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A disc jockey (also known as DJ or deejay) is a person who selects and plays recorded music for an audience. Originally, disk referred to phonograph records, while disc referred to the Compact Disc, and has become the more common spelling. Today, the term includes all forms of music playback, no matter the source.

There are several types of disc jockeys. Radio DJs introduce and play music that is broadcast on AM, FM, shortwave, digital, or internet radio stations. Club DJs select and play music in bars, nightclubs, discothèques, at raves, or even in a stadium. Hip hop disc jockeys select and play music using multiple turntable, often to back up one or more MC, and they may also do turntable scratching to create percussive sounds. In reggae, the disc jockey (deejay) is a vocalist who raps, "toasts", or chats over pre-recorded rhythm tracks while the individual choosing and playing them is referred to as a selector. Mobile disc jockeys travel with portable sound systems and play recorded music at a variety of events.

Equipment and techniques

djDJ equipment may consist of:
  • Sound recordings in a DJ's preferred medium (e.g., vinyl records, Compact Discs, computer media files, etc.);
  • A combination of two devices (or only one, if playback is digital) to play sound recordings, for alternating back and forth to create a continuous playback of music (e.g., record players, Compact Disc players, computer media players such as an MP3 player, etc.);
  • A sound system for amplification or broadcasting of the recordings (e.g., portable audio system, PA system) or a radio broadcasting system;
  • A DJ mixer, which is an electronic (usually 2- or 4-channel) audio mixer usually equipped with a crossfader used to smoothly go from one song to another, using two or more playback devices;
  • Headphones, used to listen to one recording while the other recording is being played to the audience; and
  • Optionally, a microphone, so that the DJ can introduce songs and speak to the audience.
Other equipment could or can be added to the basic DJ setup (above), providing unique sound manipulations. Such devices include, but are not limited to:
  • Electronic effects units (delay, reverb, octave, equalizer, chorus, etc.). Some club DJs use a sub-harmonic synthesizer effect which either doubles low frequencies with energy added an octave lower or synthesizes harmonics such that the impression of a very low bass sound is added to the mix.
  • A computerised performance system, which can be used with vinyl emulation software to manipulate digital files on the computer in real time.
  • Multi-stylus headshells, which allow a DJ to play different grooves of the same record at the same time.
  • Special DJ digital controller hardware can manipulate digital files on a PC or laptop;
  • Sampler, sequencers, electronic musical keyboards (synthesizers), or drum machines.

Several techniques are used by DJs as a means to better mix and blend recorded music. These techniques primarily include the cuing, equalization, and audio mixing of two or more sound sources. The complexity and frequency of special techniques depends largely on the setting in which a DJ is working. Radio DJs are less likely to focus on music-mixing procedures than club DJs, who rely on a smooth transition between songs using a range of techniques.

Club DJ turntable techniques include beatmatching, phrasing, and slip-cueing to preserve energy on a dancefloor. Turntablism embodies the art of cutting, beat juggling, scratching, needle drop, phase shifting, back spinning, and more to perform the transitions and overdubs of samples in a more creative manner (although turntablism is often considered a use of the turntable as a musical instrument rather than a tool for blending recorded music). Professional DJs may use harmonic mixing to choose songs that are in compatible musical keys.


The role of selecting and playing recorded music for an intended audience is the same for every disc jockey. The selected music, the audience, the setting, the preferred medium, and the level of sophistication of sound manipulation are factors that differentiate the various DJ types.


A radio disc jockey plays music that is broadcast across radio waves—AM and FM bands, or worldwide on shortwave radio stations. Radio DJs are often known for their personalities.

Famous American radio disc jockeys such as Alan Freed, Scott Muni, Casey Kasem, Dick Biondi, Wolfman Jack, and Dr. Demento built their audiences using a combination of the nature of the songs they selected and strong on-air personalities. A modern-day commercial radio disc jockey will typically rely on his or her on-air character alone, as the station's playlist has been predetermined by a program director or music director.

