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Thread: what does a dj do?

  1. #1

    Default what does a dj do?

    Ages ago someone posted what a dj does: and I found it fascinating... and can't find the post... Now not being into dancing or clubbing in general, I know little about the scene... That post revealed that a dj does a lot more than choose what music to play... he constructs a kind of narrative, gauging the mood of the crowd, what will liven them up or mellow them out, manipulating bpm, to seamlessly merge music, to control the atmosphere to suit the characteristics of the crowd, be they young, older, grumpy, bored, restless, whatever.

    So... if you know which post this might be please say so... Or if you are a dj or understand what they do, what makes a good one, how they make their magic... please do say, I (for one) am all ears

  2. #2


    Do you mean like how MC actually means Master of Ceremonies? I wish I could be a DJ, or even a Kanye West of sorts... a producer. But alas I myself am too novice to explain the complexities and wonders of a DJ.

  3. #3


    That is a good question.

    I'll give the complicated answer.

    What a DJ does depends where and when you are seeing that DJ. I'll relate some of my own experiences.

    In a mainstream "club" (that is, to say, a weekly 21+ event, in any musical scene, or an 18+ event in which alcohol is served), a DJ has several responsibilities, some of which may surprise you.

    The first is probably the most obvious: Play good music.

    However, the definitions divert from there, in some scenes, "good music" refers to a given DJ layering loops, melodies, beats, and maybe even working in the background of a rapper to assure consistent and progressive rhythm so the music doesn't get boring while the rapper raps. The rap DJ works track by track, layering rhythms over a single song with either a transition rhythm to the next track or a break between tracks.

    In other scenes, such as certain hardcore scenes, "good music" refers to going from track to track rapidly, again assuring the progression of the music, and having responsibility to play an "ace" or popular mini-track once in a while to really bring people to the floor. The bonus to this, for the hardcore crowd, is that there are hardcore mixes of pretty much anything. Harcore DJs are expected not to have a break in the beat, unless it is a stylistic break.

    In the scene that I play, the industrial scene, the focus for the DJ tends to be in creating small sets of progressive mixes of songs to create an ebb and flow (when in the 21+ scene) to get the crowd moving back and forth between the dance floor and the bar regularly. Other scenes share this responsibility in varying degrees if the music is played in a place that has a bar, but those who work on a song rotation, rather than a beat rotation, feel it more than most. In a large enough club (when you get to have 1000+), the ebb and flow can frequently be completely ignored.

    In an 18+ venue, the ebb and flow can be completely ignored too. Instead, the DJs can focus pretty much on playing music that is fun to listen and dance to. However, the onus of song progression is still on the DJ and an awful track or a track which is too far out of the scope of interest of the scene that is being played for can kill a night. Sadly, I've had to "fire" DJs from my place for that relatively recently.

    The stylized transitions are often what makes the difference between DJs in the scene that I play. I, personally, have a habit of live "mashing up" the songs that I can play, doing realtime samplings of a few bars and tossing them into a preceding track to foreshadow the next track, or two, or three. Other DJs might playlist, having their list of tracks ready beforehand so that they might have more time to work those transitions. I, personally, do not, as I prefer the element of the floor-read and the improvisation above all else and even limiting myself a little bit with a playlist, to me, hampers the immediacy and creativity of the act.

    Of course, this is just my personal view, which is one of many. I think that, for the most part, you'll find as many styles out there as you'll find DJs. They're not all good. They're not all bad. It's like any other musical skill in that way.

  4. #4


    What makes a good DJ really depends on the scene. I know only two of them, that is mobile DJs and electronic music DJs (mainly house, electropop and "urban music"), so I'll speak about those.

    For most mobile DJs, it's simply playing the right song at the right time, without much care for mixing. Basically, a human jukebox. Most people actually don't know what being a DJ involves, so they don't care and will go for a cheap one that "does the job", without being great. Now, that would be the basis. The bigger companies/more sound aware people seeking for a mobile DJ will try to go with one that mixes songs, uses effects in them and, at the same time, doesn't look like he is only using a computer for the sake of using a computer, but rather as a means of mixing tracks.

