She began her DJing career at the most unideal time – the Covid-19 lockdown.
A brand strategist by profession, she’s always had a passion for life behind the decks and she’s now following it.
Thabelo Tlale – popularly known as DJ Turn T – has been playing professionally for a little over a year now. She knows her deep house music well and through her gigs, she shares it with people who love the genre as much as she does.
“I learned how to DJ in 2016,” she says.
“There were guys who were running a short course at the Cape Audio College in Cape Town and I decided to go and learn. I didn’t grasp it the first, so I had to go back the following year and even after I got my certificate, I have to be honest, I still didn’t understand the DJing thing.”
To sharpen her skills, Thabelo began offering to play at friend’s parties and work events. And as expected, she improved every time.
“Last year when I saw all these lockdown parties on TV and listening to them on radio, I thought that should be me. I felt envious of other people doing it and that’s when I knew that I should follow my passion and go for it.
“It was the most unideal team during lockdown but it was the perfect time for me.”
One of the people who gave her one of her first big opportunities was none other than celebrity DJ, Miss PruLuv.
“One of the things that truly inspired me was Miss Pru’s lockdown DJ sessions. I used to listen to them and one day I decided to enter and I got a chance to play.
“I was nervous and she motivated me by telling me I should trust in myself. So, I did and my set became one of the best of the day and my time was even extended. That was the catalyst of my career and I haven’t looked back since.”
Although she has a fairly successful start to her career, Thabelo says one of the hardest parts about her job is being a female DJ.
“I play a genre of music men think women can’t play,” she says.
“Whenever I go to gigs, men doubt that I can play until I do. The industry is hard as a woman because even before you do any work you’re expected to not be on par with your male counterparts. You must prove yourself over and over.
“It gets so bad, that some men will hover over you while you play and some even try to fix things for me when I make a mistake. That irks me because it’s my mistake to make and learn from but they always feel they have to correct me and prove their point that ‘women cannot do this as well as men’,” she explains.
Playing during a global pandemic has also been difficult for DJ Turn T. With alcohol bans, restaurants closing down and gatherings kept at a minimum, it has been a learning process.
“I don’t expect to be paid a lot of money for my services yet because of lockdown.
“I’ve had to be flexible and assess the situation of the place I’m playing at,” she says.
“The hospitality industry has been one of the most hard-hit during Covid-19 and we all know restaurants make money off selling alcohol so when that is closed, they don’t have money to spend.
“I’ve taken it upon myself to negotiate payment based on the event or venue. I think we all have to be understanding towards each other because when all of this is done, these are the people who will remember you and how you treated them with kindness when things were down.”
When it comes to how much a beginner DJ can expect to earn per gig?
DJ Turn T says R500 per hour as a minimum is usually the expected amount. “It increases as you get more gigs and experience,” she says.
For aspiring DJs she has four steps she believes will lead to success in the industry.
1. Be true to who you are as a DJ
“Don’t be motivated by fame, money or clout. You must have a passion for music first and foremost.”
2. Take classes and upskill often
“I know not everyone has the money to take classes as I did but if you can, I would suggest investing in yourself and upskilling often.”
3. Practice often
“I cannot stress this enough because it’s only through practice that you become better and better as a DJ.”
4. Network, Network, Network
“Introduce yourself to the right people and show them what you bring to the table because you can’t just tell people you’re a DJ and expect them to take you seriously. You have to stand out somehow.”