DJ vs Music Producer

May 20th

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Can you make it as a successful DJ without being a Music Producer also? This is a subject that often leads to much debate and no definitive conclusion. So what’s the answer?

Well the answer is not as straightforward as it may seem, and in order to fully understand what makes a DJ a DJ we need to delve into the past a little and work our way to the present day.

DJing History

Certainly when DJing first started to make a name for itself during the explosion of Disco, House and Northern Soul you most certainly could make it without being a music producer. Clubs were built around (in the main) exclusive residents who developed an intimate understanding of their crowd, knowing exactly what to drop and when. However this is not to say that all these guys weaved immaculately thought out sets and that the best technical DJs became the biggest names, in fact in most cases far from it. What you have to remember is that during the rise of the DJ the majority of the general public did not have the access or finance to get their hands on the latest Disco or House record, and consequently the biggest names were often those with the widest and rarest selection of records or even just a selection of records.

As House, Techno and Acid started to explode in the UK in the late 80’s and early 90’s the DJ was able to maintain this level of exclusivity. Furthermore the art of beat matching started to emerge as a key skill differentiating a decent DJ from a great DJ, partly helped by the more consistent beat of purposely produced dance records and the advancement of turntable technology. With the advent of Rave and Trance, dance music began to crossover from the underground into the wider popular culture, a trend Ministry of Sound capitalized on with the first recognised dance compilation ‘The Annual’ in 1995 and thus the ‘Superstar DJ’ was born. And although some of the big names of that time did produce it was not a prerequisite as there was enough hype, DJ dexterity and exclusive tracks to keep people wanting more. However towards the end of the 90’s to the present day the proliferation of the Internet, MP3’s, CDJ’s, decline of vinyl and the increasingly commercial saturation of dance music led to the gradual demise of the ‘Superstar DJ’ in its original form. It was no longer sufficient to be a tight beat matcher with the latest tunes as DJs and Dance music could be found everywhere, thus killing the hype and exclusivity that once existed. DJing needed a new angle……

DJing Present Day…

Today Music Producers are often the new DJs, and while some of the big names of years gone by can still pull big crowds it has become increasingly obvious, even for these guys, that if you don’t keep things fresh you’re quickly forgotten. To be DJing successfully you need an angle, an angle that gets people wanting more, which is possible through being on the radio, running your own night, writing a blog, launching a record label etc, however if your desire is to be a DJ of some note you are most likely going to need to write your own tunes or do a few remixes. This is not to say you cant do well as a DJ who is primarily recognised for their DJing ability alone, take Ben UFO for example. However Ben UFO is an exception, not the norm and if you have aspirations of taking your music beyond headlining a 200 capacity venue in your home town, its time to start channeling the music producer within.

In summary it is clear that successful DJ’s have always had an edge, however that edge is no longer just being able to mix the latest tunes perfectly, and whilst it’s possible to pick up sets in your local area through knowing the right people and being a trusted hand, it’s very unlikely you’ll get booked to play elsewhere or earn big enough fee’s to quit your day job. The biggest names, with the odd exception, write and remix tracks and although this can result in Music Producers who cant DJ and DJs who cant produce its an unavoidable reality.


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