Why Become A DJ/Producer?

Point Blank

There are plenty of good courses, both attendance and online, that can teach you production techniques to add to your DJing - but if you do choose to do it, make sure it's for the right reasons. Pic: Point Blank Online

In the first article in this three-part DJ/producer mini-series, What Exactly Is A DJ/Producer?, we looked at what a DJ/producer actually does. Today, we're going to look at whether to get success in 2012 you have to add that "producer" bit after "DJ" in 2012, or whether it's still OK to just be a "DJ".

In the final part, we'll give you five practical steps you can take to successfully add some kind of producing to what you do, with a view to it helping you to get more DJ gigs. We'll also point you in the direction of what we think is the best training online for DJs who want to become producers.

How important is it to be a producer as well as a DJ?

If you can become a producer as well as a DJ, doors start to open. Or so goes the line. But why?

Consider this idea, something I first read in How to DJ Right: The Art and Science of Playing Records: As long as music travels faster than the people who make it, there will always be a need for DJs. In other words, people on dancefloors all over the world want to hear stuff, and not everyone who made every tune they want to hear can be assembled in one room, at one time, with all their gear, to make that possible.

Hence DJs exist to play that recorded music. So far, so obvious. But what if rather than being one of those guys who plays other people's music for a living, you can actually make some of the music that all those guys are playing? Do you see that suddenly, promoters might want to book you? That it may be of commercial interest to them to advertise that they've got the person who made X tune, in town and performing tonight, at their venues?

DJ Earworm

DJ Earworm behind the decks. He can't actually sell any of his productions (because they're mashups of other people's music), but the millions of hits they get on YouTube has landed him DJ gigs worldwide.

Yes? That's why DJs who produce tunes are more likely to get bookings worldwide. But here's the thing: You probably won't be asked to set up all your gear and "play" live. More often than not, you get those little words "(DJ set)" after your name on the flyer. Now, you're in a foreign country, or a new city, DJing (playing other people's music) - and all because you recorded and released a smash mashup, remix, re-edit or production.

(By the way, before you say "but I can't release other people's music!", DJ Earworm has made a career out of his YouTube mashups, which have got him gigs worldwide, and he's one of many. Trust me, this is all not only possible, but being done, right now, by DJs all over the world.)

This is why if you want DJing success on a bigger scale, it's important to be a producer too. Otherwise you simply won't get those gigs in other cities and countries (unless you're a very good promoter, or you have a big radio show, or you happen to be an ex-pop star). Because without this, you're just another DJ. And lord knows there are plenty of those in most every city, town, village in every country of the world.

Does this mean the traditional DJ is dead or dying?

However we define producer (someone who makes their own albums, someone who produces other artists' tracks, someone who makes re-edits and mashups of other people's material, someone who's commissioned to do remixes of existing songs), it implies doing more than just playing other people's music - more than just DJing. But the first thing to make clear is that increasingly, some of the above skills are becoming what DJs do anyway. With remix decks (Traktor), samplers in DJ software (all major packages), production software that can double up as DJ software (Ableton Live), isn't DJing itself becoming more production-oriented anyway?

Miss Yellow

To have the balls and the bottle to make a good job of DJing takes a different set of skills to being able to produce, and people who are good at one aren't necessarily good at the other too. (DJ is Miss Yellow, pic courtesy Aerial7)

Well, yes it is, but fundamentally - at its core - DJing is about playing pre-recorded music, with style and flair (and definitely without gaps!), to people who want to dance to it. Whether that music happens to be your own or someone else's is by the by. (People DJing with their own tunes has happened for a long time, by the way: I remember Todd Terry back in the early 90s at the Hacienda in Manchester, and he never played anyone else's tunes, turning up with a box of white labels of his own productions, remixes, re-edits and playing exclusively from that.)

The point is that DJing is not production, whatever the latest box of tricks from yet another DJ gear or a software manufacturer might imply. The skills are very different. DJing involves timing, and the ability to read a crowd, and the ability to react to outside influences, and the cojones to make big, bold strokes with your music to take people where they weren't expecting - and hell, the ability to party with who's right there in front of you. It's immediate, and scary, and exhilarating. And you don't have to be a musician to do it right.

Likewise, production is not DJing. With DJing you can make mistakes, and as long as you handle them well, they can actually add to your performance. With production, you spend hours, days, weeks getting the littlest things just-so. It's intense, but in a different way; lonely, calling on inner strength and utter commitment to a finished result that's as-yet in the distance, unglimpsable. Good producers have a different skill set to good DJs, and just because you're good at making music, doesn't mean you'll be good at playing that music in order to give people a dancefloor experience they'll remember.

Rather than killing the art of DJing, production is simply a natural skill that talented and committed DJs can add to what they do. In this way, DJ/producers are mastering two different but complementary disciplines, which support each other (someone's DJing may get them production offers, and their productions may get them DJing offers). Of course there's crossover, as there always has been, but these disciplines remain distinct.

If DJing is driving a racing car, smashing it round the track, up kerbs and everything, for the thrill of the passengers - well, production is building the car to make it go fast in the first place! They're both ultimately to give the riders a thrill, but they're not the same thing, not by any means.

