Paperhouse: On DJing

September 17, 2012

During the summer, superstar EDM DJ deadmau5 caused a bit of controversy when he wrote a Tumblr post that called out fellow DJs (and himself) for the lack of skill involved in DJing. He wrote, “I think given about one hour of instruction, anyone with minimal knowledge of ableton and music tech in general could DO what im doing at a deadmau5 concert.”

As one might expect, throngs of DJs lashed out at deadmau5 for his oversimplification of their performances. While aspects like song selection are undoubtedly important when DJing, the more relevant point deadmau5 brought up is the lack of improvisation in the EDM world.

Most major EDM DJs show up to a venue not only with their DJ equipment, but also with a massive light and sometimes fireworks show — shows that are planned out, moment by moment. Although the DJ may be twisting knobs, triggering effects, running loops, and making dramatic gestures, these movements are all pre-planned.

I’m not saying lights and fireworks are a bad thing, but when it comes to the point when an artist lets his live act dictate his musical performance, I have a problem with it. Deadmau5 and most other EDM DJs are like pop stars who lip sync their shows because actually singing would interfere with their dancing.

The creative tools that modern DJs have at their disposal are endless, and part of being a DJ is reaching beyond your comfort zone. Don’t plan out your sets track by track and don’t script out your knob turning. There are scores of DJs who follow this, still have fancy flashing lights, and still lead the crowd into a dancing fury.

So go home and start DJing. You’ll be a professional within the hour — unless it really isn’t as easy as the man with a flashing mouse head makes it out to be.

(Originally published in The Tartan)

Paperhouse: On learning music

August 27, 2012

Enjoying a new type of music is similar to learning a new language. Developing a functional knowledge and understanding a few key phrases isn’t that difficult, but attaining fluency requires research, practice, and more time than one first imagines. The key to both, however, is immersion. Surrounding yourself with people who are already familiar with the culture is the most efficient way to learn about any musical style.

You can try doing research on your own by reading Pitchfork or Drowned in Sound, surfing Wikipedia’s “list of X-genre artists,” and downloading a bunch of albums that you’ve heard belong in a certain genre, but this is no different from learning a language solely through how-to books and instructional podcasts. In other words, by learning this way, you lose the human aspect — the social nuances that elevate communication beyond simple information transmission into a form of spiritual connection and understanding.

There is another key similarity between learning a new language and broadening your musical taste: There is a critical period of acquisition, and once you pass that period, fluency is much harder to acquire. According to Daniel Levitin, associate professor of psychology at McGill University, it is our music taste during our teenage years that most heavily influence our listening preferences as adults. While that critical period has already passed for most of us, there is still time to listen and learn.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the most diverse universities in the country. Our music program is world renowned, our radio station is one of the final bastions in freeform radio culture, and Pittsburgh is a musical hotspot for most any type of style. So, why are you still reading this? Go find something new to listen to and expand your mind.

(Originally published in The Tartan)

Paperhouse: An introduction

August 19, 2012

Well hi, hi, hi there. My name is Alex Price, and I am the current general manager at WRCT Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon’s student-run radio station. In this weekly column, members of WRCT’s staff will tell you about whimsical musical journeys and adventures, exciting music (old and new) that deserves your undivided attention, and whatever else strikes our fancy — that our editors will let us print.

It’s a safe bet that everything and everyone on campus is competing for your attention, so I’ll get to the point: If you’re interested in just about anything, you’ll find a home at WRCT.

WRCT, known as Radio Carnegie Tech in older times, has been around for more than 60 years. As a free-form radio broadcaster, we are committed to providing quality alternatives to the mainstream commercial programming that dominates the radio. Our DJs, public affairs hosts, and other staff members are not only Carnegie Mellon students, staff, and faculty but also community members from the Pittsburgh area, some of whom have more than 30 years of radio broadcasting experience under their belts.

At WRCT, every DJ has the freedom to play the music of his or her choosing. So, whether you’re interested in bleeps and bloops, kitchen sink recordings, local independent news programming, or Latin American culture, WRCT has a program for you.

If you want to learn more about what we do, we’ll be on the Cut playing music during the beginning of the semester. Please stop by and introduce yourself; we’d love to meet you and take you in as part of the radio family. To learn more about the membership process, email our training director Anna Bieberdorf at

Hope to see you soon.

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