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The world of DJing is full of thrill and excitement. Pursuing a DJ career can be fun, but it’s also a rough path to walk, and you need clear directions if you decide to take it. This article will give you an insight into the DJ profession – I will make sure that you completely understand what it takes to become a DJ.
A good DJ, also called a disc jockey, has a particular set of DJ skills, can adapt to the given atmosphere, and has proper gear. When starting a career as a DJ, you need to determine your style, setup, and equipment. Let’s review what I just said step by step.
Traditional VS Digital DJ Setup
Before you get started, you’ll have to decide whether you want to go with the old school setup, including two turntables for vinyl or CD decks connected to a DJ mixer, or do you prefer a more modern approach.
The modern, also known as a digital approach, includes a DJ controller and a laptop with installed DJ software on it. This way, you have all the traditional equipment integrated into one device. This is a more popular way of playing nowadays as it opens a lot of possibilities.
Traditional DJ Setup
A traditional, or often called old school, DJ setup includes:
- Turntables or CD decks;
- DJ mixer;
- Speakers (monitors);
- Laptop or USB input (optional but recommended).
Originally, an old school DJ setup would only include turntables and a mixer, without a laptop or any other hardware. If you go this route, this would limit you to your vinyl records and the songs you have there, hence the “old school” moniker. However, you can combine the traditional setup with a laptop and import all the music you want.
How is that possible?
In 2001, the DJ world got the opportunity to try the DVS (Digital Vinyl System), which allows the DJ to use the so-called timecode vinyl records or CDs, and import music from other devices to them.
This way the records will contain the data (songs) sent from the laptop while you work your magic using turntables.
Digital DJ Setup (With Controllers)
If you don’t want to use vinyl or CDs when DJing, the easiest way is to consider a more modern approach, including a DJ controller and a laptop with DJ software installed. This way, you will have your controller connected to the laptop, which will be the source of your songs.
The controller already comprises two turntables and a mixer. It allows you to control the DJ software using some of the dozens of features to mix, scratch, select cue points, and so on.
In fact, a controller is a reproduction of all the old school gear listed above. Using a controller doesn’t make you less of a DJ as its idea is to make the equipment more portable and simpler to use.
Moreover, good mixing software is essential if you’re to throw the biggest party in the world. I always recommend the Serato DJ Lite to beginners, but the market certainly offers a lot more. The Serato Lite is free and it presents a great option if you’ve just started DJing.
Find Your Style
Being a DJ can be the most self-fulfilling job in the world! Once you are in the zone, you will have so much fun, the crowd will sense it and boost you, and you will get paid in the end – doesn’t sound bad, right?
However, keep in mind that you must have a recognizable style. Make sure you know what you’re playing and how you’re playing it. If you are into hip hop, experiment with that in your mixes. Every famous DJ experimented before finding their comfort zone.
What DJ Skills Do You Need?
If you want to be a better DJ, you need to work on your skill set and improve yourself every day. Even the most famous club DJs are still learning and growing. Although learning the skills can be done in less than two hours in theory, becoming a real pro and getting where you want to be professionally takes much longer.
Once you are on stage, the show begins. You have your songs ready, the crowd is on the dance floor, and it’s time for you to show your skills.
Learn How to Mix Two Tracks
Unless you want to be a radio DJ, you have to know how to mix two songs together. Mixing songs is the first skill you’ll need if you want to impress the crowd or be a DJ at all, for that matter. This skill is what makes you different from a (song) selector.
If you’ve heard at least one DJ set, you’ve noticed how the DJ smoothly transitions from one track to another, sometimes without the crowd noticing that there was a switch. That’s quite different from what you would hear on the radio, where one song stops and another one starts in a few seconds.
This can be done using a controller or a mixer. Normally, you would use the crossfader feature that comes with your mixer or DJ software.
Learn How To Scratch
Scratching is another basic DJ skill, usually performed by hip hop DJs, but you can often hear it in some electronic DJ sets as well. I personally would avoid scratching on techno as it just doesn’t sound good and I doubt you will get a pleasant response from the crowd.
On the other hand, scratching in front of a crowd that likes it will launch your DJ game and boost your confidence once you hear their reactions.
Learn Your Frequencies and EQ
If you want to become a DJ you have to understand the basics of frequency and equalizing (EQ feature). You don’t have to get a master’s degree in music theory or anything, but you should devote some time to learning.
Every DJ controller has EQ knobs, usually placed above the channel faders, whereas every frequency has its knobs as well. First of all, you have to at least know what frequencies are and why are they important to you as a DJ.
If you can recall some of your elementary science classes, you might remember that sound is produced by waves that vibrate through the air before reaching our ears. These waves vibrate in certain frequencies: low, mid, and high.
For example, the bass and drums reach your ears at low frequencies, while the vocals usually come as mid or high frequencies. When mixing tracks, you should use the EQ feature to adjust the frequency levels and exhibit a smooth transition.
Explore All The Time
No one likes a DJ whose playlist you know by heart. Also, no one likes a DJ who is narrow-minded and refuses to get out of their comfort zone and experiment with different genres. As a DJ, you live in the world of music, which means that you have to be up-to-date all the time.
If you have your perfect DJ set today, that doesn’t mean you will do DJ gigs with that same playlist in the next two years. Instead, explore every day, go to other DJs’ sets, learn from others, and make yourself a better DJ. The crowd will appreciate it – I guarantee!
However, this does not mean you should play music you know nothing about!
Practice All The Time
Speaking of, there’s no better way to learn than practicing. Becoming a pro in any profession comes down to how much time you are willing to invest in yourself. If you feel that DJing is your call, don’t be lazy and practice every minute you get!
