DJ Masterclass

Mike Leith (Altere) studied the Toolroom Academy DJ Masterclass programme with Devstar.

Prior to taking the course, how would you describe your DJ level?

I had been DJing for a few years but always experienced “imposer syndrome” where I lacked the confidence in myself and had that little voice telling I wasn’t good enough. I would second guess my transitions – creating a messier mix overall. Overthinking can be very detrimental!

At this stage, I thought I knew all of the basics but lacked the knowledge and skills to keep the listener/clubber engaged. I had always dreamed of being a quick and dynamic DJ but I lacked the understanding and knowledge of how, when and why to use certain transitions.

Describe your home DJ set-up?

I have a Pioneer DDJ1000 Controller, Apple MacBook Pro and 2 x Rokit KRK Speakers. That said, I try and get down to Pirate Studios as much as possible to get a shot of their CDJ2000NXS2’s and a few of my friends have Pioneer XDJ1000’s so I have been fortunate enough to mix across a decent number of set ups.

I have recently began filming myself DJ’ing and shout out to Devstar for helping me gain the confidence to do that, so I have a decent camera and stand for these purposes.

What was it about the Toolroom Academy DJ Masterclass that initially appealed to you?

Well, prior to noticing the Masterclass, it was initially Toolroom generally which appealed to me.

I live in Aberdeen, Scotland and I will always remember coming down to the all day and night Toolroom party at Studio 338 in July 2019. We got the 10 hour “sleeper train” down from Aberdeen– without getting a wink of sleep! We then walked around from 7am until the doors of 338 opened!!

Admittedly this was my first Toolroom gig and I was blown away! What a party! There was a huge focus on the “Toolroom Family” and I was instantly inspired. All the Toolroom regulars were on the bill including Illyus and Barrientos, Leftwing:Kody and Gene Farris.

When I got home, I spent some time researching the family and came across a Devstar “best parts” video from Toolroom HQ.

At this stage, I had been watching videos of DJ EZ and James Hype and although I enjoyed their mixing style, they did not really play my kind of music. It was only when I discovered Devstar that I was like “yeah, this is exactly what I want to do”.

I think the combination of seeing Devstar’s “out of this world” skills plus the fact that Toolroom had become my number 1 source for new music meant that joining the Masterclass was an absolute no brainer. This was my chance to learn from one of the games most skilled DJ’s and also get involved in the Toolroom family in my own way.

Simple things like the website being so accessible and the content being “to the point” really helps – there is a real focus on building DJ’s for the club rather than bombarding them with information that is probably less important.

I have recently began filming myself DJ’ing and shout out to Devstar for helping me gain the confidence to do that.

Which module in the course did you find most helpful/interesting?

There were SO many interesting individual modules. My all-around favourites were the modules on the Trans effect. I honestly had no idea that this effect even existed before taking the Masterclass. I was very much limited to only using the Echo and Reverb but the Masterclass really opened my eyes up to the endless possibilities with effects such as Trans, Pitch and Roll. Further, I had little to no experience or confidence of hot cue jamming and there was a big focus on this in the course too. These are all key skills for a creative DJ and makes you stand out as an artist.

These really added a new level or creativity for my mixes and I now have an arsenal of skills so no one transition was the same.

Interestingly I actually debated skipping the first few modules of the course as I had an unfounded expectation that the early modules may be too basic. How I was wrong! I am so glad I did the entire course as Devstar really gives a new perspective to the basics. There is a real focus on nailing the foundations before moving onto the more complex skills.

I never really thought about “phrases” in songs before taking the course but Devstar really explains the importance of ensuring that you are mixing in and out of phrases in a logical way so that it doesn’t sound weird for the listener/clubber.

Dev also spends some time discussing how to properly set up your songs in Rekordbox. This is invaluable. I had no idea that you could move the markers in a song to make sure all of the transients are in the right place!

In a general sense, Dev not only explains the how but also the why and the when. This is essential for gaining a deeper understanding of the role of a DJ as a whole.

How has your attitude and approach to DJing changed since taking the course?

It is hard to even explain how much of an impact the course has had!!! As I said before, I was never confident enough to release mixes or video myself mixing.

Since taking the course, I have been publishing regular videos on Instagram and have even played a few virtual festivals. I try and incorporate as many new skills from the course as possible but I would say that the main “push” came from the monthly webinars.

As part of the course, we get a monthly webinar with Devstar where he goes over his latest Toolroom Minimix. My confidence has grown massively from this and Devstar is always pushing us to try new skills and post videos on the private Facebook group.

