The best way to DJ is to have all the proper equipment. That includes DJ software, in our case Traktor Pro 2, a DJ controller, and some speakers for the output. However, I’m aware that this is not always possible. Luckily, there is a way around it.
If you’re in your beginner phase, you’re probably not ready to invest a couple of thousands of dollars in DJ equipment. Most DJs start off with just the DJ software and a laptop, paired with some monitor studio speakers. Let’s see what you could do in this case.
How To Get Started With DJing
Believe it or not, there was a time when DJs had to make up all sorts of ways to mix without “proper” equipment. But I’d like to say that DJing with just your laptop is neither wrong nor should anyone feel embarrassed about it. All the big shots started their digital DJ careers that way.
One thing you have to remember is that DJing is not and never was about the gear. You hear people say: “Nuh, bruh, with all this technology now everyone can be a DJ!” I cannot describe to you how ridiculous this sounds to my ears.
While it’s true that all you need is a laptop to start “spinning”, I wonder – what’s wrong with that? Being a good DJ is still as hard as it ever was. However, now you don’t have to spend a fortune just to get started. So, please don’t feel bad when you hear these “experts” talk.
As I was saying, to get started with DJing, it’s most important to know your music, feel your crowd and enjoy yourself! But from a technical point of view, here’s what you really need:
- DJ software
- Speakers or headphones
See? No need for a DJ mixer, controller, CDJs, or whatnot. To start off, this is more than enough. But please note that this is the bare minimum and is a DJ setup that will only do you good for practicing and really small gigs. Let’s go over each piece of gear.
The Bare Minimum You Need for DJing
First off – headphones. The reason DJs need headphones is to listen to their cued songs independently from the master track. You have to match the BPM (beats per minute) of two tracks in order to mix them properly.
Your laptop, unfortunately, only has one audio output and you’re gonna use it either for the headphones or for the monitors. There is a way around this for a little amount of money, and it’s done by purchasing a USB soundcard, or an audio interface. I’ll talk about this more later on.
DJ software – it goes without saying – helps you work your magic and come up with a unique style that will set you apart as a DJ.
This article has the purpose to show people how to mix in Traktor Pro 2 without using a DJ controller. However, if you’re truly a beginner, maybe it’d be good to start off with a different program such as Virtual DJ or Mixxx, which are free and will prepare you for more professional software.
Ways Around A DJ Controller
DJ controllers can be expensive and you’re not always in a position to buy one. Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from DJing but it can be frustrating because of the potential limitations you might confront.
These limitations have nothing to do with the features and effects you would normally have with a DJ software like Traktor Pro 2, for example. All the mixer effects that you would trigger from your hardware can be found in the software.
However, the frustrating part is the inability to pre-listen to a cued track while one song is already playing. We spoke earlier about this essential part of the job called cuing. So, here’s the way around it.
An audio interface is a very important part of the DJ gear because it’s in charge of routing audio data you send from your computer or software to the third-party device that will play your output.
It’s also important if you want to record your mix, as it translates the data you send from your microphone or another instrument to the software in a “language” that it understands.
You’ve probably noticed that DJs who use control vinyl have an external sound card as the bridge between the mixer and laptop. Well, that’s an audio interface.
But for this purpose, you need an audio interface to provide two audio outputs: one for your monitors and another one for a DJ mixer or a MIDI controller if you have one. I use the Audio 2 by Native Instruments, great gear that does the job perfectly.
The user interface of Traktor Pro 2 is very simple and intuitive. This is perhaps the most user-friendly version of Traktor DJ software which makes the mapping quite clear.
Now, I’ve heard people say that Serato is way easier to map and that Traktor Pro is the hardest, but I’m not really sure why this is the popular opinion.
In my experience, I’ve been able to perform keyboard mapping from Traktor Pro 2 to my laptop, and it worked perfectly. This process is also known as MIDI mapping, so I hope you don’t get confused here.
You could simply draw an imaginary line at the middle of your keyboard and have the left side play your deck A, and the right one can be deck B. Then you could use the arrows to be your crossfader and create many other ways to DJ without a controller.
Mapping your performance pads can be a bit tricky, but it’s feasible. Controlling them can be even trickier, but it’s worth giving a try! At the end of the day, I recommend that you learn how to DJ on a mapped keyboard, and then see what you’ll do on an actual DJ controller!
DJing Using iPad, iPhone
To prove how unnecessary a DJ controller is, at least at the beginning of your DJ career, let me tell you that you could even do it without a laptop. All you need for now is a smart device such as an iPad or iPhone and you’re good to go.
Nowadays, there are dozens of DJ software programs specifically designed for DJs using iPhones and iPads. One of my favorites is Cross DJ, and you can download it for your Mac, Windows, iOs, or Android smart device.
However, having an app on your phone is all fun and games while you’re laying on your couch. But if you wanna take it to a real gig, you might want to consider getting some additional gear.
Native Instruments can really help you address this, as they have really cool, small and portable mixing controllers that go with these apps. Some of them, like the Traktor Kontrol Z1, comprise a mixing section without MIDI performance pads. Let’s take a look.
Traktor Kontrol Z1
The Traktor Kontrol Z1 controller doesn’t come for free but it certainly won’t cost you $1,000 like the S2 DJ controller, or S4. This controller costs around $200 and is specifically designed for iOS users.
In this case, we’re talking about a situation where you only have an iPad or iPhone and no laptop. It means that you still want to be able to connect your smart device to a third-party one in order to have the audio output played somewhere.
Since your iPad only has one output, you still need an audio interface or an external sound card. You can use the sound card to connect the Traktor Kontrol Z1 mixer on one end. You’ll definitely be happy with this piece of gear.
The Kontrol Z1 has three EQ knobs, smooth crossfaders, two channels, and is specifically designed to go with Traktor Pro 3 and Traktor DJ 2, which you could download for free.
