We’d like to introduce you to Denis Chang, a fantastic guitarist and the founder of DC Music School, an online music instruction website. DC Music School features a variety of lessons, etudes, and play-a-longs in the jazz, rock, gypsy, and techno styles for beginner to advanced students.

The lessons are 100% digital, meaning you can access the videos and lesson content immediately online after purchase. It also keeps the price of the courses down (right now courses are around $24.99).

Currently, the website predominantly features gypsy jazz musicians and lessons, and although they will expand into additional genres, I love that they offer instruction in a genre that materials typically are not easily accessible.

We took a few of the courses for a test ride and you can check out our reviews here:

We’re really excited about what Denis is doing with DC Music School, and from our experience with the courses, the quality of the lessons is outstanding. We can’t wait to see what the school will have to offer in the near future.

Without further ado, our interview with Denis Chang of DC Music School.

Tell us a little bit about the DC Music School? What do you offer?

The idea behind DC Music School is to create a non-mainstream online site that offers authentic, high quality music instruction, in various genres, and various instruments. Non-mainstream, in the sense that I like to take risks and explore genres that other companies might not find commercially viable. As such, while we appreciate all the financial support that we can get, our absolute top priority is to produce the very best lessons possible. By non-mainstream, I also mean that I don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that seems to dominate the world of music education (and everything else in life, it seems). For instance, there is an idea that all that’s necessary in learning to play music is knowledge of theory and technique. I think those are certainly great things to have, but music is far more than that; it is a language, and a language is more than vocabulary and grammar: it is a way of thinking and an entire culture of its own. In the DCMS lessons, I like to explore these intricate details.

Furthermore, I strongly believe in the spirit of sharing. The site offers a number of free lessons that are only possible when people support the paid products. It’s my way of saying thanks!

How will the courses work?

Students basically choose a product that interests them and pay a one time fee to access the product. The product can be a playalong series, or video lessons. The video lessons include accurate transcriptions of relevant examples and backing tracks when relevant.

What gave you the inspiration to start the company?

As to why I decided to create my own site: basically, prior to that, I had produced a series of DVDs for another company featuring myself, and also other high profile musicians. At that time, I did not know as much about standard music industry practices as I do today. Unfortunately, though I harbor no ill will towards the company (they did not any better themselves), nor do I have any regrets (it was all a learning experience), I found out that, from a standard music business perspective, I was severely short-changed. So I basically decided to take things into my own hands. In doing so, I can make sure that the artists who work with me are fairly compensated; even with the free products, each artist is compensated! Most important of all, I can directly take control of every aspect of my products to ensure the highest possible quality.

One of my other reasons for doing this, is because many mainstream competitors lack quality control and only tackle mainstream projects; often at the expense of quality. For example, I would never hire a bluegrass fiddler to teach bebop jazz violin, nor would I hire a rock guitarist to teach classical guitar. The idea is absurd, but it is common practice; it goes back to what I said earlier about conventional wisdom, where one assumes that knowledge of theory and technique allows one to play any style of music.

You’re getting ready to officially launch the school this fall, what are some of the things we can look forward to with the launch?

It’s a work in progress , but I’m hoping to make the site much more interactive. At the moment, the BETA site boasts well over 5000 unique registrations from over 50 countries! All this, since the summer of 2011, with very little advertisement beyond word of mouth and youtube. I would like for students to be able to interact with each other. As great as technology is, the truth is, nothing will ever replace the feeling of playing with real people. A fellow from Singapore contacted me not too long ago looking for people with whom to play Gypsy Jazz. Through my sales records, I was able to connect him with other Singaporeans interested in the style; I would love to do something like this for every genre and for everyone around the world!

You feature a variety of performers as part of the school from diverse backgrounds. How did you go about selecting the musicians who teach the classes?

I have a huge list of artists that I would love to work with, but basically, I go for artists that have a unique style, or have something that I believe is worth sharing. The artists that I like are the ones who have the same vision as me: that music is more than scales and arpeggios; every genre is a language of its own with a distinct culture. These are usually players who place a heavy emphasis on listening to music, transcribing music, and surrounding oneself with like-minded musicians. There is definitely a HUGE emphasis on ear training. Furthermore, I choose artists that are respected by their peers in their particular genres. This is particularly important to ensure that the lessons are 100% authentic.

