Abridged History of DJing

hydraulic organ of banu musa 01


 Bana Musa Bros FTW!

hydraulic organ of banu musa 01
In the 9th century (about 1300 years ago) The Banu Musa brothers in Baghdad invented an automatic organ and flute player that played a lot like a player piano or music box (invented in 1796). The player piano used paper scrolls in 1876. Were they Djs? Could you DJ with them?

Phonautograph – The FIRST Audio Recording

The Phonautograph was made in 1857 by Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville in Paris. The earliest known recording is of a french woman singing part of the folk song Clair De Lune in 1860.

Phonograph Cylinder – Thomas Edison

thomas edison1
The first practical sound recording and reproduction device was the mechanical phonograph cylinder, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. The development of mass-production techniques enabled cylinder recordings to become a major new consumer item in industrial countries and the cylinder was the main consumer format from the late 1880s until around 1910.

Emile Berliner’s VINYL reconds

Emile Berliner Vinyl Records
When did we start using Vinyl records? That started with Emile Berliner in Paris in 1889, although Alexander Graham Bell had demonstrated it 8 years earlier in America. It was made of shellac, not Vinyl. The most popular format was called The 78 because they turned around 78 times in one minute.They were made for 20 years before they took over from Cylinders in 1910 and ran strong for 70 years, we’re still using them today.

band recording by stamping cylinder

Band Recording Beardsley.Victor
How did they do the recording? They had the band play into a horn which ‘stamped’ the sounds into the disc or cylinder.

Guglielmo Marconi – Let There Be Radio!

Marconi radio 290px Post Office Engineers
In the late 1890s, Guglielmo Marconi was developing a wireless telegraph using electromagnetic radiation, calling them “Hertzian Waves” or “Aetheric Waves.” We know it these days as Radio.

Let There Be Reginald The Canadian in North Carolina!

reginald fessenden radio voiceB 26a Reginald radio milestone
Next, let us introduce Reginald Fessenden, one of the most important OGs you’ve never heard of. He was a Canadian working for the U.S. Weather Bureau in Maryland then he transfered to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Just before Christmas Day in 1900, Reginald transmitted speech by radio for the first time, then like many artists, got in a fight over ownership rights and left. After many other years of development, on Christmas Eve 1906, he transmitted the first music broadcast by playing Handel’s Largo (Xerxes).

The World First Radio Disc Jockey – Ray Newby (The Noob)

ray newby radio113
3 years later, The first radio disc jockey was a 16 year old kid names Ray Newby of Stockton California who, in 1909, played records on a small transmitter while a student at Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless in San Jose.

worlds first mixer

Gaumont Chronophone
In 1910, some of the most exciting work was being done to help the movies. That’s where the worlds first mixer and crossfader come from. The Gaumont Chronophone which synchronized sound and film for the Gaumont Palace Theater in Paris. It was loud enough for an audience of 4000, but the records were short so they needed to be able to switch back and forth so that there was no break in the music – a continuous soundtrack.

Electonic Recording 

First Microphone
Electronic recording didn’t really happen until World War I, when the U.S. And Britain tried to reproduce the sounds of German Uboat Sub so they could train their guys. It didn’t work very well. It wasn’t until the phone companies started developing better microphones that things started to change. With the creation of Magnetic tape (1917) there was a brand new format that held a lot of promise, but the first recordings were atrocious. We’ll come back to that later.

juke joints

juke joint dancers
In the 1920s, Juke Joints picked up, as people could get together to listen to Juke Boxes, hearing their favorite records. Fun Fact – Juke doesn’t mean what you think it does.

Birth of the Discoteque

french sailors hatfrench sailors tattoo

In coastal ports in France, groups of sailors would buy records and keep them at their favorite local bar so they when they came back they could listen to them. They started calling them record libraries, or, in French disco-bibliotheque, – Disco-theques. Most of the Victrolas and record players also had something called Pitch Control, which allowed the user to speed up or slow down a record until it sounded right, since there was no industry standard for how fast the record should turn. Originally the pitch control was to account for inconsistencies in record pressings. Ultimately it became the tool DJs used to match tempos with records of different timing.
In 1924, things were going very well indeed and Western Electric (the aforementioned phone company) showed their work on Microphones to the big record companies and they snapped it up immediately, releasing their products with Electronic Recording techniques starting in 1925.

