From family and corporate events to restaurants and bars, the opportunities for disc jockeys run the gamut, particularly in the entertainment and hospitality hub of Southern California. Amani Roberts, Cal State Fullerton management lecturer and founder and president of the Amani Experience, a global DJ company, shares his story and provides an inside look at the world of a professional DJ.
In 1995, when Amani Roberts was studying hospitality management at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he was inspired to become a professional disc jockey while watching rapper and DJ Biz Markie play music at a club.
“He played a lot of TV theme songs and stringed them all together so the crowd was singing along,” says Roberts. “That’s when I decided that I personally wanted to be a DJ. But at the time, I didn’t think it was a realistic career path.”
More than a decade later, with approximately 20 rewarding years as a Marriott executive under his belt, and after relocating to the Los Angeles area, Roberts reawakened his DJ dreams. He taught himself the tools and tricks of the trade and launched his own business, Redondo Beach-based The Amani Experience, to provide DJ services at bars, clubs and private parties.
“That’s how it started, but it kept growing,” he recalls. “So I decided to go to Scratch Academy, sort of like getting your master’s degree in DJing. And then I went back to music production school, all the while still working my business. By then, I was DJing more, it grew from there, and I had some international gigs along with local ones.”
Today, The Amani Experience, which has five artists in addition to Roberts, not only provides DJ services at corporate and social events around the world, but also offers personal and group lessons on the craft, providing an interactive experience and preparation in creating original music and remixes as well as the art of engaging crowds with the music.
An Inside Look at DJing
While being a DJ might be a fun business, the work can be challenging. Success is based on a progression of knowledge that sets the artist apart.
“You have to start with vinyl, where music and DJing started, and learn your steps in music in terms of the parts of the song, whether it be the intro, verse, bridge, chorus or alto. Essentially, learning how the song works together,” says Roberts. “Then you learn the different parts you want to DJ in and out of the song, such as if you have a song playing and you wait until the chorus is coming and then bring in the next song. The first biggest skill is beat matching – how to blend two songs together, keep the same beats per minute [BPM], not mix vocals over vocals, and bring in the intro of another song and chorus of another song, while matching it all together. And you do that 32 times in an hour.”
Reading a room is perhaps the greatest art form in DJing – picking the right song for the right time. It is a skill only gained from experience – and even then can be trial and error. “If you see the crowd is in to pop, you might play Britney Spears, Madonna or Christina Aguilera,” says Roberts. “But if they’re in to hip hop, a little Drake or Lil Wayne could be good.”
What would Roberts play at Cal State Fullerton? Based on what the lecturer hears from students in his BUAD 360 – Entertainment Money Management course, he says that hip hop, heavy Latin music and a little pop/k-pop might be a good fit. Connecting with students is always giving Roberts new knowledge about upcoming youth tastes. “The students tell me about musicians and artists, and I have to research because I don’t know it all,” he says.
Making a Living as a DJ: Getting Ahead in the Feast-or-Famine Business
For the five DJs who work with Roberts, business can be great – or slow. “Sometimes I can keep them pretty busy, but otherwise there are slow seasons,” he says. “The DJs are on call and we hire out to different events.”
In the uncertain world of the entertainment industry, having backup paths to earn revenue is essential. “For me, I DJ events, teach people how to DJ and produce music. You have to do many things to play into the pie of the money you make. You’ll have to do other things to pay the bills, but they can be related,” says Roberts.
He looks to Moonwalk Audio senior composer Adam Gubman, who spoke at Cal State Fullerton in February 2019, as an example of the versatility that pays dividends. “Adam used to do mixes for cheerleading competitions,” says Roberts. “He had a list of 14 things that he does to earn revenue, including royalties, teaching piano, producing music for video games, music for Disney and producing music on his own. Actors are that way too. They will do commercials, movies, TV, voice-over work, plays, just to make money. And it’s all still relevant experience, since it’s all in entertainment.”
Giving Back by Teaching the Next Generation
Spring 2019 is Roberts’ second semester of teaching at Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, in which he instructs BUAD 360, a course focused on how various segments of the entertainment industry – such as hotels, casinos, music, film and theme parks – make money and the careers in each of these segments.
Roberts’ connections with the university stem from his involvement in Meeting Professionals International (MPI), an international association for event planners and suppliers. “We would come here as part of the Southern California chapter to speak to students about career options and joining us, because students need to join professional associations early on to have a support system for jobs and connections when they graduate,” says Roberts.
Connecting with Ellen Kim, associate professor of management and director of the Center for Entertainment and Hospitality Management, Roberts was informed of an opening to teach the entertainment financial course previously instructed by retiring lecturer and former director Kim Tarantino.
As an instructor, Roberts makes sure students have the resources they need to advance in the field through practical instruction and networking opportunities with industry professionals.
“I teach about a lot of hotel analysis, for instance, and I want to ensure that if students go on an interview with a hotel executive, they can speak with them about the star report, the P&L statement, mixed percentage and groups,” says Roberts. “These are things that set them apart, because most students don’t know that coming out of school.”
In the course of a semester, Roberts will bring in six to seven guest speakers, who will present for about an hour of the nearly three-hour long weekly class sessions.
“This is about sharing with different people who look like the students and have made different strides and received different promotions in the industries that students are interested in,” he says. “The students can hear that one of the best speakers might have worked for Disney, for instance, and if they really like the music part of Disney, they might want to pursue that and follow in their footsteps.”
Whether interacting with guest speakers or networking independently, Roberts encourages students to have the best professional profile and skills possible to set themselves apart. “This semester, we will have a 30-minute class section in which everyone will pull up their LinkedIn accounts for review,” he says. “And when the speakers are here, I tell [the students] to connect on LinkedIn. I’ve also shown them the importance of thank you notes as well. I want our students to look the best to potential employers. That’s my goal.”
Roberts is expanding his outreach to Cal State Fullerton students through a faculty advisory role with the Music Industry Club, which is open to students of all majors and provides opportunities to connect and explore the music industry. Roberts is currently working to facilitate a professionally led songwriting workshop for the club.
“I try to show them that their career won’t necessarily be a straight line,” says Roberts. “It can be up, back and forth. But there are different options, and I can share my story.”
For More Information on the Entertainment Industry
For more on Mihaylo College’s entertainment and hospitality management academic program, please see the program description in the current catalog.
For more on the Center for Entertainment and Hospitality Management and opportunities in the field, visit them online or at SGMH 5357A. Or read more of our articles on entertainment and hospitality management.
Want to connect with Roberts for guest speaker opportunities in his courses? Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.