More Than “DJs”

more than djs 2

An editorial by Andrew Kang

Recently, Forbes published an article stating that “DJs” such as David Guetta, Tiesto, Skrillex, and Steve Aoki made upwards of $10 million this past year. With that in mind, the general public has come to question why DJs are making millions of dollars. The public’s general belief is that these “Electronic Cash Kings” have amassed their fortunes by replaying music created by others and twiddling some knobs on stage. But we know better; we know David Guetta, Tiesto, Skrillex, and deadmau5, are more than DJs.

There certainly is an art to being a DJ. A quality DJ needs the ability to read a crowd, on-the-go, and precisely cue up the next track. Every DJ strives to mold a musical experience that evokes the best response from the crowd. There certainly is a lot more to DJing than just “pressing play”. With enough practice and the right skills, one can become a quality DJ, but I’m not here to discuss the art of DJing.

If you didn’t know, the term DJ stands for disc jockey. DJs often use songs produced by various artists in order to stitch together what they believe to be the most appropriate and best musical experience.

So how are deadmau5, Tiesto, Kaskade, and Afrojack, not DJs? They are DJs, but what’s most important is that they are producers.

It’s a shame that the majority of society perceives EDM artists as elementary knob twiddlers, ignoring the fact that most actually compose their own original music.

Although EDM producers have certainly used DJing to advance their careers, every single one of the top ten “Electronic Cash Kings” are producers. These EDM artists may include productions from other artists during live sets as DJs, but they “borrow” others works to provide their fans with the best musical experience.

So why does everyone think these “Electronic Cash Kings” are only DJs? Why aren’t EDM artists primarily regarded as producers?

Think about the times you’ve mentioned EDM artists such as Guetta, Avicii, and deadmau5, to your non-EDM colleagues. I bet they labeled and perceived them as DJs and not producers.

EDM producers have been perceived exclusively as DJs by the masses. This perception is a direct result from the fact that the public almost always sees EDM producers performing as DJs at their live shows.

EDM producers DJ because it allows them to gain a great amount of value from the endless hours they’ve put into composing their original productions.

As EDM producers began to embrace DJing more and more, for live performances, the public naturally began to perceive the producers only as DJs. With that in mind, the media also began labeling these producers as DJs, rather than producers who use DJing as a tool to host live performances. This in turn caused the masses to assume that top EDM artists such as Swedish House Mafia, Dillon Francis, and Zedd are purely DJs.

In an interview with Joel Zimmerman, aka deadmau5, Joel expresses the fact that he is a producer first.

“DIAZ: Ok. So what would you want people to know about you outside of the DJ world, what preconceived notion would you want them to know isn’t true.
DEADMAU5: I’m not a DJ. That’s what I’d want them to know. I’M NOT A DJ. At least for now I’m not one. I’ll get better I promise (laughing) one day I’ll upgrade to a CDDJ but for now you’re just going to have to deal.
DIAZ: So what do you consider yourself?
DEADMAU5: I’m a producer first. I mean this is really only my second month in performing and being in a night club. This is all new territory for me but not so much with the technology”


Joel Zimmerman, better known as deadmau5, was the #4 DJ in the world according to’s 2011 “Top 100 DJs” poll. This interview is a prime example of how even those within the industry such as DJMag perceive EDM artists as DJs; he certainly wasn’t please and still isn’t today.

DJing became the obvious solution for producers because it allowed EDM artists to perform their own original productions in a live setting. DJing also gave EDM producers the opportunity to provide their fans with a tangible and emotional live experience. Although the majority of EDM artists were initially producers, they’ve embraced DJing to host live performances for its ability to produce revenue.

EDM artists and labels have come to understand the fact that the new generation prefers to practice piracy rather than pay for music from Beatport or iTunes.  Although this new generation has piracy ingrained in their lifestyle, the new generation is more than willing to pay for a tangible experience with their favorite EDM artists. Top tier festivals and EDM events usually range from $50-150 a night. Ultra Music Festival this past year was $350+ and Electric Daisy Carnival was $320+ but still, both three-day festivals had attendances around 300k.

