There’s some truth to the adage that all athletes want to be musicians and all musicians want to be athletes (see, for example, Drake). Even if they can’t make their musical dreams come true, athletes get to bridge the worlds of sports and music with help from some of the more undersung members of the team staff: the DJs.
Increasingly, NFL teams are bringing professionals onboard to provide an appropriately inspiring soundtrack to the ever-important practice and warm-up sessions. Billboard talked to the team DJs for the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons about what goes into planning the perfectly energetic playlist (and who the players are listening to this year). Plus, they shared some of their favorite gridiron-ready tunes so that you too can get ready for Sunday like an NFL player.
How did you start working in the NFL?
DJ Jay Envy (Falcons): When Coach Quinn got hired on, one of the training coordinators knew that when he was in Seattle, at all their practices and camps, they were just blasting music [Dan Quinn, current Falcons head coach, used to be the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks]. He knew that that was one of the changes Atlanta would need — just to kind of bring a new energy in the team.
I think he wanted to do it with the previous coach, Mike Smith, but from what I understand, Mike Smith just wasn’t that type of coach. I don’t think playing music in camp was a big deal to him. Coach Quinn was all about it though, and Red Bull recommended me to the team.
I went to the facility before training camp started, and got to talk to the players and coach, and they decided to bring me on. I started DJing for mini-camp, and then training camp, and then I guess things went well enough that they decided to sign me on for the whole year (at least the season).
I’m born and raised in Atlanta, and I think the bigger thing was just that I’m such a huge Falcons fan. Aside from the whole DJing part, to be a fan and see the behind-the-scenes stuff, to be able to experience a lot of things that most fans never get to see — that in itself was special for me.
DJ DV One (Seahawks): I’ve been DJing for them since probably the 2004-2005 season — so, ten years at least. When Pete Carroll came on, things changed. I was DJing in Touchdown City, an event center where people go before the game starts. Pete Carroll realized there was a DJ there, and he was like, “We need this energy at our practices.” One of the upper management guys came to me and said, “Are you available for three weeks in the summer to do our public practices?” I came and I would do those gigs — he sort of used me as a tool to motivate and get the players pumped up for the public practices. Then, after that, he was like, “This shit works — we need you on the field before the game starts.”
What’s been the most surprising thing about DJing a practice?
Jay: All the players — we all listen to the same music, so it wasn’t anything hard for me to structure a playlist. I play the same way I would play when I’m out in the clubs. The Falcons have been super supportive and very easy-going, as far as what I play — as long as it keeps the players happy and is pushing them, that’s all that they really care about.
One of the most surprising things is Coach Quinn himself. I didn’t really know how hands-on he was going to be with the music…but he will come to me and be like, “Play this, play that.” I will never forget this — as soon as I met him, he was like, “Can you do me a favor?” The first two people he asked me to play were Tupac and Rick Ross. From that moment on, it set the tone. I was expecting him to be like, “Can you play some AC/DC?” or something (which he did later, by the way). But the fact that he was down to cater to the players — he’s a music fan himself, and he listens to everything too — I think that’s pretty awesome. Just him being able to connect with the players — on a lot of different levels, but on the music level too — it was something that the players, I think, enjoy.
It always makes me feel good when I play a song, and I see them do their little dance, or I can see them nod their head, you know?
DV: It’s not just one genre of music. At the practices I have to play literally for the coaches — the coaches are in anywhere from their 40s to their 60s. I have to play for the players — the players are young kids, in their 20s. And then I have to play for the families who are going there. It’s not only the age brackets of six to 60, you also have white people, you have Asian people, you have Latinos, you have every different kind of cultural aspect that you could think of, and whatever they’re used to hearing. I have to find a way to fuse all that together, and still keep everybody tuned in and attentive to what’s going on. And pump up the players at the same time!
Also, recently, the players love “Cha Cha” [by D.R.A.M.] That song goes surprisingly hard — the players like it. Earl Thomas’s daughter likes it too — she actually came up and requested it.
Which artists are the most popular?
Jay: We’re in Atlanta, which I would say is the capital of all the rap music coming out — so whatever’s popping in Atlanta, for the most part that’s what I play. That’s when I get the best reactions. I’d say Young Dro is pretty popular right now in Atlanta. All the classic ATL artists too — the Young Thugs, the T.I.s, Outkast — I try to mix it up as much as possible. Being from Atlanta, I tend to be a little biased towards Atlanta music.
