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Behind the scenes with NBA-bubble DJ Andy Kinzel

Behind the scenes with NBA-bubble DJ Andy Kinzel

If you've watched several NBA games in recent weeks, there's a good chance that you've come across Andy Kinzel's work. Kinzel is the music director for the Los Angeles Clippers and he's one of four in-game DJs from around the league who's in the bubble to help create an energy-driven atmosphere and replicate the in-arena experience (despite the fact that there are no fans). 

Kinzel has spent 11 seasons working for NBA teams. He spent nine years on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ marketing and game presentation team, then moved to Los Angeles to join the Clippers in 2018. He has also worked with other sports teams including the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, Canton Charge, USC Trojans and Ontario Reign among others. 

BasketballNews.com’s Spencer Davies caught up with Kinzel over the phone from the NBA’s campus at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports to discuss his unique job, his experience in the bubble and much more.

First off, how does it feel to be one of just four in-game DJs in the NBA bubble? I'm sure getting selected had to be pretty special.

Andy Kinzel: “Yeah, when I heard that they were going to be in a bubble, I honestly was like, 'Oh, there's not a chance that I'm going to work.' So, I had to kind of start to think of new ways to find work for the future because I didn't know how long [the pandemic] was going to last. Actually, it's interesting because I had a couple weddings. I do a lot of wedding-DJ stuff and they were actually in Ohio. Then, I got a couple emails and they were like, 'Hey, they're actually looking for people [to DJ in the NBA bubble]. Just enter this survey for your availability.' And I told them I was available until the beginning of September. While this was going on, I was contacting my wedding clients and I was like, 'Hey, this is the situation. This is an incredible opportunity. I never thought I would have had this happen.' And they were very, very understanding and supportive of me putting my name in and getting this gig. And it so happened that they ended up picking me. 

"It was amazing to kind of come to that point [after] 11 years in the NBA, just kind of finally making a break into the actual elite of the NBA - just like the best of the best in the business. And it was even better to know that so many people that I had committed to were in my corner still, supporting me and cheering me on. I have to thank all of them and all of my family for just getting me to where I'm at because there are definitely those times where you kind of lose your confidence, especially moving to L.A. and being in that large market and just being compared to all these other great teams and their music; it's a lot. There's a lot on your shoulders. But knowing that there is recognition by coming here, there was a lot of new confidence built from that. And it's a wonderful feeling, honestly.”

Once you got to the bubble, I'm sure that you had to get tested, quarantine and all that. What was that process like?

Kinzel: “It was definitely a lot of self-discipline on so many people's parts. It was July 11. We flew in from the airport, got our bags and we were met by a couple men who had NBA on their sign. We met them and they took us on a private shuttle. We went to The Waldorf, it's just outside of the Disney Resort. It's inside of the Disney World Campus or whatever you want to call it, but it's The Waldorf. The plan was that we'd stay there the night, we'd get tested that day, and then we'd wait 'til the next morning to make sure that we're negative. And once we were negative, we went into the actual bubble. Then, once we were inside the bubble, we went to our rooms and we've been in those same rooms since July 12. We stayed quarantined inside of our room for seven days. Now, during those seven days, we had to get tested each day. Each morning, we have to take our temperature ourselves, take our pulse and check our oxygen levels through this pulse oximeter. Then, we have to go through the NBA app and do a survey [about our symptoms] every day, and then we go get tested. It is actually a really easy test. They go in the shallow area of your nose, and then they go into the back of your mouth. It's quick and easy. It takes minutes. Then, we had to go back to our rooms once we got tested. So, the only time through those seven days that we were outside of our room was literally to go to the testing room and walk back. Which, that alone, it was tough at first. Because it's different when we were quarantined back in March and we were able to go get mail or go to the grocery store. It's like, no, we are literally locked in our room. We had a lot work to do, so we found time to be productive, but that only gets you so far. What's fantastic about the way the NBA organized this is we always felt comfortable. They fed us three times a day. On top of that, they gave us a per diem, so we are allowed to order room service if we didn't like the meal or anything like that. We basically had that type of freedom.

