You are here

DJ

DJ (Disk Jockey)

Disc jockeys (DJs) select and play pre-recorded music for many different audiences. However, most professional DJs do much more than just playing music. They are also responsible for mixing tunes, forming beats and creating the right ambience for the audience with their music choice, whether playing in a club, at a private function or on the radio.

DJs can use various formats, including vinyl, CD or digitally stored music, and a range of equipment, such as turntables, mixers, microphones and amplifiers.

DJs usually work irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. Mobile DJs work in all sorts of venues, from community halls to hotels and pubs. Radio DJs work mainly in small studios. Club and radio DJs may sometimes work overseas.

Many DJs are freelance therefore income varies widely. With some experience, income is likely to be around £50 to £300 a session. A DJ starting out at a local radio station may earn around £14,000 a year. Very experienced club and radio DJs may earn £1,000 or more per booking/show and a top club DJ may earn £100,000 or more a year.

A DJ should have:

  • wide knowledge of different music genres or an in-depth knowledge of a specialist interest
  • an outgoing personality, with the confidence to ad lib
  • a good sense of rhythm and timing
  • the ability to multitask and plan ahead, whilst operating technical equipment
  • an interest in music technology and sound engineering.

This is a highly competitive and popular career area, where talent and luck are all-important. Most DJs are self-employed, except those working for large broadcasting organisations. Some may find work as a resident DJ in a club or venue, but again they are usually self-employed. Many jobs are not advertised, so networking is essential.

There are no formal academic entry requirements. Enthusiasm for music, talent, personality and relevant experience gained through extensive practice using DJ equipment are more important. Taking a short course in DJ skills available through colleges and community music and recording projects may be useful. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this type of work.

Most DJs learn and develop their skills through practice and performance at venues, which may eventually lead to more prestigious bookings. Some may develop their skills in sound and music technology or specific digital audio packages by taking short private or college courses.

There is no formal career structure for DJs. Some aspire to secure residential DJ slots at prominent venues or prestigious club bookings. Experienced club DJs may find work abroad. Successful club DJs might move into music production, music publishing or promotional work. Established radio DJs may seek a peak time show.

What is the work like?

Disc jockeys (DJs) select and play pre-recorded music for many different audiences. However, most professional DJs do much more than just playing music. They are also responsible for mixing tunes, forming beats and creating the right ambience for the audience with their music choice, whether playing in a club, at a private function or on the radio.

DJs can use various formats, including vinyl, CD or digitally stored music, and a range of equipment, such as turntables, mixers, microphones and amplifiers.

Weddings, parties, college festivals, nightclubs, bars, and private events are all places where a DJ may be present.

  • Club DJs work in clubs and bars, playing and mixing records to create an atmosphere and keep people dancing. They select music according to the audience's tastes and the venue's music policy. It usually involves operating visual and lighting effects and manipulating beats using samples, extra music, eg from drum machines and synthesisers, and sound effects. DJs may also support an MC, who raps and sings over music tracks.
  • Radio DJs, often known as presenters, in addition to selecting music playlists have to maintain an easy and entertaining flow of conversation. This includes interacting with audiences by phone, email, text and new communication technology, such as Twitter. Working to a tight schedule, radio DJs operate studio equipment, play music, pre-recorded news, jingles and commercial advertisements, and interview studio guests. They may also discuss ideas with producers, write scripts and prepare playlists for future shows. Many radio DJs also perform at nightclubs, festivals and big music events.
  • Mobile DJs provide the music and entertainment at social events, including weddings and parties. They are responsible for setting up their own sound and lighting equipment and dismantling and transporting it home at the end of the event.

Mobile and club DJs especially, have to spend time networking, marketing and building up business contacts.

Hours and environment

DJs usually work irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. Mobile and club DJs may work until the early hours of the morning. The hours worked in radio are just as long and irregular, depending on when the programme is aired and how much off-air preparation is required.

Working environments are also varied. The atmosphere in clubs and bars can be noisy and hot. Mobile DJs work in all sorts of venues, from community halls to hotels and pubs. Radio DJs work mainly in small air-conditioned studios, although there may be occasional outdoor broadcasts. Club and radio DJs may sometimes be asked to work overseas for special events and broadcasts.

A driving licence is useful, especially for mobile DJs, who need to lift, carry and transport heavy equipment.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • With some experience, income is likely to be around £50 to £300 a session.
  • A DJ starting out at a local radio station may earn around £14,000 a year.
  • Very experienced club and radio DJs may earn £1,000 or more per booking/show.
  • A top club DJ, with a well-established reputation and audience following, may earn £100,000 or more a year.

