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DJ Vs Producer: What’s The Difference?

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DJ-Vs-Producer In the Studio

DJ vs producer… they’re the same thing, right? Well, no. Not exactly.

As electronic music becomes more popular every year, it’s common to hear the terms DJ and producer used interchangeably as people known for playing electronic music.

But what do they actually do, and what is the difference between a DJ and a producer?

In a nutshell, the difference between a DJ and a producer is that a producer is someone who makes the music, and a DJ is someone who plays other people’s music as DJ set. You can also find producer DJs who do both roles by making their own tracks and playing live to crowds.

Now that you have a brief idea of the difference between the two, let’s take a closer look at each of their respective roles and responsibilities.

 

The Role Of A Producer

The Role of a Music Producer

First, let’s define the role of a producer as there are a few types depending on the style of music and genre that they work in.

As an overview, a producer is someone who creates music that is later released as tracks on an EP, a single, or an album.

They can work independently or collaborate with a team. The main role of the producer is to create the flavor and creative elements within a track, and this is achieved using various techniques.

 

Electronic Music Producers

A DJ Producing Electronic Music

Typically an electronic music producer creates music independently and crafts the style and genre of the music from scratch with a range of creative and technical methods noted below.

  • Sound design – Using electronic instruments to create the beat and other sounds in a track.
  • Sampling – Using small audio samples and repurposing them to create a desired style or mood for a track.
  • Composition – Introducing musical elements in a time sequence that makes the flow of the track (much like a verse and chorus structure in traditional music).
  • Mixing – Adjusting the volume of sounds to create an optimum and balanced mix of all sounds in a track.
  • Mastering – Technical evaluation and adjustments of the overall sound of a track to provide optimum performance on any sound system.

The end result is that a music producer will have created an original track using their own unique sounds and have a track that is ready for commercial release, either in physical form (vinyl, CD) or in a digital format like mp3. In the electronic music industry, this is referred to as an original mix.

 

Electronic Music Producers Who Remix Tracks

A DJ Remixing Tracks

Another common occurrence in electronic music is producers who remix other people’s tracks, often adding their own unique style and character to an original mix.

When a producer remixes a track, they are provided with stems of the original audio and then use a range of technical and creative techniques to change the musical style of the original track.

The changes can be subtle or very dramatic depending on the person who is remixing.

A producer who is remixing will receive each stem containing a music element, such as the kick, bass, percussion and hi-hats, synths, and vocal elements.

Then they choose what elements they will use to create the remix and what degree of the original style of the track is retained.

They often use a range of creative sampling techniques while remixing, which involves using the original sample stems and changing them to create something new and unique.

They also add or remove elements to create their desired genre and unique style. Producers often become well known for remixing tracks, especially early in their career, where they remix more well-known artists’ tracks.

As a result, many remixed tracks have become more successful than the original after a few years of airplay!

 

Music Producers For Bands

A Music Producer Recording A Band

A producer that works in band-oriented genres of music has a slightly different role.

They are more technically focused and are responsible for the recording of the vocals and live musical instruments that are played by the band.

Producers for band music usually have a less creative input and focus on getting each element that a band member plays sounding as good and professional as possible.

They are usually very technically focused and will know the equipment used by each band member and also how to record it with optimum audio quality.

Once each element is recorded as stems, it is the producer’s job to put all of the stems together and create the final product that would be used for a commercial release.

They will mix a track which means they adjust the individual volume levels of each stem to get them sounding balanced.

Many production techniques are applied post-production once each musical element in the band has been properly recorded in a professional music studio.

This involves a range of techniques such as using EQ (equalization) and compression and mixing to balance a song’s audio dynamics (namely the bass or low-end, the mids, and the highs).

A band producer may also add effects and make subtle changes to a recorded stem. For example, they may edit a vocal stem to retain tune and stay in time with the beat.

It is very common in pop music for a vocal to be auto-tuned, meaning that the vocalist recording doesn’t need perfect pitch.

Band producers may also add delays and reverb effects to the overall sound to gel a mix together and have it sound full and professional.

 

Do Band Producers Have Their Own Sound?

Yes, many producers are famous for creating a particular sound that attracts bands from specific genres to use their production techniques. A few examples are:

 

The Role Of A DJ

DJ-Vs-Producer: DJing in front of a crowd

The role of a DJ is to take a pre-recorded track made by music producers and then play those tracks in a DJ set to an audience.

The DJ’s ultimate role is to keep people on the dancefloor no matter the event, genre of music, or location.

There are a few different types of DJs in this regard, all with their own unique performance strategies.

 

Club And Resident DJs

Much as the name suggests, these DJs focus on providing a reliable source of new music to an audience at a club or music venue. Clubs will usually have one or two resident DJs whose job is to start the night and warm up the crowd for the featured DJ.

The featured DJ will be invited by the club or an event promoter and will be the headliner or star of the show, often bringing years of experience and a music catalog that will keep their fans dancing long into the night and early morning!

Many famous DJs are well known for bringing a certain style or genre of music to life with carefully planned DJ sets.

 

International DJs / Festival DJs

Come summertime anywhere in the world, the electronic music scene buzzes with regular festivals being held.

These events attract hundreds of thousands of people, and festivals can run from a few hours to many consecutive days, featuring a full spectrum of musical genres.

At any festival, there will be multiple DJs booked in advance to perform. It is the job of the event planners and promoters to curate a selection of talented local and international DJs who appear on the festival lineup.

Large festivals are the big business side of electronic music, with many internationally recognized DJs receiving huge payments for just a 1 or 2 hour DJ set.

