DJ Jazz Ziedan from New Zealand’s Base FM tells us how aspiring DJs can get experience and find work on radio.
What does a radio DJ do?
On most mainstream stations, a DJ presents a show. The DJ’s personality and presenting style are an important part of the show.
The station often chooses the playlist and the DJ follows a script. That’s true for many mainstream stations. DJs may also have to play adverts and give sponsor messages.
The DJ usually doesn’t choose music from their personal record collection.
On many non-commercial stations, the DJ’s job is to introduce new tracks and to make them popular. They don’t play a rotation of tracks, like the top 40.
Base FM DJs play their own music. Our policy is ‘100 percent DJ's choice'. We want our listeners to hear a tune and find themselves tapping along to the beat.
A ‘DJ's choice’ policy allows the DJ to play what they are passionate about. We have over 100 DJs on the station who can tell stories about the tracks and give insight into the music. A lot of those DJs are also musicians or producers with personal stories to tell about that track, album or tour.
Nothing our DJs say is scripted. DJs might share a personal story related to a track, such as why they're playing a particular tune, or where they got it from. Otherwise there’s not much talk and we don’t run adverts.
On a recent show, DJ DP said
‘The next record means a lot to me as I found it in a record ship on Shibuya, Japan. I was there over 20 years ago studying Japanese and discovering my passion for music and DJing. It is also where I proposed to my wife. This album will always remind us of that time and trigger my most beautiful memories.'
How can aspiring radio DJs gain practical skills?
The main practical skill to learn is using your main DJ equipment and medium of choice.
As a DJ, you generally use either turntables, controllers or CDJs (a specialised digital music player).
Once you can confidently use your main equipment, you can add skills like using microphones and playing stings and adverts.
Stings are pre-recorded audio pieces you play in between or over your songs. An example is: 'You're listening to Selector After Dark on Base FM.'
Learn by doing to develop your voice and personal style. You’ll naturally progress from nervous talking to proper hosting and projecting your voice and personality.
Build your experience by DJing for smaller local radio. These could be online stations or community stations, or nationwide and internationally recognised ones.
At Base FM, we have 109 DJs. Some DJ full-time, while others do it as a hobby.
How do you approach radio stations for DJing experience?
Introduce yourself to programme directors by sending a professional and comprehensive email.
This is your opportunity to present who you are, links to your mixes and website, and why you think you'd fit the station. Include your availability.
Sometimes I hire a DJ who I haven’t heard of but stands out with a great record collection and style. They add a new sound to the station.
How can aspiring DJs find opportunities through networking?
Be present in the current music scene, know what's going on and meet your peers. Artists, DJs and audiences alike.
Be proactive. Follow and contact other DJs and venues, and upload mixes online.
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What’s the best advice you’ve received in your DJing career?
Remember why you got into DJing in the first place.
Don't get caught up in politics or what you think you should be playing. The DJ scene can be quite snobby. A lot of bars tell you what to play, other bars aren't 'cool' to play at. Find your own style and stay true to it.
Be aware of the power you have to educate and influence people. Not just an audience in one room, but listeners all over the world at the same time. Use that wisely!
What radio DJ skills are important, but overlooked?
It’s important to get audio levels right so that it sounds smooth and nice to listen to.
Audiences, perhaps using headphones at home, can easily hear mistakes that radio DJs make with audio levels. Your tunes and voice shouldn't jump between different volumes.
It’s a bit different when DJs play a live set. Mistakes may be drowned out by people talking in a noisy club or bar.
Unlike club DJs, radio DJs can’t see the audience responding to a tune. So, radio DJs need to imagine where audiences might be listening from and what they might be doing. Then, find a way to connect with them through your voice and selection of songs.
Some people listen to our New Zealand breakfast show in different time zones. We want to address them too, and take them on a journey.
We might use phrases like ‘and to our listeners overseas' to address listeners. To include them we might say 'and text us with where you're listening from', or ask 'what time zone are you in?’
Jazz Ziedan is managing director of Base FM and Island Base Samoa.
Base FM has launched Selector After Dark in New Zealand in partnership with the British Council.
The British Council’s Selector Radio broadcasts the best UK music and emerging talent every week to over 30 countries around the world.