Three years ago I made a fairly unorthodox career transition; moving from booking bands and DJs to building learning and education programs (amongst a couple of other things).

Those who know me are probably aware I like to look at seemingly disparate disciplines and explore the connections between them. I like it so much I run a podcast series on it.

But other than the obvious and slightly contrived lines of DJs ‘telling a story’ and ‘taking a crowd on a journey’, I hadn’t really seen any parallels between these two paths – until now.

A couple of weeks ago I had breakfast with the founders of a company running professional development courses with a number of prominent brands and corporations.

As it was our first time meeting they asked me to tell them my story. When I mentioned my background in music, and specifically electronic music, one of them lit up with interest.

He’d lived in Germany for a while and had arrived there with a deep loathing of electronic music. A year or so later and he found himself a huge house and techno fan.

I asked what caused the change.

As he explained we looked at each other and realised we were thinking the same thing. (And no, not drugs).

One of the main things we loved about electronic music was what we loved about facilitating and teaching.

 

Placing and Pacing

One of the albums that shaped me in my teens was the Sasha Global Underground San Francisco compilation. I’d try and copy the mixing style; these gradual transitions from one track to another, perfectly EQ’d and aligned in key. I didn’t make a great job of it.

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I remember reading a comment Sasha made in the liner notes [1] on his move from smaller clubs to playing both longer sets and at bigger venues. The main shift was having to place the big records really carefully and pacing the set based on lots of variables that changed each time and weren’t that predictable.

 

I’ve noticed the same thing when building a course or running a series of activities with a group of people.

The hard stuff isn’t necessarily knowing the material itself. This in itself isn’t easy, but it’s a baseline. [2]

The hard stuff is allowing space.

Being able to pace it right.

Drawing attention to that one specific thing you want people to notice, even if it seems small or inconsequential.

Making smooth transitions from one to another.

Reading an audience, and connecting with one that looks like it couldn’t care less.

Bringing in heavier or more leftfield material at the right time.

Knowing when to freestyle and when to stick to the plan.

Making the choice to cut your losses and move on.

Knowing what to do when you’re running out of time and the flow’s starting to ebb.

Dealing with technical problems when they inevitably happen.

Having a solid backup plan when you get caught out.

Picking up the baton and then handing it off.

 

They said DJs were the new rockstars.

Then they said they were the new celebrities.

I wonder if teachers may be next. And not just school teachers, but anyone out there who’s sharing knowledge and connecting and empowering people to learn and level up.

Does this sound grandiose? Maybe.

But aside from the shared skill sets, it’s worth looking at the second and third order effects of the rising profile of DJs and electronic music.

Just like only the top 0.1% of DJs headline festivals, a whole new generation of passionate and talented people can now build their skills and hone their craft through a creator ecosystem powered by tools like Mixcloud, Splice, Soundcloud and Ableton.

I believe we’ll see the same for teachers, knowledge sharers, facilitators and connectors.

And just as electronic music has evolved, grown and accelerated with a plethora of internet-driven tools, services and communities built to support its ecosystem, a similarly huge opportunity is going to appear for the new generation creating and delivering lifelong learning for passionate people around the world.

It’s really exciting.

Time to get in the mix.

 

 

[1] These were great pieces of work in their own right; really visceral and colourful, and just a touch pretentious of course. Most of them were written by a journalist called Dom Phillips.

[2] Great DJs are able to make average material good, good material great, and great material…blow your socks off. Carl Cox has long been a master at this, taking seemingly average techno tracks and somehow making them sound incredible.

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