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Career: Disc Jockey

A Day in the life of a Disc Jockey

Whether you’re a disc jockey for a radio station or a nightclub, the best aspect of the job is the creativity that it allows (and even requires). Radio disc jockeys play music, chat, deliver news, weather, or sports, or hold conversations with celebrities or call-in listeners. Club DJs mix music, sound effects, and special effects and occasionally provide chatter between songs. Each DJ must be in command of his or her specialty genre of music or demographic of audience —and sensitive to listener responses. A radio disc jockey must be able to spin off on an item in the news or a hot new song. “I think about how things connect,” said one. Being extremely organized and synchronized is critical to the radio station. Songs must fill a certain span of time; commercials have to be aired during specific blocks. Disc jockeys must be able to coordinate what plays when within time and audience constraints while on the air. A radio DJ must build an audience. Most DJs specialize in a specific musical genre, have a consistent approach, and field calls and requests from interested listeners to develop a consistent, loyal listening public. Since only one person is usually on the air at a given time, the DJs get lonely. More than 75 percent of our surveys mentioned “isolation” as one of the biggest drawbacks. A club disc jockey keeps regular hours, usually working from 8:00 P.M. to 4:00 A.M. Most DJs don’t socialize regularly with people who do not keep the same unusual hours. Isolation, again, creeps in. Club DJs must keep the crowd interested in dancing, so they must know a wide variety of styles and songs that appeal to different groups. Record promoters and agents try to flood high-profile DJs with new albums, hoping to provide exposure for their acts. More than 40 percent of all DJs work part-time and find it difficult to land regular, reasonably paying gigs. Many club DJs move to large urban centers to find a market that will support their services, but it’s still difficult to get hired initially without a following that you can be expected to draw to the club.

Paying Your Dues

No specific educational requirements exist to become a disc jockey, but most radio disc jockeys have experience at college radio stations or in small markets; others intern while in school to learn the equipment used in the industry and to get a taste of the style of successful radio personalities. Many aspiring disc jockeys create tapes of their shows and save clippings to use as introductions to professional radio stations. Radio jockeys must be familiar with current or specialty (subgenre) musical trends and how specific songs fit together. They must be able to fill empty space with information and have a clear, clean speaking voice and a certain amount of technical skill. A club or nightclub disc jockey must know how to mix beats so music progresses smoothly, how to design a night of music around a specific theme or requested type of music, and how to use lighting and special effects to best advantage. As first introductions, many DJs must work free at established clubs on off nights. Close contact with record promoters is important in getting unreleased demos or other songs that can distinguish you from other DJs. DJs trade on their reputation, so staying current with musical trends and responding to listener feedback is critical to success.

Associated Careers

More than 60 percent of DJs rotate from one position within the radio industry to another, moving to news anchoring, call-in shows, specialty shows, and sports shows. Another 7 percent write copy for radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, and newspapers. Club disc jockeys move to careers in the record industry, primarily as liaisons between other DJs and the company itself.

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