Your Guide to Becoming a DJ, the Basics

Parmesan CheeseMaybe it’s the fact that you go to nightclubs and think you can outperform the DJ. Maybe you tried playing on the Pioneer DDJ-SZ at Guitar Center and were able to transition from one song to the next. Or maybe you’re the one always connected to the Bluetooth playing music from your playlists. Whatever the reason, you’ve now thought about becoming a DJ. Where do you begin?

There are four main ways in which you can DJ at an event:

  1. Turntables & mixer w/ or w/out computer
  2. CDJs & mixer w/ or w/out computer
  3. DJ controller w/ computer
  4. Controllers for Ableton Live w/ computer4319327_700b

In this article, we will be discussing the third option: DJ controller w/ computer. Why? DJ controllers with their corresponding software are the cheapest, easiest, and most efficient option for up-and-coming DJs. You may find online articles about how “real DJs” play out with crates of vinyl and Technics turntables, but this debate is fading away. I’m here to help you get started on a DJ controller and software, which is what most DJs of the current generation use.

Let’s get started.

Computer

You’re going to need a laptop to get going. Listed below are the minimum system requirements that you need on your laptop. Based on these top DJ software system requirements, I’d recommend you go with at least Windows 7 on a PC or at least Mac OS X 10.10 on a Mac.

Serato DJ: Windows 7 or later; Mac OS X 10.10 or later.

Traktor Pro: Windows 7 or later; Mac OS X 10.10 or later.

VirtualDJ: Windows XP SP3 or later; Mac OS X 10.7 or later.

Rekordbox DJ: Windows 7 or later; Mac OS X 10.10 or later.

Should you get a Mac or PC for DJing?

  1. If you have a Mac, stick with your Mac.
  2. If you have a PC, stick with your PC.
  3. If you’re in the market for a new computer, check out this article and read the comments: https://www.digitaldjtips.com/2012/10/pc-vs-mac-for-djing/

There’s a couple of purchases to be made up front as a DJ; a new computer shouldn’t have to be one of those purchases. If your current computer meets those specifications, holds your music, and doesn’t crash, then by all means use your current computer. You can upgrade it as your skills improve and as you make money from gigs.

Controller & Software

If you’re still not convinced you should start out on a DJ controller, check out DJTLM’s video “Best DJ equipment for beginners?” on YouTube.

You have many options for your first DJ controller. However, it’s important to focus on the features of the controller that you may not think about right away. Make sure to do your research as buying the right controller is a crucial part when starting out as a brand-new DJ.

Software:

  • The controller you purchase may be linked to a certain piece of software, such as Traktor Pro or Serato DJ. My DJ controller, the Pioneer DDJ-SX2 for example, is made to work seamlessly with Serato DJ. I’m glad that I now use Serato DJ because mapping my controller to other software (letting the software know which buttons mean certain functions), such as Traktor Pro, may be difficult. Luckily there are certain DJ softwares, such as Virtual DJ or djay Pro, that work with many controllers across all different brands.
  • Choice of software does not equal skill. If the user interface on Virtual DJ suits you, go ahead and use Virtual DJ. There have been rare occasions when I’ve been asked about my choice of software, but in general the crowd will not see what goes on in the DJ booth. Bottom line: use whatever software is compatible with your preferences.

Controller Specifications (example questions to consider):

  • If you’re hoping to be a scratch DJ, does the controller have a crossfader?
  • Does the controller have 2 or 4 channels for music?
  • Does the controller have a microphone input for weddings and corporate events?
  • Does the controller have connections for master speakers or booth outputs?

    ddj-sb-main
    DDJ-SB: Portable 2-channel controller for Serato DJ

Equipment

Computer √

DJ controller √

DJ software √

What other pieces of equipment do you need?

Headphones

  • You’ll be using headphones to “cue” music, which means listening to songs in your headphones before you play them through the master speakers. Headphones are necessary for manual beat matching as well if you end up choosing to try that.

