DJ schools and other scams

Over the years quite a few people have offered me money to teach them how to DJ, a few have even suggested that I start my own DJ school. My answer is always the same, I can’t in good conscious charge people money to teach them what they should teach themselves for free. Now that DJing has saturated the mainstream there have been an abundance of people looking to learn the trade and an increase of organizations willing to take their money. In theory, DJ schools seem to have value, but in reality they are generally not worth the money they extort from eager would-be DJs.

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Why you are wasting your money

DJ schools are exploiting the belief that you will get at least two things of value from attending. One is exposure and time spent with gear, the other is having someone to walk you through the basics (assuming you lucked out and actually have a competent instructor who has a successful DJ career). Sounds like a great deal, especially if you aren’t quite sure if DJing is right for you or if you are looking to fast-track your way into the spotlight, right? Wrong. They are ripping you off. Even if there is a promise of some sort of fancy certificate or a “live gig” at the end of the course, you are being charged for a short period of time that will not allow you to obtain a skill level worthy of a paid DJ. Unless you happen to have unlimited funds for hundreds of hours of training, you are better off saving your money. You’d be hard-pressed to find a successful DJ that attributes their success to a DJ school.

What you should do instead

If you are unsure of whether you want to be a DJ, then go do something else. Don’t waste your time, effort, or deal with the unlimited hassle of the lifestyle. Download a fun little DJ app and have fun with your friends. If you are stubborn and still want to see if it is for you, throw a rock, you will hit a DJ, ask them if you can check out their gear and if they will show you a thing or two. Stroke his or her ego a little bit and you can guarantee they will give you some dedicated attention that you wont find in any classroom setting.

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If you know with obsessive certainty that you do want to be a DJ, invest that money you would have spent on classes and get gear. Then use that gear a lot. Play with it, explore it, record your work and listen to it. Go out, watch other DJs, watch videos, documentaries, absorb everything you can, and practice some more. If you want to DJ, you need to spend a lot of time on that gear, more time than what any DJ school will offer as part of their “curriculum”.

Your desire to DJ should borderline obsession, not some casual hobby you want to do now and then. If you put in the effort that comes with obsession versus throwing a few bucks at a hobby, you will develop your own voice and your own style which is way more valuable than sounding like someone teaching at a DJ school. Don’t pay for what you can get for free, or could put toward the cost of your own gear.

Competitions

Another scam that preys on eager young DJs and producers are competitions. While some competitions offer some actual value to the participants, ultimately they are all asking a large group of people for free work. Even if there is a monetary prize for the winner, think of all the unpaid hours of work the host of the competition is receiving and is not accountable for financially. There is a wide spectrum of ethics when it comes to competitions; from the whole thing being rigged and there is already a winner in mind before it starts (which is more common than you may realize) to an actual weighing of skill and talent where someone will actually be awarded something for their efforts. Make sure you really look into the specs of the competition, never be afraid to ask questions. Never fall for any prize that is based on notoriety, there is no one gig or competition that will make or break you. Competitions are more about ego than anything else.

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Even in the best case scenario that your work is judged purely on its merit, who are the judges? Competitions are decided purely on a subjective basis (even with point-based guidelines) and are dependent on what the judges are feeling at that exact moment. This is of course assuming it is a judged competition and not a vote-based system which is nothing more than a popularity contest and has little to do with actual talent other than talent at self-marketing. Overall competitions aren’t inherently bad, just make sure the prize is something of actual value to you in exchange for your efforts and not just appealing to your ego with the promise of being your big break.

Have friends, will book

There has been a disturbing trend of promoters expecting other people to do their job so they don’t have to. If you are looking for a non-headlining booking and the promoter asks how many people you will bring right off the bat, find another gig. Or at the very least arrange a deal to get a percentage of the door based on head count and have your own person at the door to monitor the numbers. Yes, a promoter should be concerned with how many people come through the door, but as a non-headlining DJ it isn’t your job to fill the club, it’s your job to play to the time slot you are in and support the vibe of the night. If you are being paid a flat rate, there should not be any major concern with how many people are coming to see you. That’s what the headliner is for. That is what the PROMOTER’S job is. Somewhere down the line the job of promoter has been confused with talent booker.

