Being a DJ professionally is already hard. But imagine if you were DJing for crowds of thousands at a high stakes professional sports game. DMNW sat down with DJ Trunks, the DJ for the inaugural season of the Seattle Kraken, as well as the Seattle Storm and the Seattle Seawolves.
The path to a pro sports DJ career is paved with…stand-up comedy?
It’s highly improbable that there is a single career path to becoming a pro sports DJ. Before he became DJ Trunks, Paul Cranford’s trajectory has been anything but typical.
Initially, he started as many DJs do: messing around on the decks at high school and college parties. Although he was never serious about DJing professionally, he had another talent up his sleeve: stand-up comedy. To pursue his dream of becoming a comic, he left his Atlanta hometown in hopes of making it big in Los Angeles. But it didn’t really pan out.
“My last time doing stand-up comedy, there were these four guys standing out the club after the show, and at first I thought they were going to rob me. But instead they followed me all the way to the car to tell me how much I sucked. And at some point I honestly just wanted them to rob me. Because I’m talking to you about this and this happened 10 years ago. I’m still talking about it!”
Soon after, he found himself at a Steve Aoki meet-and-greet as a self-proclaimed fanboy. As he famously does, Steve Aoki threw a cake in his face and through divine intervention, ended up running into him the following year. Fate would have it that Trunks got himself an internship through Aoki’s Dim Mak label, where he picked up mixing again.
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From there, Cranford relocated again to Las Vegas. He spent time in local venues chirping in promoters’ ears, asking for a time slot. Eventually, the owner agreed and Cranford opened for DJ Joe Green, also known as the DJ for the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team.
Cranford credits Green for being his foot in the door to pro sports after he proved himself at the Golden Knights concession area. When the person who hired Green started working for the Seattle Kraken and asked Green for a recommendation, DJ Trunks was primed for success.
What’s it like being a DJ for pro sports?
Although it’s been full of challenges, Trunks wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I’ve really fallen in love with a lot of sports that I never would have fallen in love with because of this. It’s been a wild ride and a lot of fun,” he described.
If you’ve been to a Storm or a Kraken game, you might notice that Trunks is situated in different locations. During Kraken games he is up in the press box, but for Storm games he’s closer to the audience.
“Each has its advantages and disadvantages,” he points out. “I love being around the energy of the crowd but it’s a harder view of the Jumbotron which signals a lot of in-game moments. Being above has a better vantage point, but being disconnected from the crowd is hard too. But I just love to play music, so anywhere I’m doing that, I’m happy.”
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Another thing he loves about the Storm is being able to more clearly see when the players are dancing and enjoying the music, since they don’t have bulky padding on.
Trunks also assured us that he is not responsible for in-game sounds like the Kraken goal horn, and has no desire to be.
“The pro sports DJ community tells horror stories about hitting the goal horn preemptively, and it sounds like a nightmare. Because if you hit it when there wasn’t really a goal, that would be capital B, BAD,” Trunks joked.
Deciding what to play
So how does a pro sports DJ decide what to play? For Trunks, it’s a mix of pop, hip-hop, EDM, and rock. With a catalogue of options that large, it could feel difficult to know what to pick. Trunks usually tries to find the guaranteed bangers and mix in some lesser-played tracks to avoid too much repetition.
“I try to mix it up game-to-game so people don’t get bored. But one thing I’ve learned that doesn’t seem to fail is 90s hip-hop. Crowds go wild for This is How We Do It,” he points out.
Lyrics of songs also provide a lot of clues for him. If a song is talking about offense, you’d probably want to play it while they’re on offense.
He also spends his time between games doing research and finding ways to work in the new material. Sometimes players will tell him songs they like and he’ll find ways to incorporate those as well.
“During Kraken games, probably my favorite thing to play is the EDM hip-hop fusion kind of records. That takes a lot of mental space to do because you have to play some hip-hop since it’s what the players are listening to. Storm games I definitely try to lean into hip-hop more, but not as much rock as I would in hockey,” he explains.
A team effort
He may be the only one behind the deck, but Trunks says it’s really a team effort from game to game. He considers David Hatch, Music Director for the Kraken, to be a mentor and a huge source of support throughout his first season. Hatch helps Trunks keep track of game nights like Kids Night: recommending to stay with Top 40 Hits, and maybe holding off on the Migos for that game. Hatch also helps handle some of those in-game moments for the Kraken.
Trunks credits much of his success to the team around him. They help him define what the sound for warm-ups could be to make the 15 minutes as full of energy as possible. His colleagues are also ears for bringing in new material, and a sounding board for helping figure out what works and minimizing what doesn’t.
The pro sport DJing community is also surprisingly close, Trunks tells us. From some lighthearted trash talking to moral support, for the most part they want to see each other succeed.
Excitement, stress, and the PNW winter from Trunks’ first season
There may not be another feeling that matches what it would be like to play music during games, but that excitement is definitely paired with stress. There are a ton of different interests that you have to be paying attention to throughout the games, like the audience and the players, all who want you to hit different genres. It’s difficult to get used to all of that on top of hitting cues from a headset the event staff are using at the same time.
“I can’t focus on the fact that I’m playing for 17,000 people sometimes. I treat it as if everybody was in my living room. If I can focus on entertaining people in my living room it usually works out. And yes, this was something that I took out of my comedy career,” Trunks says.
Aside from the career change when he came to Seattle, he was also faced with the same winter that we’re used to for the first time.
“I love it out here, but it was a rough winter. I didn’t have any snow boots; all I had were shorts and tank tops from Vegas. But I remember walking outside my apartment and this lady was going by on skis, which I’ve never seen before,” he laughs.
Most memorable moments
Trunks definitely had many memorable moments from his first season. There was nothing quite like the first time the Kraken took the ice at Climate Pledge Arena for the first season game in the franchise’s history. After months of envisioning what it would feel like, Trunks finally saw it come to fruition.
“Knowing that I was there to play the music and contribute to a part of it was so huge to me. You always dream about having that moment and when it was finally here my stomach dropped. I just had to prove myself, and keep proving myself beyond that first night at every game,” he recounts.
It’s also been a historic season for the WNBA Seattle Storm, who also play at Climate Pledge. Sue Bird, who is thought by many to be the best WNBA player of all time, is set to retire after 20 years on the Storm. Playing for her last season, Trunks said, has been an amazing experience to be a part of.
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Lessons from the decks: Leave the Halloween mix for SoundCloud
Inevitably, any part of a new gig will include trying something new that doesn’t stick. Trunks recalls one particular instance where things didn’t quite go according to plan.
In the first couple of weeks into the Kraken season, a game landed on Halloween. And I had in my mind that I wanted everything to be Halloween-themed, but I went overboard with it. I started with a little Harry Potter theme mashup and it’s painfully clear that it is not working: no player is going to get pumped for a game listening to the Addams Family theme song.
Although he laughs it off now, it’s clear that he took away a great perspective. He credits that experience to realizing that although people are excited to see him play, it’s ultimately about the players.
What’s next for Trunks?
Armed with an excellent inaugural season under his belt, Trunks is ready for year two. Someday, he’d love to DJ for an NBA team. But note, not just any team: Trunks is vying for the long-awaited return of the Seattle Sonics.
Until then, he’s excited to take the lessons he’s learned from this past year and keep improving.
“The experience was so fun, but I was stressed out of mind figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Now that I have that, I’m excited to really enjoy it and have fun this next season,” Trunks said.
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