DJ Ria has had to cleverly maneuver around the tides that have marked 2020. DJs, like many in the music and entertainment business, have taken a big hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. All of their income relied on people gathering, en masse; whether to go hard on the dance floor or just chill at a swanky restaurant. When those usual avenues closed, DJ Ria turned up the hustle. In her usual way, she was not dismayed and explored different options, mainly the virtual vein to express her creativity and love for DJing. A woman of many talents and skills, DJ Ria is constantly developing those and pushing her boundaries to explore what else she has in her. And this pandemic has prompted that even more by giving her a chance to hit reset. A former college basketball player, she’s of the mentality that when behind, you always find a way to get ahead and win the game.
Q: What’s your music taste?
DJ Ria: I’m super eclectic, so everything. I spin the most 90s and 2000s hip hop. I love reggae, I fell in love with soca, I’ve been on the Afrobeats a lot. I’m Irish, black and native. I spin like my background: a little bit of everything.
Q: What is your go-to song to liven a party?
DJ Ria: You can’t go wrong with Bruno Mars. “Finesse,” “24K Magic,” or “Uptown Funk.” You can go up or down from there. If they really like it I can stay in that 70s, 80s funk, if not and they want more dance I like to follow up with “Apache.” Those are always life savers and usually the corporate parties and Zoom parties are mixed.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a DJ?
DJ Ria: I thought I was going to play in the WNBA. I’ve been playing sports my whole life. I played volleyball, I swam. I played on a college basketball scholarship in New Hampshire. But while in college I tore three ligaments in my left ankle. The injury required surgery in order to not be liable. I opted out of surgery because I did not want it and I decided to physically rehabilitate it and because of that I was then a liability, so I wasn’t able to play in the WNBA.
Q: How did you pivot from a dream of playing in the WNBA to your current career, where you’ve worked as a DJ for the last 12 years?
DJ Ria: I ended up working for the Knicks because I interned for them in my junior and senior years in college. I was a coordinator and worked in field marketing community relations. Then I worked for the Rangers. When I was floor director, I ran the whole arena. I ran from the ice to the 300s in heels. It was the best job ever. At some point I left the Garden after working there for five years. I knew I couldn’t excel there anymore because you were limited in how far you could go as a woman. I started modeling for Wilhelmina. I also worked at restaurants and one night my friend Ryan Halkett, a VP at the Garden, comes into BLT and he says, “Listen, I have this great opportunity for you.” He knows I have a background in flute, organ, and jazz band. He tells me about STADJ and how they train models to be DJs. They were right down in Williamsburg and I went to train three times a week.
Q: You have held residencies at top clubs, hosted a show on Shade 45, and DJed for international brands and stars. What qualities do you possess that you feel have influenced how you’ve been able to make a name for yourself as a DJ?
DJ Ria: I’m a grinder. I’m a hustler. I’m born and raised in New York. All of that crosses over in how I live my life. I always grew up playing with the boys and you always have to earn your spot. A lot of people in this industry they don’t have etiquette but because I have that corporate background it’s helped me maneuver. I would literally go out once or twice a week when I wasn’t DJing to mix and mingle and promote myself, building relationships. And it’s funny that a lot of my bigger gigs have come from people I’ve touched upon in that way and it’s been a blessing. I know it’s all God’s work.
Q: That in-person networking, along with most of your gigs, pretty much disappeared during the pandemic. Since then, you’ve transitioned to DJing virtual parties for Paint and Sip LIVE, a company that hosts online art classes. Tell me more about that experience.
DJ Ria: Everything is digital now. That’s why meeting Michael [CEO of Paint and Sip LIVE] has been a blessing. He’s kept me afloat. I’m happy for their business and I’m happy it’s growing. Being able to do this in transition, it’s helped me with my craft because this is different, it’s not the norm. When I’m doing one of these events I’m not just an iPod or Spotify. I curate. I ask what’s the vibe, who are these people, are they from Philly, Texas, etc. I’ve done one of the Jack and Jill events for over 600 women and I’m swiping through to see if they’re bopping or grooving. I’ll have such a diverse crowd from day- to-day.
Q: What do you anticipate for your industry as we move into 2021?
DJ Ria: This industry and this game is all about transition, all about being able to reinvent yourself. I know DJs that are dying out because they don’t really like DJing or they don’t have the personality. They don’t like the virtual aspect. This digital platform is here to stay.
Q: How have you coped mentally during the pandemic?
DJ Ria: The only thing that’s honestly killing me is the finances. I have my life, health, I’ve been able to work out. Covid has been a blessing in that it’s helped me slow down. As much as it’s been a nightmare and a horror, it’s been beyond a blessing internally because it’s helped me sit down and put a business plan together, not just go with the wind. I’m also studying for my NASM to be certified as a personal trainer. And I have my podcast, “Maria in the Mix.”
Q: You model, you DJ, you’re studying to be a personal trainer, you’re in marketing. Are you passionate about all of these fields?
DJ Ria: I am. I want to be known as a modern-day renaissance woman. I love that and I believe in that. I mentor young girls, from elementary to high school. I tell them give me three things you want to do because if basketball doesn’t work out you always need other options.