What's The Difference Between a DJ and a Producer?

What's The Difference Between a DJ and a Producer? From their work to their products, how are they similar and different? Find out inthis article.

by Derrick Reeves | Updated: October 11, 2021

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In the dance music world, there’s a lot of confusion around what exactly DJ and producer mean. 

A lot of people think they are one and the same or that being a DJ is easy compared to producing. They also don’t realize how much work goes into both roles.  

So what is the difference between a DJ and a producer? 

In a few words, a DJ is someone who mixes music together and plays the mix to the audience while a producer is someone who makes the beats from start to finish.  

But that is not the full story, we will teach you everything you need to know about these two titles so that you can choose which path is right for you. 

Types of Producers

Types of Producers

As far as music is concerned, there are many different kinds of producers.  

In fact, the best way to describe a producer is as someone who creates music with a particular purpose in mind. For example: for use in songs, TV commercials, movies, or video games.  

That doesn't mean the producer has to create 100% original music. They can also create a remix of someone else’s song or sample something for their own use.

We will only focus on 4 main types of producers in the music industry: recording producers, dance music producers, hip-hop producers, and pop music producers.  

Recording Producer (sometimes called a Studio Engineer) 

The role of this type of producer is to work in a studio with an artist and help them finish the song. They might use their own equipment or use someone else’s kit, but they are focusing on creating the final mix to give to artists. 

Dance Music Producers 

If your song is more EDM, pop or house then you will want a dance music producer. They use synthesizers and samplers to make beats that are very melodic with lots of high-pitched synths and rhythm that is a lot lighter in comparison to hip-hop producers.  

Hip-hop Producers 

If you are more interested in the heavier side of EDM and have a lot of trap, rap, djent, or other heavy metal sounds in your song then you might want to go with a hip-hop producer. They will also use synths but they prefer them to sound more edgy or gritty. 

These producers usually start with an instrumental piece of music and then add vocals over it. They also play instruments into the track themselves, but they will most likely have a team to do that for them if their budget allows. 

Pop Music Producers  

If you are making a song that has more elements of pop music, then you need a pop music producer. They use synthesizers and samplers but also make heavy-hitting basslines to give their tracks as much groove as possible (without it being as hard as hip hop). 

Read More: The 25 Most Famous Music Producers Of All Time

Types of DJs

Types of DJs

There are also different types of DJs, but we won’t be getting into that since it is irrelevant to the subject at hand. So just know there are 4 main types and you should look for one that matches your needs.  

Club DJ 

If you want someone who can play at parties or clubs then you want a club DJ. These DJs are comfortable in front of a crowd and know how to pump up the audience with their mixing skills.  

Club DJs also have knowledge of what tracks will work well together, such as they know what genre goes well with another genre. Their job is not just to play music but to create an atmosphere.  

They can play tracks that are in a similar key and BPM, but not necessarily the same genre or style of music (unless you want them to do so). Their goal is to make it easy for the audience to dance together by transitioning between songs smoothly.  

They will know (or find out) if there are any big names playing at the club, and then base their sets off of those. Or if there is a trend in music, they will play songs that fit into that trend (such as Trap or House). 

Mobile DJs 

If you need someone to play music when you are at a wedding, private party, or corporate event then mobile DJs may be your best bet.  

They have smaller equipment that they carry from place to place and usually have a setlist of songs available so that the songs will continue on one after another seamlessly.  

Many people think mobile DJs are lesser than club DJs, but that is not necessarily true. Mobile DJs are used because they are cheaper than club DJs and the equipment doesn’t need to be as good (it just needs to pump out enough volume for a few hundred people).  

Mobile DJs can specialize in different things such as weddings or parties for clubs. If you want someone who works for a company that can present you with options, then mobile DJs might be your best bet.  

Hip hop DJ  

DJs that play rap and hip-hop are very similar to club DJs in many ways. They know how to get a crowd excited (like club DJs) but they also need to have knowledge of what songs will work well together because they don’t always mix genres.  

Hip hop DJ is more about the feel of the song than the beat, the DJ is not trying to make it easy for people to dance, they are trying to pump up the crowd and get them hyped.  

When you go out there looking for a DJ, I would recommend asking your friends in the industry (local artists), other DJs at festivals or clubs, or searching on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, My Space, or Soundcloud to see if they have a page. You can even lookup their track history to see how often they release new music. 

Something else you may want to ask them are how much experience do they have, what equipment do they use and of course, another important question is whether or not you will get one DJ or two for your event. 

Turntablist 

If you want someone who can do tricks on the turntables or make beats using turntables, then a turntablist is for you.  

