Monday, November 22, 2010

L'école des DJ's

By: Simone Spilka

With the expanding popularity of disc jockeys and their prevalent role in the music business, a former real-estate agent, Pascal Tassy, created L'école des DJ’s of the UCPA. Located in Lyon, France the prestigious institution was established as the only state-backed college for professional DJ’s in Europe. With the support of the French government, those who successfully pass both the competitive application process and complete the eighteen to twenty-two month intensive schooling program receive an honorable diploma and increase their credibility for future job opportunities.

As the DJ phenomenon has continued to grow and the talented artists have dominated certain aspects of the media ambition has become a vital characteristic for the aspiring musicians. Only a mere 45 of 250 students are selected for the AMS training after completing a lengthy application process. Applicants must adhere to prerequisites and fulfill a contract for an apprenticeship that, “aims to provide young workers with compulsory education meets a general education, theoretical and practical, to obtain a professional qualification with a diploma of vocational and technological an engineering or title listed” (Profession DJs). Once these requirements have been approved, the candidate is interviewed and demonstrate their knowledge by testing their skills first-hand before the teachers then admit or reject the potential student.

A group of DJ classmates from L'ecole des DJ's

The competitive nature of L'école des DJ’s as a whole is a predictor of the effort necessary for coursework. As DJ’s have increasingly played an integral part in culture the need for proper training and intensive background experience has become an important aspect of the career. One advantage and unique quality of L'école des DJ’s is the free tuition, which allows artists access to formal training provided by the government who subsidize it. To receive funding, students follow the protocol of attending in-class training by professors who are also DJs while simultaneously experiencing first-hand business for practice. To truly understand and learn the talent that goes into being a successful DJ, the school requires classes in all techniques disc jockey, lighting, sound, animation, video, and communication. These advanced hands-on courses are specified to teach the artists a versatile set of skills such as how to work and master specific software and equipment, interact with their audiences, and understand business management and entrepreneurship.

Following L’école des DJ’s primary mission of “turning passion into a profession,” the courses encourage individual growth as an artist, demonstrating just one rewarding and fun aspect of the education. These facets of the training are demonstrated through two particular required courses whose objectives include building a personal artistic style and learning historical musical references so the practicing DJ’s “blend technology, technique, and musical culture” (Profession DJs). In one classroom, which consists of equipment, a dance floor, and disco ball, students learn how to properly use turntables, cd mixers, midi interface, and software so they can create their own mixed sets catered to their individual creative energy. Students attend lecture, which consists of testing of past and current musicians, songs, and the differences and history of style. For example, the teacher will play a song for the class that students must quickly recognize and respond with the title and artist before moving onto the next one. (Miller). Students are forced to branch out from their own musical preferences and familiarize themselves with a wide range of musical genres, artists across the decades, and their specific works.

The lecture classroom

The nightclub classroom where students practice their music sets for other DJ's

As the DJ’s are thus knowledgeable in all aspects of music culture, rather than confining themselves to one particular style or field, they can more successfully reach their goal of appealing to a larger audience. This idea is a key aspect of the training as the teachers highlight the importance of playing music that everyone can enjoy. One teacher, “DJ Getdown,” harped on a student who did not have a broad enough collection of artists on his computer stating, “A DJ’s job is to make people dance, not just to play music you like.” (Miller). L’école des DJ’s entails such a broad spectrum of courses for this reason; to become popular in the industry one must adapt to the needs of the audience, just as any entrepreneur who must adapt to the needs of their client. Another DJ further explains, “You have to understand what’s working – not just play something next because the beats match perfectly” (Miller). Because a DJ must both entertain and impress a crowd, stage presence is as vital a characteristic as the music they play. For this reason the established contract comes into play, whether the learning or professional path is chosen, when the students practice how to successfully interact with any particular crowd or venue ranging from their music selection to lighting to what they say into the microphone. One current student, Alex Billard who goes by alias DJ Bibijex, explained to me how these apprenticeships serve real-life function, “I DJ at a club on the weekends and am paid minimum-wage, but it is much more about the practice than the money. We work on new sets at the school and the teachers help judge our music and lighting so that people will want to dance. Even though it’s hard work it’s always fun and practicing and promoting is the best way to get experience.” This is seen as a necessity to make sure they are adequately prepared for the entity of the career, which includes a high level of professionalism as much as being a talented music mixer.

After the preparation has been completed DJ’s are put to the test by professors to finalize their graduate status. Rather than simply memorizing terms or concepts to apply to coursework as many other college students experience, the students perform a fifteen-minute live set in front of a group of professionals who critique and judge all aspects of their presentation. On average, only two-thirds of the initial applicant group will have reached this point of the program to receive their diploma, which is comparable to a bachelor’s degree.

With 132 graduates over the nine year history of the institution L’école des DJ’s has successfully created its own subculture in the heart of Lyon, further promoting the French’s fascination with music. The DJ’s use multiple forms of media including Facebook fan pages, twitter, and myspace to post upcoming events, playlists, and promote themselves. Such opportunity would not be presented to these passionate DJs without the support they are provided with. A 1996 survey exposed that music was ranked higher in enjoyment than sports, television, cinema, or traveling. (Dauncey). By funding this form of education, the government has maintained this cultural phenomenon as “the music industry in France – as with almost everything else – has been historically marked by unceasing state attempts to direct and regulate the development activities either to defend culture (variously defined) for culture’s sake or to defend French business in the world economy.” (Dauncey 41). By subsidizing such an institution the government promotes the emblem of French music culture. These students have the ability to specialize in a trade of interest set apart from the norm “within the context of a belief in French exceptionalism in music – the idea that France still possesses a tradition in music which sets it apart of the rest of the increasingly globalized world” (Dauncey 43). L’école des DJs recognizes the significance of music in France and such a program continues to foster this much appreciated aspect of it’s culture.

Official website for L'ecole des DJ's:

Video overview of program, features interviews with students:

Myspace for L'ecole des DJ's:

Blogs of students/DJ's:

DJ Antonin (graduated student) practicing in the nightclub classroom:

DJ Antonin facebook fan page:

Brief tour of school:

Dauncey, Hugh. The French music industry: structures, challenges, and responses.” Popular music in France from chanson to techno. (2003): 41-56. Web.

Miller, John. “French Jam: A School in Lyon Puts Formal Spin on DJ's Role.” The Wall Street Journal. 14 April 2010. Web.

“Profession DJs.” The L’ecole des DJ’s UCPA Website. 13 Nov. 2010.

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