A disc jockey (abbreviated DJ, D.J. or deejay) is a person who plays a mix of recorded music for an audience, either a radio, television or Internet audience if the mix is broadcast over the airwaves or via another medium (e.g., cable television or online) or the audience in a venue such as a bar, nightclub or dance club. In venues such as a club or dance events such as a rave or Electronic Dance Music festival, this is typically an audience which dances to the music, which is played through a powerful sound reinforcement system. In some expensive lounges and restaurants, there may be a DJ, but the audience listens to the music rather than dancing. Club DJs developed the skill to seamlessly transition from one recording of a song to another by using turntable skills that involve the simultaneous manipulation of a two record turntables and a DJ mixer. Key skills include matching the beats of two records, cueing up the next song to the desired start point with headphones and using their knowledge of music genres and artists to select songs that will keep the audience dancing.
Originally, "disc" (uncommonly spelled "disque" in French or commonly "disk" in American English) referred to phonograph records, not the later compact discs. In the 2010s, the term includes all forms of music playback, no matter which medium is used (e.g. vinyl records, CDs, or digital audio players such as MP3 players).
The title "DJ" is also commonly used by DJs in front of their real names or adopted pseudonyms or stage names as a title to denote their profession and the music they play.
There are several types of disc jockey. Radio DJs or radio personalities introduce and play music that is broadcast on AM, FM, digital or Internet radio stations. Club DJs select and play music in bars, nightclubs or discothèques, or at parties or raves, or even in stadiums. Mobile DJs travel with portable sound systems and play recorded music at a variety of events. Some mobile DJs also serve as the master of ceremonies (MC) at weddings or other events, directing the attention of attendees, and maintaining a room-wide focus on what is included in the event's agenda. There are also many competitions for DJs that specialise in different turntablism techniques, such as mixing, hip hop music-style "scratching" or other kinds of techniques.
Other types of DJ use musical performance techniques that allow them to be categorized as performing musicians, depending on the situation. Hip hop DJs not only select and play music using multiple turntables (or other sound sources) to back one or more MCs or rappers, but they also perform turntable "scratching" to create rhythmic and percussive sounds. Hip hop DJs and are also often songwriters or music producers who use turntablism and sampling to create backing instrumentals for new tracks.
In reggae, the DJ (deejay) is a vocalist who raps, "toasts", or chats over pre-recorded rhythm tracks while the individual who helps the DJ by selecting tracks to be played is called the selector.
Many electronica artists and producers who also work as DJs often perform music by combining turntablism with keyboards or live electronics. Electronica, hip-hop or reggae DJs also often collaborate and play live music with bands and musicians from several musical genres (rock, heavy metal, jazz or even classical music), using turntables and electronics as musical instruments. According to a 2012 study, there are approximately 1¼ million professional disc jockeys in the world.
The tunes a DJ picks to play and the style in which they mix them defines a DJ's style. DJs are often connoisseurs of various music genres, and they often spend time in used record stores searching for rare or obscure tracks to use in their club sets. DJs also use DJ mixers to transition from song to song in different ways. One key technique used by DJs for seamlessly transitioning from one song to another is beatmatching. The DJ's style can and should be pliable, depending on what club he or she is playing in and what kind of music is expected of the DJ (e.g. a house music dance requires a different set list than a rave or a techno event). The DJ also has to "read" the mood of the dancers, and pick songs or styles of music that will keep the dancers on the dance floor.
1960s and 1970sEdit
In the mid-1960s, nightclubs and discothèques continued to grow in Europe and the United States. Specialized DJ equipment, such as Rudy Bozak's classic CMA-10-2DL mixer, began to appear on the market. In 1969, American club DJ Francis Grasso popularized beatmatching at New York's Sanctuary nightclub. Beatmatching is the technique of creating seamless transitions between records with matching beats, or tempos. Grasso also developed slip-cuing, the technique of holding a record still while the turntable is revolving underneath, releasing it at the desired moment to create a sudden transition from the previous record. (This technique had long been used in radio.)
By 1968, the number of dance clubs started to decline; most American clubs either closed or were transformed into clubs featuring live bands. Neighborhood block parties that were modelled after Jamaican sound systems gained popularity in Europe and in the boroughs of New York City.
In 1973, Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc, widely regarded as the "father of hip-hop culture," performed at block parties in his Bronx neighborhood and developed a technique of mixing back and forth between two identical records to extend the rhythmic instrumental segment, or break. Turntablism, the art of using turntables not only to play music but to manipulate sound and create original music, began to develop.
