DJ Schools: 3 Reasons You Don’t Need It

by turningthetable

The art of DJing, or selecting tracks in succession so that music never stops playing, has been recognized as an acceptable trade for well over five decades now. Tracing back to the late 1940s, DJs have redefined the way people perceive live music and nightlife. Over the years, new techniques and skills have been honed by DJs worldwide to better perfect their craft, giving DJ culture a ubiquitous influence throughout the world. Additionally, a wide variety of mixing and playing styles have developed and subdivided the DJ community as a whole, thus leading to a variety of acceptable styles in DJing. Like most unconventional skills and trades that arise outside of the limelight, DJ schools eventually formed to better educate the public on these newer techniques. These types of institutions are not only unnecessary in the path of becoming a successful DJ, but they may even hinder your ability to becoming a true disc jockey.


Let’s explore just what these DJ schools are and what they aim to really accomplish. Establishments such as Dubspot or Scratch DJ Academy, both located in New York City, have been critically acclaimed by industry media for years. These institutions began arising in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but long before that, DJs were playing bars, clubs and banquet halls all throughout the world. DJ schools often have big name DJs guest teach during lectures, feature state-of-the-art equipment in their classrooms and host technology-driven courses to help ensure you’re a certified DJ once everything is completed. But don’t get too glamourized by these trade schools just yet, because more-so than anything else, they exist as businesses. Without money backing their institutions, they would cease to exist. So how can you make sure you’re spending your money the right way while learning the basic fundamentals?


How can I get started?


Starting from nothing, DJing can seem like it’s a pretty expensive hobby. Whether you’re trying to amass a record collection or just want to spin some digital tracks, the equipment alone can be rather costly. Including speakers and amplifiers, an average DJ setup can run between $1200 and $5000. Most DJ schools will charge at least that for just the classes, which includes none of the core hardware components necessary to build a true DJ station. Some schools offer incentives to sign up, such as software discounts and giveaways for newer DJs just getting started. DJ software is a whole different category of expenses, because you’ll need an adequate laptop reserved specifically for music.


In the beginning, a traditional DJ setup consisted of two turntables, one 2-channel (or more) mixer and a head-level monitor, or speaker, for optimal mixing. With headphones to listen to cue tracks, a DJ could fluidly mix two records together in succession throughout the night, ensuring that music never stopped. Throughout the years, DJ setups have drastically changed in terms of equipment needed. While some DJs prefer to use the traditional setup and play vinyl records, you can also use one of several mixing software packages, such as Serato Scratch or Traktor. These programs read timecode vinyl or CDs, enabling selection of songs inside of a computer program interface. Likewise, industry tech giants like Pioneer and Numark make CDJs for quick mixing of CDs, USB sticks and other digital media.


There is no right or wrong setup for DJs. Choosing the right gear for yourself comes down to preference and financial affordability. While high-performance record turntables (such as the industry standard Technics 1200) are still relatively cheaper than modern equipment, the money spent trying to build a proper record collection might be a bit unsettling for beginners. A digital audio workstation, or DAW, is a computer program typically fashioned for music production. However, programs such as Ableton allow for users to connect mixing controllers via USB cable and select music just as a traditional DJ would. This type of setup is favorable for beginners who are more budget-conscious, therefore very attractive when considering a first DJ setup. With that said, it is suggested to sample a bit of every setup before spending money on DJ hardware or software.


Because DJ schools claim that you’ll learn the fundamentals and become fully certified in DJing in no time, you should understand that you will still need hardware and/or software to work. There’s no doubt that you will, in fact, learn some much-needed basics, but at what financial cost and how much time? These top rated schools generally price their classes between $100 and $500 per session, with six to ten classes necessary to graduate and receive a formal certificate. For a typical student, this equates to roughly six to ten weeks time. Compared with many other career options, this may seem like a considerable deal. That is, of course, until you realize that a DJ certificate will most likely get you nowhere except laughed out of a gig. Wedding DJs tend to operate their own businesses, therefore a state-issued license is required before booking gigs. This is an additional cost and necessary for gigs, whereas a school-issued DJ certificate is not necessary for any professional (or amateur, for that matter) gigs. Unlike degrees from universities and colleges, a DJ certificate is not a true measure of how capable a selector is in his or her respective medium.


So why exactly is the DJ school formula not one to follow?


Many DJ schools and courses fail because they try to teach you a little bit of everything there is to know about DJing. Most DJs will only need to use one particular medium to play their music, whether it’s from mixing software on a laptop or the old school way: mixing two records together on turntables. DJ schools advertise that they will teach you all of these platforms, when really only one of them is necessary for you. With the amount of time and money you’ll spend on just one classroom course from a music school, you could have easily taught yourself the same techniques and saved a lot of money.


