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Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and live DJing has gone mainstream–to the tune of $6.2 billion globally. But for Carlos Trevino, known as DJ Promote, DJing has been an art form and way of life for 16 years. More than a party platform, Promote uses music to point people to something that lasts longer than an event.
“When you’re up there and playing these sounds,” he says, “they’re doing things to people beyond just what you hear. Those sounds are actually triggering emotion.”
The Texas native has performed in front of tens of thousands alongside top-selling artists at conferences and festivals. He’s toured on Chris Tomlin’s 56-city Burning Lights Tour and Lecrae’s Anomaly Tour. But he’s also pulled out his turntables in more humble environments.
While helping a friend with a house church outreach event, he performed in an empty field near a San Antonio neighborhood. Dozens filed out to hear the music. Promote, raised by a mother and mostly absent father in a small town in West Texas, could relate to the scene: “They all came out, kids, their families. You could see some adults were high or drunk, and I remembered back when I was a kid.”
He realized for many of these kids and families, the sound of music on the street is a welcome break from the reality of everyday life: “You’re locked up in a house. Drama’s happening. There may not be a lot of food to eat. Life just sucks. And then all of a sudden, there’s music. You go outside, and it’s like everything just stops for like an hour or two.” In an atmosphere like that, Promote says he wants to relay that “God did something in my life, and I want to share that with you right now in this experience.”
He takes that approach to any crowd he performs for–small or large. “What I’m trying to translate to people during my set is that my life is different. And a lot of things may have happened in my life, but I’m not carrying those burdens anymore. When I’m up here DJing, I’m expressing that change–the real joy I have inside.”
Because of his clean, positive approach, his music appeals to a variety of fans–from concertgoers to stay-at-home moms. “A lot of people say they play my mixes because they trust I’m not going to play anything that’s going to push it too far. That’s just going to distract from having a good time.”
Promote thrives on crafting mixes with meaningful content and artfully removes or avoids profanity and references to sex and drugs. It takes a lot of work to make those omissions imperceptible—especially with popular songs. But the end product is worth it. “Whenever you do it, it just changes the whole environment,” he says.
Promote’s work is the “older style” of DJing, “where you pick a song and play it,” he says. “The art is finding a way to do that like no one else has. So it’s like, How can you take this song into this song, or maybe even mix five of these songs or this genre in a way that other people haven’t figured out?”
His fascination with DJing began in high school when he heard Top 40 hits remixed on the radio. He connected with hip-hop culture and explored breakdancing, video graphics and graffiti art. “I was trying to find ways to fit in by standing out,” he says. “I wanted to be like the other kids, like the jocks playing football or be good at band. But I just didn’t have that. It wasn’t until I started going to church that I realized, ‘Oh, this is what I’m really looking for. All these other things are just things that you can use.’”
It was then, in his 20s, that DJing became a tool to express his faith and to offer that hope to others. He served as a youth minister, married and moved to Dallas while DJing for parties, events and conferences.
Promote and his wife of 13 years, Valerie, recently moved to Nashville as he transitioned to full-time touring. But although he primarily works among faith-based artists and events, it’s not words or lyrics he relies on to move people. It’s sound. “People want something different, especially in the Christian culture,” he says. “A lot of the people in this generation don’t want anyone to tell them anything; they just want to experience it.”
On the Anomaly tour, Promote works with media and lighting technicians to create that experience. “Since I didn’t want to stick with the same thing every night, I just gave [the technicians] an idea and all my clips. I like that better than a set program, because it frees me up. Then if I decide to stop songs, change or extend it, they just follow. But they felt awesome every night because they got to express themselves, too. It wasn’t just pressing play and watching.”
Creating an atmosphere and then gauging the audience’s reaction motivates his work. “With DJing, the minute I do something, I can tell if people like or dislike what I’m doing. You can get a response.”
But the goal goes past hyping the crowd. “For me, it’s about getting people excited, and then asking, How can I turn this excitement into something that will impact forever? I want it to show that God is real. My job is just to be creative so God can work.”