Why Become A DJ/Producer?

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 7 mins
Last updated 4 April, 2018

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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