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DJ Spooky with the classic two turntables (at the Sundance Film Festival 2003)

A DJ [ ˈdiːdʒeɪ ] (abbreviation of English disc jockey ) or disc jockey or disc jockey is a person who plays music stored on sound carriers in an individual selection in front of an audience, for which the term “hang up” (from “put on records”) is generally used becomes. Female DJs are often referred to as DJane , more rarely as she-DJ .

Despite the same pronunciation and etymology , DJ differs from Jamaican deejay . Like disc jockey , the terms light jockey (LJ), visual jockey (VJ) and video jockey (VJ), which denote the activities of visual support closely related to a DJ performance, are derived from the word " jockey ".


A young woman puts on music in an air raid shelter in North London in 1940

Disc Jockey (DJ) and DJ or deejay , (from English disc "slice", commonly known as "record", and jockey " Jockey , henchmen") was originally the name for a radio presenter who presents sound recordings on the radio. The term was coined as part of the Top40 radio in the USA from 1940 (see: Airplay ), and later expanded to include TV presenters and discotheque announcers through a shift to other media.

As early as Christmas 1906, a shellac record was used for the first radio broadcast on the American east coast . Elman B. Meyers is the first full-time DJ in New York (1911), and Martin Block is the first star DJ there (around 1935). Radio disc jockeys like Alan Freed helped rock 'n' roll to break through around 1951 . It was Freed's illegal activities that exposed the music industry's vulnerability to any form of bribery . Freed was involved in both the cut in and was heavily involved in the Payola affair. After the invention of the long-playing record (LP) in 1948, phonograms became a creative medium ( John Cage : 33 1/3, 1969) and DJs became a popular culture myth (George Lucas: American Graffiti , 1973). With the disco trend of the seventies, rap / hip-hop of the eighties and techno of the nineties of the 20th century , DJs emancipated themselves as sound artists (DJ culture) and producers. Scratching , sampling , remixing and computer technology turned sound carriers into arbitrarily changeable raw materials for metamusic. DJs became stars ( Sven Väth , Paul van Dyk ), experimenters ( Tricky , Coldcut ) or even philosophers ( DJ Spooky ). For the music industry, the disc jockeys at radio stations are still of great importance because their programming influences the sales figures of individual music titles and artists.

DJs in discos

If you define a discotheque as a room in which people can be entertained by a DJ playing recorded music for money and for dance purposes, then there was the first discotheque in Leeds in northern England , back in 1943. Main initiator and DJ for the evening was Jimmy Savile .

The early years

In the mid-1960s, the first DJs began to emancipate themselves from the function of pure record hanger. Until then, they had put on one piece after the other and moderated in between, it was especially Terry Noel, who played at Arthur in New York City in 1965 , who began to expand the DJ's musical repertoire and create new music himself. Noel began to personally take control of the lighting system, set up a sound system that allowed him to let a sound wander across the room and began to allow himself previously unknown freedoms in mixing pieces. He put several pieces on top of each other to create new sounds and to turn records into music that could not be found on a record.

In Germany there were around 10 DJs in 1963 and 50 (some traveling) DJs in 1965. The first professional organization for DJs was founded in Aachen in 1963.

In 1971 the music editor on the youth radio of the RiAS Kai Bloemer distinguished himself from DJs: " Disk jockeys are actually people who turn more or less banal statements into records."

DJs in the GDR

In the GDR , DJs were legally referred to as record entertainers or SPU for short to avoid the English term disc jockey . On the basis of the order on discotheque events of August 15, 1973 ( Gbl. Of the GDR Part I No. 38 of August 27, 1973), there were record entertainers who were freelance or part-time. Every future SPU had to pass an aptitude test and pass a one-year special basic course with a subsequent state examination at the responsible district or city cabinet for cultural work. Then a license to play was granted. Only the “state-certified record entertainer” was allowed to play recordings in front of a larger audience and had to regularly take part in further training events, so-called monthly consultations. Every two years a new classification was carried out by the classification committee. Another peculiarity in the GDR consisted of numerous regulations and recommendations that the SPU was obliged to adhere to. Probably the best-known regulation of the " Establishment for the Protection of Performing and Reproduction Rights in the Field of Music " (AWA) was the 60/40 regulation, which obliged SPU to grant 60 percent of the program sequence with music productions from the GDR and socialist countries shape. At times, SPU were obliged to submit title lists to the AWA before each performance. Although the SPU had to reckon with controls and license withdrawals, the practice was different in most discos. At the end of the 1970s, 6,000 record entertainers were counted in the GDR. In the 1980s, the terms “discotheque” and “disco moderator” were coined.

