If you’re ever out dancing the night away at Tavern on the Square – one of the premier night spots in downtown Lansing – and you feel like you’re being watched, don’t worry. You’re not being paranoid.
You really are being watched.
At first, you might not even notice Rachael Zlomak Parker taking her typical wallflower role in the corner of the room. But if you find yourself amazed that your favorite song is on the radio once again on a another Saturday night out on the town, or if you find yourself smiling and tapping your toes to the beats being seamlessly integrated into your evening, then she’s already had a profound impact on your evening even though you never even noticed her.
“A DJs job is to read the crowd and try to make as many people stay in the bar as possible, and at somewhere like the Tavern, that’s not easy. There’s not a dance floor and crowd is very eclectic,” says Rachael, who DJs at Tavern on the Square every Saturday night. “When I see somebody I know walk in or somebody that I remember from another night and some song that they requested, I will try my best to play it immediately before they ask for it. And they totally perk up, smile and start dancing. That just completely makes my day.
“The most difficult thing in DJing is that you have to judge people by their appearance and try to guess what kind of music they would want to hear. And I’m wrong every single time. But that’s all that you have to go on at first. You know, in that split second when you have to choose another song to play and you look for very subtle reactions to whatever song you’re playing. If your first guess as to what they might want to hear is wrong, then you try a different genre but make sure that it mixes. It’s multi-tasking to nth degree. It’s fascinating and I love it.”
If it seems like Rachael has a lot of insight into DJing and a lot of experience, that’s because she does. But she didn’t earn her stripes initially in Lansing. Her first experience was in London.
Born and raised in Lansing in the Waverly School District, Rachael was your typical teenager in that she complained that there was nothing to do in her hometown and she couldn’t wait to escape to the big city. She wanted out so badly that she took college courses from Lansing Community College while still in school so that she could graduate early. After a couple of years, she transferred to Grand Valley State University, which did nothing to whet her big city appetite.
So after graduation when a good friend told her about an internship program in the United Kingdom intended for students finishing up college but requiring no classes to be taken while across the pond, it sounded like a great idea. What Rachael didn’t bargain for, though, was her friend bailing on the idea. After borrowing money from her Grandmother, trying to setup an internship and applying for the program, Rachel called up her friend to schedule their departure.
But she never called back.
“So I was kind of like, oh okay. Do I lose all this money and time from my application process and just back out, or do I go by myself?” recalls Rachael. “And I don’t know how I had the guts to do it, but I went by myself.”
The catch? Rachael did not yet have an internship lined up when she crossed the Atlantic. The competition was stiff because as part of the European Union, potential applicants from other members didn’t have hoops to jump through and had a leg up on applying for jobs.
Luckily, she did manage to find an internship. She landed a six-month contract for London South Bank University in a marketing and public relations position for a particular division that they managed called Local Economy Policy Unit. For those six months, Rachael was responsible for arranging seminars and events on topics such as public transportation.
The job was a great experience, but what Rachael really loved was living in the big city, which meant public transportation, museums and a vibrant music scene. Every little bar had its own DJ and Rachael couldn’t help but think, “Hey, I could do that!” So when she left her internship, her coworkers gave her the best going away present ever – enrollment in a course to learn how to DJ.
Learning how to DJ, however, wasn’t the only thing she brought back to the States. She also got engaged.
After a moving back to Lansing for a year and dating long distance, they got married in her mother’s back yard. A few days later, Rachael moved back to London with her new husband.
For five years.
But after a while, Lansing came calling. Rachael started feeling homesick for Michigan – partly because her family was there, partly because it was comfortable and familiar. She knew how to handle herself in pretty much any situation, compared to a foreign country where she was never completely comfortable and never completely understood how to conduct herself as an American working in a foreign country. It was a totally different ballgame.
So Rachael moved back to Lansing, but without her husband, or should I say ex-husband. She really wanted to come home and he really didn’t want to leave London, so they made a difficult decision.
“I moved home just a little over two years ago and I haven’t regretted one minute of it,” says Rachael. “It was a good experience. He was a great guy but it just didn’t work out. We’re too different.”
Back in Lansing, Rachael found something that she never expected; she didn’t miss the big city at all and really loved living in the town that she grew up in. It didn’t take long for her to meet John Beltran, local DJ and music producer extraordinaire, who took Rachael under his wing and helped refine her DJing skills. Pretty soon, she was filling in for his usual spot on Friday nights at Tavern on occasion, which in turn led to the establishment offering her the same gig on Saturday nights. You can also find her every second and fourth Friday on the fourth floor of the Big Old Building (B.O.B.) in Grand Rapids.
While Rachael loves her DJing life, that’s not all she’s found to love in Lansing. After a short stint at a marketing and public relations firm in Jackson while living in a loft downtown, Rachael struck career gold by landing a job at TechSmith – a global software firm based in Okemos. Now, she is the Global Public Relations Manager for the company and gets to, “work with lovely, lovely nerds, and I mean that in the most lovable, great way. Just super intelligent people. It’s a great company to work for and it’s challenging.”
Despite her former urge to move to the big city, Rachael isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. She bought a house a little ways north of Old Town. She helps take care of her family and enjoys a strong network of friends.
So what changed from her high school days to now?
“I wonder how I would I feel about Lansing if I didn’t get to DJ sometimes, because I’m absolutely obsessed with DJing,” says Rachael. “But I still think I would absolutely love Lansing. It’s because of the people I’ve met. And it’s funny, I feel somewhat hypocritical because I used to hate it here. I said that there was nothing to do and that it was so boring. And I feel it’s completely opposite now.
“It was very different 10 years ago and I still haven’t been able to figure out exactly what is different in my mind. I don’t know that I can honestly say that Lansing itself has changed, or if it’s the residents and the people that are involved in the community that have changed. It’s almost like a generational shift. And the crowd I see while DJing downtown is so eclectic.
“I get absolutely lost in DJing. How do I explain it? It’s my therapy. It’s my outlet. It’s my stress relief. It’s just a constant challenge. It’s a totally different kind of challenge. Like I can actually shut my brain off and just turn my ears on. That sounds so lame, but it’s using totally different senses then I use during my work week. So it’s just the best therapy ever. And I get to do awesome events, like I DJ all of the Derby Vixen home bouts and that’s so much fun. I got to DJ in an airplane hangar for Ignite Lansing. I’ve DJed live yoga sessions for Just B. And I love it when my friends come in. I get so much ridiculous levels of joy out of seeing my friends dance.
“I have no intention of leaving Lansing. I love it.”