western electric microphones

history of the microphone 1920 condensor mic
Up to this point, most music on the radio is done by live musicians being broadcast from the studio. That can be quite the expensive payroll. You had announcers reading jingles, bands providing the soundtrack, and dramas incorporating full casts and sound designers (making thunder with metal sheets).

martin block

martin block with lp
In 1925, announcer Martin Block, trying to keep his audience entertained while they were waiting for news about the ‘Crime of the Century‘ (the Lindbergh baby kidnapping), played recorded music and pretended he was in a ballroom. The Show was called ‘Make Believe Ballroom.’ This changed everything. Suddenly, everyone realized you could make a big-sounding show relatively cheaply.
That’s when, in 1925, Walter Winchell, the famous newsman, first tried to describe what Block was doing by calling him a disc jockey – and that’s where the term DJ comes from. Why did he call him a disc jockey? A jockey is someone who operates equipment (horses were equipment then, apparently).

Car Radios

first car radio
We see the radio show up in cars for the first time in 1930, when the very first Motorola product gets put into a Model A deluxe coupe. The car cost $540. The radio cost $130. That same year, the very first Drum Machine was made – the Rhythmicon, by musical theorist Henry Cowell (commisioned by Leon Theramin, creator of the instrument bearing his name).
rhythmicon drum machine 1930
The development of FM Radio in 1933 didn’t really change anything at the time, even though it offered substantially higher fidelity. FM radios didn’t get into cars until the late 30s and didn’t overtake AM radio until the 80s.

World War II

The second most consequentail event of the 20th century (after the first world war) didn’t need to happen if they’d gotten the Treaty of Versailles right, but it did substantially jump certain technologies foward, including:

  • PA Systems
  • Recording Technologies
  • Radio Systems

It also introduced Americans (like your Great Grandpa) to stuff they’d never heard before. That’s going to work out pretty well for you – just wait.

world war 2 chilling
world war 2 dance

first dj dance party loyal order of ancient shepherds

DJ Dance Party - Loyal Order Ancient Shepherds
In 1943 he who shall not be named launched the world’s first DJ dance party by playing jazz records in the upstairs function room of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shephards in Otley, England. In 1947, he claims to have become the first DJ to use twin turntables for continuous play, although we’ve already seen that isn’t technically true. He was a horrible human being.

The First Dance Club!

Whisky Inside 1
Happily, that same year (1943, during WW2) the Whisky a GoGo opened in Paris, the first commercial Discotech. There, they replaced the Juke Box with a live DJ playing records on two turntables.

Vinyl Records As We Know Them

vinyl record
Vinyl was introduced en masse after World War II, it was more expensive but lasted longer and sounded better. There are two standard Vinyl Record formats – the LP (long playing – invented by Columbia Records in 1948) which spun at 33 1/3 revolutions, and the 45 rpm microgroove single (RCA Victor, 1949). Why do you think they called them 45s?
The Record Companies have standardized the revolutions per minute of records and there are more records being released. They want to track which ones are selling best, so they start taking surveys of the top newly released songs.The Top 40 radio format appears in 1951.

sock hops platter party djs

sock hop dj
In the 1950s, American Radio Djs started showing up at ‘Sock Hops‘ and ‘Platter Parties.’ These were mostly GIs returning from World War II and they used the Public Adress systems (PA System) they knew from their military days. They would play a record and then talk on the mic while putting a new record on. Then they started bringing a drummer to keep up the beat while switching records. The first American DJ to bring two turntables was Bob Casey in 1955, allowing him to keep the music going. Rock music changes everything very briefly, then Americans get bored with it and don’t remember what is was until the Beatles remind them five years later.

Historical Dispute!

Klauss Quirini (18) stumbles into a local bar in Aachen, Germany in 1953, heckles the guy the behind the turntables (an opera guy from Cologne), and the manager asks him if he can do a better job. He says he can, gets on the mic with “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ll flood the local now,” then plays a song about ships. People go nuts, he takes the job getting paid to play music at the bar. 50 years later, he claims to be the first DJ.

jamaican ghetto sound systems

coxsons downbeat
jamaica sound system 2
dub image 2 katz
In the Late 50s, Sound Systems were developed in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica (home of reggae). Different promoters would compete to have the best sound system and best Djs, and they would talk over the music in rhythmic narrative chanting rhymes called ‘Toasting.” A lot of people point to this tradition as the grandfather of Hip Hop.

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The First ‘Mobile Music App’.

1956 Chrysler introduces the first ever in-car phonograph. This requires much heavier Vinyl records. They are rare. The most expensive Elvis records are the heavy grain records made for these devices.

