Guest post by Evan Zwisler
The term DJ used to simply mean someone who decided what songs went on in what order on the radio. Then it meant someone blending different songs for people to listen to live.
Now, the term DJ can mean many, many different things. If you’re a DJ, there are lots of different ways to use your skills to find work and make a living doing what you love.
DJs can earn money from performances, creating original tracks, income from royalties, and merchandise. Here’s a look at some of the different types of job opportunities available to DJs:
1. The Bar/Dance Club DJ
This DJ is someone whose job is to get people up and moving. If you’ve ever been to a club or bar with a designated dance floor, you’ve seen this type of DJ.
The basic skills required to be this type of DJ is beat and pitch matching two songs to seamlessly move from song to song. You’ll notice that DJs often wear big headphones over one ear because they’re trying to match the tempo of the songs being played live to the one they’re trying to bring in.
Bar/Dance Club DJs are usually not the focus of attention, as they’re providing a soundtrack for people to dance to.
2. The Restaurant/Lounge DJ
Similar to the Bar/Dance Club DJ, this type of DJ is meant to provide a seamless backdrop of music for people to enjoy. Unlike their dancier brethren, they’re much more focused on mood and atmosphere.
The music isn’t the reason why people go to restaurants or lounges, they go there to enjoy food and conversation, so you’ll need to be more subtle in your musical choices. The name of the game here is mood, tone, and style.
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3. Wedding DJ
What do you call a wedding with bad music? A bad wedding. That might be exaggerating a bit, but music is key to any big party, especially one as important as a wedding.
Being a wedding DJ is one of the steadiest, and best paying, DJ jobs. You’ll need to be able to incorporate the songs the wedding party wants to hear into your playlist, as well as learn how to handle all the drunken song requests aunts and uncles are bound to give you. Sorry Uncle Bud, but we are not going to put on Free Bird.
4. Private/Corporate DJ
This type of DJing is somewhere between the Restaurant/Lounge DJ and the Wedding DJ. You’ll need to set a tone and mood that you’ve worked out with the event planner, but also incorporate specific requests that might be made before and during the event.
The atmosphere at these events will probably be foreign to most DJs, but the financial compensation should make up for any discomfort.
5. Radio DJ
This is the classic DJ. The person sitting in a booth introducing the next song and helping pick out what the playlist for the day will be. Taste is the most important quality here, and maybe a good “radio voice.”
You’ll have to pick out the right songs to play to keep people interested, striking the right balance between old favorites, deep cuts, and exciting new music. Most people assume the job is just sitting in a big chair and playing your favorite music, but it’s far more difficult than that.
6. Festival/Concert DJ
These are the DJ superstars. Tiesto, Skrillex, and Calvin Harris all fall into this category. The DJ is at the focal point of this type of performance. That’s why if you see any videos of these people they’re often standing on a stage, pumping their fist, and jumping about.
Unlike the other types of DJs on this list, these DJs create their own music and often release albums of original compositions. Even when they’re relying on sampling, such as Fatboy Slim, people still consider them to be songwriters in their own right.
7. DJ in a band
I’m using the term DJ loosely here. I’m not talking about the type of DJ in Linkin Park whose role seems to be relegated to scratching solos. I’m talking about the people who work the tracks using an APC and adjust knobs, function, and settings as if they’re playing an instrument. Check out bands like Phantogram, Sylvan Esso, or Chairlift for examples of this type of DJ.
The disadvantages of losing traditional instrumentation can be offset by everyone getting paid more, and more sonic flexibility in your songwriting. My band, The Values, has gone from being an eight person group with a horn section and back up singers to a duo with tracks, a synth, and guitar. We can do so much more because we have fewer people’s schedules to work around as well as fewer people to pay.
DJing has become incredibly important in the modern music industry. With festivals such as Ultra and EDC attracting tens of thousands of people, it’s no surprise that there’s a huge boon in jobs available for DJs.
Evan Zwisler is a NYC-based musician who is most notably known for his work with The Values as a songwriter and guitarist, and is an active member of the Brooklyn music scene.
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