Radio disc jockeys appear in a wide array of broadcast formats, from top 40 or contemporary hit radio (CHR) to oldies and other formats that are defined by the type of songs played. Formats are defined by the type of originating station, with public radio, college radio, and pirate radio as examples. Some national governments operate official radio stations for a global audience, such as Voice of America (hosted by the United States) and Voice of Russia (organized by the Russian government). These stations may include programs by disc jockeys; The Clash frontman Joe Strummer played selections from his musical library for the UK's BBC World Service in the 1990s. Large military units sometimes broadcast their own radio programs to their troops, inserting news, weather reports, and advice between popular songs. The film Good Morning, Vietnam portrays an American military disc jockey.


In Jamaican reggae music, the Disc Jockey, called the "Selector", controls the tone, vibe, and energy of a dance or gathering. As Norman Stolzoff notes in "Wake the Town And Tell the People", The crowd's reception of the selector ultimately "determined the success or failure of a sound system's performance". A careful combination of songs in a playlist were often used to tell stories, set moods for the party goers, or to convey a particular theme. A selector had to know how to adapt the tempo, musical key, and tone of the songs he or she selected.

Selectors would often tease the crowd with small snippets from individual songs throughout an entire dance only to play the full song near the end of the dance. Another technique known as the "haul and pull up" called for the selector to interrupt a classic by restarting the song in the middle of playing by literally lifting up the needle and returning the beginning of the record. These skills are in addition to the precise timing required of a selector in switching records between songs or when the crowd disapproved of a particular song by verbally expressing their frustration.

The selector also interacted with and pleased the crowd throughout the entire dance by any means necessary. Over time, specific styles emerged amongst selectors that used witty voice overs and "toasts" to complement their performance. Count Matchukie( Winston Cooper), one of Jamaica's most famed selectors, would do dancing and talking over records with humor and wit. "Cliff" of Duke Reid's sound system focused so intensely on his task that he would turn his back to the crowd and would never speak at all as he played. Adding an even greater degree of complexity to the job of a selector, "toasting" required wit, humor, and a specific usage of rhyme, timing, and rhythm. Nonetheless, in both the eras of sound system dances and in dancehall, the selector was often the greatest selling point of a specific dance, party or system.


A club disc jockey selects and plays music using several turntables, CD players, or a hard-drive source, mixing the songs with a mixer and modifying the tone or sound of the recordings with equalizers and other effects. The setting can range anywhere from a neighborhood party at a private home or a small nightclub to a discothèque, a rave, or even a stadium. The size of the sound system varies according to the venue, and can range from a 500 watt PA system with two small speakers at a house party to a 50,000 watt sound reinforcement system with a number of speakers and multiple 15" subwoofers at a major dance club. The main focus of club DJs is on the music they play and how they mix tracks in and out, sometimes just to add a bit of energy to a track. They build their set by choosing "tracks" (songs) to control the energy level of the crowd and use beatmixing and beatmatching techniques to make seamless transitions between tracks. Some DJs may interweave a number of different songs or samples into each track that they play. For more information on notable club DJs, see List of club DJs.
A DJ cues up a track with his headphones.


A hip-hop disc jockey is a DJ that selects and plays music as a hip-hop artist and/or performer, often backing up one or more MC.

Mobile disc jockeys

A mobile DJ.
Mobile disc jockeys are an extension of the original radio disc jockeys. They travel with or go on tour with mobile sound systems and play from an extensive collection of recorded content for a specific audience. Today, mobile DJs need a large selection of music, professional-grade equipment, good organizational skills, vocal talent as an MC, mixing skills, quality lighting, insurance for liability, and on-site backup equipment. In the 2000s, the role of the mobile DJ has expanded. Many mobile DJs have assumed additional responsibilities to ensure an event's success. These responsibilities include the roles of MC, event organizer and coordinator, lighting director, and/or sound engineer.

