Being a DJ, is it really a skill?

Rockinvet

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I pose this question with all sincerity. I noticed it was in the 70’s when DJ’s started taking over some of the clubs we used to see live music at. A DJ used to be the person on the radio. Over the years it has grown exponentially and is an art all in itself from what I see. People becoming famous from playing other peoples recorded music on fancy systems with dueling turntables. I don’t understand it.
And it’s not just a money thing. Some of these DJs now get paid almost just as much as a full band. People just pack the dance floor.
Your thoughts…
 

brookdalebill

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Well, grudgingly I’ll admit it is.
Spin what your, uh, audience wants to hear.
Keep em’ on the floor.
Make em’ thirsty from dancing.
They’ll drink more, and everyone makes money.
It’s a skill, not unlike a seasoned musician/performer.
DJ’s are “all you can eat” buffet-style performers, IMO.
They can draw from any musical style and format, and mix/match, fade, and manipulate that music.
There’s a lot of freedom in that.
It’s way more skill than art though, IMO.
I am eternally grateful that I’m from the era before DJ’s were a viable entertainment option.
 

Rockinvet

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Well, grudgingly I’ll admit it is.
Spin what your, uh, audience wants to hear.
Keep em’ on the floor.
Make em’ thirsty from dancing.
They’ll drink more, and everyone makes money.
It’s a skill, not unlike a seasoned musician/performer.
DJ’s are “all you can eat” buffet-style performers, IMO.
They can draw from any musical style and format, and mix/match, fade, and manipulate that music.
There’s a lot of freedom in that.
It’s way more skill than art though, IMO.
I am eternally grateful that I’m from the era before DJ’s were a viable entertainment option.
That’s a good explanation. Thanks. I’m hoping a DJ will chime in and expand on this although not quite the forum for it. There’s got to be a Tele playing DJ out there!
 

Lawdawg

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It’s way more skill than art though, IMO.

I'd push back on this a bit even though I do agree that the vast majority of what modern DJs do is not compelling or artistic to me. Back in the mid 80s - early 90s when I was going to dance clubs, there was a lot of art in DJ'ing, and it was more than just getting the club hopping - although that was always paramount. A good DJ can find interesting ways to weave tracks and songs together in unexpected ways so that the tracks do more than just complement each other, they tell something of a story. It's sort of the musical equivalent of collage art. Done at a high creative level, Night Ripper by Girl Talk for example, DJ'ing is more art than science.
 

Blue Bill

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I was a radio DJ for 20+ years. I DJ'd at clubs a few times, but never got very good at it. I had friends who were awesome club DJs, they could get a room going, and keep it there. The skills include being familiar with a wide range of dance songs, and being able to read the room and quickly choose the song to put on next, that will buzz the crowd. Plus, having an ear for new stuff that people will like. The real work involved is listening to hundreds of hours of music and memorizing the tempo, the feel of the song, the intro and outro, even what key it's in, then being organized enough to find the (record, CD, file) in time to have it queued and ready to segue into. the segue-ways are important. A good DJ can get the crowd to feel a little tension about what's coming next, then cheer out loud when they recognize the new song. Mixing in samples from other songs and scratching are an added bonus. Also playing the same song on both turntables, fading back and forth to create interesting repeats and echos. Stuff like that. It's hard to be good at it.
 

naveed211

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Yes. Also, many if not most of the artists rock fans know as "just" DJs produce their own music. Not mutually exclusive vocations.

Yup. Just because there aren’t traditional instruments on stage doesn’t mean there wasn’t a creative process involved in the creation of the music and the live manipulation of it.

It can be a skill and an art form. And there are good ones and bad ones, just like any musician.
 

BorderRadio

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A good DJ has a very good sense of rhythm and knows more about recorded music than the average person. Sure, there lots of DJs who don't have any music theory background. In this way, are guitar players musicians? I mean we can strum chords, play a melody and keep up with the beat (aka 'skills'), but if I'm a musician, then there's room for some DJs too haha..

Joking aside, there are different kinds of DJs, of which I know of dancehall, club, hip-hop, traditional turntablists, hired/mobile DJ (the wedding band), and the now questionable radio DJ. Within that gamut I'd say there are various ways to innovate something new, and in other cases it's about just trying not to wreck the original track/preserving the vibe.

