Depending on your personal context, the term DJ, or Disc Jockey, can conjure up many different kinds of images: people chatting away in radio booths, guys flipping through milk crates of vinyl, or hipsters crouching over laptops. Despite these differences, one old assumption most people had about DJs is that they are not original musicians-that is, they play, or 'spin,' the music of others for the entertainment of an audience.
But today, this is much less the case, as many DJs do compose original music and the art of being a DJ in some musical genres is considered as a real musician. This is especially the case in rap and hip-hop music, as well in most forms of electronic music like dance and techno.
The DJ as Entertainer
Originally, the term disc jockey was reserved for people who simply put on the music of others and had no creative input themselves. This was especially true for the radio, where the DJ's tasks were selecting and playing records, and telling the listeners about the records and the musicians. The DJ who plays music at special events like weddings is also not considered a musician.
The DJ as Performer
Early club DJs were once not that much different from events DJs. But with the rise of disco, dance music, and electronic music, the club DJ began a more involved form of "mixing," segueing from one song to the next. Mixing involved many creative skills, like adjusting the tempo for "beat matching" for create seamless mixes. They also began the style of slowly integrating "samples," bits of one recorded song, into other songs, creating "mash-ups." These techniques had to be learned and practiced in much the same way as learning an instrument. Mixing, beat matching, sampling and mash-ups are today all foundations of DJ training.
The DJ as Composer
The main gear of the DJ as musician consists of turntables, CD players, mixers and samplers. Because electronic music is bigger today than ever, with several dozens of sub-genres, there exists much more elaborate equipment for today's DJ. This new equipment is not only for the live playing and mixing of records, but also for composing music. MIDI keyboards, controllers and drum machines are all popular DJ hardware, and when combined with DJ software like sequencers and multi-track digital recorders, the DJ can write, record and produce original music.
Much of this equipment is quite complex, but that isn't stopping many enthusiastic people rushing to audio school to master this gear. Like how the guitar shot to popularity in the 50s and 60s, today's turntables and laptop sequencers are placing the DJ at the centre of music's avant-garde.