They mix records in a way that is almost impossible to replicate by hand and some people say it’s even more impressive than mixing on CDs.  

If you want them to play along with pre-recorded songs, then you need a turntablist to mix the tracks beforehand.  

If you want them to play instrumentals, then they will take their records and modify them in different ways (such as scratching or chopping) to create something brand new.  

In either case, it will be very obvious when someone is using turntables. They can manipulate the sound by speeding it up, slowing it down, or changing the tone to make something totally new and original.  

Producer DJs 

DJs who do both of the above are called Producer DJs. They play tracks and remixes, but they also create their own music or beat a track from start to finish (with no barrier between the two). 

For example, Benny Benassi and David Guetta both produce tracks but play them out to crowds.  

Producer DJs are very similar to Turntablists, but Producer DJs use equipment that is more mainstream. 

Record labels often hire producer DJs to listen and rate music or to remix it into something better before sending it off for commercial release.  

In either case, if you want a DJ who is involved in the creation process then a Producer DJ is for you. 

Live Act/PA Producers 

A Live Act producer is a person who makes their own music. They perform it live and don't usually mix other people's music as a DJ would. A DJ mixes different songs together and a live act usually only plays the producer's own music and remixes. 

What is the Difference Between a DJ and a Producer?

What is the Difference Between a DJ and a Producer

 

The main difference between a DJ and a producer is in the roles they play when it comes to creating music. 

DJs select, organize and play music for an audience. They are often paid by venue owners or promoters for their role as an entertainer of people through a night out or event.  

When you attend a concert at the club, you pay for admission to hear the DJ play mixes of your favorite songs. You may also be there to dance or socialize.  

Furthermore, DJs are often booked by brands to create content or even do shows at their venue(s). For example, a brand that sells headphones might hire a DJ known for playing music that’s great for listening to on headphones.  

Brands might also have a DJ host a meet and greet for their listeners, play an acoustic set, or even do a music video shoot at their location. 

To sum up, DJs are entertainers through playing mixes of songs they like that people will enjoy hearing. 

Producers create original music or mixes of songs from start to finish.  

They may take a mix of two songs and create something new from them. They can also add in their own elements to make an original song (or entirely new work). 

Or by recording an instrumental for the song, adding vocals or other elements to it, and then mixing it all together.  

They might also create a beat in the beginning and add different sounds over top of that original sound. Or even change the tone of each individual sound through effects such as filtering or pitching.  

A producer might be hired by a brand to create content for their listeners or viewers. For example, they may create an original song using an artist’s vocals that the company wants to use in a commercial or ad campaign.  

There are a few different roles that producers can have.  

They may license their music to other artists so they can be used in creative projects like movies or commercials, but most often producers will be found producing music for themselves.  

The production process for beat making is usually very complex and time-consuming. A producer might sometimes spend days on a song to get it right.  

They will analyze the rhythm and beat pattern, call in vocalists or make their own vocals to add on top of it, and then they’ll mix and master before releasing the track as a whole project or single.  

As you can see, that is a lot more work than just mixing two tracks together. 

We’ve been able to break down these two titles into their main tasks.  

For a DJ, you select songs, organize them, and play the results for an audience. For a producer, you create original beats from start to finish. 

A lot of DJs started first as producers before they made the transition over to being a DJ, it all depends on your goals.  

If you want to be an entertainer/performer then becoming a DJ will help you get there but if you’re more interested in being a music producer and creating new songs that people can dance to, then the producer role is for you. 

Producers will typically have their own following and gain the most recognition and fame through their songs while DJs will get more attention from venues, brands, festivals, and other gigs. 

The Benefits of DJing vs Producing 

Both roles can be financially rewarding, but the long-term benefits tend to lean more toward those who are producers.  

If you’re already a DJ, then you may have noticed that some artists will pay you a fee for having their track as part of your set or on your social media channels.  

For example, a DJ might get paid for having Skrillex’s track on their setlist.  

If it wasn’t for the DJ, then nobody would know who Skrillex was as he wouldn’t be ‘famous’ without his songs being played to a big audience!  

If it wasn’t for record labels or managers, a producer wouldn’t have anyone to pitch their beats to either.  

The long-term benefit of being a producer is that if you create popular music and sell millions of tracks on iTunes then your financial rewards will be much higher than those who just play mixes at the club.  

If you produce for yourself then you also get to choose what projects you want to work on. If you don’t like the idea of your song being dropped in a movie, then the producer role is for you.  

You own your music and can license it out to whoever you want instead of having to convince someone at the record label that it would be a good move for them.  

