If you’re not 100% sure what type of DJ you want to be, this post should hopefully provide some perspective.
Whilst there are a number of overlaps and sub-categories which we’ll discuss, there are basically 4 different types of DJ. Most of us will likely fall into at least two of the four main categories during our time behind the decks.
So, let’s jump in…
1. Club DJs
As a club DJ, you’d be playing in commercial venues such as bars, club-orientated bars, nightclubs, and even festivals – whilst mostly using the ‘industry-standard’ club gear that’s already set up in the venue, better known as Pioneer CDJs.
Whilst club DJs are typically more well-known for delivering a continuous “mix” or “DJ set” that usually staying roughly within one-or-more electronic genre such as house, techno or drum & bass, etc, that’s not always the case. Truth is, it really depends on the type of venue, what the local scene is like, or even what part of the world you’re in as to what you’ll need to play.
For example, you’ll find many bar & club DJs (especially in certain holiday destinations) that need to play a much broader ‘open format’ setlist. These guys & girls will play a whole host of genres to keep the crowds happy, whether it’s R&B, Hip Hop, Pop music — basically whatever’s required for that unique setting!
For any aspiring club DJ, a good target to aim for would be to get some regular slots, hopefully leading to a residency or two in time. Bar & club residencies are a great way to develop your unique style as a DJ, whilst quickly building up the time you’ve spent behind the decks and reading a crowd.
One of the main jobs of a resident DJ is to control the energy flow in the room or venue, often with the objective of keeping the dancefloor moving as different people reach different stages of their night.
There’s every chance you’ll have to play ‘open till close’ as well (8 to10 hours or more on occasions). Not only will this help you develop the skill of “warming up” a room, but it will also give you the great pleasure of taking one from completely empty, to ‘’Rockin’’!
2. Mobile DJs
Just about everyone with a pulse has witnessed a Mobile DJ in action at some point. These folks play at private events such as weddings, corporate functions, birthday parties, and are usually required to play more commercially-orientated genres such as dance and pop music (ie the top 40, etc).
Taking requests and using the microphone is more commonplace compared to other DJs – and they must have a diverse catalogue of music to accommodate for a wide variety of gigs/clients. Depending on the gig, they’ll sometimes get provided with a brief of some sort, or even a playlist of tracks to include (or at least to consider) during the gig.
You’ll often find that mobile DJs set everything up from scratch for each gig, using their own portable sound system and lighting setup. Some will even offer video capability, typically powered through their DJ software.
Some are attracted to mobile DJing as it’s a bit like running your own business. That is, it’s easier to find your own gigs, which directly gives you more control over your income.
3. Turntablists (Scratch DJs)
In the early-to-mid-70’s hip-hop artists and other club DJs popularized using turntables more like a musical instrument. Through techniques such as ‘scratching’ ‘cutting’ and ‘beat juggling’ these DJs/artists created completely new sounds and became known as ‘turntablists’ in the early 90s.
Just as you would back then, you’ll need to be highly skilled to make an impact on this specialist scene today – with the best-in-the-business performing their routines at DJ tournaments such as the DMC Championships.
Check out 2019 DMC Online DJ Champion – Erick Jay
4. Radio DJs
In the traditional sense, I think we all know what a radio DJ is, right!? These guys were the very first disc jockeys, and are still relevant today (need I mention BBC Radio 1’s Pete Tong)!
Now assuming we’re not talking about working for an actual radio station (which is obviously still an option if that’s for you) – and as far as ‘’new’’ DJs are concerned – there’s certainly a market for high-quality, niche-specific mix/radio shows if you decided to incorporate this into your offering as a DJ.
Whilst most DJs that have their own show typically produce about one per week (in addition to their often-hectic gigging schedules), it’s perfectly acceptable to do a fortnightly, or even a monthly show when you’re starting out.
Bear in mind, though, whilst there’s sufficient demand, it’s still very competitive, and you’ll need to be on top of the latest tracks and trends in your niche if you’re going to really stand out and build an audience. Certainly just doing a 90-minute mix with an intro and outro will only get you so far.
What About DJ-Producers?
DJ-Producers have exploded in popularity in the last decade or so, with many self-confessed ‘‘non-DJs’’ having made a successful track or two and subsequently get booked at some of the biggest festivals on the planet.
Today, it has to be said, that nearly all of the top DJs on the circuit produce their own tracks.
There is of course a number of potential benefits that go with producing your own material – certainly for club DJs. For a start, they have the luxury of playing their own tracks, remixes, and re-edits in their DJ sets, which allows them to be completely unique.
Generally speaking, you’d be giving yourself a much better chance of financial success if you produce, as it can open up a number of other income stream opportunities – so you don’t have to rely on gigging fees alone.
A lot of beginners are often unsure about whether or not they start producing. To those people, I would say this: Don’t start producing just because you feel that you have to, rather, do it because it’s what you want to do.
And just remember, you definitely don’t need to be a music producer to be a good DJ – they’re two COMPLETELY different skill-sets.
Let’s Not Forget The ‘’Hobbyists’’!
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the term ‘hobbyist’ at this point as it relates to the ‘amateur’ or ‘part-time’ DJ community.
You might describe some in this group as ‘bedroom’ DJs, or ‘party’ DJs, perhaps? You could even use the term ‘hobbyist’ as a way to describe an older more experienced DJ that, for whatever reason, doesn’t play out much anymore.
The point I’m getting to is: we’ve seen an explosion of new DJs in this area, which is partly because the cost of getting started has lowered significantly in the last 15 years. And that’s before we mention the accessibility of the music itself, thanks to the internet.
Passionate hobbyist DJs have been able to gain an online presence in a number of different ways. Whether that’s simply having their own weekly radio show on Mixcloud, or through sharing their knowledge and expertise about DJ gear on a blog or YouTube channel.
This is a very exciting phenomenon for this new generation of hobbyist DJs, who now have more options to experiment with than ever before. The bottom line? If you’re hard-working and passionate enough, a hobbyist DJ can still contribute something of real value to the dance music scene, which simply wasn’t possible on this scale in the vinyl years …or pre-internet.
The world is your oyster, as they say.
More resources for beginner DJs:
- A Quick Introduction to DJ Controllers (and how to choose the right one)
- A Quick Introduction to DJ Software (and choosing the right one)
- A Quick Introduction to DJ Mixers: EQ’ing, Faders and Levels
- Understanding Monitors, Subwoofers and PA Systems
Check out our ‘best DJ controller’ posts:
- 5 of The Best DJ Controllers for Beginners in 2021
- 5 of The Best Mid-Tier DJ Controllers in 2021
- 7 of The Best Top-Tier DJ Controllers in 2021
- 5 of The Best All-In-One DJ Systems in 2021