In the past, Mobile DJs utilized vinyl records or cassettes. During the disco era of the 1970s, demand for mobile DJs (called "mobile discos" in the UK) soared, and top disc jockeys travelled with hundreds of vinyl records and cassette tapes. In the 1990s, Compact Discs became the standard. Mobile disc jockey trade publications such as DJ Times magazine and Mobile Beat were founded in this era. Mobile DJs have formed professional associations such as the Canadian Disc Jockey Association (CDJA), the Canadian Online Disc Jockey Association (CODJA), the American Disc Jockey Association (ADJA), and the National Association of Mobile Entertainers. In the UK, associations include the National Association of Disc Jockeys (NADJ), the South Eastern Discothèque Association (SEDA), the Mobile DJ Network In the 2000s, many mobile DJs rely heavily on laptop computers and MP3s for sequencing and mixing. This technology allows DJs to do mixing prior to an event and also lightens the load by reducing the number of CDs that a DJ must carry to an event.


19th century to 1920s

In 1857, Leon Scott invented the phonoautograph in Francemarker, the first device to record sound. In 1877, Charles Cros invented the phonograph in France (it was patented before Edison's invention but never built) and Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph cylinder, the first device to play back recorded sound, in the United Statesmarker. In 1892, Emile Berliner began commercial production of his gramophone records, the first disc records to be offered to the public. In 1906, Reginald Fessenden transmitted the first audio radio broadcast in history also playing the first record, that of a contralto singing Handel's Largo from Xerxes.

The world's first radio disc jockey was Ray Newby, of Stockton, California. In 1909, at 16 years of age, Newby began regularly playing records on a small spark transmitter while a student at Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless, located in San Jose, California, under the authority of radio pioneer Charles "Doc" Herrold.

By 1910, regular radio broadcasting had started to use "live" as well as prerecorded sound. In the early radio age, content typically included comedy, drama, news, music, and sports reporting. The on-air announcers and programmers would later be known as disc jockeys. In the 1920s, juke joints became popular as places for dancing and drinking to recorded jukebox music. In 1927, Christopher Stone became the first radio announcer and programmer in the United Kingdommarker, on the BBC radio station. In 1929, Thomas Edison ceased phonograph cylinder manufacture, ending the disc and cylinder rivalry.


In 1935, American commentator Walter Winchell coined the term "disc jockey" (the combination of "disc" (referring to the disc records) and "jockey" (which is an operator of a machine) as a description of radio announcer Martin Block, the first announcer to become a star. While his audience was awaiting developments in the Lindbergh kidnappingmarker, Block played records and created the illusion that he was broadcasting from a ballroom, with the nation’s top dance bands performing live. The show, which he called Make Believe Ballroom, was an instant hit. The term "disc jockey" appeared in print in Variety in 1941.

In 1943, Jimmy Savile launched the world's first DJ dance party by playing jazz records in the upstairs function room of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds in Otleymarker, Englandmarker. In 1947, he became the first DJ to use twin turntables for continuous play. Also in 1947, the Whiskey à Go-Go nightclub opened in Paris, Francemarker, considered to be the world's first discothèque, or disco (deriving its name from the French word meaning a nightclub where the featured entertainment is recorded music rather than an on-stage band). Discos began appearing across Europe and the United States. From the late 1940s to early 1950s, the introduction of television eroded the popularity of radio's early format, causing it to take on the general form it has today, with a strong focus on music, news, and sports.

In the 1950s, American radio DJs would appear live at "sock hops" and "platter parties" and assume the role of a human jukebox. They would usually play 45-rpm records, featuring hit singles on one turntable while talking between songs. In some cases, a live drummer was hired to play beats between songs to maintain the dance floor. In 1955, Bob Casey, a well-known "sock hop" DJ, brought the two-turntable system to the U.S. Throughout the 1950s, payola payments by record companies to DJs in return for airplay were an ongoing problem. Part of the fallout from the payola scandal was tighter control of the music by station management. The Top 40 format emerged, where popular songs are played repeatedly.

