Austen Smart, co-founder Future DJs

In 2016 my partners and I noticed that UK exam boards AQA, OCR and Eduqas were recognising DJ decks as a musical instrument alongside the piano, violin or guitar and that made them a potential part of music GCSE!

Not long after we set out on a mission to make music accessible to all young people by using decks as a medium to learn music. What we had not anticipated however was how much else we could teach through DJing!

Since our inception we have seen students time and time again grow in confidence, develop a love for music and form new friendships (with other music lovers) through our programme. Some may argue that this is half of what DJing is actually all about – networking, confidence and of course having the skills to back it up!

The original (and greatest) DJs did not start with any of this in mind, DJing was seen as an art and all of the greatest DJs do it primarily for a deep love of music. It is important to recognise that the ultimate purpose of DJing therefore should be just that, DJ.

I myself am a professional DJ and music producer and over the last three years I have been heavily entrenched in music education.

It is my belief that through the principles and practicing of DJing students can truly begin to learn music, exercise mindfulness, build self-confidence and most of all have fun.

To me DJing is a creative journey of discovery, passion, obsession and knowledge. A voyage that is truly your own and that we cannot and should not prescribe. To truly DJ is to DJ for one’s true self.

When you DJ, it is possible to become totally absorbed by the music, lose track of time and feel the energy being transmitted through the airwaves. It is possible to connect with the audience through your music and above all else it is possible to exercise extreme mindfulness in that moment, sometimes for hours at a time.

As a DJ who has developed some skill you begin to follow your intuition, you stop analysing and you begin to feel, and what is more, I believe that there is no discernible difference between DJing for oneself and DJing for 5000 people and that means . . . anyone can do it!

If DJing has taught me three things in the last ten years above all else it is:

  1. Patience
  2. Persistence, and
  3. Practice

DJing looks simple to the outsider, play one song, then play another. But the great DJs don’t do that, they have amassed 10,000 hours of practice, built up a unique collection of music and learnt how to read people over time and through trial and error giving them the ability to take people on a journey.

Perseverance

Not enough can be said about the need to persevere with one’s pursuit as a DJ. One of the core skills as a DJ - beat-matching - tests perseverance to the maximum. You need to persevere in your practice, in finding music, in getting gigs (if one decide to take it to the next level).

If one begins to make music then you will need to persevere in learning the skills needed to produce music to a high quality, and once you have achieved that you will need to be able to persevere in getting that music signed. We always tell our students to, “put the blinkers on now and don’t stop until you have achieved what you set out to!”.

Practice

It is said ‘To be great at anything you need to practise for at least 10,000 hours’. Some call this 10 years of silence. A study of 500 of the greatest pieces of classical music found that only three were written before the composer had done 10 years of service aka deliberate practice.

No matter how good one gets (even early on) you can never stop practising, even if you eventually level up to world touring status (which is achievable) you will need to continue practising. Why? Because new technology will arise all the time, someone younger and better will be snapping at your heels and you can always get better!

Patience

Intrinsically linked to the above two, one must be patient, no one is an overnight success. We tell students it is therefore important that you a) enjoy the journey and, b) take action every day. If you put in the hours (10,000) you will eventually become a master of what you are doing, in this case a true DJ.

Confidence

Over the years through my knowledge of music (and equipment) I have also built a level of inner-confidence that has allowed me to stand in front of 1000s of people and give it my best shot in a live situation – I am ready to be judged in that moment, I am ready to shoulder the pressure.

Inner-confidence truly allows a DJ to shine when on the decks. It is a quiet confidence that allows the DJ to trust their instinct and make the right decisions in the moment.

It is important to not mistake confidence for arrogance.

I believe the way you build confidence as a DJ is two-fold:

  1. Know your music above all else and expand your collection. This will give one confidence when playing to other people that you know what track to play next and that you have the resources and depth of music when the time comes.
  2. Know your craft including your equipment. Armed with all the knowledge of a veteran DJ you will be able to confidently pull off anything you need to at the right time, especially when things don’t go to plan.

Bringing it all together

With confidence, based on hours of practice and a deliberate focus to keep on going, a DJ must take into account their audience, their venue, their location, the acts performing either side of them and then consider for themselves what they are trying to achieve with their moment behind the decks.

The end result will be a curated and composed selection of music, an expression of one’s unique taste, perception and understanding of music.

Learning to DJ in the right way, built on solid foundations and with the right intentions can inspire a way of thinking that can be transmuted into any line of work, any industry and can be applied to any passion.

Austen Smart, co-founder Future DJs

Copyright © 2018 FE News

About Austen Smart: Co-founder of Future DJs (with Scott Smart and Shaun Marsden) and a professional DJ and music producer.

About FutureDJs: Remixing music education by visiting schools to teach 11-16 year olds DJing and electronic music production - in line with the introduction of DJing into the national curriculum, FutureDJs supplies professional visiting DJ and Music Production tutors to schools nationwide (in the same way as traditional instrumental tutors). Tutors deliver a unique programme of study created by professionals, starting at Key Stage 2 and running through to Key Stage 5, in accordance with the new AQA, OCR and Eduqas GCSE music specifications. One of the key foci of FutureDJs is to encourage more young people into music, and in turn increase the number of students taking GCSE and A-Level Music. With electronic music growing year-on-year FutureDJs is a business with big social impact on young people.

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