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A disc jockey (also called DJ) is an individual who selects and plays prerecorded music for an intended audience.
Etymology of the term
The term disc jockey was first used to describe radio announcers who would introduce and play popular gramophone records. These records, also called discs by those in the industry, were jockeyed by the radio announcers, hence the name disc jockey, which was soon shortened to DJs or deejays. Today, there are a number of factors, including the selected music, the intended audience, the performance setting, the preferred medium, and the development of sound manipulation, that have led to different types of disc jockeys. However, today there are many different kinds of 'DJ's' and it does not always mean 'disc jockey' in the traditional sense, for example turntablist DJ's use actual 'discs' whilst radio DJ's may use a number of sound sources including music files, CDs, jingles, and other pre-recorded media.
The physical act of selecting and playing sound recordings is commonly referred to as DJing (or deejaying), playing or spinning. The resulting performance is called a DJ set.
The most basic equipment that is necessary for a standard disc jockey to perform consists of the following:
1. Sound recordings in preferred medium (eg. vinyl records, compact discs, computer media files)
2. A minimum of two devices for playback of sound recordings, for alternating back and forth to create continuous playback (e.g. record players, compact disc players, computer media players)
3. A sound system for amplification of the recordings (e.g. portable audio system, radio wave broadcaster)
The addition of a DJ mixer (used to mix the sound of the two or more playback devices), a microphone (used to amplify the human voice), and headphones (used to listen to one recording while the other is playing, without outputting the sound to the audience) is strongly recommended, but not required. Other types of equipment including samplers, drum machines, effects processors, and Computerized Performance Systems, add to the performance of the DJ.
Other equipment can be added to the basic DJ set-up (above) providing unique sound manipulations. Such devices include but are not limited to:
1. Effects processors (delay, reverb, octave, equalizer, chorus, etc).
2. A computerised performance system can be used with timecode encoded vinyl/CD content to manipulate digital files on the computer in real time.
3. Multi-stylus headshells gives a DJ the ability to play different grooves of the same record at the same time.
Several techniques can be used by the disc jockey as a means to manipulate the prerecorded music. These primarily include the cueing, equalization and audio mixing of two or more sound sources. However, turntablist DJ's also utilise slip-cueing, phrasing, cutting, beat juggling, scratching, beatmatching, needle drops, phase shifting, back spinning, and more to perform the transitions and overdubs of a number of sources in a more creative manner.
Many professional DJs use harmonic mixing for choosing compatible songs according to music theory.
Mobile disc jockeys
The mobile disc jockey is an extension of the original radio disc jockey. In its infancy, Mobile DJing was perceived as a part-time career, subsidised by a 'daytime job'; today, it is recognised a legitimate skill which leads to a marketable profession - there are many mobile DJs around the world that use this as their primary career. Even as far back as 1975, many disco companies sprung up around the world, with fleets of discos that entertained thousands of people in remote places, such as Hamilton, New Zealand. By 1980 there were up to 50 consoles in regular weekly operation in that area. They had names such as 'Radio Active' 15 consoles, 'Music City Discos' 22 consoles, and 'Captain PJs Disco', 7 consoles.
Mobile DJs travel or tour with their own sound systems and play from an extensive collection of pre-recorded music, on various media, for a targeted audience. Mobile DJs tend to work for hire at private functions such as wedding receptions, religious ceremonies, school dances; but they can occasionally be seen in bars, nightclubs, or even block parties. Unlike many club/rave DJs, mobile DJs often play more mainstream selections of music from multiple genres and they usually take requests.
The definition and responsibilities of a mobile disc jockey have changed since Bob Casey's first two-turntable system for continuous playback was utilized for sock-hops in 1955. Bands had long dominated the wedding entertainment industry, but with the advent of the less expensive mobile DJ, the demand for live performers dwindled. Even so, in the early years, the mobile DJ industry was seen as a last-resort choice for entertainment, as the DJs were reputed to frequently be unreliable and unprofessional. Mobile DJ companies came and went. However, a few companies of this era did establish themselves as competent businesses and thrived; some even still exist today.
During the Disco era of the 1970s, demand for mobile DJs (called mobile disco in the UK) soared. Top mobile DJs in this era would have hundreds of vinyl records and/or cassette tapes to play from. The equipment used in this era was enormous and usually required roadies (similar to those who work for bands) to set up. Because of the high demand for mobile DJs, many people from all facets of life jumped into the industry, hoping to make a few extra dollars on the weekends. These "Weekend Warriors", as they are called by many, helped enhance the negative stereotype of the mobile DJ; many of the same complaints from the earlier era continued.
Some tried to improve this image by forming professional associations. The Canadian Disc Jockey Association (CDJA) was one of the original associations formed in 1976 as a not-for-profit trade association for disc jockeys across Canada. It was joined by a much broader online association called the Canadian Online Disc Jockey Association (CODJA), founded by Canadian mobile DJs Glenn Miller (not the famous bandleader) and Dennis Hampson.
As the late 1980s turned into the 1990s, new technologies emerged. Compact disc collections were becoming the standard to play music from. Many equipment manufacturers realized the potential market that existed for mobile DJs and raced to make equipment that was smaller, easier to use, and of better quality. Dedicated mobile disc jockey trade publications such as DJ Times magazine and Mobile Beat magazine were founded in this era. These publications helped to spread the word about the emerging technologies and published informational articles that were helpful to the mobile disc jockey. This is also the era when mobile disc jockeys became the top entertainment choice for most private parties, including wedding receptions.
In the mid-1990s, computers and the Internet had a profound impact on the mobile DJ industry. Professor Jam (aka W. P. Rader), a Tampa Bay, Florida disc jockey already known in the industry for having performed for many celebrities and television networks, became one of the first mobile DJs in the United States to regularly use computer technology to play music at his shows, and was the first professionally endorsed computer disc jockey internationally. CODJA cofounder Glenn Miller became the first licensed MP3 DJ under new music licensing agreement that was introduced to Canada in 2000 by the AVLA, and had already pioneered online networking for mobile disc jockeys by starting the first bulletin board system for mobile DJs from all over North America (and eventually the world).
In the 21st century, the role of the mobile disc jockey has expanded. While there are still many conventional, "human jukebox" mobile DJs, many others have assumed more responsibilities to ensure the success of the events where they perform. These responsibilities include emceeing, event coordination, lighting direction, and sound engineering.
The number of resources available for mobile DJs has also expanded. Aside from the many online community forums, there are now annual conventions, regional conferences, and many local seminars for mobile disc jockeys to attend.