In the EDM & house world, one of the easiest ways to start a discussion is to ask a group of aficionados if DJs are musicians or not. EDM, techno, and other kinds of dance music have displaced rock as one of the most listened music genres, with people ditching their guitars for CDJs, and because of this, many people have started to call DJs musicians, with controllers and mixers as their new instruments. Now, is this really accurate? Are DJs really musicians or are they just glorified knob-turners and head-bobbers?
And the answer to that is that it depends on the DJ behind the controller. If the DJ in question is creating their own original mixes using song passages from other artists (as most DJs do) then you could make the argument that he is creating new music, hence being a musician. This is especially true if the DJ is adding in sound effects that significantly change the feeling of the original passages used. A DJ using a MIDI controller to touch up his mixes is using a software/hardware to produce musical notes, so he can definitely be considered a musician.
Not all DJs could be considered musicians though. There are many DJs out there that will simply use a premixed set for their performances instead of actually doing the mixing live. This person is definitely NOT a musician, and you could make the argument that he isn’t even a DJ either. Also, if the DJ is not adding much to the mix when it comes to effects and EQ work and instead he’s just adding different tracks without doing much else, then you could say that he’s not a musician either. Anyways, if you want to learn more about this, please read below!
So the first thing that I must say about this controversial topic is that it’s more of a personal opinion and not an absolute truth at all. Many EDM fans have differing opinions about this topic, with very convincing arguments both in favor and against. Below, I summarize some of the most common arguments people make confirming that DJs are musicians.
DJs have the ability to create drastically new music from 2 existing songs: One of the most common arguments in favor is that DJs can create a completely new song that doesn’t resemble the original pieces at all. To put you an example, I think we can all agree that the original “Prayer In C” is a drastically different song than the Robin Schulz remix, the result of a faster tempo, and some sound effects added in. These additional touches are good evidence that a DJ can be considered a musician, as long as he deviates substantially from the original recording.
There are myriad other examples in the music industry of DJs taking relatively obscure pieces, spicing them up and adding a few complementary passages, and creating smash hits in the process. If that is not an example of musicianship, I don’t know what is. One of the main characteristics of a musician is his creativity, and that is definitely shown in these cases.
Another big reason why DJs can be considered musicians is the fact that (some of them) do create completely new music from scratch. Many DJs tend to focus more on creating music using things like MIDI controllers, synthesizers, and keyboards, often adding the sounds to existing pieces. This is definite proof that DJs are musicians: the use of instruments, digital or not, is definite proof and it’s one of the main arguments that people have when discussing this point.
There are some DJs that even take it one step further and use live instrumentation alongside digital instruments. The combination of digital and acoustic instruments is simply more proof that DJs can be considered musicians too. As time goes on, traditional instruments are being used less and less, with digital instruments becoming more popular. The users of these new instruments definitely deserve the label of a musician.
Another key characteristic of a musician is his ability to create a sublime live performance. This is also definitely true for DJs. If you have ever gone to see a DJ live, you will notice how similar their performances can feel when compared to a more conventional artist. The similarities between a traditional artist and a DJ are more than apparent, often creating just as much buzz as a seasoned singer or rock band.
This is especially true if the DJ incorporates things like light shows that really add to the performance. I personally think that these effects can really add up to a musical experience, often enhancing the set for everybody in attendance. This is another reason why you can make the argument that DJs are musicians.
So just as we talked about the key arguments people often mention when talking about this topic, here are a few arguments explaining why DJs are not musicians.
One of the most common arguments that I have heard affirming that DJs are not musicians is the fact that most DJs do not really add anything innovative to the mixes that they create. This is definitely true, and I agree with this sentiment. DJs that tend to focus on more conservative mixes that do not differ too much from the original music shouldn’t be called musicians.
This type of mixing is really common in genres such as house where the BPMs are slower and the mixing is much more gradual and subtle. If this is the case, then I personally wouldn’t call the DJ a musician, especially if he isn’t doing too much EQ work or adding any special sounds to the mix.
Another argument often heard is that DJs are only concerned about the mixing of songs and how they sound when blended together. Another commonly heard argument is the fact that most DJs do not really have any musical education, often being proficient on their craft simply because of their experience on their controllers rather than any understanding of musical theory.
While I agree that most DJs do not have any formal musical training, that doesn’t mean that they do not deserve the label of a musician. The more involved the DJ is when it comes to the production of new music, the more I think he deserves the label of a musician. Anyways, whether Djs are actually musicians or not is more of a personal opinion than a fact.