A Personal History of DJing
With summertime upon us, we get a bit of a break. Things slow down in the summer. Desert heat tends to do that. This gives us time to do the things that get neglected in the busy season. Like sleep. We also take time to look back over the previous months to see what went well and what we could do better. This time, we looked back a little further, and decided to write about the history of DJing according to one of our DJs, Andy. Below is what he wrote.
The story of DJs usually starts at the same place, and it”s true for me as well. When you have parents with a passion for music and a large record collection, it tends to rub off on you. That”s where my love of music started. I spent many summers poring over my parents’ record collection, marveling at the sleeves, mesmerized by the spinning records, listening to the crackle of the needle in the groove. It was magic. Each record was its own world of different sounds, and I listened to them all, from Abba to Frank Zappa.
I loved listening to the records, but it was something I could only do at home, on my parents” Pioneer stereo. Until I got a Panasonic boombox and a Sony Walkman, that is. Once I had those, I had my own means to playback music, and play I did. The boombox was used to make my own mixtapes. I would record songs off the radio, usually during the Top 40 Countdown, or from my parents’ collection. I would then use my Walkman to listen to the mixtapes on the bus on the way to school. I still have some of those mixtapes, and after recently listening to a few of them, I was surprised at the attention given to song choice. I didn”t just put any two songs together. I considered the energy, tempo, and whether or not the song faded out or ended cold, even though I wasn”t actually aware of what I was doing. I even inserted some of my favorite movie quotes in between some of the songs. Not an easy thing to do in the pre-digital world with only a boombox.
Throughout high school I rocked my Walkman and boombox. The next big jump in my DJ history was college. It was there that I got my first job as a DJ. A friend of mine worked at a local bar, and they needed a DJ. I thought I knew a thing or two about music, and my CD collection was vast (so I thought), so I applied and got the job. Immediately I learned that many of the records I loved didn”t really work in a bar/club setting. For example, Kansas” “Carry On My Wayward Son” is great song, but not really a dance-floor filler, and was definitely NOT what the dancing crowd wanted. They wanted dance music. I was sorely lacking in this.
I started frequenting record stores, picking up songs that had been requested the night before, listening to CDs, and looking for new jams. Any spare cash I had went to purchasing music. I kept this up for about a year, then I got a job at a mobile DJ company. Up to this point I had been DJing with CDs. CD players were more affordable than turntables, and that”s what the bar I worked at used- Sony single-tray CD players. The mobile DJ company added a new format to DJ with- minidiscs. They were pretty amazing at the time. You could put a full CD”s worth of music on a small disc enclosed in plastic. They were easy to transport and durable. I started making mixes on minidiscs, and I would DJ friends” parties with a Sony MZ-E40 minidisc Walkman. Seriously. I would DJ parties with just one MD Walkman. I used minidiscs and CDs for a while. This In addition, there’s more than 130 gaming options available for slots and video poker games. was fine, but I was limited to just playing back the music. I couldn”t beatmatch, because neither the minidisc nor CD player had a pitch control. I couldn”t loop a part of a song. It was hard to even cue a song up at a certain point.
That all changed with the Pioneer CDJ. In the mid-nineties, Pioneer introduced the CDJ-500, considered to be the first DJ CD player. They continued making them, and making them better, until I could afford a pair. By the time I got the money together, Pioneer was making CDJ-800s. I bought a pair of them, and I learned to beatmatch. I learned how to loop parts of a song. I could even scratch. The CDJ-800 took my DJ skills to another level, and gave me a deeper appreciation for DJs who had amazing skills on turntables, like DJ Z-Trip.
My CDJ-800s stayed with me for years, going to every gig, from backyard birthday parties to high school proms to resort weddings. After a while, I started seeing some other DJs using laptops, but I couldn”t imagine giving up my CDJ-800s. I held out against transitioning to laptop DJing for as long as I could, but eventually it became a necessity to change. Not only was my CD case heavier than ever, but I had clients that wanted things that a laptop could provide, like slideshow and video playback.
So I made the switch. I bought a Macbook, and started transferring my music library onto an external hard drive. I bought a DJ program called Serato, which allowed me to continue using my CDJ-800s, which I was thrilled about. Now I have more music with me, but less to carry.
I recently sold my CDJ-800s, and upgraded to a pair of CDJ-900s. I”m sure my gear will continue to change, and my personal history of DJing will continue to march on. But no matter what I”m using to DJ, it all comes back to one thing. The one thing that was present on my very first mixtapes- song choice. It doesn”t matter what gear you use, or how skilled you are, if you don”t choose the right song. I”ve been practicing this skill before I even knew what it was. It started with making mixtapes with my parents records, and it continues today every time I DJ.