In the late 1950s, sound system, a new form of public entertainment, were developed in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaicamarker. Promoters, who called themselves DJs, would throw large parties in the streets that centered on the disc jockey, called the "selector," who played dance music from large, loud PA systems and bantered over the music with a boastful, rhythmic chanting style called "toasting." These parties quickly became profitable for the promoters, who would sell admission, food, and alcohol, leading to fierce competition between DJs for the biggest sound systems and newest records.

1960s and 1970s

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In the mid-1960s, nightclubs and discothèques continued to grow in Europe and the United States. Specialized DJ equipment, such as Rudy Bozak's classic CMA-10-2DL mixer, began to appear on the market. In 1969, American club DJ Francis Grasso popularized beatmatching at New Yorkmarker's Sanctuary nightclub. Beatmatching is the technique of creating seamless transitions between records with matching beats, or tempos. Grasso also developed slip-cuing, the technique of holding a record still while the turntable is revolving underneath, releasing it at the desired moment to create a sudden transition from the previous record.

By 1968, the number of dance clubs started to decline; most American clubs either closed or were transformed into clubs featuring live bands. Neighborhood block parties that were modelled after Jamaican sound systems gained popularity in Europe and in the boroughs of New York Citymarker.

In 1973, Jamaican-bornmarker DJ Kool Herc, widely regarded as the "godfather of hip-hop culture," performed at block parties in his Bronxmarker neighborhood and developed a technique of mixing back and forth between two identical records to extend the rhythmic instrumental segment, or break. Turntablism, the art of using turntables not only to play music but to manipulate sound and create original music, began to develop.

In 1974, Technics released the first SL-1200 turntable, which evolved into the SL-1200 MK2 in 1979—which, as of the mid-2000s, remains the industry standard for deejaying. In 1974, German electronic music band Kraftwerk released the 22-minute song "Autobahn," which takes up the entire first side of that LP. Years later, Kraftwerk would become a significant influence on hip-hop artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles. During the mid-1970s, Hip-hop music and culture began to emerge, originating among urban African Americans and Latinos in New York City. The four main elements of hip-hop culture were MCing , DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing.

In the mid-1970s, the soul-funk blend of dance pop known as disco took off in the mainstream pop charts in the United Statesmarker and Europe, causing discothèques to experience a rebirth. Unlike many late-1960s clubs, which featured live bands, discothèques used the DJ's selection and mixing of records as the entertainment. In 1975, record pools began, providing disc jockeys access to newer music from the industry in an efficient method.

In 1975, hip-hop DJ Grand Wizard Theodore invented the scratching technique by accident. In 1976, American DJ, editor, and producer Walter Gibbons remixed "Ten Percent" by Double Exposure, one of the earliest commercially released 12″ singles (aka "maxi-single"). In 1979, the Sugar Hill Gang released "Rapper's Delight," the first hip-hop record to become a hit. It was also the first real breakthrough for sampling, as the bassline of Chic's "Good Times" laid the foundation for the song.

In 1977, Saratoga Springs, NYmarker disc jockey Tom L. Lewis introduced the Disco Bible (later renamed Disco Beats), which published hit disco songs listed by beats per minute (tempo), as well as by either artist or song title. Billboard ran an article on the new publication, and it went national relatively quickly. The list made it easier for beginning DJs to learn how to create seamless transitions between songs without dancers having to change their rhythm on the dance floor. Today, DJs can find the beats per minute of songs in the BPM List.


In 1981, the cable television network MTV was launched, originally devoted to music videos, especially popular rock music. The term "video jockey," or VJ, was used to describe the fresh-faced youth who introduced the music videos. In 1982, the demise of disco in the mainstream by the summer of 1982 forced many nightclubs to either close or change entertainment styles, such as by providing MTV-style video dancing or live bands. Released in 1982, the song "Planet Rock" by DJ Afrika Bambaataa was the first hip-hop song to feature synthesizers. The song melded electronic hip-hop beats with the melody from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express." In 1982, the Compact Disc reached the public market in Asia, and early the following year in other markets. This event is often seen as the "Big Bang" of the digital audio revolution.

