Everything a DJ should know




Christian Haase
























The Complete DJ Guide

Christian Haase


© 2021 Christian Haase

All rights reserved.


Author: Christian Haase


ISBN: 978-3-98551-573-8


Front page design: Christian Haase

1 DJ History


Dear Reader,


DJing is the art of playing music. What may sound so banal, simply playing music, is actually a highly complex subject. It is not just about the technical finesse of putting on music for an evening using various mixing techniques, or the prerequisite of having an appropriately large repertoire of music; it is something that most people who do not deal with it are not even aware of. Rather, the art of putting on music is to develop a sense of what the people on the dance floor actually need. Where is the evening going musically? How do I build it up using a good arc of tension? How do I deal with music requests? And how do I find the right title at the right moment? The ability to learn to read your audience and to recognize their wishes for the music before they do themselves therein lies the true art of the DJ.


Whether in the club, in the disco, on the radio, at festivals, at weddings or birthdays, at summer parties and Christmas celebrations, at theme parties, at open days or at any other occasion you can think of, DJs come into play to create a good atmosphere that is appropriate for the occasion and the audience. DJs were once a means to an end, to be able to provide musical accompaniment at an event at all. In recent decades, they have risen to become true pop stars whose fees are sometimes in the six-figure range. For many, DJing is a hobby; for others it is a hard-hitting business that offers a whole army of extra invented positions and jobs like managers, travel agents, or bookers in addition to the artist himself. Thousands of jobs are created just by the mere existence of DJs, whose number also increases every year.


The technical achievements of the 21st century make it possible for anyone to be a DJ. Especially in the last 10 years, a lot has happened here. In the course of digitalization, not only the availability of music has increased almost to infinity, but also the prices for DJ equipment such as mixers, turntables, and CD players have become very flattering to beginners.


The profession of DJ has become more popular in recent years than almost any other. And it remains to be seen where all this will still develop...


1.1 The origins of DJing


The early beginnings of DJing go back to the beginning of the 20th century when we all weren't born yet and also didn't know that it would develop into a beloved hobby for some and a serious profession for others. Nowadays, it's easy because of the technical possibilities, but the beginnings of DJing looked very different.


Music used to be played exclusively live, and if restaurant owners or event planners wanted to incorporate music into their events, they had to order a band or orchestra. The first step towards DJing was therefore the invention of the first sound carrier: the vinyl record. This was invented by Emil Berliner, an inventor from Hanover in 1887 and has lasted until today. Tapes, cassettes, and CDs were innovations on the market, but they never replaced the record. On the contrary, the vinyl record still exists today; cassettes fell victim to the CD, the CD is just about to die out due to MP3 and music streaming. Since the record was mostly made of the material polyvinyl chloride, the term "vinyl" has persisted to this day. The record player and its accompanying shiny black vinyl sound carrier made it possible for the first time to play music privately at home and also away from home in restaurants, completely without musicians.



At the same time, in the early 1920s, with the advancement of radio technology, the first radio stations developed to entertain people with music. However, it would not have been radio if there had not been an announcer to fill the time between songs with interesting anecdotes and exciting introductions. This is how the term "disc jockey" (the juggler of records, as it were) came into being, and with it came the first radio DJs. Broadcasts with hit parades drew countless music enthusiasts in front of the radio every week to listen to the latest music and learn exciting background information about artists and their music.


Even in the clubs and discos that became socially acceptable in the post-war period, it was initially common for the DJ to moderate and not simply play his music without comment. Organizers knew that they needed someone to create a good atmosphere and get the guests dancing. After all, "canned music" replaced the brass band, orchestra, or live singer that they usually offered their guests. The first discos with DJs were ultimately an experiment that succeeded because the audience accepted it well and the organizers saw that money could be made. To this day, there are various angles and stories that are supposed to prove the alleged first DJ, but so completely it cannot be recapitulated. However, during research, one will always stumble upon the story of Klaus Quirini, who in the 1950s, in a disco in Aachen, made a career as the first moderating DJ by chance. He took over the turntable because the evening seemed boring and he was asked to do better. His secret to success was a clever introduction (especially a snappy line at the beginning, which went down well with the guests) and a flair for danceable music. Later, he founded various DJ organizations and it is thanks to him that the activity of the DJ is also recognized as a profession and likewise by the Artists' Social Security Fund.