In short, if you are going down the DJ or producer path be an educated consumer, think about what you are putting in, in relation to what you are getting out. If you are new you will have a lot of dues to pay as it is, don’t tack on unnecessary ones.

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25 thoughts on “DJ schools and other scams

  1. Overall, good advice and commentary. Still, DJ and music production schools offer valuable networking opportunities and a fast-track to success if the student applies what they learn. I started out by following the advice you offer about learning from other DJs in their studios or bedrooms. Still, not every DJ that offers to help will give you the golden nuggets of advice that someone who is teaching at a school might. Just one lesson at a local record shop in Santa Barbara with DJ Jasen Bee helped me take my mixing skills to the next level. I have taught a few DJs to spin over the years and I always give them exactly what they need to excel. Yes, you don’t have to go to school to be a DJ, but it doesn’t hurt to take a few lessons from a professional or a school that is geared toward giving aspiring DJs what they need to excel and play out in a club or party setting.

    I like the advice you give about spending money on gear instead. That is pretty valuable advice for any DJ or producer. A lot of times, schools will just read you verbatim what comes out of the manual’s for a particular piece of gear or software. So it does make sense to spend your money on gear that you inevitably need if you are going to throw your own parties and events; and/or produce professional music.

    • I really agree 100% and respect what you are stating. Too many young people getting ripped off by for profit private schools especially. A place that thought they were best Radio 1 Broadcast school was just a 1 man operations charging outlandish costs. I took it and was suckered into it. I wish there were more people speaking their mind and sharing their thoughts like you have.

  2. When people ask me to teach them how to DJ, I tell them to purchase a setup. Learning to DJ without owning equipment is like learning to play guitar without owning a guitar.

    • I think it is good for aspiring DJs to see if they actually enjoy DJing first before they purchase a setup. I know when I first started I had to save up. I bought one turntable at a time 🙂

  3. If you want to be a pilot and get your license you must spend some cash on flight hours. This is the same for me. The main problem of our career getting a crap image is because most of the people consider it’s a cheap career and it’s not. You must invest money in music, gear, promotion, networking, travels, etc. So wake up wannabe DJS and take it as your future way of life. Preparation is needed as any other profession.

  4. You won’t get to the level you want by tip toeing and being careful. Sometimes you gotta go all in. Seems it’ll take you further in life. The big questions I think one should ask him or herself is what’s the motif for attending the school? Is it for a fast track to fame, fortune, or because everyone is doing it? Or are you passionate about sharing your craft and the music that affects you on a deep level with others regardless of the external outcome? Great article again Sean 🙂

    Cheers,

    B Wish

  5. Pingback: The Friday Roundup, May 24 2013 | Digital DJ Tips

  6. SPOT ON with that article 🙂

    Here’s the thing. I think for the sake of “education” and just learning the basics, a DJ “school” doesn’t cause any harm. So as long as the student understands that they are learning for the sake of grasping the concepts behind the many DJ programs that are out there and that it’s NOT going to land you a club just like that. It’s not like Apex, a technical school in NYC, where they’re going to give you a “toolbox” (I guess in this case a controller) once you’re done 🙂

    Even though the technology has made the art of DJing easier (or as the vets would say “bastardized”) you still have to have a feel for the music and the vibe. NO DJ SCHOOL can teach you that. It has to be something already embedded in you as a fan first and foremost. If you don’t have that that passion first and just think about the “money”, then you will fail miserably.

    TONY SANTIAGO
    New York Dance Music Coalition

  7. DJ schools exist because there are people willing to pay for guidance, tuition, like any other walk of life. If I´m choosing for myself and not feeling ripped off, then I´m not! If I can´t even make judgements on that (and there are DJ schools and DJ schools…) then I better pay to take the first steps and learn, or find someone with time, patience and capacity to guide me through it, right?