The revolution of the 1970s

In the 1970s, with the advent of disco music in the United States, the techniques of DJs soon began to change. Instead of the announcements, rhythmic elements became decisive, and the first club mixes were created , which were extended versions of the songs. The DJs began to mix the beats of the different songs with one another at the same speed, i.e. hardly noticeably, which is still common in the electronic dance music scene today.

Hip-hop culture also had a major impact on this change. The turntables were transformed from a mere player to a musical instrument, the backspin and scratching developed into new possibilities in DJ technology, which significantly influenced the new genres of music. The backspin offers z. B. the possibility of repeating a single rhythmic passage as often as desired, so that turntables can be used as an inexpensive alternative to samplers .

Fields of activity


The tasks of a DJ are diverse and vary considerably depending on the music genre and job. On the one hand, there is the classic pop DJ, as known from radio broadcasts and discos. He often makes a living doing this job and plays music from a wide range of genres, depending on the taste of the audience, and ideally knows the charts of recent years.

Pop DJ

The main job of the pop DJ is to provide pleasant music to the audience and to entertain them well. He therefore attaches great importance to playing a balanced mix of popular music and finding the most suitable follow-up record for each record that keeps his program interesting. From a technical point of view, his work is limited to having the next record ready on time and creating a smooth transition to it. But more important than the technical ability of this type of DJ is the ability to meet the audience's taste or to influence the audience's mood.

Event DJ

This special type of DJ emerged from the recently increased demands of sports, business or lifestyle events. In addition to good moderation, the audience wants to be animated and accompanied by music adapted to the dramaturgy of the event. In contrast to a pop DJ, the event DJ is not the sole entertainer, but works in close cooperation with the moderator and the various protagonists of an event. The event DJ picks up the mood of the actors, the audience and the guests and, with the help of a comprehensive selection of music, can respond to the event according to topic and situation and reinforce the emotions of the audience. The specialty of the event DJ is the way they work. In addition to the necessary ability to recognize the musical taste of the audience and to be able to put on records, the event DJ also works with tailored music jingles that are played to match the events. These are pre-produced excerpts of songs that are intended to encourage the audience to either clap along, sing along or dance along, and can be quickly played in by the event DJ, tailored to the situation. Especially in the field of sporting events, the event DJ finds his main area of ​​responsibility due to the flexible way of working and the choice of music tailored to the event; Sports with frequent, shorter breaks, such as B. rugby or beach volleyball . The wedding DJ is a special form of event DJ. It has been observed since the beginning of 2005 that they no longer only deal with the musical entertainment of the wedding party, but also take on a large part of the planning. The close ties between the DJs and the owners of the appropriate venues, sound engineers, event photographers and caterers have meant that wedding DJs can act as a kind of intermediary between the industries and their customers, the wedding couple. This results in particular financial and organizational advantages for them. In addition, the entertainment of a wedding party is always a delicate task, as in addition to moderation and entertainment, it is always about controlling the mood, planning and steering the guests and their contributions as well as the course of the wedding celebration. The particular challenge here is to be able to react flexibly and spontaneously and to stay in the background as a DJ yourself.

DJ team

A DJ team usually consists of two people who often give themselves a specific team name, while as "solo artists" they still keep their individual names. The advantage (for organizers, audience & DJ) is that both drive each other. Furthermore, a wider range of styles of music can be played because everyone has their own individual taste. The type of performance develops after a certain amount of time. Some prefer to play in blocks. The DJs take turns after 3–5 titles. With perfect interaction, however, both operate the controls at the same time.

DJs specializing in music

Another type of DJ can be found at techno , house , Goa or jungle parties, as well as in some non-electronic music styles such as salsa and jazz : he is a specialist in a certain style of music. This DJ aims to maximize the hypnotic effect of the music he plays by smoothly mixing individual tracks into one another.

Many vinyl DJs consider the turntables by Technics , which have been produced since the 1970s and are very popular with DJs due to their durability and high quality, as reference record players .

Turntablism and hip-hop DJs

Another completely different type of DJ can be found in the field of hip-hop (and nu metal ), especially so-called turntablism - the boundaries are fluid. Here, DJing is seen primarily as a creative means of expression and great importance is attached to technical mastery of the turntable as an instrument . Beat juggling and scratching are particularly popular . DJing is a central part of hip-hop culture and is considered one of the four elements of hip-hop (DJing, MCing , B-boying and writing ).

