Video Jockeying


What is Video Jockeying?

Video Jockeys (VJs) use various techniques to mix and display video content, usually for the purpose of enhancing some kind of musical experience.

Why is Video Jockeying useful?

To provide additional entertainment at music performances: Since humans are visually oriented for the most part, the inclusion of video during a musical performance encourages the audience to pay more attention, have higher retention, and conveys a message that is complimentary to the music.  For example, if a DJ is playing music that he wants people to dance to, a VJ might compliment the music by displaying video of disco lights, people dancing, or feet moving.  People like to watch other people dance, and are more likely to dance themselves if they see other’s dancing.

To publicly display a form of artistic expression: Video Jockeying, once you become familiar with it, can easily become a creative outlet, just as Disc Jockeys are usually considered musicians and receive recognition for their art.  This is especially true if you use your own original video clips.

To participate in musical events without being a musician:  Being a VJ means you are part of the performance.  Depending on your venue, you may get free drinks, backstage passes, access to guest list spots, and perhaps most importantly, you might get paid.  But wasn’t this about art?

What kinds of video are good for Video Jockeying?

Picking the video you want to display is where the creativity of Video Jockeying starts.  There are many different ways you can go about this, depending on the effect you want to have on the music and the audience.  Here are some general tips:

Listen to and learn the music that you’re going to be performing with, then devise a theme to go along with it.  Example 1: If you have a driving rock song with an urban theme, then perhaps video with lots of people, movement, buildings, etc would be appropriate.  Example 2: If you have a love song or ballad, then perhaps video of flowers growing, waves crashing, the sun coming up, etc would be appropriate.  Example 3: If you are playing with electronic music, find some video that moves and changes quickly.  You can achieve this effect by switching quickly between several video clips, perhaps every half-second.  This can easily be done using VJ software or a video mixer.

Use video that is fairly sharp and has plenty of brightness and contrast.  Blurry video is likely to become even more blurry when displayed and viewed at a distance.  If your video clips aren’t bright enough, they won’t make a very big impact once they go through a projector.  Projectors are also sensitive to contrast, so dark text on a black background isn’t likely to show up well.

Start using your video camera.  It can be surprising how much interesting video you can get from taping normal, everyday things with your video camera.  Take some close-up shots of a TV screen, a water faucet, leaves rustling, etc.  Once you have some video recorded, import the video to your computer, and edit it into usable clips.  There is a lot I could say about video editing and compression for the purpose of Video Jockeying, so perhaps I’ll cover that sometime in the future.

Using a video camera to create a video feedback loop.  Video feedback occurs when you direct a video camera at a screen showing what the camera sees.  Rather than try to describe the fantastic effects that can be produced by video feedback, I suggest doing an experiment to find out for yourself.  Plug your video camera into a television so that the TV displays what the camera sees.  Then put the camera directly in front of the TV and aim the lens at the screen.  Observe what happens.  Put objects between the camera and the television and notice the “shadow” that is created by video feedback.  You can record this feedback and use it later.  You can also composite live video feedback with other video sources using a mixer while you are performing.

What equipment is needed for Video Jockeying?

Video Projector(s) – this is by far the most expensive investment you’ll have to make.  Unless your venue already has a projector or some other large display you can use, you’ll need to buy or rent one of these.  There are a number of types of projectors available, and within these types a wide range of price and quality.

Notebook Computer – With a computer, you can store hundreds of video clips and run programs (such as ArKaos or Grid) that will display the clips and create effects and transitions for you.  Get a computer that has both video output and input.  You need output so you can send your video signal to your projector, and input so you can capture original video from a video camera or other video sources.

Video Mixer – With a video mixer you can apply effects and transitions to signals coming from any video source.  Because of all of the filters and compositing effects you can use with these mixers, the possibilities become literally infinite.

DVD Player/VCR – Some VJs plan out their entire set in advance, record it to a VHS tape or DVD, and then plug the VCR or DVD Player directly into the projector or video mixer.  These are also great backup sources of video in case your computer crashes during a performance.

White Screen/Material - You don’t have to go out and buy an actual video screen, because many times the walls, floors, and ceilings of your venue are light enough in color for video to be adequately recognizable on them.  If you need something lighter than the walls, usually some white bed sheets will work just as well as a pull down screen.

Cabling - Always have various extensions, splitters, and converters around when you go to gigs.  You never know when you are going to have to put your projector 50 feet away from your video or power source, so the longer the better is a good rule to follow when picking up cables.  Things like gaff tape and cable ties are useful when securing cables to the ceiling, walls, posts, etc.

Projector Mount – Since projectors are quite expensive to repair or replace, you should have some sort of mount that you can fasten to a table or ceiling so your projector won’t easily get knocked down and broken.

Video Camera – As I mentioned before, these are needed for projecting live video of the audience or performers in conjunction with using a video mixer.  It is also a good idea to record your set so you can review it later on and critique yourself.

Additional Notes:

Use plenty of movement:  Music is always changing, so your video should too.  A lull in the video presentation can distract from the music, which is the reason people came to the event in the first place.  Likewise, if your video has plenty of movement, it can enhance the music being played and draw people further into the performance.

Get to know the event staff:  Introduce yourself to sound and lighting engineers, bartenders, or anyone else that is employed at the venue you are playing.  You will need to work with these people so that you can set up your gear, control stage lights, find power outlets, or anything else that may be required.

Copyright: Be aware of copyright laws that are applicable to the video you are displaying if you are showing it in a public place.  There are websites ( that allow you to download public domain movies that you can edit for later use.

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