Calgary’s top disc jockeys work to professionalize industry

As cool as it may be to have your DJ name on your Facebook page and work a night for a beer tab at your favourite club, some newcomers of the growing DJ scene are “lacking a respect for the art form and health of the industry,” says David Gale, professional, licensed DJ and owner of Voxbox Studios DJ Skool.

 Gale recently flew in members of the Canadian Professional Disc Jockey Association from Ontario to discuss new ideas for the industry – “a possible certification process or general guideline that every DJ, no matter the level or commitment, will follow,” says Gale.

“I connected with members of the association because I heard they were applying this to a college atmosphere in Ontario. We need to start implementing more programs like this across the city and the country.

“We are the only program that’s made up of local DJs who are trying to influence the up and coming DJs, wanting to make them more professional.

“We aren’t doing this for the money,” he says, laughing.

“I’m doing this for the sake of my industry and the respect of my beloved art form.”

What’s gone wrong 

Gale says there is a serious lack of knowledge regarding this industry. He adds that it isA  DJ spins at a live set at Habitat nightclub on an evening dedicated to expose new DJs to the scene in Calgary.

Photo by Veronica Pocza necessary to develop and nurture that knowledge to make the improvements he sees as necessary.

Pro spinner and DJ school instructor Scott Clarke agrees that the knowledge among consumers and aspiring DJs has gone down.

Clarke says consumers – ranging from club owners to brides – don’t understand that the cost for professionals meets the value.

Dennis Hampson, executive director of the association, agrees with Clarke.

“The key is first knowing the craft and learning the value of your DJ rather than seeking the best price,” he says.

“An uneducated consumer chooses based on price; an educated consumer chooses based on value.”

So why are nightclubs hiring amateur or resident DJs instead of the pros? Again, Hampson says it’s that lack of knowledge.

“Club owners don’t understand that they are taking a risk with hiring an amateur DJ. They haven’t been trained in the business, technical and professional aspect. One thing goes wrong and they will have no back up plan.”

The assocation’s president Dave Hastings says he supports setting mandatory guidelines.

“I call, what we do, the world’s most underrated art form,” he says.

“The mass access to equipment and technology has made it possible for people to mix two songs together. This isn’t DJing.

“It’s like hand painting the Mona Lisa, then having someone just come in with a spray gun and do the same thing in two minutes.”

What the pros do 

Hampson says a certified DJ would be trained in all necessary aspects of the industry. As a professional, they would understand everything from the importance of quality equipment, technical knowledge of sound systems, trouble shooting, marketing, accounting and safety.

Dennis Hampson says a certified DJ would be trained to understand the importance of quality equipment, technical knowledge of sound systems, trouble shooting, marketing, accounting and safety.

Photo by Phillip Meintzer Such certification, he adds, would show “we are insured, mature and serious about what we do. You are guaranteed to have everything taken care of no matter what,” he says.

Clarke knows the importance of establishing these professional relationships.

“I once drove six hours out to B.C. to drop a guy off a USB cord because he forgot one,” he says laughing.

Clarke says amateur DJs wouldn’t have that support team or backup plan, so clients would be taking that chance.

“But I guess it depends on your event. There’s a place for these amateur DJs.”

Working together 

Clarke says the industry is currently “very scattered,” in part due to “the guys who are trying to do their ‘dubstep’ niche – or whatever niche – trying to become the kings of the scene.”

“But,” he adds, “we can all move together – professionally and properly – under everyone’s terms. Then we can go further than anyone in this city is able to do on their own.”

Gale says a form of certification and a network would better the reputation of DJs as professional music artists. He says the industry needs to mature more, because there are so many people who disrespect the scene.

Amadeus Meitner, a young gun in the industry, is working to keep a good reputation as a professional. He says he sees the point in developing these mandatory guidelines.

“It’s like hand painting the Mona Lisa, then having someone just come in with a spray gun and do the same thing in two minutes.”

– Dave Hastings 

But, he also stresses “though it’s a good idea with good intentions, in actuality, it just wouldn’t work.”

Meitner says that it would be hard to spread it in the industry, starting with club owners who do just want the Top 40 played for cheap.

Have some respect 

Longtime Calgary DJ Carly “Sheset Steez” Johnson, supports the certification idea.

Johnson explains that a successful DJ, who can make a living off of it, is someone who has earned a valuable reputation.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of amateur DJs coming out and ruining the scene,” she says.

“I overheard just last week that some resident DJ in Grand Prairie was playing my personal recorded music as their set.”

She agrees the scene is in need of improvements, but says word of mouth will filter out the unprofessionals in the industry.

“They just don’t have any respect for the time and dedication that this actually takes,” she says.

“But there are enough of us who are professionals and will succeed and make a living off of it, because we will contribute and we care.”

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vpocza@cjournal.ca