What Is A ‘Mobile’ DJ Supposed To Know?


In an article published just over two years ago titled “What Is A DJ Supposed To Know?”, I expressed an opinion that inherently, first and foremost, a DJ is ‘supposed’ to know about music. Reading that article again with hindsight being 20/20, I can see that much of what I wrote in that article was fueled by my own personal opinion coupled with a great passion for music, specifically ‘popular’ music.

Although I still believe this to be true, admittedly, I acknowledge that a DJ must posses some additional skill sets in order to execute his duties as a DJ… Particularly the Mobile DJ. Stating the obvious, it would help if the DJ was familiar with and had a general understanding of acoustics, sound and amplification equipment, as well as emerging technologies and platforms on which play music. At the same time, there are some other extracurricular skill sets which might also enhance the Disc Jockey’s ability to do his or her job correctly, some of which I hope to cover here. To begin, I searched the term ‘Disc Jockey’, and came up with this definition:

A Disc Jockey, also known as DJ, is a person who selects and plays recorded music for an audience. Originally, disk referred to phonograph records, while disc referred to the Compact Disc, and has become the more common spelling. Today, the term includes all forms of music playback, no matter the medium.

There are several types of Disc Jockeys. Radio DJs or radio ‘personalities’ introduce and play music that is broadcast on AM, FM, shortwave, digital, or internet radio stations. Club DJs select and play music in bars, nightclubs, discothèques, at raves, or even in a stadium. Hip Hop Disc Jockeys select and play music using multiple turntables – often to back up one or more MCs. They may also do turntable scratching to create percussive sounds. In reggae, the DJ (deejay) is a vocalist who raps, “toasts”, or chats over pre-recorded rhythm tracks while the individual choosing and playing them is referred to as a selector. Mobile DJs travel with portable sound systems and play recorded music at a variety of events.

The definition suggests that in each instance, aside from the playing of (and therefore knowledge of) music, there are ‘specialists’. Varied types of DJ for various applications, each possessing unique skill sets that lend to their specific responsibility or ‘type’ of DJing. Aside from the Reggae and Hip Hop varieties, I have personal experience in the other three roles; Club DJ, Radio DJ and Mobile DJ, the latter two requiring an additional skill set in common – the use of the microphone. The use of the microphone, and the ability to articulate correctly and properly while using it, is a learned skill, and something that naturally – like anything else – evolves and improves with time.

Further examining the Club DJ versus Radio DJ, I think it’s fair to assert that each has their strengths aside from music knowledge.  In most cases, the Club DJ has a much greater technical ability than the Radio DJ, but is often more fluent in a specific style or styles of music (ergo a Club DJ at a disco club might be more versed in 70s music than a Club DJ that specializes in House music).  The Club DJ can mix beats, blend and sometimes scratch or even re-mix on the fly, all of which are skills the Radio DJ has no need for.  The Radio DJ – or ‘personality’ – is often just that.  Unlike the Club, Mobile, Hip-Hop or Reggae DJ, the Radio Jock seldom even chooses the music which – unlike in the early days of Radio – is often pre-programmed.  The Radio DJ is more of the personality, making announcements, taking callers, introducing songs and chatting a bit about the tune or the artist before or after it is played, being careful not to talk over lyrics or leave what is known as ‘dead air’ (gaps between songs or commercials).  The proper use of the microphone and grasp of the English language is therefore essential to the Radio DJ, while possessing a general knowledge (less specialized than the Club DJ) of various musical genres.

The skilled professional Mobile DJ embodies all of these skills, or at least a lot of both.  Like the Club DJ, the Mobile DJ must chose the next song, and then the next, ‘reading’ or anticipating the reaction of the crowd, whereas the Mobile DJ must have a broader knowledge of music, as his audience is often more diverse than the genre-specific nightclub or radio station.  The Mobile DJ must also blend music to some degree, and although may not be the ‘mixologist’ that the Club DJ is, they often posses a sufficient degree of skill… enough to keep the party moving.  The experienced Mobile DJ is also comfortable with the microphone, having the ability to make necessary announcements articulately and with precision, although typically with less frequency than the Radio DJ.

Essentially, the Mobile DJ is more well rounded than the Club DJ or Radio DJ, and although you could certainly engage the services of a Club DJ to do your wedding, or a Radio DJ to play at your Sweet 16 party, both might have limitations in their abilities that the Mobile DJ has evolved beyond.  Not to be mistaken, I am not suggesting that the Mobile DJ is ‘better than’ the Club or Radio DJ, just better at what they do.  A Mobile DJ might be hard-put to make the transition from party to radio or club, but it’s more likely that the Club or Radio DJ would be harder-put to transition the other way.

To use an analogy: the Club DJ is the Ear Doctor, the Radio DJ is the Oral Surgeon, and the Mobile DJ… well, they’re more of the General Practitioner, able to cure what ails you with a well-rounded helping of musical love and care.


‘DJ Brain’ illustration courtesy of Sean Gallo Designs

4 Responses

  1. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a radio DJ willing to do a mobile DJ event. I’ve worked in radio for almost 20 years and have found most radio DJs are allergic to the manual labor involved in setting up a mobile gig.

    I would disagree however that it would be easier for a mobile DJ to transition to radio work than the other way around. The work is only similar in title. A typical mobile DJ would have to go through the same learning curve as any new radio DJ in learning the radio craft. In fact, the curve would probably be steeper for the mobile than a complete newbie because most mobile DJs have bad habits that would have to be broken and unlearned before they could become effective radio personalities.

  2. Interesting points Robbie, and I think quite valid as well. The reason I question the Radio DJs ability to transition is because he/she would likely be less accustomed to playing to a live audience, which is a key element – ‘reading the crowd’ – that, to a Club or Mobile DJ, would almost be instinctual. In my own radio experience, other than listeners calling in, we had no idea what the ‘audience’ reaction was to what we were playing, and even if we had been, we would not have had the latitude to adjust because we had to stick to a pre-programmed agenda.


  3. Trouble is Craig, most that start out djing think they know it all and it takes years to learn it properly

    Most of these young ones think their crap do’nt stink and end up 9/10 times ruining a persons wedding, then go on and keep ruining weddings

    no thanks its one like that should be out and leave it for the trained djs with experience

    keep up these blogs Craig, yet another great topic.

  4. Thanks Dennis,

    Interesting topic in itself about the novice not having experience doing weddings, but in their defense and as an experienced DJ myself, (aside from the ones that think they know it all), everyone has to start somewhere, and every DJ has to have their first wedding gig.


    P.S. Not sure what you linked to, but feel free to link to your website in the future.

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