Take a music fan to see a DJ perform and you entertain him for the night. Teach him to DJ, and he’ll entertain the rest of us for years.
That’s the philosophy at work behind the the Mmmmaven Project, a DJ and electronic music production school set to launch in August in Central Square, Cambridge. The school is an offshoot of the promotions and management company Mmmmaven, run by David Day and Alex Maniatis, two of the founders of the annual Together electronic music festival. They’re currently in the middle of a fund-raising initiative on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo.
The classes, which will teach the basics of DJ skills before branching off into more advanced topics like the production of original music, aim to plug into and help grow the burgeoning interest in electronic dance music (EDM, for short). It’s a refreshingly community-based and DIY approach to a music generally associated with underground culture, among whom the most ardent devotees commonly complain that the world already has too many DJs.
Not the case, says Day, who previously worked as the editor at the alt-weekly Dig Boston.
“Honestly, I look at the landscape as it is and there’s not enough young people making music in general,” he says. “Young people and young adults are into this consumer idea of going to the festival. There could be 300,000 people at an EDM festival, but that should be split up over the month at different parties throughout the city.”
The Mmmmaven Project would like to help become part of a democratizing trend in the scene, and refocus the spotlight from a handful of DJ superstars to more localized talent.
“I think the DJ idol culture is in part because people aren’t learning how to make this music. I don’t think there’s enough people making music today, music that’s current and relevant. We see musicians as these golden eggs that are laid when in fact we’re all musicians, we can all make music.”
The result will be a more vibrant, creative city, the Mmmmaven team hopes. Corina Hernandez, a Northeastern student involved in the project’s business side, says that’s why she wanted to get involved. Like many her age, she counts herself among those “obsessed with electronic music.”
“I really like what Alex and David and all the Together people do, pushing this music, trying to make the city cooler,” she says. “I really believe in this and I really like the idea. I think it has a lot of potential.”
The idea behind the school came in the midst of planning this year’s Together festival, Maniatis says. They had set up a temporary headquarters in Central Square, and it proved to be a popular community gathering space.
“We had this idea for just investing our attention, with all of the talent and youth here, and building a sort of place to educate and learn about electronic music. . . . We want to have this year-round and keep it going, because there’s nothing like it in Boston.”
There are some notable examples in other cities — like Dubspot in New York and the internationally roving Red Bull Music Academy — but Maniatis says that with Mmmmaven’s involvement, students here will be able to avail themselves of their artist agency and production company in a more locally focused approach. Hernandez had been planning to travel to New York on the weekends to attend classes at Dubspot because there was no place to do it here, but she could never find the time. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to DJ since I was 15,” she says.
That’s a common refrain among people her age. Come August, provided they meet their fund-raising goals, which will go toward the purchase of equipment and computers for dedicated classroom stations, she will be able to learn. For the introductory courses, DJ 101 and 102, they will have 24 students in the first month broken down into different groupings. Additional seminars on specialized topics, or mastering specific software, will be added, with guest lectures from established producers and DJ talent in Boston in genres such as house and hip-hop.
Students will learn the basics of using turntables to start, since they are the root of electronic music, Day says. Like a student learning to play guitar might have to run through scales, they will go over the scales of DJ culture, pitch correction, beat-matching, rewinds, and so on. A look into the history of the genres of EDM will also be included. At the end of the course, each student will perform their own mix at a Boston club.
Prices aren’t fixed yet, but will run in the vicinity of $1,000, give or take, for 25 hours of instruction. They would like to make the classes economically feasible for as many people as possible, Maniatis says.
All you need is a love and appreciation for music, and a desire and thirst to learn more about it, Day says. A basic sense of rhythm doesn’t hurt, however, since that's not really something that can be taught.
And once they graduate? Ideally, says Day, it will mean more DJs making more music at more clubs, all of which will add up to a more exciting city culture. He says Mmmmaven gets so many requests for talent to play throughout the city, they can’t keep up, and that many of Boston’s known acts end up overextending and overexposing themselves, playing three times a week or more.
“That's great, they’re in high demand; but there’s no reason that more people can’t pick up some of those gigs,” Day says. When he talks to venues he thinks, “We would love to source you some music, make your places hopping with some community-oriented, social parties, but we only have so many DJs. We just need to find more DJs.” People all over the country and in the mainstream press are starting to figure out EDM culture, he says. “It’s not just people playing other people music.”
He’s right, but for beginners, that’s a good place to start.
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