“At the end of the seven-day quarantine, we had a big meeting - just basically talking about the rules and regulations of being around campus. You have to still wear your mask whenever you leave your room. You have to wear a proximity meter that tells you if you're within six feet of a person, and then you have to wear your credential everywhere you go. There are some big sacrifices that we are making to make this happen, and I think that part is going a little unnoticed. But the fact is we discipline ourselves. We killed the virus in here. The NBA has been doing a fantastic job of accommodating everything that we need. I send in my laundry, I drop it off in a basket and they do my laundry, and they fold it and they deliver it back to my room and there's no problem. That's like one of the amenities that they provided for all of us to kind of make this experience as great as possible. Because of course there are setbacks and you don't see your family. You can't go out and about, you can't just go to McDonald's and get a freakin' late-night snack or anything like that. But they definitely compensate those losses."

 

Andy at his station in Orlando

 

Are you still not allowed to go out and about much? Or are you allowed to do everything around campus now?

Kinzel: “Yeah, so the seven-day quarantine ended around July 18. Our team is staying at the Coronado Springs Resort and it's huge. It's actually the size of Magic Kingdom itself; we were just told that today. That's where the players are staying. They're staying at the Coronado's Tower, which was built a year ago. And they have all these different activities that we could do. For example, my daily routine, especially on my day off, is to go get a bike. We can rent bikes and it's totally free of charge; we just have to give them our name. And then we can ride around this two-mile radius that is basically the edge of our campus. There are signs that are clearly marked that say, 'If you go outside of this zone, you'll be subject to quarantine again,' like a four-day quarantine. And then there's the pool, obviously, so I'll go to the pool and just hang out there. They also have a couple restaurants where you can sit down and have a bite to eat. And, on top of that, they're still feeding you three times a day at the cafeteria, plus you can grab snacks whenever you want or grab drinks or grab a coffee or grab fruit or any of that. For me, personally, I've never experienced anything like this. It feels like we've been treated like VIPs this entire time. I think that's the most surreal part for me.”

It sounds like it's been a really fun experience. Let's get into the actual day-to-day work for you. Is it weird DJing in an empty arena with no fans? We've talked before about how you have certain music sets for when the team is going into a timeout hot or going into timeout cold. Have you changed your approach in the bubble?

Kinzel: “Yeah, so, first I'll break it down how I operate in my position. Specifically, I operate off of three music sources in this regularly. At Staples Center, I have my Serato, which is the program that I DJ off of, and that's where I can mix music. And then another source is Click Effects, which is like a sound director. They use it in radio too, but basically every professional baseball team uses the software and it's all trigger-based cues for music. For example, if there's a jump ball, I can get to [the right song] quickly because I just have 'J' on the keyboard. So, I hit 'J' and the jump ball song comes on. I use that for the hot timeouts too. Then, there's this third source that I call the Instant Replay. And that's where you hear a lot of the contests and games for fans - anything that you want to program into it. But down here in the bubble, we've replaced the Instant Replay with this iPad device that just has defensive prompts and it has the crowd reacting to to it. So, it sounds like we're in an arena and people are chanting 'defense' with it. 

“To get back to your question, what is it like to DJ for an empty crowd? It was really weird because we jumped into this and all these crowd-sweetening people, some of them have never seen a basketball game. But we have fantastic directors that are kind of guiding them, so [explaining] the correct reactions because the layers of noise - the crowd-noise levels that they have - are incredibly complex. I couldn't even explain it to you being an audio guy, but it's incredible. So, at the start of it, we were just learning how to do it, so they wouldn't broadcast it into the arena. I think they were just broadcasting it onto TV. And that was the weirdest part because I'm freaking playing so much stuff, like so many offensive prompts, so many defensive prompts, so many instrumentals, so many random explosion and things like that. And [I realized], 'It's, like, insanely crazy how obnoxious this is.' But this is the norm! It definitely made me step back and realize how important the crowd is to a basketball game. So, when they started layering in those crowd noises into the arena, it was wild how realistic it was. It really sounds like I'm in Staples Center again and just with the crowd reacting the way they do. Obviously, you don't get like the specific kind of chants you might get at an authentic crowd game. Like, if they're cursing at the refs or something like that or booing the team because of their performance, you might not get that stuff. But the aesthetic environment is there and that's what is really tremendous about this team and what they've done. 

