When I was 10, I used to go to the under-11s disco at the local community centre, every Friday – and you won’t be at all surprised to hear that the DJ was my idol. Roll on to now, and I’ve spent 30 years as both a pro DJ and the founder of this very DJ school, having taught tens of thousands of DJs how to get in front of crowds and make the party happen.
But this month, I got to teach the most important student of them all so far to me – my daughter, aged 10. She played an end-of-term party. What’s more, she was “booked” to play for an hour, and as you’ll see, it turned into nearly three!
So if you’re interested in how it went, how she got the chance, how she ended up playing for so long, and some tips from me as to what you should do if you’ve got a kid who wants to DJ, read on – I’ll share what we learned.
How it came about
Her teacher asked her, basically. He knew that her Dad was a DJ, so suspected she might be interested (plus she’s… well, let’s just say she’s not exactly shy). She came home one day casually saying that she’s been asked to DJ for the younger kids, and could I help? I think we all know the answer to that question.
The party was at 6pm in the school assembly hall, till 7.15pm, playing for the younger kids. Right afterwards was a party for her age group, from 7.30pm to 9pm, but she was adamant she only wanted to play for the younger kids, and to be “just one of the crowd” for her own party a bit later on.
So we had to plan a 1 hour 15 minute set for her. We got to work…
Choosing the DJ gear
I knew we had to keep it simple for her, so I decided to use the Numark Mixstream Pro Go, because it has a built-in battery, screen, and WiFi for streaming. Basically, she could practise directly from the unit.
She found the built-in speaker to be fine for practising, and so all we needed to add was a pair of headphones (“I don’t know if I’ll use them, but they look cool”) and she was good to go. She had a few weeks to practise, so next, we needed to get her some music.
Getting the music
She had absolutely no interest in downloading or owning MP3s (she’s under 40, after all) and so she started to collate a playlist of tracks she thought she’d want to play on the Tidal app on her phone, so they’d show in the Tidal source on the unit. She was completely comfortable with that – indeed, she loved being able to add tracks to her playlist anywhere, and have them ready for her when she next practised.
However, she was surprisingly hesitant to commit to each tune at first, even though she loves music, dancing and singing, and even though she has been to plenty of discos with the very same kids. There was a sudden insecurity when she pictured herself being the one who had to make people dance with this music.
So, we started by asking her what she loved to dance to herself, then going through some of the “Top 50 Pop Hits” and “Best Dance” playlists. Her Mum suggested some songs too. As the ball started to roll, she got her friends involved (on WhatsApp, naturally) in suggesting songs.
I showed her how to find “clean” versions on Tidal (“I don’t know why we need to Daddy, everyone is just going to sing the proper version anyway!”), and taught her that she’d want double the number of tunes she’ll actually end up playing, as per our training method for DJs – which turned out to be a godsend, as we’ll see.
As the day neared she got to her “holy grail” of 50 songs, and apart from being worried she didn’t have enough Spanish hits (we live in Gibraltar on the tip of Spain, and many kids like Spanish pop, but she doesn’t know much about it), she felt she was ready.
Teaching her the skills
Teaching a 10-year-old was revelatory for me. She had a curious blend of extreme confidence, genuine curiosity, and frustration at the complexities of it all. I quickly decided to keep it simple and teach her to fade smoothly from one tune to the next, with an “echo out” option too, and a bit of filter here and there. All by herself she figured out that she could slowly dip the volume so she could add a little volume “hit” at big parts of records, which I was proud to see.
I also showed her how those “cool” headphones could actually be pretty useful, teaching her how to add a hot cue at the point where she wants to mix in, and to use them to hear the next track to check it before a mix. But a lot of what I taught her was what not to do, and what not to touch – there is plenty a kid could accidentally do that would disrupt a DJ set, so I had to talk her though all the other controls, with the instructions that she should leave them alone.
Quickly she realised she could do the basics, and her thoughts went back to assembling the right choice of tunes – a priority that I thoroughly approved of.
Setting up at the school
I went down the day before with the gear and her teacher met me in the assembly hall. They had got a big live mixer and a PA system on the stage, but I suggested we keep it really simple and bypass the live mixer, plugging straight into the two amplified cabinets, which we did using their XLR cables from the back of the Numark Mixstream Pro. Which was when we found our first problem…
I had no worries with using WiFi for the music, but it turned out that the education department had locked down the WiFi so only school-owned equipment whose MAC addresses were specifically programmed into their system could access it.
I suggested using their Ethernet, but the sockets had, it turned out, never been wired up! They got an IT person to do this, but then (and this is my failing) I realised there is no Ethernet socket on the Numark Mixstream Pro.
Now, of course I’m a DJ tutor, so once I’d got over my embarrassment for not remembering (or at least checking) that fact, I was able to leg it back to the studio and find a unit that did have Ethernet. I ended up lumping the Denon DJ Prime 4 from the studio to the school, in the rain, cursing my lack of planning.