DV: It depends — Pete Carroll and the upper staff, when Norton was one of our coaches — they like funk. They would request James Brown, Gap Band…
Among the players, last year it was Drake and Rick Ross. This year, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for Future. But that dynamic is weird too, because I can barely play Future with Ciara running around and that’s her baby’s dad. It’s just that he has a dope-ass album out right now, players like to hear it, it definitely gets you pumped up — even though it’s low-tempo, it’s still stuff that you want to hear — and then you’ve got Ciara running up with little baby Future and she’s dating Russell so it’s like, “Oh f—.”
If they were to ask me to play “Tony Montana” I’d be like, get the hell out of here. If they ask me to play “Commas” or “Trap N—-s” or any of this type of shit, I’m playing that all day. It’s a weird balance — how do I play this and feel comfortable?
I also feel weird playing Ciara, because I was playing Ciara before she started dating Russell. I’d play “Goodies” and stuff like that for the crowd because it’s mainstream — it’s dance-y music, it’s popular, it’s stuff that you can get away with playing. Now that she’s dating Russell, I don’t want people to be like, “He’s just playing that because she’s dating Russell.”
What’s really good that I can play too is Meek Mill — he has a couple of joints out. “Monster,” which is kind of a new version of “They Don’t Love You No Mo'” by DJ Khaled. It builds and it’s hard — you can play it and they’re gonna feel it, every time.
How else do you impact the team’s music choices?
Jay: They signed me on for the season, so I’m editing all the music and making suggestions as to what they play in the Dome. I’ll DJ as people are coming in, and during the warm-up — and I’ll send the gameday manager snippets of songs to play during a touchdown, or a first or third down song, or a chant song…you can’t really DJ during the game, but they’ll play snippets of songs during the game.
For touchdown songs, being in Atlanta and playing in the clubs — I think I sent them snippets of “Swag Surfing” (that’s always a hit), Atlanta classics like Archie [Eversole’s] “We Ready”…we have a song in Atlanta where all they do is chant “A-T-L, A-T-L” and I cut that up and sent it to them.
What are some of the most memorable moments from the practices?
DV: There was one time when one of the coaches came up, maybe three or four years ago, and he’s like, “Alright DJ, I’m bringing these guys out on the field right now. We want something that’s going to pump them up — they’re right in the mood, they’re ready to go — throw on that Bruce Springsteen ‘Born To Run!’ ” I’m like, “What?” Like, I didn’t think that was going to do it but he’s the coach, so…I was like, “I don’t even know if the players’ parents would know this song.”
I threw that song on, and those players looked at me like I was batshit insane. They were giving me the fingers across their throat, like, “Stop! Cut it!” It definitely did not work.
One time, a coach came up and was like, “Alright, let’s get these guys going, it’s party time — throw on that Les Nubians!” Like, come on. You guys are killing me right now. At football practice? I definitely have my work cut out for me.
The first year I was on the public practices, Coach Carroll came up and he said, “I need you to play this song.” I’m under a lot of pressure because the coach is the boss — whatever he says goes. They see you there DJing with a laptop, and think that you have every song just because you have a laptop — it’s really not like that.
Coach comes up, and he’s like, “We’re going to run this brand-new play. I’m trying to work it really hard, we’ve been going over it — the guys know the play to this music. I need you to play James Brown Live at the Apollo, track number 14. Play it now.”
In my head I’m thinking, “Holy shit, I hope I have this song.” Soul and funk, those are my favorite things anyway — if it’s James Brown and somewhat popular I probably have it. But he was so specific…as I’m typing it in, the selections get fewer and fewer — it just so happened that I had one song from that album, and it was track 14. I was like, “Thank God.”
How do you think having music on the field impacts the players?
Jay: I don’t know why more teams don’t do it — it loosens up the players, it gives them that little extra push. When we work out, we work out to music most of the time, so it’s almost like a no brainer. I’m really, really surprised to get a lot of attention and have people come up to me, because like, don’t other teams do this? Apparently not.
I’m glad that Pete Carroll kind of set the trend, at least that I know of, to be blasting loud music. To have that down in Atlanta is pretty awesome. Some people think that it’s a distraction, just from reading articles and whatnot — I think coaches find it hard to coach with the loud music. I guess with Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn, they feel like the distraction is good because it helps you concentrate. When you’re playing at an away game and it’s super loud, you have to be able to get used to it.
Listen to practice playlists from the Seattle Seahawks (first) and the Atlanta Falcons (second) below: