ST. ALBANS — Drop on the one. Match the beats. EQ.
Roughly 100 Bellows Free Academy (BFA) St. Albans students received a quick lesson in how to just that from Mike Henderson, aka ENDO, a 2000 graduate of BFA.
Henderson attended the Berklee College of Music where he studied electronic music, something he’d fallen in love with during his junior year at BFA, when he attended a music festival featuring the Chemical Brothers, among others.
After the festival, he went home and bought two turntables. “Since then I’ve been DJing non-stop,” Henderson said.
At one point, he was doing 8-hour radio shows for UVM’s radio station. “It was an addiction for me,” Henderson said.
In addition to DJing events around the world, for crowds as large as 10,000, Henderson teaches others to DJ. He also works for Native Instruments, which makes Tractor, a software program for DJs, and shows others how to use it. Among the people he’s taught: Grand Master Flash, Paris Hilton and Seal.
“I’ve gotten to work with a lot of really interesting artists,” Henderson said.
He’s also the creator of an app to book DJs called AGNT.
Through his company, MIDI Monsters, he sells mappings in which he pre-programs buttons on the controllers used by DJs to produce certain effects.
Over the years, he’s also served as a tour manager for other DJs, done promotion for clubs and is currently teaching an online class for his alma mater, Berklee, on how to DJ.
“Music’s my life,” Henderson said. He advised students wanting to make music their lives to try to find several different avenues within music as he has.
While at BFA, Henderson was a percussionist in the band. Of the band teacher, Eric Bushey, he said, “Mr. Bushey… really inspired me and pushed me forward musically.”
Now he wanted to “hopefully spark some inspiration in you,” Henderson told the students.
Lessons in DJing
A club DJ like Henderson doesn’t simply play a song and then another song. He takes songs and melds them seamlessly together, often adding effects. The music doesn’t stop, and sets can last as long as 12 hours.
“Make the crowd keep dancing, that’s the goal,” said Henderson.
“DJing all started on vinyl, those round, black things you find in your parents’ closet,” Henderson said. But now CDJs allow DJs to simulate the ways they’d manipulate music on a turntable with digital music files.
In addition, to the CDJs, Henderson’s set up also included a mixer, a laptop running Tractor, and a drum machine he was using as a midi controller. He has 1,000 commands programmed into the drum machine.
DJs play two or more songs at the same time and on top of each other. The first step is to get both songs playing at the same tempo. Henderson listened to the second track on headphones while the first was playing on speakers. When he’d matched the beats, he added the second song to the mix being heard by the crowd.
But that second song was brought in on the one – the first beat of a new measure.
“You had to know how to beat match,” Henderson said. “Otherwise people are throwing rotten tomatoes at you.”
Matching the beats took him a year to master, he said.
But the second song isn’t dropped into the mix at just any point. The DJ must match the structure of the songs, with the second song brought in at a change in the phrasing of the first. “A phrase is a new musical section,” Henderson explained.
Much of contemporary music is designed for this kind of mixing, starting with eight measures of clear beats to allow the DJ time to mix it with another song, he said.
Tractor visually displays the structure of each song, graphically showing when different phrases begin and end, allowing the DJ to see when to bring in the second song, or take it out.
he mixer allows the DJ to control which portions of a song the audience hears. The low tones are the bass and drums, the mid tones vocals and instruments such as saxophone and the highs cymbals. it’s these adjustments that are known as EQing.
Henderson explained that he brings the second song in without the lows to avoid distortion or having the kick drums in each song cancel one another out.
Then, at a change in the phrasing, he’ll cut out the lows in the first song and bring in the lows in the second, swapping the base line.
He then uses effects such as reverb to enhance the music. “Effects just take a song from zero to one hundred, really fast,” Henderson said.
Henderson also showed the students how to use a visual representation of the relationship between musical keys known as the Circle of Fifths to determine which songs will play well together. To sound good together two songs must be in the same or adjacent keys on the circle. “If you’re playing two songs that have the same notes, you’re in heaven,” he said.
“When I’m playing, I’m just going around the Circle of Fifths. It really helps control the energy of the room,” said Henderson, before offering a demonstration in which he played four songs simultaneously.
Students, who had applauded multiple times throughout the demonstration, asked if Henderson records his own music.
He does, but “I’m still a baby in the production world,” he said.
Asked if he would DJ the prom, Henderson said “yes,” but added students should email him.
However, he also said smaller shows are more of a challenge for him than larger ones. “Headlining is easy,” he said, while playing for a crowd of 200 was tougher.
His biggest crowd was 10,000. He also played a show for 5,000 in Tokyo. “I’ve played all over the world.”
In answer to a student’s question, Henderson said he spends about 80 percent of his time listening to and finding more songs for his library of 10,000 songs.
To listen to recordings of parts of his performances and learn more about his work, visit Henderson’s website at djendo.com. He’ll also be playing Club Metronome in Burlington on Sunday.
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