So, should I become a DJ/producer?

If you want to achieve lasting success outside of your town, or outside your local club, or further that a residency at a night you set up, or beyond the odd special gig you've managed to arrange for yourself in another club - yes, you should definitely consider it. Likewise, if you feel you have "something to say" musically that DJing isn't letting you say, again you should. (Indeed, in this latter instance, maybe you'd be better off being just a producer, rather than a DJ.)

Resident Deejay

To be a loved and respected resident DJ, especially at a club night you promote, is enough for some - and you can achieve this without doing any production at all.

But if neither of these circumstances apply to you, there's no reason to. There will always be a need for people who just DJ. If you DJ in your local town, or at a club night you set up, or for private parties, or in bars, lounges, art installations, at festival sound systems, and you can get those gigs, and you're happy with what you're earning and where it's taking you, there's absolutely no compulsion to try and tack "producer" onto the end of your name to get success you don't really want anyway.

And as we've mentioned, DJing is becoming so exciting nowadays anyway, with all the tricks that are available to you to perform live, that you can get some of the fun of production - performing live mashups, using loops to create some of the things re-edits used to achieve, button-bashing to chop up vocal lines - without formally locking yourself in a room to perfect and release that stuff.

And make no mistake, getting success as a DJ/producer is really not easy. You simply cannot expect to spend a year slaving over your masterpiece, and then to get a call from a major record label the second you send a copy to Pete Tong. It just doesn't work like that, and probably never did.

Nowadays, you need to produce, produce, produce, be constantly promoting your work on Facebook, YouTube, getting it into online stores, sending, sending, sending it to DJs, radio shows and so on, and basically slaving for one, two, five years before getting anything back. Maybe you've got the persistence, talent and sheer bloody-mindedness to become a successful DJ/producer...

Is this you? Is it going to affect your DJing? Are you going to love doing that as much as you think you will?

If so, then maybe you've got the persistence, talent and sheer bloody-mindedness to become a successful DJ/producer. But if not, it's OK to be just a DJ. It's a respectable discipline. It is something to be proud of. And it's something that today, just like always, it's still very hard to get good at. It's worth doing on its own and for its own sake. And as long as recorded music travels faster than the people who make, it always will be.

Next time...

Still want to give production a go? Next time we'll give you five practical steps to adding "producer" to your skill set. From musical theory to mastering Facebook, we'll show you the exact formula that hundreds of DJs and producers have used to get themselves more DJ gigs through producing and promoting their own productions.

Finally, we'll point you in the direction of what we think is the best online training for DJs who want to become producers.


Want to learn production fast?

If you're serious about getting started in production from a DJing perspective, we've got what we think is the best-kept secret in production training for you.

DJ/producer and Digital DJ Tips writer Chris Cartledge spent over six months creating OD Total Music Production, a fantastic beginner production online video course, similar to our acclaimed How To Digital DJ Fast course. At 12 hours long it 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 video with more info:

If you like the look of the course, head over to OD Total Music Production for more info and to buy. This is the first production course we've ever recommended, and as a Digital DJ Tips writer and a friend, I can personally vouch for Chris's expertise, enthusiasm and level of service - he will be there to help you personally as you take your first steps in production.

Still want to become a producer as well as a DJ? Have you seen other DJs get ahead by making their own music? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Best article ever on DDT !
    I hope all the kids will read this...

  2. I'm actually really happy you guys are making this! As a semi-pro producer and DJ, the crossover between the two is actually fairly helpful. whether its counting beats from DJing going into song structure for producing or actually seeing what a drum break looks like to beatjuggling live, skills that might not seem related, actually bounce off of eachother. To anyone wondering whether or not its worth investing time and money into production, if music is a passion for you, and simply hearing it doesnt do it for you, producing is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have and a great time waster for insomniacs like me!

  3. Alex Dj Majical says:

    My first dream was to become a producer, but i began by djing, but because of the cost of equipment, i make my first mashup 1 year ago, the time to have alimentary work to buy myself this computer, software, mixer, headphones, monitors etc.
    It's sure the most of djs in the world are producers, it's the best way to be known, it's not my case, so i hope i will soon have gigs all over my country and may be the world, then thanks for this 3 good articles which help me to understand the way to get it, i'm waiting impatiently for the 3rd article to know how to promote my sounds well...

  4. I've always disliked the name DJ/producer, IMO it should be electronic artist similar to any other genre of original music; all of which nowadays are being recorded, produced, & mastered in home studios.

    I think it's far easier to be successful if you come from a producer background & learn to DJ, as opposed to coming from a DJ background & learning to produce. The article makes good points as to what is required to be a producer but the one it doesn't touch on is the necessity to understand (or learn) musical theory. Not having an understanding of theory is career limiting in the world of production & this is a huge learning curve or obstacle for DJ's who simply think they can jump into production.

  5. Awesome post from Phil. It's definitely the million dollar question "Should DJs Produce?"
    I personally started out as a producer, then became a DJ. I found it HARD. If you are already dj'ing, your learning curve will be shorter than mine.

