Union, N.J.—Perhaps being born on the Island of Trinidad, where music is ranked as a life necessity right between water and food, would inevitably lead one to a life of working behind the decks—or at least that’s a good working theory for Ian Ali.
“I grew up around electronics and a father who DJed—Disco Tazz,” says Ali, current owner of Lifetime Entertainment.
When he moved to Jersey City, N.J., at the age of five, he was again influenced, this time by his cousin Andy’s teenage friends. “They had a pair of belt-driven Technics and a Radio Shack Realistic mixer,” he says. “I practiced whenever I got the chance on borrowed gear until my father bought me my first pair of Technics 1200s by my 12th birthday.”
He soon convinced his seventh-grade teacher that he could DJ, and the teacher allowed him to spin the Halloween dance that year. The result was his first paid gig. By high school, Ali quickly made friends with a high-school senior, Archer, who was spinning at all the dances.
“I performed a quick demo at his house and I instantly became his newest record carrier/backup DJ,” he says. “After being seen spinning at these dances, I was approached by students to DJ their house parties and Sweet 16s. I then created a DJ group called B.O.S.S. Productions [Boys of Superior Sounds], which had members in all the local high schools. That led to playing more dances as well as larger local events. My father and I built all of my own speaker cabinets, so we were known for having a larger sound system than the other groups.”
When he first started B.O.S.S., all gigs were generated by word of mouth—much like it is today. Says Ali, “Chatty teenagers pre-Facebook were the best form of advertisement.”
After high school, Ali became friends with nightclub promoters in New York City, and spun at clubs for a good 10 years before teaming up with a buddy, MC Mike Wolk, and transitioned into doing private parties. “I took that experience and club-style mixing to the private-party scene and became very popular,” he says. “Although my guys and I are very diverse and can play for any crowd, we all have a similar background. We can seamlessly transition from Sinatra to Jay Z to EDM and make it all work. Some of my guys are from established DJ groups, like Elite Camp and Illvibe Collective, and are still involved in the club scene and frequently make exclusive remixes for us to use at private functions.”
Today, Ali and crew, now known as Lifetime Entertainment, between weddings and corporate events book about 100 gigs a year. “Thankfully, I have a great team of guys that I turn to for support,” he says. “Many of my guys have been in the business for years and share the same passion I do for customer satisfaction. We have frequent meetings to discuss things that work and figure out how to improve on things that need fine tuning.”
Gear-wise, Ali always uses Serato DJ software, two Pioneer CDJ-2000nexus players, a Rane Sixty-Two mixer, a Shure ULX-P wireless system and Elation lighting, including the Platinum Spot 5R fixture. Depending on the gig’s size, he’ll use an Electro-Voice ZXA5 active speaker system or JBL Pro VERTEC Line Arrays with Crown I-Tech amps.
In the past two years, Ali and crew have developed a larger corporate client base. “I’ve reached out to more event planners who trust me with their large events,” he says. “Besides DJing, I also have a large inventory of microphones, LCD and projection screens, line-array speaker systems, and digital mixing boards for my corporate shows. I believe networking with other industry folks is very important. As in other business, landing gigs often boils down to who you know.”
This “who you know” ethos led to multiple events at Jersey City’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, becoming friends with several folks that work there. The fruits of these relationships led to a referral for a pair of events that any DJ would do cartwheels over: Pre- and post-Super Bowl parties for the NFL’s Denver Broncos, who were staying at the hotel. Says Ali: “I played everything from rock/classic-rock tunes, which they play at Denver’s stadium, to hip hop. I had a wide variety of ages to work, so I tried to keep everyone involved.”
Playing a party for the Broncos after they lost the big game wasn’t as easy, says Ali, even though the event also included a performance by The Roots. “Yes, it was challenging,” he says, “but the Broncos brought over 2,000 family and friends to the game, so the players did eventually partake. At first, it was quiet, but everyone loosened up.”
Still, by all accounts, the players thought Ali was a hit, and if they had asked him what DJs he listens to, he would have said: “DJ Five out of Las Vegas, as well as Joe Maz out of Miami. Five has a certain aggressiveness on the decks, which sounds great on a solid sound system. Joe Maz uses a lot of wordplay in his mixing, which any DJ would appreciate. I think it’s a good practice for DJs to go out and listen to other guys for inspiration.”
We asked Ali where he’d like his business to be in five years: “Although weddings are my mainstay, I would like to grow my corporate business,” he says. “I would eventually like to work more of a normal schedule rather than working every weekend missing out on time with family and friends.”