Pencils, check. Notepad, check. Needles, check. CDs, check. I was off to my first DJ class at Dubspot in New York, psyched for my quick chisel into becoming a cool and coveted superstar.
Within the first five minutes of class, I was made to bob my head to Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean,” administer odd scratch noises on the decks and count sheep, I mean, beats out loud with fellow students. I obliged with much skepticism, unconvinced that these banal gestures would lead to my aspired DJ stardom. But my dubiety swiftly shifted when I attempted to jump ahead and put two tracks together. Beat matching is not as easy as it seems, and mixing two together on first try, well, that's a laugh. Masterfully doing so takes skill, practice and plenty of insider's tips: It's an education.
As sound unfolds in innovative directions and spacey synths and bleeps are as readily heard as a symphony orchestra, what constitutes musical academia is indeed shifting. Classical music institutions are now joined by the global emergence of DJ and production academies, including programs such as The DJ Mixing School in Melbourne, Sonica in Buenos Aires and the coveted Red Bull Music Academy.
Opened in January 2007, New York's Dubspot offers an impressive program. The students select from three core curriculums — DJing, Electronic Music Production and Visual and Video Production — each involving a rigorous hands-on program, complete with tutorials and lab time taught by influencers such as DJ Neil Armstrong, Nickodemus and Hani.
Notable is Dubspot's high female participation. “There are surprisingly a lot of women, almost half of our students,” says the school's founder, Dan Giove. “Most are 22-35 year olds who really love music and want to learn how to create their own distinct sound.”
The six-month Electronic Music Production course covers Pro Tools, Reason and Live basics; song structure and arrangements; signal processing; production skills with loops, beats and chords; MIDI; and getting to grips with the Minimoog Voyager. By the end of the course, students have produced their own demo and understand music-business topics such as publishing rights and self-marketing.
On the DJ side, Dubspot offers Tracks 1-4. Track 1 involves four sessions of hands-on-decks initiation like “dropping on the one,” basic scratching and music theory; Track 2 emphasizes the workflow of the DJ and reveals Serato Scratch Live techniques such as Relative mode, cue points and crate creation; and 3 and 4 hone in on skills learned.
Meanwhile, the VJing classes cover the ins and outs of the industry's standard tools for visual mixing and teach students how to use video sources to mix on the beat with audio complements.
Dubspot's eight-station lab is armed with Technics SL-1210MK5 turntables, Pioneer CDJ-1000s, Rane TTM 56 DJ mixers and Apple iMac 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duos with Serato Scratch Live 6.0 and Ableton Live 6.0. Dubspot also scores prereleased gear such as recent acquisitions from Roland: the SP-555 Creative Sampler and V-Synth GT Advanced Elastic Synthesizer. Downstairs from the lab is the Dub Café, where you can grab a bite and talk about what you learned.
It's is a full-on creative hub and hangout. “We are about building a community around electronic music,” Giove says, “a place for professionals as well as hobbyists to find kindred spirits.”