In 1981, the cable television network MTV was launched, originally devoted to music videos, especially popular rock music. The term "video jockey", or VJ, was used to describe the fresh-faced youth who introduced the music videos. In 1982, the demise of disco in the mainstream by the summer of 1982 forced many nightclubs to either close or change entertainment styles, such as by providing MTV-style video dancing or live bands. Released in 1982, the song "Planet Rock" by DJ Afrika Bambaataa was the first hip-hop song to feature synthesizers. The song melded electro hip-hop beats influenced by Yellow Magic Orchestra with the melody from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express." In 1982, the Compact Disc reached the public market in Asia, and early the following year in other markets. This event is often seen as the "Big Bang" of the digital audio revolution.
In the early 1980s, NYC disco DJ Larry Levan, known for his electric mixes, gained a cult following, and the Paradise Garage, the nightclub at which he spun, became the prototype for the modern dance club where the music and the DJ were showcased. Around the same time, the disco-influenced electronic style of dance music called house music emerged in Chicago. The name was derived from the Warehouse Club in Chicago, where resident DJ Frankie Knuckles mixed old disco classics and Eurosynth pop. House music is essentially disco music with electronic drum machine beats. The common element of most house music is a 4/4 beat generated by a drum machine or other electronic means (such as a sampler), together with a solid (usually also electronically generated) synth bassline. In 1983, Jesse Saunders released what some consider the first house music track, "On & On." The mid-1980s also saw the emergence of New York Garage, a house music hybrid that was inspired by Levan's style and sometimes eschewed the accentuated high-hats of the Chicago house sound.
During the mid-1980s, techno music emerged from the Detroit club scene. Being geographically located between Chicago and New York, Detroit techno artists combined elements of Chicago house and New York garage along with European imports. Techno distanced itself from disco's roots by becoming almost purely electronic with synthesized beats. In 1985, the Winter Music Conference started in Fort Lauderdale Florida and became the premier electronic music conference for dance music disc jockeys.
In 1985, TRAX Dance Music Guide was launched by American Record Pool in Beverly Hills. It was the first national DJ-published music magazine, created on the Macintosh computer using extensive music market research and early desktop publishing tools. In 1986, "Walk This Way", a rap/rock collaboration by Run DMC and Aerosmith, became the first hip-hop song to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song was the first exposure of hip-hop music, as well as the concept of the disc jockey as band member and artist, to many mainstream audiences. In 1988, DJ Times magazine was first published. It was the first US-based magazine specifically geared toward the professional mobile and club DJ.
In 1974, Technics released the first SL-1200 turntable, which evolved into the SL-1200 MK2 in 1979—which, as of the early-2010s, remains an industry standard for DJing. In 1974, German electronic music band Kraftwerk released the 22-minute song "Autobahn," which takes up the entire first side of the album of the same title. Years later, Kraftwerk would become a significant influence on hip-hop artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles. During the mid-1970s, Hip-hop music and culture began to emerge, originating among urban African Americans and Latinos in New York City. The four main elements of Hip Hop culture are graffiti, DJing, b-boying, and MCing(rapping).
In the mid-1970s, the soul-funk blend of dance pop known as disco took off in the mainstream pop charts in the United States and Europe, causing discothèques to experience a rebirth. Unlike many late-1960s clubs, which featured live bands, discothèques used the DJ's selection and mixing of records as the entertainment. In 1975, record pools began, providing disc jockeys access to newer music from the industry in an efficient method.
In 1975, hip-hop DJ Grand Wizard Theodore invented the scratching technique by accident. In 1976, American DJ, editor, and producer Walter Gibbons remixed "Ten Percent" by Double Exposure, one of the earliest commercially released 12″ singles (a.k.a. "maxi-single"). In 1979, the Sugar Hill Gang released "Rapper's Delight", the first hip-hop record to become a hit.
In 1977, Saratoga Springs, NY disc jockey Tom L. Lewis introduced the Disco Bible (later renamed Disco Beats), which published hit disco songs listed by beats per minute (tempo), as well as by either artist or song title. Billboard ran an article on the new publication, and it went national relatively quickly. The list made it easier for beginning DJs to learn how to create seamless transitions between songs without dancers having to change their rhythm on the dance floor. Today, DJs can find the beats per minute of songs in the BPM List.
- Scratch (2001 film) – a documentary about the hip-hop DJ and the 2000-era turntablist movement
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