Club Sound 101: What's Really Happening Behind the DJ Booth

DJing used to be so simple. Just a few years ago, all you needed was two turntables, some CD players, or a computer to keep dancers happy. Nowadays, clubgoers are beginning to expect more from their favorite electronic music producers. The result has been a proliferation of live-performance techniques using both analog and digital equipment. All of this can get very confusing to the uninitiated, so to help you keep it straight, here are three of the most popular configurations in San Francisco's club scene:

Standard Club DJ: An old standby that's remained more or less the same since the late 1960s. Here a DJ uses a mixer to blend between two sound sources (typically turntables or CD players) to create a sonically unique, connected narrative of songs.

Analog Performer: Music producers bring prog-rock-worthy arrays of hardware synthesizers and drum machines to re-create the environment of their studio in a live context. Performing original music on their gear in real-time, producers employ more improvisation and spontaneity due to the myriad capabilities and lack of precision inherent in vintage equipment.

Standard Club DJ
Courtesy of Derek Opperman
Standard Club DJ
Analog Performer
Mike Hendrickson
Analog Performer
Digital Performer
Mike Hendrickson
Digital Performer

Digital Performer: The newest form of the three, it centers around the technically limitless capabilities of digital equipment. Artists perform using laptop computers, USB-connected digital controllers, and complex music software like Ableton Live. The music played can be an entire mix of others' songs (making the performer basically a laptop DJ), completely original (making the performer a producer), or some combination of both.

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Jeremy Baker
Jeremy Baker

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