In the hours before the kick-off of the 11th annual Decibel Festival, aspiring VJs gathered at EMP in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon for an intro to creating video art. The session, entitled “VJing WTF Is It?,” was part of dB Conference — five days of programming focused on technology-based education.
It turns out the art of VJing has come a long way since its inception in the 1980s, as David Lublin, a visual artist and programmer who designed the VJ software VDMX, explained to the crowd.
In the modern multimedia world, the applications of video jockeying expand far beyond just introducing the next music video on MTV. VJ skills are applicable to everything from musical performances to set design to live cinema.
So, if you’re interested in becoming a video artist, here are some tips from an expert.
Choose a discipline
In April Mashable included “Media Remixer” in its list of 10 Crazy Jobs That Will Exist in the Future. As Lublin pointed out, that future is now.
VJing has turned into a broad umbrella to describe a variety of audiovisual disciplines. If you’re interested in taking it up, narrow your focus to find a starting point. Want to create narrative pieces? Consider live cinema. If you want to combine physical and digital media, set design might be right for you. The options are limitless once a VJ acquires the necessary skills, but you have to start somewhere.
It’s nearly impossible to be a VJ without some understanding of music — the two are inextricably linked. Audio and visual overlap when it comes to techniques, tools used, and of course the final product.
“Having a musical background really gives you a leg up,” Lublin said. “You can anticipate when you’re working with live musicians if you have a little bit of a musical background.”
Know your tools — and be resourceful
VJing is a multimedia art form and the list of resources available is long. Hardware ranges from user-friendly starter tools to specialized products like analog synths and LED walls. One piece of advice Lublin offered: be resourceful. Some tools that weren’t originally intended for visual artists can be repurposed. Security cameras, for example, are cheap and great for shooting in low lighting.
Software is another key component to VJing — and the variety of available tools is as extensive, if not more. The options range from simple iOS and Android apps like VJ and DJ, to specialized programs that advanced VJs often write themselves.
“I often think of VJing as a gateway drug to computer programming,” Lublin said. “I’d done a little bit of VJing but ultimately wanted to create my own VJ software.”
Start with the basics
It can seem like the sky is the limit for an experienced VJ, but you have to know what’s out there before you begin specializing. Lublin recommends starting with the basics. He suggests playing around with free sample clips from sites like Archive.org, Videopong.net, or VJloops.com, rather than starting with pre-production. But he noted that the most important aspect of VJing is experimentation.
“Ultimately that’s what making art is about,” he said. “You could sit here and let me lecture you about good practices and techniques but really you should just jump in. Start with something that’s psychedelic or just pure pixel puke and learn from there.”