The Art of the DJ By: Geoff Short

February 21, 2012 by CHAUVET DJ

Is DJing a performing art?  If it were considered a performing art by our clients – that is, if DJs were considered artists – our profession could be elevated to a point where we could overcome stigmas of DJs being no more than glorified serving staff or musical bartenders (no disrespect to serving staff or, particularly, bartenders, without whom I’m sure I could not live). Then could corresponding prices be far behind?

When I think of “entertainment”, I think of performances in disciplines that would most likely be considered performing arts. Things like theatre, dance or music performance. I’m a singer in a band as well as a DJ. I consider a band performance a performing art. A band is actually “performing” music live with skills we have worked a lifetime to develop – our “art”. Artists who have practiced for hours each day and spent years perfecting musical talent and skill generally don’t think twice about what to charge a client for their time and talent. But DJs do.

At Jerry Bruno Productions, I work full time booking all of the bands and DJs we represent. This gives me a unique perspective from both the artist viewpoint and the agent’s. There seems to be an almost universal expectation among clients booking live bands to pay premium rates. This expectation goes beyond the simple math of “more musicians equals more money”. There seems to be an inherent respect for a musician’s skill that manifests itself in an expectation to pay more. That’s not to say that everyone who wants to book a band has a bottomless wallet. They don’t and band clients present many of the same budget-related challenges that we deal with with clients looking for DJs. But what’s not the same is the almost automatic price objection from DJ clients. I tend to spend a lot more time defending, explaining and justifying DJ prices than band prices. Clients consider musicians artists.

Price haggling is rare if it exists at all among patrons of the arts. Concert tickets are what they are. Theatre fans will pay $100 a ticket or more to see a Broadway show. What about DJs? Wouldn’t it be nice to demand the same respect – and proportional price. As a DJ, do you consider yourself an artist? If so, (and I believe you should), how can you translate that to your clients?

A brief Google search for the definition of “Performing Arts” yielded this definition:

“Forms of creative activity that are performed in front of an audience, such as drama, music, and dance.”

OK. “Creative activity”. Preparing, programming and presenting music is certainly creative activity. Add to that other creative DJ skills of acting, dancing, narrating and writing just to name a few and DJing fits that criteria. And all of those skills should definitely be rehearsed (if you have any level of professionalism) and are certainly “performed in front of an audience”. Many DJs have spent a lifetime immersed in popular music. Through study and practice, they have exceptional knowledge and skill that should be respected (and paid for) every bit as much as that of a ballerina or an orchestra conductor.

Skeptics might point out that a DJ is not actually creating something original. I would argue that neither is a revival of a stage musical created long ago by writers that often have nothing to do with the current production. The sculptor who creates a “work of art” out of mechanical parts or even garbage is using material she didn’t create. But she is interpreting that material in her own way to make something new. DJs can do the same thing.

There are even some DJs who seem to be held in higher regard as actual performers. High profile turntablists or controllerists, whose gear seems to be considered musical instruments are viewed as artists on a much different level than professional mobile DJs. If the glass is half full, these high profile, DJs/Producers will raise awareness of the profession in general as a true art.

All of us DJs know our profession has a sort of an identity crisis. Just spend a few minutes in any DJ forum and try to navigate through the sea of insecurity disguised as “my speakers are bigger than yours” or threads regarding bottom feeders. One cure for this crisis is to realize that we are artists. We have developed and honed skills that can enlighten, challenge and, of course, entertain an audience. DJs can elevate an audience experience to a level that can create memories for a lifetime.

What could be more artistic than that?

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