It started at Disneyland, of all places. The park brought in a DJ to perform in sync with a light show built around Tron: Legacy. My teenage son saw stars. He already makes music on his computer, but what he really wants to do is DJ.
Laura Bolokoski, aka DJ Pnutz, makes sample-based electronic music, with an emphasis on mixing. She is also owner and instructor at San Diego Turntable Institution (866-244-8411, facebook.com/SanDiegoTurntableInstitution). “We start students on vinyl-record turntables,” she says, “though some people use CDJs — they use digital CDs, as opposed to vinyl. The turntables are combined with a DJ mixer and a cross-fader. The cross-fader is the switch that allows you to choose which turntable is live,” while the mixer allows you to control the sound.
“Basic students start out with music theory — counting the music, learning musical structure,” explains Bolokoski. “Then we cover basic beat-matching mixing — working on the transitions between songs. It’s really important for a DJ to make sure that all of the songs are going at the same tempo, so that people on the floor aren’t having to dance fast, then slow, then fast again.” After that, “we’ll work on some scratching, which involves manipulating the record and the cross-fader to produce different sorts of sounds.”
All classes at SDTI are one-hour private lessons, “so the curriculum is really personalized. I have one student who is eight years old, and my oldest is 56. A lot of people want to learn as a hobby,” but some are trying to get into the nightclubs. (She notes that beginners will be lucky to get gas money for an opening set, while experienced DJs who enjoy a following and have connections to promoters “can earn $50 to $100 an hour, depending on the club and the type of music.”) Practice time is included in the price, which varies depending on how many classes you buy. “If you sign up for eight or more, it comes out to $59 a class. And we offer a payment plan.”
Antonio at San Diego Mixmasters (619-527-2429, globalbpm.com) also starts students on vinyl turntables. “We give our students a free intro lesson to see if it’s what they want to do. We throw them in the ocean and let them swim.” If they stay, “we take the student back to where it originated — turntable and vinyl. I’ve been teaching for 14 years, and I’m old school. You learn with your ears, not your eyes” — meaning, the sound matters more than the digital readout on a screen. “Now, a DJ can download his music onto a computer, and the turntables become his remotes. But when you watch the DJ, he’s just staring at the screen. There’s a lack of intimacy. I know we have to embrace the new technology, but we like to introduce it later, as a tool you can use, not as something you need.” That said, Antonio notes that he offers “top-of-the-line equipment for all styles of DJing.” A three-month course of 15 one-hour lessons costs $480, practice time included.
Scott Saunders at DJ4 Life Academy (djscottsaunders.com, dj4life.org) works with digital CDJs. “My style is high-energy electronic dance music; my job is to bring the energy in the room up as much as possible. But, before I start, I’ll ask students what their goals are. I can help with every aspect of DJing,” from beat-matching all the way up to demo production and original music production. (“DJs at my level don’t just play other people’s music,” he says, “they also create their own.”) He offers three levels of instruction ($399 for three 90-minute classes over three weeks). Each level consists of three classes. Level one covers the equipment, plus basics of scratching, beat-matching, and blending. Level two involves putting together a one-hour set and adding effects to the music. “By the end of the third level, you should be able to perform with confidence in front of other people.” Outside of DJ training, “I’ll show them where to get the sort of music they like. They all ask how to get gigs, and I tell them they have to be good communicators, able to reach out to club owners and promoters.”