Friday, February 22, 2008

So, you wanna be a DJ, eh?

Once upon a time, I used to write music articles for Latest Hits music magazine,
touching on topics like what Alternative music was, and if Video killed Radio, with an odd current singles review every now and then. The following article came out in Issue #20 in 2002, if I'm not mistaken. Inspired by workshop seminars I taught to our student DJs from Campus Aircheck, here's the article in full.


A quick flick of the switch and you hear them on air, yammering away from dusk 'til dawn. Dishing out the hits of the day, one after the other, in an endless stream of music interspersed with delightful tidbits about your favorite song, artists, movie stars and a plethora of seemingly useless jabber mixed into a sonic hodgepodge that can only emanate from your radio, all courtesy of the man or woman in front of the microphone; he or she may be a mere voice but when they open their chatterbox, the music is flesh and blood and the mood is alive! It's a day in the life of a DJ!

DJs or Disc Jockeys, for short, also known as Radio Announcers or Broadcasters, are what make the radio experience happen and virtually come to life on air. Back in the day, DJ meant the guy in a radio station. Nowadays, the term has blurred, to include other sonic luminaries such as the DJ who works the dance club, or a bar & restaurant or spinning gurus such as the likes of Armand Van Helden, Paul Van Dyk, Roni Size, Moby, et. al. But let's not shed too much light on these glorified spinners, we're talkin' serious Radio here.

I was a radio junkie at an early age. I wanted to be a DJ as early as eleven years old. Listening to static-laden AM stations dishing out a staple diet of Elton John, Deep Purple and The Commodores was enough to get me hooked. Hearing the jocks jabber away, I thought it was the coolest job on earth, and you know what... it is!

But like everything in the real world, nothing happens overnight and everything comes with its price. Something you'll learn on your journey through the strange and unknown path of twists and turns in Radio. Prepare yourself for bad breaks, heartaches, pain-in-the-ass predicaments and some of the worst situations that'll make you wanna quit and run home with yer tail between yer legs. Don't. Don't ever complain, don't ever bitch and never ever quit. That is, of course, if you wanna succeed in this business. Oh, and don't get daunted after the first few tries. People will laugh at you for even harboring fantasies of being a DJ. Don't let these turds get in your way. If you feel that you're destined to be on-air, if you have this uncontrollable urge to announce, don't let anybody and I mean ANYBODY stop you! Not your unsupportive girlfriend, not your nerdy brother or snide sister, nor your friends bellowing in laughter. But do listen to what your Mom and Dad have to say... those're usually Pearls Of Wisdom, so lend an ear. More so than not, they'll be the most supportive of your dreams than you gave them credit for.

Everyone, like in any job, starts at the bottom... and not just the bottom rung of the ladder, you start down there with the protoplasmic organisms amongst the dirt that's under the ladder itself... that low. It may sound funny or like I'm making this up as I go along, but you'll wish I was making it up and that it was funny, as you'll find out eventually.

Before you can even begin to think of setting foot inside a radio station and actually get the people there to take notice of your untapped potential, you must first acquire the following very important factors. These are:

  1. GOOD COMMAND OF THE LANGUAGE - A soldier must go to war well-prepared and armed to the teeth; so must you. A good command of English, as well as Tagalog, is a must. Fine, English yes, but why Tagalog? Why not Tagalog, ya dope. We're Filipinos, geddemmit! It's all well and good to sound like those Mestizo konyo kids hanging out in Alabang Town Centre, but knowing the vernacular is a plus, specially when confronted with scripts written in Tagalog. Balikbayan-sounding Tagalog just doesn't cut it on radio, believe you me.

  1. THINK LIKE A DJ - If there's one tip I can give you aspirants is read in English; talk in English; think in English, but stay Pinoy. Sounds stupid, huh? Here's how... read as much stuff as you can get yer hands on that's in English; imported magazines, specially music mags. Local publications (such as the one you're reading right now, hehe) are fine, so long as it's written properly (like the article you're reading right now, *wink, *wink!); newspapers, pocketbooks, literature, poems, even the nutritional facts on that box of cornflakes; corollary to this, from now on, read everything aloud, it exercises your projection (more on this later.); Talk to yer friends in English. It gives you a chance to practice in a normal conversational manner, which is how a DJ is supposed to sound in the first place, like he's conversing to one or just a few people and not sound like he's Moses addressing the multitudes from atop the mount; thinking in English gives you a tighter grasp on the language. If yer into local soap operas and movies, knock it off already! Start watching lotsa English shows, specially movies. Get the feel of the formal language, as well as the slang, which'll make for a good mix on air. Try and absorb those high-faluting phrases that lawyers just love using in court, as well as the homie slang of those homeboyz in black movies. Once yer down with both, that's a plus right there. Remember: Speak English but think Pinoy.

  1. GOOD DICTION - Learn your grammar in and out. It's hard, but it's a big, BIG plus. It's not good enough to have a great-sounding ala Rick Dees baritone if your words are pronounced Promdi style... ferget it! Remember, it's SCHOOL, not ISKUL... BOOKSTORE, not BOOKISTOR, COLISEUM and not COLEESYUM. It may sound cruel and it may sound insulting to some, but hey, it's for yer own good.

  1. VOICE QUALITY - If you were born with a great sounding syrupy modulated-to-hell, baritone voice, then you're one of the lucky ones... or are you? Sure, you may sound just like Rick Dees on the American Top 40, but imagine "Rick" with a southern (read: visayan) accent... not a very bright prospect, huh? That's the bad news. The good news is: quality CAN be achieved. Though your voice must have a certain natural timbre to it, modulating it can be learned. You can train yourself to talk in a manner befitting radio, which sounds smokey but not gruff; pleasant but not put-on. It all boils down to the age-old adage... practice, practice, practice.

