Spin Doctors

Hey Mr. DJ, unleash your inner Tiesto with help from the pros at Scratch DJ Academy.

DJs are the new rock stars really,” says Chris Luzzatto, DJ of Techno and House Music. Supporting evidence for this claim isn’t too far. Just look at the masses of people attending Ultra Music Festival, and the enormous number of accounts on self-sharing music platform Soundcloud. For many, the allure of the turntable is louder than its literal volume. “Everyone’s a DJ now,” Luzzatto adds.

That’s the very reason for the existence of Scratch DJ Academy, where Luzzatto is manager. In 2002, none other than Jam Master Jay of legendary hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. founded the facility as a space to properly teach, guide and advise future DJs, no matter their level of experience. “Just giving students the inspiration or the footwork to have the confidence to go out there in world and get gigs for themselves and make sure that they become the artists that they want to become,” Luzzatto says of the school’s mission.

The flagship academy resides on the second floor of a nondescript building in the heart of the East Village in New York City. It’s clean, bright and intimidatingly high-tech—a literal laboratory for creating music. There are 17 Pioneer turntables that populate the main room, where DJ classes are held. Here, one student takes advantage of the school’s open practice hours, spinning and mixing on her own. On one end of the floor is a room dedicated to production classes. In it, the instructor is speaking to a wide-eyed student staring up at the projected screen of a music program called Serato. Private, closetsized rooms for individual practice line the back of the facility. Opening one of them is like peeking into a raging music festival where you’re hit with a blast of music.

New York Academy

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17 Pioneer turntables occupy the main room where students can practice their DJ skills. (photos courtesy Scratch DJ Academy)

For some, attending Scratch DJ Academy is a way to hone in a hobby, while for others, it’s a career catalyst. So far, thousands of people from ages 18 to 50 have spun on the school’s turn-tables. Tourists come from London, the Bahamas and basically anywhere to learn how to throw down a beat.

“[People] think it’s a lot easier than it is,” Luzzatto explains. “They come in and think, ‘Oh, I just have to press a button…’ No, we start everyone on vinyl.” To learn on old-school vinyl makes it easier when a club has two turntables. “You’ll know exactly what to do,” he says of the school’s classes. Most of the DJ instructors at the academy are open-format DJs, so they can perform a variety of genres. For the record, producers and DJs are two separate but inclusive titles: DJing is manipulating others’ music in your own way, and producing is, as it sounds, creating your own music from scratch. It’s easier to start off as a DJ and then transition into producing once you learn what works and what crowds react to, Luzzatto says.

There’s a variety of choices for aspiring DJs, based mainly on one’s time commitment and end goal. A private lesson may be more appropriate for someone looking to refine one skill or break a habit, while the Professional Track ($5,500) is an intensive twice weekly, 25-week-long course. Through this, students also get a press kit made and learn more about marketing themselves as a brand. According to Luzzatto, the most popular program is the six-month-long DJ Certification track ($2,550), comprising a mix of two-hour long DJ, scratching and music production classes. The classes “test the students like being in a club,” says Luzzatto. After learning the fundamentals of a turntable, students are faced with realistic scenarios, such as properly disconnecting all the equipment and learning song structure. Every program seeks to end with the students feeling confident enough to perform at a venue on their own.

One such student was DJ Twin T, who now performs at Whiskey Park in New York. “[The academy] changed a lot of my self-taught habits, which is great because it helped me become a better DJ [and] a better performer,” she reveals.

DJ Tevin Edwards left his home in Ohio thanks to a scholarship with the academy that ended up with him ultimately performing at this past Ultra Music Festival, and standing within five feet of renowned names like Afrojack and the Chainsmokers. “It opened my eyes to a lot of things I couldn’t learn anywhere else,” he says. “It is crazy to think my journey all started from Scratch,” he adds.

Age isn’t a factor at Scratch DJ Academy either, as the school offers after-school and summer camp programs for children ages 10 and up, or private lessons for those below. Currently, a seven-year-old boy is getting a head start and spinning at the academy.

Besides classes, Scratch DJ Academy continues to cultivate a sense of community by hosting weekly parties and seminars on everything from how to book DJ gigs to how to take a professional headshot. “Everything I do is basically around the Scratch DJ Academy” DJ Twin T says.


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