They don’t call him The DJ Coach for nothing.
The fact is, Hapa Perdue (aka DJ HAPA) has blended his 20-plus years of experience as a DJ with a deep passion for teaching its craft. In addition to sharing stages with artists like Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars and Drake, his clients include Microsoft, ESPN, and The Grammys – so his impressive list of accomplishments gives him a unique standing in the DJ space as a mentor.
HAPA’s DJ-class teachings (online or in-person) are informed by the fact that he’s always been on the cutting-edge of music, education and technology and is well-versed and certified in every major hardware or software brand in the DJ space – and now his attentions are expanding to VR and the Metaverse. His inspiring, personal story of overcoming the life-threatening obstacle of epilepsy lays the foundation of a career that’s as much about paying it forward as it is his wide-ranging musical accomplishments.
Beginning his journey in the Bay Area in the midst of America’s turntablism revolution, Hapa rose in the ranks to become one of the country’s more in-demand DJs, but also an educator of remarkable breadth. Now based in Los Angeles, HAPA, 42, has launched a variety of DJ-education projects that he believes will teach the newbies, while also preserving DJ culture. As he prepped for his Keynote Q&A at this year’s DJX, we connected with The DJ Coach.
DJ LIFE MAG: Which places of higher education are you currently working with?
DJ HAPA: I’m a professor in the Music Department at Mount San Antonio College out in Walnut, Calif., where we have a two-year Audio Arts Degree Program that is part music production, audio engineering, and DJ performance. I also have spent the past 17 years working on building DJ education and cut my teeth building a brand called Scratch DJ Academy from 2004 to 2019. I’m currently working on a new online education solution for DJs called DJ University where we not only teach the technical skills, but also the business side of DJing and how to build a brand and potentially turn your passion into a career path.
DJ LIFE MAG: Musically, what were your first influences? What made you love music and want to pursue it?
DJ HAPA: I came up in the era of cassette tapes and recording songs off of the radio with my boombox. I remember hearing DJs mixing songs together and had no idea how they were doing it. I would try and emulate that and tried to “mix” by not pressing play down all the way, so it slowed the music or pressing pause instead of stop, so it cued right up to where I wanted it. I was then trying to hustle tapes in high school, but still had no idea how DJs were scratching until I was put onto the Invisbl Skratch Picklz by my friend’s older brother, who told me to see how “real DJs did it.”
DJ LIFE MAG: And what did you think?
DJ HAPA: I was skeptical, thinking these guys couldn’t even spell correctly… my friend and I went down to the De Young Museum in San Francisco one afternoon and saw QBert, Apollo and Mix Master Mike playing the turntables together like a band – and my mind was blown!
At that moment, I lost interest in drumline and was saving up for the Gemini “DJ in a Box” package that I saw on this mail-order catalog. When it came in, it took me months to figure out some of the fundamentals that we now teach in a matter of minutes, but it was so fulfilling when I finally understood how to beatmatch!
DJ LIFE MAG: How did you progress?
DJ HAPA: DJing really started to click though when I got around some older DJs in college and was the tenth man in a DJ crew called Exquisite Sounds. Learned so much off of the guys and girls in our crew and soaked up as much knowledge as I could. We would go and do mobile gigs, frat parties, club gigs – anywhere we could book – and all of the money went back into records, new equipment or late-night meals. It was such an incredible experience and, still to this day, I recommend this type of camaraderie to DJs I mentor. The community and the culture is what made me stick with it and is honestly why I am still so passionate.
DJ LIFE MAG: What has your DJ evolution looked like?
DJ HAPA: I used to own a vinyl-record store with some friends called REHAB Projects in Los Angeles and I was a huge fan of collecting vinyl. I was also one of those DJs who said I would never use a laptop to DJ, which is laughable now… since today, I am one of the people pushing technology in our space from my involvement with software brands like Serato, Algoriddim djay, rekordbox, WeDJ, DJUICED, Traktor, Ableton – all of which I have built courses for. And now I’m working on a project with a company called Tribe XR where we have built the full CDJ-3000 kit in VR!
DJ LIFE MAG: What gear are you using these days?
