This is a Test: Spin Doctor
IT’S THUMPING AT AFTER-HOURS spot Rise on a Monday night, and I’m behind the turntables. Tapping my fingers to keep time, I tentatively mix two tracks, and produce a few satisfying “wika-wika” sounds by dragging my hand across the equipment.
I’m here tonight because as a music aficionado, I’ve found myself inspired by celebrity DJs like Deadmau5 and Samantha Ronson. These days, anyone with an iTunes library, the right software, and a little practice can put together great remixes. So why not me?
With that in mind, I signed up for the Boston Center for Adult Education’s new “Scratch, Mix, and Fade: Intro to Club DJ Essentials” class. And here I am on the wheels of steel, learning what really happens in the booth.
Our instructors, veteran DJ and writer Paul Dailey (who helped found Boston’s Mix Academy) and Mike Foye, a.k.a. DJ MiFo, school us in basic skills and song structure before letting us loose on the pro equipment. We learn that when a DJ has her headphones on, she’s cuing up the next jam and planning how she’ll blend it seamlessly into the mix (which is why she may not respond to your repeated requests for “Love Shack”).
Dailey and Foye also teach us about the concept of beats per minute (BPM), and why it’s important to the playorder — you’d probably clear the dance floor if you dropped a reggae track (about 80 BPM) right after a frenetic drum and bass tune (about 180 BPM).
Technical aspects aside, Dailey says reading the crowd is critical. “The biggest part is picking the right songs at the right time,” he says. At the end of your set, Foye adds, “everyone should be sweaty, wondering what the heck happened.”
After my fledgling DJing attempts at Rise, it’s me who’s sweaty, wondering if I’ll ever assume my stage name — DJ Tanner — and spin “Shoop” for a full house. Mastering more advanced skills like cross-fading and beat juggling could take years. For now, I think I’ll stick to planning party playlists.
Dailey’s next DJ course at the BCAE is scheduled to begin april 3; 617-267-4430, bcae.org.
Illustration by Kirsten Ulve