Using all the tools at your disposal is also something that will help you get the most out of your practice sessions. The internet has a plethora of free mixing software to offer, for instance. Some of my favorites are Rekordbox, Serato, and Mixxx.
Every time you feel you’ve mixed something cool that you feel confident about – record it! Create a mix, upload it on SoundCloud or some other social media and try to reach admirers. You will never know how good or bad you are until you hear a stranger’s opinion on your mix.
Having talent and working hard is not always enough in today’s world. You want to be recognized by people, and to do so, you have to take things into your own hands.
Use the power of social media to promote your mixes, print business cards, or even launch your website. Don’t be shy to show off – everybody does it! Everybody has to learn some digital marketing skills, or at least the basics, to reach their audience.
As with any profession, rather than waiting for someone to call you one day, promoting yourself will bring you more chances to be hired. Once you start doing that, you can get creative. Think of all the ways you can promote your craft. I’ve seen people promote themselves through stickers, flyers, or even printed paper posted around town.
How Much Money Do You Need?
Being a DJ is super exciting but it comes at a price. That price usually ranges from $1,200 to $1,700 on average for a modest yet quality DJ setup. Of course, you can go higher or lower, depending on what you want and how much you’re willing to spend.
In the following paragraph, I’ll share my recommendations for the gear that should be enough for you to get started. First, let’s find out which gear will cost you more – the classic or digital setup?
Let’s say you already have a laptop, as most people do. All you need now for a digital DJ setup is mixing software and a DJ controller. An average DJ controller costs around $300, while mixing software will cost you about $100.
On the other hand, a classic DJ setup (without a computer) will cost you a tiny bit more, since one turntable on average matches the price of a controller. Well, you need two turntables, so you do the math.
If you decide to go with the classic DJ setup, the turntables will comprise most of your bill. The turntables on offer online vary wildly – from as low as $50 all the way up to $600. Of course, there are more expensive ones, but you don’t need those if you’re just starting out. Keep in mind that you need two turntables for a proper set.
The price of DJ mixers varies the most. With a starting price of some $100, this piece of gear can easily exceed $2,000. This will depend on how many channels your mixer has and what kind of features it operates with.
As someone who’s aspiring to become a DJ, you shouldn’t be worried about this. For your needs, a mixer ranging from $200 to $400 will do. I always recommend the Traktor Kontrol S2 to beginners. It comes at a very reasonable price (app. $300) and has everything beginner DJs need.
People who start a DJing career usually make the biggest amateur mistake and underestimate the importance of high-quality headphones. When DJing at a club or other venue, you’ll want to isolate yourself from the crowd and get into the song you are currently playing.
When choosing your next track to throw in the mix, you want to carefully listen to it, locate the cues, and figure out the frequency so you’ll know if the new track will mix well with the current. For this purpose, you need headphones with a clean sound and good bass response and noise cancellation.
I would recommend that you spend around $100 on headphones. Sure, if you find something good for less, go for it, but don’t skimp on this piece of gear because it’s worth it. Just to give you an idea, try purchasing something in the class of these headphones.
DJ Monitors (Speakers)
Some people think that DJ producers are the only ones who need studio monitors, but that’s the biggest misconception I’ve ever heard. Sure, you won’t be taking your speakers to your gigs, but remember what a DJ does? They practice!
When searching for monitors, make sure they have all the features you need for quality mixing. See if they have good frequency response and bass reflex, and make sure they provide a crisp sound so you can identify the instruments.
Speakers are not cheap, especially not the quality ones. However, you can find speakers for some $100, but I would not recommend anything below this as the price usually reflects the quality. For example, the Presonus Eris E3.5 are perfect for people starting a DJing career.
As we already mentioned, a DJ controller is for those who want to go digital and avoid the old school DJ setup. Also, going for this setup is pretty economic, especially if you already own a computer. In that case, get ready to spend some $300 on a controller and you are ready to go!
I am very pleased with the Numark Party Mix when it comes to controllers. Great for beginners and a great price, even below the proposed $300 mentioned above.
As a beginner in DJing, you can find free software that you can use to learn the basics. By now, the names might seem familiar, but here are some examples to refresh your memory: Serato DJ Lite, Mixxx, Virtual DJ, or CrossDJ Free.
I wouldn’t recommend that you jump into buying expensive software before you master the free versions, though.
How To Be A DJ: Summary
Becoming a professional DJ requires a set of personal characteristics as well as the will to learn and grow. You also need equipment, of course. But, my point is that in order to become a good DJ, you must learn from others, practice all the time, and appreciate your crowd.
At the same time, you have to learn how to be patient, because no skill can be mastered overnight. Be persistent when looking for gigs! All you need in the beginning is an opportunity to show what you can do. You might get rejected at first; you might even get booed off stage, but it’s all part of DJing and become the best DJ there is, so that should not keep you from further pursuing this career!
How To Be A DJ: FAQ
How Much Does a DJ Earn?
In the US, an inexperienced club DJ earns $50 per hour on average. If you get paid above that consider yourself lucky. With experience, you could ask for $100 per hour. Usually, playing music at home parties or weddings is paid somewhere between $700 and $1,200.
How Many Years Does It Take to Become a DJ?
This depends on your devotion and natural talent. You can learn the basics in one day, but you’ll need at least 3 months of words to promote yourself as a DJ.
Is Being a DJ Stressful?
Being a DJ is a pretty cool profession, but just like any other, it can cause you some stress. What stresses DJs the most are requests for songs, sometimes dealing with drunk people, and traveling a lot. Other than that, DJing is a real dream job!