Being a DJ, is it really a skill?

The Angle

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Like anything else, a good DJ makes it look easy. Watch a bad DJ at work sometime and you'll see that yes indeed, the job requires some skill and some art.
 

Drew617

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DJ’s have replaced bands at bar mitzvahs and sweet sixteens where I live. It’s not just a DJ though. It’s a show, including dancers who teach the kids dance moves and get the geezers and their wives out of their chairs. They’re the entertainment for five hours and the best of them are really great. It’s so much more than spinning vinyl. And what’s it worth to see grandpa trying to hide his poker in his pants for the first time in 20 years?

IIRC Steve Rubell hosted bat mitzvahs in Queens before Studio 54. If anybody was skilled at creating a "happening..." :)
 

oregomike

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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…

Dance music isn't my thing, but anyone who thinks DJ'ing isn't hard, they're kidding themselves. Here's a good answer from the intertubes about what's involved.

"
To be accurate, DJing can be hard to learn, or fairly straightforward depending on what style of DJ you want to be and what equipment you intend to use.

My answer here is long but I've tried to make it as well rounded and fair as possible as there is much to consider.

I teach DJing and DJ for a living so while my business relies on people expecting it to be hard or needing help to learn, I can tell you almost every student says there is a lot more to it than they thought and there is always so much that can be learnt, even for experienced DJs.

Having modern DJ software and decks that have a Sync button makes people think it does almost all the work for you. It doesn't.
It will adjust the tempo so your tracks are ready to beatmatch, and in some cases ensure the beats/bars are aligned, that's it.

The DJ must still select compatible tracks, read and play to the crowd, choose appropriate points to mix the next track, do proper 'phrasing' (an essential skill for beatmatching that most people don't think about before starting), mix or end the last track in a multitude of ways and if they want to be a creative DJ, use all the other tools, tricks and classic and new techniques available to them and at the right times (too many to list but we're talking effects, loops, cue points, creative EQing and fading, maybe scratching, word play, putting tracks together in context, building the energy of a set to suit, harmonic mixing etc etc etc).

Of course you can be a great DJ with basic knowledge of how to transition from one song to another (beatmatching isn't the be all and end all of DJing of course and there are plenty of times when you won't want to do it for each song). The skills needed are then curating and selecting great songs appropriate for the crowd, style and venue, which is true for any good DJ no matter how technically skilled they are.

A lot of people quickly find that software will not always analyse the BPM and/or beat and bar positions of all tracks correctly, especially those with varying tempos, so you then either must manually correct it or turn sync off and adjust tempo/pitch and get tracks in phase (this is different to phrasing) which requires prior practice and understanding. Anyone with half a brain and some basic knowledge of music structure and a creative passion for music and performing plus the confidence to do it can be a good DJ. Anyone can DJ, but doing it well at any decent level requires practice and learning at least basic skills and properly understanding the equipment.
Any inexperienced DJ or non-DJ who thinks it's easy holding together a set for any extended period playing in front of a crowd will likely fall to pieces if they jumped in and tried, so my point is that if you intend to DJ live (or on radio even) not just at home, there is then a whole load of people skills, soft skills, performing skills and knowledge and some experience to build to do this, whilst managing the music and equipment, sound system/levels etc at the same time.
This might sound scary but it's half the fun and a good challenge and certainly seperates the wheat from the chaff.

Beatmatching by ear, especially when using vinyl or when you don't have on-screen info of the BPM to slide the pitch fader to match the tempos, is a skill that requires practice and doesn't come easy to some at first. But not impossible or quite the God-like skill that some people make it out to be. True, it's not easy and will become second nature and as I've said, sometimes not even necessary.

People have respect for those that master their art and reach the top of their game. For one example, scratch or turntablist DJing. That style requires much practice to be good at it (a skill I'm still learning to do well even after years of DJing).

