How to DJ in 7 Steps
So you decided that you want to become a DJ. Good news, because in today’s world of growing technology it is undeniably easier to be a DJ today than it was during the days of vinyl. Rest assured, any DJ who is true to the culture of the industry will always find themselves with plenty of work. If you want to learn how to DJ, look no further than our guide on How to DJ in 7 steps.
Step 1: Figure out what kind of DJ you want to be.
Many people in the music industry will take upon the title “DJ” at a convenient time. Some of the most successful “DJs” are actually producers like David Guetta or Skrillex who can perform live-sets of their songs. If you want to be this kind of DJ, you will need to learn how to make your own beats before you learn how to DJ.
There are also a second type of DJ known as mobile DJs. These people typically own or work for a company which provides the sound and entertainment for any sort of private party. Typically, the work for a mobile DJ is at a wedding, but they can also be seen at school dances or various random house parties where an aging audience relives their “glory days” by partying the night away.
Lastly, club DJs are perhaps most respected for their skill and professionalism. Many club DJs spent several years working as a mobile DJ before they could ever contemplate reaching this position. Club DJs typically work at show venues, night clubs, bars, or gentlemen’s clubs. Pay is typically slightly lower per night, but much more consistent. Especially if you get a spot as a resident DJ.
Step 2: Buy the right equipment.
The importance of buying equipment that fits your style cannot be stressed enough. DJ gear is expensive. Much thought needs to go into what you need. A simple trip to a Guitar Center probably won’t be enough. You really need to research and know what kind of equipment will give you the features you need. Start frugal, once you get a few gigs under your belt you will know what your setup needs.
Regardless of circumstance, starting your DJ career is possible right now. Keep your priorities in order, and buy only necessities first. At a minimum, you will need to buy a couple of PA speakers, a power amplifier (unless you buy powered speakers), a mixer, an audio interface, headphones, and a CDJ or Midi controller to help with mixing.
If you’re a beginner learning how to DJ, you will probably have the quickest success learning on digital equipment with MIDI capability hooked up to Traktor or Virtual DJ. Digital setups tend to make mixing a whole lot less intimidating. However, if you want the feature of your routine to come from scratching, you will probably want to get some timecode vinyl turntables and hook them up to Serato.
Step 3: Do your homework.
On stage, a DJ might be glorified by groupies caught up in the glamour of their career. Off stage, a DJ is a music nerd, and in many cases a loner. They spend a great deal of time alone listening to the latest tunes, researching new mixing techniques, or practicing their skills. To be a DJ you have to be ready to work hard behind the scenes, and when everyone else is partying.
If you want to become a DJ solely so that you can spend some time on the weekends being paid to attend a party, you will never have the success you deserve. If you want to be a professional DJ, you will need to take your career seriously and work hard to ensure that you are always up-to-date on your music library. Most importantly, practicing constantly is a MUST.
Step 4: Learn mixing and transitions.
If you can learn how to DJ mix and transition well, you will never receive a complaint from a client. But be warned, this isn’t easy for a beginner. It is something that DJ Tiesto still struggles with. This is the first thing you need to perfect, before you even think about scratching or the various other advanced DJ techniques. With enough practice you will sound like you are playing one, never-ending song.
After you are comfortable with transitioning and how to use a mixer, techniques such as beat juggling, key mixing, and transitioning songs with high BPM differences will come. Keep in mind that you will always be learning to be a better DJ. Additionally, you will always be coming up with new ways to mix and transition between songs.
DJ record pools are great resources to help you with your mixing skills. Although these services cost money, you can ensure that you have all of the latest and classic tunes. Websites like Barbangerz, DigitalDJPool, and others compile music libraries from DJ’s all around the world. What is most useful is that the files on these sites are designed specifically to help DJs mix with ease.
Step 5: Select your songs.
This one is simple. We all have been at the party where the DJ throws on the hottest new song, causing everyone to flood to the dance floor. Odds are, if this isn’t during peak hours, the crowd of people that just rushed to the dance floor will rush right back to their seats at the song. Trends are crucial, and now the best-possible song selection has been wasted.
Imagine an effective DJ performance to be like a movie. You have the intro, the buildup, the climax, and the resolution. When picking music for the night, start off slow. Slowly build up momentum and crowd involvement, that way you can drop the latest club-bangers at the peak of dancing. Most importantly, know your crowd and cater to them. Great DJs ensure that the music they play is for everyone, not themselves.
Step 6: Learn to use scratching and sound effects.
You might want to be a DJ so that you can learn how to scratch. If this is you be prepared for countless months, if not years, of frustration over the terrible sound of your scratching. Scratching is perhaps the most treasured and sought after skill of a DJ. Keep in mind that you will need some fancy equipment to make your scratches sound clear. And a lot of skill.
Scratching was initially designed by the pioneers of Hip-Hop music. Few have actually perfected the art of scratching. There are hundreds of different techniques for scratching, and you will simply need professional help to become an expert. There are many people who create videos that give scratching and DJ lessons for beginners. You can pick up countless DJ mixing tips from YouTube.
Sound Effects, on the other hand, are pretty straight forward. These can be used for just about anything. Whether you want to use a low-pass filter to enhance your bass drop, play a song backwards, with echo effects, there are endless opportunities to use effects. Just don’t overuse your effects, use in moderation.
Step 7: Market yourself or you WILL fail.
Unless your name is DJ Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff, or something similar, people simply are not going to rush to you asking to DJ for them. To get your feet on the ground in this industry, you need to have a reliable means of keeping business coming in. Either by setting up a website, securing a resident DJ position, or by letting your work create word-of-mouth business. If you don’t market for yourself, you shouldn’t expect to be working.
What are you Waiting for?
Stop waiting. If this is what you want to do, now is a perfect time to get started. Start planning what kind of DJ you want to be. Start thinking about what kind of equipment you will need. Most importantly, once you get started, keep at it and practice. Once you are working full-time as a professionally acclaimed DJ, you will be glad that you put in your hard work.
Perhaps the most important thing you can have down as a professional DJ is your mixing and transitional skills, the rest will fall into place once you have this. Also, remember that as a DJ you get to party for a living. Take on this duty with professionalism, moderation, and honor, or you could fall victim to the same culture you wanted to entertain and work for.