On College Avenue in Broad Ripple, just south of 62nd street, the road is lined with houses that have been transformed into cozy homes for businesses and local storefronts. Two of the commercial neighborhood’s newest tenants are Nick Saligoe aka DJ MetroGnome and Douglas “Sir Doug” Morris, co-owners and founders of Deckademics DJ School.
Although it’s advertised as “Indy’s First DJ School,” the seeds for Deckademics were planted long ago. In 2006, Saligoe started an Indianapolis chapter of Hip Hop Congress. Working out of The MLK Center at 40th & Illinois with a $5,000 grant from the city, he and local legend DJ Topspeed started teaching kids in the neighborhood how to DJ. The project ran through 2009 as a free service to the community until they plateaued.
Shortly after Hip Hop Congress shuttered, he started working on what would eventually become Deckdemics. Taking his time, Saligoe started with rewriting the curriculum. Later, in 2012, he formed Deckademics as an official LLC, but it wasn’t until mid-2013 that the pace picked up and it seemed he would soon have all the pieces to the puzzle into place.
One of the key pieces of that puzzle would be Saligoe’s business partner, Morris. With a business relationship dating back to 2006 when DJ MetroGnome became a staple for Old Soul events, the foundation for success was already in place. Saligoe credits their healthy, honest friendship for their ability to keep each other in check when it’s time to get down to business.
“Sometimes you have a personal relationship and you don’t want to taint it with business. With us it’s kinda personal and kinda business. We joke around, but we’re also quick to call each other’s shit if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do, which is good.”
In addition to the amicable vibes that come with holding class in a residential dwelling, Saligoe specifically wanted the school to be in a house in order to compartmentalize concurrent sessions and isolate students. Each of three rooms accommodates two students at once, letting one use speakers and challenging the other to use headphones only.
“It changes the way you have to DJ in that kind of setting,” Saligoe explains. “If we had everyone in one big commercial space, there would be nothing to separate the sound.”
What’s more, Deckademics’ methodology is steeped in classic DJ’ing and insists that all beginners learn the trade on the traditional platform of vinyl and turntables. Saligoe points to a bookcase full of vinyl records and continues, “Deckademics teaches on records because there’s nothing to stare at and it forces the student to use their ears.”
Entry-level classes stick to turntables only for instruction, but the school doesn’t totally reject new technology, either. CDJs and controllers occupy a table in one classroom for advanced learners, but Saligoe and Morris both want their students to develop the foundational skills of the craft before embracing the technology that augments it.
“We want to make sure that students have the flexibility to show up to a party and be able to perform with whatever is there,” Saligoe says.
It is certain that Deckademics’ most valuable point of differentiation is their arsenal of instructors- most notably the legendary DJ Topspeed.
“He’s probably the most respected and the most talented. I don’t think that can be challenged,” Morris contends when I ask about the school’s staff.
“I don’t think anybody can challenge that Speed is the best in the Midwest, and you can probably even stretch that further. There’s certain things that Speed can do and teach that nobody else in the city has the knowledge for.”
Topspeed joined the Deckademics team for more than just his famous name, though. Saligoe points out that he was very intentional in his selection of instructors, considering more than just experience and skill in the art of DJing. His formal degree in education helped him look at the bigger picture and take into account all the traits and skills that go into making a good teacher.
“The reason that I chose the people that I did was that there’s a lot of people that are good DJs [in the city], but it’s different to try to explain how to DJ. That’s a totally different animal,” he says while going over the roster of instructors at Deckademics.
Alex Edgecombe aka Cool Hand Lex, another member of the Deckademics faculty, is also a fantastic DJ with a great reputation for having a very well-rounded musical background, but Saligoe notes that he’s also very personable.
“A lot of times when you’re teaching people at the lower level it’s less about getting busy. I mean, you can do that, but it doesn’t really help somebody that is trying to learn. You need to be approachable and make people comfortable because there’s a lot of growth that has to take place. People have to build confidence.”
