DJ Shae Slays in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz’s youngest DJ gets crowds dancing
By Sophie Levine
When most people think of a DJ, the typical association is not a 13-year-old playing shows for $50 an hour. But from elementary and middle school dances to parties, weddings, and golf tournaments, teenager Shae Mandell does just that, right here in Santa Cruz—who needs an allowance?
Two turntables and a microphone, plus one MacBook. Some nice speakers, headphones, and a free program called Serato DJ Lite is what it takes to get the crowds dancing and put a smile on Shae’s face. Oh, and don’t forget the custom gray and blue hat with “DJ Shae” embroidered in yellow.
“I’ve never really had a problem getting inspiration, I just felt like I was attached to DJing and it just felt fun to me,” said Shae.
Shae was first introduced to DJing at the age of five when his father, Howie, began DJing for his friends’ events—weddings and the like. By the time Shae was seven, he started stepping in to give his dad a break, and little by little he learned the ropes until family friends began contacting him for their private events and parties.
In the beginning, he charged $20 an hour; as his skills improved and word got out, he was encouraged by family and friends to raise his prices to $50 an hour. He’s now played over 15 events, including Halloween parties and carnivals, and only plans to do more in the future.
Each year, he performs at the Top Gun Invitational Golf Tournament and Silent Auction at DeLaveaga Golf Course in Santa Cruz in memory of his father, who died in 2017 from a heart attack.
“I think that made Shae want to DJ more in his honor,” said his mother Chelsea. “He mostly got into it because of his dad, and I think it makes him feel like he has that connection with him when he DJs.”
Teaming up with the Boys and Girls Club, his family created the Howie Mandel Active Kids Foundation, which raises money through the golf tournament and auction to keep kids active and engaged after a sudden life changing event, such as death or the loss of a job or house. Last May, Shae performed for the third time at the event, his laptop displaying two stickers that say “Always Remember Howie” and “Never Forget Howie” on the back.
DJ Shae knows how to play for his audiences. Downloading everything through iTunes, his music library ranges from ABBA, Queen, and A Tribe Called Quest, to Bruno Mars, DJ Khaled, and Calvin Harris. Serato DJ allows users to queue two songs simultaneously, change or align the BPM (beats per minute), tempo, and even add sound effects to mix music live, right on the spot.
“It’s really hard to get the BPMs right in such a little time frame. People don’t realize that’s how you do it—they think you’re just clicking on a song,” he said. “You have to line it up so it doesn’t sound awkward or weird.”
After he’s contacted for an event, Shae plans out his playlist of songs, determines which ones he wants to mix together, and practices for about an hour each day prior to the event date. Whenever he plays at dances for middle school students, he uses his turntables to scratch over any swear words in a song.
When asked if he ever gets nervous before a gig, he smirked and said, “Well, not really for those kinds of audiences.”
Shae views his age as more of an advantage than a handicap, with some clients specifically reaching out to him because he’s a young talent. And while he feels as though he isn’t treated any differently because of his age, he doesn’t want to overbook himself; he still wants to be a kid, and has no problem saying no.
Shae currently lives in Santa Cruz just a five-minute walk away from West Cliff with his mother, Chelsea, and two younger siblings, Hayden and Taylor. Having recently graduated from Mission Hill Middle School, he plans to attend Santa Cruz High School in the fall.
When he’s not DJing, Shae enjoys camping, surfing, and being otherwise active. He’s saving all the money he earns through DJing so that he can buy a used car once he’s old enough to drive.
Shae hopes to continue DJing in the future and see just how far he can get.
“I’m not trying to force anything, though,” he said. “Because then it could become too much work and I might fail school or something.”