What's in... DJ Earworm's booth

Two hours before he got on a plane for Singapore in 2009, DJ Earworm uploaded his United State of Pop 2009 mashup on YouTube.

It was not until he landed here almost a day later, for his gig at the 2009 New Year's Eve Siloso Beach Party in Sentosa, that he realised the third mashup in his annual series had gone viral and scored more than 1.5 million views while he was in the air.

"I went online and couldn't figure out what was going on. These YouTube numbers were going crazy and I thought something was wrong with YouTube," he recalled.

"So Singapore is very good luck for me."

A mashup is created when two or more songs of similar styles, tempos or beats, are merged into one track.

While some DJs are known to mix a few songs together, DJ Earworm, whose real name is Jordan Roseman, raised the bar with his 25-song mashup.

"Everyone else was doing two. I started with two, three and four. I did a 22-song mashup which worked," he said.

He then chanced upon the Billboard Year End chart and saw that most of his mashup tracks were on the list that year and decided to use the list as a template.

"The only question was: Do I do Top 20 or Top 25? I think it was because I really wanted to use The Fray that year, so I picked 25."

A native of Iowa City, he majored in music theory and computer science at the University of Illinois. It was in 2002 that he first strung a few together for a road trip with a friend.

The friend was encouraging about this first mashup but DJ Earworm took a job as an options trader in San Francisco instead.

Later, realising that his job would always play second fiddle to his music, he made a demo in 2003 and sent it to DJ Adrian at Club Bootie.

Create an identity and put the music online, he was told. "I was, like, won't people just take them? And he said, 'That's the point'."

That online presence led to a new level of fame and one of his proudest moments was when singer-songwriter Annie Lennox asked him to do a mashup of her songs to coincide with the release of her first greatest hits album, The Annie Lennox Collection.

"She's legendary. This was before the big (United State of Pop) 2009 release. I got to work with her and talked to her on the phone. She was so sweet. I met her a few years later in DC and that was really cool."

He also worked with Lady Gaga before she became famous and was asked to create a mashup for the multiple Grammy winner. She chose not to use it and he decided against releasing it to the public.

These days, his fans wait in anticipation for each of his annual releases.

Here's a secret: He's not started work on the 2014 version yet, though he is keeping tabs on popular tracks.

A mashup often takes him several months to put together. He prints out all the lyrics and marks out the lines that flow from track to track.

Some labels support his efforts and even provide him with unmixed audio files that separate the vocals from the instruments, allowing him to put a new spin on a familiar tune.

The pressure mounts each year.

"Not only does it have to happen, it has to be good. I don't want to just repeat myself and I want to meet people's expectations and also to violate them," he said.

Then there are the inevitable changes in musical tastes that make each annual release so challenging.

"When I started out, the top songs were more electronic dance music-oriented. Now it's mellowed out a bit and the challenge is to get the energy into the same tempo and key. I would say it's more difficult now."

One of the most difficult songs he had to incorporate was Katy Perry's Roar, which has a slower beat than the other tracks in the United State of Pop 2013 mashup.

For the song files that are unavailable in unmixed form, he uses Ableton Live to isolate the layers and strips them manually. Everything then goes into Adobe Audition where he starts fine-tuning the mashup.

His fans also expect an accompanying video and that, too, he creates on his own.

"It's hard but not nearly as hard as the music. With music, the key and rhythm has to be perfect. With video, it's a lot more flexible. And if you do a wrong shot in a video, nobody will say, that's wrong."

DJ Earworm wants to improve on his craft and not just compile songs.

He recently moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco to further his career and hopes to, one day, release songs that he writes and composes.

One thing he won't reveal is his age. He said:

"I'm a little older than most DJs and I don't want people to use it against me."

This article was first published on Sep 24, 2014.
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