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Shannon Wiberg, DJ Action Slacks | Vinyl DJ

We met Shannon through a response she left on one of our anonymous stories Instagram posts, on her experiences during her time in this industry.  We appreciated hearing her point of view and wanted to share more about her and her work as a DJ and all out record maven.

Shannon Wiberg, or DJ Action Slacks, is a Pacific Northwest-based music industry journey-woman who’s dabbled in community radio management, independent record store management, music distribution, music journalism, on-line used vinyl marketplace/databases, live event production, and more. Over the past decade she’s mostly focused on building her career as a producer of in-person dance parties featuring vinyl DJs. She’s returned to radio, hosting / producing and DJing “Travelin’ the Tracks with DJ Action Slacks“, based out of KMHD in Portland.

Shannon specializes in pre-1980 recordings in a variety of genres: Jazz, Soul, House Rockin’ Blues, Oldies, Classic Country, 50s R&B, Afro-cuban, Girl Groups, Motown, Garage and so on. Her recurring parties include: Sugar Town, Club Nitty Gritty, TCB (That Cocktail Beat), Bewitched, SnoBall, Wild at Heart, Queer Country Junction and more!

When she’s not behind the turntables, Shannon is crafting, watching historical documentaries, or pampering her chihuahua.

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you to get into it? 

I was a music-loving wanna-be film student in 1995 when I was recruited by my friend Jenny Jenkins to become a DJ on KAOS Olympia Community Radio. That completely shifted my path towards a life in the music industry. I loved all of it, but due to the lack of opportunity and the struggling state of the industry in the 90s and early 2000s, I found most of the jobs dead ends that were too limiting. Eventually I came to the realization that I’d better thrive in a situation with more freedom to bring my ideas to realization. So, I focused in a building an events-based vinyl-DJ career.

What is a day in the life like?

Work, work, and more work. Since the pandemic struck, nothing is very typical or predictable, but generally my time is divided between a part time “day job” (I had to take one due to loses income from events), creating my radio show “Travlin’ the Tracks with DJ Action Slacks” which is largely a volunteer job, designing posters or creating promotional content for my radio show and events, developing new public events, flyering/promoting events, updating my website & social media, making event decorations, actually performing at my events, maintaining my Patreon, and seeking new-to-me music.

I think most people don’t have any idea how much work goes into maintaining a strong following for live events.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?

Interviewing musical pioneers/legends like Ruth Brown, Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, etc.

However, by far the coolest thing I’ve spearheaded is helping to build a new audience for soul legend Barbara Lynn by inviting her to perform at the punk festival Ladyfest 2005 in Olympia, WA. Though that was not directly vinyl-related, it is the coolest and craziest idea I ever brought to fruition. I’ve been able to experience and create a lot of amazing projects over the years since then, but I knew at the time that Barbara was going to be a career highlight of my life, and I was right.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

If I had been asked this question prior to 2020 I would have said bigotry, sexism, and harassment. Being seen only as what I am (a woman/a queer), not for my talent. All of the above still occur, but even more difficult is the completely unpredictable nature of event production during this era of COVID + erratic weather + increased violence/crime.

I’ve been digging really deep within to find the resolve to continue trying to get my events back up and rolling, despite losing a lot of money over the past two years. It seems I’ve been mostly motivated by positive feedback from the event guests who let me know how much my work is valued in our community.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

1) Create your own destiny. Don’t wait around for someone to spot your talents or gifts. I wasted way too much time trying to climb the industry ladder the traditional way.

2) Don’t expect to be noticed by stepping into someone else’s spotlight. You’ll end up getting lost in their shadow. I’ve learned this the hard way myself. You might be the greatest DJ in the world, but if you’re only guesting at other people’s parties, people aren’t likely to remember you. Most of us don’t get to skip steps. We have to hustle our buns off building our own spotlights/platforms.

3) Develop your own unique point of view as an artist. If you truly want to offer a valuable experience, don’t just do what everyone else is doing.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it? 

I’m old enough to have been alive during vinyl’s first era of dominance as a music format. I’ve always had records. Since I’m a music lover, I kept on buying records even after the CD boom because it was much cheaper to buy a 50 cent used record at the thrift store than a 0 CD.

When I began DJing on the radio I wasn’t picky about format at all. I used all kinds of formats, but once I began DJing in-person dance parties I was introduced to 45 rpm (aka 7 inch record) DJing. That’s when I really fell deeply in love with records (or what the kids call “vinyls”). Here are just some of the reasons:

1) They’re a convenient format for DJing. You can put the songs in the physical order of the set you’d like to play, and easily rearrange as you go. You can also easily keep track of what you’ve already played.

2) I love being able to hold a song in my hand. That will never lose its wonder for me.

3) I’m not snobby about playing original issue vinyl (as a lot of vintage music DJs seem to be in order to gate-keep ) however, whenever possible I do prefer to have an older pressing. It’s because I find joy in imaging the life of that particular copy of a record. Who originally bought it ?(I love it when someone’s name is scrawled on the label) How many parties did it play? How did it make it all the way through time and space from the pressing plant and into my hands after decades? A record not only contains an audio document of a musical performance, it is itself a sort of living history. Every individual record has its own story. Every click and pop (or what I like to call a record’s patina) exists because of someone or something making its mark. A record has a life. That cannot be said of a digital file.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? 

The most exciting thing happening in vinyl is its transformation into a participatory art form. DJs used to be the “elite few”. At least that’s how they wanted it to be. Those who DJed had access to equipment, knowledge, and money to spend on records. However, about 10 years ago it seemed suddenly everyone was a DJ. There were endless jokes about it.

Over the past decade the internet has broken down the gates, and the old artificial criteria for who can become a DJ has largely fallen by the wayside. The old schoolers were very good at holding up the gates for a while by demanding that “real djs” only spin original issue pressings. But those rules don’t matter to a new generation of DJs who have a more egalitarian mindset. Because of this, DJing has been reshaped into more of a community-based social activity. It’s increasingly inclusive, providing an opportunity for listeners to develop a more meaningful connection to their records.

The music listener can become an active participant in musical expression by using their records as elements of their self-shaped soundscape that they then share with the world as a DJ. And while doing so, they create awareness of the music, enabling the cycle of music appreciation to continue.

During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?

Show up whenever and however you can. If you’re out on the town and hear a DJ that you like, tell the venue. If you enjoy the work of a DJ on the radio, tell the station directly. Tip the DJ if you like what they’re doing (records are expensive and most vinyl DJs are performing either at a financial loss, or barely making any kind of profit). If the DJ has a Patreon, become a patron.

If you’re a DJ and you choose to play a record you learned about from another DJ, credit that DJ. Many of us put a lot of time and effort into uncovering forgotten vintage records. Give us credit for our work.

Anything else you want to share? If not, tell me what you’re listening to: 

Sister Cookie!

Find Shannon:

Instagram: @djactionslacks

Facebook: @DJActionSlacks

Patreon: @djactionslacks

Website: www.djactionslacks.com

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