As a starry-eyed aspiring artist myself, who has just moved to the bustling city of Toronto, I have decided to completely step out of my comfort zone and explore what this great city has to offer new artists who are ‘trying to make it’; whatever that may mean to you. The premise of this type of article is to provide musicians with all sorts of resources (often times free resources… with my last name, you know I love me a bargain) that this colourful musical hub has to offer. Stay-tuned for reviews on open mic nights in and around the city, music workshops, venue reviews to showcase your talent, recording equipment reviews and much more.
Let’s kick things off with a free workshop that I attended at Fort York Library!
What: 1.5hr workshop ‘DJ’n for Beginners’
Where: Fort York Public Library (corner of Fort York and Bathurst st)
When: Offered on a monthly basis. Checkout this link for more information (under the ‘Upcoming Events’ section):
Who: For anyone with an interest in learning the basics of how to become a DJ
Instructor: James (Aka. DJ Sonic Higgs)
DJ Sonic Higgs, a self-proclaimed underground freeform DJ, has been fine-tuning his craft for over five years. He started offering these free workshops at the Fort York Library because he saw a need to educate the new generation of DJs who practice their craft for a month or two and think they are God’s great gift to the clubs. Eventually, he explained, these amateur DJs decide to play live way too early in their careers and more often than not, they choke… hard.
Me, knowing zilch about “DJ’n”, was more than a little apprehensive about even attending this workshop, in which I imagined being surrounded by a sea of 15-year old teenage boys with aspiring dreams of becoming the next Steve Aoki. Instead, I was in for a surprise when I saw the eclectic cohort of students who trickled into the classroom. I kid you not, it was as if ‘The Breakfast Club’ kids reunited 20 years later and then found themselves wound up locked in detention at Shermer high school again. But this time, we came by choice. After conversing with the first two attendees, we all shared the fact that neither one of us had any previous experience with “DJ’n”; unless you count shameless drunk dancing at The Citizen, followed by climbing up to the DJ booth and incoherently yelling, “this is my song”.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the workshop outline:
1) What is “DJ’n”? “A DJ is someone who uses individual songs together into one continuous mix that flows from one song to another”.
2) Types of Electronic Music: The list just goes on and on… and on! Literally there are over 100 genres listed in the notes.
3) Selecting your Equipment: We learned about the various setups from old-school to modern setups, but basically we learned what the essential elements are.
4) Getting my DJ Music: What? You mean I can’t just get music off of YouTube? Sometimes musicians release uncompressed versions of their tracks with longer intros/outros or vocal-only versions made accessible for DJ usage.
5) How to Monitor Your Mix: This is where my head started to spin.
6) How to Mix: Come again?
In my opinion, the take home messages were: 1), as cliché as it sounds, just like getting really good at anything else, it takes hard work too to become a great DJ, so PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! 2) DJ’s need to develop their ear, learn the fundamentals of manually beat-matching and then phase-matching to be able to mix properly 3) Don’t you dare cheap out on where you are getting your music files, they need to be good quality (at least 320 kB/sec) 4) Build a repertoire of at least 100-200 songs and know your music well (ie. where the drop is and where the energy picks up, sometimes just looking at the soundwave frequency patterns can be deceiving).
After learning about the general features of a mixer and controller and what all those little knobs do, it is definitely less intimidating to look at. I realized that the art of ‘DJ’n’ requires a lot more technicality, skill and coordination than I could’ve ever imagine. Even though I concluded 10 minutes into this workshop that this was not my cup of tea, I encourage those with an interest in ‘DJ’n’ to take this free workshop before even considering google-ing anything about the steep cost of the equipment required.
At the end of this whirlwind of musical theory and technical terminology thrown at me, I felt like I walked away with a bit of understanding of what DJ’s are doing back there in their little black booths. As a side note, I did take home a very resourceful tidbit of information (for all of those musicians who have been thinking of doing recordings but may not have the financial resources to rent out a recording studio), there is professional recording equipment and software in the media lab at the Fort York Public Library. They have recording microphones, mixers, controllers, those ‘light-up button thingys that make sound effects when you push em’ and a keyboard. In addition, in and around the city there are five library branches that have pianos, another recording studio at the Toronto reference library and the Parkdale branch has a vast collection of musical instruments you can borrow!