Know Your Role: What Is a DJ?

As much as DJOYbeat’s DJ Tech section is about the tech, it’s also about what it takes to use all that equipment in a professional, standup kinda way. So to kick things off, we’ve got a true OG, DJ Supreme La Rock, a man who knows more about disco, funk and dance music than you know about your mama, to explain what it really means when spend your hard-earned cash on loads of fancy equipment and step on stage to rock the crowd.

Every week Preme will be breaking down the culture, art and business of being a professional crowd mover – ed.

“A truly great DJ, just for a moment, can make a whole room fall in love. DJing is not just about choosing a few tunes. It’s about generating shared moods, understanding the feelings of others and directing them to a better place.  In the hands of a master, records create rituals of spiritual communion that can be the most powerful event in somebody’s life”   – Unknown-

It’s 2014 and DJing has evolved to the point where the lines between what is and isn’t a DJ have been blurred. Or have they? There’s lots of DJs that claim other DJs don’t really DJ. But who are they to define DJing? A lot of the currently highest-paid acts will be (or at least should be) the first to tell you they aren’t really DJs! Most are music producers with massive pop hits that the general public are familiar with, and they are parlaying that chart success into a DJ career.

And given the variety of formats being used, you could argue that the term DJ should actually be tossed out of the English language at this point. Originally meaning “disc jockey,” most cats don’t play any discs these days, vinyl or plastic. So whether rockin’ an MP3/MIDI controller or a set of CDJs your job is to turn it out.  So, blurred lines and all, that’s the bottom line: turn it out.

It doesn’t matter what kind of DJ someone says they are, from big room Las Vegas night clubs, to festival sound stages, to large clubs, small bars, retail stores, and weddings, etc., the bottom line is that person has to be able to create moods, set tones, and take the audience on a journey all through their selection of music.  That’s what a DJ is.

So sponsorships, radio shows, and groupies aside, the DJ’s role is to rock the party.  And if you’re rocking the crowd and moving asses, it really doesn’t matter how it’s done or what format is used. Certain formats only apply to specific situations. If you’re going to play at one of these current cool “45” parties, you’re not going to want to bring anything else to play besides your 7” vinyl 45 records. If you’re playing at your local lounge, you’d be fine using almost any media format as long as you can mix and your selection of music fits the bill.

This is where the art part of the role can get tricky. A DJ must be able to read their crowd. How do they do this? You damn near have to be psychic! How do you know what your crowd wants? I guess this can depend on a number of things. What type of venue is it? What type of night is it? If it’s hip hop night you’re not going to do well playing EDM and vice versa.  A DJ must be aware of their surroundings.  A DJ’s job is not only to make everyone have a good time and forget about any negativity they may have in their life at that moment, but also to break new unheard of music and bring it to the audience making them aware that there’s more than just the Beatport Top 100 (or whatever chart you watch) out there.

Most crowds only want what they are familiar with so breaking new music can be a challenge. A DJ’s job is to make everyone in the room happy, from the promoter to the owner, manager, staff  and patrons. It’s not as easy as the general public thinks. A true working class DJ’s work is NEVER done. With a venue full of 100’s of people from all walks of life how can you possibly make sure every single one of them is satisfied? It’s impossible. All you can do is make sure that the majority is riding with you. A DJ must be up on new current music, old music, the next hot music, forgotten songs, remixes and the list goes on. A true DJ actually knows all of these songs inside and out: BPM, breaks, key, mood.

So what is a DJ? That person that takes you on your musical ride, introduces you to something new, makes you forget your worries and leaves you happy.

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