I believe DJs are artists because unlike jukeboxes, DJs possess a unique skill in creating mixes for their audience. I have firsthand experience on what it takes to be recognized as a DJ. A DJ plays a selection of music for nightclubs, outdoor festivals or specific events. They are the ones who make the party happen. Nightclub owners depend on DJs to energize the crowd and keep them on the dancefloor. When attending a club or an event, I pay close attention to the DJ. I listen to their track selection. I listen for a smooth transition in their blends. I follow DJs who open, headline or close out a party. Each DJ has their own signature style. There are procedures a DJ must follow. This separate the ones who know the craft from those who do not.
Traditional musicians may argue that DJs are not trained with an instrument or learn to read music; therefore, they should not be able as an artist. According to Webster’s Dictionary, an artist is a person with 1. Skill acquired by experience or study. 2. An occupation required knowledge or skill. 3. The use of skill and imagination in the production of things of beauty. A DJ learns to count the bpm (beats per minute) in a song. They learn how to select the proper track from their library. They learn how to use the necessary equipment (turntables, CDJs, Controller with mixes and various DJ software). They learn how to beat match songs together to create a mix or set. A DJs greatest access is the ability to read a crowd. This skill takes time and patience to master. Often you hear someone say, “That DJ took me to church” or “They took me on a journey”. This confirms that a DJ express their art through music.
Anyone can spin music and call themselves a DJ (ex. Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian). Let’s make one thing clear. You can’t go up on the DJ booth using pre-recorded music say that you’re a DJ. It does not work that way. There are DJs who do this as a full-time occupation. There are DJs who been spinning tracks for 5, 10, 20 years and longer. There are DJs who create and produce their own songs. There are DJs who own record labels. There are DJs who have an online radio show. Speaking of that, I will make my DJing debut on my next show. Both women were dragged through the mud by social media as fake DJs. You are not a DJ until one teaches you.
All DJs much know how to beat-match. This is the most important factor in becoming a DJ. The process is adjusting the pitch of an upcoming track to match the tempo of a track that is playing. You listen for the kick and snare of both tracks. They must be in synch. This is not an easy procedure to learn. Season DJs often practice this skill before their next gig or online radio show. Once you are comfortable with beat-matching, you are ready to form a mix. The idea is blending tracks together to create a set, so the crowd is unaware of the transition.
DJs are as important as a violinist in an orchestra. They perform in front of an audience. They dazzle you with talent and knowledge of music. They can move you to tears in a symphony or make you sweat on the dancefloor. Everyone has a varied musical taste. There are DJs who specialize in various genres (Hip-Hop, House, EDM, Drum and Bass, Techno).
A DJs equipment is essential in performing his or her set. They must be familiar with different types of equipment and its use. In the 80s, DJs used turntables and a mixer. They purchased a ton of vinyl records (45’s or 12-inch). DJs would bring a crate full of records to their gigs. DJs played a full night, so a variety of records was needed. In the 90s, CDJs replaced vinyl turntables as the equipment of choice. Instead of carrying so many records, a DJ downloads and stores a vast amount of songs on CDs. Today, DJ have options in filing their music. There are also options for using DJ equipment. Some DJs use a controller with various software (Serato, Trakor, Virtual DJ, etc.…). Now DJs either bring their laptop or flash drives to their gigs. You can simply hook your laptop with the CDJs or use the USB mount for the flash drive. You are all set to play. Nowadays, DJs purchase their music at sites like Traxsource, Beatport or iTunes. There are still places where people purchase vinyl and CDs. In Chicago, we have record stores such as Gramaphone, Dusty Groove, and Kstarke. Producers are releasing songs on digital, vinyl or both. My preference is getting my music at digital sites. You can search, listen, buy and download to a PC or Mac at home. They are less expensive and easy to store that vinyl and CDs. A local newspaper in Austin mentioned the cost of a download digital of an album is $10. The cost for a vinyl at a record store can run for as little as $12 to as much as $40.
Some may say DJs are nothing more than human jukeboxes. A club owner may argue that purchasing a jukebox will save thousands of dollars buying DJ equipment and hiring DJs. A musician could argue that playing instruments and learning music does not compare to mixing tracks. You can play music with a tablet with an app and call yourself a DJ. Although I understand these objectives, let me point out why DJs are artists.
DJs are considered musicians because they can take a sound, layer it, program it and present it in a way that it becomes new from its original piece. The song or track is like a music sheet to a musician. The song becomes new, fresh, and unique; it stands out from other songs. They can have you on a dancefloor and keep yours there. There is a message in the mix. The DJ use their track selections to get that message across.
DJs use their skill to bring emotion to others. By creating mix sets, they channel in on what mood they can swing the crowd in their favor. DJs are music filters. There are vast amount release songs daily. The DJ must search and choose which one will keep the party jumping or not. The DJ must select favor tracks or fresh songs to add in while mixing. It must fix a theme of a club or event. You would not play a House set at an R&B party. Most DJs create the tracks they play. They are label as producers. You need a knowledge of music, hardware, software, and arrangement to be a producer. That’s the next level.
If you use an iPod, iPad or a tablet with an app, you are not a DJ. DJs are better-rounded than that. There is an art form in what a DJ does. A DJ conducts the dance through his or her music. They have a way combing tracks together, so the listener won’t notice the transition. There is a great deal of technique and creativity involved. The dancefloor experiences a level of energy that needs no explanation. In the House community, we often say you don’t hear House Music, you feel it. That feeling comes from the DJ and music he or she plays.
DJs are artists because they bring skill, knowledge and a unique way of presenting music to the masses. A lot of elements are involved.
• Mixing the music
• Selecting the music
• Beat-matching the music
• Knowledge of the equipment
• Being the life of every party or event
Anyone can play songs out of a jukebox but not anyone can be a DJ.