Music and DJing – Past and Present Part 1

I love music. When I was growing up, any money I made or received went to buying records. At first it was 45s and as I got older, albums and 12 inch EPs. Technology changed and vinyl was a dying breed being replaced with CDs. Now CDs are on the verge of extinction after Apple introduced the iTunes store with digital downloads. In the next few years, streaming music services will totally replace downloading music on your computer or mobile devices if Apple has its way. The music industry has had to adapt to the changes in rapid growth of technologies. I’ll write a future post on my opinion of the music industry and the challenges it faces along with the impact to musical artists.

You Spin Me Around

For those that don’t know me, I use to be a DJ. It started as a hobby and I eventually got a few live gigs. It all started when I met Jeffery Walsh in high school. He started getting me interested in DJing. We had a weekly radio show in high school during lunch hour. I ended up buying a Realistic mixer from Radio Shack and borrowed Jeff’s turntable and using my own cheap Technics belt drive turntable, I started practicing and recording mixes on tapes. Eventually, I bought a Technics SL-1200 MK2 turntable so I could stop borrowing Jeff’s turntable. I was in heaven. Cueing and starting songs was so much easier and faster due to the 1200’s direct drive. I loved listening to my mixed tapes and so did other people.

I ended up getting a job with an audio-visual company and setting up equipment for a hotel. While setting up, I would jack in a portable tape player and play my mixed tapes. Other hotel employees would hear my tapes and wanted a copy or make them a mixed tape. This caught on like wildfire. I ended up recording boxes of mixed tapes for people. It was great for me as I loved practicing my mixing. I was a true “bedroom DJ”.  Best of all, my mixed tapes travelled across the country. Maybe I should make a career out of this.

Coming Out Of The Bedroom

Back then my genre of music was mostly alternative and gothic. I actually got a DJ gig at Nuts and Bolts spinning alternative music on Wednesday nights. Unfortunately, it was short-lived as the club closed a few weeks after. I managed to swing a deal with the owner and bought the club’s mixer and two Technics SL-1200 turntables. If I was going to advance my DJ skills, one 1200 turntable along with a cheap crappy mixer and old turntable was not going to cut it.

80% Music Programming, 20% turntable skills

I eventually started introducing dance music when I starting dancing at the Boom Boom Room owned by the The Big Bop‘s Ballinger brothers. I hung out with the DJ from the Boom Boom Room and he taught me how to beatmix (or beatmatching) in the middle of two songs. With three Technics 1200 turntables and a expensive Rane Mixer, I was advancing my DJing skills but I still had a lot to learn.

While I was working at the hotel setting up AV equipment, I met a guy who use to DJ back in the 70s. He told me that beatmixing is all well and good, but if you want to really be a great club DJ; you have to know music programming and how to work the crowd to increase bar sales. He taught me the tricks of manipulating the crowd to make the bar or club profitable. They said a good DJ uses 80% music programming and 20% turntable or DJ skills.


I started In The Dust DJ Services and I was club hopping all over the place and pushing my demo tape to club owners and managers. I did end up getting another DJ gig, thanks to Skot Turner; at an all-ages (non-alcoholic) nightclub called The Surf Club located at Bathurst and Steeles. Despite plastering “Surf Naked” flyers all over West Toronto, I wasn’t able to attract a large enough crowd. It was another short-lived gig as I was fired two weeks in, the club was run by a teenager and it closed shortly after.

The turning point in my DJing was when my demo tape was used by someone else and they got a DJ job. Devastated, I sold most of my DJ equipment and ended up going to Trebas School of Recording Arts and started a record label called Krash Records. I signed up two bands – The Brotherhood and OPP (Ouellette Park Posse). After being in a major car accident and had to declare bankruptcy and shut the record label down.

DJing – Take Two

A pair of Pioneer CDJ-100s

A pair of Pioneer CDJ-100s

My interest in DJing resurfaced in 1999 when I was living in Burlington. A neighbour was DJing part-time and needed someone to help him out. Vinyl was pretty much dead and CDs were in. I was surprised that the DJ equipment back then was so advanced. Pioneer came out with CDJ-100s CD players that could do the same thing you could do with vinyl, including scratching. With a pair of leased CDJ-100s and DMJ-300 mixer and subscribing to Multi-Music Service DJ pool, I was armed to help out my neighbour doing school dances and a few weddings.

I also started moving away from recording my mixes on tapes to CD. Recording on CD was a very involved process. Record directly to a very fast hard drive, then splitting the songs up digitally – so you can skip to the next song on the CD. Switching between Mac and Windows using various pieces of software during these whole process, was a real pain. A divorce and moving out of Burlington put the brakes on any further DJing.

In my next post, I will talk about what DJing looks today and what the future holds for the trade.