie in 2001. I also remixed several tracks for her such as “Hung Up”, “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” “Music” and more. Working with Madonna over the years was the opportunity of a lifetime and changed my life.
DJing for Madonna was a priceless experience. You always knew that you were doing a good job when she would dance all night long. Her wedding was a beautiful, magical experience and it was an honor for me to play. Besides DJing the wedding, the coolest thing for me was to have my own spread and spend the night in a Scottish castle. [Editor’s note: Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s wedding took place at Skibo Castle in Scotland.]
Is there one production or remix you’ve done that really stands out for you?
This is a really hard question. They all have deep meaning to me and are so personal and reflective of that time in music. They reflect a time in music where DJs were handpicked by the artist to do the remixes and were a bridge, debuting some of the largest-circuit parties and legendary clubs around the world. If I were to pick one, I would have to say “Music” by Madonna because it was one of my first commercially released official remixes.
How do you plan to define the next 25 years?
I’m focused on my weekly iHeartRadio show, which airs Saturday nights at 9 p.m. This gives me a great opportunity to expand my reach and refine my skills for radio. I am producing more originals, not only for the club and radio, but for some future TV shows and movie productions and, of course, remixing the latest pop songs. My original, “Peace, Love & Music” with Ceevox, is currently No. 18 on Dance Club Songs in its fifth week of release, on my record label Ferosh. I’d love to finish the book I started seven years ago and will be releasing a 25th-year anniversary compilation. I’m excited to tour and take music to the next level.