Will Corbett, National Director of Scratch DJ Academy
Will Corbett is the national director of the Scratch DJ Academy here in New York City, which is the world’s first DJ and Music Production School of its kind. Last month I actually met with him at the academy to discuss the curriculum, the students and the masterminds behind the idea.
Describe your duties here at the Scratch Academy.
I’ve been working here for about six years now. But I also run our Miami location and I assist with marketing and advertising with our LA school. So I’m sort of a national figure when it comes to the academy.
For those who are unfamiliar, where’d the idea to literally school people in the art of DJing and beatmaking come from?
The idea for the DJ Scratch Academy started with our founders Rob Principe and Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC. Traditionally DJing has always been a self-taught art form; there was never a place to go to learn how to DJ. You always had to learn from friends, or teach yourself or watch fuzzy VHS tapes. And DJing largely has been underappreciated as an art form in general, you know. I think Jam Master Jay was interested in starting a school to have a formal place where people could learn to DJ and help establish it as an art form, and to pretty much continue his legacy. And he is such a marquee-DJ name that it was a totally new concept that no DJ had ever done it before. We were the world’s first DJ school back in 2002. It was something that was big for Jay. We started in 2002 and unfortunately he passed in 2002, so it’s interesting that his legacy kind of started that year.
Do you find that since the academy started that a lot more people are open to the idea of learning how to DJ through a school?
Our approach with DJing has always been that it’s an art form. Using the turntables and mixer, those are instruments; it’s just like playing a piano or a violin. You’re not gonna be a great pianist in three days; you’re not gonna be a great violinist in four months. Like it can take a lot of time. Just imagine if there were no places to learn how to play a piano or violin, it would take that much longer to learn. It’s the same thing with DJing, it is an art form. I think the perspective has changed. It has been one of our biggest missions to spread the word with DJ education, culture and community. DJing in and of itself is turntablism, battling, club DJing, mixing, etc. But there is a whole culture and community revolved around the art form that is prevalent to the New York form. That’s been one of our biggest missions in showcase DJing as an art form.
Since first starting at the academy, has your perspective of the DJ changed?
I would have to say definitely; 100 percent only because I started here six years ago when I was a senior at NYU and I wasn’t a DJ, and I’m still not a DJ. I liked music and there was an opportunity to work here and though I didn’t come in as a director right away, I quickly moved up. But that’s one thing I’ve seen since being here, there’s so many people who have the best interest in this place from the students to the teachers, to people who just like DJing. There’s a whole culture to it; it revolves around music and fashion and there’s a history to it; and there’s a respect for it. You could even see it recently in the passing of Roc Raida and DJ AM and Mr. Magic last year. The community came together around that and I saw different instances of connections. It’s important to a lot of people. So I’ve become very aware of everything that goes in it. I think what I take away from it on a daily basis is the understanding and appreciation of the culture that revolves around the art form.
Tell us about the curriculum.
We have several different courses, a general fundamental course: DJ 101. From there it branches off into a mixing tree, a scratching tree; and depending on what you want to do with DJing, you can go different course routes. The courses are six weeks in length; they meet once a week. We have over 40 sets of turntables here in our main classrooms. There is some talking and a little bit of lecturing but the majority of the class is hands-on instruction. In order to learn how to be a DJ, you have to be on the turntable, on the mixer. You know that’s what people have said…I was in LA last week at our school there and I saw guys like DJ Revolution and DJ Babu perform and give a speech at the students’ graduation, and they were saying it took them years and years to learn what we teach in six weeks, because they had to teach themselves because there was no standard way to learn. So it was hard to get access to the art form. But our students here have an easy way to learn, and you’ll see in six weeks some students will be mixing. They’re not gonna be the best mixers in the world but you gotta start somewhere. In our first course, which is the DJ 101 course they learn fundamentals such as beat matching and droppin’ on the one, which are essentials of mixing. Obviously the students who put more time and practice into it, they’re gonna see more [results] in their six weeks and the courses after that.
Do you see a wide-range of students enrolled or is there a specific demographic?
Obviously we have a demographic but we see eight-year old kids here learning and 55-year old guys who instead of buying a Ferrari, wanna learn how to DJ. It’s all walks of life; there’s people with full-time jobs who come here after work and just wanna pick up something on the side. We have people who just want to DJ who come here. We get a lot of international people who come here for six weeks just to take our courses because there really is nowhere else to go to learn how to DJ. They all stay in hostels and it shows our net is very wide when it comes to our students.
Any plans for expansion? I know there are schools in Miami and LA as well.
You never know, obviously we keep our business expansion plans confidential but you never know.
Here’s a situation: You have a student who’s conflicted between being a DJ or becoming a music producer, doing it full time or as a hobby, what advice would you give that student? Because there’s also music production courses, right.
We have production classes as well where we teach Ableton and Reason but our big focus is on the DJ classes. It really depends on the student. I mean some students just wanna be bedroom DJs; they just wanna spin at home in their bedrooms. Some students want to be able to spin at their friends’ house party, or spin at a club or some cool little spot in the East Village or Brooklyn. Every type of DJ has different needs. Some students wanna do everything and our advice is that you follow what it is you wanna do. A lot of what a DJ does is controlled by who they are performing for and where they’re playing. If you’re playing down in the Meatpacking district, it’s all Top 40 music being played; of course you’re going to get paid a lot more money than if you’re playing at spot in Brooklyn, where you can play exactly what you want to play. So it all depends on the student. At the end of the day, it’s all about the music.
For more information regarding Scratch DJ Academy or to sign up for a course, visit www.scratch.com. Also pick up a copy of On The Record: The Scratch DJ Academy Guide (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1st ed.) for additional insight into the DJ culture.