The Real Poop
Most of us love music, but some of us love love music. You know the person we're talking about...the one who runs at Mach three toward the party's sound system the minute there's an opening for a new playlist. If that person is you, you might have what it takes to work as a professional DJ. Unless your taste is bad, in which case it probably just means you don't get invited to parties all that often.
Does "choose what music is playing" sound like an awesome job description? If the average salary is any indication, you're not the only one who thinks so.
The market is flush with DJs and would-be DJs, putting the average salary value on professional playlist pickers at a mediocre $33,975 a year (source). And depending on where or how you work, you may have to break that down by the hour. Oh well, at least you're in charge of playlists for a living.
When you think of "D" next to "J," the first thing that probably comes to mind is that sultry, deep voice introducing tracks between commercials on a station that begins with "W" or "K."
FM DJs are usually voice actors who sit in a studio for about an hour to do what the industry calls "voice tracking" work. DJs pre-record all their spoken parts in this one session—probably not even located in the same city as the broadcast station—and may use local news events or weather conditions to customize their ad-libbing.
The radio station then stitches the voice tracks to the music tracks and, surprise. Suddenly you've got your favorite "local" morning show. Often, Radio DJs (or "deejays") supplement their incomes with voiceover work for commercials, TV shows, movies, cartoons, or DJ gigs like the ones below.
There are only a few "real" DJs left, and these days they're generally found at independent market stations. You know, small places are where indie artists and bands get their start.
And before you start pointing at the cool college radio station you listen to while blowing raspberries at us, you should know that even your town's super popular and/or famous and/or eclectic young DJ is little more than a hobbyist with delusions of grandeur.
Event or party DJs play music for private parties, weddings, birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, corporate events, and the like. You'll play music appropriate for the crowd. You may be expected to step up to the microphone and emcee in between songs.
Lots of children's parties are now being set up like disco dance clubs. The good news (if you're lazy) is that younger kids don't care about the playlist. Provide a rented cotton candy machine alongside a bouncy castle and you could play nothing but cheesy '70s love ballads and still watch the guests jump around like spastic caffeinated little squirrels.
For a wedding, you may work with a wedding planner or the bride and groom to pick the music. Love songs and songs chosen by the couple will make up the four- to five-hour reception. You're all about making people smile and giving them memories of a happy day for the rest of their lives. Every event is a sales opportunity. Once you have a reputation, you'll be in demand for a long time.
Maybe you like your nights a little later and your sounds a lot louder? Pack your messenger bag with choice vinyl or .mp3 files and some sweet headphones, and cover your windows with aluminum foil. You punch in at your new job around the time everyone else is getting home from work.
Nightclubs are the biggest employers for live dance DJs. You might start out playing on weeknights, but for smaller clubs you'll be working on Friday and Saturday nights. There are usually two DJs "spinning" each night. The headliner goes on last and, depending on your city's liquor laws, gets going just a few hours before closing time, around 10:00PM or 11:00PM. You can break into this business opening for a headliner.
Live DJs and mixmasters have gone on to become famous, almost mainstream. Ellen DeGeneres has the most popular talk show on TV and she uses a DJ. DJ software is big business and there are hundreds of online schools and competitions for DJs who want to go beyond simple playlists. Big DJs are considered full-fledged musicians or producers.
DJs at the height of their game can perform at festivals like Burning Man and Coachella. You'll get to play super loud music in the sun or under the stars. You'll work in beautiful, exotic locations like Rio de Janiero, Ibiza, and rooftops in Brooklyn.
Sound like a dream? Maybe. But somebody's got to do it, so why not you?