Also don't listen to people who claim computers or Sync do it all for you, or is cheating or that vinyl mixing or using CDJ/Pioneer gear is the only 'real' way to DJ. Modern DJ tools often allow you to do more creatively, if you want to.
It's what comes out of the speakers and how you entertain your crowd that counts."
 

G.Rotten

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From my perspective, these people are entertainers. They are not musicians, although the might like to spin that to think they are. Our society has changed in that it accepts just about any trend and I fear that they will lose sight of what is important in the art of creating music. None of these people, DJ's, Rap Artists, pop singers are really trained musically. They are nursed along by slick, crafty producers and recording technicians in order to produce music with a beat. The people who go to see them are just looking for a fun time and not really concerned about music per say. DJ's are good at what they do, but make no mistake, they are not musicians.

As a self taught guitar player I am not trained musically. I simply use the tool at hand to create sounds that are enjoyable (to at least me and maybe a few more).

By your definition I am not a musician even though I have been paid to play music with a group of people (a "band" of people as some might call it) who by your definition are also not musicians.

The people who go see any act of any kind are there with the intent to enjoy it and have a good time.

Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it isn't music. I mean I don't listen to it either but I know it's music that takes skill. They are simply using different tools.
 

Killing Floor

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Coming back for more....

It has been over 50 years since Flash started scratching and about the same since pioneers like Rosner started mixing.

Yet the consensus on guitar forums is that a DJ just pushes the Play button one song at a time. DJs create musical environments and the successful ones have encyclopedic musical knowledge and construct rhythms and melodies just like any other musician.
 

esseff

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They're frauds if they call themselves 'musicians' as I heard one claim.
Despite that, they can earn thousands of bucks a night in Ibiza discotheques. :rolleyes:
Give me a ragged-ass blues busker any time.
 

EsquireOK

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It is a major skill, and just like musicians, most of them think anyone can do it, but they just don’t “have it.”

I’d rather listen to a merely good DJ than even an above average live cover band.
 

Rockinvet

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That is an awesome and very informative response. Thank You!
Edit: should've quoted source but hit enter too soon!
See next post, thanks
 

Rockinvet

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Dance music isn't my thing, but anyone who thinks DJ'ing isn't hard, they're kidding themselves. Here's a good answer from the intertubes about what's involved.

"
To be accurate, DJing can be hard to learn, or fairly straightforward depending on what style of DJ you want to be and what equipment you intend to use.

My answer here is long but I've tried to make it as well rounded and fair as possible as there is much to consider.

I teach DJing and DJ for a living so while my business relies on people expecting it to be hard or needing help to learn, I can tell you almost every student says there is a lot more to it than they thought and there is always so much that can be learnt, even for experienced DJs.

Having modern DJ software and decks that have a Sync button makes people think it does almost all the work for you. It doesn't.
It will adjust the tempo so your tracks are ready to beatmatch, and in some cases ensure the beats/bars are aligned, that's it.

The DJ must still select compatible tracks, read and play to the crowd, choose appropriate points to mix the next track, do proper 'phrasing' (an essential skill for beatmatching that most people don't think about before starting), mix or end the last track in a multitude of ways and if they want to be a creative DJ, use all the other tools, tricks and classic and new techniques available to them and at the right times (too many to list but we're talking effects, loops, cue points, creative EQing and fading, maybe scratching, word play, putting tracks together in context, building the energy of a set to suit, harmonic mixing etc etc etc).

Of course you can be a great DJ with basic knowledge of how to transition from one song to another (beatmatching isn't the be all and end all of DJing of course and there are plenty of times when you won't want to do it for each song). The skills needed are then curating and selecting great songs appropriate for the crowd, style and venue, which is true for any good DJ no matter how technically skilled they are.