    DJing can be overwhelming even for seasoned DJs at times. What with technical aspects (gear, mixing, PA monitoring, etc.), musical selection, vibe and crowd managing, you´re also expected to do crazy things with effects, accapellas and beats on top of that, smile and dance. A guided kickstart can help minimize that feeling, and it sure won´t cramp, damage or even define your “style” because that takes loooots of time and a DJ course is too short to even scratch (no pun intended) style-making.

    Back in the day, all you had was two decks with spinning vinyl and a mixer in the middle. Even for the new gen of kids used to touch screens, smart buttons and complex softwares, DJ gear can be a wild task to manipulate even at basic levels. Anything that can accelerate the immense learning curve of DJing and inspire a little bit of confidence should be welcomed by anyone considering DJing.

    Besides, some people just want to know the basics of mixing two songs together to throw a b´day party, or to be the DJ on a friend´s wedding. Not everyone is looking for fame, to be a Getta or a superstar. For those who are, a DJ school is a place where you can network, meet and actually TALK to working DJs and likeminded people in an ambient that´s not dark, full of smoke and people drinking and talking loud on top of an even louder soundsystem. It´s like hanging on record stores, only those hardly exist anymore so it could be considered the new out-of-club DJ networking place of sorts.,.

    On the DJ competitions side, I believe again you´re looking only at the DJ side but what about the promoters and club owners taking risks too? I mean, estabilished DJs are in their absolute right to charge for a set on a regular club night, gig or festival. But newcomers must still prove their worth, and I believe a competition is as good a starting point as any. Llike in any other business. I

    Ultimately, it´s up to the Dj to decide on that too. I mean, I believe in working hard, giving out, paying my dues, stick my nexk out and give face to slap, to earn something. I did that and still do, even if sometimes I´m taken advantage of or ripped off, I take the lesson and look ahead. Only a few of us are born with everything to be a start from the GO, be it talent, brains, muscles, looks, money or whatever. I don´t mind not getting there, as long as I enjoy walking the path.

  8. Excellent article. I could not agree more with everything in it.
    If DJ schools are set as a summer camp kind of deal, than I agree totally with them. Someone who is curious about DJing can go to it, learn a few basic things and have a little fun. If they really like it, than they can get their own gear and dedicate the time and discover their talent to eventually turn it into a career if they want. But, we can’t seriously think of a DJ school as a place where to start a career nor a place where we’ll learn to do something that takes talent more than practice or theory.

  9. I can see where professional on-air broadcasting requires training because of RF equipment, FCC regulations, ASCAP, and BMI licensing but not for Club DJ’s. Ye,s offer classes on how to use equipment but you can’t teach personality and performance. You have to develop that on your own and you have to learn to take rejection and bias and how to detect and avoid abuses in the industry which are not taught. You first have to love the music you are presenting and then develop your own “delivery style” to appeal and stand out for your audience. Train yourself. Most of what I have read and obtained from local broadcasting schools is not good, the cost is ridiculous , and the curriculum is less than minimal at best. I can’t comment on DJ schools since I have not visited any.

  10. Everyone is different and thats why the world is so great. For those that want to put in the hours, teach themselves and build up a skill level, excellent. For those that just want to fast track their way to acquiring the knowledge that someone else spent the time and effort acquiring in the first place, then that too is excellent.

    Advising someone to go to school, or to not go to school is pointless, their personality / learning type, will dictate what they do regardless. Some people NEED hands on instruction and for those people then they have the luxury of going to school to learn it. For those that have the desire and ability to self-teach, then good for them too, they are lucky enough to have the time to spend making all the mistakes and ‘learning the hard way’, so to speak.

