Career spotlight: DJ / Producer

Vibe generators and masters of mood, DJ / Producers mix and create music to deliver unforgettable dance-floor experiences.
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What does a DJ / producer do?

DJs mix music for live audiences, usually in club or festival settings and on the radio. Through the use of techniques such as looping, adding effects and scratching, they alter the structure of tracks to build and maintain energy on the dance floor. However, there’s more to DJing than simply creating a seamless set. It’s about knowing what to play and when to play it to deliver performances that are perfectly suited to the moment.

To remain competitive, many DJs also produce their own tracks and remix the work of other producers. This process involves using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to create original sounds, manipulate samples, build beats and bounce tracks together to form a single piece of music. Many producers create live sets out of their music, making a mix out of parts of their own songs.


One and the same?

Whilst the roles of a DJ and producer are often conflated, not all DJs have to be producers and vice versa. That said, in today’s saturated musical landscape, being able to combine these skills does tend to put artists at an advantage.

"A lot of the time when I’m writing music I do think about how I want it to sound in a club. Almost kind of just imagining playing that tune live. I do write music thinking about if a DJ plays it, how long have they got to mix that tune in and certain little bits that can come in when they’re mixing to give them more reason to play my tunes.”
Courtney Beckford AKA Hi5Ghost (DJ, Producer and dBs alumnus)

“When I first started getting into music, DJing was an art form in its own right. I don’t really view it that way anymore. Everybody that I work or play with produces their own music and DJing is a secondary skill, but it earns them their living. So you produce your music, people like that music and then they want to see you play that music. For it to really work in my experience, you have to do both.”

Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs tutor)

The day-to-day

DJing and producing is not your standard nine to five. Working hours tend to be in the evenings as far as club slots are concerned, and whilst the radio timings can vary, DJs and producers have to be motivated to work hard all the time.

Music production tends to involve long hours in the studio developing, reworking and refining tracks. Similarly, DJs put in many hours behind the scenes – searching out new music, experimenting with track combinations, compiling set-lists and recording mixes.

DJs and producers most commonly work with promoters, bookers, other DJs and producers, as well as their booking agent/manager. Depending on what stage they are at in their career, a DJ/producer may also spend a lot of time managing the day-to-day business related to their role. Typical tasks may include building their brand, promoting their work, liaising with labels, communicating with fans, arranging bookings and negotiating contracts.

Why become a DJ / producer?

What DJ / producers love about their work


“There’s just something about being able to create those energies and being able to share the music you love with everyone else. Getting them to feel the same energy I do when I listen to a track is one of the best things.”

– Manami (DJ, Producer and dBs alumnus)

“Meeting so many different people, all the different stories. They all in their own way kind of inspire me to either try something new or to think something different about my whole process.”

Courtney Beckford AKA Hi5Ghost (DJ, Producer and dBs alumnus)

Where a career as a DJ / producer can take you

As well as producing their own music, successful club DJs may move into promoting, working for a record label or starting their own. Established radio DJs may progress into podcasting or other types of media work like TV and presenting.

Electronic music production can also open up a diversity of avenues such as producing sound for film, and games as well ghost-producing, mixing and mastering for other artists.

It's also possible to have a portfolio career, balancing DJ sets and music production with other projects, or to move into related areas of work in music education and community arts work.

Other considerations

DJs and producers have the freedom of working for themselves. Establishing yourself within this highly competitive sector requires hard work and determination, but those who manage it enjoy the freedom to set their own creative direction, choose the gigs they play and negotiate their pay.

The salary for DJs and producers is variable. The better known a DJ/producer becomes, the more they can charge.The net worth of the world’s biggest DJ and producers is huge – Calvin Harris for example is worth nearly £40 million, but only a small percentage of people make it to this level.

Most DJs and producers work in a freelance capacity, picking up fees for individual shows, as well as any profits from record deals and the sales of their music. Radio DJs with a regular slot on a station may enjoy a more stable salary.

Who is this role suited to?

DJs and producers tend to have distinct personalities, interests and skill sets. You may be cut out for this role if…

You are:

Creative – Standing out in the industry requires DJs and producers to develop a distinctive sound. To succeed in this role, you have to be innovative and unafraid to experiment.

Intuitive – The role of a DJ is to find a musical common ground. Great DJs consider the feelings of their audience to create a soundtrack that complements the existing atmosphere and vibe.

Versatile – Versatility, in both terms of musical styles and technologies is key.

Motivated – DJing and production is a line of work that relies on personal dedication to the craft, especially in the face of stumbling blocks.

You like:

Music – DJs are first and foremost music evangelists. If you want to excite and uplift an audience, you have to have an infectious love for the tracks you play.

Improving your knowledge – Music technologies and trends are always evolving. DJs and producers are constantly educating themselves to develop their style and optimise their technique.

Working independently – Working as a DJ means working hard, but also working for yourself. Both roles involve a lot of alone-time but also a lot of creative freedom and independence.

You're good at:

Networking To build up a fan base it’s essential to get to know promoters, talent buyers, as well as other DJs and producers. Maintaining positive relationships is important – you never know what will come of them in the future.

Creating content – Nowadays, social media is how most DJ/producers develop a following. Strong digital marketing skills are therefore essential.

Organisation It pays to be organised in this line of work, whether that’s in relation to your music collection, list of contacts or travel logistics.

Mixing and production – It may go without saying, but the ability to promote and organise yourself is only valuable when combined with a high level of technical and musical aptitude.

How do you become a DJ / producer?

