What does DJ stand for? DJ stands for disc jockey. The term disc jockey was first used in America by Walter Winchell. He used it in 1935 to describe radio announcer Martin Block.
You see them in radio stations playing music, interviewing artists, discussing current events and trends, and interacting with listeners.
You see them in clubs showcasing their music-mixing prowess and getting the party-goers’ blood pumping.
They keep the people entertained and engaged. But how much do we understand about DJs and their craft?
DJ and DJing: A Brief Background
The first-ever DJ dance party —where twin turntables were first used— took place in 1943 in Otley, England. By 1950s, DJing became a very popular pursuit, and many have turned this passion into a profession. In the early parts of this decade, one turntable was the norm; by the middle of the 50s, two turntable system became the new standard.
In the succeeding years when discotheque culture boomed in Europe and the USA, specialized equipment made it into the market.
The 80s was a troubling era for DJs because many discos and nightclubs began closing their doors. This was the same decade when a new breed of jockeys arrived: the VJs or video jockeys. This was the age of MTV, modern nightclubs, and compact discs or CDs, which replaced vinyl.
But despite the entertainment revolution, DJing did not die! It went through a rebirth as a new era for disco music emerged, with DJs weaving music hybrids using new sounds and original discotheque music elements.
The 90s saw the dawn of the rave scene, which further reinforced the status of DJs in the party scene. By 1993, the internet radio was born. This innovation allowed DJs to operate from their personal computers.
Technological advancements in the late 90s and early 2000s —the advents of MP3s, state-of-the-art sound mixers, and internet software— completely changed the course of DJing.
Nowadays, DJing is associated with creating awesome music by sound manipulation and building a spectacular atmosphere through lighting and effects that add impact to the music.
While you may think that it’s one of the simplest jobs in the world because you just have to play music, there’s more to it than meets the eye. A DJ isn’t just conformed to one mold; there are different types of disc jockeys and each one has different ways of playing and even making music.
What are the types of DJs?
Do you remember radios? You know, those boxes that usually had speakers and you had to turn a knob to find stations? Well, DJs were most common in this form, and to this day, radio DJs are still on the air and part of a normal day.
And yeah, we know what you’re thinking, “Ohh, these are the guys who just press a button and play music all day long.” But we’re here to tell you it’s not really simple as that.
To become a radio DJ, one needs charisma. Imagine talking to a wall and convincing yourself that past that wall are hundreds, if not thousands, of people listening to you blabber until you can play the next song. These guys also do on-air interviews of musicians, they read requests, create interesting playlists, and ultimately, they need to pull you in every day so that you’d listen to their station, and not any of the others. And getting the listeners’ attention and loyalty is not even as easy as one might think!
Club DJs are, you guessed it, DJs in the club. Compared to radio DJs, these artists can get a feel of their audience. They can sense where the energy is going and can mostly adapt the music to that same energy. They’re also hype men and women in these scenarios.
Have you ever been to a club? Have you ever heard the music stop while you were in a club? For those who have not experienced clubbing, let us share with you that the music never stops.
The duty of a club DJ is to keep that music flowing while ensuring that the transitions between songs are seamless and make sense. It takes a lot of musical skill, great timing, and technical skill with your equipment to pull this one off.
Turntables are an essential tool for DJs, and from the name of the equipment itself, turntablists are also DJs, but with a nice twist. They don’t just mix and match songs to create hype, they use the turntables as a musical instrument, much like how a guitarist can make music from his strings, a turntablist uses vinyl records, a turntable, and a mixer to create music.
Why do DJs wear headphones?
What’s the first image you think of when thinking of a DJ in the club?
You’re most likely imagining a young and hip DJ with headphones on, one on his ear with the other side dangling over his shoulder.
This is a mystery I’m sure you’ve asked yourself before, but why do they do that?
Here’s why: DJs use a headphone to “cue” their next song, and while they can hear what’s coming next, the audience can’t. The key here is to match the beat of the first song to the next one; remember when we said that they have to do it seamlessly? This is called beat matching.
While there are DJs who don’t use headphones and rely heavily on visual data, it’s just hard to visualize a DJ without headphones. It’s kind of like a doctor with his stethoscope or an architect with his blueprint.
Who are the most popular DJs in the world?
There’s an entire list of DJs that have gained worldwide fame. Here are some of them:
This French electronic duo Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, are two of the most notable people in this list, yet you barely even get to see their faces. They wear helmets for performances and are popular in pop culture for hits like “Around the World” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.
Joel Zimmerman in the real world, Deadmau5 is another great pick. Like Daft Punk, he wears a helmet, but his helmet is also part of the performance. It’s a giant LED helmet that lights up, if that doesn’t shout I’m ready to party!, we don’t know what will. His notable hits are “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” and “Hypnocurrency”.
Christopher Walken made an appearance and danced to “Weapon of Choice”, to the surprise (and delight) of many. Fatboy Slim has always had very different approaches to his music and videos, much like the song “Praise You” where a dance group performed it in front of a live crowd.
Tiësto is a Dutch DJ who has earned the title “The Greatest DJ of All Time” by New York-based Mix Magazine, “best DJ of the last 20 years” by DJ Mag, and “The Godfather of EDM” by multiple sources. He is Grammy-award winning DJ who has played in numerous high-profile events worldwide.
Pierre David Guetta is a French DJ with over 50 million record sales and more than 10 billion streams under his belt. This Grammy award-winning DJ is one of the top DJs recognized globally and has collaborated with the biggest artists in the industry.
This Scottish DJ is already popular even before he became romantically linked to Taylor Swift. The five-time Grammy nominee produces chart-topping music and is among the top EDM artists in the DJing arena.
Tim Bergling, or Avicii, is a Swedish DJ and the genius behind the hits “Hey Brother”, “Addicted to You”, “Waiting for Love”, and many others. Avicii was credited for leading electronic music into Top 40 radio since 2010, along with fellow EDM DJs. He took a touring hiatus in 2016 due to poor mental health; he committed suicide a couple of years later. Tim, Avicii’s final album, was released posthumously in 2019.
Being a DJ is not just about pressing buttons or scratching discs. It’s about creating an affinity with music, perfecting the craft, and feeling the crowd. While most weddings would never hire a DJ to play at their reception, you better believe that the after-party will most definitely have one.
Joyce Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at New Era University. She especially enjoyed her journalism class and was nominated for Photojournalist of the Year. Joyce Anne loves music; she is a self-taught piano player. When she's not writing (or baking or watching documentaries), she's probably playing songs on the piano, mostly by ear.