If you answered, "Because I'd rather make a living," cheer up: There's a 10-pack Ramen special at Aldi this week!
While you're boiling some hot dogs to add to the Ramen, let's take a look at the vista of possibilities available to you as an aspiring DJ. The first few involve some exciting opportunities as a custodial consultant, side order technician or stay-at-home coupon clipper! In just a few months, you'll surpass your full potential in these markets and you're ready for the big time!
Radio DJ: As an old-fashioned DJ (or "disk jockey"), you'll become familiar with industry terms like "disk" and "jockey." A "jockey" plays music on the "radio" for listeners.
FM deejays are usually voice actors who sit in a studio for about an hour and do "voicetracking." DJ's prerecord all their spoken parts in one session, probably not even located in the same city as the broadcast station. The music is supplied by national distribution networks for mass consumption, much like those hot dogs you're forgetting about on the stove. DJ’s may use local news events or weather conditions to customize their ad-libbing. This is a normal practice and it's called voice tracking. A radio station simply stitches the voice tracks to the music tracks and you've got your favorite "local" morning show. Radio DJ’s (or deejays) supplement their incomes with voiceover work for commercials, TV shows, movies, cartoons or deejay gigs like the ones below.
There are a few real DJ's left. They usually work for college radio or independent, small market stations. These places are where indie artists and bands get their start. Gauging from the popularity of the college music festival SXSW, college radio is thriving. These stations are usually manned by enthusiasts who—along with the IRS—consider the job a hobby.
Event DJ: People need DJ's. Unless you're in a psychiatric institution (or a Grateful Dead or Phish concert), people don't really dance around for no reason. Events or party DJ's 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.
Professional DJ companies hire emcees to interact with guests and play music at weddings, Sweet 16 parties, Quinceañera events, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and graduations. Lots of children's parties are now being set up like disco dance clubs. The good news is that younger kids don't care about the playlist. Provide a rented cotton candy machine, a bouncy castle and you could play Latvian funeral marches and guests will be jumping around like spastic squirrels on hot coals.
You're also responsible for bringing all the equipment like amplifiers, mixing boards and speakers.
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. Music for parents and grandparents should be played early in the evening. Later on you'll be spinning the stuff everyone knows and loves. They can sing along, dance along, and play air guitar; silly novelty songs are great for little kids and group dancing. You are 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.
Club DJ: Maybe you like your nights a little later and your sounds a lot louder? Pack your messenger bag with choice vinyl or .mp3 files, 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 week nights, but for smaller clubs you'll be working on Friday and Saturday nights. There are usually two DJ's "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 the business when you open for the headliner.
Mixing and scratching has become mainstream. Solo or team turntablists compete before live audiences. Winners come from all over the world. (The five-time world champion team is from Japan.) There are big purses at stake here, so winning can bankroll you for a long time.
Live DJ's 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 DJ’s who want to go beyond simple playlists. Big DJ’s are considered full-fledged musicians or producers.
DJ's at the height of their game 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.
So stop dreaming and learn to use chopsticks: you'll be eating a lot more sushi and a lot less Ramen.