Disc jockey

For other meanings of DJ, see DJ (disambiguation).
Missing image
Disc jockey at a nightclub.

A disc jockey (often DJ) is an individual who selects and plays pre-recorded music for the enjoyment of others. In circles and cultures where reggae and related musical styles are prevalent such as Jamaica, Panama, and other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America, the work of the "Deejay" is divided up and can also refer to an MC or rapper. The word "selector" is used as the title of the person who chooses the records, the disc jockey playing them. Thus what Jamaicans call deejaying, chatting, or toasting may be called rapping in other parts of the world. Reggae artists who sing in styles similar to rap have also been called deejays.

DJs can be heard on the radio and at any number of social gatherings, such as weddings, nightclubs, art openings, warehouse parties, and high school dances. As a result there are many different types of DJ, each fitting into a particular niche defined by performance setting (broadcast booth or nightclub) and intended audience (jazz or hip hop fans). A DJ's performance style and the techniques he or she employs must reflect these considerations. For instance, wedding DJs play music but are often expected to act as a masters of ceremony who introduce the bride and groom, lead dances, or invite guests to play games. A DJ at a rave would instead be expected to introduce a greater technical element to their performance by manipulating the songs they play in order to maintain a given tempo and energy level.

Some consider deejaying to be not a single action but rather a series of actions that depend on situation and expectations. However, whether talk radio shock jocks like Howard Stern and Don Imus that do not play music ought to be referred to as DJs or "on-air personalities" is often debated.



See audio mixing, cueing, slip-cueing, phrasing, cutting, beat juggling, scratching, body tricks, beatmatching, needle drops, and phasing.


See turntables, CD players, mixers, headphones, slipmats, samplers, drum machines, effects processors, and laptop computers. Two turntables and a microphone comprise DJs' most basic equipment, although recently, new advances in digital media have enabled DJs to use computers, and CD players, with specialized software in much the same manner as with turntables. Turntables (aka. phonographs) and a microphone are connected to a mixer. DJs use a mixer's crossfader to fade between two songs playing in the turntables. Fading often includes beatmatching. Live hip hop music also often has MCs rapping to the microphone. In nightclubs the microphone is usually used only for announcements.

The DJ as an artist

A phenomenon in the music community (but primarily within the sphere of popular music) is DJs who do not simply "play records," but in fact create new music through the playback and mixing of pre-recorded media. These techniques began and were developed in Jamaica in the 1960s by such influential DJs as Count Matchukie, King Stitts and U-Roy working with some of the most innovative sound recording engineers of the century including Coxsone, King Tubby, and the legendary Lee "Scratch" Perry. Phrasing, sampling, scratching, the application of effects (e.g., delay, flanging, etc.), and most importantly, toasting or rapping over music, develop an aural montage that may be spontaneous/improvised or carefully crafted. This movement is dubbed turntablism and is parallelled in surrealism and the visual arts.

However, simply "playing records" allows a DJ to bring his or her own creative ideas to bear upon pre-recorded music, much like a mix tape. Playing songs in sequence offers the opportunity to observe relationships forming between different songs. Given careful attention and control, the DJ can create these relations and encourage them to become more expressive, beautiful and telling. If successful, these relationships encourage the listener or audience towards a deeper and more complete experience of the music as well as insight into the person choosing the music sequence. This is called the art of "programming," or track selection. It can require technical skill and/or knowledge of music.

From the mid-1980s through the late-1990s, some dance-oriented genres of electronic music, especially house and techno, evolved to cater to DJs who were looking for recordings that could be more easily combined with each other in creative ways. Since DJs produce much of the music in these styles, the arrangements became more DJ-friendly — less song-oriented, tonal and melodic, and more rhythmic and repetitive, or "tracky," — thus allowing the DJ to create a hypnotic collage of music using lengthier and more complex segues between songs. This phenomenon occurred in hip hop music as well, but to a lesser extent, due to that genre's focus on lyrical structures. However, in hip hop moreso than in other genres, "DJ tool" records consisting of nothing but looping break beats and other samples, rather than complete songs, are specially produced for the benefit of DJs looking to assemble new combinations of beats and phrases "live in the mix".

DJ control and economics

Throughout the 1950s, payola was an ongoing problem. Part of the fallout from that payola scandal was tighter control of the music by station management. The Top 40 format also emerged, where popular songs are played repeatedly.

Today, very few DJs in the United States have any control over what is played on the air. Playlists are very tightly regulated, and the DJ is often not allowed to make any changes or additions. The songs to be played are usually determined by computerized algorithms, and automation techniques such as voice tracking have allowed single DJs to send announcements across many stations. Even song requests are sometimes co-opted into this system—a song might be announced as a request by a DJ even though it was already set to appear in the playlist.