DJing can also be a gateway to being a producer. If you’re a DJ and you get into the business of playing gigs at night, then you now have access to many people who want to work with you or give feedback on your tracks.  

This is great because you will likely get some constructive criticism on what needs to be improved for your next track.  

Depending on the DJ's goals, this could turn into a long-term career in either djing or producing, so it’s best if you start building relationships with people who work in music early on.  

The Disadvantages of DJing vs Producing

The Disadvantages of DJing vs Producing

As mentioned, DJing is the best way to gain instant fame if that’s your ultimate goal.  

If you want to become a more well-known person in the music industry then DJing will definitely help you get there.  

However, DJing can be a very competitive field with many people competing for the same gigs and attention.  

Unless you become really famous, DJing might not be the best way to earn a living and support yourself or your family unless you get lucky by landing gigs from huge brands who are willing to pay high rates for them!  

Producing can sometimes be more fulfilling since it’s something that you created yourself.  

DJing allows you more freedom to create whatever mix or song you want, but at the same time, DJing affords you the opportunity to work with a lot of different artists and musicians.  

Again, it all depends on what your goals are. There will be some who only DJ and there will be others who only produce. 

In reality, djing and producing go hand-in-hand. You can’t do with just any music… you need to have the skill of mixing popular songs together so the audience will understand what’s going on! 

You may not realize it, but djing allows you to experiment with different sounds, song arrangements, and energy levels all at the same time.  

This is going to help you understand your preferences with music and it’s also going to teach you how to structure a DJ set so that the audience will have fun without getting bored or uncomfortable. 

Is It Necessary for A DJ to Learn Producing? 

No. Many DJs have a basic understanding of producing knowledge but they do not know how to make songs from scratch.  

DJing is about 90% mixing different tracks together so you create a danceable mix.  

If DJing is just a hobby, then it’s no big deal if you don’t know how to produce it because DJing won’t put food on the table.  

When DJing is your entire career, then it would be a good idea to learn producing in order to have more control over what music you play. 

Producing doesn’t just change DJing; it changes the world of DJing!  

Can a DJ Be a Producer? 

Yes, a DJ can be a producer. There are a lot of similar skills between being a DJ and producer. They both need to know how to mix music and blend different types of sounds.  

Being a DJ allows you to understand the rules of mixing and blending music while producing gives you the opportunity to be more creative with your mixes.  

You can create your own beat tracks from scratch or use pre-made samples in order to put together an original song.  

A good producer knows how to have fun while creating music, but at the same time, they understand how to make a song with structure and appeal. 

How Many Hours Will I Need to Practice DJing and Production? 

You are not expected to become a DJ overnight. DJing and producing are both skills that need to be developed over time.  

The DJ industry is quite competitive, so don’t expect your mix to land a job with a record label if you have no experience playing in front of an audience.  

There are many DJ courses available online or from special DJ schools which can help you understand DJing and DJ mixing.  

They will teach you DJ history, how to read music cues, understand the role of DJ monitors, DJ gear setup tips, and even what equipment is best for DJing.  

However, there’s no way to speed up DJ learning if you really want to know how to be a good DJ. DJing is an art that needs to be perfected over time.  

Producing also takes a long time to master, especially if you don’t have the right equipment to help you test your sound and allow you to make constant improvements on it.  

Good gear for producing will provide better audio quality and comfort so that you can focus on your track in the long term.  

At the end of the day, DJing and producing share the same goal – to make beats that are so good, people will enjoy it!  

DJing is a great way to get started with DJ mixes but eventually, you’ll want to produce your own tracks. Creating original music allows you more freedom as an artist. 

Do DJ Create Mixes Live? 

Yes, djing is a live art form. People who want to be DJs should think of themselves as musicians. They need to know how to perform in front of an audience. 

There are no pre-recorded mixes as party guests want to see the artist mixing and interacting with the music from behind their decks or monitors. 

Some people are of the belief that one person can't do both, but those who are seriously into Dj-ing will tell you that's not true! 

There are many professional DJs who also create music and perform alongside their gigs. Many clubs or bars have resident DJs, which means they play sets at a particular venue on a regular basis. 

The term 'resident DJ' may be misleading to some because it doesn't mean that the DJ lives at the club or bar etc. 

In Conclusion 

So there you have it, a quick breakdown of the difference between a DJ and a producer. After reading this, you should have a much better understanding of what djing and producing really is.  

Both djing and producing are great in their own way. If you are a beginner, then now you know the difference between each path and which one will be best suited for you.  

If you looking to hire someone, you should have enough knowledge to make an informed decision about hiring the right person for your next event that has the specific skill set.  

If they don’t have the skills you need, then at least you know what to look for in your next hire. 

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