The 6 Levels of DJ’ing

Bing Crosby

The DJ world has certainly moved on over the last few decades, from the humble beginnings of House in the 70’s when the abbreviation ‘D.J.’ actually directly translated to Disc Jockey, to the current diluted world where the term DJ is as common as the word iPod.  In this day and age EVERYONE’s a DJ.  I’m sure even your grandma has “DJ’d” a few tunes in the kitchen at Christmas time, touting her knowledge of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole.

As everyone seems to be a self proclaimed DJ, (even iTunes has a DJ function), I think its time we discussed what a DJ really is and the different categories these DJ’s can now fall into.  I propose to begin at the bottom and work up, so here goes…….

1. I’m not a DJ (Level 1)

This is the first type of DJ.  They may be your boss at work, or even your Mum.  They like to say the word DJ whenever then play music, instead of using the more relevant phrase of, “I’m going to put on some music.” OR “Can I change this song?

Sometimes this category will also contain a close friend of yours who know’s that you are a DJ higher up the scale and simply likes to tease you by saying they are a DJ too.  They do this in an attempt to belittle your beloved activity and to make you feel insignificant.  Beware of these people, they are only jealous and like to do this to add importance to their own ego, avoid at all costs.

2. iTunes DJ (Level 2)

iTunes DJ Settings

Next along on the scale, is someone who uses iTunes to create great playlists.  They certainly have the knack for creating an ambience using great music and have demonstrated this by compiling a playlist for every mood.  They are very proud of their playlists and always fight for the iPod dock when at a party.  This is the gateway drug to DJ’ing. If a person at level 2 manages to stave of a level 3 or higher and maintain control of the iPod dock, then they may just get the bug and decide to progress up the DJ scale.  The one problem with a Level 2 iTunes DJ, is often the lack of deep musical knowledge, taking recommendations from the general public or the charts, for their musical selections and therefore most of the playlists contain absolute cheese and mostly pop music.  You might be lucky though and find some gold at this level.

3. Wedding DJ (Level 3)

Disk jockeys

Now this type of DJ might just span a few levels, if not all of them.  However, more often than not, he/she (actually I have never seen a female wedding DJ, anyone?) is usually limited to the first 3 levels.  A wedding DJ may or may not have any technical skills whatsoever, it is debatable as to whether they even need any skills.  I have known of ‘wedding DJ’s‘ taking their laptop and simply loading songs into iTunes DJ and getting paid big bucks for it.  So long as your laptop is connected to Wi-Fi, and you have an iTunes account, any request can be played at a moments notice.  The wedding DJ is the ULTIMATE jukebox, but you could get your 8 year old cousin to perform this task for a packet of M’n’Ms and a Jammie Dodger.  The tough part as a DJ at this level however, is dealing with drunk people, music requests and heavy gear carrying! It’s not a role for the faint hearted and easily offended.  A thick skin can certainly help in this line of work.  Also a love for the Bee Gees and Shaggy will definitely help.

4. The Bedroom DJ (Level 4)

Sometimes, the bedroom DJ may come before the Wedding DJ at level 2.5. The reason I placed the bedroom DJ at Level 4 however, is because generally they have a higher level of mixing skills and could potentially be the next big thing; just in need of their break!

Many people remain a bedroom DJ for life, treating their skills more like a hobby and a way to physically enjoy their music collection.  It is from this position that they choose their path; will it be on to Wedding DJ, or to an even higher level?  Many bedroom DJ’s spend their time getting technical and learning their music, getting creative with their tools and simply enjoying time with their music and equipment.  It’s a testing ground for future DJ work.

5. The ‘playing out’ DJ (Level 5)English: Ariel (DJ) in London's Fabric nightcl...

This is the true proving ground for the bedroom DJ.  They have finally come out of the cage and it’s time to put all those skills to the test.  At this level they are playing parties, bars, or occasional clubs, maybe even just once a month, but they ARE playing out. It’s at this level where a DJ will find his/her groove, developing a taste for the scene and moulding their styles and picking their genres.  At this level, DJ’s may or may not be receiving money for their time and with so many DJ’s aching to play out, there is a lot of competition; free DJ’s are pretty easy to come across.  This is the ‘make-or-break’ time.  If you are at this level, you have to be able to network, you gotta talk the talk.  Everyone that comes to talk to you, has to go away liking you, you need to make an impact, you gotta be nice but also cool.  It’s like puberty; confusing, with distractions. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, you’ll get frustrated and you’ll have the time of your life.  But it’s crunch time, if you wanna make it, now is the time to get serious! Network, network, network!

6. I’m a DJ and Producer (Level 6)

It is very uncommon these days to find a big name DJ that is not a producer.  With the availability of technology, many DJ’s become a producer as a way to understand the music more and to truly create the sound they want. A DJ set created entirely from your own productions is a way to make a name for yourself.  It’s a way to stand out.  As DJ’ing has been made easier via technology, DJ’s have to become more creative, becoming more technical with their skills.  As it is also now more accessible for people to create music, there is an unimaginable amount of music out there.  A great DJ will either be producing great music of their own, or has the ability to source music that others find appealing. At this level DJ’s are truly living their passion, they have found that dream job and are loving it.  Yes, they are exhausted from all the flying across the world, all night parties and long studio sessions, but they are truly living their dream and embracing their passion.

Levels Mean Nothing

Have fun with musicDespite my breakdown of levels here, I do not want to create any separation between fellow DJ’s, these Levels mean nothing and I am only having a bit of fun with this article. Whatever level you feel you sit at, embrace it, enjoy it, wallow in it.  Music is an art form that expresses a deeper side of ones self.  It is a connection to something greater than our physical selves.  It is a way to channel emotions and to feel spirit inside. It connects us to something larger, it frees us from the daily grind of social inequalities and puts us on a dance floor, somewhere, next to a stranger, enjoying life!
Now go put on some music!

10 comments

  1. wow. i really disagree with the list but we are all different. my idea would be more like…
    1. not a dj
    2. ipod / i-tunes dj
    3. bedroom dj – learning the whole beatmix song structure part of djing. at this point you start to make cd’s and seek input from friends and family
    4. mobile dj 1.0 – start taking gigs for little or no money for friends house parties and family celebrations.
    5. mobile dj 2.0 – schools / birthdays / and intro to weddings and structured events. actually a BIG stepping stone because you are now leaving the comfort of “friendly” controlled settings. Here you are required to play for people you don’t know and you must meet their expectations.
    6. bAR/cLUB dj – now you have a established ego and display a style. FB fan pages and promotion start to become important because your are seeking gigs and desire a fanbase of sorts to support you.

  2. What about Level 7: Über Famous, and so huge you don’t need to actually DJ anymore, just hit play and tap the odd button.. (and thus, ironically, we go full circle back to Level 1).

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