However, the first DJ who stood out with real DJ art was Francis Grasso in New York. In 1968, he invented the trick of the felt mat that you put under the record to ensure that you could move the vinyl back and forth on the turntable without scratching it. In doing so, he laid the groundwork for beatmatching, which is the process of matching the speed of two consecutive records for a seamless transition, as well as scratching, which is the process of creating sounds by rhythmically moving a running record back and forth on a turntable with the needle in place. A DJ was now no longer there just to provide great emceeing, but was primarily expected to provide non-stop music so that the good mood of dancing could be maintained for an entire evening without any interruption in the music. So, it was important to get seamless transitions from one song to the next, without annoying pauses, off-key tones or dissonance. DJs who knew their craft, cut tracks excellently into one another and even mixed acapellas of well-known songs with breaks of various other titles, as Francis Grasso did, for example. A good DJ also knew how to make two different songs play parallel to each other for almost inaudibly longer than 32 bars without bloopers.


The necessity of mixing arose from the organizers' desire to have the dance floor permanently filled. In order to ensure a constantly good atmosphere, there could be virtually no interruptions. Moreover, mixing tracks into each other made it possible to play new songs that the audience did not know yet a good and smooth transition prevented the dance floor from emptying when an unknown song was played. It was possible to "foist" the song on the audience, so to speak. Despite new technologies, the uninterrupted nature of a set has remained a trend to this day if a DJ talks too much and constantly reaches for the microphone, it's an absolute no-go. After all, you want to enjoy the music and the DJ should only perform in the background or for crowd animation.


With one exception: in the U.S. ghettos of the 70s, it was "in" to talk back into the music that's how the hip hop culture was born, which first developed in the black-populated neighborhoods of New York. DJs picked up the microphone again and shouted phrases into the tracks, which gradually developed into rap a chant that conveyed a message to the rhythm of the music. Through films such as "Beat Street", the hip hop culture, which mainly took place in the streets of poorer neighborhoods, spilled over into Europe and was celebrated as "cool" by young people here, especially in the 80s and 90s. A mass phenomenon emerged and rappers like Kanye West or even Jay-Z are now among the richest musicians in the world so very contrary to the actual origin of this culture.


Electronic music, which was able to develop in the mid-1980s thanks to technological progress, gave rise to another youth culture: techno, which established itself in the U.S., especially in Detroit, as an antithesis to the cold, everyday life in the factories and was celebrated by the youth as a new form of existence. In Germany, however, techno existed earlier, driven by the band Kraftwerk and their legendary album "Autobahn."


As up-and-coming DJs, their names became known; entire brands were established and so, of course, came commercial success. The entrance fees to the discos almost didn't matter to the visitors they wanted to be there, no matter what the cost. In 1982, for example, the operator of the legendary Warehouse disco in Chicago was able to simply double the price of admission because there were thousands of underage visitors and young people who wanted to party in it. The Warehouse has also been known as the birthplace of house music, which was played by resident DJ Frankie Knuckles. As a DJ, he was known to have the task of keeping the crowd happy and dancing, but at the beginning of the 80s, at the same time, he had the difficulty that the era of 70s disco sounds came to an end and no new pop songs based on this scheme appeared anymore. So, he took tracks that he thought were suitable, adapted the beat and thus let a whole new music genre emerge.


Studio 54 in Manhattan (New York) also provided a new breeding ground for the exuberant disco and party culture. The club opened its doors in 1977 and was soon regarded as a mecca for eccentric parties, drug excesses, wild sex and uninhibited partying by stars and starlets if you weren't a celebrity, you had to at least look and dress like one to get past the bouncer. Regulars included Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Elton John, Donald Trump, but also Calvin Klein as well as the artists Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. After a brief one-year interruption or closure in 1980 due to tax evasion by the owners, Studio 54 reopened its doors in New York and shaped the New York disco culture of the 1980s until its final closure in 1986.


In Europe, the existence of discos also flourished because boisterous partying on Friday or Saturday evenings was now simply part of a modern lifestyle. For DJs, the work became easier in that they no longer had to lug heavy equipment; in good clubs, they found an already technically well-equipped DJ booth on site drinks included. However, a DJ was not allowed to slip into the drug scene, otherwise he was quickly out of a job. The focus was on reliability and constant good performance. This is how the existence of the resident DJ came about, who was virtually the in-house DJ by contract and regularly played in a club.