Cables

  • Get used to having lots of cables. You’ll have cables for the speakers, controller, computer, headphones, and lights.

PA system

  • As a mobile DJ, you’ll need your own PA system to lug around from gig to gig. I’m fortunate enough to have bought nice (and cheap) speakers early on that have served me very well: a pair of Harbinger V2115s. I later added a Harbinger subwoofer to my sound set up. Along with the speakers, you’ll also need speaker stands to raise the speakers to at least ear level.

What other pieces of equipment would be nice to have?

Lights

  • Lights add a tremendous amount to the esthetic of the presentation. I’d recommend you pick up a package such as IRC’s GigBar and then add lights as your business improves.

Fog machine

  • I’ve never owned a fog machine, but I’ve had other DJ’s use it alongside me during parties and dances. Alternatives to a fog machine include a haze machine or snow machine.

Booth monitors

  • Booth monitors are smaller speakers that face you as you DJ so that you can hear the music that comes out the master speakers with minimal to no delay. For example, you may have a gig where the master speakers are fairly far from you and it’s hard to hear the music coming from them. With booth monitors, you have the music played directly at you so that you can mix more effectively and are in tune to what is being played for the crowd.

Music

You can’t DJ without music. Plain and simple.

Where can you access music?

CDs

  • CDs are my favorite mode of obtaining music for three reasons. 1. I own a physical copy of the music. 2. I like to support artists and the music industry. 3. I prefer to import music into iTunes as high quality ALAC files, which is an option when importing CDs and typically not an option when buying from digital distributors.

DJ Record Pools

  • DJ Record Pools provide a subscription-based service for DJs to obtain new music, including acapellas, remixes, and original songs. I renew my subscription every couple of months during the times of the year when I’m getting more gigs.

    H21hQSJ3IsSbpblxD8ULxA-logo-djcity
    DJCity Record Pool

iTunes

  • If I want an older song that’s not found in the DJ Record Pool, and for some reason I don’t want to purchase the CD, I’ll buy the song on iTunes. It looks like iTunes will be discontinuing its widely known iTunes music store and switch completely to Apple Music in the coming year or two (at least that’s what I’ve read).

YouTube

  • Just kidding. Please do not rip music off YouTube. It’s illegal and the quality is terrible.

Major Keys:

  1. Obtaining DJ friendly music is a never-ending task.
    1. Do not wait until you think you have enough music to get started. Just do it, like Shia LaBeouf says. I’m constantly adding music to my DJ collection, whether new or old music, but I still have plenty of material to use even if it’s not always up to date.
  2. Organize your music effectively.
    1. Add all of the metadata in the file information that you’ve been too lazy to add up until this point. Yes, every Artist, Album, and even Year should be filled in for every song. You’ll be able to make Smart Playlists that will streamline your thinking and help you consider songs that work well with each other.
  3. Develop your own style.
    1. Imagine if every DJ in the world all had access to the same music in their library. That would get boring fast, and you would have a hard time differentiating yourself from the pack. By developing your own style, you can seek music that appeals to you and come up with creative mixes that others may not have heard of.

Tutorials and Resources

I’m thankful for the following DJ channels that have helped me develop the basics skills of DJing: PDotTV, DJTLM, DJCityTV, DigitalDJTips, DJTechTools. I recommend you check out their pages and gain knowledge about music organization, mixing tips, business tactics, and more.

  1. PDotTV: https://www.youtube.com/user/DJPDotTV
  2. DJTLM: https://www.youtube.com/user/djTLMtv
  3. DJCityTV: http://www.djcity.com
  4. DigitalDJTips: https://www.youtube.com/digitaldjtips
  5. DJTechTools: http://djtechtools.com

Social Media

Marketing on social media is a skill on its own that takes dedication. Create a DJ website. Have the same username and handle for your social media sites. It helps to have your content be accessible from one platform to the other. Post photos and videos from your first gig, and send them to me so I can see!


Let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on any one of these sections. Be sure to leave a comment letting me know if this article was useful for you.

Good luck fellow DJs!

 

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