I have posted a few minimix’s on the Facebook group and Devstar has given me advice and pointers for improvement. Devstar’s advice is very in depth and constructive and he really does take the time to give his honest views on the mix.

This is probably one of the most invaluable aspects as I can then go away and fix very specific issues and make a better mix. Further, Dev also encourages us to self-reflect and really analyse my own work, which gives us a deeper understanding and appreciation of ourselves.

All in all, this has totally defeated my “imposter syndrome” which in turn has totally changed my attitude. Although I recognise I have some way to go, I now have the confidence in my own abilities and trust myself behind the decks. My attitude has very much switched from being a “cagey” DJ to taking more risks and trying new skills.

Devstar also gives us very useful advice on things like being respectful to everyone in the industry, getting yourself out there and becoming part of the scene and knowing your place and role in the club night. These are things that may be often overlooked in favour for focussing on DJ skills but are absolutely crucial. You can be the best DJ in the world but you need to be connected, respectful and appreciative of the opportunities that come around as well. Club promoters, DJ’s and clubbers alike all want personable and respectful people around them – not just someone focussed on themselves!

This is an incredible opportunity to quiz one of the best in the game and get practical advice, not only on DJ’ing but also marketing and personal confidence.

Do you feel that your DJ sets will be more creative going forward?

Without a shadow of a doubt. I have already been implementing acapella’s, loops, hot cue jamming and various effects into my sets to capture the listeners attention and draw them into the mix. I think this is paramount for future DJ’s as there is ever developing technology at our fingertips that is just waiting to be explored!

This is always something I dreamed of doing so it is very satisfying finally getting somewhere with my creative side.

Do you now feel more technically confident on the Pioneer CDJs?

I try and get a shot on CDJ’s as much as I can but my Pioneer DDJ1000 controller has a very similar set up so I am able to practice all of the same techniques from the Masterclass on my controller. As discussed above, my sets have become far more creative and fine tuned.

How would you describe Devstar as a tutor?

Honestly, I can see Dev being a University Professor in his retirement!

Dev is really articulate and spends a load of time going over all of the techniques in both the course and on the webinars. I think what is really useful is that Dev explains the reasons behind using certain techniques and not just how to do them.

There is a real focus on “what would the listener or clubber want to hear and feel?”. For example, Dev explains that you can totally change up a song by using loops and hot cues to create on the fly live remixes in the club. The course is centred around practical advice on what impact you want to have on the listener. This gave me a totally different approach and encourages you to step away from the decks and really think about what you want to do and what you want people to feel.

You want people to go home thinking “I wonder what remix that was?” when really it was just the original but mixed up in a creative way. Its all about creating a feeling or a vibe that will be remembered and Devstar reinforces that on our webinars a lot.

Have you attended any of the live webinars? If so, how have you found them?

I have covered this above but the webinars are our monthly chance to speak directly to Devstar. I have attended most if not all since starting the course.

This is an incredible opportunity to quiz one of the best in the game and get practical advice, not only on DJ’ing but also marketing and personal confidence. We usually go over Dev’s latest minimix frame by frame which is then followed by a session looking at Rekordbox.

There is more of a fine-tuned and practical approach where we can ask practical questions that we have been saving up since the previous webinar and we always get full and comprehensive answers back!

How would you compare your current DJ ability, having taken the course, with your level before?

My DJ ability has improved dramatically. I have discussed my increased confidence above but I think my main improvement has been being far more creative and interesting with my mixing style. I am trying to push the boat out and do things that other DJ’s aren’t doing.

I recently recorded a minimix and looking back over it compared to where I was at the start of the course is amazing. As I say above, I only ever used 1/2 bar Echo’s and Reverbs but now I am trying to incorporate acapellas, interesting looping ideas, hot cue jamming, trans effect, pitch shift, spin backs and all sorts!

I would definitely say the course has given me the skills and knowledge to try more complicated transitions and also the push and confidence I needed to get out there.

What would you say to people who think they don’t need to get any DJ training?

I would seriously urge them to reconsider! There are endless possibilities with the technology available these days and it will only continue to progress. Everyone has the capacity to learn and it’s our duty as humans to push ourselves as far as we can go!

I think it will be more important than ever to learn more complex skills to stand out from the crowd.

What better place to start than signing up to the Toolroom DJ Masterclass?

Go meet Altere on his instagram page @altere_music

DJ Masterclass

A truly comprehensive, 16 hour online course that will take you from the foundations of DJing, right the way through to advanced, technical skills that will elevate both your confidence and creativity on the decks.

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