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Slide Notes

DJs, Producers, and Electronic Dance Music have seen a meteoric rise in popularity over recent years. What do DJs and teachers have in common, and what can educators learn from the success that DJs have in "bringing the crowd" with their fans, especially young people?
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Copia de Techno Teaching

Dance and Techno Music have seen a meteoric rise in popularity among youth culture in recent years, and DJs seem to have a recipe for success with young people down to a science. What have DJs figured out about how to reach and engage kids, and what lessons could educators learn takeaway for their schools? Let’s hit the play button and find out.


Techno Teaching

What Educators Can Learn From DJs
DJs, Producers, and Electronic Dance Music have seen a meteoric rise in popularity over recent years. What do DJs and teachers have in common, and what can educators learn from the success that DJs have in "bringing the crowd" with their fans, especially young people?

Gary Abud, Jr.

@mr_abud | 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year

Detroit, MI

Welcome to
I'm born and raised here in Metro Detroit. I went to school here, and I now reside and work in the area. We're all here for the MACUL conference, so it seems fitting to give this presentation in Detroit. You've hopefully had a chance to see the city a little while here.


A Love For the
"It was only a few years ago when the DJ was a person lingering in the background, pumping music for people at a given party. Today, the DJ is the event. We all hail the person behind the decks, that rockstar whose own productions are what fans come to hear." ~VIBE

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Perhaps you even got to see the city while you were here...


The Birthplace of Techno
But this presentation isn't important because I was born and live here. It's important because Detroit is the birthplace of techno. Artists like Kevin Saunderson and Carl Craig pioneered this electronic music in Detroit back in the 1980s. The underground warehouse rave parties where this music was first introduced to the public happened initially here in Detroit.

Need More Proof?

This Is the Detroit Airport!
Our airport even has a long stretch of psychedelic lighting, which looks like a rave!


Electronic Music Festival
Today techno music has caught on, and Detroit hosts an epic annual music festival that was launched here at the turn of the century.

Electronic Dance Music

(a.k.a. "Techno" f.k.a. "Electronica")
There are many names used to refer to dance music, or more specifically the dance music produced using electronic instruments. Some call it "techno" and others "EDM." Regardless of the connotation, this is all about the music.

Electronic Dance Music

Is the Modern Evolution of Disco
The culture that has become associated with EDM has a lot in its history to attribute to disco. Both the inspiration and the musical style of EDM has its roots in disco music.


But With Way More
EDM culture has grown into its own thing, distinct from disco, and including many positive, yet a few negative, aspects of the fan base.

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There's no denying it: EDM is a cultural phenomenon that is a signpost of modern culture. From dubstep to house music, from raves to festivals, techno music has evolved from a mainly underground endeavor to a widely-known era of music and world culture itself.

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These four words come from a song by Fatboy Slim, a legendary producer and DJ whose work considerably advanced the electronic music scene over the years. These words embody some aspects of the EDM culture, but moreover get the crowd going.

This presentation will focus on some aspects of rave culture as it relates to the music, but is not intended to condone/advocate any of the negatives that have become associated with rave culture over time, e.g., drug use and the like. The terms "rave" and "raving," in this presentation, are used more generally to refer to the enjoyment of electronic music and dancing.

Just like Woodstock and the classic rock era of music had "hippie" culture, not all hippies were drug abusers, nor was the intention of the music to condone nor advocate for illicit actions.


Peace. Love. Unity. Respect.
In contrast to the negative perceptions of rave culture, the mantra PLUR (peace, love, unity, and respect) came out of the world of rave culture and remains a moniker of the music scene today. What's more, is the culture of EDM has done much to promote positivity, with most of the music being upbeat and having positive themes. Forming the heart shape with two hands is a more recent element of EDM culture and represents a love for the music and the community feel of the culture.

What If

Your Classroom Had This Feel?
So, what if your students wanted to be in your schools and classrooms with the same energy that they want to go to a concert or music festival? Wouldn't this be the level of "engagement" we all strive to achieve as educators? Don't we want learning to be a positive, fun, and memorable experience for our students? Well, DJs seem to have a recipe for success with that sort of thing, so maybe we should take a lesson from Mr. Mau5 (pronounced, "Mouse")

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Now, what we know about history is that DJs have been playing sets of songs for years live and on the radio. Such well-known DJs include the likes of Casey Kasem and Dick Clark. So the concept of the work of a DJ isn't all that unfamiliar. But modern DJs aren't just playing the recorded songs of a live band or singer, they're doing things much more differently nowadays.


Now For a Little Music
Let's introduce ourselves to the EDM genre, and one of its subgenres--dubstep--with a little help from Dubba Johnny's "A Brief Introduction on Dubstep Production."

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Producing this music is very different than recording music with live instruments; however, many principles of music theory remain the same. The enhancements from technology, however, allow the music to be produced and fine tuned to perfection unlike the naturally played notes on traditional instruments.


