What Exactly Is A DJ/Producer?

Last updated 16 February, 2014

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Brooklyn Dawn
One of the new wave: New York’s DJ Brooklyn Dawn, who in order to help her to carve out a DJ name for herself, has also got herself a name for producing beats.

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past five years, you’ll be aware that when it comes to getting a career in DJing that reaches beyond wherever you happen to live, it’s no longer enough to just be a “DJ” – nowadays, the holy grail is to be a “DJ/producer”.

Get production credits and you’ll get DJ gigs too, young hopefuls are regularly told (often by companies selling production courses for DJs). If you can’t make mashups, you’re at a disadvantage before you begin (we said that, in Make Mashups Not Mixtapes). Bashing buttons to move beyond simply playing other people’s productions is the new DJing (everyone from companies that sell boxes of buttons to deadmau5 says this).

But what do we really mean by production skills? Do you have to get production skills to make it as a DJ nowadays? And if so, how do you do it? Does all of this mean the traditional art of DJing is dead, or at least dying? What if you really have no interest at all in producing? Is it OK to be just a DJ in 2012?

In this three-part mini-series, you’ll get the answers to all of these question.

What we’ll cover…
In part one today, we’re going to look at what a DJ/producer typically does, and so what you need to do to call yourself a DJ/producer. In the next article, we’ll look at how important it is to be a producer as well as a DJ, what this means for the traditional art of DJing, and ultimately, whether you should put the immense time and effort required in to move from being a “DJ” to a “DJ/producer”. And in part three, we’ll give you five practical steps you can take to make this happen should you decide it’s for you.

What DJ/producers do…

Nowadays, production skills can simply imply getting something out there that people can listen to and that other DJs can play, something that didn’t exist before. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a professional “producer”, who knows his way around a 24-track studio, how to mic up a drum kit and all the rest of it.

So in the case of DJ/producers, we’re talking being able to make any of the following types of music:

  • Mashups – At their simplest, mashups can just be an acappella of one tune over an instrumental of another. Otherwise, a mashup it can be broader elements of two or more tunes “mashed up” to make something new. While the mashup scene certainly swings in and out of fashion, a good mashup can always cut through the noise, and these are a staple trick of DJs, because it is possible to do them “live” with nothing more than two music sources and a crossfader. It’s more of a DJing skill than any of the other production styles we’re listing here, yet many a mashup has been released and got a name for its maker as a producer
  • Re-edits – Here’s where you take a finished tune, and change it for some reason. Maybe you want to remove the “middle eight” (the bit where it changes before the final chorus). Maybe you want to loop and use only the middle 8. Maybe you want a longer intro, or to remove the breaks, or to only use the chorus, or to make an instrumental or dub version. Point is, you take what someone else has finished, and chop it about a bit to make a new version, for you to play in your DJ sets (that’s usually the motivation, anyway). And many a DJ has got production fame by releasing these[ad#Mid-article ad 468×60]
  • Remixes – So here, you’ve got “stems” to work with (most of the time, anyway – not always). Stems are the constituent parts of the tune – individual recordings of the drums, bass, vocals, synths and so on. You may or may not use all of the stems provided, and you’ll almost certainly add original, new instrumentation of your own. Used to make a tune in a different style or for a different market (or for your own DJ sets), remixes are a staple of every commercial release, and many producers get far more success as remixers than they do as makers of their own…
  • Original productions – This is “your” music. You heard something in your head, sat down and made it real. You filled the silence. Of course, in reality nearly all music is derivative (ie someone, somewhere had already recorded what you heard in your head; you just re-imagined it), but nonetheless these are the tunes that will bear your artist name when they’re released. Every producer dreams of smash hit own productions

If you are doing or planning to do any of these things, well, that would make you a DJ/producer!

Next time…

So, you know where you (might) want to go now. But it looks like a lot of work, no? Maybe we should consider why you may want to add these skills to just plain DJing. And that’s exactly what we cover in part two.


 

One-time production course offer…

If you’re serious about getting started in production from a DJing perspective, we’ve got a great (strictly time-limited) offer for you – currently without doubt the best-kept secret in production training.

DJ/producer and Digital DJ Tips writer Chris Cartledge has spent the past six months creating a fantastic beginner production online video course, similar to our acclaimed How To Digital DJ Fast course, and which at 12 hours long covers all you need to know to get started in music production. It even has links to free software so you won’t need to spend a penny extra to get going. Here’s a sneak video preview:

If you like the look of the course, you can get it for 20% off list price by buying it before midnight this Monday (August 20), through clicking this link. This is the first production course we’ve ever recommended, and I can personally vouch for Chris’s expertise, enthusiasm and customer service – he will deal with you personally whenever you need help and assistance as you take your first steps in production.


Are you a DJ who has always wanted to add “producer” to your list of skills? Are you planning on doing just that? Or are you perfectly happy playing other people’s music for a living? Please share your thoughts in the comments…