There is no ‘right’ path into this role or a required set of qualifications. Many DJs and producers are self-taught and have extremely varied educational backgrounds. That being said, there are certain academic pathways that can accelerate your learning and teach you skills it would take many years to acquire on your own.

“To get into production I applied to come to dBs. I did the BTEC course then progressed on to doing the Electronic Music Production degree. Alongside that, every free minute I had outside of uni and my full-time job I would spend producing. For the four years when I was doing my degree, I’d only see my girlfriend for about four or five hours a week. That was how hard I had to work to turn this into a career where I can produce a living from DJing, producing and teaching.”

Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs tutor)

Once you have learnt to DJ and produce, you’ll need to hone your craft until you’re confident. When you are, the next step is to get out on the circuit and start playing as many gigs as possible, reaching an audience and developing your network. Whilst ‘playing out’ as a DJ is something you can only learn through doing, producers should take their time over their music, only releasing when they’re sure they’ve created something of quality.

“When you’ve made something and feel like it’s got potential, sit on it for a few weeks. If not maybe a month or two. Don’t start sharing it out with everyone and sending it to loads of labels because you’ll probably look back on it and think it’s really rubbish. You get better over time. There’s no rush. Patience is key.”

Manami (DJ, Producer and dBs alumnus)

Your next steps

Tips from the top

Manami (DJ, Producer and dBs alumnus)
Photo by Martin Eito
“When you’re first starting out as a DJ don’t be scared to just do the set and take it on. I think a lot of people try and wait until they feel ready about it. I don’t think you’ll ever feel ready, especially then. Sometimes I don’t feel ready.”Manami (DJ, Producer and dBs alumnus)

Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs tutor
“If you’ve got a passion you owe it to yourself to follow that passion as hard as you can without flinching, ever. Just do it. People are going to try and tell you no, that’s where a thick skin comes in, but make sure it’s always done for you and not for anybody else.”

Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs tutor)

Building your skills & portfolio

Recording mixes is an invaluable way to begin building a presence and promoting yourself, not to mention an essential process for DJs looking to refine their technique. It’s worth hitting the record button on every practice session you do. Even if a recording doesn’t make it onto your Soundcloud or Mixcloud, listening back and critiquing yourself will accelerate your learning process.

Producers should also retain a focus on their output. Whilst there’s no rush to start firing off your music until you’re ready, making sure you actually finish tracks is just as important as exploring your ideas and refining your technique.

"I kind of made this commitment to myself that whatever I work on in my studio, I work on until it’s finished. And then on my laptop, when I’m out and about, that’s my sketchbook, that’s where I throw up ideas. That way I have the freedom of being creative and I’ve got the focus of ‘I’m finishing this’. That’s how I develop my portfolio of finished ideas. Because nobody cares about ideas, if you’re trying to push yourself out there. They don’t want to hear ideas, they want to hear a track.”

Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs tutor)

Be sure to set up social media pages to share your music, alongside a range of content capturing your journey into DJing and production. Getting into a habit of photographing and videoing everything you do will help you to build up a bank of material you can dip into at any time. The key with social media is to create several categories of content that helps audiences connect with you. Mix in content that gives a sense of who you are as an individual with more generic material like footage from gigs, show and track artwork, setlists, gear photos and snippets of your mixes.

Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs tutor)
“They’re not just buying into your music, they’re buying into you.”

Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs tutor)

How dBs can help

For those looking to deepen their knowledge, our BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production degree is an excellent opportunity to build upon your fundamental knowledge and explore new and innovative methods of sound creation and manipulation using industry standard software. Our 2-year FdA Sound & Music Technology degree offers much of the same learning, alongside other areas of music production and composition as well.

At postgraduate level, the MA Electronic Music Production degree is a great way for already experienced producers to develop and advance their skills.


Not at the stage for university level education? The Access to HE: DJ & Electronic Music Production diploma provided by our educational partner, Access Creative College, will train you in essential music production techniques, both modern and traditional as well as essential skills based on DJ performance. Completion of this programme will equip you with the necessary skills and UCAS points to progress onto undergraduate study.

Useful Resources


How to DJ properly: The art and science of playing records by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life: The History Of The Disc Jockey by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton

The Secrets of Dance Music Production – Attack Magazine

Making Music: Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers by Dennis DeSantis

Many chapters of this book are available to read for free via Ableton’s website.

Mars by 1980 – The history of electronic music by David Stubbs

Articles :

Resident Advisor’s ‘The art of DJing’ series

Red Bull’s 15 tips on how to get your DJ career started

Crystal Mad’s 5 essential tips for festival DJs

The five stages of an electronic music producer

How to get noticed online as a DJ / producer


The dBs Masterclass Series – Learn from a range of industry professionals

Computer Magazine’s Computer Music Tutorials

Sound basics with Stella

DJ Tech Tools

The Turntable Tutorial Collection by DJ Angelo

The Pro Audiofiles – tutorials on mixing, mastering and producing music

“I help people forget about their real life for a few hours. I dig out and select tunes and put them in certain contexts to create certain moods and atmospheres in clubs. As a producer, I make beats for the dance floor to create my own moments.”
– Manami (DJ, Producer and dBs alumnus)
“Producing is expression. If I’m in a bad mood or something I just love that I can come up here and lay that out. And then with DJing, I just love being on stage. When I have 15 - 20 000 people in front of me, it blows me away. If I pull down the fader on the punchline just before the drop and everybody learns the lyrics – lyrics I’ve written – and you just see them scream it back to you, that makes all the travelling, the hours being on my own in airports and hotels worth it.”
- Crystal Mad AKA Matt Radley (DJ, Producer and dBs Tutor)