In the early 1980s, NYC disco DJ Larry Levan, known for his eclectic mixes, gained a cult following, and the Paradise Garage, the nightclub at which he spun, became the prototype for the modern dance club where the music and the DJ were showcased. Around the same time, the disco-influenced electronic style of dance music called house music emerged in Chicago. The name was derived from the Warehouse Club in Chicagomarker, where resident DJ Frankie Knuckles mixed old disco classics and Eurosynth pop. House music is essentially disco music with electronic drum machine beats. The common element of most house music is a 4/4 beat generated by a drum machine or other electronic means (such as a sampler), together with a solid (usually also electronically generated) synth bassline. In 1983, Jesse Saunders released what some consider the first house music track, "On & On." The mid-1980s also saw the emergence of New York Garage, a house music hybrid that was inspired by Levan's style and sometimes eschewed the accentuated high-hats of the Chicago house sound.

During the mid-1980s, techno music emerged from the Detroitmarker club scene. Being geographically located between Chicago and New York, Detroit techno artists combined elements of Chicago house and New York garage along with European imports. Techno distanced itself from disco's roots by becoming almost purely electronic with synthesized beats. In 1985, the Winter Music Conference started in Fort Lauderdalemarker Florida and became the premier electronic music conference for dance music disc jockeys.

In 1985, TRAX Dance Music Guide was launched by American Record Pool in Beverly Hills. It was the first national DJ-published music magazine, created on the Macintosh computer using extensive music market research and early desktop publishing tools. In 1986, "Walk This Way," a rap/rock collaboration by Run DMC and Aerosmith, became the first hip-hop song to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song was the first exposure of hip-hop music, as well as the concept of the disc jockey as band member and artist, to many mainstream audiences. In 1988, DJ Times magazine was first published. It was the first US-based magazine specifically geared toward the professional mobile and club DJ.

Starting in the mid-1980s, the wedding and banquet business changed dramatically with the introduction of DJ music, replacing the bands that had been the norm. Bandleaders, like Jerry Perell and others, started DJ companies, such as NY Rhythm DJ Entertainers. Using their knowledge of audience participation, MC charisma, and "crowd-pleasing" repertory selection, the wedding music industry became almost all DJ while combining the class and elegance of the traditional band presentation. New DJs as well as bandleaders with years of experience and professionalism transformed the entire industry.


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During the early 1990s, the rave scene built on the acid house scene. The rave scene changed dance music, the image of DJs, and the nature of promoting. The innovative marketing surrounding the rave scene created the first superstar DJs who established marketable "brands" around their names and sound. Some of these celebrity DJs toured around the world and were able to branch out into other music-related activities. During the early 1990s, the Compact Disc surpassed the gramophone record in popularity, but gramophone records continued to be made (although in very limited quantities) into the 21st century—particularly for club DJs and for local acts recording on small regional labels. During the mid-1990s, trance music, having run rampant in the German underground for several years, emerged as a major force in dance music throughout Europe and the UK. It became one of the world's most dominant forms dance music by the end of the 1990s, thanks to a trend away from its repetitive, hypnotic roots, and towards commercialized song structure.

In 1991, Mobile Beat magazine, geared specifically toward mobile DJs, began publishing. In 1992, MPEG which stands for the Moving Picture Experts Group, released The MPEG-1 standard, designed to produce reasonable sound at low bit rates. The lossy compression scheme MPEG-1 Layer-3, popularly known as MP3, later revolutionized the digital music domain. In 1993, the first internet "radio station", Internet Talk Radio, was developed by Carl Malamud. Because the audio was relayed over the internet, it was possible to access internet radio stations from anywhere in the world. This made it a popular service for both amateur and professional disc jockeys operating from a personal computer.