    A few notable DJs turned producers are Thievery Corporation, Dubfire and Kenny Dope. They would release 2-3 tracks per month.

    In my experience, learning from more experienced producers and INSTANTLY applying what you have learned is the fastest and most effective way to go. Some how our brains need to implement this new acquired knowledge quickly and repetitively for it stick. Being smart about your learning can take you a long way.

    • Alex Dj Majical says:

      "they would release 2-3 tracks per month", i would too but 1 per month is ever difficult :) how do you learn from more experienced producers, are they friends ?

  6. I will borrow a quote that a well known producer once said which I believe is quite true. "Your music/records whatever is now your business card" I don't believe a good dance record will make you lots of money but will get noticed and called upon to play at big venues which is where you make the money to fund your real passion. Moving on from that I am old fashioned and believe producers should produces and DJ,s should DJ. I can count on one hand those who can do both well.

    • Agree with your first part, but I think there's a new breed of DJ/producers who are good at both skills personally, and as DJ gear gets more production oriented and producers get more interested in getting paid for touring their music via the DJ booth, this can only increase.

  7. As DJ you'll get to know what your regular audiance likes. And making some songs or (Mashup remix re edid) in that style then testing it on your crowed. If 20 out of a 100 like it in your local club chances are that there are 1000's worldwide that will like it.
    So as a DJ you kind of have an advantage when producing your own song as you have a crowed to test it on. A bed room producer only has the internet and his friends who might not want to offent him so insted of critiks they might lie and say it's really good.

    If a promoter or anyone is looking for a DJ and there are 20 DJ's playing top 40 to choose from, but you have that killer remix/mashup of the new No.1 hit that everyone is talking about. Who do you think gets to play?

  8. Promoters are only interested in numbers through the door and Bar spend/balance sheets. If someone is en vogue they will get booked of the back of that record, even if it's to play that record twenty times. You know the one!! and I am sure he is sick of it by now.

    Being able to produce music and DJ is only part of the game now & as you have already pointed out, everybody is at it, not all successful though! All I need to do is go to Beatport and wade through so much crap to get to that gem. You play it for a week then you forgot you even had it.

    The ones who will last are the ones that can produce a proper record/song not a set of beats.

  9. DJ Gerard says:

    Well Phil, after reading this part of the topic I don't know if I should just define myself lazy or a man that knows himself LOL. It is a fantastic read and really gets us DJs to confront if we are in it for the love of DJing or fame or money or all the above.

    • I hope it also helps to point out that you can't just add production to your skills without effort, but equally that with passion and dedication, you can start to step down this road and expect results based on what you already know as a DJ.

      • DJ Gerard says:

        Without a doubt :)
        When we (DJs) do more than mix at outro and intro breaks of a record and we start adding (or removing) parts within a song to bring unique and excitement to our crowd we are well on our way. Its like cooking. We can make meat and potatoes but what spices are we adding to make it ours. Just as you know the difference between grandma's cooking and the restaurant. A DJs style is his (or her) production. If 10 of my DJ friends gave me a mixtape each I could probably tell you who mixed each one. DJs now have an array of tools - Production tools.

  10. MasterHolten354 says:

    I really enjoyed the article, it has in fact answered some questions I've had about djing and the title of dj/producer, but i still feel i could use a little more guidance...as i still have some doubts...i will try to place them in order:

    -i always felt that i couldn't be a dj because i seriously detest being a mainstream jukebox...but as it has been mentioned, i can also just dj with my own things (like Todd Terry). So i can instead choose to dj only Techno, Acid and Psytrance? its one of the bigger problems that bugs me...

    -And in an aside from the first doubt, do i have the liberty to deny requests? i know i can be asked about any song in the world, and i cant really give much excuse since the internet means i can download anything...but i dont want to be asked to play music i dont like...selfish of me i know, but i really dont like it, and i wont have it with me

    -As a noob producer, i find that the djing-only route in order to play my songs isnt really for me (at least not always)...i dont like always having to only press play and do nothing. Dont get me wrong i have massive respect for good djs who spend time and effort to making really sets...but every now and then i would prefer to play live with a more "concrete" set up (like playing acid techno with 303 and 808 clones...not turntables and laptop).

    -One last thing would be...can I myself choose which title i am given? personally, while having "dj/producer" possesses its own charm, i think i would rather be considered a producer/musician...i would experiment with my live set up, and turntables arent that omnipresent in them...again, a more "concrete" set up is what im aiming for...

    Thanks in advance to anyone who replies 😀

    • 1. If you can find the gigs, of course... but DJing is a two-way process, it's not about turning up and ploughing through a playlist that nobody there is interested in. You have to find, then satisfy, your audience

      2. Depends where you're playing

      3. Many are doing just that (see deadmau5 "everyone presses play") - but don't kid yourself that this is DJing, because it isn't

      4. Of corse you can - just refer to yourself as whatever you're comfortable with (I know at someone who calls himself an "unusualist"!)

  11. KamiKazee says:

    I'd love to take that music production course, but the site says its no longer for sale! Anyone know why or when/if they are planning to release an updated version of the course?

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