The Basics: Becoming a DJ

Spin It Up!

Regardless of the music we like, there is one character in music that has been able to act through genres and styles: the DJ. The act of playing prerecorded music to an audience, Deejaying, was born back in the 1940s. Through the following decades, changes in music styles, technologies, and musical masterminds, the record player became a music instrument, and the act of playing records is now an art.

From Jazz to Disco, Hip-Hop, House, and all other styles, the DJ has and will continue to be there. If you are someone looking forward to entering the incredible world of deejaying or someone thinking about buying a DJ controller to play at meetings and reunions, here, you can read the basics to start with your right foot!

History

Let’s take it back to the 1930s when Mr. Martin Block was first referenced as a “Disk Jokey,” thanks to his radio show “Make Believe Ballroom,” where he pretended to broadcast from a real, live, ballroom. Later, in England during the 1940s, Jimmy Savile was credited to be the first to perform live as a DJ, on the first-ever DJ dance party (he played Jazz records).

In 1947, the first “discotheque” opened in Paris. To that date, radio hosts and personalities were already famous amongst music fans for their public appearances at notable events. Also, during those years of the late ’40s, DJs experimented with the first beatmatching techniques by using a live drummer to keep a beat between record transitions. 

Now we travel to Jamaica. On the island, during the 1950s, promoters began to build incredible sound systems that they would move around the island from one community to another. Parties were huge back then as they are today, and the ones who play the music are known as the “selectors” instead of DJ. One crucial part of the whole musical ceremony was the toasting part where the person on the mic (known as the DJ in Jamaica) would rhyme over the beat. 

Hip-Hop/Rap

Following the invention of the first DJ mixer, the 1970s saw the birth of Disco music and of course, Hip-Hop. Clive Campbell, a Jamaican-American known as DJ Kool Herc, brought the whole concept of the sound system from Jamaica to the Bronx, New Yorck City, and he became known as the principal architect of hip-hop. Afterward, music geek and legend Grandmaster Flash, developed new techniques and technology to evolve the turntable from a music player, into an instrument and later a form of art known as Turntablism

In the parties, DJ’s would perform their art beatmatching and transition between the best and most famous percussion breaks. An emcee often accompanied them, and the emcee would then rhyme over the beat to hype the party up. Hip-Hop was born. In the ’70s, Grand Wizzard Theodore became credited as the father of the famous scratch, and its technique.

Spread 

DJing spread out through the music spectrum. From the ’80s and on, many DJs also became their own music producers’. Many live bands were displaced by the DJ to perform at events. New movements like House Music and Techno developed hand by hand with the DJ, and later transform into what is currently known as EDM

During the mid and late ’90s, technology changed the DJ game with the introduction of the CD, the CDJ, all other DJ controllers, and illegal downloading of music. These days, DJs all over the world have the chance to pick from a wide range of controllers, technology, and vintage-style turntables to perform the countless music genres, styles, and techniques.

ICONS

DJ Kool Herc

Afrika Bambaataa

Grandmaster Flash

Grand Wizzard Theodore

Frankie Knuckles

and many, many more…

Learn the Lingo:

Vinyl – A phonograph record, often simply record, is an analog sound storage medium in the form of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. 

Turntable – A turntable is the circular rotating platform of a phonograph (a.k.a. record player, gramophone, turntable, etc.), a device for playing sound recordings.

Mixer – part of equipment which mixes the music from two decks as the DJ requires. 

Slipmat – A felt-type material used to reduce friction between the turntables plate and the vinyl.

Stylus – The part of a turntables arm that makes contact with the vinyl being played.

Bar – in dance music a bar is 4 “beats”

Beatmatching – set the “tempo/speed/pitch” of two songs and play them so they are at exactly the same speed and time,

BPM/Tempo – stands for beats per minute. 

Scratch – move the disc back and forth with your hand to alter the music, normally done with another song playing as a background.

Crossfader – A transitional slide control on a mixer for fading in one channel while simultaneously fading out another.

Cue – o prepare a song to be played. Normally a Dj chooses a point from which to begin a tune that is the beginning of the first beat of the first bar

Cut – to swap instantly from one tune to another at a good place.

Deck – Player of CDs or vinyl records. Sometimes it’s called a “turntable”.

EQ – controls that let you affect different frequencies of sound on your songs

FX – controls that let you do all kinds of effects to the sound of your songs.

Fader – the fader is the controller we use to “fade” a song. It can either increase or decrease volume smoothly.

Gain – a control that can be used to boost or cut volume levels. 

Loop – any bit of a record that you repeat.

Master – The master (main) volume control of your mixer.

Monitor – A speaker in the DJ booth that allows the DJ to hear without the delays or echoes caused by space in a large room.

Pitch Fader – the control used to alter the speed or tempo of the music.

DJ Gear

The technology to DJ has evolved through the years, but the main essence and in practice, it has remained the same. From a single Turntable, we went to two Turntables, to adding a mixer, to creating the CDJ to “spin” CDs, and now digital Controllers with computer software.

Turntable

Mixers

CDJs

  • Pioneer

Controllers

Software

Jyoty @ The Creatr Podcast

Check out our first episode of The Creatr Podcast! Jyoty is a London-based multi-faceted creative originally from Amsterdam. For almost ten years, she has been able to develop a unique career as a creative producer at Mixcloud, a world-touring DJ, radio host at Rinse FM, and a co-founder of print-only The Move music magazine.

Learn how this music lover went from managing the door at London’s Boiler Room to touring the world as a DJ and radio host!

Find this episode on:

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