What are some features or courses we can look forward to in the future?

For one thing, I would like to develop more playalong tracks, in various styles.

At the moment, my site mainly features a series called “In The Style Of” that obviously focus on the style of the particular artist.

I would like to eventually develop a series that focuses on learning the nuts and bolts of a particular genre. This fall, I will actually be heading into the studio to develop one on Gypsy Jazz (a genre made famous by Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt); it will be extremely comprehensive. This is something that I would like to do for all sorts of genres and instruments.

I would also really love to delve into the classical music world.

What advice do you have for a music entrepreneur (someone starting their own music business)?

I could say quite a lot about this; it’s going to be hard to condense my answer. Well, if you’re going to be running your own business of any kind, it takes a particular kind of personality; you have to be able to keep calm should situations arise. This is extremely important; if one thing experience has taught me, it’s that you will run into all sorts of people. People you thought only existed in reality TV shows. This means you have to be emotionally prepared to deal with them. You cannot let your emotions get the best of you. Your goal is to build a strong reputation. It only takes one negative review to destroy years of work. You need to fight hard to protect it. To give you an example, one of the artists on my site originally hesitated to work with me. He actually called up another artist that I had worked with in the past to get his opinion. Fortunately for me, what he told him was something along the lines of: “Denis can be trusted, if he promises something, he’ll do it, you don’t even need a contract”. I was very touched by this, and this is exactly what I mean by building one’s reputation.

Basically, keep your emotions in check, if you find that you’re the kind of person who always has to get into arguments, you might want to avoid starting your own business!!!

Also, be patient, and be prepared to take risks. When taking risks, make sure that you’re ready to accept the consequences should things not pan out the way you want them to. Unfortunately, in order to make money, you need to spend money. You’re basically an investor, and you have to be prepared for the worst case scenarios at all times. I have to admit that It can be very stressful, but that’s the price of running your own business.

What would your advice be to an up and coming performer?

Like my previous answer, reputation is everything. The people who get away with being able to have a bad attitude are very few; for everyone else, treat everyone with professionalism and respect. When hiring musicians, I go for the ones I get along with (of course, they need to have a certain level as well). I’ve had opportunities to hire more well known musicians or more accomplished musicians, but in my book, I go for the ones who won’t give me attitude. This leads me to my next point: if you’re not the bandleader, be humble; a very important rule is that the leader is always right even he or she is wrong. It seems like a harsh rule but it’s the truth; if you don’t like this rule, then it is your choice not to perform with said bandleader. I’ve had the opportunity to play with some of my idols and some of the world’s best musicians simply because I was able to follow instructions without questioning them. That’s not to say you can’t give your opinion, but if a bandleader insists on doing something a particular way, let it be.

Another important tip: PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!

This has always existed but it seems that the Youtube generation has given birth to a breed of “musicians” who are trying to become famous in hopes of getting gigs or product endorsements. Don’t worry about that, worry only about your craft by working hard on it. If your craft is good, only then will people take notice. The fame and glory comes as a result of hard work not the other way around.

Playing gigs can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing as well. It is only good when one has truly put in the work into becoming a capable musician. It can have a devastatingly bad effect if one starts performing when one hasn’t reached a certain level. Playing gigs helps one build confidence but when one hasn’t reached an adequate level, it will only build delusional self-confidence, and you will never progress as a musician. Usually, you’ll end up playing bad gigs anyway, and keep wondering why you can’t get that high profile gig you’ve always wanted. I know it sounds harsh, but my observations have proven to be correct time after time. One musician that’s featured on my site, Tcha Limberger, talks about how he spent one year relearning to play violin correctly and not allowing himself to play any gigs for this very reason!

Where can we check out the courses and find more information about DC Music School?

www.dc-musicschool.com is where one can check out my stuff. I also highly recommend that people check out my youtube channel
www.youtube.com/dcmusicschool for tons of clips and also videos showcasing talented artists!

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.

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