A lot of people quickly find that software will not always analyse the BPM and/or beat and bar positions of all tracks correctly, especially those with varying tempos, so you then either must manually correct it or turn sync off and adjust tempo/pitch and get tracks in phase (this is different to phrasing) which requires prior practice and understanding. Anyone with half a brain and some basic knowledge of music structure and a creative passion for music and performing plus the confidence to do it can be a good DJ. Anyone can DJ, but doing it well at any decent level requires practice and learning at least basic skills and properly understanding the equipment.
Any inexperienced DJ or non-DJ who thinks it's easy holding together a set for any extended period playing in front of a crowd will likely fall to pieces if they jumped in and tried, so my point is that if you intend to DJ live (or on radio even) not just at home, there is then a whole load of people skills, soft skills, performing skills and knowledge and some experience to build to do this, whilst managing the music and equipment, sound system/levels etc at the same time.
This might sound scary but it's half the fun and a good challenge and certainly seperates the wheat from the chaff.

Beatmatching by ear, especially when using vinyl or when you don't have on-screen info of the BPM to slide the pitch fader to match the tempos, is a skill that requires practice and doesn't come easy to some at first. But not impossible or quite the God-like skill that some people make it out to be. True, it's not easy and will become second nature and as I've said, sometimes not even necessary.

People have respect for those that master their art and reach the top of their game. For one example, scratch or turntablist DJing. That style requires much practice to be good at it (a skill I'm still learning to do well even after years of DJing).

Also don't listen to people who claim computers or Sync do it all for you, or is cheating or that vinyl mixing or using CDJ/Pioneer gear is the only 'real' way to DJ. Modern DJ tools often allow you to do more creatively, if you want to.
It's what comes out of the speakers and how you entertain your crowd that counts."
That is an awesome and very informative response. Thank You!
 

mindlobster

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It's easy to be a bad DJ, but when you see a good one, you know it! Then there are the ones who still scratch vinyl, some of them are amazing. I've been lucky enough to see Jazzy Jeff play a set very close up, and there's no doubt he is a total killer at what he does. At one point he went off on scratching trip that was really comparable to a guitar solo, it was insane. So, like guitar players, a lot of schmucks at the bottom, but some real talents further up.
 

telemnemonics

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No less than customer service is a skill.
I have more curiosity about why one goes to see a DJ.
Not really curious though, more of a whole club scene style.
 

loopfinding

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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).

well, i doubt anyone here could learn how to do this under several years without a ton of practice. if you've ever tried to do this, this is way more challenging than than some rock guitar stuff. we may as well say that conductors or mix/mastering engineers don't require the same level of dedication as musicians either.



the guy who hits the sync button or beatmatches for like a 10 second transition, fades in the second record and flips the low band between records is like the guy who plays some chords and riffs with decent enough timing and plays in an alt rock band. not throwing any shade at that, just a comparison.

beatmatching on three turntables, mixing three different bands for seamless transitions & the PA's inconsistencies, trying to correct for phasing issues in real time, especially in that loud of an environment, is a whole different level. and on top of that disco is even harder to mix because the records don't have a constant tempo, are even more inconsistent in recording quality, and you're constantly riding everything.

and then on top of that you have to be worrying about reading the room, running into your bag to pick records, thinking about what parts are going to work with what, and adjusting the whole set to it (though some people play prepared sets, and that's IMHO really boring).

there is pressure to both produce and DJ too. some producers are just not good DJs, or mediocre DJs, and they should play live sets with their gear instead. some of the best DJs are not good producers or don't do it at all. the "renaissance man" thing of being a great producer and a great DJ was a bit more common in the past, but it's always been a bit of a rare thing, indicating at least for me that there's something else to it.

tl;dr a virtuoso tier DJ has done as much shedding as a lot of musicians i know. it's just not as common as the amount of virtuoso musicians that are out there. it's also not far away from conducting, if you want to think about it like that - we don't necessarily call conductors musicians or instrumentalists, but their function is never in doubt.
 
