Learning to DJ can be a challenge, and not just because you need to master the actual DJ techniques. The real problem is, how do you know which techniques to learn and practice in the first place? There’s so much information on DJing out there that it’s hard to understand what you should be doing, especially if you’re just starting out. Should you learn scratching? Should you practice looping and sampling? Or maybe you should learn how to make re-edits first?
Luckily, learning to DJ is actually a pretty straightforward process. In this post, I’ll try to remove the fluff and give you a clear 5-step program for mastering the core DJ skills. By the end of this program, you will be able to play your first public gig confidently and successfully. Ready? Let’s go:
Step 1: Get a DJ setup. It’s hard to learn to DJ without an actual DJ setup in place. The good news is that your DJ gear doesn’t have to be expensive. If you already have a laptop, a DJ controller is a no-brainer option that will get you up to speed quickly and inexpensively. Keep in mind that some controllers ship with a “light” or “intro” version of DJ software. You’ll definitely want to upgrade to the full version, so make sure you factor the upgrade price in your budget.
The new book by the Secret DJ contains plenty of rants and settles a lot of scores, much of them justified. One rant that stands out, though, is the one where the Secret DJ goes after what he calls “plastic” or “push-button” DJs. According to the Secret DJ, these are the folks with no music knowledge or appreciation of the craft who would not be able to call themselves DJs if not for the modern technology.
The flood of “plastic DJs” in recent years is due to what the Secret DJ refers to as the “Shazam–Beatport–Sync” routine. In an nutshell, it has to do with the dramatic lowering of the bar for up-and-coming DJs. So what exactly is Shazam–Beatport–Sync all about?
The Secret DJ is a pseudonym of a globally recognized British DJ who contributes an anonymous monthly column to Mixmag. In the column, the Secret DJ shares stories from his three-decade-long DJ career, gives his thoughts on the industry and dispenses advice for up-and-coming DJs. The Secret DJ recently published a book, The Secret DJ: From Ibiza to Norfolk Broads, which I was sure to quickly grab off of Amazon.
The book is an explosive mix of detailed depictions of the Secret DJ’s and his friends’ debauchery on Ibiza and beyond, DJ advice as well as the Secret DJ’s thoughts on life, dance music, and drugs. I was making lots of notes as I was reading the book, and I decided to put together a post with some quotes that really stood out for me. Here goes (the links to related articles are mine):
Amateurs make an entrance, pros keep the vibe. Wankers hog the booth, pros make a smooth transition.
In part 1 of this two-part post dedicated to DJ setups, I have covered the history as well as the pros and cons of vinyl, CD and software-only DJing. In part 2, we're moving on to more modern gear such as DVS, DJ controllers and modern digital decks. Read on to better understand these options and find out which one may be the best for you.
Once it became clear that DJing with MP3s from a computer was not only possible but also had some unique advantages (see "Software-Only" in part 1 of this post), a search began for a better way to control DJ software than a mouse and keyboard. In early 2000s, the first digital vinyl systems began to appear, which let you scratch and mix MP3s as though they were vinyl records.
Back in the day, if you were serious about DJing, you'd pick up a pair of vinyl decks, a mixer and that was it. Today, the choice is not so obvious. You have vinyl, DJ controllers, DVS, CD/digital decks as well as some more exotic setups. In this two-part post, I will try to navigate you through the sea of the DJ setup options you have these days and explain the pros and cons of each. (You can find part 2 over here.)
I will try to present the different kinds of DJ setups in the order that they came about historically. This should help you better understand the common patterns to all of them. Things become much easier to grasp once you realize that there are always two players and a mixer, no matter what kind of setup you are looking at.
DJing is not rocket science. In the end, all it boils down to is playing one track after another for the dancefloor. And after you get comfortable with the basic techniques, you’ll be surprised at how much extra time you have on your hands during a DJ set. What do you do after you’ve lined up the next tune, and it’s still 4 minutes till the end of the currently playing one?
In this (admittedly toungue-in-cheek) article, I’m listing my favorite ideas for how to occupy yourself when DJing. Here goes:
I fell in love with 1970s disco early in my DJ career, but I started to add disco and funk to my DJ sets only very recently. In this article, I’m going to share how I address some of the unique challenges to mixing these genres, as well as explain how I approach building disco and funk sets in general.
There are three things that make mixing classic disco and funk harder than mixing your typical house or techno tunes. Here they are:
There's a lot of ways that DJs can learn the tricks of the trade these days. You can listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, read articles on the Internet. That said, I find that for some aspects of DJing, nothing beats a good book where you can get the information on the various facets of the craft in a complete, structured way.
I've read several DJ books over the years, and below are the four that I've found the most useful in helping me become a better DJ.
DJing is the best job in the world. You get to play music you love for other people, and seeing them dance to it, smile and enjoy themselves is a huge reward in and of itself. Add to it the sheer glamour of being the “Mr./Ms. DJ”, and getting paid for your work becomes an afterthought at best. So much that you might be willing to play for free just to get another fix of being behind the decks. It all helps your exposure, you tell yourself.
Don’t do it.
Don’t get me wrong – I know that most of us are in DJing for the love of music, dancing or both. But DJing is real work, and it deserves to be paid for. Here are 4 reasons why I believe that you should never DJ for free.
I have had a Serato DVS setup for a couple of years but I recently decided to sell my Denon DS-1 DVS box and go for a DJ controller instead. I was initially looking at Pioneer's DDJ-SB/DDJ-RB range of entry-level controllers but I was uneasy about some key limitations of those. I went with Denon MC4000 in the last minute, and I'm really glad I did! Here is my review of the controller after using it for about a month.
A lot of the MC4000 reviews that I read mentioned that it's a truly businesslike, professional controller, and I have to say that it's the first thing that jumps at you once you unpack the unit. The build quality is very good with a dark metal top, and the controller feels heavy and sturdy. It doesn't project quite the same "built like a tank" feeling like, say, the Technics SL-1200 decks, but it's still reassuringly solid.