Especially in the 90s, Techno and Hip Hop experienced their peak and founded two musically completely different, but from the basic idea very uniform genres and cultures. Both were transformed from a sub-culture into a mass phenomenon. Today, technical progress makes it possible to learn the mechanical techniques of DJing within a few hours of practice. Digital programs and software relieve the DJ of the task of adjusting the speeds of two music tracks at the touch of a button. Critics rightly condemn DJs today for losing the craft skills, spontaneity, and creativity of making music as special computer programs take care of most of it. Lovers of modern DJs on the other hand, enjoy the fantastic ensemble of light show, music, and crowd animation that successful DJs have to offer during their performances especially since there are DJs who made their beginnings in the earlier times, have been on the market for a correspondingly long time, and prove on some occasions that they are still capable of playing good vinyl sets.


However, DJs who start DJing today will never learn the technical skills that make a DJ stand out. So, it is to be hoped that they will become all the more active for it when it comes to learning how to read the audience, respond to their needs, and make an evening exuberant.


1.2 The meaning of DJ


The term "DJ" comes from the English expression "disc jockey" and is composed of the word "disc" (record) and "jockey" (henchman). This hits the nail on the head quite well, because in the early days of club music, the DJ was nothing more than a simple night worker who had little to say and was only supposed to make sure that the guests had fun while dancing. He was not insignificant in his position; after all, without him no party could take place. But he himself, as a person, was neither cool nor significantly influential in his environment.


The beginnings of DJing and the profession that developed from it go back even further, to the radio days of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Because, at that time, it was common that music pieces were moderatedby the radio disc jockey. His job was to play music stored on sound carriers and to comment on it. A good disc jockey was therefore eloquent and could make the music titles palatable to his audience before he played them. With a wealth of background knowledge about the productions and well-informed about the lives of the musicians, he could impart knowledge and gossip in equal measure to his listeners, who soaked up this information like a sponge. Keep in mind, there was neither music television back then, nor the Internet for streaming music or constantly following artists on social media. In addition, back then, you couldn't necessarily always get the latest music on record; they were rare and expensive. The free listening pleasure of new music combined with background information about the piece of music and the act behind it, were one of the most important marketing-strategic achievements of the music industry. Therefore, music shows were not a fluid sequence of music, but a stringing together of individual tracks interrupted by the DJ's announcements.


Parallel to this, the first discos developed, which had their beginnings as early as wartime, when live music in clubs was replaced by music "canned", i.e. from a sound carrier. Of course, DJs were also needed here people who knew individual pieces well and knew how to make a sensible music selection. In the 60s, disco culture flourished thanks to fashion dances such as the "twist", and radio stations also enjoyed brisk listener quotashit parades were run, where the moderations offered high entertainment value. Both live in the nightlife and on the radio, DJs continued to develop their techniques of playing music within the limits of their possibilities at the time. It was now possible to mix pieces of music together instead of just playing them one after the other.


The then famous DJ Francis Grasso, from New York, was the first DJ to invent "slipcueing" by holding the record with your fingers, it was possible to let the beat of the previous record end and seamlessly connect the new track. There was also the trick of using a felt mat cut to the shape of the record, which was placed between the turntable and the vinyl. This had the advantage that the motor continued to drive the turntable and the record stopped without the turntable scratching the black gold. It was also Francis Grasso who invented "beatmatching" probably the most important feature of a good DJ. Pieces of music were recorded at different speeds, but to create a perfect transition in which the records ran in sync without getting a knot in your ear canal, it was necessary to bring them to the same speed. So, the DJ's job was, and still is today, to match the speed of record A to the speed of record B, without technical aids, but only in his head, and to the tenth of a second.


At the beginning of the 70s, it was possible for DJs to use the pre-listening function, which some console manufacturers had already integrated into their broadcast and disco consoles. This allowed the volume of the next song to be adjusted to that of the current one. The playback speed could also be better adjusted. Music broadcasts were now a fluid sequence of tracks. As you can see, the skill of DJs at the time had a lot to do with literal dexterity it came down to skill, flexibility, and a good ear. A good DJ was one who made songs flow into each other as smoothly as possible. Through technical progress and in the course of digitalization, today's DJs have forgotten or never even learned to apply this elementary practice of beat matching. One push of a button and the computer analyzes the speeds of two or more tracks and instantly matches them.


DJs were also indispensable at discos the responsibility for creating a good atmosphere lay in the hands of those who stood behind the turntables. Club operators realized early on in the emerging disco culture that there was a lot of money to be made from dance events. However, they had no idea of how to play music professionally, so they needed skilled DJs to get clubbers dancing. There were plenty of establishments especially at the end of the 70s;