Do you want to know what DJs do? Are you ready to take the challenges that every DJ does?
DJing looks fun and it is. However, it’s not an easy job if you want to be one.
For aspiring DJs who are complete beginners and do not know how to start pursuing their dream job, this article is for you.
When I was a newbie, I was very excited when I finally decided to pursue my dream job. Of course, I thought I had it all figured out, but I was a complete beginner and only realized at that very point that there were too many things that I still needed to learn.
Yes, I dedicated weeks to months of reading before I decided what mixer or DJ controller to get. And how I will proceed to further my DJing skills. It was overwhelming, so I write this beginner guide to help you get started!
- 1 What Does a DJ Do?
- 2 Is It Easy To Learn To DJ?
- 3 How To Prepare Your DJ Equipment
- 4 DJ Skills To Learn
- 5 How To Be a DJ
- 6 How To Gain More Audience As A DJ?
- 7 Conclusion
What Does a DJ Do?
For beginners, there are still a lot of things that you need to know. For instance, what do DJs do?
It’s given that DJs mix music and use turntables or CD players, but they actually do more than that.
To give you an overview, there are many types of DJ, there’s a turntable master, club DJ, radio DJ and mobile DJ.
You can specialize in one, but a good DJ needs to be versatile, so you should learn to work oon a number of these disciplines.
Just put it this way, a versatile basketball player who can shoot, play defense, rebound and do more will always be more beneficial to a team and he can easily find a new team because most, if not all, want him to be with them. If you know various DJing techniques, you are more likely to find gigs.
DJs mix different types of music. But aside from mixing, you are expected to also work with production software.
You need to be proficient with mixing and production software. You need to learn those tools, explore what they offer, and get comfortable with working with them because they will help you get accustomed to breaking down the music and mixing songs.
If you want to be an old school DJ, you do not need software, but you have to be pro in scratching the old vinyl. It is a highly respected form of art and very fun.
But mind you, it is very difficult to master. In fact, you need pure talent and skill to be a pure scratch DJ. Also, it can be expensive in both time and money because there are only very few vinyl stores.
Is It Easy To Learn To DJ?
The answer to this question may depend on your dedication and reason what drives you to become a DJ. People have different reasons why they want to become one.
Some do it because they want to be popular. When I started to make a name for DJing in our area, I noticed that a number came forward to me to ask the same question, “how can I become a famous DJ?”
I know what you have in mind, you’re probably imagining the superstar DJs you see on TV. However, I tell you, it will take time before you reach that point, so it’s best if you do it because you love and enjoy it.
I also knew a few who consider themselves a bedroom DJ. They do it because it gives them joy. They don’t perform in bars or look for gigs elsewhere because they are satisfied showing off their skills to the people very close to them.
However, most of those I know want to become a DJ because they find it fun and they want to earn money too. DJing is a good source of income especially if you are already skilled and have a good reputation in this niche.
It would be helpful for you if you determine the reason why you want to join the world of DJing. From there, you could gauge yourself if this hobby is or you or not.
Personally, I would say, some skills are easier to learn if you have a natural interest in doing it or if you already have an innate talent for it. However, other DJing technique takes time to master like scratching.
I must say, DJing is fun to watch and very enjoyable. However, it’s really not easy to learn especially if you want to progress your skills over time. You must be really into it to excel. After all, if you love what you do, no job is too difficult to learn.
How To Prepare Your DJ Equipment
Choosing what equipment to buy is among the challenging things for beginners. DJ equipment and DJ gear are expensive and if your budget is tight, you can’t afford to get it wrong.
For new DJs, I created this section to help you find the best set up possible and decide what gear to buy, so you can start DJing without breaking the bank.
For starters, again, DJing requires you to do a lot of things other than just playing songs. Thus, you have to learn to structure a set, mix on the fly and get the crowd grooving with what’s on your deck.
To do this, you have to equip yourself with the basic equipment. There are two types of set-ups when it comes to your DJ equipment – digital and analog.
You can either use the direct-drive turntables and play vinyl records or use straight-digital set-ups. Both allow you to mix and offer certain advantages that the other doesn’t.
Digital DJing is for you if you wish to be a digital DJ. It is easier than the traditional way of getting the job done. Digital set-ups are for those who are always on the go because they are portable and the learning curve is smaller.
For instance, beatmatching and phrasing are easier to learn because it has a BMP counter and a software system like sync button.
