What Exactly Is A DJ/Producer?

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 468x60]
  • 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...

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  1. i think there's something missing in this article. i think labeling oneself as a producer is more than doing remixes(call it whatever you want Mashups, Remixer, Re-edits. it's still a remix). i would argue that a producer is someone that can take a concept and mold it into a complete musical package. when you can deliver a 100% original media product(ex: music, video, film, art), that is when you are an actual PRODUCER. it's an end to end process. other people can help you get there such as Art Directors, Studio Engineers, Musicians, Songwriters. a PRODUCER is someone who can take all those elements and craft a complete product. a hit single is sufficient but a whole album is worthy of the credit. a remix? not so much. a DJ can only add the producer title when they have sufficient evidence of completing a product from end to end. we can debate what "end to end" means. i define it as concept to tangible product.

    • DJ elixeR says:

      Zedd, Seven Lions, Candyland, and so many other completely professional producers have gotten into the professional production game literally just through remixes. |3LAU is a legend for it. R3hab got popular for it. Alesso got popular for his remixes. Knife Party got started on remixes. Even Skrillex's remix's are more popular than his originals. In my opinion you'd have to have lived under a rock to not realize that remixes are every bit as valuable as an original production.

    • If you can get a hit remix, hit mashup, or even a re-edit, that people like in other paces, you can get DJ gigs in those places, you are "more" than a DJ. We can argue endlessly whether that makes you a "real" producer, but the main purpose of this website is to help DJs get gigs, and to that end, we think starting off by trying to remix, re-edit or mashup tracks you know is valid - and for the purpose of this mini-series, in our terminology, we're going to define such a person as a DJ/producer. Absolutely no offence intended to any other kind of producer... :)

    • In the context of the DJ scene it's literally just one who produces tracks, in other career paths it may mean something different.

  2. To me, you contradicted yourself: "Zedd, Seven Lions, Candyland, and so many other completely professional producers have gotten into the proffesional production game literally just through remixes."

    So you admit that getting into professional production is a game and certain individuals got into the game through remixing.

    I think we both agree that remixing is thus a stepping stone to get from point A to point B.

    I argue that to win this game...you need a complete package of original conceptual material and not just a "remix".

    • Define "complete package". Honestly dude producing is producing. Remixes or originals. Doesn't matter.

    • Skrillex won a grammy thanks to his Cinema remix, not thanks to one of his originals ...

    • As I said above, we're talking about helping DJs who've never produced a thing in their lives to take first steps, please let's not get bogged down in a side argument. I mentioned original material too above, it's not like we're dismissing original productions from the topic.

    • If Timbaland can call himself a Producer because he took a song from OneRepublic, added a beat sample, and some whale sounds and even had the cojones to call the finished product "Timbaland FEATURING OneRepublic" then I believe Phil is spot on with his assessment for the scene. :)

  3. I would argue that this is really nothing new - certianly not new in the last five years. There have always been those who DJ based on their production skills and people who produce because they are DJs who honed in on a particular sound that they then take to the studio. What I think has changed in the recent past is the blurring of lines between the two - live controllerist mash-ups, live PA sets that are more than playing back pre-sequenced material, even standard DJ sets have more production elements with looping, filtering, and effects involved that would previously take loads of external gear and are now available in almost every DJ software. I agree that any DJ who really loves their craft should at least take a stab at production. It's not terribly difficult to set up a step sequencer and start laying down beats, especially with cheap gateway options like maschine mikro, reason, and lite versions of full DAWs.

  4. I usually include mashups throughout each of my mixtapes, how do I explain this to people on my Soundcloud?

    I don't want it to look like my mixtapes are just fade-ins, when I do my mixes I generally do it like I would do a live set you know? So there's mashups between almost every track, naturally.

  5. Lordamercy says:

    There's really nothing new to be produced at the moment. Every1s using the same programmes and samples and the same sound design techniques. DJ/Producer is a fitting tag for mashups, so on so forth. DJ/Producers tend to produce the sound of their chosen genre its still production but as Phil stated in the article its reproduction. I think the other end of the spectrum is more scary over the past few years producers and musicians are djin a lot more which to me is negative trend. They really are cashing in as their profits drop from piracy

  6. I have posted before how my curve (being just a little older) has gone from DJ to more producing/remixing whatever you want to call it.
    I think it is very good for any DJ to at least dabble in producing.
    You learn a lot about the setup and systematic of music and about keys and music theory.
    Even if you have no plan or even desire to get into producing I would suggest just maybe trying to mess around with one or two tracks to get n idea of it and a different view of the music you are playing with.

    I can gladly send you loss-less formats if you want some lol - gotta get a bit of advertisement in :)

  7. I have a question that hopefully someone can answer. What is the best software and hardware to record and make mash ups and remixes in? I use apple products so whatever I get has to be compatible. I like what I have read about the Traktor Kontrol F1 but I am not sure thats what I need for remixing and mashups. Please share your thoughts. Thanks!

