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What Makes A Good Club DJ?

Updated on January 28, 2010

It's About Time Somebody Let The Cat Out Of The Bag

By the time you've finished this article, you'll know what the experts have to say and you'll have heard my not-so-humble opinion. Before we begin, you are cautioned to ignore what curiosity did to my friend pictured above.

Who Are The Experts And What Do They Say?

DJ Magazine is a monthly magazine that is generally recognized as one of the largest selling dance music magazines in the world. Beginning its publication in 1991, this magazine now has a circulation of more than 30,000 copies monthly and is so popular that it is translated into numerous languages.

Each year, DJ Magazine publishes its list of the top 100 DJ's based upon public votes. I would consider the top ten identified DJ's to be reliable experts on what it takes to be a good DJ. Here's what they have to say on the subject:

#1 Armin Van Buuren - "Timing and character."

#2 Tiësto - "A great DJ can adjust to the crowd, make them go crazy but still be able to do his own thing."

#3 David Guetta - "A great crowd."

#4 Above & Beyond - "Good taste in music, an open mind and experience."

#5 Paul Van Dyk - "The confidence of knowing what your own sound is. And not being a snobby ass and playing for yourself."

#6 Deadmau5 - "Their taste in music. It's a little bit of technical know-how, but 90% of it is the music you play."

#7 Ferry Corsten - "Knowing how to entertain the crowd. You're not there to educate. You should present new music without forcing it down people's throats."

#8 Markus Schulz - "Unique style and understanding of the momentum in the room."

#9 Gareth Emery - "Knowing the crowd is a fundamental requirement and looking like you're enjoying it."

#10 Sander Van Doorn - "A lot of interaction with the crowd. Playing a set is about educating on one hand, but also playing music that the people are there for."

My Not-So-Humble Opinion

As a proficient Latin dancer who has taught more than 800 people to dance and who has attended dozens of Latin dance clubs, I am not without my opinions regarding what makes a good DJ.

As DJ Paul Van Dyk implied, a DJ who plays for himself is no more than a snooby ass. Of course, it's natural for performing artists, and I consider DJ's to be such, to have big egos. However, when a DJ plays for himself, the listeners and dancers know it and they quickly recognize that the DJ is too egotistical to listen to his/her clients and to serve them well. A truly professional DJ will keep an open mind as Above & Beyond indicates, and will keep his/her finger on the pulse of the audience.

DJ Ferry Corsten says that a DJ should "present new music without forcing it down people's throats." Wow! He is so right. While it's appropriate to rely heavily upon music that you know is tried and true, you have an obligation as a DJ to introduce new music to your audience. This is what keeps the experience fresh for your fans. Balancing your desire to teach and to expose your fans to new music with their ability and readiness to accept it, is an art that must be mastered.

Knowing the crowd's taste in music is imperative according to DJ Deadmau5. My experience bears witness to this. When a DJ in a Latin club plays lots of salsa and small amounts of the other Latin genres, he/she will only be considered a good DJ by the crowd if they like listening to salsa music and enjoy dancing to it. While a Latin club population consisting of large numbers of Caribbean Latins may fit this description, a Latin club population consisting primarily of people of Central and South American decent would likely not. Of course, this is not exclusively true and it's the DJ's job to know the musical likes and dislikes of his audience.

Curiously missing from the opinions of the experts, is a point that I stress often. While it's not imperative that a DJ know how to dance, it really can make a significant difference and it's sometimes what separates the average DJ's from the excellent ones. As a lead-and-follow partner dancer, I feel a very strong need to dance to music that motivates me and that has a discernable beat that I feel all throughout my body. I assume the same is true for dancers of other types of music as well. Therefore, it seems to me that, a DJ who knows how to dance will feel the music as his dancing audience does and will know what it is they expect.

Now What?

Now that you know what the experts say and you're aware of the opinions expressed by this author, make up your own mind and decide who's the best DJ by using your newly acquired educated and critical eye.

Items Of Interest To DJ's And Aspiring DJ's


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    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 4 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      Yeah I agree with you totally. I haven't really seen any of the DJ's dance much, if at all, which is really frustrating

    • ElGringoSalsero profile image

      ElGringoSalsero 4 years ago from Palm City, Florida

      @Anna - The only way to "knock some sense" into a DJ is to teach him/her how to dance. Then, presumably, he/she will play danceable music. However, don't get too excited by this idea. I once taught a Latino DJ to dance salsa and then gave him a CD with thee songs on it. The third one was a really bad dance song that he played frequently. After I asked him about the three songs and how well he was able to dance to each of them, he said: "Oh, I already had those three songs." Well, duh, the idea was to show him that he needs to play danceable music and he ain't never gonna learn. There's just too much ego inside some supposed professionals for them to open their minds to learning. When we close our minds to learning, we are no longer professionals.

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 4 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      Even though I'm not a DJ, I still found this article to be very useful and informative. I dance salsa a LOT and usually the DJ isn't so great and puts on stupid a$$ remixes that transition too quickly from one song to another or have a weird beat put on them so you can't really dance to them. I wish you lived in Chicago and could knock some sense into these guys!


    • profile image

      halfamazing 5 years ago

      Hey ElGringoSalsero - I don't know if I will be reading this again but hope you do. That was really cool of you to step back on your comment regarding requests. Not to0 many people are able to reflect and apologize for not seeing things the same way the first time. I totally respect your actions and I just had to spend these 3 minutes expressing it.

      Good on you brother!