Tape Recorder!

fritz pfleumer with tape recorder
1952 – The endless loop tape cartridge is developed, leading to the eventual release of the som8 track in 1965, when Ford includes an 8 track dashboard mounted unit.
phillips compact cassette
In 1962, Phillips invents the Compact Cassette, using the magnetic tape technology initially developed in the 1930s. In 1969 they release the portable Radiorecorder encouraging people to make their own recordings of the music they loved. This was the first Boombox.

The First REAL DJ – Francis Grasso

francis grasso
The spiritual father of all Djs is Francis Grasso, who played at a popular club in New York City called Sanctuary in 1969. With a Reco-Cut knob fader and two Reco-Cut turntables, he popularized a concept known as ‘Beatmatching (also called mixing or blending). With live music, this is very impressive. He also credited with developed ‘Slip-Cuing,” holding a record while the platter is still spinning so that the DJ can drop the beat exactly when he wants to, with little or no delay or start-up time. Grasso later credited Bob Lewis at CBS with the technique. He was also the first DJ to use headphones to make sure the record no one heard was in the right place before he brought the volume up, although he eventually got so good he could cold drop just by looking at the grooves on the record. He is also credited with developing DJ formatting (or picking your music to appeal to the crowd) but I think this is likely a vast overstatement. Everyone who isn’t playing to the crowd is doing a bad job, whether it’s playing Top 40, Classical, or Dance. He was also putting out mixtapes. This guy is kind of a big deal.
At this point, the Clubs were still Discotheques, they clubs had the records and the equipment, not the DJ.

DJ Kool Herc

dj kool herc 1djing in the park 11
Enter Jamaican born DJ Kool Herc. He is considered the godfather of Hip Hop Culture and he had his own records and his own sound system. He got his start performing at block parties in the Bronx in New York City. He would mix two copies of the records together to extend the rhythmic section, or Break. In 1973, this was considered revolutionary (pardon the pun). You could extend the part of the song you wanted to use indefinitely by Hip-Hopping from deck to deck.

technics sl1200

In 1972, Matsushita, under the brand Technics, released the SL-1200. 40 years later, it’s still the gold standard for many Djs. I have heard stories of the abuse these things have taken – drinks spilled all over, falling out of trucks, thrown into a wall – and they’ll still play. Other than their durability, why were they so important? They were one of the first turntables that catered to the professional user. They had all the right elements – a direct drive (not belt driven, direct drive starts faster and lasts longer), pitch control, and a light tone-arm (which protects the record from being worn down). They also allowed you to spin the record backward, so you could line up the exact moment or create a unique sound with a backspin. Plus, how else were you going to listen to your Black Sabbath record? It was everything you need to keep your records in good shape and play them with precision.

DJ History – Disco Revolution

disco john travolta
In the mid ’70s, when you had two major musical movements taking shape. Disco, popularized by groups like Barry White and the Hues Corporation, and Hip Hop. Disco started off as variations on Philadelphia Soul and gained real traction in the underground gay and minority communities and then got epic during the economic crises of the 70s when people wanted to escape their troubles with fun but vapid dance tunes. Hip Hop, which was actually just kid’s play for the first several years, took a little longer. The first hip hop recording was made by a guy who heard some kids on the playground and wanted to make some money selling it back to those same kids.
By 1975 record labels started issuing “12 inch” singles, which were the size of regular 33 1/3 rpm albums as opposed to the 7 inch 45 rpm single. Mixes were extended by making longer intros and “break” sections. They were also incorporating instrumentals on the flipside of the disc. Most Djs would buy two copies so they could mix back and forth.

grand wizard theodore inventor of the dj scratch

grand wizard theodore
The next big step was completely by accident – in 1975 Grand Wizard Theodore invented the scratch. He was sitting upstairs in his room with his record player when his mom called for him. He put his hand on the record and it rubbed back and forth. PARENTS – THIS IS WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO YELL AT YOUR KIDS TO CLEAN THEIR ROOM. This is the key moment in Turntablism, this takes the turntable from a device to an instrument. That, combined with Hip Hopping from break to break, and the new sound coming off the playgrounds – led to Hip Hop.
You have to wait 4 years before it hits big with 1979′s Rapper’s Delight, which used a disco tune (Chic’s ‘Good Times’) as its foundation. Hip Hop is electronically manipulated disco, which makes it all EDM to me.