  8. My humble view on this:
    *Do I need to be a producer?
    No, you need to be what you want to be. Now, you may want to "tweak" a track here and there to make it more comfortable to mix, great, but you do not need to spend hours in studio to be called a producer.
    You still can decide to be just a dj and spend all your time digging for records, new releases, networking, organizing parties...

    *What shall I do if I want to be a producer?
    Take music lessons once a week and practice, connect with other musicians and get into music producing software. The connection of the 3 + your music creativity + hours in yout studio will make you produce tracks YOU are satisfied with

    *Will people pay more attention if I am a producer or give me gigs?
    Depends on the quality. You can decide to spend your time playing around with a track and still sounds like shit or use that time to "network" with labels and producers and get tracks before they are released.

    In the end is about the quality of what you do and to be loyal to your taste...
    People always talk about "getting there" or "running behind" and is bullshit cause you never get there* and there is no running on this.

    Pablo "aka" Dream House Collective

    *Talked to big djs who we may all think they are "there" but basically they all told me that, when you get to the "A" level, is when you need to work (travel, produce, shows, radio,fan pages, compilations, etc) even more to keep yourself at that level. So in the end, you never get the feeling of "Ahh... I finally got here"

  9. Alex Dj Majical says:

    I've recently get Ableton live to enter the world of production, and i made my first mashup on it, i use to do it on my turntables before, but for this one i needed to replace the vocals differently of the original and that's why i used ableton to cut and replace it.
    That's the link if you want to listen

    Now i ask myself the way to make my mashup known, i posted it on youtube and soundcloud but not have much listeners...
    It's only the beginning then i can't say the benefits for my popularity...
    About the production, i searched sound for my music, and i've seen that lot of producers take vengeance loops or others, then like phil says in this article music is only remix of what it exist already, then producers and remixers have the same merit about the final mix, proportionatly to the time passed on it of course...

  10. I started taking ableton production courses lately and I really enjoy them. The only challenge I am facing is time. Because Djing/producing is not my full time job and because my day job takes alot out of my time, I do not feel encouraged to continue investing my time on producing. I'd rather practice my Djing skills and work on on the fly looping, mashups and creative "button pushing". With the latest technology giving you many options so I feel its better to focus on one thing and master it. does everyone here agree that production is very time consuming?or is it because I am just starting to produce that I feel it is? and by production I mean making music from scratch.

    • I agree with you. To be good at anything, you have to invest time and like you, I dj as a hobby and in my spare time I will practice to make my craft better :)

  11. I really enjoy your articles. What software would you recommend for mash-ups/remixes. Currently I have Virtual DJ and a Vestax Typhoon.

  12. Peter Radebe says:

    I personally think that to make a successful mash up you need some good music editing software to help you get parts of a song to use with another track; say maybe get vocal from a track without the beats and stuff.

  13. DJ Gerard says:

    Interesting topic and I hope it may re-vitalize some old passions that went away. When I thought I was on top of my DJing game back in 1998 all my other DJing friends said you got to take it to the next level and produce trax. Production equipment back then for a small home studio for a DJ would run about $25000. I waited till 2006 to go to a music recording school. Yes I graduated. I can now get for about $2000 in the box (mac or PC does not matter) the same plus more that the $25000 could have and much more efficient.
    I discovered I do not like producing. I love to DJ and am glad I can "re-edit" anything in a matter of minutes or "re-master" a track to the sound I am looking for. I actually find a greater joy in helping my other DJ friends "produce" their tracks. I love to engineer!
    The point I want to make is 1. Don't put it in your head that you "have to" produce because society says so. And 2. notice the words I put in quotes. DJs are notorious for throwing titles around. Choose your words carefully. I am so glad no one here said "make beats"

  14. I'll have to disagree that making only mash-ups/remixes qualifies someone as a producer. Surely, its a step that helps someone getting into the world of production but I dont think someone can be called a producer if the only thing he/she has to offer is remixes-mashups. The arguement that many now famous "producers" started off by making remixes-mashups or the arguement that a remix-mashup of a producer may have become more succesful than the original work of the producer still dont change the fact that "produce" means create a musical piece from scratch and not rearranging an existing musical piece.

  15. Antonio Santiago says:

    Hi my name is Antonio and now i was wondering if anyone knows if starting off young is a good or bad thing? By that i mean i'm 15, turning nearly 16, and i have a talent and interest for this stuff, so i'd really like to take my skills to the next level. Anyone please let me know.

  16. Antonio Santiago says:

    And don't me wrong guys i know what type of software and hardware i need for this stuff. If anything I've been using a Novation launchpad for the longest time now. Not only that but i have two uncles who are DJ's as well and the one has taught me a few tricks for Albeton and Scratch Live.

  17. You know its a weird thing,I've been a dj for years I've released one track commercially,made loads of re edits for myself and made a good few mashups but I don't really feel like I can call myself a dj producer,Dj for sure, producer not so sure!

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