February 16, 2012  |   Student Success

DJ Diary: ‘The Independent’ journalist Marcus Barnes reviews DJ course. Part 1.

At Point Blank, we always love to get an insight into our students experiences and how they implement the knowledge they’ve gained with us in the outside world.
So when Independent journalist, Marcus Barnes approached us wanting to review our DJ course we were more than happy to give him the go ahead! Here is the first instalment of his DJ diary that details his time on our Basic DJ course

This post originally featured on planetnotion.com

DJ Diary Part 1:

18th Jan 2012: My journey to becoming a superstar DJ begins on this day. It’s my first ever session at the illustrious Point Blank DJ college – voted best DJ and production school SIX YEARS running by DJ Magazine. I’m a few minutes late, but never mind – Ben Bristow the course tutor is just running through procedures, fire escapes and so on…

Once everyone is in, he starts off by getting each of us super keen pupils to introduce ourselves and explain a little bit about our backgrounds and how much prior experience of DJing/playing musical instruments we have. The class is incredibly diverse and multi-cultural – as one person noted later “It’s the love of the music!”. Too true.

Now everyone’s a little more comfortable Ben explains his own history as a working DJ, he’s a man of many skills which is great because no one wants to be taught by someone who doesn’t have in-depth knowledge of all the different skills needed to become the next Jamie Jones, or whoever. The first couple of hours are spent listening to Ben describe the basics, all very important of course – and as our lunch break approaches, there are a few practical demonstrations – all relating to understanding the equipment, where to plug your leads, how to control volume, fade out sounds, how to control the flow of sound (via the mixer) so you can mix without the audience hearing it and all that kind of stuff. As I said, crucial information to any budding DJ.

Throughout these first hours you could the feel sense of anticipation in the clasrooms, particularly emphasised whenever he played a track on the decks – ‘You can get on the decks after your break’ he tells us. The anticipation grows to fever pitch, for me at least anyway – and I’m sure everyone else can’t wait to get on and have a bash either.

The first practical lesson is simple, aside from getting to grips with the equipment, Ben teaches us how to ‘fade out’ from one track to another. What’s important to remember at every stage of Ben’s teaching is that you simply cannot run before you can walk. Sometimes though it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself… and I have to admit to trying my hand at ‘beat matching’ a few times, while I’m fading out my tracks. Regardless, just being on the decks at last is a hell of a lot of fun. Ben does a great job of tending to each student individually, and makes sure everyone understands what he’s just explained to us by running through it face-to-face.

Further along we get to make inroads into beat matching when Ben explains the importance of ‘bars’ and ‘phrases’ – in general, most dance/electronic music tracks can be divided up into eight bar sections, which is actually a bit of a revelation for me and really, really helps when I get back on the decks.

His technique of scratching over the first kick drum of an eight bar segment in anticipation of mixing it in with another track is a massive boost in understanding how to actually put tracks together. A further demonstration of ‘drop mixing’ gives all of us another skill to practice and the afternoon flies by as we all focus on learning these new disciplines, which are alien to us all at the moment, but will soon become second nature I’m sure.

At the end of the class, I head straight to the admin office to book in some practice time ahead of next week’s class. The eight bar revelation firmly rooted in my mind, I head off home feeling very motivated…

Pete Tong in Point Blank’s DJ studio.

DJ Diary Part 2:

24th Jan: This week I’m attending Point Blank for two separate sessions after booking myself in for a practice run the day before our actual class. This was on the recommendation of our tutor – ‘the more you practice, the better you’ll get’, makes sense of course. So, on Tuesday I head down to the college to have a little play around on my own for six hours. For this practice session I basically run over some of the techniques that Ben taught us during our first class… one of my classmates, an American guy named Taylor, is also in for some practice. In the time between the first class and today I’ve asked a few mates who DJ for their hints and tips – one which really stuck with me was using two tracks you know really well and practicing almost solely with them.

So that’s what I do for most of the day, alternating when I get bored but mainly using the same tracks over and over. Once again, it’s the beat matching aspect that I really want to get within my grasp, so I try to match beats for the whole day… even though Ben will be teaching us this properly tomorrow. In my mind it’s gone pretty well, I’m still not quite ready to step into David Guetta’s shoes (which are probably hand-tailored by naked virgins) but I’m making baby steps…

25th Jan: This is it, beat matching week! I’m well excited and have copied a few more tunes onto CD especially for this week’s class. Last week I wasn’t using my own music so after practice yesterday, having my own tracks to mix has motivated me even more than before. Anyway, we get cracking – first up Ben tests us to see how in tune we are with the music by playing two tracks together and seeing if we can work which is faster (we need to learn how to do this in order to speed up/slow down a track and mix it with another one). The class do well. Ben shows us how to handle the CDJ decks – advising us that we can be quite tough with them and not to pussyfoot around… sound advice as always.

We’re soon invited to step up and use the decks and I get to use the set up that has speakers for the first time – there are eight sets of decks in the training room, but only one has speakers obviously, otherwise we’d all be playing over each others’ music and no one would be able to hear anything. Doing this certainly makes the DJ dream seem a little more ‘real’, but I have to admit it is a little difficult trying to pick up on the beats at times… maybe my hearing is going? Well, I am 31 this year…

Catch the second instalment of Marcus’ DJ Diary here.