What they don’t tell you in Deejay schools
August 16th 2018, Conrad Imbigu-Director, Redberry EFX
Being a Deejay is cool and out of my 5 year experience in the training industry, I can confidently say that most young deejays choose the this type of career with that in mind. In as much as such an approach is wrong, I cannot condemn the choice because I cannot really remember what my reasons were but I know well that over 80% was passion. Deejaying is an art regardless of what people say. Turntables are classified as musical instruments and if we were to cancel out the aspect of modern technology, then all deejays would still be using turntables to entertain various crowds, right? IT’S AN ART! LIVE WITH IT!
Before I put it out there for the young deejay I just want to clarify the authenticity of this article and views here are from my experience and a bit of copied information from our dear internet. However, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and some (not all) points are subject to correction. “Cha muhimu ni Uhai!”
So here are some of the things that they won’t tell you at that fancy Deejay School unless you are in Red Berry Deejay Academy.
- YOU’LL NEED A 2ND JOB: For a young deejay especially in this country, you’ll definitely need a job as you build your reputation. When I was starting out, I was playing in any shows I could get, which I booked by connecting with as many people as possible: people who owned clubs, people who set up events, other DJs. Before you’ve really built up a reputation, people will try to book you for free, or ask you to deejay for like Kshs.1,000 a night. It sucks, but you need to pay your dues. I started out as a sales representative and it was such a hectic job because we were literally hawking sim cards in the streets of Nairobi and I was making almost Kshs. 200 a day for 5 days a week and over the weekends get booked for free or get paid Kshs. 1,000. As you show people your skills and bring in bigger crowds and build a following, you can start to ask for more money. I’m finally at a point where I can spend all of my time doing this, but it’s taken me, like, seven years to get here. GET A JOB FIRST.
- Deejaying is way harder than just putting your iTunes on shuffle: I usually prepare a big library of songs I love and then I mash them together live. I like to think of a DJ set as one long song, so transitions are everything. You can make fluid transitions between songs by learning to beatmatch (syncing up the tempo between two songs). That’s the difference between an “iPod DJ” and a real DJ: the real deal knows how to create a really smooth transition between songs and take the crowd on a musical journey, while an “iPod DJ” is just playing random songs without catching a flow.
- Come in with a plan but let the crowd decide what you play: I always freestyle my set, because I like to feel the energy of the crowd. I usually pick the first song to start with, then I build from there, choosing from the library of songs I’ve prepared ahead of time. It’s super important to interact with the crowd and you have to see if they’re digging what you’re playing. You’re not going to become a better DJ if you’re not doing that. I didn’t realize how much of a difference it makes to talk to the crowd on the mic and have a ton of energy while you’re playing, because if you’re not having fun up on the stage, why should they?
- You should learn to play an instrument or at least take a class on music theory: I started taking piano lessons when I was really young, and I later started playing drums in primary school and high school. No matter what type of instrument you use, you learn about the proper structures of song writing: where to put hooks, verses, top-lines, melodies, and how different songs fit together.
- Going out when you’re not working is part of the job: When I am not deejaying I usually go out to support other deejays listen to their sets and also network more. This is really important because some of the clubs in Nairobi rotate guest deejays and if you do not know who to talk to or if you’ve never made contact with them at all then it becomes really difficult in getting a booking. Go out and network. It’s overwhelming but it helps out eventually.
- Finding a good mentor is way more important than having formal training: A lot of Deejay schools will not tell you this or emphasize on the importance. In this industry you need more than just equipment knowledge. Deejay schools focus on helping you set your BPMs but won’t give you a clear picture of the industry the way it is. Only a mentor or mentee can do this for you so start by looking out for one. Having someone to bounce off ideas of will really help you propel and reach the highest level in the industry faster.
- You’re going to get frustrated, so make sure you have a good support system: Getting booked in this country especially if you are not known is very difficult. Sometimes you can be good but even the Deejay industry is affected by corruption just like any other industry. As a young deejay this can frustrate you and have a negative impact on you. You constantly need to motivate yourself and sometimes it’s hard to do it alone. Surround yourself with positive people that will push you to be better and encourage you to keep grinding regardless of the obstacles you’ll face along the way. I have heard of suicidal cases because of the frustrations that young deejays faced. Remember, it’s never that serious.
- Your brand and following matters: Not as much as your actual talent, obviously, but it’s important to show that you have fans on Twitter, Instagram, mix cloud, Sound Cloud and even YouTube. It’s even more important to get those people to come out and see you do a set in a club, because cultivating fans is what takes your career farther. I had a really hard time at first with updating my social media; I never had someone to teach me on how to do it but after watching a few videos on YouTube I learned on the basics and I keep getting better everyday. A good example on the importance of social media is Deejay Joe Mfalme’s brand that has a heavy online presence. Probably I will feature him on our future posts and he can say a thing or two on this subject. you have to put it out there in the world that this is what you do, and that helps build your online brand and keeps you close with your fans. It gets easier after a while, and I post updates on social media all the time.
So its good and cool that you are in that deejay school but it’s important to remember that you’ll be on your own after those few weeks of training. Starting working on yourself now and you won’t have a problem finding your way up. Stay tuned for more on our future posts.