There are five main types of disc jockeys, including club, mobile, music producer, radio and turntablist. Most DJs fall into more than one category.
A lot of people accuse DJs of just pressing play, but it actually takes a lot of work to book a gig, travel to an event, write a song, get a job at a radio station or play a live scratch routine that gets the party going. Not to mention promoting yourself in a sea of other entertainers and musicians.
Most DJs can be described as a club DJ, mobile DJ, music producer, radio DJ or turntablist, although a lot of them participate in more than one role. If you will considered the following illustration, each overlapping circle represents a type of DJ.
For example, a lot of DJs just starting out in local clubs also produce original music and remixes available on their SoundCloud. Or they may play weddings sometimes for the extra cash. Sometimes a famous music producer gets his own radio show on a station like Clear Channel, CBS Radio or BBC Radio, or they go on an international club tour and have a residency at a super club in Las Vegas or Ibiza. Scratch DJs oftentimes end up playing nightclubs or producing remixes by the nature of their art.
Like we said above, the five main categories of DJs are club, mobile, music producer, radio and turntablist or scratch, which we discuss in further detail below.
Nightclub DJs are usually local heroes that open for international acts. They often host parties at various venues for people who just want to dance to a specific type of music. Established club DJs may have several nightclub residencies where they perform regularly. If they have a large social community they may also book out of state gigs in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and New York. Usually club DJs play other people’s music.
Mobile DJs are the unsung heroes of the music industry. They travel far and wide to produce the soundtrack for weddings, corporate parties, school dances and other private events. Unlike nightclub DJs, mobile DJs are approachable, engage in conversation with attendees and may even take requests. This is one of the best ways for DJs to make money, as the gigs are usually more stable.
Anyone can select the next track on a set list, but it takes a producer to compose the original music DJs play. Music producers are musicians that make music out of different sounds and instruments and put them all together electronically. They may help someone else record an album or song, produce for themselves, or remix other artists’ tracks. Thanks to modern technology, you don’t need a recording studio to be a music producer, provided you have a laptop and some music equipment.
The radio DJ works at a radio station as a host, mixer or part of the programming staff. There are only so many radio stations so this field gets particularly competitive. These days a lot of radio DJs host a podcast, or work in satellite radio. Some radio DJs are actually just announcers who talk in between songs. Others play live sets for the entire city, and sometimes more than one city at once. You have to be able to give insight on new music and stay in the know about the most popular songs of the moment to please the radio crowd, which typically prefers Top 40 tracks.
Turntablists are also referred to as scratch DJs or controllerists. They perform live remixes using turntables, a mixer and headphones, along with some other samples and special effects. Scratching requires a skill involving delicate hand/wrist motion that takes years of practice to perfect. Oftentimes they produce video routines of their best moves, and enter them in tournaments such as the DMC Championships, or Red Bull Thre3style. They get recognition from the DJ scene but usually normal people don’t know them.
The great thing about the music industry is the diverse array of possibilities. You could be a club DJ/artist/turntablist and that would be okay. Many DJs even have alternative interests such as photography, fitness or outdoor activities. People become DJs for different reasons, whether you want to rock the party, express yourself through beautiful music, reach out to listeners or just get respect from scratch aficionados. Decide what you’re passionate about and start working!