Generally speaking, a DJ’s job is to present a series of records for the enjoyment of the audience. That applies to the radio DJ as well – they play music intermingling it with chat or some sort of comedic performance. The club DJ, on the other hand, does something much more musically creative – s/he presents records by performing them to produce a cohesive musical atmosphere. Songs are carefully chosen, strung together in an improvised story to make a continuous and flowing set. Whether the DJ chooses to dramatically juxtapose songs or unnoticeably overlay and mix them together, he creates new unique music that cannot be found anywhere else. To a large extent, it is possible thanks to the amazing advances in technology that DJs also have taken advantage of. I think it is safe to safe that the modern DJ is a true performer and, more importantly, a talented musician who does much more than simply presenting records for the entertainment of an audience.
From the technical perspective, the craft of the DJ is demanding and requires a certain level of skill. In order to seamlessly mix two separate songs, he needs to know their structure, be able to determine whether they are in matching keys and have a reliable sense of rhythm. In addition, the DJ needs to understand the song’s construction and have a good musical memory. Finally, there is the pretty complex equipment that he definitely should get to know very closely: the turntables, digital CD players, the mixer, an amplifier, speakers and whatever other sound processing devices might be necessary. Skillful DJs can drastically alter the song’s danceability and emphasize its dynamics by adjusting the volume, EQ (frequency balance), treble and bass, playing with the crossovers. In fact, the whole sound system is like one big instrument that the DJ plays. And of course, there is the music – no matter what kind of hardware and software is going to be used, a DJ needs plenty of songs to play on that “instrument”. Digital music has made it significantly easier, old school DJs still spend hours in music stores literally digging for those obscure, original, unique vinyl records.
Although it may seem fairly easy (all you need to do is successfully program a list of songs to be played), DJing is an art form that is much more demanding and difficult than it seems. To be good at this job, not only does a DJ need to be partly a collector, technician and selector, he should also be a musician. Smooth transitions between songs, mixing with multiple decks, impressively fast changes, smart EQing or connecting and using a fancy sampling equipment – it all adds to this artistry. Most importantly, a DJ needs to be able to make an intimate connection with the audience, respond to its feelings, make people dance and create a special atmosphere and a live performance. The key to any successful club DJ is flexibility and adaptability. Music can change at any given moment based on crowd feedback, your mood as a DJ and being able to anticipate tempo change. Having the right equipment surely makes these transitions easier. Moreover, with the rise of club culture as a commercial force, the DJ has acquired an image of a nonconformist, eccentric artist and has been turned into a marketing tool to help record labels sell compilation CDs (Brewster 17). Being also a promoter, it is the DJs who were responsible for popularization of unknown at the time music genres such as reggae, disco, hip-hop, house or garage. Record companies were not eager to release obscure artists playing unknown music until DJs introduced the various music styles to the audience and popularized it among their fans.
Next, I would like to briefly outline the history of the DJ to help understand how playing records has evolved over time into an art form with a cult-like following we can observe today. The term “night club” began to be used during the prohibition era of the 1920s (Reighley 23). It usually referred to a speakeasy or...
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