Economically, this formula has been successful across the country. However, music aficionados look upon such practices with disgust and either seek out freeform stations that put the DJs back in control, or end up dumping terrestrial radio in favor of satellite radio services or portable music players like iPods. College radio stations and other public radio outlets are the most common places for freeform playlists in the U.S.

Disc vs Disk

The name "Disc jockey" developed in the era when the only sound recordings available were disc records. For the reason it's disc jockey rather than disk jockey, see disk or disc. Disc is more often spelled "Disk" in the USA. Either spelling is considered correct.

Notable DJs

Notable Radio DJs

DJ John Peel. (BBC Photo)
DJ John Peel. (BBC Photo)
  • Tommy Vance
  • Jim Ladd, called "The last DJ" by Tom Petty. One of the last remaining free-form rock 'n' roll disc jockey's in a major market. Currently found on KLOS in Los Angeles.
  • Jimmy Savile, the first DJ to use twin turntables in 1946.
  • John Landecker, also known as "Records" Landecker, was a star for WLS in Chicago. He started in 1972 on a high powered AM station that reached 38 states and Canada.
  • John Peel rose to fame as a DJ with pirate radio station Radio Caroline, was one of the original DJs of BBC Radio 1 in 1967 and was the only original presenter still on Radio 1 at the time of his death on October 25, 2004. Known for the extraordinary range of his taste in music and the not infrequent blunders (for example playing records at the wrong speed) which mark his shows, John Peel was one of the most popular and respected DJs in the United Kingdom.
  • Stuart Henry
  • Murray the K, successor to Freed, often claimed to be the "Fifth Beatle"
  • Nic Harcourt, a British voice in the U.S., he hosts Sounds Eclectic and other influential programming from KCRW in Santa Monica, California where he is music director.
  • Wolfman Jack, internationally famous for his howls and patter on high-powered Mexican station XERF; later hosted early syndicated radio show
  • Rick Shaw, the legend of Rock and Roll/Top 40 in South Florida since the early 60's. Rick is now co-hosting the morning drive show on WMXJ, MAJIC 102.7 out of Miami
  • Stan Rofe ("Stan The Man") was a key figure in the development of the pop-rock scene in Australia. In the late 1950s he was the first DJ to play rock'n'roll music on Melbourne radio, and his long-running "Platter Parade" show was one of the highest rating shows in the history of Australian radio. Rofe exerted a huge influence on the Australian music scene, both through his championing of Australian pop performers such as Normie Rowe and through the records he played -- he was well known for repeat playings of records he particuularly liked, was one of the few Australian DJs to regularly play music by black American performers and is believed to have been the first DJ in Australia to play Jimi Hendrix.

Notable Club DJs

Notable Hip hop DJs

DJs in rock bands

In the late '90s Nu metal bands started to introduce DJs into their band to give their music a hip-hop style. Usually the DJ's role in the band is minor in live shows, but they usually have a large influence in the recording stages.

Notable bands that include DJs include:

The DJ as teacher

Another DJ who has been widely renowned is Christian Marclay who taught at the European Graduate School; the Berklee College of Music in Boston, among others, also offers courses on the art of the DJ, and has made a book available complete with a vinyl record for practicing scratching and mixing.

The Mobile DJ

Mobile DJs provide DJ services at weddings, schools, corporate events, bar/bat mitzvahs, and other private parties. They generally bring their equipment to the place of the event. Recent developments in technology has enabled mobile DJs to easily carry more than it was possible before.

CD players with DJ-oriented features such as simulated dragging and scratching have been available for some time, and software DJ equipment such as the Native Instruments Traktor and the Hercules DJ Console enables DJs to carry hundreds of digital records on a USB hard disk and to perform as they did on typical equipment. However, vinyl-based equipment is still preferred and is widely believed to give DJs more direct control over the sound of the music. Whatever the case, as the art of the DJ has become more and more widespread, equipment has become drastically easier to find, and it is possible to find mass-market mixing equipment at outlets such as RadioShack and complete DJing kits for beginners at music stores.

External links

  • The DJ List (http://www.thedjlist.com/) - rates the top DJs in the world
  • Gremlin UK (http://www.gremlinuk.com/) - Celeb DJ agency
  • Internet DJ (http://www.internetdj.com/) - DJ community
  • Illegal-Art.org (http://www.illegal-art.org/) - features controversial mixes from artists like DJ Danger Mouse
  • Source FM (http://www.sourcefm.net/) - UK student radio station, home to James Martin.



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