DJ Rue Bounces to Her Own Beat

Erin Rue talks the love of music and finding her footing in a man's world.

DJ Rue

Music is more than a universal language, it’s a state of being free. Known to audiences as DJ Rue, Erin Rue – a metro Detroit native – has been in the music industry for more than 15 years, but her connection to music goes even deeper, way back to her roots, genetically speaking.

Rue’s mother was a traveling singer and her father’s family played jazz. (Detroiters might be familiar with her aunt, the singer, Ortheia Barnes.) “I come from a very musically-oriented family,” Rue says. “My father and mother poured (music) into me and I began to have a love for it.”

Her training included music theory and opera, but Rue found her passion in fashion and the arts. Attending Wayne State University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising with a minor in accounting – but music continued to be an important, magnetic force in her life; even as she held down the typical corporate gig to pay the bills. Rue continued singing, arranging and producing professionally (especially for other artists) and helping with demos for submissions to record companies.

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Two years ago, something “woke” inside her that she hadn’t expected: a yearning for change. “Let me try something different,” she recalls saying to herself and a close friend, who wondered what “different” was going to be. “I’m used to doing the background vocals … that’s fun, that’s great. I want to play a whole bunch of music … I want to be a DJ and I’m going to teach myself to do it. I bought everything that I needed. I started getting phone calls.”

Some of her closest friends and relatives might have been skeptical of such a move because, let’s face it, if you can create your own music, why would a person elect to spin records – or, in 21st century parlance, “curate” playlists? What’s ironic is Rue doesn’t use predetermined playlists.

“I don’t really plan ahead for my gigs,” Rue says, adding that she will find out what the client wants her to play, but never walk in with a programmed playlist. “I do that because I think music is a feeling … I call it people watching … I allow myself to feel my crowd. I definitely keep my mindset opened.”

Rue’s expansive musical background serves her well, as it makes her sensitive to – and conscious of – the effectiveness of playing different kinds of chord changes and shifts in tempos, allowing her to “authentically create” something musical – and magical – for her clients.

“What makes a good DJ is asking questions and providing those answers through the music that I play,” she says. It’s also not lost on her that she’s a woman in a male-dominated field, a reality that sometimes leaves her feeling like a “small fish in a big pond,” she admits. Still, Rue and other female DJs in metro Detroit are finding their own piece of real estate to build.

“We have our own lane where we can express ourselves,” Rue says. “The femininity that I bring, plus the creativeness I have, sets me apart from it being so male-dominated. It shows that it’s not just one gender that can do this.”

With a forthcoming mixtape and a growing list of upcoming dates, Rue is confident she has a little something for everyone. “I want people to understand, yes, I’m a disc jockey, (but) artist is a better term,” Rue says. “I want everybody to get a dose of what I’m trying to bring to my community – to connect with individuals through my art and through expressing these different sounds.”

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