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Posts tagged “Electronica

Origins of a DJ – Part 2

DJ Cheesy Dad

ADD MUSIC AND MIX

My love of music grew more and more as I was introduced to more genres.  In fact, even today, it still grows.  My appreciation of truly talented artists is really what I base my “favorites” on (more on this varied list later).  I knew long ago that I wanted to do something with music.  In high school, I began my trials of making mixes (in a very elementary sense) of music for parties.  I would be the one going from CD to CD, playing various songs to make the people enjoy their evening.  I wasn’t ever one for drinking or really partying.  Music was my drug, it was what made me happy (or at least one of the things).  Dancing also became one of my favorite past-times.  I found myself very good at being able to follow a beat.  My friends and I would go “clubbing” every weekend all through high school.  Our main hang was a teen dance club in Big Rapids known as Gatorz.  Prior to Gatorz was the Skate Estate lol…oh the memories.  Gatorz eventually was closed due to “racial tension” – can’t we all just get along?  Gatorz was my first real interaction with a club DJ.  Occasionally I found myself hanging out in the booth in awe of the equipment and the crazy things you could do with music and similar beats.  My friends and I would constantly joke about buying a club one day where I would get to be the DJ.  One day…part of that dream did come true, and it lasted over a decade.

While in college at Arizona State, I was working for FDS (Federated Department Stores – Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc.) in their call center. During my time there, I met my mentor, Marcus McBride aka DJ Metro (well, back in the day…now he’s known as DJ Marcus McBride, and has his own remix company, Full Tilt Remix – So jealous!).  Marcus shared my enthusiasm, no, hunger for music.  We would have many conversations about music styles and artists, both current and past.  He enlightened me on the magic of techno and electronica music.  This was a genre that I hadn’t had much exposure to as of yet.  I explained earlier that my mother showed me many types of music, but my old stand-by was hip-hop/rap, more specifically – old school hip-hop (nothing like “diggin’ in the crates”).  I don’t really know what it was, but I was always (then and now) drawn to it.  Marcus and I would go on and on during our shifts at work about these topics of musical creativity.  At this time, Marcus had already been a DJ for a few years while living in Cincinnati.  He was beginning to toy with the idea of getting back into the game now in Phoenix.  I was so intrigued by this.  This was something I had always dreamed of.  We got to a point to where he was willing to help teach me the art of mixing.

The first lesson was more on BPM’s (Beats Per Minute).  I already knew the concept, but I needed to learn more.  BPM’s are very crucial when DJ’ing.  You truly need to understand and begin to simply hear the BPM’s of a song, and how it will connect with the BPM’s of the next song.  Just as a marker, most rap songs are 80-90 BPM’s, hip-hop 90-100, Techno 120-140.  Now, that isn’t always the case of course, but that is a pretty close summation of where your songs will lie.  Understand this is the first step to learning how songs can be mixed together.  You wouldn’t (although you can in some circumstances) mix a 92 BPM song with a 123 BPM song.  Back then, a good rule of thumb was to stay within 5 BPM’s of each other; using that rule to build up or down to your next set.  We were just working with turntables and a CD deck that didn’t have the bells and whistles of those out today; we didn’t even have any type of beat counter!  Therefore, we had to stick to this rule pretty closely.  Now, keep in mind that this was back in the mid-90’s, so no Serato or MP3 mixing programs yet (which in my personal opinion are so not the real form of mixing – the MP3 programs that is…Serato at least still uses tables).  The tools Marcus had to begin my journey were a pair of Technics SL-BD2200 belt-drive tables (1200’s were on order) and a GLI DC-5000 dual-CD deck.

I got the concept of BPM’s down pretty well, because if you understand music and can count, you can get this part quickly.  Although, you do need to keep learning BPM’s of all your songs…that takes time.  Next came learning how to manipulate a song to match the one that is playing.  Oh, this is the fun part! This is when you get to use your fingers to speed up, slow down, or bend the songs.  This is the true art…to me anyway.  Well this and being good at song selection, but this was something I always had a knack for.

For the most part, we stuck with getting me started by mixing on the tables.  The GLI CD deck was very touchy, and we wanted to get that soft touch needed for vinyl.  In my opinion, I think I picked it up pretty fast.  I do believe I even heard Marcus say that I was a “natural” at some point.  After only a few sessions, I was mixing…matching beats…it was heaven.  I truly can’t explain what this does for me, but it truly makes me feel good.  If you’ve ever seen me DJ, you would understand.  Don’t bother talking to me, I’m truly in a zone when I mix.  I was by no means good yet, but the concept was absorbed.  Now on to the first gig!

Marcus and I went around Tempe, selling our talents….well his, I was just his roadie for the most part.  One of the places we went to was Bash on Ash.  It was a newer club on the backside of the infamous sports bar, McDuffy’s (Which I’ve heard is no longer in Tempe? – very sad).  We (Marcus) got the gig.  It was a pretty sweet place, just not too many people knew about it yet.  If you’re in the business, you know and understand how hard it can be to get a new club going.  I got to mix a bit here and there, when Marcus would go off for a drink or what not.  It’s way different mixing in front of people instead of in your own apartment.  I very quickly learned I still had a lot of work to go, but I would NOT give up…Hell, I couldn’t give up – I was on the verge of getting MY first gig!

Practice, I would, every night.  I quickly went to Guitar Center to get my own set-up:  a pair of Numark TT-1700’s and a Numark CDN-24 (hey, they weren’t anything fancy, but they got the job done).  As I saw it, if I could learn on these “no frills” instruments, I could use anything.  I’m not sure how long we had been working at Bash, but it wasn’t very long.  I had just recently pledged with AKPsi at ASU.  Word got out that I was a DJ, so…I was recruited for an upcoming social event as the DJ.  OMG, I was a DJ!  Here it was, my opportunity to really do this.  Working with Marcus at Bash was real, but this was going to be a huge party at a small venue, and it was going to be just me….Tell you the truth, I was scared out of my mind!