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loopfinding

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I have more curiosity about why one goes to see a DJ.
Not really curious though, more of a whole club scene style.

it's a bit like santeria drumming - hours long ceremony with continuous drumming, lots of rum, ecstatic states...except secular. going to see a DJ like you would a rock show really makes no sense, at least to me...they live in different but related parts of my mind.

but I suppose we could say the same about other intersections of musical performance. many people who love music don’t care for ballet. personally I have no real interest in opera, just give me the arias, I don’t need a play and hours of grating recitative.
 
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telemnemonics

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it's a bit like santeria drumming - hours long ceremony with continuous drumming, lots of rum, ecstatic states...except secular. going to see a DJ like you would a rock show really makes no sense, at least to me...they live in different but related parts of my mind.

but I suppose we could say the same about other intersections of musical performance. many people who love music don’t care for ballet. personally I have no real interest in opera, just give me the arias, I don’t need a play and hours of grating recitative.

Right, the scene, the room, the happening, the collective, the experience.

Not the same but I also don't get going to disco clubs.
They stayed popular in some places like even NYC that has actual culture, long after the music stopped being pop.
I'm aware of a variety of associated trends including NYC sex clubs and for example the recreational use of Viagra at raves.
Raves, Industrial, all that stuff is included in the vast portion of the universe I don't understand well enough to comment on.
Says nothing about the stuff I don't understand and everything about me.
 

Minivan Megafun

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Not sure what you'd call this, but in my region we have something called a "social", which is like a fundraiser. You rent a hall, people buy tickets, there's prize packages that people also buy raffle tickets for, you sell alcohol, there's music and dancing...

Anyway, most people hire a DJ to play music and have some lights on the dance floor. When we held a social prior to getting married, instead of hiring a DJ, I rented a PA and some lights. Then I took a laptop and loaded up a high playlist of all the songs people usually want to hear at these things. I installed a plugin to crossfade between the songs, hooked the laptop to the PA, and let it rip.

NO ONE NOTICED THAT THERE WAS NO DJ MANNING THE MUSIC. So I spent about 50 bucks to rent some equipment and a laptop did the job that some dummy would have charged me $500 for.

That's how much talent it takes to be a DJ.
 

SixStringSlinger

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Not sure what you'd call this, but in my region we have something called a "social", which is like a fundraiser. You rent a hall, people buy tickets, there's prize packages that people also buy raffle tickets for, you sell alcohol, there's music and dancing...

Anyway, most people hire a DJ to play music and have some lights on the dance floor. When we held a social prior to getting married, instead of hiring a DJ, I rented a PA and some lights. Then I took a laptop and loaded up a high playlist of all the songs people usually want to hear at these things. I installed a plugin to crossfade between the songs, hooked the laptop to the PA, and let it rip.

NO ONE NOTICED THAT THERE WAS NO DJ MANNING THE MUSIC. So I spent about 50 bucks to rent some equipment and a laptop did the job that some dummy would have charged me $500 for.

That's how much talent it takes to be a DJ.

We can also point at the guy stumbling through "Wonderwall" in the corner at a party wondering why no one is paying attention to him and say "That's how much talent it takes to be a guitarist," because he is undoubtedly a guitarist. But no one says "I want to be a guitarist" or "I want to hear some guitar" and thinks about that guy.
 

loopfinding

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Right, the scene, the room, the happening, the collective, the experience.

Not the same but I also don't get going to disco clubs.
They stayed popular in some places like even NYC that has actual culture, long after the music stopped being pop.
I'm aware of a variety of associated trends including NYC sex clubs and for example the recreational use of Viagra at raves.
Raves, Industrial, all that stuff is included in the vast portion of the universe I don't understand well enough to comment on.
Says nothing about the stuff I don't understand and everything about me.

right, it can be tough to navigate. Everything gets more convoluted as it spills out of its original niche/function. Right now we are sort of right back at “Ethel merman/Disney disco record” levels with electronic dance music. In the same way, Woodstock was a vibe, a happening, a cultural phenomenon...nowadays “festival culture” means all things to all people.
 




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