So you wanna be a VJ (Video Jockey)February 3, 2009
A VJ is a performance artist who creates moving visual art (often video) on large displays or screens, often at events such as concerts, nightclubs and music festivals, and usually in conjunction with other performance art. This results in a live, multimedia performance that can include music, actors or dancers as well as live and pre-recorded video.
VJs have become an essential part of the clubbing experience. They provide the projected visuals within the club environment that accompany the DJ, mixing and scratching video in a similar way to how DJs cut up records. Almost all major clubs now have someone on hand to provide visuals to go with the music.
If you fancy becoming a VJ, you probably already have a love of technology and a passion for all things visual. Successful VJs need to be technicians and artists rolled into one. Beyond that there are no hard and fast rules.
Many VJs don’t even use the term VJ, preferring to describe themselves as visual mix artists, audiovisualisers, pixel jockeys, visual performers, visual jockeys, pro DJs, video jammers or even viewsicians. This might be because they don’t want to be confused with ‘video jockeys’ – TV presenters that link videos on music channels.
VJs usually see themselves and what they do as highly individual. Just like musicians, they don’t want to be categorised and bundled together as all the same.
“VJing is the next step in music and media-related art. It teaches you to cut and manipulate images, similar to techniques used in film-making. And you get to perform without having to be behind the decks yourself.” Jamie Corteen, VJ 2BitTV
What VJs do
There are two stages to VJing. One is preparation – collecting and shooting video clips, and editing and treating them so that you have a library of amazing images to play with. The second stage is doing it live – putting your visuals together in a spontaneous live set and playing them out at gigs.
The basic kit you’ll need for this is:
* A video camera to record images for your set
* A PC or laptop to edit images and play them out in the club (a laptop is more convenient but if you’ve only got a PC you can make it transportable!)
* Software for editing and treating your images
* Software to allow you to play out your images interactively
* A projector to show it all happening on a screen or wall in the venue
For more on those take a look at our guides on VJing: Hardware and Software
Once you’ve begged, borrowed, hired or bought the basic kit, it’s really a question of diving in at the deep end and having a go. It doesn’t have to be a solo project. There’s nothing to stop you teaming up with a friend who’s also interested in VJing – one of you might be great technically, the other better visually. Together you’ll learn from each other and really progress.
“People don’t have to have formal training to be good. I know some VJs who are fantastic graphic designers but never went to art college. I have no formal training at all.”
Graham Daniels, VJ and Producer, Addictive TV
Making all your own material is one of the ways to VJ, and will ensure you keep on the right side of the law when it comes to copyright and issues around sampling images. Increasingly though you’ll find sources of images, such as those available from the BBC through the Creative Archive Licence that you can use legally, and for free. There’s more on this in the links section at the end of this guide and in our VJing: Making Images guide.
Filming and editing is part of the job. It’s also how you are going to make your reputation. You’re only ever going to be as good as your source material. It’s not as scary as you might think. It’s just a question of getting your imagination to work and coming up with ways of generating and editing images:
“I wanted some film that looked like robots in 50′s monster movies. I got these toy robots and I wanted to film them up close. The only place in my flat where I had white backgrounds and a white surface was in the bath. So I just put them in the bath and set the video camera up and it all kind of worked.”
Russell Miller, myvideoclub, VJ
“Inspiration is everywhere. You can go down to the local supermarket and be inspired. It’s about taking time to observe what’s going on.”
Graham Daniels, producer and VJ
“I make my own animations and I also do video collages of cityscapes. I film railway stations and airports and interesting architectural objects. That came from doing fine art film and video for my degree.”
Ed Shinobi, VJ
Don’t forget the masses of free source material that you’ll find in the venue anyway ie. the artists and the audience. When you get more accomplished you’ll probably want to experiment with running a second camera live to pick up and use shots of what’s going on around you. There’s more on this in our VJing: Performance guide.
At the moment, VJing is still a developing market so you’ll need to do some research on which venues, promoters and artists in your area are likely to hire you. Realistically you may not get paid for your first gigs. Put it down to experience. VJing live is the only way you are really going to learn.
Get hold of promoters and badger them into giving you gigs. Promoters who hire clubs with little or no projection facilities probably aren’t interested in having visuals. But some may simply not have considered VJs. Try putting on some charm and persuading them to hire one.
If you are at university or college, check with the Students Union to find out if they are running any club nights? Ask around about local DJs. Often new DJs will start a night at their uni or a local bar, offer to work with them.
” We would like to change the way promoters and clubs think about visuals and hopefully help the wider visual scene get to the point where visuals are almost a necessity. At most events and clubs quality lighting is now essential – I want visuals to get to the same point.”
Graham Daniels, producer and VJ
Like anything creative, it’s a gradual process to build up your reputation. There are some very established VJs – arguably the people who’ve been doing it for a while have stitched up the plum gigs both in terms of live music and bigger events and festivals. You can still start looking around for smaller nights and grow your name from there. If you’ve got what it takes, and get known for being an innovator, one day the bigger outfits will be wanting to work with you.
Make a demo
First off though, get together a demo video that you can showcase on your own website, as well as send out to would-be employers. Make sure you ask the recipient what format is easiest for them to view (VHS, CDR, DVD?) and whether your target promoters is going to like the genre of music you’ve chosen.
VJs Kriel and Ed Shinobi put it like this:
“The first step to booking gigs on your own is to make a blinding demo video. Pick the music you like. Mix to it, then edit it down to 5 minutes (and no more) on your laptop or PC. Then dub it and send a copy to promoters who deal with that music. Follow up every tape with a call. Every time someone says ‘no’, or even worse says nothing at all, send out another ten copies to another ten promoters, Don’t accept ‘no’. Every step up the ladder only takes one ‘yes’. “
” It depends how you price yourself and the size of the night. If you’ve got 2,000 people coming in then they’ve got money to play with. They’re going to want that night to be good because they want to keep those thousands of people. If there’s a night that’s only got 500 people you have to ask yourself how much money they’ll be making. It’s generally not a lot so you have to ask yourself how much they’ll be willing to pay for something that isn’t a necessity.”
Ed Shinobi, VJ