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"I came in with no experience or knowledge [about] selling CDs and I think that helped me," says DeVito. While other DJs were paying their dues, DeVito was making "thousands" by selling pirated compilations under the name DJ Louie to record stores all over the tristate area. DeVito would make mix CDs similar to what he makes now, except for the not-so-minor detail of paying royalties and licensing fees.
Skribble, who shares billing with DeVito on KTU and has reached the pinnacle of mainstream DJ'ing with regular appearances on MTV and a successful CD (Essential Spring Break [London-Sire]), remembers DeVito's handiwork well. Skribble says when he and partner Anthony Acid were ready to release their first mix CD, MDMA, in June of '98, DeVito put out a comp with some of the same songsunlicensed. "He had a lot of stuff bootlegged that we didn't even know how he got," recalls Skribble. "Tracks from our label that weren't even out yet. I don't know if he grabbed it from the radio and edited it or what." ("Everyone who produces a track or does a remix gives it to a few people," says DeVito, by way of explanation. "And from there everyone who has their hands on it burns it for their friends.")
DeVito now recognizes how difficult it is for the indie labels he pirated to make money. He says he stopped pirating when he created Elastik in late '98-early '99. Rich Abbott, senior regional director for the Recording
Industry Association of America's antipiracy counsel, says it is difficult to know if DeVito's crimes are still punishable by law. "I would have to look at when he stopped," says Abbott. "There's a lot of different statutes in many states. It would depend if he were to be prosecuted by the FBI or local police."
The bootlegging experience taught him "what people want," says DeVito. "If it had the right music, some of [the compilations] sold pretty well." The next step was to go legit. "If the CDs were selling well with a few stores carrying it," he says, "I figured if I did it the right way and got it in all the stores, it would be something that might work."
Less than three years later, Volume 3 broke the top 100 on the Billboard charts. Jeff Z, assistant program director at KTU, initially heard about DeVito because of his sales. "The response to Lou's show has been great. The phones light up at two or three in the morning when his show is on." But even Z admits initial resistance to accepting DeVito as a DJ. "I kinda frowned upon it," he says. "We've been extremely fortunate to have guys like David Morales and Hex Hector spin for us, so initially it was a little questionable because no one had ever heard of him. Louie is selling CDs because he's putting the songs on there that people are putting on the radio. Junior Vasquez puts out a CD, they will sell on his name. Louie's CDs don't sell on his name. They sell because he has Mel C on them."
It seems unfair to say DeVito sold 300,000 copies of Volume 3 because of a Melanie C track, however popular the song might have been. Volume 2 has sold about 80,000 copiesa staggering figure for an indie label compilation. And Joe Marcano, a/k/a Bad Boy Joe, the studio wiz who edits DeVito's prerecorded KTU shows as well as his last two CDs, has now sold nearly 60,000 copies of his own debut, The Best of Freestyle Megamix (Elastik-What If), in just over three months. This is notable not just because it's an indie release, but also because most of the music he mixes is early electro pop tracks at least 10 or 15 years old.
Marcano found a new way to market dance releases, creating what he calls a "megamix" for his and DeVito's albums. Marcano makes a new song by blending peak snippets from each track of the mix into a surprisingly fluid four-minute jam. KTU began playing the megamixes from Volume 3 and The Best of Freestyle on Friday afternoons, providing a huge free plug for the albums. "It's a great way to get these songs on," says Jeff Z. "It's funny, when Skribble was coming out [with Essential Spring Break], I told him what a great marketing tool it was to put this megamix on. And he did, and we played that, too."
Now DeVito is hoping to complete the inverted pyramid by establishing himself as a big club jock. His mixes on KTU won't steal any fans away from Richie Hawtin; his 50 minutes of music start with tracks like a euphoric recasting of J.Lo's "Love Don't Cost a Thing" or "Silence," the Delerium track with Sarah McLachlan vocals that even your mother has heard by now. But as the hour progresses, it gets dark and funky enough that if Deep Dish had dropped some of these cuts at Twilo, the hipsters wouldn't have known the difference. DeVito continues to be a top draw at Jersey hot spots like Club Abyss in Sayerville (more than 2000 capacity) and Soundgarden in Lodi (more than 1000). And he's in talks with Exit, the uptown megaclub, to start a residency.