Originally, DJs were hybrid curator-performers who would select and play sets of the day's hottest records on turntables—the eponymous "discs"—and use complex analog techniques to tweak the music as it played. DJs still do all of this today—although the analog techniques have largely been replaced with digital software—but they also have a new medium: the remix. Today, remixes are released as standalone recordings, granting songs with slowing sales the opportunity to be revitalized in a new genre. While some DJs focus almost exclusively on setlist-building and nightclub performance and others are more production-oriented, most do a combination of both.
The traditional live DJ setup includes a mixer, two turntables, a sound system, and headphones, but a plethora of digital tools are now available to supplement this. Performing DJs may mix music on the fly, or use looping, effects, and other techniques to change the sound or structure of a track. Often, they create a seamless and thrilling flow by manipulating intros and outros, matching tempos, keys, and audio levels, and generally smoothing out transitions.
Remixers, by contrast, create entirely alternate master recordings of existing songs. They might add or subtract elements such as voices and instruments, as well as change the chord structure, dynamics, pitch, tempo, equalization, and other aspects of a song. A clever or masterful remix can turn a tepid track into a global hit, or bring a record to an audience it otherwise wouldn't have reached. Remixers are often producers, as well.
At a Glance
There are no educational or career prerequisites to working as a DJ: one simply needs drive, skill, and great musical sense. Live DJs might start out working friends' parties and events before progressing to independent DJ sets at local nightclubs, or touring as the opener for a similar musical act.
Remixing is a more solitary art and requires a lot of time spent breaking down and rebuilding recordings in one's music-editing software of choice. Most remixers start out releasing their music on free online platforms before a high-profile remix gets them noticed by record label officials or commissioned by a recording artist. Remixers can also enter competitions.
The line between a remixer and a songwriter-producer is thin, and largely rests upon whether the track is based on pre-existing music or contains wholly original elements. Most successful remixers go on to become songwriter-producers, working with top-line songwriters to create songs for recording artists.
DJs are hired for one-off or weekly shows by nightclub bookers, talent buyers, and event planners. They also frequently play festivals. Remixers are also freelancers, contracted on a per-project basis by music producers, record labels, and recording artists.
Live DJs who are just starting out often work for free or for drinks, happy to have the chance to cut their teeth and test-drive their skills in a public space, with the goal of developing a following and then advancing to bigger rooms and larger paychecks. Some find regular work with event organizers who provide DJs for weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and corporate and other special events.
- Music mixing (live and studio)
- Music editing software
- Music production
- Sample libraries
- Live performance: stage presence
- Great ears
Club DJs are performers: charismatic and able to move a crowd of strangers with the force of their personality and their passion for music. Remixers are open, curious, and creative enough to grasp the possibilities contained within a song. Live DJs and remixers alike benefit from strong communication and networking skills, although the live DJ scene is particularly social.
Live DJs work at night, often into the wee hours of the morning. Before becoming a regular fixture at a club or creating a professional arrangement with a party planner, most work hard to secure one or two gigs a week while working day jobs for additional income.
Remixers make their own hours, although they have to work around deadlines when creating on commission. As a day job, a remixer might work as an assistant producer, mixing engineer, or mastering engineer, among other related fields.