If you decide to go this route, you need these five equipments in your basic beginner DJ setup to start mixing right away.
You need a computer for DJing when going digital because DJ software is a requirement for mobile DJs and you need a computer for it.
A DJ mixer software is the “brain” of your digital setup.
Make sure to get a powerful computer because most DJ software has a system requirement to run it smoothly.
There’s an ongoing debate between Mac or PC for this, but if you dedicate your computer to your DJ software, both work fine. If you plan to add video mixing capabilities, I suggest that you purchase a
Windows machine with the required high-end video card.
Tip: Purchase a laptop within your budget that meets the recommended requirements set by the DJ software.
Others might disagree with the inclusion of DJ controllers as this is really not a requirement, but I don’t DJ without it.
DJ controllers give you an easier and more convenient way to control the DJ software because it eliminates the need to use the mouse.
The most popular DJ controllers in the market are from Pioneer DJ and Denon DJ but they have entry-level solutions.
For newbies, check out the DJ controllers for beginners like Numark, American DJ or Hercules because the are the basic DJ controllers.
Tip: While I don’t recommend a professional controller, I suggest that you choose a not so entry level controller, so you still have enough room to grow.
I find headphones a very important item for a DJ set-up because it allows you to cue-up or pre-listen to tracks using the DJ controller.
You can find tons of DJ headphones on the market in different colors and styles.
When buying, always remember to buy one that meets your DJ equipment and consider the frequency range.
Tip: Get a DJ headphone with a high frequency range that ensures the bass cuts through the mix because this is very helpful in a noisy club or when you are at a loud event.
Speakers are important because it brings your music to your listeners.
Any speaker will work for your DJ equipment, so you can use your home theatre system or computer speakers for practice.
However, those speakers don’t give you the same quality of sound as the larger mobile DJ speaker system.
Get basic self-powered speakers setup because they are perfectly tuned and optimized for easy set-up.
They are the best to get for beginners especially if you travel a lot to perform or if you want to show off your skills to parties and gatherings.
Basic digital equipment will always need cables and the most commonly used is RCA because DJ controllers and DJ sound cards offer RCA connections.
RCA cables are the primary pick because they include audio I/O options such as 1/4 and provides better sound quality.
The DJ hardware for RCA connections uses two different levels – a phone and a line. Many mixers have inputs that are switchable between phone and line or separate inputs for two, so make sure to know what kind of level you are using.
DJ equipment is usually expensive and you don’t really need a lot of things to start mixing if you go for the analog set-up.
This setup allows you to DJ in the traditional way, learn the basic skills especially scratching a stylist against vinyl.
However, it may require a sizable collection of vinyl records to play which can be expensive.
If you prefer the traditional or classic analog setup because you want the old-School DJ’s approach or because it requires less materials then go for it.
In the traditional approach, you only need turntables, a mixer and tons of skills (which beginners pretty sure lacks) that is why using this route isn’t that beginner-friendly.
One isn’t a DJ unless there are turntables on his setup. Turntables allow one to scratch, switch songs and albums, slow down tempos, change the switch and do more.
At present, turntables seem to be a thing of the past because in most cases they are replaced with MIDI controllers and other sync devices in the digital set-up.
Aside from requiring a steep learning curve, finding tracks that people haven’t heard can be a real challenge. Besides, it also requires buying expensive vinyl. While it isn’t easy to use, you’ll be a respected DJ once you master the use of turntables.
Turntables is only the device that spins the record and will need an external amplifier, speaker, headphones and more.
Turntables’ prices usually start from $50 to $20,000. I suggest that you for a turntable that costs at least $100 because turntables at that price range are usually of much higher quality.
Mixers are the centerpiece of an analog DJ setup because they are used to transition between songs, create seamless mix or mashup, add few tweaks to your song, plug your headphones and speakers and more.
You do most of the works to control your performance through the mixer.
DJ mixers have at least 2 channels which means that they have two different audio source and their audio signals mixed together.
Every channel has a dedicated channel strip. It also comes with dozens of knobs, buttons and sliders.
Tip: All you need is a 2-channel mixer to start DJing. However, investing in a mixer with more channels will be helpful as you progress.
For instance, 4-channel mixers offers more audio sources which allows you to connect additional gear toys to improve your performance like samplers, drum machines, and more. So, if you have a budget get a 4-channel mixer or more.
