Even before creating a rap group with his cousins at a young age or launching his DJ career at 17, Zac Bailey was unstoppably drawn to music.
Now a seasoned DJ and producer using the moniker ZSonic, Zac explores a cocktail of genres – hip hop, funk, ambient, disco, juke, jungle, to name just a few – in his Skratching practice, a technique that uses turntables as an instrument to create brand new music out of existing records via manipulation of rhythm and pitch. You’ll have to see it to believe it – the resulting music is a groovy, layered, and always very danceable marriage of records you’d never expect to go together.
Zac Bailey is all over Musical U. A guiding and encouraging force in our community forums, Zac also has a hand in courses and lessons development, creating audio tracks, our Musicality Now podcast, social media, and customer support.
Zac gave us the low-down on his musical beginnings, his many musical endeavors, and his all-encompassing love of dance. Dig in!
I’ve always loved dancing to music. Both of my parents saturated me with lots of different music from a young age. My first concert was Paul Simon on his Graceland tour. I believe I was about 5 years old. I had a dance contest with my dad. I asked some ladies in the crowd who they thought was a better dancer. They chose me. Still one of my proudest moments!
My first music video was with my cousins, Lisa and Anna. We went by the L-A-Z rappers. This was in the late ‘80s – I’m pretty sure my aunt still has video footage.
I started DJing when I was 17. We had an open lunch at my high school, and I lived close enough to go home for lunch. I would often practice DJing and dancing at lunch, and then just not go back to school. I had a DJ setup in my room along with a big linoleum square on top of the carpet for bustin’ dance moves. Why would I want to go back to school?!
Over the years I’ve DJ’d in many different capacities. I’ve DJ’d at bars, clubs, raves, house parties, weddings, and proms. I’ve DJ’d in many types of bands: Afro Beat, abstract techno, metal, funk, jazz. I’ve even DJ’d for rappers and poets.
One of my favorite ways to DJ is combining turntable skills with live synthesizers and drum machines. The first time I did this was with an MPC 2000XL, Roland Juno G keyboard, Kaoss Pad KP3, two technic 1200s and a Rane mixer. I called it “Project RAW!”. It was dark, abstract breakcore, jungle and hip-hop. Had a lot of fun with that!
I’m currently working on a performance using a loop station with a keyboard and turntables and vocals. It will be very dancey and fun. Funky and smooth.
Q: Such a cool setup! I love that you combine turntables with hardware.
What would you say helped you develop your passion for music as you continued your career?
My dad was always listening to new music of all kinds of different genres. I love listening to music with my dad! He helped shape my eclectic taste and gave me an appreciation for all kinds of music. We attended live concerts quite often. I’ve always felt really at home with the energy of a live show. Experiencing live music has always been my favorite thing.
Dancing to lots of different music has helped me through lots of difficult times in my life. Dancing has also helped me celebrate many joyous times in my life. When I started to understand the power of connecting with music, especially through dance, I began to dig deeper into more music.
Being a DJ is really great because listening to new music all the time is part of who I am. Being able to create an experience, where others feel comfortable dancing with people they’ve never met, to music they’ve never heard has really fueled my passion for music.
I use a DAW for recording, composing, sound design, and mixing. I love synthesizers and drum machines. I love anything that makes noise. In foods class, I used to play the sink and the drawers. Sometimes I’d throw in a spoon or a cheese grater. If it makes sound, I can make a beat out of it. Mrs. S wasn’t always a big fan of her cooking class turning into a hip-hop jam. But it’s what I do. Can’t stop the funk.
The turntable is my favorite instrument. I dabbled in many instruments but never stuck with any of them until I discovered the turntable. The turntable is cool, because you gotta have records. Part of the experience of utilizing the turntable as an instrument is listening to lots of records. That makes listening to records even more fun.
Using a technique known as Skratching, I can take any piece of a recorded song and turn it into a whole musical universe. By manipulating rhythm and pitch in real-time I can take a bass note or a snare or half of a word in a lyric and make infinite combinations of rhythm, dynamics, pitch, and articulations. The limitation of a pre-recorded piece of music or sound opens me up to rhythms and expressions that I wouldn’t come up with on any other instrument.
This creates a really cool practice cycle for me where everything I learn on the turntables I aim to apply to my keyboard, singing, and musicality practice. In turn, everything I learn in my musicality practice I apply to the turntable. The turntable creates a reciprocating learning process that really helps me boost my practice results.
And being able to do really cool stuff on a turntable blows people’s minds 10/10 every time. Which makes me feel awesome!
Retro ‘90s dance party from the future. Synth-funk hip-hop house party. Disco juke jungle freakout. Chilled out grooves. Ambient explorations of time and space. These are some of the categories of mixes and productions I’ve made over the years.
One time a producer friend of mine told me, “To make a good dance song, you have to go to the dance circle in your mind”. It’s really easy for me to tell if a song is good, because I’ll be able to dance to it. I go to the circle in my mind. If the music I create makes me want to dance, I know I’m on the right track.