How many times have you bought your favorite artists music legitimately? But how many times have you gone to a festival or show?

Even if the general public understands that EDM artists produce they still believe that producing EDM is mindless and elementary. There’s the common notion that EDM producers only push a couple buttons in their Digital Audio Workshop computer programs to produce originals.

Contrary to popular belief, production is not a simple task by any means; high quality production is a very complex process. Although the best EDM artists may nonchalantly produce a great track, they’re only able to do so because they’ve been mastering their art for years. Although society may question the artistic abilities of EDM artists, there is no doubt that great EDM production requires advanced levels of musical knowledge, creativity, and skill.

So how do EDM artists produce? Most artists today primarily produce using a Digital Audio Workshop.

Digital Audio Workshop programs give EDM producers the ability to create an entire song, with a wide range of elements, from individual sounds. Producers often utilize virtual sound packs that include sounds of most instruments. DAWs such as FL Studio or Ableton, may provide an artist with sound packs, but it is the artist’s duty to mold each sound available, into something unique. After molding a unique sound using the powerful production software available, an EDM producer must then musically synchronize it with a combination of other sounds he/she has created. After compiling all the sounds together into one continuous track, producers then polish their production by adjusting various parameters of the production. This final process is known as mastering.

Now you know why Madonna had Martin Solveig, an EDM producer and DJ, produce her album “MDNA”.

If you want an inside look into EDM production, check out this clip that shows you how to create a simple beat.

After most give EDM a quick listen, most believe that EDM producers only create simplistic dance beats dominated by “womp womps” and “untz untz”, but with a more in depth listen, its easy to see that EDM artists do create unique and complex melodies and harmonies beyond the dance beat.

When it comes to creating harmonies and chord progressions, one of the EDM producer’s main instruments is the keyboard. One type of midi controller is the keyboard. A keyboard midi controller bridges the gap between a producer’s ability to develop melodies and then use it within a DAW. A midi controller is a device that reads the physical inputs that a producer creates and translates them into a format readable by a powerful Digital Audio Workshop. The midi controller is an essential tool that allows producers to create beautiful chord progressions, complex syncopations, and dynamic effects with the unique sounds they’ve synthesized.

Check out araabMUZIK perform some Dubstep live with an Akai MPC.

Midi controllers are some of the most vital instruments to producers. A midi controller can be an EDM producer’s guitar, while his synthesizers are his/her electric guitar effects unit. Although anyone can play chords and strum a guitar, creating syncopations, melodies, and effects with midi controllers essentially requires one to be able to understand the concept of instrumentation.

Zedd playing ‘Spectrum’ beautifully on the piano.

The general public questions the success of “DJs” because they don’t realize that the most successful EDM artists actually became famous by creating their own original productions. It is undeniable that EDM producers are highly talented musicians, and anyone who casts doubt upon that fact certainly doesn’t see the full picture.

Ultimately EDM producers, such as David Guetta, deadmau5, Hardwell, and Nicky Romero, do in fact DJ. More importantly, the success of these “Electronic Cash Kings’” is deeply rooted within their abilities to combine their creative, artistic, and production skills with technology to create their unique and often misunderstood musical identities.

At this moment in time, EDM has taken the forefront of the music industry and has become arguably the hottest umbrella genre of music. As EDM becomes more recognized by mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, Huffington Post, and even The Rolling Stones, the general public will have various misconceptions as to the facts behind EDM and its vibrant and rich culture.

It’s unfortunate that the rest of society and major media publications often cast doubt upon the success of the highly talented artists pioneering EDM, but at least our culture understands and appreciates the hard work that EDM artists have put into creating music that provides us with amazing experiences.

Big ups to all the producers on their grind every day, spending day and night in their studios to produce amazingly beautiful music that brings us all together to dance as one. Thank you.

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