Betty is making a name for herself. She's spun for crowds of 1,500 at clubs such
as Zanzabar and Volcanoes, has her own business cards and is planning to distribute
her own mix CDs. Not bad for a 16-year-old Kaimukï High School student. DJ Betty,
aka Betty Qian, is one of the first graduates of the Musical Youth of Hawai'i,
an after-school program that teaches teens how to DJ.|
DJ-ing is a multifaceted profession, encompassing nightclub DJs who finesse the crowd, radio DJs who make rush hour livable and scratch artists who use records as raw material for their deconstructivist masterpieces. With the death of live music, the DJ has become king, a personality in his (or her) own right. Dance and hip-hop is now the music of choice for many local teens, and turntables have supplanted more traditional instruments in their imagination.
The program's founder, James Coles, a DJ and creative director at 104.3 XME, says he decided to create Musical Youth of Hawai'i when he realized that, for all the popularity of DJ-driven music, local teens didn't have an easy way to get into the creative side of the scene. The necessary equipment-a pair of turntables, speakers, a mixer, a mic, headphones, not to mention a few records-can cost more than $1,500. "What we're trying to do is give the kids a chance to touch it and realize it," he says.
Coles and the other volunteer instructors aren't just teaching the flashy parts of DJ-ing-the mixing and scratching seen in music videos-the teens also learn music theory and production, as well as the ins and outs of the local entertainment and promotions business.
"When the kids see the equipment, they all want to get up there and cut and scratch and make all this noise," Coles says. "I tell them, 'Guess what, you're not going to touch any of this stuff for a month.' I have to teach them the fundamentals first: how to count, how to match beats and phrases. A lot of them actually drop out, because they had no clue about what's involved. And that's OK-at least they got to find out. That's what being a kid is about."
Coles launched the program in April 2003, and says the response has been overwhelming. There are 150 students currently enrolled, and almost 200 on the waiting list. "I've actually stopped talking about it on the radio," he says.
The Boys and Girls Club of Hawai'i provides the facilities, and Coles funds the program with periodic all-ages parties-parties which happily coincide with the program's mission. "As I'm putting these events together, I teach the kids every single thing I do," says Coles. "Think of a name for the event, hire the DJs-which in this case are the students-buy the radio ads, create the flyers, work the contract out with the club and cross your fingers."
Then the teens get onstage, where the real learning happens. "You can study mixing in the classroom," says DJ Betty, "but when you're onstage in front of 1,500 people, it's totally different." She recalls her first time playing at Zanzabar last November: "It was pretty scary. I forgot what I was doing, and I was just dripping sweat."
The experience has paid off, though; seven parties later, DJ Betty is a lot more comfortable rocking the crowd. "I still sweat, but it's about different stuff now. Now I worry about why the people aren't dancing, who's not dancing-that kind of stuff."
Musical Youth of Hawai'i now has a regular weekly all-ages event, Crunk Fridays, with open mic and turntables to allow more teens the opportunity to get hands-on.