The terms DJ and producer are often used synonymously. But while these two occupations have a lot of things in common, they’re fundamentally different fields. Both require a strong ear, an understanding of their audience, and a passion for music, but the way they manifest those talents are distinct. There’s a lot of crossover between these two fields, as many DJs operate as producers and vice versa. If you have an interest in music production, here’s what you need to know.
DJs operate in a similar capacity to a live musician, but they aren’t creating the music themselves. Instead, they create the playlists for their audiences and often remix together existing tracks to create a unique and original sound. Since DJs aren’t in debt to the needs of the original artists, they have a lot of flexibility in the music they make, and that gives them a range of creative freedom that producers don’t always experience. The amount of freedom enjoyed by DJs can vary significantly. Some work on the radio, providing the playlists for the listening audiences, while others serve as the performers at weddings and other events. Those looking for a little more creative leeway will perform at clubs and parties. But a DJ’s career is largely a freelance experience. Unless you work directly in broadcasting, you can generally expect to have to hustle and network directly to get work and provide all of your own equipment. A voracious taste for music is a practical prerequisite, since vinyl records are the canvas on which DJs paint their art.
Where DJs are beholden to their given audience, producers serve as the gatekeepers to artists and audiences, and that means being able to communicate with both. They take the raw music from musicians and polish them up to create an experience that the musician’s fans will enjoy. Music producers need to possess a thorough knowledge of music editing equipment and software, but the most important skill is a strong ear for tone and pitch. They often operate as interpreters for musicians, translating the message the musician wants to convey into a product tailored for their desired audience. While some of the most popular music producers work in the world of popular music, there’s a market for producers in any field that needs engineered sound. This includes film, television, and advertising.