Scratching a living

DJing seems so left-field it's surprising there are so many college courses available in it. Marcus Freed cues up a few of the success stories

"The guys say that it's really sexy to see a woman behind the decks," says Helen James. "I've been watching my friends on the dance scene for the last eight years, but now it's my time. I'm going to become a full-time DJ."

"The guys say that it's really sexy to see a woman behind the decks," says Helen James. "I've been watching my friends on the dance scene for the last eight years, but now it's my time. I'm going to become a full-time DJ."

There is no need for frustrated DJs to be stuck in their bedroom pretending to be spinning their wheels of steel for dancing clubgoers. Dance music production, DJ techniques and nightclub promotion are being taught on accredited courses and students are being propelled straight into the nightclub scene. "It makes so much sense," explains Helen, a 23-year-old graduate of Manchester University. "Going into the lessons and learning through a curriculum helped me to understand the art of DJ`ing. It's exactly what I need."

Helen has recently completed the six-month DJ Academy course at the School of Sound Recording in Manchester, which aims to provide students with all of the skills necessary to create a club night, ranging from essential deck skills to understanding the nuances of marketing an event. "The course atmosphere is laid-back," says the DJ Academy manager Charlie Morrison, "but these people are working hard. You get a certain kind of DJ who'll want to take extra lessons to learn their trade, and our aim is to help them." The school is based close to Manchester's clubland and uses its proximity to expose its students to the local scene. "We have good connections," explains Morrison, "and we get top-end guys who go on to set up their own nights. I consider that a success, especially in Manchester, where there is a lot of competition."

City & Guilds are proud of these courses that extend the skills of the nightclub to a wider audience and provide employable skills for people keen to join a potentially lucrative industry. There are public establishments that offer courses relating to dance music, but, according to City & Guilds, "the private organisations are more focused on the particular industry."

This is certainly true of Deep Recording Studios, a Shepherd's Bush-based company that offers fully funded courses in sound recording, music technology and DJ radio technology. It is able to offer totally free access to the unemployed, and offers these subsidised places through Kensington and Chelsea Further Education College.

"We're not education orientated, we're industry orientated," explains the studio manager, Mark Rose, in a brisk-but- helpful manner reminiscent of a mix between a nightclub doorman and a university tutor. "There are HE and FE partnerships to our course, and colleges have been wise enough to come for a partnership with the experts rather than pretending that they have the expertise to teach the subject in their college."

Deep bases its approach on an old-style apprenticeship whereby novices are paired with industry veterans who give them the rare opportunity to learn under experienced tutelage. "We're like an audio boot-camp," explains Rose. "It's a bit of an eye-opener. A lot of people get a quite a shock at the success rate within the industry, but it's there."

Rose explains that his successes are due to Deep Recording Studios' non-curriculum approach to the subject, refusing to take a blanket approach to teaching DJs. "We're very good with picking up people and turning them around. We can take the most unworkable student and work with them. We don't pigeonhole people and we're getting some of the best results and retention rates within the UK."

One of the biggest recent successes in dance music has come out of Manchester's City College, which offers courses in sound recording and music technology. The breakbeat artist Introspective, aka Mike Hulme, studied for an HND in music technology at the college and later reached No 1 in the Sony PlayStation charts with his tune "Pleasant Experience".

"This has been a really mindblowing time for me," says Hulme. "It's been great fun, but hard work. My tutors have been really supportive, advising me on the ways of the industry, plus there's the technology here to really experiment with music."

This raw enthusiasm is echoed by Steven King, an 18-year-old Mancunian contemporary who graduated recently from the School of Sound Recording, and was described by a fellow student as "by far the best DJ in town". King performs under the nom de guerre of Widow, along with his crew of rappers and producers, The Uncrowned Kings, and has enjoyed regular exposure at underground parties and pirate radio stations. Despite his streetwise image, King credits the DJ lessons with giving him the tools to progress his career. "The course was very helpful. I've got my decks at home so I was practising hard, but they teach you the basic skills and that's what you need."

His talents lie in scratching, and his ambitions are on a global scale. "Within the next three years, I want to have won the world championships in the scratch competition."

The Australian Mike Townsend was attracted to the same course, and is currently studying music production. He is a civil engineer from Adelaide who visited England to see Oasis play at the Old Trafford cricket ground, and never went home. This turntable wizard of Oz initially joined the DJ academy for personal enjoyment but now runs a regular club night called Fraternity.

"I never thought I'd be interested in producing music, but I've now started studying on the music production course. I see the club night as a vehicle to help me eventually end up in the music industry full-time, which would be more interesting than my current job in construction!"

The 28-year-old Townsend, who donates 10 per cent of the door takings on every club night to the RSPCA, did not match my typical expectations of a player in the underground music scene. Perhaps that is because the range of institutions offering dance music-related courses has opened the profession to a much wider range of people who would otherwise be stuck in bedrooms practising with vinyl records.

DJ H, the aforementioned Helen James, finds the prospect extremely exciting. "The one thing this course has done for me is show me that it is all possible. I used to go clubbing and look at the DJs with awe, but on this course they have shown me that it's just a case of working hard, promoting yourself well, and there's no reason why there should be any limitations." The girls are in town - and they are coming up to scratch.

Deep Recording Studios: 020-8964 8256; course information from 020-7573 3600; www.deeprecordingstudios.co.uk

School of Sound Recording: 0161-228 3072; www.s-s-r.com City College Manchester: 0800 013 0123; www.ccm.ac.uk

education@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

FDM Group: Business and Technical IT Consultants – London, Manchester, Glasgow

21,000-24,000: FDM Group: Kick-start your career and join FDM’s award-winning ...

FDM Group: Business and Technical IT Consultants – Birmingham

21,000-24,000: FDM Group: Kick-start your career and join FDM’s award-winning ...

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'