Thursday 5 February 2009

Student Diary - Allister Whitehead DJ Masterclass

In addition to the actual music courses, Point Blank invites regular guest speakers to give students an extra bit of insight and inspiration. This month's guest was Allister Whitehead who, as you can see from his bio in an earlier post, is a hugely respected DJ and producer with experience stretching back 20 years to days of The Hacienda. His thoughts were eye-opening for a budding DJ and he more than ably tackled the barrage of questions from a packed studio.

Here's my summary of some of his most pertinent points:

• 20% of being a successful DJ is down to technique and talent, 80% is down to social battles.

He said the phrase 'it's who you know not what you know' was a cliché for good reason... it is absolutely true! Do everything possible to immerse yourself in the scene that you want to be part of. Get a job in a trendy shop or bar in the town centre and try to get to know the influential figures.

• Aim high. If you have a favourite club, you should aim to be DJing there within 5 years. Go to that club every week, stand by the DJ booth, chat to the DJs and promoters, work out the type of tunes that the crowd responds to.

• Try to let this guide the tracks you buy but maintain your own individual and unique style. This is what you want people to end up associating your name with. Don't compromise your tastes purely to satisfy the crowd by playing exactly what the headliners are banging out. This leads to DJ clones and will put off the loyal group of people who come to that club every week. They want to hear something new and exciting.

A story that illustrated this point was Allister sticking by a new tune that cleared the dancefloor the first time he put it on. Any DJ who has cleared out a room with a track that went down like the Titanic (and this includes myself) will know what a horrible feeling this is and it is hard to resist putting that record back in the box for good... But he had confidence that this track would grow on people, so he kept on playing it and sure enough, a month later, people were screaming out for it.

• Take any gig you can get no matter how small or how little you are getting paid. It is essential to get out of your bedroom and DJ live to real people; you never know who might be there and what opportunities may come of it. However if the night is completely at odds with your own style, then think twice. Maybe this isn’t the club for you.

• These days, producing your own tunes is almost essential in making a name for yourself as a DJ. Although there is not much money to be had through the sale of music anymore, your DJ career will be vastly accelerated by making good music.

Despite doing a lot of remix work in the past, Allister said his biggest regret was not making more of his own unique material because it is the songs that live with people forever while memories of good parties invariably fade. He rated Graeme Park as his favourite ever DJ but his decline in relation to Sasha, another pioneering DJ who came to prominence in the same era (although not as technically gifted in Allister's opinion), was reflected by the fact that Sasha consistently produced quality output whereas Park never really produced his own material.

• Finally his thoughts on managers and promoters can be summarised quickly and bluntly: People have to make money out of you before you make money out of them!

Thanks to Allister for his time. I'll be back again soon.