An important factor in the motivation of DJs in this area is competition. DJs meet at so-called DJ battles to prove their skills under the eyes of a jury . A lively scene deals with exchanging self-recorded mixes, cuts and scratches over the Internet and measuring against each other.

With hip-hop DJs, it is common practice to turn the turntables 90 degrees to the left, i.e. with the tonearm at the rear, so that the tonearm does not interfere with scratching . This is usually referred to as battle mode.

DJs on the radio

The development of DJ culture began with the advent of music broadcasts on the radio. One of the first is the Briton Christopher Stone , who started an entertainment program with records on the BBC in 1927 . One of the most important pioneers was the American Alan Freed , who is considered the most successful DJ of the rock 'n' roll era and who himself played a decisive role in shaping the term.

Germany's first radio DJs were z. B. Rudi Rauher , who drove a brisk morning program with records that he put on behind the microphone at what was then WERAG ( Westdeutsche Rundfunk AG ), later Reichssender Köln , the forerunner of today's WDR . After the Second World War it was Günter Discher and the Englishman Chris Howland : He put on the radio once a week and is still known today by his nickname, Mr. Pumpernickel . In the 1950s his signature tune "Melody Fair" was played by Robert Farnon from the WDR's FM studio . Millions of people sat in front of the radio and listened to this popular program, in which there was relaxed chat and that certain something jumped over the listener in shirt-sleeved fashion. Chris Howland was considered a pioneer because of his natural nature. Hundreds of funk disc jockeys have followed him over the years.

The “big ones ” in the German-speaking world at the time - with radio - and partly also television careers - were Camillo Felgen , Chris Howland, Mal Sondock , Dieter Thomas Heck , Manfred Sexauer , and in the following years Frank Laufenberg . Probably the world's most famous and influential radio DJ was the Briton John Peel .

There are still DJs on the radio today for special programs. In one live there was the now set "Party services" with a few years ago Piet Blank and Mike Litt . The dance station sunshine live still has programs today where “real” DJs, e.g. B. Hang up Klubbingman and Felix Kröcher . The author's programs 1 Live Fiehe (Eins live; formerly Raum und Zeit ) and Schwarzmarkt ( eldoradio ) are also moderated by DJs, who only play according to their own tastes and not according to editorial specifications.

A “real” radio disc jockey was only considered to be someone who played their records in the studio themselves. For this purpose z. For example, the ARD companies set up special disc jockey studios in which the DJ had a desk with at least two turntables and the sound engineer only provided support, until the self-sufficient "self-propelled studios " (initially for the private and smaller ones) in the 1980s Broadcasters and later also on Austrian radio). In these, the radio DJ mixes the music into the current program without a technician. He also “drives” the jingles, drop-ins, pre- and backsellers. With some DJs on the radio, who are now referred to as moderators , the activity is limited to the announcement, while a technician takes care of playing the music.

Resident DJs

A resident DJ ( English resident "residents", "residents") or regular DJ plays regularly in a certain discotheque or club, at a certain series of events or at a certain radio station. Residents have a decisive influence on a club or a series of events and thus ensure audience loyalty. In clubs the residents often play before and after the invited, known as headliners , the best-known DJs of the evening.

Technique and Techniques


The SL-1210 MK2 of Technics , the world's most popular professional turntables
The mixer RM4200D DHD audio as the broadcast sector is used
Pioneer DJ digital controller
CD turntable from Pioneer

The most important tools of the DJ are his turntable or CD player and his mixer . Like all turntables for the DJ sector, they are pitchable (i.e. the speed is infinitely variable), with Technics in a range of −8 to +8% (a little more than a semitone ). Changing the speed also inevitably changes the pitch of the piece of music. Thanks to the powerful motorized direct drive, the devices are able to accelerate a braked plate back to the set speed in a short time. These qualities are essential for a professional DJ.

Over time, more and more digital media such as CD and later (or now mainly) PC or laptop were used by DJs. This started in the 2000s with the Pioneer CDJ players , which can access music from CDs. Later, more and more computer programs appeared that can be controlled using a DJ controller .

With the digital vinyl system , so-called timecode records can also be used for control. Traktor Scratch , Virtual DJ , Final Scratch or Rane Serato Scratch are important representatives of this variety. The manufacturers of DJ equipment are also increasingly researching CD players, which increasingly share the characteristics of turntables. There are now scratchable CD players such as the Vestax CDX-05. B. contains a vinyl filter with which CDs should sound like old records. But the change to MP3 is also being developed further for the DJs. Pure MP3 players such as the Cortex HDTT-5000 & Denon DN-HD2500 appear, which do not have any mechanical wear parts. These types of MP3 players are so extensive, additionally equipped with samplers, effects processors and other functions, that they take on many of the tasks of a mixer.