DJ Skills To Learn
DJ needs to learn a set of skills and you have to master them. If you decide to start Djing, you have to learn beatmatching, phrasing and equalizing.
For beginners, I will describe each of those words, so you will have a better grasp every time we refer to it in the next sections.
Beatmatching is matching two tempos of two separate tracks so that the beats are hitting in a synchronized fashion.
With beatmatching, you get two tracks to play the same tempo (the speed at which the song is playing) and phase (the beats from both tracks playing in-time with each other).
You can accomplish this using the player’s pitch fader. You’ve got to remember this – beatmatching is about tempo and phase.
Beatmatching is among the DJ technical skills that take the most time for people to learn. You need to persevere until you can pick it up.
Thus, you need to allot time to learn this because it is the foundational pillars of DJing. Also, once you beatmatch manually, you can play on anything, mix songs with tempo variations and you can work with other DJs too.
When you master beatmatching, you will gain others’ respect because it isn’t something easy to learn. You have to rely on your ear to master it because even if the technology is good it is not perfect.
“Your ear begins to zero in on auditory cues, such as a distinct snare or hi-hat. You start to notice how the percussion is structured… the syncopation and groove of the rhythm. This, in turn, helps aid you with things like switching up genres and subtle mixing,” David Michael wrote.
Modern DJ hardware can now sync tracks with the push of a button and many depend on those buttons. While you can consider that God sent, always remember that the sync feature doesn’t always get it right.
Yes, it’s not perfect, so there will always be a time when you have to rely on your own skill when beatmatching instead of simply pushing the Synch button.
In fact, for some, you are not a DJ unless you can perfectly beatmatch two tracks or disable the syncing feature.
So, I urged you to keep practicing. Start with one track and learn to adjust the temp. Listen for the little signals when your track is slipping out of time.
Don’t look at beatmatching displays either, instead, focus on listening and use your ears. Trust your instincts and master it because it is among the very basic DJ requirements
Phrasing is also called stage matching because it refers to the alignment of phrases of two tracks in a mix.
It allows the transition between the tracks to be done without breaking the structure of the music. You can consider phrasing as an aspect of beatmatching or beatmixing and not a separate technique
In layman’s term, it is mixing your tracks together at points in the songs which make sense. Most music you will be DJing is in 4/4 whether you play electronic dance music, hip-hop, or funk. This means they have four beats in a measure and the quarter note gets one beat.
A DJ rig has different volume level adjustments. Each mixer channel has a gain knob that allows you to adjust the level by watching the meters and each channel has a line fader.
There’s also what is called a crossfader that allows you to fade between one channel and another in a left/right motion. For newbies, it’s a general rule to stay out of the red. To boost the volume increase the amp or speaker side.
This refers to the act of boosting or cutting frequencies so that multiple audio tracks blend nicely. When this is used properly, it’s a useful tool for creative expression.
However, equalization will not fix a bad mix, but you can use it to “smoothen together” multiple audio signals to make your mixes more polish.
The EQ function on your mixer or software offers a number of uses to help improve your mixing. In fact, DJ EQ mixing is another skill that you have to master to improve your mixing and save from a hefty bill.
Usually, a standard DJ mixer or software interface will feature 3 band equalizer (EQ). Some offer a 2 band EQ while others come with more, a 4 band EQ.
EQ is used to control different frequencies and alter the prevalence of a certain sound in a track and make it more seamlessly fit together. DJs use EQ to add or cut something from a track.
One could cut the low range or bass frequencies on the build-up after a breakdown to make the drop feel more intense. Or a DJ can add mid-range to vocals to make the mix stand out while using the filters.
I suggest that you explore the EQ settings to find what’s best for the different genres. When you master this skill, you’ll be amazed at how those little tricks can make a huge difference to your sets. In fact, EQing can blow your set in ways you have never imagined and in a positive way.
When you start DJing, you have to get yourself familiarize with mixing and learn how to DJ mix.
This is the process when a DJ mixes a sequence of several songs played one after the other with each modified so that they blend together into one continuous track.
You can use other skills to hone your mixing skills like beatmatching. This might not be an easy job as beatmatching isn’t easy to master for novices.
So, for beginners, the easiest way to start is through the help of software which in this case is available in two versions – production software and mixing software.
The best thing with using software is that it helps you learn as many skills in a short amount of time.