“What's really cool about this experience is we got to connect with every team that's down here and be like, 'Hey, what's your style of gameplay? What's your style of music? What is this? Send us some hot timeout songs. Send us your offensive tracks and send us your defensive tracks.' Because we wanted it to sound like a Houston Rockets game, we wanted it to sound like an OKC Thunder game or a New Orleans Pelicans game or whatever it might be. Yesterday, I got a message from the Philadelphia 76ers' DJ when I was working. He was like, 'Are you on this game?' I'm like, 'Yeah.' And he's like, 'You sound just like me!' I said, 'That's a huge compliment. Thank you so much,' because that's exactly what we're trying to do. We want to make the players feel like they are playing at home. And I think the coolest part that's really different is, in a regular-game situation, I react off of the crowd. The more they're giving to me, the harder I'm going to pump in the defense, the harder I'm going to pump in the tracks, and then it kind of carries that way. Now, down here, I control how loud I want the defense. So there's different levels of each chant - there's green, there's orange, there's red and there are several options among those. So, when they're coming up and down the court, you can kind of be like, 'Okay, this was a big run, but let's pump it up a little bit.' And then you'll pump in like an 'orange' defense and just kind of get the crowd going more. So it's weird being on the other side of it and realizing, 'Okay, I'm actually controlling the crowd.'”

 

Andy stands at center court

 

Has it been difficult trying to match each team's in-arena atmosphere when you aren't accustomed to it?

Kinzel: “I don't want to say it's impossible, nothing's impossible, but it is extremely difficult to replicate a show 100 percent in its entirety. I had a certain style that I played at the Indians' games, I had a certain style that I played at the Browns' games - there was a consistent song bank that I used throughout. And it's the same with me going to L.A. I kind of carried all of that song knowledge and brought it to L.A. I'm integrating their West Coast sound into my sound, and that's kind of like the same thing here. Yes, we're trying to play this intro track and play the type of warm-ups that your players like and do all of that. But at the same time, my theory in all of this is almost that less is more. So if you send us less songs and just send, like, more meaningful tracks, [it's easier]. Let's take Boston, for example. It's very easy for me to replicate their show because they're like, 'Here's our content. This is the only content we want you to use. And then you could like fill it in with whatever you want.' I'm like, 'Okay, that's great.' And so I just played their prompts and then they have 'Shipping Up to Boston' and 'Crazy Train' as their pregame rituals. [It's simple], but it still creates such a sense of, 'Oh, we're in Boston, this is a Boston home game.' Whereas when a team is [sending] so much content - if you have a stinger for every single player and a PA call for every single player - it's harder for us to pay attention to all that because there's so much action happening. To be honest, it took me a solid year to get the rhythm of a Clippers home game. It did, it took me that long. The good thing is I've been getting a lot of compliments, so I just kind of keep doing what I'm doing. And then you get some critiques and it's like, 'Okay, yeah, we'll make adjustments.' That's what we do in show business, right?”

When the games started back up, I saw there were some tweets from people saying they liked your sound. I think you were playing some old-school, 2000s songs. How would you classify your sound and how do you incorporate it into this?

Kinzel: “That's funny because if anybody knows me, my favorite era of music is 2000 hip-hop. I just love the production and sound, just like the different style of beats that were coming in and the energy that it just has. I'm not saying I don't like modern hip hop now. I feel like my strength there is in 2000s hip-hop. And that's kind of the beauty of music: Everybody has their style. Nothing's wrong. But definitely with me moving to Los Angeles, I do play a lot of 2000s hip-hop. And there was definitely a discussion of, 'How can we make this more West Coast? I appreciate your music style, but we need to incorporate more West Coast stuff because we have a specific sound.' And it took me a while to realize that and I kind of went out to the bar scene and did the nightlife stuff. You hear that stuff and it's just like, 'Oh, okay, I kind of get it now.' And then you just dive into it and go deeper and deeper. That's why I said it took maybe a year to get that style right. But at the same time, I love pumping in my stuff. Me, personally, I love dance music. I love a lot of house music and progressive house for arenas because I think it puts a nice pulse, where people don't need to sing. They can kind of clap their hands and just make some noise, I think it's a good tool for that. But I think that's kind of consistent at the arena now. I think that's the site you want to pump in that energy.”

Have you had any interactions with players? Have any players told you that they liked the sound in the bubble?

