As detailed by the New York Times story, "Instead of Falling Into a Rut, Busting Out a New Groove," it seems some laid off New Yorkers are paying money to "learn" how to become "Dee Jays."
"You don't get into the game to make money, you do it because you love music." This is the advice I received from a well known dj (who later became my mentor) when I talked to him about buying my first set of 1200's (I also had a really hard time at first and he told me that you have to get past being scared about doing badly because once you get over that fear you will grow, and eventually if you are lucky, you'll be good).
The other great bit of wisdom he shared was that you have to get over the fear of being embarrassed by doing badly at a show. Not all folks are going to dance, or even acknowledge your work. It can have nothing at all to do with you. Again, once you get this behind you, or as I did with a radio show I was not at all experienced enough to perform live on--I hope those tapes are lost to the ages--you won't have anything else to fear. Well, this is only a half-truth, as I once had a fader go wrong on me at a show that was being recorded for broadcast and I had to improvise by using the line inputs instead...talk about embarrassing and nerve wracking.
Things have really changed it seems. The counter-culture will always become popular culture, and then eventually kitsch, as it descends into self-self-parody. The fact that these poor souls are paying money to get into the game is even more so troubling. Now, I don' t bemoan the fact that new arrivals want to pick up a "hobby" that is sacred to me. But, please don't cheapen it by comparing the ability to work as a mobile dj (i.e. a walking jukebox or human Ipod) with someone who has a real set of skills and can deploy them to tell a story musically, who "has paid their dues" in more ways than one, and has taken mastery of the craft that is musical storyteller seriously enough to understand that you are taking your audience on an emotional journey.
On the point of paying dues, how many of you literally remember paying dues by carrying dozens of heavy records (doubles when you could afford them) in your backpack or a cardboard box as you went from Downstairs Records to Rock and Soul to Beat Street to VP Records--help me out, what the hell was the name of the spot in the Bronx that had all of the exclusive gear from Nervous Records? And does anyone else remember Distributor's Records in Hamden, Connecticut? RIP "Rodge," the coolest 70ish year old, white, hip hop head I ever met. On that point, I can't hate on Cutlers as the staff there in the late 1980s and 1990s really knew their music, especially their classic house.
Please do not be mistaken, I am not a Luddite. Yes, I do understand the irony of traditionalists like myself complaining about the innovation of PC based DJ equipment, but the photo of two, fiftyish year old, former corporate types standing behind a MAC while they learn how to "scratch" and beatmatch (FYI you aren't blending if the computer is doing it for you) is a wonderful testimony to how technology can ruin the art and science of musical and expressive creativity.
One final thought: this story made me think of a great week I experienced in the summer of 2008 during which I had the chance to see Grandmaster Flash on a Monday, and DJ Kool Herc on a Friday. Being in the presence of these godfathers of hip hop was both exciting and depressing. To the former, the chance to just breath the same air and watch them at work was meaningful in a way common to any student who is reverential towards a master. To the latter, it was saddening to see Flash's opening act using PC based DJ equipment--seeing this was laden with symbolism as analog has given way to what is on average a far less rich, not as talented, nor as gifted cadre of digitally devoted, new upstarts.
In reflecting on Herc, while he used the standard tools of the trade, it hurt--yes hurt is the appropriate word--as he worked through the classics and tried to educate his audience about what hip hop was before hip hop was a genre called "hip hop":
Why? Herc's audience stood mute and totally disinterested in the lesson that they were receiving. Yet, when Herc bowed to the inevitable and played some Southern influenced, minstrelesque, crap hop the audience (comprised of mostly 20 year olds and teenagers) behaved as though it was the second coming. That night, hip hop died just a little bit more, a slow death of a thousand cuts, this once vibrant thing that the keepers of its flame cannot even keep alight.
The New York Times piece follows:
Channing Sanchez, who lost his job in January, has found a way to mix business with pleasure.
Mr. Sanchez, 51, was a jewelry salesman at Tiffany & Co., on Fifth Avenue, for 23 years. After hearing what has become a familiar phrase — “You’re being laid off” — he put himself on a different sort of track to future employment: he is training to become a D.J.
“I used to spin records 30 years ago,” Mr. Sanchez, headset in hand, said the other day just before he began another session at a turntable. “Now that the stress of losing my job is gone, this a fun and creative way to make some extra money.”
Within minutes, Mr. Sanchez and several other aspiring D.J.’s were sliding into their stations to scratch records and mix songs at dubspot, an electronic music production and D.J. school in Manhattan, where enrollment — now 300 — has doubled since it opened last year, largely because of the economic downturn.
“I’m getting a lot of calls from people who are saying, ‘I just got my severance package, and this is something I have wanted to do my whole life,’ ” said Kelly Webb, dubspot’s director of operations. “In the midst of this economic crisis, some people have simply decided to go out and do what really makes them happy.”
“I used to D.J. at parties when I was 16, and I’m still young enough to get back in the business,” he said. “I used to mix records and CDs, but now most D.J.’s are downloading songs from computers, which is why I needed to take this course.”
Rob Principe, the founder and chief executive of Scratch DJ Academy in Manhattan, said that his company had also seen an increase in enrollment.
“This year as opposed to last, we are up 18 percent,” Mr. Principe said. “When the going gets tough, people tend to go back to things that they are really interested in doing, whether that is to pursue something like this as a hobby or as an alternate means of income.”
Dan Giove, the president and founder of dubspot, where a five-month course costs $1,695.00, said that a D.J., depending on experience and venue, can make anywhere from $50 to $1,000 an event.
“You can absolutely make a living as a D.J.,” he said. “In fact, we are seeing some of our students going out there and finding themselves decent-paying gigs.”
Mr. Giove pointed to April White, a 30-year-old account supervisor at a public relations firm in Manhattan who is so worried about losing her job that she has already put Plan B in motion.
“I’ve been gigging like mad,” said Ms. White, who has been working at bars and other event spaces around the city, including at a bar called Mr. West, where she was spinning her vinyl one evening.