MCC’s DJ class creates a new future for students |

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Jhe world’s first college-accredited program for disc jockeys at Mesa Community College puts students on the path to learning the techniques of on-set professionals.

In the rarefied world where some DJs have brought in seven-figure incomes from their work at clubs, festivals and other gigs, MCC students can earn an Associate of Applied Science in “disc jockey techniques.”

As an alumnus, James Gaspar said the program changed his life.

“I didn’t think music was going to be a viable path,” Gaspar said. “But it turned out that this program changed my life for the better.”

Gaspar graduated from Scottsdale Community College in May and has already started DJing at corporate and private events and says he doesn’t just press the music.

“You are a musician and the turntables are your instrument,” said Gaspar. “You create music from other pieces of music.”

This fusion perfectly encapsulates what instructor Ramsey Higgins said the DJ has done for both hip-hop in particular and music in general.

“Of all the performance elements in hip hop, the DJ is the foundation of the culture,” Higgins said.

Ramsey Higgins — or DJ Ruthless Ramsey as he’s known on stage — has taught in the Maricopa County Community College District for the past 15 years, primarily at Scottsdale Community College, where the program originated.

Now Higgins has brought his mixing, scratching and transforming skills to MCC.

He said he started learning to DJ at the age of 7 at the “school of hard knocks” which had no teaching or bad teaching.

Now, with the degree program expanding in the valley, Higgins said it helps standardize the profession and provides a bargaining chip to help young DJs build a foundation for their careers.

“The degree shows they deserve standardized pay of what a DJ should get,” Higgins said. “There are a lot more things we do off the clock than we do, but this degree reinforces that we have the balance of both.”

To earn an associate’s degree, students must complete more than 60 credits in courses such as “Turntablism: The Art of the Scratch DJ” and “Introduction to Emcee-Rapping Techniques.”

Higgins said while the lessons don’t get easier, students’ skills are honing and adding to their repertoire week after week.

“If you think everything’s cool when you get home — just like my teachers taught me — that bar is up next week,” Higgins said.

Gaspar said Higgins’ passion for music drives students in a positive way and he makes you believe in yourself.

“His enthusiasm and his confidence in you is so contagious that you end up feeling better about yourself after talking with them, after being with him,” Gaspar said. “Because he says, ‘no, you can do it.'”

By learning the techniques from the instructor, that contagious positivity spreads throughout the class, and Gaspar said the classroom becomes a microcosm of collaboration.

“There was always something new to learn. Whether it’s from a peer or from the teacher, you learn something new,” Gaspar said.

After graduation, that apprenticeship ultimately translates into a starting salary of around $40,000 for mobile DJs playing corporate weddings and functions, according to the MCC website.

But like most professions, with hard work, pros can sell stadiums and rake in millions of dollars a year.

Whatever path the students take, Higgins said he also focuses on developing intangibles such as good character, perseverance, dedication, discipline, but also the “very therapeutic” response that music brings to students.

“Even if they’re not doing anything professionally, it’s still therapeutic,” Higgins said.

For Higgins, however, it’s not about the money, but the lives he touched and transformed in the classroom are central to why he teaches.

“Our job is to always be healers and be in the community,” Higgins said. “So that’s how it started…it should always stay that way.”

Born in Minnesota, Higgins moved to Arizona in 1985 and toured the country playing NBA Arenas and hundreds of clubs from New York to Los Angeles.

For this reason, the program’s founder and former director, Rob Wegner, hired Higgins as an instructor.

“If you learn from Ramsey, you learn from one of the most talented DJs and instructors on the planet,” Wegner said.

Wegner started the program at Scottsdale Community College in 2001, which eventually evolved into the world’s first accredited associate’s degree for DJs.

Getting accredited requires an advisory board of 30 of the Valley’s top DJs and approval from the US Department of Education, Wegner said.

“If you understand what a DJ does and their role in music, it makes sense that there’s a DJ promo in a music department,” Wegner said.

Wegner served as program director until 2015, when his multiple sclerosis became too much for him.

Wegner said the only downside to this program is that more colleges have yet to embrace the concept.

“It’s great that it’s in Mesa now because Mesa has a very acclaimed music program,” Wegner said.

Cecilia Satori enrolled in MUC136 Turntablism: The Art of the Scratch DJ this semester to enrich her musical repertoire and hopes to eventually become one of the pioneering female DJs in the male-dominated profession.

“Seeing that I have the opportunity to pave the way for the DJ experience makes me happy,” Satori said.

For now, Satori said she enjoys meeting pioneers like the inventor of scratching records, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and collaborating in class with other students.

“It’s like a whole new world is unfolding before my eyes,” Satori said. “I’m grateful to be able to inspire future DJs.”

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