It’s also common for these big-name DJs to travel to multiple festivals worldwide, often performing two or three times a day in different countries and in multiple time zones.

 

DJ Streamers And Broadcasters

With the ever-changing landscape of electronic music, it has become a regular occurrence for music promoters and DJs to create DJ sets and live sets for internet streaming and broadcasting.

Most of these events are recorded using multiple cameras and specialized audio equipment and can feature stunning or remote locations that are not typically associated with electronic music.

They are either attended by a small audience of loyal fans or sometimes feature a solitary DJ performing in a stunning abstract landscape.

From sets in hot air balloons floating over the ancient city of Cappadocia in Turkey (see video above) to the stunning set played by Nina Kraviz atop the Eiffel Tower as the sun sets over Paris, there is no end to the creative locations used! It’s easy to see why these curated DJ sets are so appealing, acquiring millions of views.

A leader in content creation for the digital domain is Cercle which creates unique experiences by producing, organizing, filming and broadcasting their elaborate and exotic productions featuring DJs at the top of their game.

Catering to a wide audience is also part of the appeal. Not only are they filmed in incredible settings throughout the world, but they also feature a range of musical styles and genres from well-respected and internationally acclaimed DJs in-house, techno, and EDM.

Cercle has over 1.93 million subscribers and over 190 videos on its YouTube channel.

With millions of views sometimes on one video, large festivals and events also took note and quickly followed suit. Nowadays, videography, production, and broadcasting of DJ sets are often as valued at the main festival or event as the music itself.

 

Rise Of The Virtual DJ

With the closure of international borders and the banning and cancellation of thousands of festivals and music events worldwide from early 2020, many DJs were left with little opportunity to perform and sought creative avenues to maintain their profession.

Many well-known DJs have started regular livestreams that brought previously unseen elements of personality and intimacy to the biggest DJ names in the business.

Fans are able to tune in via streaming platforms and watch famous DJs play music from their own homes. This has brought the meteoric rise of the virtual DJ and virtual festival.

Large festivals like Tomorrowland provided an interesting and creative alternative to the cancellation of their physical IRL (In Real Life) festival in 2020. They held a virtual festival complete with a world-class DJ lineup immersed into a virtual world.

The virtual festival was a huge success and was created in just over three months, providing an interesting glimpse into what could become a new avenue for DJs and producers to reach their fans.

 

The World’s Most Popular DJs

DJ Vs Producer: DJ Marshmello

No matter what style or genre of music you’re into, there are plenty of local and international DJs catering to every sound imaginable.

Here’s a list of some of the hottest DJs that are worth keeping an eye out for.

EDM House Techno
Martin Garrix Claptone Dubfire
David Guetta Peggy Gou Nina Kraviz
Calvin Harris Jamie Jones Adam Beyer
Armin Van Buuren Seth Troxler Amelie Lens
Tiësto Fatboy Slim Carl Cox
Steve Aoki Kerri Chandler Anna
Eric Prydz Maceo Plex Jeff Mills
Skrillex Sven Vath Ellen Allien

 

Are DJs Musicians?

DJ-Vs-Producer: A DJ Musician

There’s a lot of debate about whether DJs should be considered musicians in their own right.

Many DJs are also producers creating their own sound and releasing their own music, often under their own label or a much-respected international music label.

In this instance, yes, DJs who are producers are very much the perfect example of a musician who creates electronic music for the purpose of commercial release.

As many DJs now use increasingly complex DJ setups to perform, the element of simply playing one track and mixing it into another has also expanded.

It’s more and more common that DJs are using hybrid DJ sets, where they sample or use original pre-recorded tracks and then layer their own unique elements, such as new kick drums and percussion elements, over the top of a track to provide it with more energy.

This technique of hybrid mixing merges production and DJing and is how many DJs make music that you hear at many clubs and festivals.

This is considered an art form in the musical community and ticks many of the boxes that would qualify them as what’s thought of as a traditional musician.

Nowadays, as electronic music becomes more accepted by the mainstream, DJs are increasingly recognized as musicians in their own right and share the fame and limelight that was previously reserved for big-name pop and rock stars.

 

Do DJs Produce Music?

A DJ Producing Music

Yes, it’s very common that you’ll find a DJ producing their own music, and many electronic artists will refer to themselves as a producer DJ.

Being a producer DJ provides them with a unique sound, and often DJs play their own unreleased tracks at clubs and festivals. This provides them with an opportunity to road test and tweak their tracks before committing them to a commercial release.

DJs will often provide their own productions to other DJs to play to increase marketing exposure before a commercial release. This is very common within the DJ community and is called a promo release.

As we mentioned earlier, remixes also play a huge role in promoting and collaborating with new and talented but lesser-known music producers.

This allows a new producer to stamp their own unique sound on an existing track and has been used by many up-and-coming DJ producers to launch their careers.

DJs who don’t produce their own music may still make music in the form of creating diverse and creative DJ sets, where they loop or mix different tracks providing a unique sound.

 

Summary

Whilst it’s not always easy to differentiate between a DJ and a producer, the main difference between them is that a DJ plays pre-recorded commercially released tracks to an audience.

A producer, on the other hand, creates the tracks usually in a music studio and later releases them commercially.

Both professions are linked in many ways, and as technology advances, the differences between what defines a DJ and a producer will continue to merge.

All in all, both have the same goal: to provide the best quality music to their loyal fans and followers.

 

Are you a DJ, producer, or both? Leave a comment below.

Matt's the guy behind Audio Captain. He's a qualified sound engineer and self-confessed music nut who's passionate about electronic dance music. When he's not writing about all things audio, you'll find him in the gym or working on his next EDM track.