Still no Ethernet! Maybe that was locked down too by the education department? I resorted to testing phone tethering (it worked, but I didn’t like the idea of it), and also considered buying all her tunes and putting them on a USB that evening, which felt wrong to me, as she will never – I can assure you reader, never – start collecting her own music this way. This generation will always stream.
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Luckily, the IT person figured out that it was a date and time thing, and once he’d aligned something, the Ethernet kicked into life. No idea what he did, but we were in.
Next, her teacher got her to come to the hall (“I just got taken out of a maths test!”) and her initial fear of the big, complicated piece of DJ gear that she’s never seen before disappeared when I pointed out where the controls she was used to were. From then on, she was rather proud of playing on the cool-looking, much bigger DJ gear.
Indeed, once she realised the Prime 4 ran on the same Engine DJ platform as the Numark Mixstream Pro, she was completely fine, only needing me to explain how to do an echo out (it’s not on paddles on the Prime 4 like on the Numark, so I had to dial the effect in to the unit, with stern instructions to her not to touch the effects other than to turn the echo on and off).
The night of the gig
Her best friend came around to our home to get ready with her (locked in her bedroom for two hours, naturally) and I went down with them nice and early to the gig. Once she’d got over how weird it was to be in school at that time of day (that same feeling you get walking into an empty nightclub before opening, I guess), we got down to turning everything on, and calming her nerves. Her teacher was there too, to make sure everything was looking good, and she did a little soundcheck.
She asked for my final advice, which was: Let your teacher worry about the overall volume, just play what you’d want to dance to, and if in doubt, send your best friend out to the dancefloor to listen and give you ideas about what she thinks they may want to hear next. And that the nerves – I promised her – would go away…
Never mind her nerves, as her parents, we could think of nothing else. Would they dance? Would the kids accept her as their DJ? Will it all work properly? Will something go wrong and we’ll have to console and encourage her afterwards to build her self-confidence back?
Every five minutes that afternoon I was checking the time on my watch (“she must have just started, she’s 15 minutes in now, she’s half way through…”). In the end my wife couldn’t resist trying to get some news, and texted our daughter’s best friend (reply: “She’s doing great!”).
One other person who couldn’t resist was her teacher, who texted me to tell me the same, and that he was so proud of her. Indeed, the next text I got was her teacher again, informing me that she was now also going to DJ her own age group party, that started at 7.30pm and went till 9pm. So in the end, she played for three hours, with just a 15-minute break between the sets. This news totally made my night.
What she learned
She came back more excited, talkative and animated than I can remember her after anything she’s ever done. She said she only made one mistake in the whole three hours, in the set for the youngsters, when she turned off the wrong song – but she fixed it right away.
Here are a few things she told me that I thought were interesting and worth sharing, or that were just touching to hear from a first-time DJ:
- Younger kids don’t want to dance, they just want to scream – She said she could really have played anything they knew to this lot, and it was actually a bit boring because she wanted to get the dancefloor moving!
- Her age group definitely did dance, and totally loved it – Having “one of their own” DJing was great and they let her know it, because usually, it is just a teacher playing from YouTube on a phone
- You get over the nerves – The preparation, having just the right number of tunes, the practice, it all fell into place. She forgot what she was actually doing (that is, the technical side of it all) and ended up just enjoying choosing great music for all her friends
- DJs don’t pay! – She got free hot dogs and fizzy drinks, when she tried to pay they said, “you’re not paying, you’re the DJ”, which she absolutely loved
- It was good to have a best friend there – She said that before people started dancing, the DJing felt hard, and it was good to have someone to talk to and help make it fun. And once the kids did start dancing, her best friend hit the stage in front of the decks, and led the dance moves!
Playing requests you don’t have
Here’s another thing – as the hours went by, people asked for songs that she didn’t have, especially some of those Spanish ones. Because she was so used to finding songs on the Tidal app on her phone, she could look them up (or have the kids do it themselves), add them to her playlist, and grab them directly on the DJ gear, instantly. She said they downloaded “loads” of songs this way, and it really made a difference – plus, now she has a great playlist that she can base any future gigs around.
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While we’d never recommend pro DJs do this, at least not as a rule, it worked really well for the kids. The downside, of course, is that you can’t “vet” the tracks first, and my daughter said she did indeed play one song that had swearing in it – she found it hilarious that the teachers (who were also on the dancefloor) either didn’t notice, or didn’t seem to care… it made her feel like a rebel.
In a way, kids are fearless. She had never DJed before, yet she threw herself into it and within a few weeks, played not one but two gigs. Of course she wasn’t beatmixing or doing tricks, but ultimately DJing is about playing the right music, for the people in front of you, right now. She learned more about DJing that evening than many people who dabble in this hobby ever do.
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She conquered her nerves, figured out new equipment, learned how to build a DJ set, and successfully stood in front of other people and performed (I have it on reliable evidence that she was singing every song, jumping up and down, and dancing all night behind the decks).
When I was her age, I idolised our local DJ, and knew that one day, I wanted to do that too. She’s already done it. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
• A huge thank you to her teacher and to the school for giving her this opportunity.