But, you should know the difference between the two, so you will know what’s more appropriate to depending on your application.
Production software is a tool you use to make new songs. As its name suggests, it is used for “production.” With this, you can produce a new song because it includes a selection of instruments including drums, piano, bass, and optimizers.
Mixing software is another tool that offers an interface to evaluate the BPM, key, and measures of two songs, so you can best blend them together. The software enables you to combine multitrack recordings in a final mono, stereo or surrounding sound product.
After mixing, the final product will be ready for production.
Among the most popular DJ software applications are Ableton Live, Serato DJ Pro, Mixxx, Rekordbox DJ, Traktor Pro 3 and Deckadance to name a few.
This is a turntablist technique of moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable to produce percussive or rhythmic sounds.
If you are using a DJ mixer, the crossfader may be used to fade between two records simultaneously.
Usually, scratching is associated with certain music styles like hip hop music, rap rock, rap metal, a nu metal. In hip hop culture, scratching is one of the measures of a DJ’s skills.
In fact, DJs compete in scratching competitions at the DMC World DJ Championship and IDA (International DJ Association).
Learning to scratch is a great skill to add in your portfolio as you progress with your DJing skills. I don’t recommend this if you are a total novice because it takes time, talent, practice and tons of patience to master.
Scratching can help you add flair to your set, but then again, it’s not easy, so give yourself enough time to master it.
How To Be a DJ
Now that you already know what DJs do, what is included in the basic setup, and what are the skills required in DJing, it’s high time that we start to discuss the overall process of DJing.
This will be a step-by-step guide, so expect it to be lengthy. Are you ready? I know you are, so let’s get started!
1. Gather your equipment
By now, you should have decided what set-up you want.
Basically, for your DJ set-up, you should include the following:
• Two turntables or two CD players (or more optionally)
• 2-channel mixer
• Mixing software (optional)
Tip: Don’t invest in expensive DJ equipment right away. Focus your budget in getting good turntables and a mixer.
2. Consider a software package
I highly recommend this especially for beginners because it makes the learning process easier and more fun.
In just a few weeks, you’ll surely see a huge improvement in your DJing skills because many functions automate the process like some come with looping and scratching capability, delays and reverberations, real-time control and more.
Also, it enables you to access a library of MP3s on your hard drive to complement the vinyl and CD selections.
DJ software is available at various prices, there are good ones that are also affordable. There is also free software that you can try on.
For those who aren’t sure if they will stick with DJing, I suggest that you try the free software to test the waters. In this way, if you lose interest after a few weeks, you would save yourself from purchasing software that you won’t be using.
Tip: If you are eager to purchase software, I suggest that you get a mixing software package because they are more affordable and user-friendly.
3. Work on the music
Here’s what to do to get yourself familiar with the music and process it.
Learn the song’s BPM. It’s very important that you listen to the music’s BPM (beat per minute). Some mixers come with BPM counter, but not all are accurate.
Look for two songs that are only within 3 BPMs off.
Familiarize the intros and outros. Listen carefully to the intros and outros because when you mix songs, you have to blend one song’s intro to the other’s outro.
Learn how to scratch. Listen carefully to the song and you might find particular parts of the track that are prime for scratching. Yes, I said scratching is difficult, but you can start with baby scratches. It’s very easy to do.
Start with two songs. Since you are a beginner, make the process simpler by sticking to two songs. You can experiment with looping then as you progress, try toggle function and add your favorite effects.
Make a smooth transition between songs while keeping the beats constant. Listen to the second song in your headphones and move the pitch slider until the songs play at the same speed and cue the songs simultaneously with the preceding song. Doing this process smoothly is a significant skill in DJing.
You may also need to adjust the volume levels of the songs because the song you are mixing out will be playing at full volume, so adjust the second to start up slowly and bring it up subtly until it matches the beat.
Tip: Never mix vocals with vocals.
4. Record your mix
You should record your DJ set, so you can hear it again. This is critical for beginners, so you could listen to your music.
When you mix, you are too busy doing it, so you won’t be able to listen or enjoy your sets.
Thus, the need to record. You can put it this way, have you heard your voice on a recording? Probably, not! And that’s the same case with DJing.
If you are using a laptop and DJ controller, it’s so easy to record because most DJ software are capable of recording by simply a click of a button.
Alternatively, you can record using your computer’s audio input or use an external handheld recorder. You can also connect a decent portable to the mixer as another option to record your Dj set.