Deep down, I never had a problem with sampling, even though as an artist type, I don't like plagiarisms and avoid anything reeking of non-originality. The reality is the DJs I like are also good producers and create something new with old 'licks' and 'riffs'. Change it just enough, or if the source matter is perfect, crystallize and amplify the beat/track. I don't know about other fans, but I feel the Gysin/Burroughs literary 'cut-up' method was exactly what post-modern music was doing with recorded tracks, but maybe with less pretension and ability to shake yr a$$ to.
 

Rockinvet

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I was a radio DJ for 20+ years. I DJ'd at clubs a few times, but never got very good at it. I had friends who were awesome club DJs, they could get a room going, and keep it there. The skills include being familiar with a wide range of dance songs, and being able to read the room and quickly choose the song to put on next, that will buzz the crowd. Plus, having an ear for new stuff that people will like. The real work involved is listening to hundreds of hours of music and memorizing the tempo, the feel of the song, the intro and outro, even what key it's in, then being organized enough to find the (record, CD, file) in time to have it queued and ready to segue into. the segue-ways are important. A good DJ can get the crowd to feel a little tension about what's coming next, then cheer out loud when they recognize the new song. Mixing in samples from other songs and scratching are an added bonus. Also playing the same song on both turntables, fading back and forth to create interesting repeats and echos. Stuff like that. It's hard to be good at it.
Thank you. That is a good explanation.
 

SixStringSlinger

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Anyone who asks if DJ-ing is a skill has no idea what it entails. That's not meant as a diss against anyone, it's just the truth. Even something as simple as playing a song while cueing up the next one so that it comes in at the right moment without killing the vibe requires you to have a sense for the music of both songs, good timing, knowledge of your equipment, a sense for the effect your work is having on the audience, balancing where they're at vs where they want to be vs where you want to lead them (because you're also something of a party host)... And that's just radio/wedding DJ stuff. DJ's who present themselves as the musician are doing a lot more, like taking samples form completely unrelated musics, deciding what to cut and what to keep, putting it together in a way that people actually like listening/dancing to, and doing a lot of that on the fly. They may not know music as well in the "nuts and bolts" sense that many more traditional instrumentalists do (though let's be frank, plenty of fantastic guitarists and others don't, either), but they do understand in ways that allow them to put together brand new stuff that people like, and that's much more the point than anything more theoretical.

It's just like being a guitarist but also playing all the other instruments and literally everything is improvisation, where you have to adjust your effects for the next song while playing the current song while also managing a constantly mutating setlist based on the feelings of strangers who are reacting to what you do but not really interacting with you. And if the music ever sucks it's 100% on you because you're the only one on stage.

I don't mean to imply that the following is the OP's view, but a lot of the idea that DJ's aren't skilled/musicians/artists really comes down to the idea that their fingers aren't wheedly-wheedly-ing on a capital-I Instrument, which of course ignores/is ignorant of the fact that DJs' hands do more in regular practice than most traditional instrumentalists' hands do in their worst nightmares.

If you need so much as an ounce of instruction and/or practice to do something in a way that resembles competence, it's a skill.
 

Recce

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I'd push back on this a bit even though I do agree that the vast majority of what modern DJs do is not compelling or artistic to me. Back in the mid 80s - early 90s when I was going to dance clubs, there was a lot of art in DJ'ing, and it was more than just getting the club hopping - although that was always paramount. A good DJ can find interesting ways to weave tracks and songs together in unexpected ways so that the tracks do more than just complement each other, they tell something of a story. It's sort of the musical equivalent of collage art. Done at a high creative level, Night Ripper by Girl Talk for example, DJ'ing is more art than science.
It’s the same thing with putting songs together on the radio. The ends of some songs and the beginnings of others flow together better and the story of some songs flow into other songs better. With the right person it is an art.
 

Greggorios

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Sure it's a skill and like many skills can be performed artistically depending upon the performer. That said, it's a skill that doesn't require the same kind of dedication, study, practice and experience that an accomplished musician must invest in their skill(s).

It's a bit like "curating" as practiced by an art museum's curator. They are not the art themselves but they can "put it together" for presentation artistically depending on the individual doing the curation. DJ'ing, curating, music and art, like most things, have some practitioners that are better than others.
 

Guitarteach

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There are performance and audience manipulation skills to master and if you add in a wall of club level video fx too... it gets serious and expensive quickly. I did some work in Europe alongside a female DJ who also ran some masterclasses on it... lots of details with sample triggering, mixing, filtering, etc. more like operating an old analogue synth... all while leaving it gapless and flowing.

As a musician, i despise their existence but can respect the work involved in doing it well.
 




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