Learning to become a DJ can be a great way to connect with the audience through the free flow of your own musical expression and by expressing yourself with a dose of creativity. But it is not only about matching and mixing beats with a bit of stretching over songs. Being a DJ means you need to be observant about your audience, know how to empathize with them and be reactive of that particular emotion.
It is not difficult to start learning, especially considering the era we are living in with all the resources available at our fingertips. It is though, difficult to stand out from the crowd and be exceptional at it. There is a lot more to becoming a successful DJ than just knowing how to mix one song into another when the first one ends. It is going to be a lot of hard work and if you don’t absolutely love what you do, you will not be able to endure through it all. If you have the dedication and passion though, being a DJ can be one of the greatest jobs ever.
Let’s get started on our endeavor then.
Learn What Is It Exactly That DJs Do
Stating from a very basic level, a DJ is someone who plays pre recorded music for an audience. But if you want to become a professional, I will assume you want to do more than just play some music by plugging in your iPod playlist. There are types of DJs in the market. You can choose to be either one or two or even all of them if you want.
The Club or Bar DJ
In a nutshell, a DJ who has a permanent job in a local night club or bar. Typically, the night club DJ’s job is to keep the audience occupied by playing songs they can dance to without being interrupted. This is done by either doing long transitions between songs or some other trick to keep the legs moving. The club DJ knows how to gauge the energy of the crowd and how to keep it up all night long.
The Guest DJ
People want to see this DJ because they are already well known or popular for what they do. This means they have a dedicated following who likes to see what this DJ is up to. DJs who like to add flare to their performances, such as cutting, stretching and other record tricks can be part of this type as well. Live and semi live performers can be guest DJs as well.
The Mobile or Wedding DJ
If you are just starting out, this is the type of DJ you will want to become to get an earning. The mobile DJ needs to able to take requests often from the audience, have the nerve to talk on the microphone and invest in their own sound equipment as the DJ and equipment are considered a package.
The Radio DJ
This is where the DJ culture originated from. The radio DJ’s job varies a lot, from the person who announces the traffic update in between songs to the full on music selection. Many corporate radio DJs have lost their say over the music selection so these days that role can be fulfilled by podcasts and online radio.
Why Do You Want To Become One
In today’s world, anybody with money and excess to the internet can become a DJ, because it is that easy. If you want to stand out from the crowd and get to the top of the pier where people actually start noticing you and you get to make a living out of it, you will have to do a lot of hustle and dedicate a lot of time into it.
So first determine why you want to get into this crazy business. Is it just for fun or do you want to make a living out of it? Or is it because you want to be an important part of the music industry? There can be many reasons for your decision but the main thing is that you have to honest about those reasons.
If your sole purpose is to become rich and famous, I will suggest you to not start as a DJ at all. Try something else; you will have a lot better chance at getting successful at it. DJing is not a fast method to get to the star fame. Many people become DJs these days and only a handful of them see the stardom. You have hustle and you have to love your work with all your might, even when things will not be looking so bright for you. You will have to endure a lot if you want to become successful and even then it is not one hundred percent guaranteed, as is true for all types of performance arts.
So my advice will be to identify your sole reason and then to ask yourself, if you are really willing to put in all your time and hard work into it or not.
How Does It Work
You are still here, so I am assuming you are really determined to get this party started. Then we should now talk about the basic software and even test the waters to see if it is actually our cup of tea or not.
There are many options here to choose from so I will only talk about some free and popular ones here. You can find many for free from the internet yourself.
This is popular and free DJ software which you can use to start your DJing career or to at least see what it is all about. It is very well featured software that is open source and an entirely cross platform with a Linux version. This software even supports the Time code control. This is the only free software with this particular feature. The community has many built in support for DJ controllers and popular library formats.
Virtual DJ Home
This is free and popular software which is great to be used as a learning tool. It supports as many decks you want and includes almost all the tools you will want and need such as loops, sampling, recording, syncing, key lock etc.
