Being a DJ, is it really a skill?

jondanger

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I want to be a DJ. Specifically, the radio guy that hosts a late-night Friday program on a local college radio station. The program is called Distorting Time, and it features 'long form' music. In other words--bands that do long jams and probably also smoke a lot of weed. Seems to go with the territory.

https://wtmd.org/radio/distorting-time/

What a great job: introduce a song, and go burn one in the car and take a nap, or spend 45 minutes on the hopper getting rid of that Taco Bell you had on the way to work.

To quote Lewis Black, "The best job in the world is being a TV weatherman in San Diego, California; it doesn't get any better than that:

'What's the weather gonna be like tomorrow, Lew?'

'Nice! [ahem] Back to you'."

Well, it’s not like that’s Dan Deacon’s ONLY job . . .

 

soul-o

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I can tell you from DJ-ing at the after-parties of a few weddings after the band finishes that wedding DJs deserve every penny they charge for dealing with drunk people who want to hear their song right now, don’t know the name of the artist but the one they play at the gym, you know!!! Let me just plug my phone in. Put it on now, this sucks, you suck.
 

Dostradamas

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I can tell you from DJ-ing at the after-parties of a few weddings after the band finishes that wedding DJs deserve every penny they charge for dealing with drunk people who want to hear their song right now, don’t know the name of the artist but the one they play at the gym, you know!!! Let me just plug my phone in. Put it on now, this sucks, you suck.

And all they ask for is House of Pain Jump Around
 

Timbresmith1

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I say yes. As a guy that used to listen to free-form radio- it was a skill even then. They could set a mood/ vibe and then move you through it smoothly to a new vibe. The wrong song could get the station changed in a hurry.
 

aging_rocker

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There are several kinds of "DJs" out there. The most basic kind just plays other artists' songs, smoothly moving from one song to the next, reading the crowd and creating a pleasing set that keeps everyone dancing. The next kind adds various effects such as filtering, scratching, etc. But the really big money DJs actually create their own electronic music. People like Avicii, Skrillex, Martin Garrix, etc. The ones that make way more money than any other musicians. This third type of DJ is definitely a musician. But rather than perform their music live, they show up with a USB stick and press play. They sort of act up there, waving their hands, pretending like they are doing stuff, getting the crowd going.



Way back in the 90s, I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with 'DJs'.

A very good friend of mine ran a sound system that played a lot of 'raves', festivals and parties. The preparation alone that went into preparing the 'set' was awesome, and the 'live' mixing and editing was a thing of wonder to watch. Sonic architects, indeed.

Like most types of music, you either like it or you don't, that's cool.

 
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aging_rocker

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All the best people DJ, apparently..:D

Ironically, Faithless were a proper band live. Saw them a couple of times around this time...Yum yum...

 

loopfinding

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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.

this guy studied music as a kid, studied audio engineering in university, became a relatively known underground DJ and producer, was a go-to buchla service technician back in the modular dark ages of the 90s/00s, and then started a modular synth company to release his own designs. and just from my experience hanging around underground techno and house circles, there are a ton of people like that.



and then though not a DJ, this is the techno project of mick harris, the drummer from napalm death:



judging it by top 40 EDM is like judging rock music by avril lavigne or maroon 5. the well goes pretty deep. and the music existed for almost 20 years independently of big labels before they ever tried to make it a cash cow.
 
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Sax-son

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this guy studied music as a kid, studied audio engineering in university, became a relatively known underground DJ and producer, was a go-to buchla service technician back in the modular dark ages of the 90s/00s, and then started a modular synth company to release his own designs. and just from my experience hanging around underground techno and house circles, there are a ton of people like that.



and then though not a DJ, this is the techno project of mick harris, the drummer from napalm death:



judging it by top 40 EDM is like judging rock music by avril lavigne or maroon 5. the well goes pretty deep. and the music existed for almost 20 years independently of big labels before they ever tried to make it a cash cow.


I will stick by my original statement. These people are "entertainers" and perhaps very good at it. They are not musicians! They may be technology wizards in how they put together their program, but they are not those hired to sit in with a group or orchestra to recreate a score of music. Those are separate set of skills and knowledge.

I grew up in a family of musicians, who studied and can read musical scores. I doubt many DJ can do this or even be interested in doing that. My father as a free lance musician could play in a polka band one night, play in a big band jazz orchestra the next night and be in a symphony orchestra the next night. That is the definition of a musician in my world. I don't have anything against DJ's, I have enjoyed being entertained by them on a number of occasions, but I never got it in my head that I was listening to a musician. We have to keep those realities in their proper places.

