Beyond the Underneath: Some thoughts on being a video jockey

Derin Savasan / The Tufts Daily

My only experience of almost becoming a VJ, or video jockey, was for an art installation event, which both started and ended very abruptly. It started abruptly because I had slightly more experience in motion graphics than others and we were pressed for time. It ended abruptly because they realized my “slightly more” experience was not at all equivalent to “sufficient” experience. 

I underestimated the level of planning and thinking in VJing. During my struggle and under pressure, I recognized my lack of grasp to form a consistent flow of visual ideas that could match the theme, let alone the skill to convert images in my head onto the screen.  

VJs are visual artists who create and improvise videos for performances and live music events. My VJ project was abandoned, but I started to pay more attention to visuals during music events. Some of them were sublime in terms of design, composition, meaning and even beat-matching; some of them raised questions in my head. 

The visual serves a crucial role in complementing the style and message of the music, as well as the theme of the event. 

But the visual is an incredibly difficult aspect of any event to perfect. Like steadying an egg on its end, you need to find the exact balance. Usually during a music event, the visual dances with the music but never leads. Its presence shouldn’t be scared of attention or the crowd, nor should it be brass or domineering.

The visual and the artist should also form a balance. You should infuse your personality and style into the visual but not make it just about yourself and irrelevant to the music. The compromise is difficult to grasp.  

A friend once told me that he doesn’t like seeing the visual because it tends to distract him from the music and a music event is more about the music. It’s true that if the visual doesn’t cooperate well with the music in terms of style and content, it will be distracting. A good visual should be an extra element to look forward to and to enhance the experience together with the music. However, I disagreed with him on the “it’s more about the music” part. They both require careful planning. Even if the music has more of a leading role, the visual should not just be there nor be loosely planned. Indeed, the fact that he thinks most visuals are distracting is possibly because they were not carefully designed to merge with the environment. 

That’s the problem. People, whether they are the audience, the planners, the musicians or even VJs themselves, tend to overlook the importance of VJs. Visuals highlight the core quality of music, helping people to identify and remember each event or musician from a fresh perspective. The magic couldn’t occur if any of the elements were missing.


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