More Music Lovers Take A Spin

By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO – Five minutes. That's all it took to hook Dane Prenovitz.

"I was at a private nightclub in Los Angeles and the host let me DJ," he says. "I felt the club's energy. I felt the control of that energy. I felt the power."

That epiphany has steered him to the downtown loft of Sasha Tosic, 34, aka DJ Tall Sasha, a 6-foot-4 Bosnian émigré who does marketing for Oracle by day and teaches turntable techniques by night. For nearly two hours, the two have been mixing beats with the studious air of a tutor and student prepping for a final, bottled water their cocktail of choice.

"I need this fix," says Prenovitz, a fortysomething entrepreneur who loves the nightlife. He's typical of Tosic's clientele, music buffs willing to pay $400 a course (there are three levels) to learn the elements of DJ style. Despite the economic downturn, enrollment is up at Tosic's DJ4Life Academy, which has taught 100-plus DJs in locations that span from Hong Kong to Miami.

"Some people want to get side jobs DJing, and others just want to do it for their friends," Tosic says. "Either way, it's a great escape."

Not to mention a glitzy one. Gone is the cheesy '70s image of the polyester-suited DJ waving his hands in the air. Today, beat masters such as the late DJ AM and Lindsay Lohan's on-and-off gal pal, Samantha Ronson, enjoy A-list cred.

The profession seems poised for a pop-culture takeover: Everyone has dreamed of being the party-starting DJ, but now — thanks to easy-to-use gear and the ability to tote around thousands of albums in a pocket — they can be.

Or pretend to be. It's no accident that the follow-up offering from Guitar Hero creators Activision is DJ Hero, out today, a video game featuring Jay-Z, Eminem and David Guetta.

Equipment goes portable

"When I first moved a needle back and forth on a record in 1972, I never would have dreamed we'd get this far," says Grandmaster Flash, 51, whose cartoon likeness stars in DJ Hero.

That fantasy just might supplant the guitar-god reverie, says Paris-based Guetta, 41, who draws huge crowds in Europe and produced the Black Eyed Peas' rollicking I Gotta Feeling. "Kids come to see us (DJs) like their parents went to see rock concerts," he says. "We're creating our own music."

Other companies jumping on the "you become the DJ" bandwagon include Mattel, with its new Ucreate Music digital mixer, and I-play, which recently introduced the iTunes app Hip-Hop All Star. It's the digitalization of music that has led to the DJ boom, says Mike Breslin, I-play's vice president of marketing."

Apple's iTunes reinvigorated music for the masses," he says. "You used to need expensive equipment and lots of vinyl to DJ. Now it's all small and portable."

And therefore easily shared. Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Activision's Hero brand, tested DJ Hero at his 14-year-old daughter's birthday party, and a light bulb lit up. "I saw kids who normally have their iPods on and their earbuds in suddenly play with music socially," he says. "I immediately appreciated the enormity of the DJ phenomenon."

Part of the thrill is entering a world that previously was tough to break into, says DJ Green Lantern, 37, aka New York-based James D'Agostino, who at one point was the DJ for Eminem's Shady Records."

This new popularity is a curse and a gift," says D'Agostino, whose likeness appears in Hip-Hop All Star. "It's a curse because it's no longer just for purists and a gift because it opens the world up to the greatness of deejaying."

And the money's not bad, either: Top amateurs can get $1,000 a gig to enliven a wedding, and hot pros can command five-figure paydays for a few hours rocking the house.

Interest is growing

When DJ Times editor Jim Tremayne set about organizing the trade magazine's annual DJ conference last spring, he initially was concerned the sour economy would keep people away."

Attendance at our International DJ Expo (in Atlantic City) was actually up 8%, and had more new registrants than ever," he says. "It's definitely an interesting moment for deejaying, between the cost barrier being lowered and the simple fact that people love the idea of being their own boss."

One of the more popular speakers at the Expo was Stacy Zemon, author of The Mobile DJ Handbook, a guide for those who cart gear to social events.

Being a so-called mobile DJ may be less glamorous than clubbing it, "but it's an excellent way to make money, which isn't lost on people these days," says Zemon, of Bellmawr, N.J., who adds that rates typically range from $100 to $300 an hour with a three-hour minimum. "The people interested are all over the map, from kids to executives."

