Become a Disc Jockey: Training and Career Roadmap

Jul 10, 2020

Should I Become a Disc Jockey?

In your role as a disc jockey, you can be the life of a party, the energy of a nightclub or radio entertainment for a commuter on the way home. You might play music and/or announce news, weather, sports and traffic information. There are some opportunities to be self-employed in this field, and you could work full-time or part-time shifts. If you do a radio show that runs late at night, you may be able to pre-record your show to prevent the need to work overnight hours.

Career Requirements

Degree Level A bachelor's degree is generally required
Degree Field Broadcasting, journalism or communications
Experience College/small radio station practice in broadcasting or with broadcasting equipment
Key Skills Speaking, research, writing, interviewing, interpersonal, proficiency with broadcasting tools and equipment, originality
Salary $30,201 (2015 median)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, PayScale

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Professional broadcasting is a competitive field, and most employers require disc jockeys to have a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism or communications. Many colleges and universities offer these programs, which typically explore mass communications, media law, ethics, reporting, journalism research, speech and broadcast writing. Some programs also include courses specific to radio broadcasting, such as voice and articulation, audio reporting, narrative radio, radio production and sound production. Whether working on the radio, in a club or on their own, disc jockeys might be responsible for updating and maintaining websites, so computer and Internet training while in school is also important.

Success Tips:

  • Gain experience while earning a degree. Entry-level disc jockeys may need previous experience, which can be acquired through internships and working for campus radio stations. Through these venues, students can network with radio station managers and other industry professionals, while learning the inner workings of radio broadcasting and ways to function on air.
  • Build a portfolio. Disc jockeys build portfolios by recording their shows or creating soundtracks that exhibit their expertise at mixing music and transitioning between songs, as well as highlight a clear, pleasant speaking voice. Disc jockeys can start collecting clips while still in college through campus radio stations and internships and continue adding clips throughout their careers. Constantly building a portfolio can help disc jockeys display their experience in order to advance to larger markets.

Step 2: Choose a Specialty

Disc jockeys can specialize in radio broadcasting, nightclubs or events, and they usually focus on a particular genre of music and/or listener demographic. Radio disc jockeys play pre-selected music, present news briefs, interview guests, write and record commercials, manage listener contests and discuss topics with listeners. Radio disc jockeys usually work set hours and sometimes attend community events.

Nightclub disc jockeys select and play music, preparing mixes and sound effects to keep guests entertained. Well-known disc jockeys are often approached by music publicists trying to promote new musicians or records. Late-night hours are common for nightclub disc jockeys. When first breaking into the industry, nightclub disc jockeys sometimes work for free on a club's off-night to establish themselves. They might bring and use their own equipment.

Disc jockeys also work at special events, commonly called gigs, such as bat and bar mitzvahs, weddings and parties. They may be self-employed or work for a company. Event disc jockeys may be well-versed in more than one music genre since they are more apt to work for diverse audiences.

Step 3: Gain On-the-Job Experience

While experience acquired during a degree program can be useful for aspiring disc jockeys, on-the-job experience after graduation is also important. Many new disc jockeys get started by working for radio stations in other capacities, such as operating broadcasting equipment or assisting with reports and interviews. Practical experience with seasoned professionals can provide knowledge as well as networking opportunities.

Most radio disc jockeys start out at smaller stations. Once they have some experience, have gained a following and are comfortable behind the microphone, they can advance to bigger stations with a broader listener base; such stations are usually found in larger cities.

Step 4: Focus on Building a Following for Career Advancement

Having a loyal audience can help a disc jockey advance to larger venues with better pay. Responsiveness to listeners, mastery of a specific music genre, organization, timing and the ability to ad-lib are all important aspects of gaining listeners. Concentrate on building a recognizable brand and social media presence to increase visibility.

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