    • profile image

      International Dj Storm(kenya) 5 years ago

      They play good music

    • jaysamuelli profile image

      Jay Samuelli 5 years ago from NYC

      great article

    • profile image

      DJ Kleen 5 years ago

      yea - there's def a diff between the DJ's themselves... Tiesto vs Gueta.... i dunno... i think that should be * - as tied.... i'll spin ANY of their remixes during my set.....

      see - in theory - you don't need to separate each DJ's opinion. It should be just one big Tutorial because honestly - just because you put in a cd, turn on an mp3 / ipod or lay down wax - that doesn't make you a DJ.

      Why, you ask? Being a club DJ takes WORK... watchen the crowd, trying new music, working the props (e.g., disco, floor, smoke) knowing your audience and blending mixing right at the pinnacle.... the dancer is taken on a journey of music and you make a few bucks in for the rest of the DJ's - the EXACT SAME THING - but with different enthusiasm.... tellen the bride shes a fine sumthen now get out on the floor n shake that thang or a kids birthday party? 50/50 on the reception..... and you'll never do another kid party again....

      .....being a DJ is more than playing music, its more than an attitude - it's being fine tuned to music... hearing when you can drop a loop, listening to the crowd response....watching the crowd response.... i've cut songs in the middle and moved on in the set if there is no reaction...

      Bottom-Line - - being a DJ, no matter the classification, is hard work. and it's not 1986 anymore.... back then - the DJ was the life of the party - we had center stage - and you HAD to come correct....

      Fast-forward to now and unless you grew up with the "DJ Red Alert's", "Jam Master J's (RIP)", and many others - you would think the DJ is just the guy in the corner playen music i wanna listen to while i wait for my fave rapper or ceremony begins.

      what they don't know?

      ....................The DJ is STILL the Life of the Party................

      4 years in the club DJ'n.... now I do it for the Youth.

      ~Minister Smith aka dJ Kleen (Psalms 51:7 & 10)~

    • ElGringoSalsero profile image

      ElGringoSalsero 5 years ago from Palm City, Florida

      TY for educating us about the differences between the club DJ and the wedding/birthday/anniversary DJ. While there are similarities, I think you pointed out an important distinction.

    • profile image

      Tom 5 years ago

      People think that DJs are for pubs and clubs only but recently the surge for wedding/birthday/anniversary DJs is overwhelming and club/pub DJs need to adapt to theese venues for example in clubs I judge the crowds reaction to certain types of music and play accordingly but if I get booked for weddings etc... I take down requests and play "cheesy" songs like "oops upside your head"

    • ElGringoSalsero profile image

      ElGringoSalsero 6 years ago from Palm City, Florida

      After your comment and rereading his, I think you are probably right. I hope he reads this again so he can see my heartfelt apology. You are so very right about requests. When I provide the music, I post a sign that says "appropriate requests accepted". We definitely see eye to eye on this issue.

    • DoctorDarts profile image

      DoctorDarts 6 years ago

      Don't think he's really saying that though dude; if 'his thing is their thing' then he IS giving them what they want. I'm a musician for a living and I get requests every week that are totally inappropriate for the venue/audience, so obviously-as I'm sure you know-you can't always say yes to every request. Sounded to me like that was all he was saying. But either way, good article, I enjoyed it.

    • ElGringoSalsero profile image

      ElGringoSalsero 7 years ago from Palm City, Florida

      Sorry to hear that your ego got the better of you. Egotists love it when the audience adapts to them and real professionals actually know how to please an audience. That's your job buddy. Grow up!

    • profile image

      frankphilip 7 years ago

      I can agree to some of thoose.

      but actually, music taste and technical skills=THAT'S IT.

      seen so many big DJs who mixes Intro/outro all the time :S .

      listening to the crowds desire? well ofcourse yes, but it depends. if you are playing in a House club you shouldn't listen to the audiences requests, they should've known better before they entered a house club.

      end of discussion. i do my own thing at places where my thing is their thing, and they love it!

    • ElGringoSalsero profile image

      ElGringoSalsero 7 years ago from Palm City, Florida

      I agree with you Benny. Learning to be a really good DJ is not a simple task. Anyone who thinks it is, needs to try it some time. It's very humbling. Also, you are correct about the need to continually learn. A DJ is just like a teacher. If you want to teach, you need to be a life-long learner.

    • profile image

      DJ Benny 7 years ago

      Go DJs are the ones who never stop learning. Learning how to become a quality DJ isn't easy but nothing worth doing is. Getting your hands on the resources you mentioned is a great place to start, be careful though Djing is highly addictive!

      Nice one ElGringo.

    • ElGringoSalsero profile image

      ElGringoSalsero 8 years ago from Palm City, Florida

      I felt so lucky to have found this photograph when I decided to write this hub. Thanks for you comment.

    • yenajeon profile image

      yenajeon 8 years ago from California

      Awwww cute Kitty DJ! LOVE that picture =)

    • ElGringoSalsero profile image

      ElGringoSalsero 8 years ago from Palm City, Florida

      Dear Info Help. Thank you so much for your kind words. I took the time to check out your hubs and was most impressed with your 3 in 1 approach. As an educator and parent, I think you've come across a great way to interact with your children that benefits all of you immensely.

    • Info Help profile image

      Info Help 8 years ago from Chicago

      Great hub! I have seen Tiesto as well as Oakenfold live and they are both excellent djs. Thanks for sharing this! I am a fan :)

    • profile image

      cnhay5 8 years ago

      In my opinion, They play good music... some are terrible!


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