Recording a mix can help you recognize the strength and weaknesses of your set. However, remember that if you are recording a bedroom mix, it would be different when you are playing in front of an audience because there are certain skills required in a live setting that you won’t use when recording a personal mix.
At this stage, try to create a story and think about how you want to start, finish and get it to something where you want it to be. It’s important to have the context of the whole track instead of its individual parts.
Novice DJs tend to hammer out tracks and it lacks the sense of ebb and flow. The music has no sense of direction making it boring and tiresome to listen to in the process.
Decent DJs treat the whole setup as an album with cohesive tracks. Use this strategy to improve your performance.
Tip: Put your recorded mix for a few days and listen to it again. In that way, you will have a fresher perspective when listening to it.
If you want to earn money through DJing or if you want to be popular, you’ve got to show off what you’ve got.
The best thing to do that is to publish and share your mixes. This is one of the reasons, why you have to record it so that you have something to share with the world
When looking for a place to host your mixes for public release, I suggest that you start with MixCloud because it’s great and it’s free.
It offers you a safe place to host your recordings without copyright takedown which makes it much safer compared to YouTube and SoundCloud. Another option for live streaming is Twitch.
When you upload or stream, make sure to use all their feature. Start by filling out everything and put on a little effort in the description. I also suggest that you add relevant tags.
You can also ask feedback on your mixes from family members and close friends. Getting feedback is a necessary step for improvement because sometimes, you aren’t aware of what you need to change or improve,
Tip: Be open to constructive criticisms.
6. Build your following
Of course, don’t be contented with just publishing and sharing your mixes, you need to have an audience.
So, create a brand and build a following. In this section, I’ll give you some tips, to get this done.
How To Gain More Audience As A DJ?
There are several things that you should do to make others feel your presence as a DJ and in turn get more audience.
Of course, don’t be contented with just publishing and sharing your mixes, you need to have loyal fans. So, create a brand and build a following. In this section, I’ll give you some tips, to get this done.
Create an online presence
It’s not that very difficult to build a brand now because your audience is within reach, you just need to know what you should do.
And thanks to social media, you can easily let the world know what you do!
So, create an account on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Fill out your profiles and post the link to your mixes there.
Remember, you are building a following. You want an audience, so you need to keep the content flowing. If there are no likes or comments on your posts, don’t be disheartened, just continue sharing.
Don’t just promote once a month or anytime you remember, you need to have regular updates. You need to be consistent in your content.
I suggest that you create scheduled tweets or posts. Say post every Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. You can share anything related to your mix.
If you have a new mix, share the link, or promote an upcoming mix or the old ones. Just be present and be consistent.
Post different content
Be creative about your posts. You don’t have to post a link of your mix all the time. You are building a brand, so share crucial details about your DJing journey.
You can share what inspires you to do a particular mix, how you get started, share tutorials and more. Also, mix up your posts, share videos, texts, or images.
Engage with followers
Aside from sharing your posts and other relevant content, engage with your audience. If someone comments on your work, or asks questions, take the time to respond.
You can also follow other DJs or those in your similar niche and start the engagement.
Comment on their works or ask if you have any questions and maybe bring them to your page, so they will return the favor.
Be productive on social media by engaging with others who can potentially help you grow your audience.
Aside from being present online, you’ve got to expose yourself to the real world. You can visit clubs and offer to play.
Or you can perform at family gatherings or small events. While they might not be paying gigs, at least they will give you actual experiences.
I also suggest you find like-minded people or a community with members who share the same passion as you in DJing.
They can help you find gigs or help you hone your skills. Also, make yourself valuable to them.
You can support their shows and gigs. And they will likely return the favor to you.
Tip: Be present online and give your followers regular updates. Learn to engage with others, too.
DJing is fun and very enjoyable. However, it can be expensive and time-consuming too. If you love the craft, you will surely improve and excel, but most of the skills take time.
So if you want to become a DJ, you have to be dedicated to it and the best way to do that is to give it time.
Of course, you don’t want to waste your time in this activity and remain mediocre after a year or two.
Again, the complexity of the process might depend on how much you really want to learn it. And for novices, I suggest that you don’t buy the most expensive materials first so you won’t’ regret in case you lose interest in DJing.
Also, don’t get a pure entry-level material either. Get an industry standard DJing equipment and you’ll see the difference a quality instrument delivers.
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