    We are lucky enough to have the freedom of choice. Connect to who you truly are and choose YOUR way don’t let anyone tell you that they know you better than yourself….. 😉

  11. Yea, that self taught surgeon is a hell of a lot better than the guy who took classes. Same with the self taught CPA, Lawyer, etc…

    Schooling serves a purpose to teach fundamentals, concepts and techniques. Thinking that graduating a school will get you a ‘job’ is as foolish as thinking that a degree will get you a job.

    But on the flip side, depending on the area of DJing you intend to go into, spending some time in a class is well worthwhile. I do a LOT of mobile work. I’m better because of training I got as a master of ceremonies and many other areas. I’m better because I’ve taken the time to learn from other professionals about certain aspects of what I do as a master of ceremonies, and yes, even as a DJ. And if there is a specific skill a school teaches a specific skill you want to learn, then it makes sense to go to get a ‘feel’ for the techniques and fundamentals, to START with before you develop bad habits you later have to break.

    Every other industry that I can think of requires continuing education. The professional actors I know still take acting lessons regularly, even when they’re at the top of their game. The professional DJ’s I know still study, and seek out training to make them better – despite being some of the highest paid mobile DJs in the country.

    Schools aren’t the problem. People assuming that a school is a magic bullet to land an instant high dollar club residency in Vegas, is. A friend of mine graduated from a well-known music production college and the industry felt he had enough knowledge to pull and put away cables, and in rare cases after about 2 years they let him actually pull microphones. Oh yea, and they trusted him to make a run for coffee. However, that ‘education’ was a foot in the door and after 5-10 years they let you start setting up microphones and other equipment. Or maybe even repair the cables. Eventually they may let you set up a desk for recording. It was nothing more than a foot in the door… They used to call the menial work he was doing ‘paying your dues’. Something that most people tend to forget. You don’t become a superstar overnight – you have to work really hard, and develop your talents as you work your way up.

    In short, schooling is helpful in learning, nailing, or polishing techniques, but it is not the end all be all without lots of practice, critical review by a knowledgeable professional, and continued growth.

    And yes, there are some schools who suggest you are going to get the ‘pie in the sky’ upon graduation, and they’re lying. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. But it doesn’t make the value of education from a vetted instructor, even if at a school, any less valuable – even if you have to pay for it.

  12. DJ schools are not necessarily scams. No one can teach you to be a great DJ; however, why not take a class to learn more about it and see what’s involved? Teachers can speed up the process of understanding, accessing and using the gear, and learning the basics, and meeting other people with similar interests. Isn’t that how most of us start, whether it’s through a friend or a class? Many great musicians of all types had valuable fundamental studies in schools before becoming famous. Yet no great artist ends launches their famous career upon departing with a certificate. DJing is no different. When you look at the mountains of gear available and wonder just how it is done, someone can explain it to you. Or you can figure it out for yourself. No problem either way. What you do with that knowledge from there is really up to you.

