Jamal McCoy’s workstation rests on the third level of SoFi Stadium, a perched end zone vantage point with a holistic view of the field, the goliath videoboard and a sea of empty seats.
But the Rams team DJ isn’t using the absence of fans as an excuse to slack off. In this climate, he views his role with an added sense of responsibility.
Some of the players think so too.
“We’re going to be relying on him a lot this year for as long as we don’t have fans,” quarterback Jared Goff said as the Rams prepare for their SoFi Stadium debut and season opener Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. “We miss the fans, and they are the energy that we really do feed off of throughout the game — pregame, throughout the whole game. So yeah, we will rely on that DJ a little bit more this year and hope he’s got a good playlist going.”
Nicknamed “DJ Mal-Ski,” McCoy said those comments motivated him when he saw them on Twitter.
As he and the entire Rams game-day production crew prepare for a unique start of the season, their goal is to provide players with as much of a home-field advantage as possible.
The Chargers declined to make their team’s representatives available for this story.
McCoy, the Rams’ official DJ since their return to Los Angeles in 2016, said he sees the circumstances somewhat in a positive light. He categorizes his job in three layers: energizing the Rams players, engaging the crowd and distracting the opponent. Now, with the middle tier gone, McCoy said he will focus more on the other two.
Under normal circumstances, McCoy said he would attend practice weekly to hear what the players listened to during drills and observe how they would react. Now, he’s relied on team personnel to relay players' favorite genres, artists and songs.
Safety John Johnson needs to hear “All In” by Lil Baby, McCoy said.
For outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, McCoy said it’s “Surf” by Young Thug.
Anything from Gucci Mane works for tight end Tyler Higbee, McCoy said.
Wide receiver Robert Woods — who said in a video conference with reporters that he needs to hear songs from BlueBucksClan’s album, “Clan Way 2” — said he normally hypes himself up in the locker room pregame, and the stadium music will be a bonus.
“We’ll be ready to go and ready to vibe off of any energy we bring,” he said.
From there, McCoy builds the playlist. He compared what he does to a scary movie. The music sets up the audience for climax and jump scares. His goal with the warm-up music is to have players peaking at the right time.
“Usually I would try at key points to get the crowd involved, but now I’m literally playing music directly to the players and specifically for them,” said McCoy, who is also a DJ at Sparks and USC home games. “Even without fans, I still have to be that 12th man and be that extra person to give them an advantage.”
McCoy, who has been a professional DJ for about 15 years, scrolls through players’ social media feeds, studies their personalities and gleans what their music tastes are. He uses a similar tactic for opponents.
Press conferences and off-the field story lines help McCoy select songs during the Rams defensive possessions. Games against the NFC West rivals Seattle Seahawks are prime examples, McCoy said.
Ciara, an R&B singer and quarterback Russell Wilson’s then fiancé, was entrenched in a custody battle over a child she had in a previous relationship with the rapper Future. At the Rams’ first home game against Seattle at the Coliseum in 2016, McCoy played a Future song “every time the Seahawks had the ball.” He jokes that it contributed to Wilson’s poor performance, throwing for 254 yards and no touchdowns in a Rams victory.
The next year, after the drama left the headlines, McCoy pivoted. Before a play, McCoy blared a generic rhythm. But after defensive tackle Aaron Donald secured a sack on Wilson, McCoy played Ciara's hit song “Level Up.”
“He is literally pulling grass out of his facemask to his wife’s song,” McCoy said, chuckling. “Tell me how you would feel if that happened.”
McCoy normally arrives at the stadium five hours before kickoff and usually will lap the perimeter to see the crowd’s demographics for an initial idea of what music to play. Now, he has extra time to focus on the opposing team.
For the opener Sunday, McCoy said a topic could be quarterback Dak Prescott’s contract situation.
Prescott, a starter for the Cowboys playing on a rookie contract, signed a franchise tag this offseason after negotiations failed for a long-term contract. Lyrics from Kanye West’s song “Spaceship” came to mind, McCoy said.
Workin' this grave shift and I ain't made s---. I wish I could buy me a spaceship and fly past the sky
Sarah Schuler, the Rams’ director of game presentation, said that sometimes she is surprised by how quickly McCoy reacts to in-game situations. And there is no concern about the pandemic affecting his performance.
“He’s really perfect for the environment,” she said. “You can’t just throw anyone in there. He’s interpreting a lot, and in football, things can happen fast, and you need the audio to compliment that.”
League rules dictate stadium music must cut 20 seconds before the play clock ends or when the center touches the ball. Schuler said the team will get creative about when McCoy can perform, such as during TV timeouts.
This season, the Rams added Nita Strauss, a well-known rock guitarist. Strauss and McCoy will complement each other, an element Schuler said she’s excited to see. Strauss said she rarely has played to hip-hop, so she’s appreciated McCoy’s guidance.
He “keeps me on my toes” she said, by either quickly naming a song to play or simply playing a melody in a certain key.
“You have to deliver the same show, whether you're playing to two people or 200 people or 100,000 people,” Strauss said. “We're going to give those 100,000 empty seats the 100,000-person show every week.”
Schuler said the crew still is tinkering with aspects of the game-day experience, such as broadcasting live virtual fans on the videoboard and using different graphics. Schuler said music will be a big factor in the new routine, something McCoy relishes.
“If the music I play triggers a player and makes them give just 1% extra effort,” then I’ve done my job,” McCoy said.