Sammy Needlz is a producer, radio show host, and DJ who is based in Brooklyn while playing clubs all over New York City and beyond, often traveling to Europe and Asia for gigs.
I caught up with him at his studio at NY Studio Factory in Bushwick right after his return from Germany and just a couple days before he was flying to France for another round of gigs.
For someone who spent the last two weeks DJing all-night parties in Berlin, Needlz didn’t seem all that jetlagged when we met.
“I drink a lot of coffee,” he says. “I’m highly caffeinated at all times.”
Sitting in his studio, you can tell Needlz is prolific and hyper-productive. His work station surrounds him: computer, keyboards, turntables. A small white leather couch sits opposite his station. His studio feels like the helm of a space ship.
“I’ve been here [at NY Studio Factory] for two years,” he says. “I like the space, because it’s a place I want to bring people. I don’t always want to bring people to my house to work. This is a lot more inviting to bring people to and I can actually sit them down and play what I’m working on and really have the freedom to crank it, ya know? Depending on where you live in New York City, that’s not always an option. So for me this is not only a work space but it’s basically my office. It’s a space where I come into and get to work every day, get things done.”
Also, [I like] having a community here too. If I have a question about how to compress this snare correctly, or how to get this mix down right, I have friends who are pro-level engineers five feet away. I can knock on their door and get advice, or collaborate. That’s invaluable.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Needlz began DJing in New York City in the early aughts. “I used to drive from Massachusetts down to New York City, do gigs, drive back the same night,” he explains. “It was nuts, because at the time, it was still the vinyl era. I would leave at 6 o’clock at night, get here at 9:30, haul six crates of records into the club, sometimes my own DJ mixer, then DJ from 10 to four in the morning, pack up, leave at five, get back at 9:30 or 10 in the morning. So yeah, that’s how I first started in New York.”
He eventually moved to New York in 2006, about two years after he started on SiriusXM. Initially, he was working as a producer and co-host on “Smashtime Radio” on Shade 45. He then went on to help create the shows “Rep Ya Set” and, most recently, “ShowOff Radio,” with Statik Selektah.
“This was close to 10 years ago. At the same time, I got on the reggae station, The Joint 42, and now I’m a regular on “Dance Hall Saturday Night”, which is once a week— so I play Dancehall, Soca, Afro-Soca, Afro-Pop…”
Needlz is also the Dancehall & Soca director for DJCity.com, the world’s leading subscription-based digital record pool for DJs.
But it wasn’t always easy. And it still isn’t. “Because you’re basically a small business owner,” Needlz says of being a professional DJ and producer.
“Whereas before when I worked other jobs, worked other nine to fives, ya know, taxes were taken out every week, I had a schedule where I knew I had to be somewhere on time everyday, do the job and then go home. And there’s a lot of security in that.”
“In what I do now, I’m a small business owner, I’m an entrepreneur. Every day, I have to self-start. I have to set the schedule, I have to set the priorities for what needs to get done, and the biggest thing is making sure enough money is coming in, especially living in New York City.”
Oh, and Needlz also put together the mix-tape and was an A&R on the album for the new film Rubble Kings, a documentary about the real gangs of New York in the mid-60s.
“It’s the real life version of ‘The Warriors,’” he says. “Killer Mike was the other A&R on the album, and Run The Jewels had the lead single on it.”
But how does he keep it all in check? Are there enough hours in the day for all of this?
“The biggest problem that I deal with is that my brain is constantly going,” he says. “There’s no off switch. I’m constantly coming up with ideas and concepts and things I could be working on, new projects, and I get out there a lot. So I’m constantly in the mix with other people and creating new opportunities for myself.”
“My biggest obstacle is narrowing down what’s important, what I should pursue and what I shouldn’t, picking the one project that’s going to help me further myself and my career and then balancing the other side, making sure enough income is coming in.”
When I asked Needlz what advice he may have for someone just starting out, he said just two words: “Show up.”
“Show up as much as possible,” he elaborated. “Arguably, the biggest reason for my success is that I never gave up. And I always showed up. I was always around when there was an opportunity and I always took it. At the time, some of them were small or may have seemed small but it always lead me to something else.”
“Whether it was another relationship with another person or another relationship that lead to a gig, or someone was a photographer and gave me a free shoot, or someone thought of me years down the road for another opportunity, everything led to something else. Just show up. You can’t have an opportunity if you’re not there to take it.”
Featured image: Sammy Needlz at work.
All photos by Angela Altus