Kinzel: “My interactions are minimal - very, very minimal. Like I said, we do go to the same bars and all that stuff, but it's it's obviously very cliquey. And I don't think that's a bad thing at all. We respect them. They respect us. But yesterday, I was doing the Utah Jazz game. It was a fantastic interaction. We were getting ready and the warm-ups were just coming on, but we were doing rehearsals for the intro sequence. It was the Jazz and the Spurs, okay. One of the Spurs' players came out - I couldn't even tell you which one it was - and he's like, 'Yo DJ, play Lil Baby!' And I'm like, 'Oh man, I got you because I love Lil Baby!' And then my boss goes, 'Dude, he's on the wrong team. You can't play that!' Because we were supposed to be playing Utah's songs for their home-court advantage. And I'm like, 'Aw man, but it's Lil Baby. Everybody loves Lil Baby!' But that's honestly the extent of my interactions [with players].

"I see them regularly because our shipping center is right by the practice court. So, you walk by all the practice courts and the players are always walking around there. The second or third night out of quarantine - this was kind of my starstruck moment - I was walking by and just chilling on the boardwalk pier and just feet away from me was LeBron James, Quinn Cook, AD and two other Lakers. I was just like, 'Holy crap, that's pretty freakin' cool.' It's weird because you work with them all the time and you see them pass by you all the time, but that's in their environment. When you see them outside of the workplace in the same place as you, it's just like, 'Oh, that's cool.' Obviously, I didn't say anything. What the f**k am I gonna say? 'Oh my god, you're LeBron, Quinn and AD!' Like, 'I love you guys, but I'm on the Clippers...' (laughs)”

You mentioned that you're one of four DJs in the bubble. Who are the other three DJs?

Kinzel: “So it's Courtney (DJ M.I.L.) from the Brooklyn Nets, DJ Shawna from the Milwaukee Bucks and then Austin Paws (who goes by PawS) from the Denver Nuggets. They're incredible, and learning from them has been one of the greatest experiences. Courtney is a big-time vet; he's probably done every All-Star Game in the last 10 years. Austin Paws is around my age. He's fresh to the scene, but he knows his music. He knows how to keep that pulse in the arena. And DJ Shawna, she's very young and she's very smart and ambitious. Each of us has our own style, but it's not wrong. That's the best part about. And each of us will play for the Denver Nuggets at one point, each of us will play for the L.A. Clippers at one point. But even within us, it'll still be a different game. But that's okay. Obviously, the Clippers would probably want me to DJ their games every time, but that's just not realistic because of how this is structured. It's very well done, but not everything can be perfect the way you want it. But like I said, you've got some major experts running your show, and I think it's great that they're putting a lot of trust into us.”

 

Andy with Olivier and Chris

 

What's your favorite game that you've done in the bubble so far? Do you almost feel like a fan when you're there just watching the best in the world compete?

Kinzel: “Yeah, totally. It's weird. When you are playing for the home team, it's like, 'Oh, I have to cheer for them,' so you kind of react that way, too. I subconsciously react to Damian Lillard just freakin' draining threes left and right when we're doing a Portland game, and it's fun to be a fan. I will say my favorite game, though, is by far the Clippers. I'm not just saying that because of the team, but it was fun. It's been over 100 days since I've been able to work a Clippers game, and coming back to that, it felt like a day off. And it was really cool because a lot of the people I worked with were on Microsoft Teams and on the board. My director was texting me the entire game. I was [joking] that I was so distracted because my boss just kept texting me. But I was just enjoying texting him back because they were having the time of their life. They were commenting. They're like, 'Dude, we're all dancing to your music during timeouts,' and he's like, 'You had the [team] president dancing!' And I was like, 'This is awesome, man. I'm so happy be able to work this game with you guys.'”

What is the most challenging aspect of being in the bubble?

Kinzel: “I would say the challenging part was the content building, and then the preparation and then going from working literally not at all to working two full games a day. I've worked the MAC Tournament in the past where we've done like four games a day for four straight days, and that doesn't even compare to what we're doing here. It's two straight games, two games a day for four straight days. And the way we operate, it's very mentally exhausting, for sure. But, like I said, the NBA has done a fantastic job of compensating our needs and just making sure that we are in a good mental space, feeling comfortable with everything we're doing, being fed and just keeping us healthy in every dimension imaginable. But yeah, I think that would honestly be the hardest thing is just the grind. But, honestly, it's fulfilling. It's rewarding.”

What was the most rewarding part of the experience? Or what's your favorite memory from the bubble?