Many DJs are freelance, so annual income varies widely depending on their reputation and the number of regular bookings. Some have another job to supplement earnings, especially when starting out. Salary negotiations are usually done by the individual DJ or their booking agent.

Skills and personal qualities

A DJ should have:

  • a wide knowledge of different music genres or an in-depth knowledge of a specialist interest
  • an outgoing personality, with the confidence to ad lib and build a rapport with the audience
  • a good sense of rhythm and timing
  • the ability to multitask and plan ahead, whilst operating technical equipment
  • a calm manner and the ability to make quick decisions when under pressure
  • a likeable personality and good microphone voice, especially if working in radio
  • creativity and musicality, especially for mixing
  • self-motivation and enthusiasm
  • good business and networking skills for managing and promoting his or her services
  • awareness of wider current affairs and news for radio work.

Interests

It helps to have an interest in:

  • music and audience trends
  • the latest music technology
  • sound engineering.

Getting in

This is a highly competitive and popular career area, where talent and luck are all-important. Most DJs are self-employed, except those working for large broadcasting organisations. Some may find work as a resident DJ in a club or venue, but this is usually on a self-employed basis.

Opportunities for DJs are UK wide, but tend to be greater in highly populated areas. Most DJs have to invest in their own equipment, which can be expensive.

Within radio, it may be possible to start out in a related broadcasting role and then move into presenting.

It is important to gain relevant experience. Some DJs start out by working for no pay or for expenses only.

Vacancies may be advertised in publications such as The Stage and DJ Magazine, and for radio jobs at www.radioacademy.org/jobs. However, many jobs are not advertised, as they are filled by recommendation or agent bookings, making it important to have good contacts and a high industry profile.

Entry routes

There are no formal academic entry requirements. Enthusiasm for music, talent, personality and relevant experience gained through extensive practice using DJ equipment are more important.

Taking a short course in DJ skills, often available through colleges and community music and recording projects, may be useful. Other qualifications, including BTEC National Diplomas, foundation degrees and degrees in music technology, sound engineering, radio or media production may enhance technical skills, but are not essential for entry.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this type of work.

Experience gained through volunteering on student, hospital and community radio is useful for entry to radio DJ work. Work experience placements may also be available through the BBC or commercial radio stations. RadioCentre can provide details of commercial radio stations to approach.

Experience gained through assisting a mobile or club DJ is useful for entry to these areas of work.

In addition, DJs need to record a demo CD to showcase their abilities to bar or club managers, promoters, radio stations or DJ agencies.

Radio DJ trainees are likely to need additional qualifications in media as well as practical experience. See TV/Radio Announcer/Presenter profile for details.

Training

Most DJs learn and develop their skills through practice and performance at venues, which may eventually lead to more prestigious bookings.

Some DJs develop their skills in sound and music technology or specific digital audio packages like Cubase, Logic or Wavelab by taking short courses offered by colleges and private DJ training schools.

CSV Media runs Media Clubhouses across the UK, offering training in radio skills.

Networking is vital for DJs, and organisations like the Radio Academy and RadioCentre regularly run events throughout the year.

Getting on

There is no formal career structure for DJs. Some aspire to secure residential DJ slots at prominent venues or prestigious bookings on the club circuit, such as New Year's Eve. Experienced club DJs may find work abroad during the summer months at popular holiday destinations.

Successful club DJs might move into music production, music publishing or promotional work. Established radio DJs may seek a more high-profile, peak-time show or work in other areas of media broadcasting, including TV.

Further information

BBC Recruitment, BBC HR Direct, PO Box 1133, Belfast BT1 9GP. Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/jobs

Community Media Association, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield S1 2BX. 0114 2795219. Website: www.commedia.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Website: www.ccskills.org.uk

CSV Media, 237 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NJ. 020 7278 6601. Media Training 020 7643 1373. Website: www.csv.org.uk/training/media-skills

Hospital Broadcasting Association (HBA), PO Box 341, Messingham, Scunthorpe DN15 5EG. Website: www.hbauk.co.uk

The Radio Academy, 5 Market Place, London W1W 8AE. 020 7927 9920. Website: www.radioacademy.org

RadioCentre, 4th Floor, 5 Golden Square, London W1F 9BS. 020 3206 7800. Website: www.radiocentre.org

Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB. Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900. Website: www.skillset.org/careers

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Career and Course Articles: 

online magazines