DJ simply stands for ‘disc jockey’. It refers to the action of actually playing discs that produce music, being in control of them, and producing live entertainment from them.
Of course, from our current, modern perspective, this may seem a little odd, since DJs rarely use discs anymore.
That being said, this was not always the case, and back when DJing first became ‘a thing’, discs were the main source of music… and we’re not talking CDs! No, no! These were much bigger discs, usually LP shellac or vinyl records.
Where did the word DJ originate?
The word originally originated in reference to the person who controlled gramophone records, either on the radio or at an event.
Of course, as we have mentioned, this is largely a thing of the past now, and over the years this developed from shellac records to vinyl records, to cassette tapes, to CDs, and now digital music such as MP3, iPods, and online streaming music services.
These digital pieces of music can be stored on a laptop or USB drive, or any other memory card for the DJ to use on the air or at an event.
Typically, a disc jockey, or DJ as they are referred to, will attend live events and will provide entertainment. They are often found at large parties, weddings, in nightclubs, at bars, and at music festivals.
Some may stay very much out of the limelight, providing no other entertainment, however, other DJs are very much center stage for much of their set, communicating with the crowd, gauging reactions to songs, and dancing.
Are there different types of DJs?
There are different types of DJs who all do slightly different things depending on the genre in which they create music.
For example, there are Hip Hop DJs, including Grandmaster Flash, Mr. Magic, Jam Master Jay (he DJed for Run DMC), and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
As you might have guessed, they DJ for hip hop events, and feature in many famous hip hop songs, producing the music for them and mixing.
Hip Hop DJs are heavily inspired by dance, and vice versa, providing ‘the break’ which is so loved by dancers and fans of Hip Hop.
Other genres such as pop, rock, and even country also use DJs. Of course, there are also radio DJs and resident DJs that work on particular events at venues and clubs. Martin Garrix, for example, a famous DJ, is a resident DJ for a club in Ibiza.
DJs have come a long way since the disc jockey’s of times past, and whilst they are not called disc jockeys anymore, the term DJ has stuck with them, even through the age of digital music.
Are DJs musicians?
What seems like a simple question with a simple answer is actually a little more complicated than you might have thought. The reason for this is because it really depends.
DJs are not generally called musicians if all they do is control the music they are playing through discs, digital means, and memory sticks.
However, the exception comes when you consider turntablists that use methods such as scratches and turning, as well as synthesizers and other instruments alongside the music.
This is a growing trend and can certainly be classed as being a musical talent since they are actually creating music rather than simply playing it through a speaker.
As well as this, DJs record alongside musicians, using the skills they have such as scratches and mixing to add to any other instruments used by the musician.
Another thing to bear in mind is the fact that sometimes the term DJ is used as a broader term to describe music producers.
Music producers may well also be DJs. For example, DJ Khaled is both a music producer and DJ and is also classed as a musician. Calvin Harris, the famous Scottish DJ, has also been a record product before now, as well as a singer, earning him the title of a musician.
It may even be down to personal preference. Some people wrongly refuse to call DJs musicians, even if they also produce music and records.
Whilst it has been around for many years, it is still very young in relation to other forms of creating music such as playing instruments and singing, and as such, it is less understood.
Do DJs actually mix live?
The answer to the question “do DJs actually mix live?” is: it depends. Some DJs do mix live, and others record it at an earlier date and play the pre recorded mix when they are doing their set. There is no right or wrong, and both are as enjoyable as the other.
Some DJs may make it look as though they are mixing live such as making gestures to insinuate that they are using the keyboard or other equipment, whereas others will actually mix while performing live, using the keyboard for added melodies and tunes.
In fact, the use of a keyboard as a form of live music is a special tool used by many DJs as it allows them more freedom and individuality in their sets, allowing them to read the crowd and create basslines and tunes based on what the crowd is like.
It can also allow them to fade in and out of songs more easily.
Of course, some DJs just ‘press play’ so to speak, meaning that what you see on stage is often mixed and recorded at an earlier point in time. This is criticized by some people and is what has caused the debate over whether a DJ can really be called a musician.
Some people swear that they can tell if a set has been pre recorded or not, whilst others may not even realize there is a difference.
So, to summarize, it really depends on the particular DJ, and may even depend on the set, event, and how long the set will go on for. They may have parts of their set already pre recorded, and other parts where they mix live.