DJ HAPA: My weapons of choice these days really do vary and I think it’s essential that professional DJs get exposure to all sorts of gear that exist in our space. I love Pioneer DJ’s CDJs with rekordbox, but also just got the new REV7 with Serato and that’s become a favorite tool of mine recently. I also really enjoy pulling out my phone and mixing on Algoriddim djay software on-the-go and, of course, DJing in VR with Tribe is next-level! I still have my Technics 1200s and my vinyl collection is still about 50,000 records.
DJ LIFE MAG: How did you make your career progress to a place where you were playing events for big brands, etc.? How did you make that happen? How does it happen now?
DJ HAPA MAG: I think no matter what kind of DJ you wish to be, there are some really important steps that you should take. First, you’ve got to make sure you have the fundamental skills down. I see DJs wanting to shortcut this step and this is the foundation! At the same time, it’s important to not obsess over being “perfect.” We like to say, “We focus on progression not perfection.” You are going to make a ton of mistakes live, and the goal is to minimize those, but I don’t think I’ve ever played a “perfect set.”
DJ LIFE MAG: What else?
DJ HAPA: Secondly, you’ve got to build a brand. These days, there are so many DJs and even more people jumping into the DJ pool than ever before – which is a good thing, in my opinion – but because of that, you have to stand for something and can’t be the “jack-of-all-trades” DJ. Now, don’t get me wrong – I do think DJs should be versatile and should be willing to try new things and say yes to a variety of opportunities, if you wish, but the sweet spot is niching down to who you are and playing music that makes you come alive.
DJ LIFE MAG: Who are you and what is your sound?
DJ HAPA: I describe my sound as “feel good,” and those are also the types of events and brands I like to align with. It fits me to my core to be at a Target pop-up with families and a Ferris Wheel playing dance remixes I made of Rihanna and mixing that into Stevie Wonder into Kaytranada into Avicii.
DJ LIFE MAG: In 1998, you were diagnosed with epilepsy – how did that alter your life and career? How did that impact your attitude moving forward? What did you learn?
DJ HAPA: Epilepsy has been the biggest teacher in my life. I’m so grateful for the disease that almost killed me multiple times because it taught me a lot about being present, pushing my limits, and following my passion. It has completely changed my outlook on life and forced me into space of needing to lean into my faith and be in a position of fully surrendering. There are a lot of stigmas attached to seizures and epilepsy, and I’m trying to help change that within our lifetime.
DJ LIFE MAG: So, raising consciousness about the disorder is important to you as well…
DJ HAPA: Did you know there are 3 million people that are living with epilepsy and that one in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime?! Think about that for a moment. Most of us DJ for a room many times with at least 100 people in it… that means about four of those people either have epilepsy or will have epilepsy! But, just to be clear, this isn’t specifically about a brain disorder, this is about being faced with challenges in life and being able to not stop there. Perseverance was always a word that I related to and it’s something that we need more of today in the world where it’s celebrated to move on quickly or is acceptable to give up when you don’t find the immediate answer.
DJ HAPA: In 2004, myself and my business partners were sitting around in our record store/community center in L.A., which was the home of our company DJCity and we vowed we would provide value for the community beyond just selling vinyl records because we could do that with minimal overhead online. As we are sitting in this brainstorm meeting, the idea comes up to start a DJ school and everyone was excited about it. About 30 seconds later, we all looked at each other questioning how to even start a DJ school. I remember hearing about Jam Master Jay from Run-DMC being involved in starting Scratch DJ Academy out of New York and the guys urged me to cold call them, so I did.
DJ LIFE MAG: So, what happened?
DJ HAPA: Long story short, we brought Scratch out to L.A. in late 2004, and that was the start of my teaching career. We changed so many lives and empowered so many people to explore this passion that they had for music, but didn’t know where to start or how to express themselves and I’m forever indebted to Rob [Principe] and the team at Scratch for helping me tap into this passion that I didn’t know I had for helping to create that “lightbulb moment” in people.
DJ LIFE MAG: Sounds like that was a “lightbulb moment” for you, too.
DJ HAPA : Just like knowing your brand as a DJ, I’ve figured out that I have been given a gift for empowering passionate DJs to unlock their passion. I was working with some pro athletes, who wanted to get into DJing, and several of them started referring to me as “The DJ Coach” and the name stuck. Currently, we have intro courses at TheDJCoach.com and we have students we serve from over 122 countries and now we have new programs with DJUniversity.com where we are helping DJs level up. My goal is to teach the world to DJ and to elevate DJ education everywhere. I believe that we, as educators and schools, need to collaborate and work together to help legitimize DJing as a career path and, at the same time, preserve DJ culture.