There have been times when I was at a show and my friends and I would be exhausted from dancing. We’d flop down in some chairs with our water bottles and say, “Dude, That was so funky! I couldn’t possibly dance anymore.” Then… the DJ would drop a song that would get us right back on the dance floor. That boost of energy, the unshakeable urge to dance is the experience I want to create for people.
James Brown said, “If there’s one thing that can solve most of the problems in the world, it’s Dance.”
It’s a lot of fun! Before discovering turntablism, I took violin lessons and piano lessons briefly as a kid. I never stuck with them. I tried learning harmonica and bass on my own with books and CDs. Didn’t stick with that either. I thought that stuff was cool, but it didn’t build a fire inside of me.
I really started to connect with music on a deeper level when I started to DJ. I spent years listening to and buying new records all the time. Listening to a vinyl and reading the liner notes, reading the lyrics along with music. Learning who recorded and mastered the music. Seeing the effect that playing great records has on other people. All of this stuff stoked my musical fire.
Spending the time to cultivate your love of music will create a fertile environment for learning that will yield a thriving practice.
Before I ever knew anything about active listening or ear training, I would just listen to music, either recorded or at a live show. I would often close my eyes and just feel it, and dance. I don’t always listen to music that makes me dance. I’ve listened to lots of “turn off the lights and put on your headphones” sort of music as well.
Playing records also made me fearless about sharing music. As a DJ and with lots of DJ friends, I am constantly looking for new music that gets me excited so that I can share it with my friends. Sometimes I’ll hear a record and be like, “Yes, Brandon needs to hear this!” When you and all your friends are constantly getting excited about new music and sharing it with each other, it’s magical.
Once I started getting gigs, and was able to listen to new records and think about specific people I knew would be on the dance floor, it made listening to music even more fun. It’s so cool to hear a song and just know people are going to love it!
The competition element is great because the hard deadline of competition really leverages my focus. When I have a battle coming up, it’s not hard for me to practice 4-8 hours a day, easy.
I could just practice all day. I have learned so many practice strategies from turntablism that I would not have thought of with other instruments. The joy and passion I have built from years of listening to records made it fun and easy to practice DJing all day.
The focus and practice strategies I’ve gained from DJing have really been helping me with my keyboard, musicality, and composing practice.
There is actually a hilarious timing on this question. I’ve been listening to the Rick Astley album “Whenever You Need Somebody”. I’ve been trying to decide which song is my favorite off that album. It’s so hard! According to Wikipedia, 6 of the songs were released as singles. But all ten of them are #1 hits in my mind! I’ll let you know if I can narrow it down to just one.
One song I have been loving for this whole year is “Someday” by CeCe Rogers. CeCe has a beautiful voice and he always has a positive message. I feel everyone should listen to “Someday”. And then go listen to all the CeCe Rogers albums.
Listen to lots of music. Spending the time to cultivate your love of music will create a fertile environment for learning that will yield a thriving practice. People always enjoy seeing me perform, and it’s 100% because I love it so much. When I’m dancing and feeling good, it makes other people dance and feel good and that ripples outward. If you’re dancing and feeling good, you’re doing it right.
Q: I love that approach – joy is such a powerful driving force for music, and I love that you center it in your practice.
Could you tell us a bit about your work at Musical U?
I assist the Musical U students on their musical journey, especially in the Foundations of A Musical Mind course. I went through Foundations as a student almost 2 years ago, before joining the MU team. The things I learned in Foundations still continue to serve me. I use solfa and stick notation and beat blanks and hand signs every day. This really helps with my singing and composing practice and my DJing. I love being able to assist new students on their journey into their own Musical Mind.
I also work with the team to develop the Musicality Now show as well as lessons and courses for the Musical U site.
There are a lot of amazing things about working with the Musical U team. Everyone I work with is awesome and kind. The Musical U community is amazing. I’ve learned so much from interacting with the Musical U members. All of the Resident Pros blow my mind. Before I started working with Musical U I was listening to all 100 episodes of the Musicality Now Podcast Power Pack. When I started working with Musical U, one of my first duties was to quality-check the Podcast videos. Every single guest has given me an epiphany. After listening to over 100 podcast episodes, I have stacked up at least 100 juicy nuggets of musicality. I would estimate in the range of 300-600 total juicy musical nuggets (at least!) from over 100 guests. It blew my mind that, not only do that many amazing people exist, but they can all appear on the same show!
Working with Musical U has allowed me to spend all of my time around music and people who love music. Music is my favorite!
Music As A Life Mission
A lifelong and all-encompassing love of music has lead Zac down a fulfilling, unique, and decidedly funky musical path – from dance contests with his dad to DJing in countless contexts, honing his craft in competition, and channeling the power of dance as a guiding light to prolifically create fresh, inspired, and genre-defying tracks.
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