In 1995, the first full-time, internet-only radio station, Radio HK, began broadcasting the music of independent bands. In 1996, Mobile Beat had its first national mobile DJ convention in Las Vegas. During the late 1990s, nu metal bands, such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park, reached the height of their popularity. This new subgenre of alternative rock bore some influence from hip-hop because rhythmic innovation and syncopation are primary, often featuring DJs as band members. As well, during the late 1990s, various DJ and VJ software programs were developed, allowing personal computer users to deejay or veejay using his or her personal music or video files.

In 1998, the first MP3 digital audio player was released, the Eiger Labs MPMan F10. Final Scratch debuted at the BE Developer Conference, marking the first digital DJ system to allow DJs control of MP3 files through special time coded vinyl records or CDs. While it would take sometime for this novel concept to catch on with the "die hard Vinyl DJs", This would soon become the first step in the new Digital DJ revolution. Manufacturers joined with computer DJing pioneers to offer professional endorsements, the first being Professor Jam, who went on to develop the industry's first dedicated computer DJ convention and learning program, the "CPS (Computerized Performance System) DJ Summit", to help spread the word about the advantages of this emerging technology.

In 1999, Shawn Fanning released Napster, the first of the massively popular peer-to-peer file sharing systems. During this period, the AVLA (Audio Video Licensing Agency) of Canada announced an MP3 DJing license, administered by the Canadian Recording Industry Association. This meant that DJs could apply for a license giving them the right to perform publicly using music stored on a hard drive, instead of having to cart their whole CD collections around to their gigs.


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By the 2000s, new technologies such as voice tracking, allowed single DJs to send announcements across many stations. Commercial radio DJs were increasingly limited in their freedom to select which songs to play. Some music aficionados sought freeform stations that put the DJs back in control, or chose instead to listen to satellite radio services or portable music players. College radio stations and other public radio outlets continued to be the most common places for freeform play lists in the U.S.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the convenience and popularity of the MP3 and the increasing power of laptops spawned a new type of DJ, the "MP3J". In 2004 Serato introduced its own version of the digital vinyl DJ system Serato Scratch Live making improvements in overall system stability and more closely emulating the feel of true vinyl. Rane has since licensed the software as well as collaborated with Serato to bring out a hardware mixer version in 2006. Soon afterward, many nightclub deejays that had remained true vinyl record aficionados began the transition to becoming digital vinyl users. Serato Scratch Live has since become the most popular MP3 manipulation software/hardware, and can be found pre-installed in famous clubs around the world. In 2006, the concept of DJ had its 100-year anniversary. In January 2008, Serato introduced Video-SL, which is a plug-in for the popular Serato Scratch Live software. This plug-in gives DJs the ability to manipulate music videos in the same way they have been manipulating music, spawning a new generation of "VJs" (Video Jockeys). In the late 2000s, topless female DJs have appeared in special nightclubs, primarily in Finlandmarker and Russiamarker.

See also



  • Assef, Claudia (2000). Todo DJ Já Sambou: A História do Disc-Jóquei no Brasil. São Paulo: Conrad Editora do Brasil. ISBN 85-87193-94-5.
  • Brewster, Bill, and Frank Broughton (2000). Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3688-5 (North American edition). London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-6230-6 (UK edition).
  • Broughton, Frank, and Bill Brewster. How to DJ Right: The Art and Science of Playing Records. New York: Grove Press, 2003.
  • Graudins, Charles A. How to Be a DJ. Boston: Course Technology PTR, 2004.
  • Lawrence, Tim (2004). Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–1979 . Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3198-5.
  • Miller, Paul D. aka DJ Spooky, Sound Unbound: Writings on DJ Culture and Electronic Music, MIT Press 2008. ISBN 0-2626-3363-9 ISBN 978-0-2626-3363-5.
  • Poschardt, Ulf (1998). DJ Culture. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-8098-6.
  • Zemon, Stacy. The Mobile DJ Handbook: How to Start & Run a Profitable Mobile Disc Jockey Service, Second Edition. St. Louis: Focal Press, 2002.

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