DJ LIFE MAG: Your Hal Leonard book, The First 50 DJ Techniques You Should Know, is fairly extensive and detailed in the way it explains the terms and facets of the DJ game. What was your approach to this book?
DJ HAPA: I wanted to create a resource that anyone who is learning to DJ or teaching someone to DJ could lean into. I wrote it with the beginner in mind, but also was considering the veteran DJ that learned by trial-and-error, like me. I see this book being something that is a great complement for someone who is buying that modern day “DJ in a box” like I did, and really hope that, with the support of our publisher Hal Leonard, this helps legitimize DJ education as a whole.
DJ LIFE MAG: The DJ game evolves and changes so fast. In your estimation, what has been the biggest change for DJs and why?
DJ HAPA: Biggest change over the past 15 years has been the incorporation of laptops and software, but I believe the next horizon will be streaming-music services and I like what Beatport and Beatsource are trying to do in that space with the integration into DJ software. I also think the pandemic obviously opened up other opportunities and platforms for DJs to perform and stream for audiences. I’m really excited for what is to come with the Metaverse, as well, and how DJs will be able to participate in reaching virtual audiences and being an integral part of virtual events.
DJ LIFE MAG: When it comes to obtaining music specifically geared for the DJ, there always seems to be some drama about various record pools/digital services regarding their legality, etc. What’s your take on the modern record pools/digital services? What should DJs know when sizing up the options?
DJ HAPA: Yes, these rules change all the time and there certainly is a lot of “gray area” here as well. I personally think that, as a DJ, I am not going to be able to get all of my music from one source. I do think that it’s important to dig and to be open to music discovery and that is at the core of what DJing is, in my opinion. DJs play such an important role in that process because we should be introducing audiences to new music or helping audiences re-discover music. I think it’s important that we, as an industry, highlight this more than simply letting the audience solely dictate what is played. Personally, I have multiple DJ record-pool subscriptions and also tap into streaming music within my sets when the Wi-Fi will support it. My advice to DJs is to give everything out there a test-run!
DJ LIFE MAG: What are three tracks that are always in your “DJ box,” and why?
DJ HAPA: So tough… one, Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” It’s MJ and I actually had the opportunity to open for him at a private gig in L.A. many years ago. He’s the GOAT and this record with the “mama say” section… a must-have in any DJ situation for me because it allows me to go almost anywhere – house, Latin, Soca, dance, etc. – off of that a cappella bridge. Two, Avicii’s “Levels (HAPA Edit).” The use of the Etta James sample is genius. Avicii was an incredible producer and the energy in this track is undeniable. If you haven’t seen the documentary, True Stories, it will give you so much insight into his process and genius. I made an edit where I combined “Seek Bromance” and re-structured the track to build and peak the way I like it. And three, “Mas Que Nada” by Phil N Good feat. T Lopez. Several years ago, I created an alias with some co-producers and partners called Phil N Good with the mission to create a global, feel-good dance sound. We had the opportunity to re-work the classic “Mas Que Nada” [by Sergio Mendes] for the 50th anniversary of the record and my wife T Lopez Perdue is the vocalist on the track. We added live percussion with Grammy-nominated Victor Orlando from The Gap Band and live horns. This track is one of those Swiss Army Knife records that works at the beach, the club, the lounge, the corporate gig, etc.
DJ LIFE MAG: Which DJs do you admire the most and why?
DJ HAPA: There’s way too many to name, but probably one of my biggest influences is Z-Trip. His work ethic is unmatched and his ability to read a crowd and be fully present is what I admire the most. He spends so much time breaking down music and being a full student of the game and continues to elevate his own brand and I’m grateful for all of the insight he’s given me on my own path. I know this might sound cliche, but I admire all of my students, too – especially the ones that aren’t kids anymore, but are down to get into the student seat and learn something new that they are passionate about.
DJ LIFE MAG: For a young person who wants to succeed at DJing – any kind of spinning – what would be your advice?
DJ HAPA: Young, middle-aged, or old, I think my biggest pieces of advice are you need three people in your life: a mentor, a mentee, and a friend. Find someone that you can learn from, find someone you can teach or share with, and find someone who will be there and support you on your journey.
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