It’s too easy to confuse the different aspects of audio creativity. You have DJs and you have producers. There are engineers and remixers.
DJs and producers get plenty of attention by winning Grammy Awards, while remixers and engineers typically remain unseen and only heard. Understanding the differences between the various types of audio professionals is critical for the future of their activities.
The term “DJ” is a popular, long-time acronym for disc jockey. The term was coined decades ago, and referred to anyone who played vinyl disc recordings that were known as records, sometimes live but normally over radio broadcasts.
The DJ collected musical recordings and made it his (they were almost universally males, then) job to know everything about the recordings, the artists, and other facts about the music genres and technical background.
The definition of DJ has changed over the years with the appearance of digital media and a stronger emphasis on live performance. At the core of the definition, though, a DJ will always be someone who plays back recorded music.
This position is what many regard as the core foundation of what DJs do. The remixer will take already-existing sounds that were created by others and manipulate them into something unique for playback.
While this does require extra skill and musical engineering knowledge, it’s also fairly limited in function. People who remix may in fact manipulate their own compositions and sounds to generate a different version of what was previously created; but the key role of a remixer is to preserve the core elements of something that was previously created.
Recent technology has allowed others to break down and remix a variety of sounds and music and reassemble them into a creation that is unique to the engineer. In its most technical sense, this is remixing, but production occurs when an engineer records or creates electronic sounds and music, and manipulates them into something completely original and unique.
This is completely different process than that which occurs in a live performance. The producer spends much of his or her time in the studio, manipulating sound to create an end product. This is fairly distinct from a performer or DJ who presents and even creates the sonic product live.
The engineer is a different breed altogether. You’ll see an audio engineer monitoring sound levels and making sure the output of the music is clean and palatable for listening. This is truly a mechanical operation.
While the engineer may have a great ear for sound, he or she is usually more technically focused. In other words, the engineer is a gear specialist who’s more interested in the process than the end result.
Good engineers will have elements of a producer in them, but a true producer expresses a level of creativity that is not necessarily required of an engineer.
While there are multiple other differences between the roles of each of these audio professionals, almost none of these abilities is exclusive to one or another. Knowledge of one aspect certainly can helps in the refinement of another.
If a person has a general interest in becoming any sort of audio professional, formal trading can be well worth the investment.