DJ (disc jockey)

The Job and What's Involved

DJs (disc jockeys) 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, e.g. from drum machines and synthesisers, and sound effects. They 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 via phone, email, text and new communication technology, such as Twitter and Facebook. 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 lighting, 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.

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.

With some experience a DJ is likely earn around £50 to £300 a session. A DJ starting out at a local radio station may earn around £14,000 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 his or her booking agent.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

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 job, such as a broadcast assistant or engineer, and then move into presenting. This is a highly competitive field, with many more applicants than there are jobs available.

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 Ariel, The Stage and DJ Magazine. 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.

Education and Training

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 may be useful, often available through colleges and community music and recording projects. Other qualifications, including BTEC National Certificates and Diplomas, a foundation degree and degrees in music technology, audio technology, sound engineering and electronics may enhance technical skills, but are not essential for entry.

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

It is a good idea to get experience as early as possible. Working on student, hospital and community radio can be useful. Work experience placements may also be available through the BBC or commercial radio stations. RadioCentre can provide details of commercial radio stations to approach.

In addition, DJs would also need to prepare a demo tape 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, broadcasting or journalism, as well as practical experience. See the TV/Radio Announcer job guide for details.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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 like Cubase, Logic or Wavelab by taking short courses offered by colleges and private DJ training schools. These courses can sometimes be expensive, and since most are self-funded, DJs should check the course content carefully to ensure it is going to be useful.

CSV Media runs Media Clubhouses across the UK, offering training in radio interviewing skills. Networking is vital for DJs, and organisations like the Radio Academy and RadioCentre regularly run events throughout the year.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A DJ should have:

  • Wide knowledge of different music genres or an in-depth knowledge of his or her 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 their services.
  • Awareness of wider current affairs and news for radio work.

Your Long Term Prospects

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.

Very 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.

Get Further Information

BBC Recruitment, PO Box 48305, London W12 6YE
Websites:,, and

The Hospital Broadcasting Association.
PO Box 341, Messingham, Scunthorpe DN15 5EG

The Radio Academy,
5 Market Place, London W1W 8AE
Tel: 020 7927 9920

The RadioCentre,
77 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 5DU
Tel: 020 7306 2603

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 0808 0300 900

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