Rounding out the roster of instructors, Saligoe calls scratch DJ Chase their “secret weapon”. What he lacks in local fame, he makes up for in technical skill.
“He only teaches upper-level scratching courses,” Saligoe says as he explains Chase’s role in the DJ school. “So for the people that want to become scratch nerds, that is his lane. He’s highly skilled, technically advanced, and he understands a lot of the really, really difficult stuff. We’ve had people approach us for those kinds of classes; they’re not worried about being a party rocker, they just wanna learn how to cut better. This is the perfect avenue for that. “
Generally speaking, Topspeed, Edgecombe and Saligoe handle the majority of the intro level through intermediate courses, while Chase specifically teaches advanced classes. Saligoe and Morris have intentions of adding to the staff in the future, as well as offering supplemental one-day courses that are taught periodically, but not on a regular repeating schedule, such as “DJing for the Radio” and “Personal Branding & Marketing 101”.
Flexibility, adaptability, and personalization are recurring themes with every student at Deckademics. Saligoe and Morris have seen the gamut with regard to age, skill, and musical taste in their classes. Many students are totally new to the craft, but they also see a lot of seasoned DJs who want to get better at scratching. Deckademics emphasizes that they’re not trying to cater to a specific demographic or “scene”.
Most of Deckademics’ clients are in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, but they do have a few high school and middle school students. They hope to add a children’s class to their offerings in the future and look forward to expanding their younger clientele-base.
Deckademics’ Weekend Warrior class is their most popular offering – a four-hour crash course specifically designed for people who don’t know if they’re ready to commit to the craft.
“DJing is a very expensive hobby,” says Saligoe. “That’s why it’s a popular class, because they don’t have to commit too much time or money up front. Come in and discover that you love it, or chalk it up as a good experience and hang your hat.”
Deckademics is also thoughtful in helping self-taught DJs determine where their current skillset fits into the classes offered. Saligoe points to the trend of DJing with controllers- a technology that takes a lot of the challenge and skill out of mixing- as the culprit for many miscalculations about which class a student should be taking.
“They’ve been [DJing with controllers] for a long time and think they’ve got it down, so they see themselves as intermediate or advanced, when they’re actually novice because they’ve been using technology that does the work for them. So they actually don’t know how to DJ at all if you remove that crutch.”
Julio Rolon aka DJ Rican took the ADVANCED: Practice Makes Perfect course to learn more scratch techniques, sharpen his fundamentals and get an overall refresh on his skillset. He’s been a DJ for ten years.
I didn’t think I would be able to pick up some of the fundamental scratch techniques so quickly since this all was a new way to learn. I was forcing myself to act as if I was coming as a beginner and just absorb as much information as possible, but as each session passes, it just starts to feel natural.
I HIGHLY recommend this program to anyone that loves music and/or controling a room with music with a skill set. The DJ industry has changed so much due to technology that people tend to think it’s an easy task to just “press play.” Deckademics allows you to get kind of a history lesson into what makes a DJ, how to control your audience, what song selections should you use, which type of equipment would you prefer using, or a music lesson on where certain samples came from.
Jerry Rickard aka DJ Trounce signed up for the AMATEUR: Application of Fundamentals class with two years of DJ experience behind him.
After attending Deckademics for only two months I did a show and my friends could see a big difference in the way I mixed, scratched (which I never done), blended, and much more. No need to describe my experience, because my new found skills from Deckademics have done all the describing.
Deckademics recognizes that not everybody wants to be involved at the same level. They don’t expect everybody who enrolls in a class to end up as a club DJ and they don’t necessarily want everyone that comes through to try to “be on the scene” in six months.
Like many other things in life, taking a DJ class at Deckademics is what you make of it, but there’s never any pressure to advance to another class when it could be something you just want to cross off your bucket list.
But if you’re ready to chase your dreams, Deckademics is certainly ready to help you get there.