It takes a broad love of music to be a good DJ, says Zach Sciacca, 38, otherwise known as Z-Trip. He's the L.A.-based founder of the mash-up movement, which deftly layers disparate musical genres — say, a country riff over a hip-hop beat. The result is a wildly broad appeal."

What's great about (deejaying) is the versatility of it," he says. "You get to play with so many kinds of music. That hooks people."




Oct 2009 - Interview with USA Today


Starting from scratch

All kinds march into Scratch, a New York DJ school co-founded by the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC and Rob Principe. For $300, you get a weekly 90-minute group lesson for six weeks. Despite & — or maybe because of & — glum financial times, enrollment has seen a double-digit leap in the past year."

We all walk around with thousands of songs (on digital devices), and that's led to a huge desire to interact with that music, to play with it, which is what deejaying is all about," says Principe, who also runs classes in Miami and Los Angeles. "We serve as an on-ramp to the art form."

When Michele Peregrin was laid off from her job in the fashion business, she hit Scratch. "Deejaying was an ambition I had since I was a kid," says Peregrin, 32. "I love music. This is me getting back to my own grass roots."

That same simple mission & — pursuing a lifelong dream & — has caused spots to fill up fast in Rob Wegner's classes at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, where the DJ is working to create a full-fledged degree in his craft."

There's no doubt DJs are the new rock stars," says Wegner, 45. An aspiring rock drummer, he fell into deejaying after he was asked to accompany one at a club. "At the end of the night, my hands were bloody, and he was cool and the life of the party. And that was it."

Blake Smith is equally smitten, which is why he drives 2.5 hours from Show Low, Ariz., to attend Wegner's weekly classes. "I absolutely look at deejaying as a career possibility," says Smith, 26, who was headed for a life as a firefighter when he broke both kneecaps. He now DJs at a local club. "Attendance has been down a bit. But people still need to cut loose, just like they did during the Great Depression."

An unshakable belief in the cathartic power of music fuels wannabe DJ Prenovitz, who has decided to pony up $1,200 for all nine of DJ Tall Sasha's private lessons. The only option after that is a $2,000 master class that includes a trip to Europe with Tosic to DJ in top clubs.

That's a foreign fantasy for Prenovitz, who says he'd be thrilled to realize his dream of spinning discs at Bay Area clubs. But first there are dues to be paid.

He tentatively steps behind a digital mixing setup that sits on cinderblocks. Standard fare for today's digital-world DJs, the equipment consists of two innovative Pioneer devices that look like turntables but actually swallow CDs. Move the plastic turntables affixed to each and you get the same scratching effect of a needle on vinyl. A mixer sitting between the two units allows fading from tune to tune.

Such slick gizmos make old-school DJs look like wizards, given their ability to deftly spin and counter-spin records while hunting through stacks of vinyl. But despite today's slick gear, there are no shortcuts to DJ glory."

Feel the beat," says Tosic, directing Prenovitz to match the thump-thump-thump sounds emanating at different speeds from each turntable.

The goal here is to manually slow down one recording to precisely match the beat of the incoming track, which allows revelers to seamlessly groove from one song to the next."

This is not the fun part, it's the work part," Tosic says as Prenovitz does the drill over and over, each time matching beats more quickly. His eyes are closed.

The student moves on to the next drill: real songs. Prenovitz has opted to blend I Gotta Feeling with Michael Jackson's Beat It.

On his first attempts, the beats just don't match up, and Jackson's howling vocal doesn't mesh with the lush disco beat of Feeling. It's jarring enough to send a clubber back to the bar.

Prenovitz persists. Just as frustration flashes, Tosic offers a tip: Don't fade from one vocal to another, focus instead on instrumental stretches. Prenovitz nods. The next attempt clicks. Big grin.

Tosic smiles back, standing in front of a framed poster of himself in Bono-like shades, an ad for a Beijing club gig he did during the recent Olympics. A moment like this surely makes the master want to ... dance?"

Oh, no," Tosic says. "Look at me, I'm too tall, I don't dance. Which means I know just how hard it is for most people to get up and hit the floor. So when you play music that makes them, believe me, it feels like magic."

Updated 10/28/2009 12:47 PM