What Is a VJ (Visual Jockey or Video Jockey)?

Many people talk/write about VJs, which can be in combination with electronic dance music (EDM). The abbreviation VJ stands for visual jockey and video jockey, and both terms can mean two different things. Moreover, an EDM VJ might do other things than a not EDM VJ.

What is a VJ? VJ stands for visual jockey or a video jockey, and both terms can mean a creator moving visual arts or an introducer of videos. Most of the time, such visual arts are in the form of a video played on big screens or projected with beamers. An introducer of videos is someone who talks before, between, or after one or multiple videos, with a common purpose to introduce one or more other videos.

After this introduction, this post goes more in-depth about what VJs are, do, use, and some related information about them.

Visual Jockeys and Video Jockeys

The abbreviation of video jockey or visual jockey is VJ and is sometimes also spelled as V.J. or ‘veejay,’ and follows the same analogy as DJ and RJ. The abbreviation DJ is sometimes also spelled as ‘deejay’ and stands for disc jockey, and RJ stands for radio jockey.

At the time of writing, I can’t find a serious definition of the term visual jockey. However, the definitions I found are something like: “a video equipment manager.” Such a definition is, in my opinion, too vague since visual jockeys do more than only managing video equipment.

There are multiple definitions of the term video jockey, such as the one from the online Collins English Dictionary. This definition is: “a person who introduces and plays videos, esp of pop songs, on a television programme.” Also, this definition is not that great since VJs can do more than introducing and playing videos.

There are two people whom we can see at the first VJ ever and are Merrill Aldighieri and Rick Moranis. Furthermore, a VJ can be a creator of moving visual arts, an introducer of videos, or both.

Merrill Aldighieri

A woman named Merrill Aldighieri worked in the New York City nightclub, Hurrah. This club was the first with a video installation with multiple monitors hanging over the bar and dance floor as an important part of the club design.

Hurrah invited Merrill to show an experimental video. The purpose of this video was to be a break for the audience in the evening. After Merrill saw this video, she asked if she could develop a video to complement the music of the DJ, which would become a part of the club ambiance.

The video that Merrill made as an experiment was a success. Therefore, the club hired her for a full-time job.

Several months later, after the club hired Merrill, the future founders of Music Television Network (MTV) patronized Hurrah, interviewed Merrill, and took notes of it. She told these founders that she is a VJ, an abbreviation which she and some club staff members invented, to place it on her first payslip. Furthermore, MTV popularized in the 1980s the term VJ and got their idea for VJ host personalities from studying Merrill’s work at Hurrah.

In the VJ memoirs of Merrill, she has listed the live music, which she documented during her VJ breaks. Merrill’s method of performing as a VJ consisted of improvising live videos by using a video camera, projected videos in loops, and switching between two Sony U-Matic decks. The Sony U-Matic is an analog recording videocassette.

Merrill requested the public of the club to collaborate with her. Also, the club showcased Merrill many video artists, who contributed raw and finished videos.

A part of Merrill’s work was stock footage. After Merrill worked at club Hurrah, she worked at the New York City nightclub Danceteria, which had four-floor dance floors and a video lounge.

Rick Moranis

The American magazine Sound & Vision credits the creation of the VJ to Rick Moranis, who is a comedian and was a former DJ. He introduced music videos on television under his persona Gerry Todd on Second City Television.

The sketches of Gerry Todd ran before MTV debuted in the United States. Up until that point, “There had been no such thing,” which Moranis’ SCTV castmate Martin Short confirmed, so “the joke was that there would be such a thing.” In this case, ‘thing’ means VJ.

Creator of Moving Visual Arts

A VJ can be an artist who creates moving visual arts at events. Most of the time, these arts are in the form of a video played on big screens or projected with beamers. Some popular events at which a VJ can play his/her visuals are night clubs, music festivals, concerts, or exhibitions.

Often when a VJ plays his/her visuals, it does happen in combination with other forms of performing arts. Such other forms of performing arts can be dancers, music (like DJs), and actors.

A part visible of equipment by which we can change videos on television

Introducer of Videos

A VJ can be an introducer of videos and is someone who talks before, between, or after one or multiple videos, with a common purpose to introduce one or more other videos. A typical place for VJs to introduce videos is on television.

Creator of Moving Visual Arts Techniques

The creator of moving visual arts VJs make and edit videos and images, which they do with hardware and software. Before the nineties, VJs used almost only analog tools, and after the nineties, they used more digital tools.

Popular tools VJs used before the nineties were VHS recorders and (liquid) slides (the ones that we can watch with a projector). We can call the visuals the VJs create with liquid slides “liquid light shows” or “psychedelic light shows.”

In the 90s, it was popular for VJs to use a video mixer (like a Panasonic WJ-MX50) to lay different effects on top of a video signal.

As already mentioned, Merrill Aldighieri’s method of performing as a VJ consisted of improvising live videos by using a video camera and projected videos in loops. Also, she switched between two Sony U-Matic decks. The Sony U-Matic is an analog recording videocassette.

After the nineties till today (moment of writing), most of the hardware VJs use are video mixer (like a Roland V-800HD), media servers, midi controllers. They use this hardware to mix/switch video signals.

Some other popular tools VJs use today are video editing software and specialized VJ software. Furthermore, VJs still lay different effects on top of a video signal. However, most of the time, they do it now with a laptop running specialized VJ software.

Video editing software is software that we can use for post-production video editing. Some examples of video editing software are Maxon Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects.

Specialized VJ software is software that we can use for live improvising, by which videos can adapt continuously to music and performers. Some examples of specialized VJ software are Resolume and Modul8.

A part visible of a video editing software program

The Creations

VJs can project their made videos with one or more beamers on one or more projection screens or one or more monitors. VJs can show their there videos inside a place, outside, but also at day and night time.

Not all shows with VJs are video only. In some shows, they can time their videos precisely with other show elements such as lasers, sounds, fireworks, and smoke. A method to make these timings of such elements possible is with the use of time codes.

Some VJs use the 3D projection mapping technique, which people sometimes name in short “mapping.” This technique makes it possible to use the 3D structure of an object for projections, which can result in optical illusions. For example, VJs can use 3D projection mapping on a building or decor.

EDM VJ

Some people talk/write about EDM VJs, but they do not always communicate about the same thing. Also, a part of these people communicates some wrong things about VJs, such as they have to be DJs.

EDM VJs are VJs within an EDM context. So, an EDM VJ can be an artist who creates moving visual arts at EDM events. Also, an EDM VJ can be an introducer of EDM videos who talks before, between, or after one or multiple videos, with a common purpose to introduce one or more other videos.

For example, a VJ who creates moving visual arts at a techno event is an EDM VJ.

Other VJ Related Information

There is some more VJ related information that might be interesting, such as:

  • There is some education available to become a VJ. However, there are VJs of the opinion that such education is not necessary. Many of those VJs believe that we can teach it ourselves, like with the testing of VJ software and watching youtube videos.
  • There are people of the opinion that VJs do more than DJs, such as a WikiHow writer. However, it is not always the case that VJs do more than DJs. The amount of VJ/DJ work depends on many things, such as the style of the artist and pre-performance planning.
  • Merrill Aldighieri started a Kickstarter project, “The V.J. Diaries,” which had to be a documentary. However, the project did not get enough fundings, and therefore, the project canceled. There was already a trailer, which we can see here below.

Closing Words

Hopefully, you have learned something about VJs.

If you like this post, then you may want to look at some posts in the lifestyle part, since this post is also part of it.

When you know someone who likes to know more about VJs, then feel free to share this post. Additionally, do you know something about VJs that this post has not mentioned?

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