Birth of the Remix

Additionally in 1976 you had the development of the REMIX with Walter Gibbons’ remix ‘Ten Percent’ by Double Exposure. This was a huge leap forward for DJs and the music industry, which could now sell extended ‘club play’ tracks to DJs, who usually bought two of the most popular records.

dj larry levan

paradise garage dj larry levan 1979 bill bernstein1
By this point you now have all the elements that make up a DJ: Sound System, Audience, Formatting, Controller (turntables), and the DJ themselves – with the ability to affect all these things to produce a specific environment. It wasn’t until 1977, when Larry Levan gained a cult following at the Paradise Garage that the modern dance club started taking shape. That was the first time the music and the DJ were really the focal point of a club. He managed to get a bunch of people into a room who would never normally hang out – punk rockers, disco dancers, debutantes, celebrities, hip hop heads, businessmen, and pop musicians. This is really where Hip Hop, Rock, and Pop start coming together and set the stage for the developments of the 80s and 90s.
flash fab 5 freddy and blondie

The Birth of Chicago House Music – 1977

warehouse frankie knuckles
The Warehouse opened in Chicago in 1977, and under it’s first musical director, DJ Frankie Knuckles, it flourished and defined an era. Frankie played blend of RnB, Disco, and European electronic music (like Krautrock and Italo Disco). The sound developed into what we now know as house and the world is better because of it.

roland cr78

roland compurhythm CR 78 631x507
In 1978, we have the Roland CR-78, the worlds first end-user programmable drum machine. For the first time, you can build your own beats.That same year sees the release of the first Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), where you can edit and create beats on the computer.

sony first walkman

Walkman 1978
When the Sony Walkman was released in 1979, Djs who’d been sharing tapes could sell mixes to the public at large and make it portable. Music can now be everywhere you are.

Here are a few highlights from the the next three and a half decades which progessed quite rapidly.

1979 – Disco Demolition Night – Chicago (Comisky Park) 1979

disco demolition Night Chicago
Death of Disco fueled by a Radio DJ who was tired of it. However, a couple of groups had major hits like Funkytown by Lipps Inc. top the charts in 1980 and Celebration by Kool and The Gang
1980 – Roland 808. The sound of most of your Classic Hip Hop and House tunes. Probably the most important instrument you’ve heard about but didn’t know.
Roland 808
1981 – MTV. New York.

MTV Logo

DMC Disco Mix Club – Radio Show 1981, Remix Service 1983, 1986 DMC championship, Mixmag
1981-1984 – Roland 606 Drum Machine and 303 Bass Synthesizer. MIDI.
1982 – Compact Disc CD, first CD Richard Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie (an alpine symphony)
Compact Disc Player

Compact Disc Player

1983 – House Music. Chicago.
1984 – Techno. Detroit. The Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson)
Belleville Three

Belleville Three

1983-1985 – Wedding DJ replaces Bands. Bandleaders start DJ companies. Some do it right. Other do it like this…
1980s wedding DJ80sdisco1986

1980 Wedding DJ

1986 – Acid House. Phuture’s “Acid Trax” (not released until 1987)
1986 – Walk This Way by Run DMC & Aerosmith (Rock & Hip Hop) becomes First Hip Hop Billboard Top
10. Why did this take so long? Run DMC lists their DJ as part of the band.

Run DMC Walk This Way

1988 – DJ Times Magazine
1988 – Rave Culture Develops, Summer of Love (Britain) – Creating the Superstar DJ

1988 Trip Street Party Fabio Grooverider

1989 – First Dual CD Player, Numark CD6020

DJ Numark CD 6020

1990′s Disco Revival. People try nailing the coffin closed, it doesn’t work.
1990’s Rave scene builds off Acid House scene. The DJ moves to the spotlight.
1991 – MPEG Layer 3 (MP3) Developed by Motion Picture Experts Group
1992 – reasonable quality, low size
1992 – DJ Flare introduces the Flare Scratch
1993 – First Internet Radio Station – Internet Talk Radio
1995 – Pioneer introduces the CDJ 500
Pioneer CDJ 500

