What’s it like being a DJ with OCD? – advertisement board

Since breaking onto the dance scene nearly a decade ago, Spencer Brown has made his name in progressive house music that’s lush, soulful and beautifully produced.

That last part is no coincidence. Brown, 29, has always been a bit of a perfectionist, and in the past few years he’s come to understand why.



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„I’ve had signs and symptoms since I was a kid,” Brown says advertisement board Zoom in. „It was more intense five or six years ago, but I didn’t know what was going on.”

What was happening was formally diagnosed to Brown during the epidemic, but was always a part of his life. American Psychiatric Association Defines OCD is „a disorder in which people have repetitive, unwanted thoughts, ideas, or feelings (obsessions). In order to get rid of the thoughts, they feel compelled to do something over and over again (compulsion).

For Brown, OCD manifests as an intense discomfort with uncertainty, a compulsion to try to assuage it through obsessive thought loops. From childhood, Brown found six different ways to ask his parents the same question. As an adult, he bombarded his team with speeches about how tickets to his shows were selling, asking 40 different people which of the two combinations they thought was better.

„The thing with OCD is that a lot of people think you have to want everything clean,” Brown says. „But really, it can come out in many ways and for me, it’s purely a mental thing. Literally, the ritual of rummaging in uncertainty.”

Certainty can be difficult for most people, and especially elusive for someone in an industry that relies on ticket sales, streams, and constant artistic inspiration. But after starting work with a therapist, Brown says, „I learned how to sit in uncertainty about something better than what I was used to.”

His latest album is called Balance, a term Merriam-Webster defines as „equilibrium of mind especially under stress.” Through Divinity last Friday (Sept. 29), the album — Brown’s third studio LP — took him four years to make and revealed he spent 12-18 hours a day studying during the last three months of production. When he listens to it, it seems certain that it is his best work to date.

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„The theme of this album is personal growth, not letting things out of your control affect your state of mind,” he says. „That’s the lesson I’ve learned, and I’ve tried to capture it in this music.”

Here, Brown talks about his diagnosis.

Tell me how your OCD manifests.

With music, my OCD comes out in perfectionism. I think that’s the blessing of this thing, because I’m very focused on what I’m doing. If it’s not the right mix, I’ll keep doing it and testing it. I have a problem, and I’ll finish it and turn it into mastering, and then they’ll send the master back, and I’ll sit with it and say, „Is this messed up?” I would sit with those thoughts and a few weeks later I would have to go back and do the whole thing again.

It scares my coworkers sometimes, but we’ve learned to work in a productive way where my team knows exactly how my brain works and I know exactly how my brain works. Sometimes they understand that I have this thing and they totally accept it.

Are there other features?

I had to make a conscious effort not to disturb my team too much. I always worry about ticket sales. For a big show, only 200 tickets were sold two days ago, and 1,500 tickets need to be sold. I would be afraid, „Will it be bad? Will people come?”

I would blast my team, „Do you think that’s going to happen?” But I come to the show, maybe 1,000 people buy tickets on the day of the show, and it’s a packed show. And I was like, „The only thing I can do is promote the show, so why am I spending so many days worrying about how this is going to turn out?” So now we have one thing on our team. I didn’t get the ticket sales figures. No one gives me those things anymore. It is actually very useful for me.

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When was that boundary drawn?

I would say post covid. A year into COVID I really started to understand how OCD was affecting my life, which is a funny thing because there is so much uncertainty with Covid. That’s the real test of not letting go [OCD] lead my life Basically I learned to practice balance and that’s what my album is called. I mean, all these things can happen around you, but you have to ground yourself and understand that it’s okay not to know…you have to be okay with uncertainty.

When you shared the diagnosis, what was the response in your peer group?

I have friends who deal with similar things. But apparently everyone is very supportive. As such, this is my personality. I’ve been like this all my life. The only thing that has changed is putting a label on how my brain works and realizing that it’s a little different than how other people’s brains work.

Everyone is completely understanding, especially my team, my peers, my collaborators. Everyone knows I’m like this.

What other changes have you made?

Pre-Covid, before I knew how OCD was manifesting in my life, all I would do was cause myself anxiety. It was this cycle of uncertainty that caused anxiety, and then asked 40 different people, „Which combination is best?” I will try to get confirmation by texting them the two combinations.

Half the people want to mix B, half the people want to mix A, so I’ll go through this loop of, „Wow, which one is right?” Then I’ll go to my car and check. I will go to the club and check. I test it over and over, in my studio, with headphones and AirPods. At some point, you have to decide, „This is it. I’m done.” The past is the past, I should move on instead of dwelling.

And both versions are good.

They are different. That art is something I have to learn too. Some of these creative decisions are neither right nor wrong.

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What other tools have you used to work with your OCD?

I went to this therapist who was incredible. And I was saying all these things in my head that I couldn’t explain. I’d say things like, „I don’t know, or I don’t know if it makes me anxious.”

„You’re definitely looking for this, and I can’t give it to you,” he would say. All sessions turned out to be me basically talking to a wall. I love the guy, but that’s the whole point of therapy. I learned the same feeling I get from my therapist, where he doesn’t give me uncertainty, to apply it to my life and music and everything. The lesson is that many things in life are uncertain, and you have to be okay with sitting with it.

Have you developed specific ways of sitting with it?

I had a very powerful experience at Burning Man [this year.] I boil my life down to four principles, and if I do them, I must focus. One is to be a good person to everyone around me – team, venues, promoters, everyone around me. First, be kind to everyone.

The second is that I love the music I make. If I feel like I’m making music for someone in the studio, or for some reason other than I just love what I’m making, that’s not the right reason to make it.

Number three, when I play shows, play the music I love, don’t feed anybody; Don’t care about anyone. If it comes out of the speakers, it has to come from my heart.

Number four is creating authentic content aligned with my values. It doesn’t matter what’s trending or what people think I should do. It has to be real. I focus my life on these four things. The rest of the things like ticket sales, numbers, etc., I don’t need to focus on. Or comparing myself to others. „Why did they get it?” There is a lot of uncertainty in None of those things apply.

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