  1. PROJECTION - Your command of English, good diction and grammar and great voice doesn't mean jackshit if you don't have projection. Think of yourself as a stereo set-up. You've got a cool 100-disc CD changer (your knowledge), powerful amp (good diction) and equalizers bi-amped and subwoofered to death (voice quality) that runs through... a pair of dinky, locally-assembled 5-inch speakers that sound like they belong in the bingo at the town perya! Learn to "throw" that voice and project it. Don't yell, shout or scream. You'll run yer voice ragged in no time, long before your radio show is halfway done. You'll be surprised DJs aren't that loud if yer standing inside the booth, but sound larger than life on-air. That's projection.

If ya think that's all it takes to be a DJ, then you've got another think coming.
There's more to this than meets the eye... or ear for that matter. Remember those job opening ads that say "... WITH PLEASING PERSONALITY" or "... WITH GOOD MORAL CHARACTER?" Those self same qualifications apply here as well. Here are a few more tips for you to ponder and remember:

  • BE HUMBLE. No matter HOW GOOD YOU ARE, or how good YOU THINK YOU ARE, be down-to-earth. It helps to walk softly and carry a big voice.
    Nobody hires aspiring DJs on talent alone. Station Managers put a high premium on applicants who they think the staff will get along with almost as much as what he or she can offer to the team. So leave the attitude in the nearest trash bin and be Mr. Nice Guy for real, not for show.

  • Brace yourself for trying times. Being a DJ is a little like being a doctor, for loss of a better comparison. You're constantly on-call, 24-7! In this business, there's no such thing as a non-working holiday, or a special non-working holiday, nor a Saturday or Sunday to sleep late and catch up, no Siree Bob! You can forget Christmas holidays, too and New Year's, coz even if it's Noche Buena or the New Year's Eve's firecracker frenzy is at fever pitch and yer given the night shift slot, you're stuck! If yer the new guy, prepare for the worst timeslot at the most ungodly hours, like the Graveyard shift, or be ready to get a call at the most inappropriate time when yer Station Manager sez "... the 3am jock's called in sick, sit in for him!" Welcome to the world of Radio, where there's no such thing as Holidays. Think of it this way... each extra hour you go on-air is more exposure for you! More exposure means more popularity, and that's not a bad thing.

  • GET ALONG WITH EVERYBODY. Not just your boss, not just the Big Boss and not just the other jocks, but everybody. The secretaries, the account execs, the traffic personnel, the messenger boys, even the janitor and the lowly "boys" or "girl Fridays." Hey, they work with you and they're people, too, so fit in. Remember, the peeps you meet on yer way up are the same peeps you meet on yer way down.

  • Be nice. Corollary to getting along with everybody, be nice to everybody. Not just within the office, but outside. Be nice to station visitors; they took the time out to come and see the jocks they listen to, so give them the attention they deserve. That includes the phone-in listeners. Being nice to your audience goes a long way. You'll be surprised how this can actually help your station boost its popularity, as well as its rating. I have listeners who've been listening to us for as long as ten years. They've grown up with us in the background and we have our courteousness and accomodation to thank for that. Some even send us food, gifts, birthday cards, you name it. It's always nice to be nice to your listeners. They're the reason why we do what we do, so that makes it all the more important.

  • Always learn new things to improve your show. Once you've gotten the hang of the equipment, so much so that you can do you work in your sleep, don't stop there. Learn new things; do research on the Net, if you're station's online. Keep yourself updated and well-informed, so you can utilize these and incorporate them in your show. Keep your show fresh and interesting as often as possible. Those informative tidbits interspersed with your listener's fave hits go a long way to keeping them glued to your station, so keep things fresh. Stay abreast of trends in music. Who're the hot rockers at present; the most popular boybands among the girls; remembering song titles and who sang them is also a must; Learn the ins and outs of a Recording Studio; if given the chance, learn Production as well, it'll come in handy. And most importantly, always sound alive on air! There's nothing like a stale, lackadaisical radio show that begs listeners to tune out and switch to another frequency. You wouldn't want that to happen, now would you? Remember, you're only as good as your last show.

  • They say if you enjoy doing your job, you'll never have to work another day for the rest of your life. I'm fortunate to be doing what I love for as long as I have. This job keeps me young and truth to tell, I don't even consider it a job; it's like I'm playing and getting payed for it. Sure, there were times when I wasn't up to it, or I felt like I'd done a show that wasn't up to par to what I'm capable of, but I've never lost the drive to go on-air, ever. Everyday is a new day, another opportunity to make a difference in my listener's lives as well as my own. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than knowing the listeners had a ball tuning into my show. Though I don't always get feedback on our performance nor do we find out if we actually please our audience, I'm always happy to do it all over again, every single day of the week... except on my day-off.
These are just a few helpful hints for you aspiring DJs out there. But dont take MY word for it. What worked for me might not work for you. It's all in the luck of the draw. But don't rely on just luck... in the end, YOU'VE got to MAKE IT HAPPEN.


Blogger Radio said...

great article, i still remember this when it was posted in a song magazine years back.

these advices worked so well for me, that even though i'm no longer on radio at this time, the blood of radio broadcasting is still flowing on my veins.

Jimmy, with your kind permission, allow me to link a similar article, which admittedly isn't made to match this article, but has been influenced by your wisdom many years back.

Here is the link.

3:16 PM  

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