This is a great question because it cuts to the core of what DJs and Sound Engineers both do. Which is actually quite similar. Making this a fascinating topic and a great way to explore what each discipline is and how it’s put to use. Let’s discover the theory behind answering are DJs sound engineers.
Due to a large amount of crossover, on a technical level you could say that yes, a DJ is a sound engineer. In reality, no, a DJ is not a sound engineer. This is because when a DJ is performing a large show or festival then there will invariably be a separate sound engineer. These are based in the sound booth in the middle of the crowd and their job is to monitor the audio to make sure it sounds as good as it possibly can.
So, What’s the Crossover?
Another good question because what a DJ and a sound engineer are doing in a venue is very almost the same thing. Even down to the equipment that they are both using i.e a mixer. The mixers used by the two are just different variations of the same thing.
Where things differ are in the mixer layout, and it’s purpose.
The DJ will have decks (see our recommended decks here) that are sending two (or more) tracks through the mixer for them to be mixed.
While the sound engineer will be getting a sound feed from the stage/DJ’s mixer. This will generally only be one audio feed that they are distributing around the venue or festival. The engineer’s sole aim at this point is to ensure the audio is balanced and sounding as good as possible.
If it were a band the sound engineer would be receiving a separate feed of each instrument to balance and create one cohesive sound. So really a sound engineer does have a far easier job when working with the DJ than they do when working with a band.
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What Is the Job of Both?
The DJ’s job is to select tracks and mix tracks together in one continuous stream. Through this, they create a vibe and make sure the crowd is as happy and dancing as much as possible.
The sound engineer’s job is to make sure that the artist performing on stage, be it a DJ or a band, sounds as good as possible.
This is because, of course, the DJ or performer doesn’t actually know. They can only hear what the audio sounds like on stage. They cannot hear what it sounds like “out front” i.e exactly what the audience is hearing.
Which is why the sound booth is positioned in the middle of the audience. This way the audio engineer can hear exactly what the audience is. They can then adjust volumes or EQ as needs be.
For example, on a windy day at a festival, the sound can be blown around and away from sections of the crowd. In this case, an audio engineer may adjust volumes in certain speakers to compensate as much as possible.
The same goes for EQing to compensate for how different makes & models of sound systems might sound.
While a good sound system should be balanced (such as Despacio, designed to be the perfect sound system) let’s go over a hypothetical example. Say that the speakers the DJ is listening to onstage are very heavy on bass. This means they might have the bass turned low as that sounds correct to them. But what if the speakers out front are not as heavy on bass?
Then this is something the only audio engineer can hear. Then they will be able to adjust the bass up slightly to compensate and make sure the audience is hearing what the artist intended.
Conclusion Are DJs Sound Engineers?
As you can see from the crossover in skills and equipment there is a strong case to answer yes to is a DJ a sound engineer. And in a tiny venue, where there is no separate engineer, I suppose you actually could describe them as part sound engineer.
However, on at larger venues and festivals then there will always be a separate sound engineer. They will be working as a team with the DJ to ensure the best audio possible for the crowd. This scenario gives the question it’s final answer…. That a DJ cannot be considered a sound engineer.
- If you’ve ever wondered how DJ duos work then you’ll want to read this.
- Ever wondered how DJs seem to have ever track? It’s because they do, kind of.
- Header DJ image by Coup d’Oreille, licensed under CC2.0.
- Header sound engineer image by Redneck Country Club, licensed under CC2.0.