Orin Isaacs DJs at the 2015 Pan Am Games closing ceremonies. Screenshot by Dawn Langfield

Orin Isaacs’ DJ Side Hustle at the Pan Am Games

How did Orin Isaacs get to DJ for the Pan Am Games, Toronto’s biggest party of the summer? Did he scope out an ad in DJ Times, respond to a LinkedIn job posting or did he cozy up to an insider like Kanye West or Serena Ryder to be invited in?

“Funny about the DJ thing, says the musician. “I just did it for fun at the Pan Am closing ceremonies because the producers asked me to. I was hired as the show’s musical director.”

And, just how does one go from being a musical director to a DJ? That’s unusual, right? Am I misunderstanding what a musical director does?

“At the last minute they needed a DJ to cover 90 seconds between set-ups from Serena Ryder to Pitbull. They asked if I’d do it, I thought it would be fun, it was!!”

Isaacs got the job directly through his colleague. “Paul Becker the director referred me, we did Canada’s Got Talent (CityTV) together and he’s been using me ever since.”

As a composer/producer, Isaacs created the orchestral protocol music, cultural music representing nine different cultures. “Hip Hop, EDM, whatever they needed for the show I did,” he says.

He has done scores before for shows like Canadian Idol, Amazing Race Canada, the Juno Awards (CTV), Hockey Night In Canada (CBC), Project Runway Canada (Slice) and “Yes, I used to DJ back in the day,” Isaacs admits; “I still have a set-up.”

But, this show “was a highlight, it was the single biggest live stage show I’ve done that I was responsible for creating all original music for. Usually I’m interpreting hits of the day or for an artist that I’m backing up but this was all my stuff, which is very cool.”

Isaacs is in demand as a television music composer/producer and a musical director/bass player for live shows going back to Open Mike with Mike Bullard in 1997 and has garnered a long list of credits to his name since then, some through his company Swing Low Productions.

As a bandleader or a bassist, he worked with formidable musicians from Mariah Carey to Macy Gray, George Clinton to Natasha Bedingfield, and Patti Labelle to Kid Rock. Isaacs created original music and did the live musical direction for the Canadian Idol Big Band when icon Paul Anka appeared on the show.

His work was seen by 2.9 million viewers during the Amazing Race Canada (CTV) debut, is seen regularly on the country’s most popular cable show Big Brother Canada (Slice) and in live TV comedy productions with Russell Peters, and Rick Mercer.

He has built up an extensive body of work including compositions for the Salt Lake and Torino Winter Olympics, Divine Design (W, HGTV US) and more recently, Top Chef Canada (Food Network), Intervention Canada), Never Ever Do this at Home (Discovery), Undercover Boss Canada (W), and Ice Road Truckers (History).

Isaacs has won three Juno Awards, a gold and four platinum selling albums, composed three movies for the National Film Board of Canada “Jane and Finch Again, Shinny and Flemingdon Park” and “My Father’s Hands,” for which he won the HBO Award for best short at the Acapulco Black Film Festival.

The job is usually very broad. A musical director is responsible for all musical needs that a show may have, whether it be composing or producing original material, curating existing tracks, arranging performances and/or backing up artists. In this case that includes DJing, says Isaacs.

For the Pan Am Games,  he says, “It was very high pressure but at the same time it was no pressure because they trusted me. So in the end it was fun.”

The Kanye Mic Drop Heard Around the World

This is the same show where Kanye West works so hard he tires out and has to lie down  on the stage for a few moments in the middle of his performance, at least that is my interpretation of events from watching it transpire on TV from my couch. It may have been performance art.

It is also the night of the infamous mic drop where Kanye abruptly leaves the stage at the end of his 13-minute set due to a technical glitch. He reacted by tossing his mic up in the air and letting it free fall. My question to Isaacs is, did he witness the mic drop up close?

He says, “I didn’t meet any of the headline talent, we were in different worlds. I did a little work for Serena on this show and in the past but we’ve never met.” Pity. That means he missed the Kanye episode.

I was responsible for the protocol music, and the main creative segments except the Peru creative and the headline talent, he adds.

What did he think of the petition to have a Toronto artist like Drake, who is from the city, headline the Pan Am Games instead of Kanye? Isaacs says, “It just raised the profile of the event.” That it did.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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