DJs place special demands on the mixer, which, however, vary significantly depending on the mix style (and thus mostly also depending on the music). The possibility of pre-listening is essential. Smooth-running faders and, due to the high listening volume, low noise and interference are also generally desirable. Well-known mixers are the DJM series from Pioneer , x: one from Allen & Heath and, among the hip-hop mixers, the PMC series from Vestax, HAK from Ecler or the TTM series from RANE.

In techno and house, emphasis is placed on a clean, frequency-discriminating equalizer so that, for example, a bass drum can be completely faded out. The standard is the 3-band equalizer (bass-mid-high). With the X: one 62, the manufacturer Allen & Heath brought the first DJ mixer onto the market, which also has a 4-band equalizer (bass-deep, mid-high, mid-high), which are normally only built into the professional segment. In this area, mixers with a large number of features - such as a beat counter or built-in effects devices - are in demand. The rotary mixer is also used occasionally. Basically, they are very simple mixing consoles, but their sound quality clearly stands out from the competition. They are also equipped on the level of the 70s and 80s, the crucial difference is that rotary mixers do not have faders (slide controls) as in general, but mostly large knobs (hence also rotary = rotating). This gives you a longer path and thus more play for a smooth transition.

Simple mixer with the important crossfader (
crossfader at the bottom)

In hip-hop, on the other hand, it is important that the mixer is robust and shows as little wear as possible. The hip-hop mixers are commonly referred to as battle mixers because the scratching, juggling, etc. comes from turntablism , with two DJs scratching each other in a duel called battle. Up until a few years ago, the equalizer was neglected, which means that almost all older battle mixers only have a 2-band equalizer (bass-treble). The trend with the newer battle mixers for about 2-3 years has been that the equalizer is no longer equipped with rotary potentiometers, but with sliding potentiometers. In the upper price range, there are always newer developments, especially with the crossfader , as it is the most used instrument on the battle mixer. There are the mechanical and the digital-electronic faders. The mechanical faders are usually worn out after a few months after intensive use, although there are very large differences from manufacturer to manufacturer. The electro-digital faders can usually only be found in the class from 500 €. They are characterized by the fact that they usually have a lower resistance and, thanks to the almost wear-free operation, have a significantly longer shelf life. The technologies vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, many manufacturers usually give an extra guarantee on their crossfaders, the manufacturer Ecler, for example, gives a five-year guarantee or 20 million cycles on its eternal faders.

The latest technology are DJ controllers, which look confusingly similar to a combination of two players and a mixer, but only have their operating elements and no technology of their own. Such controllers are remote controls for computer programs and can therefore only be operated together with a computer.



In Germany, techno DJs as artists pay a reduced sales tax rate if their work can be classified as a “concert”.


  • Boris Alexander Pipiorke-Arndt, Digital DJ-ing (DJing): Tips, tricks & skills for disc jockeys. Quickstart, Seeheim 2009, ISBN 3-940963-05-4 .
  • Ralf Niemczyk, Torsten Schmidt: The DJ manual. Second edition, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2000 (= KiWi 573), ISBN 3-462-02909-6 .
  • Laurent Garnier , David Brun-Lambert: electric shock. Hannibal, 2005, ISBN 3-85445-252-7 .
  • Ulf Poschardt : DJ Culture. Disc jockeys and pop culture. Revised and expanded new edition. Rowohlt Taschenbuch, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-499-60227-X .
  • Bill Brewster, Frank Broughton: How to DJ Right. The Art and Science of Playing Records. Grove Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8021-3995-7 .
  • Stephen Webber: Turntable Technique. The Art of the DJ. Hal Leonard, 2000, ISBN 0-634-01434-X .

Radio plays

  • DJ killed the pop star , WDR radio play, 2016

Web links

Wiktionary: DJ  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : DJs  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Bill Brewster, Frank Broughton: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. The History of the Disc Jockey . Grove Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8021-3688-5 , pp. 52 ff .
  2. Terry Noel interview ( Memento from September 21, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  3. ^ Discotheque Arthur NY in Section 3 - Jonny V ( Memento from August 10, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  4. Interview on the 1000th youth broadcast meeting point , May 19, 1971. German Broadcasting Archive
  5. ^ Judgment of the Federal Fiscal Court (BFH) of August 18, 2005 - VR 50/04