Being a DJ: It’s About More Than Just Beats

July 26, 2019 by Michael Cordeiro

What qualifies someone to give themselves a title? A degree, a diploma, a certificate of training? If I can change the oil, change a tire and give my car a tuneup, can I call myself a mechanic? Not really. If I can replace an outlet in my house or wire up a new connection, does that make me an electrician? Probably not. If I buy a set of speakers, a microphone, a controller and hook them up to a laptop full of music; am I a DJ? Apparently so.

It’s no secret that our industry has a ridiculously low barrier to entry. Many people would argue that there is no formal training to become a DJ. Those people would be partially correct. There is no University to my knowledge that offers a two or four year degree in becoming a DJ. There are, however, many amazing schools for music like Berklee in Boston and Julliard in New York. You could also attend a hospitality college like Johnson & Wales. I received an Associates Degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management and a Bachelor’s Degree in Entertainment and Event Management there. Of course there are tons of learning opportunities to be had at national conferences like Mobile Beat Las Vegas (get those passes!).

What many DJ’s fail to realize is that when you work in a night club, bar, restaurant or banquet venue you are working as part of a subset of the Hospitality industry. DJ’s provide a service. That service (9 out of 10 times) is most often in conjunction with food and beverage. To be a chef you have to know ingredients and recipes. The same can be said of a great bartender (add in personality). Shouldn’t DJ’s therefore know the recipe for great music? How can you accomplish that if you never actually learn anything about music composition itself?

I was watching a great video shared by Bill Hermann (The Creative License Podcast) on the breakdown of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke. The video,  produced by Jacob Collier, dives deep into music theory, scales and harmonics. I’m not a music expert, but I took guitar lessons as a kid and played in the school jazz band. I understand how to read music. I’m always surprised at how many DJ’s cannot. I would put forth that analyzing sound waves is a form of “reading” music. After a while one can just look at a sound wave and go,”Oh, that’s Pitbull”.

That being said, it is no where near the same as understanding the circle of fifths, Pentatonic and Chromatic scales or being able to properly use the terms major, minor and diminished in reference to musical composition. Most DJ’s, I think, are just happy to be able to find the “one” beat when mixing. How can we create a truly memorable experience for our clients if the main question we focus on is, “Hey guys, what’s a good playlist for this type of event?” We need to think more like movie composers instead of human jukeboxes. My favorite line in this video comes almost at the end. It sums up perfectly the reasons why we should learn and understand how music is created and formulated. Watch until the end.

Filed Under: Digital DJing, Event DJ Tips, Mobile DJ Business, Mobile DJ Career Development, Mobile DJ Misc, Mobile DJ Performance Tips