This may seem like an easy question to answer, but in today's world it can be quite complicated. As most people probably know, DJ is short for disc jockey. A DJ (also spelled D.J., Dee Jay, and Deejay) is someone you plays recorded music for a living. These people are also known as 'professional DJs'. A professional DJ is someone who's chosen the DJ field as they're lifelong career. This means that sometime long ago, they made a decision that they wanted to become a professional disc jockey, and have since then successfully pursued their goal. A professional DJ either works for an employer (such as a club or radio station) or operates his/her own business as an entrepreneur. Professional DJs have many years or sometimes decades of experience under their belt. They understand the industry, the clientele, and also the technical aspects of the trade. Knowledge plays a big part in being a professional DJ.
Here is where things can get complicated: "Real DJs spin vinyl". You may have heard this before. Many professional DJs, hip hop and dance music enthusiasts, as well as regular ordinary people would agree with this statement. Purist DJs consider 'real DJs' only to be those who spin vinyl. Period. End of story. Although this viewpoint may be considered controversial and politically incorrect by some, it does have a basis in history. For at least three decades, DJing has essentially meant using two turntables, a mixer, and a mic. During this time, equipment was expensive, the tricks of the trade were closely guarded secrets, and a substantial vinyl record collection was a prerequisite for getting your foot in the door. Needless to say, the competition pool was small since not everybody was able to enter the field.
In the mid to late 2000s, there was a drastic shift in DJ technology. Laptop computers, external hard drives, and flash drives containing digital music appeared on the scene whereas traditionally, DJs have always used crates of vinyl records. Some DJ equipment manufacturers also packed stores with low-end, cheap, and easily obtainable products. This caused a major problem for the professional DJ community because now, anybody can purport to being a "DJ", fool the naive public, and also divert business from the professionals. This development within the industry has been viewed by many pro DJs as nothing short of a catastrophe.
The impact in many cases has been negative because it's been hurting the industry. counterfeit DJs have not only lowered the bar substantially, but they've also altered the public's perception of what an actual DJ is. DJs have always played records (actual vinyl records). However, now that there's cheap gear, software, and digital music readily available, the majority of "DJs" aren't using real vinyl records or turntables. Authentic and professional vinyl DJs have sadly become outnumbered by a sea of people falsely claiming to be DJs. This has given birth to an entirely new industry: 'instant DJs'. The influx of amatuers with their new-cheap gear (along with easily downloadable digital music from the internet) has oversaturated the market. As a result, the standard of the word 'DJ' and what it signifies has become lost and murky.
The problem for the consumer is that they're unknowingly going to hire a cheap 'instant DJ' who's likely unqualified, inexperienced, and only out to make a quick buck. 'Instant DJs' are disrupting business for actual professional DJs because their prices are dirt cheap. Rather than purchasing (reasonably priced) quality DJ service, some consumers seem to get distracted and enticed by the super-low prices of 'instant DJs'. Thus, authentic DJs are being undercut in the marketplace. Many longtime, professional DJs believe that these trends are contaminating the DJ culture as well as the DJ industry. DJing is a discipline and a science. It isn't just playing songs, because basically anybody can do that.
Let's be clear about something. There's nothing wrong with people getting some equipment and working as a "DJ". The problem many pro DJs are facing is that all 'DJs' are being lumped into the same category. For example: someone who is just starting out, is not in the same league as somebody who's been a DJ for 20 or 30 years. A person using software or equipment which emulates vinyl isn't the same as the veteran DJ who uses actual vinyl records during his/her sets. This has created an ideological rift between newer DJs and the old school professional vinyl DJ community. Unfortunately in these days and times, authentic DJing is often imitated, but it's rarely replicated.
Turntables and records are the foundation of DJing. However, it isn't the equipment which makes a good DJ. Part of being a DJ is about having control of the crowd. It's also about playing the right track at the right time in order to keep the dance floor going. Most new and upcoming DJs don't use turntables or records because they're not from the same era as seasoned, old school DJs. Back in those days, DJs using vinyl was the norm and far more prevalent than today. It's next to impossible for newer DJs to travel back in time in order to get all the vinyl records that old school DJs possess. That's one of the reasons they don't use vinyl; plus there's a generational gap.
To be perfectly honest, not everybody out there using newer DJ technologies are new or amateur DJs. Many of the biggest and best veteran DJs have switched from using vinyl to some other form of DJing (such as using a laptop with software). Then, there are those DJs who will always stick with vinyl and turntables rather than change to any other method. They are simply too attached to the original, old school way of DJing and refuse to make that kind of transition. These are some of the philosophical, ethical, economical, and political aspects that exist within the DJ world. Ultimately, it's up to the consumers to choose who THEY want to hire for their events.