Removes Barriers to Entry
The equipment and software needed to produce electronic dance music is affordable and accessible. Many DJs and Producers of EDM are able to create tracks with little more than a laptop computer and some software.

Raises Challenge

"We All Hit Play Sometimes."
One of the figurehead players in the EDM genres is a 34-year-old man, Joel Zimmerman, who goes by the stage name Deadmau5 (pronounced, "dead mouse") and wears a large mouse head during his live performances. His music is well-known to the fans of EDM and his live performances are equally memorable. He produces plenty of original music and plays epic live sets. He also writes a blog about electronic music, and has revealed some of his own "secrets" of production. Most notably, he has stated that all DJs at some point or another in their career pre-record portions of their live sets and let them hit the speakers at a concert. He describes it in this way, "we all hit play sometimes."

Martin Garrix

Martin Garrix, a Dutch DJ/Producer, entered the main scene of EDM at the ripe old age of 17 with the release of his track 'Animals.' That means he could have been my physics student when he was playing live in front of tens of thousands of people as scene here. What that tells us is two things, among others: 1) the technology has flattened the on-ramp to becoming a DJ/Producer so that it's more accessible, and 2) EDM is something that is deeply interconnected with youth culture.

It does raise a number of questions, however, one of which is the integrity of the music itself, if it's supposedly so easy to produce. And there is where DJs strike up something in common with teachers.

Anyone Can Be a DJ

Flat World = Level Playing Field
Because the technology allows anyone to figure out how to DJ and Produce music, it's possible for anyone to enter the field; however, that doesn't guarantee that anyone can do it. Just like there are many ways for a person to become a teacher, and the teaching profession has been misrepresented by some who believe any person can be a teacher.

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There are games that promote the concept of "anyone can DJ," like DJ Hero. Thus, career DJs fight a perception that what they do isn't much more difficult than playing a video game.

Makes the Party

Electronic Dance Music
While the work of being a DJ might seem simplistic, it's actually much more complex, because not only does it require technical musical skill, it requires creating an experience--an epic and memorable experience--for the fans and listeners.

2 Roles of DJs

So, let's dive in further and learn more about the work of a DJ and see what other connections to teaching we can make. We've touched on it so far, but let's clearly identify the two primary roles of a DJ in EDM.


Live DJ Sets
First, DJs must perform live DJ sets. This is where they play their own original music, the tracks of other artists, and even remix songs that are not their own work. Stringing all these tracks together with effects and lighting makes the show memorable.

Everyone Can Access

The Same Music Digital Collection
A problem arises for the work of DJs when it comes to playing live sets. It used to be the case, before the age of digital music, that a DJ had their own personal record collection they carried around with them. This collection was unique to their own access to various record stores and their choices. It helped distinguish one DJ, and their live sets, from others.

But now, music is digital. Everyone has access to basically the same tracks. So playing the songs of other artists in your live sets is nothing special anymore. DJs have to go beyond using pre-published material when they play a concert; otherwise, how would they stand out among the crowd?

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It's like the Android commercials out now: be together, not the same. That motto encourages users to stand out from the crowd in mobile device usage, and I think the same advice is what DJs need to get past the digital music access issue. They need to move past just playing others' music.

Produce Music

Original Tracks & Remixes
This brings us to the second role that a DJ has, and that is of a music producer. In order to stand out from the crowd, and to "be together, not the same" in the world of EDM, DJs must also produce their own original music. They need to hunker down behind the screens, call up the software, and get composing. If they don't, they run the risk of becoming irrelevant. In the world of EDM, getting noticed among all the other DJs is not easy, especially since the technology makes mixing digital music so available and accessible. So, if a DJ also produces their own original tracks or special remixes of others' work, then they can mix those into their live sets and create an altogether unique experience for the listener.

98 of the Top 100 DJs

Produce Their Own Music
No good presentation goes without compelling data. So, here are some numbers: according to a 2013 report by Resident Advisor’s Top 100 DJs in the world survey, only two were not producing their own original music. That means that 98% of the top DJs in the world also are producers.

The work of a DJ requires making numerous decisions

So being involved in several aspects of their work, DJs have to be able to make many decisions in real time at live events, but also numerous calculated decisions when producing. Like teaching, the work of a DJ is a complicated IF-THEN matrix of decision making.

Complicated Work

Requires High-Level Technical Knowledge & Skill
While the technology makes it accessible, make no mistake: the work of music production in the electronic era is complicated. You must understand math and science, as well as have deft computer skills and a musical foundation to be successful.

Managing Lots of Complex Equipment

The equipment alone looks like it has a steep learning curve!

