A video jockey (usually abbreviated to VJ, or sometimes veejay) is an announcer who introduces and plays videos on commercial music television such as the United States’ MTV, VH1, Fuse TV, non-commercial TVU, Canada’s MuchMusic, and Asia’s Channel V. Other alternative names for a VJ include “VDJ” (Video DJ) and “MVJ” (Mobile VJ).
Origins of the term
The term “video jockey” is a derivative of the term “disc jockey”, “DJ” (deejay) as used in radio. The term was popularised in the 1980s by the Music Television Network (MTV).
The founders of MTV got their idea from studying Merrill Aldighieri, the person to invent the job of Video Jockey and its term. Merrill worked in the New York nightclub which was the first public arena featuring video with music in New York City. When Merrill was invited to show her experimental film in the club, she ask if she could first develop a use for video to complement the DJ music so that when her film would be played, it would become part of a club ambiance and not be seen as a break in the evening. The experiment was such a success she was offered a full-time job.
Several months later the future-founders of MTV started coming to the club regularly, interviewing her and taking notes. She told them she was a VJ, the term she invented with a staff member to put on her first payslip. Her video jockey memoirs have a complete list of all the live music she documented during her VJ breaks. There are over 100 hours of seminal recordings of new wave, post punk, experimental, jazz, and many other musical genres.
Her method of performing as a video jockey consisted of improvising live clips using a video camera, projected film loops, and switching between 2 U-matic video decks. The public was solicited to collaborate. Many video artists were showcased and contributed raw and finished works. Stock footage was also incorporated. At this inception, the DJ was already the controller of the music, and the VJ was the visual adjunct. In the next incarnation of Merrill’s pioneering work as a VJ she worked at Danceteria where there was a video lounge and the dancefloor was on a separate level. This change in architecture influenced the role of VJ to incorporate any and all sound sources available and be free not to focus on dance music as the only criterion for the audio.
Video jockeying then expanded to incorporate live television feeds, music concrete, and other experiments with multi-media crowd participation. There was more equipment at the new Danceteria to facilitate this collaboration, including live television feeds of broadcast T.V. The design of this new video installation, “the video lounge”, was supervised by experimental video artists John Sanborn and Kit Fitzgerald who chose Merrill to direct the performance and programming. Meanwhile, MTV was now well established and focused on the commercially based playlist with their VJ’s as TV personalities who were in fact fictionalised – they neither jockied any videos nor even chose them. VJing also expanded to the internet in 2012 with Rap Genius’s YouTube personality Nicole.