  13. It’s a bit of a catch 22 as there are merrits on both sides to a degree. As far as owning equipment there are numerous CHEAP options (I have even seen a little digital rig at Kohls for 100) where anyone with a small collection of digital music (whatever is in your ipod) can get something to start playing around to get a feel for it. The question is does the person want to DJ for the sake of making the set they hear in their head or do they want to be a pro (walk before you run approach). There is inherent learning that can be done working with someone who knows what they are doing but that is more of a tutoring with MENTORING being more of the key phrase (hey try this / watch this approach). Scratching and key based mixing require more hands on and coaching (not to mention a bit of music theory). Once you get into true techno/dubstep style where you are creatig beats and sounds then teaching becomes more possible as your learning how to do something with equipment and software that isn’t always financially viable and you are now getting more towards music production as opposed to mixing. I am not saying these “schools” out there will meet those needs but there is that potential if it is someone teaching who has proven technique and is not trying to make a quick buck with a 200-500 online course. Much like the idea of bartending school there is always something that can be taught and learned but spending a few dollars and if you have access to a person in the business you will get a chance to learn a good set of basics and skills than can then be pollished with the help of more experienced individuals. The Guetta’s Skirllex’s (just and example guys) of the world did not learn everything in their basement. The beat masters we grew up with in the 70’s and 80’s were totally different from what is out there now and that is due to the exchange of ideas and techniques, unfortunately not everyone grows up or lives in a Bronx, Chicago, LA, London, etc area and those resources aren’t always that near by (I grew up outside of Chicago and was lucky enough to have those mentors). “DJ School” pretty much sums it up, you don’t go to “LAW SCHOOL” or “MEDICAL SCHOOL” until you have recieved many other theories of instruction and personal work and dedication as well as you have to have shown proof of creating these steps before entering the higher levels of education. Instead of lumping in one group it needs to be broke out to Beginner (beat matching/tempo) from there you go Intermediate (fluidity / genre / style) then Advanced (mashup / scratching / effects ) then beyond there you go totally different areas such as producing and music creation as an example. We have all been there and ferquently been the jack of all trades from setting up the sound and lights to sometimes having to rig something up when things break. DJ is a loosely filled term that is synonymous with the guy on the radio announcing things to the guy playing music at a wedding (which are both largely request based more than anything) to the guys mixing in the dance clubs (still playing within confines of what the “club” wants) to the producers (often now known as dj superstars) who are creating their own sounds and selling out arenas to people wanting to hear just that person. One school especially an online school cannot meet that large differential.

  14. good topics ! and nice replies..i say first practice with laptop/mouse only …see if you really dig it.then look for the gear ! just to be shure you wanna start spendin that hard earned money.
    after two months with mouse ..i bought a 2nd hand numark….10 months ago a s4…..now i own a f1 and x1 as well l. i started following my favourite producers and djss on scloud…..now we `re friends on fb…..only 6 months later.. now t even like and c omment on my mixes. there`s nothing more rewarding than opening soundcloud and see that some big name i i music is following you.
    nowe after …like a year i am bein asked to play in some venues…….but i only have experience playing with my s4n and not with pioneer set-up…now i can take dj lesons for 75 euro an hour !!
    and this for how many lessons before i feel confident enough cersbe i may mess up my first gig ?
    better er againbuy a second hand pioneer set up..and start all over again….it`s no rocketscience…but dj schools ? i dunno i have maybe a big mouth..but i just ask the producers of the tracks i used in my mixes : hey i used your track in my mix what you think ? and some may give me a tip like too much fx..let the the track play longer…….and in this way i came up with this..the intro is mono due to busted fader…https://soundcloud.com/lars-erik-roos/minimal-wolverine

  15. I am actually a person who paid my hard-earned money to go to a DJ class. To be able to understand why, you need to know a bit about me…

    I am 56, a complete musicaholic with a great collection of 60s and 70s rock, pop, Motown, soul sort of stuff. I got into DJing because of a really, really terrible country-western DJ who played a wedding I attended. 100 w/channel for 400 people, obviously copied (pirated) CDs that skipped like mad, totally garbage sound system. My first gig was a freebie I did for a guy whose son contracted MS. He would throw backyard bar-b-ques to raise money for the MS Society.

    I got into Traktor (should have gone there first) eventually but struggled to really learn how to use it. There are lots of well-intended (I assume) folks on the interwebs who put stuff out there but they are not professionals — DJing or teaching…

    Dubspot in NYC started offering a “digital DJing with Traktor” class online. I jumped on it (was part of the first offering)! At the very least I figured it would help me learn the ins and outs of Traktor. I wasn’t making progress like I wanted and didn’t feel like I could afford a 10 year apprenticeship.

    It was the best $750 bucks I spent (that first class was discounted). I learned Traktor but got much more than that.

    The class was designed and taught by two working DJs — DJ Endo (techno/house/trance & NI product specialist) and DJ Shiftee (past DMC champ) and they took us all the way back to manual beatmatching that we did with Traktor and a keyboard mapping! We learned about doing a bassline swaps, using the filter to mix, EQing, effects, etc.