    As for the electronic music scene, now it gets a bit more complicated. People that go to clubs tend to be VERY musically aware. And yes, I've had people ask me for a specific remix of a song when DJing. So there, you have to be creative. Those people will understand more that you're trying to build an atmosphere by the way you're mixing the songs, so if you tell them that you're going to play it later, they'll understand perfectly, even when drunk (which is not the case in mobile DJing, where people want their song RIGHT NOW). Of course, today, that comes with the effects, which are more prominently used than in mobile DJing. Here, creativity can go as far as completely creating a new track on the gist of the moment. It also involves having breaks at the good moment not to bore people enough with the same old thing all over again, which is not the simpliest thing to do, I'll be honest.

    Anyway, good DJing requires more skills than people realise. It isn't only about playing a track, cross-fade it into another track whichever it might be, rinse, repeat. It involves a whole train of thought, a whole set of skills and a good ear that most people don't possess. It also involves knowing the songs that you plan on using in your set almost perfectly so that you know how and when to mix it. It's very complex and people often downplay it to "he's playing other people's music" while it's just not the case. Anyway, that was my partial take on it, surely other people have done/will do a better job than me at explaining it.

  5. #5


    /me is having some ecstasies right now... Praise be unto Oli and Linkitty: you are helping me to understand a language I do not understand innately. It's hard to explain... I have gone clubbing with friends and like the atmosphere: the feel of the music on my body, being among the gyrating people who are clearly having a good time and are almost trance-like, (there's a reason some of it is called trance?, the lights and lighting effects...) So even though the music doesn't appeal in a direct way, I like the feeling of being where it is. Like, say you hate classical and would never choose to listen to it over headphones... but you can enjoy a movie where it is in the sound track and it works well in how it "textures" the movie.

    Or maybe you are learning a new language, whose poetry obeys different rules to English and you would like to get a feel of how, say, Chinese poetry works without being anywhere near fluent in Chinese... This is analogous for me to how your explanations of dj-ing work. And I thank you for it.
    Last edited by Raccoon; 14-Mar-2010 at 20:07.

  6. #6


    A few things I like to point that haven't been covered in depth just yet.

    Knowledge. I can't stress how important it is to do your homework. You need to do your homework, know what's coming out when, is it a remix, by who, unreleased or out, what label is it on? Once again, knowledge is very important. Stay on top of it!

    I myself am constantly on top of making sure I keep up to date with everything and it blows my mind how much I still fail to miss or let slip between the cracks. People assume just because vinyl is playing second fiddle to digital files that no more vinyl is coming out. Wrong! I hope vinyl never dies but at the same time I can embrace the fact digital has helped in more ways than one. Like I tell everyone when the ever so famous Vinyl vs. Digital debate comes up, why can't we love em both? There's always gonna be pros and cons to both so stop worrying about which is better.

    Love. I lost count of how many parties I been to and the dj looks like he's bored stiff. If you're not getting hyped to your own shit then don't even bother. I can't get into if the dj can't. This is why I always make sure my heart is in the right place when I step behind the 1's n 2's. Dj Panacea is one of my favorite producers when it comes to a live show. That fool has energy and passion, it shows!

    Titles. Personally I can't stand it when the word DJ is thrown around as if its some kind of social popularity status. I refuse to put my name in front of dj till I feel it's time. I can do my thing, yes. Do I feel completely confident in my skills currently though? No. I feel like there's always something more to learn and till my skills are at that level I won't be calling myself a dj. I have played a few house parties and some fur con room parties. I had a blast as well so don't get me wrong. I just can't stand the way the word DJ is so overplayed. Don't even get me started on the Second Life Dj's either.

    Money. Be prepared to drop a lot of money. Vinyl is addicting once you get started. Oh and take care of your records too. I feel like I'm the father of hundreds, if not thousands.

    I'll comment more when this Nyquil wears off. ;/

  7. #7


    Quote Originally Posted by Raccoon View Post
    /me is having somet ecstasies right now...
    What! You rolling? XFD

    Funny this thread should pop up. I was linked to this clip the other day. Check out those "headphones"!

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