The main purpose of a DJ

What does a DJ actually do? What is the main purpose of a DJ? And what tools does a DJ use to achieve that task?

Let me share my thoughts.

Some people think that the main task of a DJ is to play music. But a computer can also play tracks one by one: just throw in a playlist of hundreds of tracks, and that’s it!

Others say that the main task of a DJ is to mix the tracks, i.e. to play music in a continuous mix. But you can put on a pre-made mix, and that’s it! Another problem is that if one thinks that a DJ’s main job is to mix tracks, it’s easy to fall into the trap of misconceptions: for example, that a DJ who plays vinyl records is better than a DJ who plays with a controller, which is of course simply not true.

However, in fact, playing music and mixing tracks are just tools to achieve a goal, but not a purpose on their own. Moreover, mixing is one of the easiest skills in DJing, frankly.

What, then, is the main task of a DJ?

The main purpose of a DJ is to make people feel good on the dance floor. Of course, the definition of ‘good’ varies depending on the type of DJ set, the event’s format and other factors. In some cases, it might be a sense of novelty, new tracks and an interesting musical experience. In other cases, it might be nostalgia for an artist’s old favourite tunes. And sometimes, it’s good when soft music is playing in the background. There are many situations, but essentially it all comes down to this: whether people feel good on the dancefloor or not.

A good DJ focuses on the audience in front of him and decides in a given moment which track will work best for that particular crowd and situation. Play a Top-1 track from the charts, which will make everyone put their hands up in the air in bliss? Or give people something new, unexplored? To raise the energy levels? Or, on the contrary, slow it down a little to give people a break? It’s impossible to predict in advance, so they say that a good DJ “feels” the dancefloor.

The main purpose of a DJ is to make people feel good on the dance floor

When you look at the DJ’s task from this point of view, all these endless online debates on the coolness of this or that equipment and effects become unimportant.

But does it mean a DJ must play for the crowd only? What about personal enjoyment, you may ask? How about “playing for yourself”? The best thing is when the event and the type of crowd align with a DJ’s music, with what a DJ likes and wants to play. This gives a lot of musical freedom to a DJ and the ability to cultivate a fan base. But such perfect circumstances may not happen 100% of the time, especially for new DJs, you have to be honest about it and be prepared for that.

If “to make people feel good on the dance floor” is the main purpose of a DJ, then the main tool to achieve it is the following: to play the right track at the right time. And for this, a DJ should understand what is expected of him at a particular event, cultivate his musical taste, keep his music collection fresh, know how to build sets, read the crowd and much more. And it’s surely not the same as just ‘playing music’.

 418   7 mo   Advice   DJing

Since 2015, I’ve run an advice section giving my experience and answering readers’ questions on music production, DJing, performing, marketing, management, and other aspects of the music industry. The purpose of the series is to spread knowledge and cultivate professionalism in the music industry. The advice series works simply: you send me your questions, and I answer them with a blog post when I have something relevant to say. Send me your questions via the form.

© Daniel Sokolovskiy, 2023
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