Balancing beats and bookwork

Stephen Burke/Courtesy

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Stephen Burke, also known as a DJ under his pseudonym Sirensceol, is a 4th-year American Studies major at UC Berkeley and a full-time producer. His story begins the second semester of his freshman year, while listening to the music his friends would frequently recommend. Burke realized that it would be more fun and rewarding to forge his own style in a similar genre. In an interview with the Daily Californian, he talks about his growth from someone searching for a passion to a full-time DJ who just recently toured the U.S. and released his first full-length album.

Daily Californian: How did you come up with the name, “Sirensceol”?

Stephen Burke: “Sirens” is an allusion to the femme fatale in Greek mythology. The second part is the Irish Gaelic term for “music,” so it literally comes out to be “Sirens-music.” It’s a weird name but one of the advantages of it is that when you Google it, it’s the only thing that pops up.

DC: Can you describe your growth as a DJ in terms of fanbase?

SB: I started to send my music to blogs about a year and a half ago. Dubstep.NET, which was the biggest EDM blog at the time, shared the second song I sent them and it went viral. I was contacted by my now current manager who saw potential in the music I make and wanted to work with me. The plan was to make a ton of new music and send it all to blogs. And a month ago I just finished making my first full-length album which peaked at #2 on Beatport and hit #8 on iTunes. My fanbase has been increasing steadily since.

DC: When did you start making money as a musician?

SB: I think it was the first show I played in 2012, I made like 50 bucks. I really don’t make that much money producing music; most of it comes from shows.

DC: What’s one difficulty that you face as a producer and DJ?

SB: Getting people to attend your shows is a task. I may have a big following, but to actually get those people to come out and buy a ticket to see me is a completely different challenge. Even with the following I have now a typical crowd may only have a handful of fans. I’m trying to break into the real-world market now. Like there was this one kid at my show in Denver who said he came from Canada to see me — it’s crazy sometimes to know what people come out to your shows.

DC: What are your hopes for your musical career?

SB: I don’t really have an end goal. To me the meaning of success is doing what you love and being able to make a living out of it. If I can be more integrated into the music industry and make enough to live off of and be happy, to me that would be successful.

DC: Have you ever DJ’d for any fraternities here?

SB: I DJ’d for Theta Chi during last year’s welcome week. I don’t like to DJ at parties a lot because I don’t get to play a lot of my own music – people just want to hear everything they know.

DC: What’s it like to be on tour while being enrolled at the university? How have you balanced the two?

SB: Simple answer is: I don’t. I probably did the bare minimum in school. Being on the track team also added about 5 hours of practice to my day. When I started touring, I had to drop track and put everything  into my music. I would be gone for a few weeks and when I’d come back I’m just completely behind in school. Bottom line, it’s really hard to balance the two.

DC: Can you describe your average daily schedule while on tour?

SB: We’d arrive in the city some time in the afternoon. For the next few hours we’d be setting up until the show starts. The shows go to around 3 in the morning, and the next couple of hours are spent cleaning out everything. I usually don’t get to sleep until 6 or 7 in the morning. And if I did get to sleep, it’d be for around 4 hours max. Our flight leaves in the morning and it’s not something we’d want to miss. I was in Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver, Ashville, Iowa City, Pittsburgh and many other smaller cities during my most recent tour and it’s definitely tough.

DC: What advice do you have for up and coming producers?

SB: I think that to a certain extent you have to be able to play an instrument – the piano, for example. There are a lot of up and comers who think that producing is as simple as the click of a few buttons, which it really isn’t. You have to have songwriting skills.

Burke’s music can be found here.