Kinzel: “Number one, the connections. The amount of elite people that are working here - learning from them, connecting with them, showing them what I got, showing my work ethic and being able to just establish a relationship with them - that's going to be the most beneficial part, I think, of this experience. Number two is my confidence. To have people complimenting you and assuring you that you're in the right place and you were meant to be here, that has really boosted my confidence level. And that alone is probably going to be way more beneficial than anything else that I've experienced here.

“I just think it's incredible the sacrifices that so many people are making to make this happen. Like, every single employee that's away from their families. I heard a story that about a worker whose wife is pregnant and they're [apart] while he's here, but he's grinding now so that they can have their time together later. There are so many individual stories of sacrifice that nobody hears about to make this happen. You see a lot of other sports that are having a relaxed plan - you see MLB, maybe even the NFL and what they're doing. But the NBA is truly setting the bar and I hope people can recognize that. 

I know you talked about how the NBA's done a great job accommodating you and your colleagues. Does everyone seem pretty comfortable and is there starting to be a sense of normalcy?

Kinzel: “The best way to explain it is it's like we're all on vacation, but we have to work on vacation, which a lot of us are stoked to do. We all have a purpose and for a lot of people, this is our purpose. So it's enjoyable just to be around the work again. But at the same time, we come back and we're on vacation. We can go by the pool, just sit by the pool and do nothing. We have no responsibilities whatsoever besides these NBA games, and that's what all of our focus is on. Yeah, we make sacrifices, but at the same time the NBA is kind of saving us, too. Getting us back to what we love doing the most.”

You mentioned that you've spent 11 years working for NBA teams. Can you walk me through your journey to this point?

Kinzel: “Yeah. I think in any career, you kind of hit a point where you have so much to learn, but you can't learn under the position that you're in. Because, not saying that you've mastered anything, I think there's always room to grow. But you get to a point where your potential is being held back a little. And trust me, I think one of my favorite teams I've worked for was the Canton Charge and being with the Cavs for nine seasons has done tremendous things for me. But I think in any reality, you kind of get to a point where you just have to kind of challenge yourself a little bit more. And I think that's what L.A. did because it was totally [different]. You go from a small-market team to this huge-market team that Steve Ballmer just bought and is basically rebranding into something totally new and exciting for the city of L.A. And then being put under that microscope, there's just a lot of pressure. Like, I make mistakes all the time. And the thing is, people do hear those mistakes, but they're miniscule and they don't know the extent of how bad it was. Because you could always pull out an audio clip or something. But you learn from those mistakes, and I felt like being thrown into the pit of fire in L.A. kind of helped me grow even that much more. And especially with our leadership with Daniel Casados, who's my director, he's kind of given me that [freedom]. If you've seen 'The Other Guys' when Mark Wahlberg's like, 'I'm a peacock, you gotta let me fly' - that's what my director has kind of given me the reins to do. And he has some great guidance. He's a smart guy, but he also puts a lot of trust in me, so I have to thank him for that and thank him for letting me represent the Clippers down here.”

How did you ultimately end up on the Clippers' staff?

Kinzel: “Yeah, so this is actually a great lesson in networking. In 2009, I was 17 years old. I started working promos and activations on the concourse [at Cavaliers' games]. We were doing signmaking, painting people's faces, spraying people's hair, etc. And I just connected with one of the stage managers, Chris Cunanan, and we kind of had a friendly relationship. We just kind of stayed connected. He actually ended up in L.A. working for the Sparks for several years and then he worked with the Clippers. And then, I actually shadowed him in 2015 because I was visiting my aunt and I wanted to catch a Clippers game and I was like, 'Hey, Chris, can I see how you guys operate and all this?' And it's funny because I met so many people, including the DJ of the Clippers. His name's DJ Dense, literally one of the best in the business. He's phenomenal. And I got to connect with him. Fast forward three years to 2018, this job opened up [with the Clippers] to be the creative audio specialist, which is basically a music coordinator in any other NBA position. But I reached out to Chris and I was like, 'Hey, I saw this position is open. I think that'd be a really good fit. Here's my experience.' And Chris and I hadn't worked together in, like, nine years, but that relationship that we kind of sustained throughout all that, I was able to kind of reconnect with him. Then, it so happened that he was able to put a good word in for me. I ended up getting the job with the Clippers, and from then on out, I just started my new life there. I picked up my amazing life in Cleveland and I brought it to L.A.”

Follow DJ AK on Instagram (@AK_AndyKinzel), Twitter (@AndyKinzel) and Soundcloud

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