Are we seeing the latest evolution of DJ culture? We explore the challenges and opportunities of this massive recent trend.
The past two years have changed the way we connect, replacing social contact with social media. Internet usage has surged by up to 70%, with many more people spending hours on TikTok, falling into YouTube rabbit holes or discovering their new favourite streamer on Twitch. As more people than ever turn to the internet for entertainment, and the post-covid climate continues to be digitally-driven, new ways of DJing and reaching an audience have emerged. Although the use of digital platforms isn’t a new phenomena for dance music culture—Calvin Harris was originally picked up on MySpace, for example—the covid situation has super-charged this trend.
The opportunities of social media DJing are abundant, but there are also plenty of challenges. Algorithms, audience growth and monetisation are just a few of the things DJs need to navigate in order to thrive. There is also a rumbling debate over the legitimacy of social media DJs that shrouds even the most successful. With such fundamental shifts recently taking place, should we broaden the way we think about DJing?
Social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitch provide immediately accessible opportunities to build one’s audience, skills and confidence. This was the case for both Jovynn and DJ Love, who both chose TikTok to begin their DJ journeys. “I realised I could contribute to the community as a DJ by creating mashups/sound edits so [the audience] could use them to spark their own ideas,” Jovynn said. Originally beginning as a general content creator, as her platform grew she picked up skills, which has since resulted in her account growing to over eight million followers.
Jovynn’s realisation of what the community enjoys echoes DJ Love’s decision to use TikTok. “I will never not go on about how insane that thing is,” he said. “I picked it for my streams due to its algorithm and just didn’t really feel the same love on other platforms that I get on there.”
Algorithms offer potential to immediately go viral. But they’re also a very real threat to a DJ’s shelf life. Chris Luno, who took his existing DJ career onto YouTube and regularly garners hundreds of thousands of views per video, emphasised this. “Pro: the algorithm knows exactly what I want to hear,” he said. “Con: The algorithm knows exactly what I want to hear.”
Algorithms learn viewership habits and consequently push similar content to audiences that should, in theory, enjoy it. Whilst this can benefit the audience, creators may feel that they’re under pressure to reproduce content that the algorithm knows would fit their viewership. Producing different content might mean a drop of engagement. The algorithm may then assume audiences are no longer interested in a creator’s work and reduce its promotion of their channel. This can be detrimental to those who turned to social media as a form of income due to the pandemic.