Recording engineers can be musicians also, there are some out there. The famous George Martin was a studied classical musician in conjunction with also being a music producer. Although he may not have been the engineer operating the tape machines, he was instrumental in how he wanted to focus the sound he was after.
 

cyclopean

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100% yes.

I play in a band and I DJ.

Know your records, read the room, keep the energy going, and if you have any self respect at all don’t just play tracks people already know but don’t lose the dance floor in the process.
 

cyclopean

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I will stick by my original statement. These people are "entertainers" and perhaps very good at it. They are not musicians! They may be technology wizards in how they put together their program, but they are not those hired to sit in with a group or orchestra to recreate a score of music. Those are separate set of skills and knowledge.

I grew up in a family of musicians, who studied and can read musical scores. I doubt many DJ can do this or even be interested in doing that. My father as a free lance musician could play in a polka band one night, play in a big band jazz orchestra the next night and be in a symphony orchestra the next night. That is the definition of a musician in my world. I don't have anything against DJ's, I have enjoyed being entertained by them on a number of occasions, but I never got it in my head that I was listening to a musician. We have to keep those realities in their proper places.

Recording engineers can be musicians also, there are some out there. The famous George Martin was a studied classical musician in conjunction with also being a music producer. Although he may not have been the engineer operating the tape machines, he was instrumental in how he wanted to focus the sound he was after.
Most of the djs i know have also been in bands.
 

cyclopean

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I can tell you from DJ-ing at the after-parties of a few weddings after the band finishes that wedding DJs deserve every penny they charge for dealing with drunk people who want to hear their song right now, don’t know the name of the artist but the one they play at the gym, you know!!! Let me just plug my phone in. Put it on now, this sucks, you suck.
The magic words are “the aux in jack is broken”.
 

cyclopean

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Are there still actual DJs on the radio? I came of age during the rise of "free form" FM radio in the late '60s early '70s.
I don't listen to much radio these days but it seems like there is nothing like actual DJs any more. They don't even announce what was just played or what is coming next. No such thing as a radio personality any more. It's all automated, streaming corporate playlists, etc.
Does anyone even listen to the radio any more for music? Talk shows seem to be the biggest thing. Maybe I'm wrong.
Listen to better radio stations.
 

cyclopean

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It's like anything else. There are guitarists who blow minds by playing brilliant, off-the-cuff stuff seemingly pulled from the very fabric of the universe, and there's the guy who stumbles through "Wonderwall" every time there's more than 3 people around.



And that's just the very bare bones of what could be called DJ-ing today.



I don't know. I mean, paintings and sculptures are works of art, but so is a fantastically curated art exhibit. There may not be as much creation done by the curator, but there are still decisions made and ideas expressed and points made. The paintings and sculptures aren't just thrown together randomly, or just sorted by chronological order. The curator is still a crucial part of the ultimate aesthetic effect.

I disagree with your point re. dedication, study etc. If you look at a modern DJ set-up and know the various things it makes you capable of, and keep in mind the fact that all this cutting and pasting and rearranging and effecting is often done off the cuff in front of a live audience and still makes sense as a cohesive piece of music (albeit one made from pieces of other coherent pieces of music), it's clear that no one can accomplish this without lots of time invested and many lessons learned from experience. They're not just lining up a playlist and hitting "play".

I agree 100% that making music by selecting and rearranging pieces of other music is not the same as wrenching the notes and chords out of a musical instrument, and in some crucial way that I still haven't found a way to express. But I wouldn't say that it's any less artistic, or any better or worse, or more or less. It's still creative and artistic and talented, just at a different level. Not in terms of higher or lower, but in terms of how much art came before it that then becomes part of their art.

Think of jazz musicians. Plenty of jazz musicians today are great players who improvise and create new things, but they do it in the context of (and using bits from) progressions and melodies that may be as much as a century old. It was created before them, and re-used and re-interpreted many times before them, and now they're doing their own re-using and re-interpretation. Are they any less musicians or any less artist because their art relies in part on art made by others before them?
How is that any different than slinging blues and classic rock cliche riffs?
 

cyclopean

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My wife was a DJ about 10 years ago and made good money. I always never cared for DJs and thought they were taking gigs away from real musicians. There is a little more too it than I thought with matching BPMs with vinyl ect.. I tease her and say she plays music and I make music.
Beat matching is a musical skill and it’s not easy to learn. Dj’s are musicians.

I like spinning records for people to dance to but I have no desire to play in a cover band unless it’s on Halloween night.

People who don’t like going out to dance are depressing and joyless.
 

El Marin

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I only know some genre DJs. Rockabilly and funky...

Is a skill? to me yes

They have a bigger knowledge of what to play and when to play it. I can instantly play over that music, but he knows the name, the record, track number, year, even producer label. Etc...
 




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