Pioneer CDJ 500

1998 – First MP3 Player – Eiger Labs MPMan f10
first mp3 player mpman f10
1998 – First DJ MP3 Timecode system, Final Scratch, Allows Vinyl Djs to play off a computer.
Stanton Final Scratch
1998 – Dubstep happens by accident when kids working at a record store are really bad at making UK Garage.
Big Apple Records circa 2000
1999 – Napster. People start downloading Mp3s like crazy. Music industry freaks out and people’s record collections start getting really good until Metallica’s drummer puts the hammer down.
napster logo
2000 – Native Instruments releases Traktor DJ. A huge improvement over Final Scratch, it details some of the features DJs use most, including scratch macros, cue point functionality, looping, and MIDI. Three years later, Traktor & Final Scratch join forces, leading to way more awesomeness.
Traktor DJ 2
2001 – Pioneer releases the CDJ-1000 – THE defining CDJ of the past 20 years.
cdj 1000 main
2003 – the RAVE act is passed in the US, in some jurisdictions glowsticks are considered illegal paraphernalia. The underground electronic music scene is shuttered and forced into bars and clubs. Its unintended consequences cost more lives by preventing concert and event organizers from providing common sense harm reduction saftey measures to guests for fear of being labeled as ‘promoting illegal activity.’
2004  – Serato partners with Rane and develops Scratch Live, the default program for many American DJs.
2006 – Hip Hop dies No one tells the recording industry, and we get several years of meh with a few bright spots.
Hip Hop is Dead
2007 – Greg Gills give up biomedical engineering at Case Western University, accomplishes something in life by becoming a DJ (Girl Talk).
Girl Talk and dancing girls
2007 – Controllerism – the premise that you can do really unique things with controllers, kind of like turntablism but with buttons.
controllerism its a thing
2008 – Dubstep gets big, Americans fall in love with the aggro vibe and Skrillex stops making Avril Lavigne remixes and has a watershed moment by producing his first real dubstep album in his room on a laptop with busted speakers.
skrillex 2008
2009 – Pioneer introduces – REKORDBOX digital DJ software. It’s not great, but it gets better.
2009-10 – Candy raver style comes back with a ‘can’t be bothered’ dubstep flavor.
Dub Rave Kids twenty teens
2011 – Paris Hilton has a love affair with Afrojak. Six months later becomes a DJ. World dies a little inside.
2012 – Pauly D. becomes a DJ. World dies a little more inside. According to one review of an australian show in 2013, Andrew Wowk wrote:
“10:38pm – The EDM returns with Gangnam Style and We No Speak Americano and Pauly proudly proclaims he is, quote, “the best in the world”. If there was anything left inside me that could die, I would say that part of me dies inside.”
2013 – Stylus founded to solve the problem of ‘Did we get the good one?”
Stylus Logo
2013 – Rihanna loses best RnB track to Justin Timberlake (Mousketeer) and Robin Thicke (Son of the dad from Growing Pains). Irony Abounds.
rihanna disappointed glance
2014 – Disco is back thanks to Daft Punk and Bruno Mars.
2014 – Pioneer releases the DDJ-SZ – still one of the most impressive DJ controllers of all time. Pioneer also releases the REKORDBOX 3.0 update, making vast improvements.
2015 – Mark Ronson reminds the world that Minneapolis had an amazing sound and that Prince and Morris Day & The Time should never be forgotten.
2016 – Mumble Rap as a term is coined by Wiz Khalifa to express his frustration (and Rick Rubin’s frustration, and Eminem’s frustration, and J. Cole’s frustration, and Russ’s frustration) with a style of music  known for it’s relative lyrical unclarity and penchant to add words like ‘yeah’ and ‘uh’ and ‘aye’ to their flow
2017 – A Club in Prague puts in a Robot DJ. “I don’t like the robot,” said Marcia Lopes, 24. “It can’t feel what people want to dance to. There’s no emotion behind the music. When there is a real person, they know what fun is like.”
Articulated robot DJ
2019 – Phase Introduces the wireless Digital Vinyl solution. This solves one of the most annoying parts about DJing on vinyl – the needle/cartridge/tonearm problems. All of sudden, it’s much easier to be a vinyl DJ without the terror of bumped tables, bad connections, or damaged records.
phase argument img1
2020- THE PANDEMIC – All of sudden, there were no places to go. No bars, clubs, concerts or events. DJs were holed up in their homes and turned to online streaming to attempt to keep their skills, reputations, and income alive. Facebook clamped down on ‘music experiences’ and was banning people who played music in their sets. Many DJs turned to Twitch, traditionally a gaming platform, to expand their audience and showcase their talents.
2021 – You read this and got inspired to start DJing. You’re in luck, we teach DJ Classes in Raleigh.
mike michael wdg 0811

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