Festival Attendance

  • UMF | 160,000
  • Movement | 100,000
  • EDC | 400,000
  • DEMF | 1 - 1.6M
So we see that DJs are doing two things, mainly, in their work: producing original music and playing live DJ sets. So let's look at some more data: The live events have become increasingly popular, especially among the Millennial crowd. On March 27, 160,000 people will descend upon Miami, FL for the Ultra Music Festival. In two months, about a 100,000 people will come to Detroit's Hart Plaza for the Movement Festival. Over in Las Vegas, nearly a half a million people make the voyage to Electric Daisy Carnival. What's perhaps most impressive is that just in the last decade, Detroit had its own home-grown Electronic Music Festival, a free event like the Jazz Festival. It brought upwards of over a million people!

So, it seems that the work of a DJ has a special knack for attracting and engaging young people. That seems like something that would be valuable for educators to leverage.

DJs Know How

to Bring the Crowd
Some things that happen at the live events through the work of DJs include:

They bring the crowd - there is mass appeal, a positive reputation, and a high-level of interest in attending

The music engages and captivates, but also uplifts the fans. It's like going to a high-energy party, or taking the best cheering section energy of a high school football game and amplifying it!

Move Together

DJs Get People to
At the concerts, DJs control the entire experience by how they choose their tracks, build their sets, and create activities for the crowd to get involved. It's not just a listening experience; many times, the live events are interactive. This has a high level of excitement for the crowd and it's fun to participate. It's really hard to be bored at a techno concert.

Better Teaching

Through Dance Music?
Here's an example of how Aziz Ansari's character in 'Parks and Recreation' uses the culture of EDM as an inspiration for teaching an entire community about the importance of fluoride in the water system. You can look up the video on online by searching for: "TDazzle & H2Flow"
Photo by rennygleeson

Musical Structure

Make it easy to understand & participate
Ok, so maybe that's not what we we mean by techno teaching, exactly. But there are some interesting teaching elements of EDM. For instance, the genre's song structure follows a framework. The framework gives the listener something to follow and know what to expect. It also makes it easy to participate if you can anticipate when is the right time to get involved in the song by clapping, moving, or bobbing your head.

Not Boring

This is 
But what we do learn from Aziz Ansari's use of EDM culture in his teaching campaign is that there is a benefit in making something not boring. This is exactly what DJs are doing. It's nearly impossible to not have fun in this setting. Look at how it's structured. It's NOT boring!

Remix This

Action Steps & Take Aways
So let's try to put this all into perspective and make some sense of it for teaching, learning and our schools.

Mix and Produce

Doing More Than One Thing Well
DJs do more than one thing well: they mix and produce

The Main Thing

Keep Music
The work of DJs and the culture of EDM has maintained its focus over time, despite all the evolution it has undergone, on the music. They keep the music the main thing.

Always Innovating

Honor the Genre in a Unique Way
DJs are always pushing the boundaries of what qualifies as their genre of music in EDM, but maintain an honoring structure to the framework of what is essential to the music. While the instruments, melodies, and more might change, you can always recognize a dubstep or house song by the way it is structured. Honoring the tried-and-true while constantly innovating is a unique aspect of how creative DJs become successful and stand out among the crowd.


Playing and Remixing Others' Tracks
Through the work of playing live sets and remixing, DJs actively share one another's work and promote what their own competitors are doing. This form of co-opetition allows them to promote their profession and be successful together.


Epic Experiences
Ultimately, the work of a DJ is to create a memorable listening experience, which sometimes involves the crowd involvement at a live show, but other times leaves the listener to enjoy on their own.

Action Steps

  • Collaborate, Remix & Share
  • Produce Your Own Content
  • Create Epic Experiences
  • Innovate in Your School
  • Make Learning THE Music
So how can educators take these ideas away for their own practice?

Create your own original lessons and projects, but also repurpose and share the work of your colleagues. It helps you to understand lessons better when you create them yourself. Strive to make your classroom a place where kids want to be. This happens through the learning experiences you make for them. Always continue to collaborate with others and innovate in your work. Doing things differently sets your work apart, but sometimes pushing to do the same things better can be just fine too. Finally, keep teaching and learning the main thing, just like the music.

“If the teaching community shares ideas & uses each other's work as inspiration for their own, everyone will benefit."
--Rob Morgan

This is a quote from a former student of mine, now an engineering major at MSU and an aspiring DJ/Producer himself. I ran my presentation by him, and here's what he had to say.

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You never know who will be come the next great DJ/Producer, nor do you know at what age that interest will spark. Let's create learning environments and experiences that inspire kids to make learning as exciting and attractive as music is to a DJ's fans.

Techno Teaching

Bring the Crowd.
Overall, what we have to learn from DJs is that they can engage their fans, collaborate and innovate, all while keeping it about the music. Techno teaching isn't a flashy trend, it's lessons learned from another field that knows how to bring the crowd, And in their crowd...are our students.