It's Monday night and DJs "Ruthless" Ramsey Higgins and Blake "Ascension" Smith are furiously working the turntables in a friendly carousel freestyle competition. They are scratching to the beat, laying down flares, chirps and tears, which are the various sounds one can make on turntables playing vinyl albums.
But the appreciative crowd isn't packing the dance floor. Instead they are watching intently as they learn what it takes to be a top DJ. As students in DJ Ramsey's MUC 136: The Art of the Scratch DJ class, they are learning the ins and outs of being a professional DJ.
They also may be the only public college students in the country taking a DJ class that can lead to Certificate of Completion. SCC's DJ courses received accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission last April. Offered within the Music Department, the classes are aimed at teaching students how to be a professional DJ. In October, the U.S. Department of Education approved SCC's 36 credit-hour DJ curriculum, making financial aid available to students who take the classes.
"I want our students to go out and make a living at this," says Rob Wegner, director of SCC's DJ program and the driving force behind the program's creation. "We'd like to show that DJing is a respectable profession and it takes a lot of hard work."
On this night, Smith aka DJ Ascension is on hand to assist DJ Ramsey in working with students on scratch techniques. DJ Ascension is also on track to become SCC's first certificate holder for the new occupational program, being just one class shy of the required 36 credits.
Smith had been a working DJ for three years before he took his first class at SCC three years ago. In fact, he would make the three-hour drive from his then home in Show Low, Ariz. to Scottsdale to take the class "Turntablism."
"I've progressed phenomenally in this program," says Smith, who can be heard at clubs around Scottsdale and Phoenix. "You can learn in one semester what it can take five years to learn in the streets."
The classes go beyond what it takes to keep the dance floor rocking. Students also learn about running a successful business. For example, one required course is Intro to Public Relations. Other elective courses cover merchandising, branding and marketing. Students also are required to serve an internship.
As the profession progresses and DJs go beyond playing music by others, they have to learn to protect any works they create, points out Wegner. "Many young DJs are unaware of copyright laws and how to protect any musical works they create," he says.
For faculty member DJ "Ruthless" Ramsey, teaching students about his profession has been a labor of love. At age 8 he began putting music together. He developed "street cred" when he ingeniously taught himself to mix cassette tapes because at the time he could not afford turntables and recording equipment.
Even though he learned the business on his own, Higgins believes the classroom experience is a great option for aspiring DJs.
"They learn things like proper reflexes and posture," says Higgins. "At same time, they learn the responsibility that goes with being in the business. There's a bad misconception of what DJs are and what they are supposed to do. We're professionals."
Wegner believes Scottsdale's DJ program is the most comprehensive curriculum offered at any public college in the country.
"This is a continuation of pushing the boundary of the evolution of music in how it is performed and presented to audiences," says Wegner. "We realize DJing has been a street profession. But how are kids going to learn it if it's only learned in the streets."
Scottsdale Community College is one of the 10 regionally accredited Maricopa Community Colleges and a premier educational and cultural center that serves the needs of its diverse communities by providing innovative and creative opportunities to learn, grow and achieve. We offer affordable, high-quality instruction to traditional and non-traditional students, career-minded professionals and life-long learners.