But DJ schools do offer some sort of merited value with what you’re actually paying for, and that ranges from introduction of equipment and software to scratching and mixing. However, when you realize that your classes include at least 12 other participants – and many times much more than that – the personalization of your DJ experience begins to diminish. If your mission is to become a career wedding DJ, then there’s no use in wasting time learning how to scratch records. Much of the material covered in DJ schools can be found by researching the history of the specific DJ style you prefer, whether it’s hip-hop turntablism or disco dance music.


But DJ schools will get me the gigs I need, faster, right?


One of the biggest misconceptions with DJ trade schools is that once you complete a course and receive a formal certification, you are ready to start playing gigs. This is simply not true, and many bars, clubs and even restaurants will hire DJs based off experience, not some ambiguous title of graduating DJ school. Likewise, many students who complete their DJ training at an institution are not ready to play in front of the general public.


There’s also the glaringly obvious fact that most successful DJs in the world did not need to attend any sort of DJ school to achieve their current status. DJing is one of those techniques that is passed from disc jockey to disc jockey, keeping it a more community-driven hobby or career than something you are licensed to practice. With the advent of the Internet and online tutorials, becoming a DJ is easier now than it ever has before. But don’t let idea of becoming a DJ faster with online help give you the impression that obtaining gigs comes over night. You will still need to work hard, practice and perfect your styling.

Can I do this on my own?


Teaching yourself to DJ, or even having one-on-one learning sessions with someone already skilled, is much more rewarding and helpful to your future DJ career than any school or classroom can provide. Before you even begin trying to mix two songs together, you’ve most likely determined what kind of DJ you’d like to become, whether it’s a wedding DJ that plays crowd favorites or a club DJ playing underground dance music. With this understanding, it’s easier to approach the beginning stages of becoming a disc jockey because you’ll know exactly which skills and techniques are essential and which are not.


Because DJ schools tend to post the curriculum discussed in each of their offered classes online, you’re given a basic guideline for the session’s teachings. You know what you need to learn, and that’s the first step in teaching yourself how to become a disc jockey. Even if you do not know anybody who is a DJ and willing to help guide you along the way, today’s fast-paced world makes it relatively easy for you to find free techniques to start DJing. Aside from community workshops and store-sponsored courses, the Internet provides you with a variety of free, accessible tools for you to begin your DJ career. Once you have the basic understanding of how to mix the type of music that interests you the most, practice and time become your best friends. Like any other skill, putting time into your craft will only make you a better DJ.


DJing is not an impossible skill to teach yourself, but you will need some patience and basic understanding of music theory to help you along the way. With that said, this method of learning to DJ is much more effective both financially and technically than any DJ school can provide. Rather than listen to a paid instructor teach multiple students all at once, you can harness the power necessary to conquer your own path with DJing yourself. You’ll become closer with the music, understand the ins and outs of selecting tracks and add your own personal touch to playing the music. No matter what kind of DJing career you choose or what kind of gigs you land once you become skilled enough, your job is to make the crowd move. Personality, style and soulful mixing can not be taught by anyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done in the DJ industry.


How important is networking to my DJ career?
Meeting other DJs is a crucial part in becoming a DJ, as well. DJ schools may help with technical building by connecting you with a teacher, but the real world requires much more than classroom relationships. Rather than rely on the knowledge and experience of one DJ – who may not be interested in the type of music you wish to play – getting to know multiple DJs who share the same vision as you is imperative to your future career as one. Much like an art school or program, creativity in DJing cannot be taught, but having positive relationships with other DJs will certainly help your own mission.


Use the Internet to your advantage every opportunity you get. Research as much as you can about DJs who play the same type of music you’re interested in playing, because there’s a DJ for every type of music availablse. If you’re goal is to only play weddings, contact a dozen or so DJs in your area and seek some guidance from them. More than likely, a few will respond and be willing to teach you a few tricks of the trade. Otherwise, club DJs allow for great networking possibilities. Many of the nightclub DJs that play in your hometown also have to market themselves in order to fulfill certain venue obligations, therefore they tend to be more open for contact. Social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are good points of contact, but online forums, blogs and chat rooms are also great areas to meet specific genre DJs.


From Tiesto to DJ Jazzy Jeff, the world’s most popular and talented DJs have built their success without the need for any type of formal training. DJ schools, workshops and classes are all still a relatively new concept, no doubt existing to fill the void and help new businesses generate revenue. While these schools will surely provide you with skills to take on the DJ world, you must realize that most DJs did not attend any sort of class before landing their first gigs. You’ll be able to buy yourself some nice DJ equipment with the money you save by not attending one of these DJ schools, and that should be your number one focus of finances when starting to DJ.

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