If you want to get into advanced features, you can upgrade to one of their paid products. This software is widely popular among aspiring DJs because it is free, fully featured and well supported by the community.
Traktor Pro 2
This is not free; however, it has a free and fully functional demo which you can test out first before making any investment. I feel like this software has some of the best quantization, effects and syncs in the DJ industry. They offer their own hardware as well which is designed to be used on Traktor. Traktor Scratch Pro will give you Timecode support, when upgraded. There are third party controllers as well that come with the lite edition of Traktor Pro 2. This is a reasonable way to start with Traktor if you plan on buying some hardware for yourself.
Other than these three there are many other options such as PCDJ, Serato DJ, Numark Cuo etc. The Traktor and Serato however are considered to be industry standards. Choose a software according to your own preference and start playing around with it. There are many YouTube videos which will help you in learning the basics of the popular ones.
But if you plan to become a DJ that scratches and basically shows off, you will have to invest on a turntable as you can do very little with a mouse and keyboard.
Learn the Basics
Now it is time for the fun part. Mainly, you will need to learn the mixing, beatmatching, EQing, phrasing and prep when learning how to become a DJ.
Technology has made this technique obsolete to be honest. All the major DJ software packages has built in sync functionality so there is no need to acquire this skill anymore. Beat matching is to get two tracks to play at the same tempo and phase.
So why learn a skill which has gone obsolete anyway? Because it makes you capable to beat mix pretty much anything out there. Turntables and some CDJs require you to do this manually so this skill will come in handy while using those tools.
More importantly though, this skill helps you to tune and develop your listening skills so you know what to listen for when tracks drift out of phase, time etc.
If you know how to do beat matching, you will be able to adjust the phase properly even while using the DJ software where you can use the sync tool . the overall point of learning the skill of beat matching is to make you a better mix DJ even if you are not digital. Many mobile and radio DJs do not feel the urge the beatmatch at all in their performances.
EQing or Equalizing is the action of dropping or boosting certain frequencies so that two tracks can blend in together seamlessly. This is an art form. The majority of the space gets consumed by the lower frequencies so typically you will not be mixing two loud kick drums into each other since they are too loud to combine together.
In general a DJ mixer will have three band EQ – low, mid and high or bass, mid range and treble. Some mixers tend to include four bands as well. Proper equalization can be used as a mean of creative expression as well as a tool. But keep in mind that a bad mix will not be improved with EQing as it does not make miracles. DJs use this tool to combine two or more audio signals together and to polish over a well made mixture to cater to the audience.
Phrasing means to mix the tracks together at points in the songs where it makes sense. Almost all music are in 4/4 time regardless of their genre. What it means is that there are four beats in a bar and that the quarter note gets a beat.
In contrast, there is 6/8 time which means that there are 6 beats in a bar and the eighth note gets one beat. You need to learn how to count to four as most music you will be playing at your performance is 4/4.
A typical DJ mixer and software will have a few types of volume or gain control. When you are just starting out, you can control this on the software. Traktor Pro has an auto gain feature. Generally, in matching maters, green is good, red is bad and yellow is pushing it. Unfortunately, many companies tweak with their mixers in a way that caters to bad habits. Since the first timers tend to slam everything in the red, many companies adjust their products to compensate with that.
On the other hand, DJ software has its own structure so it can get quite confusing. It is better to read through your manual to determine how to max out the signals. When in doubt, staying in the green is just fine. If you need more volume, you can boost it on the PA/house/amp end.
Record a Mix
After getting the hang of it, record yourself and analyze your performance with a critical eye. Software can record everything so laptop DJs can easily record themselves. For DJ mixers, they should get a recording device. Imagine you are playing for an audience. This is time to teach yourself to not hammer out banging tracks one after another.
Upload your mix somewhere and try to get some unbiased feedback. Reach out to like minded people and tell them about your passion and how you can better yourself. Moreover, building an online presence will give you an opportunity over others.
Learning to be a DJ can be a challenging task but at the same time it can be super fun. Don’t be afraid to take the challenge if you have the passion.