    But the most important thing I learned is that DJing IS NOT ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY. It had better be about the MUSIC. I went into the course thinking that if I just understood Traktor better things would be great. What I learned is that the gear and the software are just like wrenches. Pretty much any wrench will turn a nut or bolt. The question is which nut or bolt to turn. I really learned that if you don’t have or know the right thing to play all the tech in the world won’t make it happen.

    I am sure that there are plenty of folks out there who would “take your money and run”. But we need to be careful about painting all of these schools and courses as worthless. There are those that actually deliver a good value and the right message.

  16. Thanx to all, had a nice read!

    I used the schools/courses I booked to finetune my skills and to enjoy learning. The trick is to identify the rip-offs (learn writing in 10 hours! Make your own money as novellist in 1 month!) that always come with every new business.

    (maybe time for a DJ school rating site?)

  17. Chronologically I started playing at parties, on a home stereo. Where my I really began djing was when I went to work for a Mobile dj company. They taught the basics, provided a library, gear, and provided an accelerated apprenticeship. All the while I was getting paid for my time. Time on the decks in front of a crowd is the only way to build confidence in your skills, and even though you don’t always get to play the music you want to play, you get to explore and learn about all kinds of music. The more you know about music, the more you can understand about your style. The Fugees sampling Enya, Daft Punk making a disco album, Skrillex mixing The Doors, because they are exploring all music. I recommend getting a part time summer job as a mobile dj, and save your money for a set up. in the end, you get a boost in experience, and possibly pay for a rig to start playing on your own. I have known several amazing club dj’s that pay the bills by doing mobile work. I have occasionally gone back to mobile events solely for the purpose of upgrading my gear. The crash course in sound systems has been invaluable, not just for troubleshooting sound issues when the sound guy can’t be found, but also for off-site parties. The more my career is growing the more I am relying on what I learned working as a mobile dj. With those skills in place, I can focus on style and substance. Find your own path to whatever level of success you want to achieve. If a school setting helps you learn find a good one and go, if you learn by doing, Mobile djing company may be a good route, or if you have friends that are djs, learn from them. The reason there are so many djs is because there are an enormous amount of opportunities to play. If you are reading sites like this, you are likely well on your way. Rule # 1 is to have fun!

  18. Something i want out off my system,and strictly personal
    to all promotors , events and dj competition organizers ,
    i f**king don’t like how there are held these day’s , like you only select the 40 or 20 most played and liked mix’s , i think for myself this is not fair to the dj’s that enter , i also now that this means a lot of work for you guys , but it’s also a lot of work and time and money for the dj’s that enter , so i think it would be not more than fair to listen to all the mix tapes and find the real gems , like i look for the gems to play and where i stand 100 % behind the tracks i play , it’s not because some dj gets 200 ore 2000 plays and likes that he will bring those so saying friends and likes to your party , but thats what i think !! so maybe this will help in the future or not !!!
    i’am in this for the love of the music for quite some time now , sometimes i enter competitions to get my name out there and to get gigs for the purpose of upgrading my gear and to pay for my release !!!
    i do not want to point out a finger to someone or offend someone this is my personal opinion !!
    there is also a nice blog by Sean Ray over this !!!

    https://notyourjukebox.com/2013/05/22/dj-schools-and-other-scams/

    Love and respect ,

    Luno Maro

  19. Pingback: DJ schools and other scamsUniqueSquared Pro Audio Blog

  20. Personally I think DJ courses are good, they teach the fundamentals that you need to improve and also provide the equipment for you to practice on before it is time to invest. DJ courses are not going to make you a good DJ though, only this comes with experience so my advice would be take a few lessons so you know the basics. Personally I took a course, in a country that is affordable to do this and I won’t use my real name here but I am a highly successful touring DJ now.

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