What it means to be a full-time student, part-time DJ

Jackson Vo sheds insight on what it’s like balancing semesters with setlists.

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What it means to be a full-time student, part-time DJ

(Shane Guilfoyle / Amherst Wire)

(Shane Guilfoyle / Amherst Wire)

(Shane Guilfoyle / Amherst Wire)

(Shane Guilfoyle / Amherst Wire)

Shane Guilfoyle, Writer

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AMHERST – It’s 5 pm, Friday evening. Jackson Vo strides down a lengthy corridor littered with adjoining doorways and a low-vaulted ceiling as he makes his way to his room. Once inside, the walls appear covered with various tapestries and posters, some depicting sprawling interstellar landscapes while one simply displays the logo belonging to a local radio station, Mass Music Radio. The centerpiece that brings the room together, the desk, is organized and houses a large monitor and an equally sized DJ deck beneath it. Other items that can be found in the space include two pairs of headphones, multiple folders and a stack of academic notebooks. Vo is just getting home after finishing classes for the day and is beginning to turn his focus towards the rest of his night and his upcoming set. 

Jackson Vo, 21, is a senior majoring in environmental science at UMass. When asked about his major, his eyes lit up as he shared his inspirations.

“I’m a huge Elon Musk guy. I would watch a lot of his videos and he is doing wonders for the world, and I was like, “What can I do,” said Vo.

Vo initially became interested in DJing after attending various raves, specifically an Avicii concert, over his sophomore year of high school, “The DJ had the lights behind him. The beat drops and the smoke shoots out and the confetti pops with those overwhelming lights, I was like ‘I wanna do that one day.’”

He got his first hands-on experience with a deck at his friend’s studio, Mass Music, where he found himself quickly enamored and decided to purchase his own shortly after. 

(Shane Guilfoyle / AmherstWire)

Originally, Vo hails from Quincy, Mass, which lies just outside of Boston.

“Yeah, I’ve always been in and out of Boston. I have a lot of family in Boston as well, they are in like Dorchester, so I’m pretty much in tune with the Boston culture you could say,” said Vo. 

Vo values the ties formed between artists and their home city and is a full proponent of supporting local musicians and what they have to share. The full-time student, part-time DJ, emphasizes time management and views it as a valuable tool needed to accomplish tasks. 

To most, balancing a course load containing four to five classes is enough stress. Combine that with the responsibilities and challenges local musicians face and it can quickly add up, but Vo has strategies in place to deal with it.

“To me, during the day it’s all business,” said Vo.” School comes first, obviously, I’m paying money to be here and it’s offering me all these opportunities for DJing, so school is the number one priority of course.”

“I try to put one to two hours each day towards DJing,” added Vo. “Whether that be just on my Instagram posting something or replying to emails or DMs and downloading music, but even then it’s hard. Like I just got out of a three-hour lab. It’s definitely hard to find that balance but it all comes back to time management.” 

(Shane Guilfoyle / AmherstWire)

Day to day, Vo finds himself balancing course work, an aspiring DJ career, and involvement in his fraternity. He doesn’t let the large to-do list phase him, as he subscribes to a foundation composed of a persistent work ethic.

“The thing is all about commitment, I can’t half-a** anything. And that’s my motto in life,” said Vo with conviction. “It applies to simple things too, like cleaning your room or house, you can’t half-a** that.” 

Greek life provided the opportunity for Vo to play in front of live crowds. He currently finds himself as the go-to for music whenever his house hosts events. The people surrounding him are proud of his accomplishments and how far he’s come.

“My first experience was DJing the frats out here. Last year when we would have parties, we’d have an Ipad at the DJ booth with a simple DJ app. Typically the guys would be terrible on the aux, so I started fucking around with the Ipad and noticed the crowd react to my choices, and I’m like ‘yo this is lit.” shared Vo. 

Over a semester Vo has seen his DJ aspirations develop, as he finds himself performing at venues such as Spoke and the Monkey Bar on weekends. He accredits these placements to his networking abilities. 

“DJing alone is not going to get you anywhere,” said Vo. “It’s all about the connections and that kind of transition to life. Life is all about connections; that next job you’re going to get, it’s all about who you know in that company or you’re boy takes you on vacation because you know him really well.” 

When it comes to playing a set, Vo sticks to the genres of EDM and rap, with dashes of throwbacks to keep the pace fresh and exciting. His variety in musical interests and knowledge on multiple subgenres arms him with flexibility when making choices. His DJ booth stands in the corner of the living room. It’s an elevated surface constructed from plywood and metal wiring and a banner displaying Vo’s logo can be seen hanging behind. There’s ample space to house all his needed equipment, with a fan located underneath to provide relief when things get humid. 

(Shane Guilfoyle / AmherstWire)

“I usually start with rap, like whatever is in the top 10 charts, and as I’m easing the crowd is when ill drop the more EDM tracks,” said Vo. “I don’t want to start off with EDM and have people think ‘aw this guy is going to play straight EDM’. Once someone said to me ‘don’t give the crowd what they want to hear, give them what they didn’t expect to want to hear’ so that’s my motto.” 

Vo believes in the utility found from song variation, as he recognized the diversity present in live crowds and how it applies to individual music preference. 

When he’s not behind the DJ booth, you might find Vo in the rec center, either lifting or working.

 “I’m really big into fitness,” said Vo. “I try to go to the gym around five times a week. If none of my plans work out, I know I’m going to fall back on being a personal trainer.” 

Vo is a people person, he believes in the power behind connections and comes into the position of arbiter of taste when he steps before the DJ deck.

When DJing an event, any number of people will pull up to the booth to request songs or to share a few words with Vo. 

“My thing is I want everyone to have a good time. I honestly just play whatever I want, and I know it’s going to be a banger, that’s all I know,” shares Vo with a smile. 

He likes to see people enjoy themselves, and appreciates setting the proper moods to make that happen.

Email Shane at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @shaneguilll.

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