Another add-on controller that I would recommend to you is the Traktor Kontrol X1, a mix of a MIDI controller and a mixer, as well as the famous Traktor Kontrol F1 add-on controller that is specifically designed to correspond to the remix decks feature in Traktor Pro 2, which I will explain a bit below in the text.
Traktor Pro DJ Software
The Traktor brand by Native Instruments has many variants. The one you’re here for is called Traktor Pro 2, but there is also a newer version of Traktor – Pro 3. Whenever you buy a Traktor Kontrol S2 or S4 DJ controller, you’ll get the Pro 2 built-in.
In this chapter, I won’t teach you how to install and get started with Traktor, as I reckon that’s not your issue. Let’s rather put in some information about the software by Native Instruments GmbH, while slowly but surely addressing how to use it without a controller.
You could say that Traktor Pro 2 is one of the most advanced DJ software out there, even more advanced than Serato. Okay, this is a very edgy opinion and I’m not firmly standing by it, but the Pro 2 has come out with some unprecedented features while Serato has mostly stuck with its proven formula.
For example, every time you see someone using remix decks while DJing, they’re using Traktor Pro 2 DJ software. In case you still haven’t had the chance to use remix decks, here’s what they’re all about.
Traktor Pro 2 has one key element that separates it from Serato, Virtual DJ, and other DJ software – remix decks. A remix deck is an upgraded form of a regular deck, where you would load the track you want to mix.
This feature allows you to load as much audio content as you wish into a single remix deck. That means you can load dozens of loops, samples, or even more tracks into separate cells and use them whenever you feel ready for it.
Other DJ Software
Traktor Pro 2 is not the only software that you could use to DJ without a controller. I’ll use this section to compare more programs that could be used by beginner and advanced users, ranging from a timecode vinyl DJ to a digital one.
But regardless of the option you choose, your DJ software must have a friendly user interface, so you could map it to your keyboard. Since this is not an article where we review software, let’s see how they perform in terms of mapping.
I chose the three most popular and user-friendly software on the market to compare: Serato DJ, Traktor Pro, and VDJ.
Serato VS Traktor VS Virtual DJ
I will not stick exclusively to Serato DJ Pro, or Traktor Pro 3, or even VDJ Limited Edition (LE). Instead, let’s take the opportunity to see what makes these DJ software different and which one is the most suitable to be used for DJing without a controller.
Serato is perhaps the most called-out name in the industry and is quite popular among those DJs spinning timecode vinyl. The thing that makes it more appealing than the others is the minimalist user interface design and the easiness to access all the controls you need.
Information such as BPM, track position, and so on are clearly visible which will make it a lot easier for you to follow up. Even the position of the platter has its own indicator totally corresponding to real-life vinyl. This feature in particular makes it very vinyl-friendly.
Since this is a post about DJing without a controller, the display appearance is very important for you. In Serato, the waveforms are mapped with great attention to detail and you will decide how you want to have them – horizontal or vertical, small or big.
You will choose whatever suits your needs, of course. In addition, below the main waveform, you have a smaller version of it, which will highlight the beat in the track, making it more visually clear for you. Moreover, it will make it much easier to adjust the BPM.
The music library is perhaps the best feature in Serato because it’s so smart and easy to use. All you have to do to import music is to select a little icon that says crate, where you then drag and drop your music.
But there are also smart crates that will sort your music the way you want it. For example, you can click on “128 BPM” and the tracks in your music library will be listed by that parameter. This can also be by genre, artist, and so on.
What I’m about to write about the Traktor DJ software by Native Instruments mainly applies for Traktor Pro 2, since that’s the version of Traktor you’re most interested in. However, all of the features apply to every version, give or take.
Traktor is digital DJ software, but it’s also very flexible and compatible with a number of DJ and MIDI controllers, ranging from control vinyl DJ setups to Pioneer CDJs. Everyone who wants to upgrade to a more mainstream way of DJing chooses Traktor Pro.
So, assuming that you’re planning on either starting or migrating to a digital DJ setup, Traktor would be a great choice for you. It’s very intuitive, with tons of effects and features that you can use to spice up your set.
Of course, the biggest pro of Traktor is the remix deck feature which is a unique invention by Native Instruments. Well, this has been possible before with Ableton Live, for example, but other than music production tools, a mixing software has never had it.
Note that the remix decks are unique to Pro 2. Traktor Pro 3 has remix sets that you can download, which represent songs dismantled into various instruments.
VDJ is the underdog in this software race. It’s software that’s mostly recommended to beginner DJs because it’s free and easy to use. Although it has a simple user interface like the other two, I’d say it’s not as intuitive as it should be for a beginner.
I’m sure that you will hear people say it’s bad software, but I wouldn’t agree. Just because it’s more suitable for beginners doesn’t make it any worse than Serato or Traktor.
It has all the effects needed for a DJ to practice their skills. Plus, it’s free, and let’s not fool ourselves, that means a lot today. At the end of the day, you can download it and see if it works for you. It won’t cost a thing.
Hopefully, this article has been of use to you. If you’ve been panicking that you won’t be able to DJ without a controller, I hope it’s now clear that it is very possible to do so. Let’s go over what has been said once more and see where you’re standing.
Often I get questions like: “Is it okay if I don’t have a controller?” What’s not to be okay? You have what you have, and as long as you have the sense and passion for DJing, and an ear for the crowd, you won’t have any problems.
On the other hand, if you lack these key characteristics, there is no equipment in the world that will make up for it, not even a Traktor controller. So, to start DJing without a controller, you’ll need a laptop, that’s for sure, a Traktor (or another) software, and an audio device for your output.
Is That Enough?
Now, where’s the trick? Your laptop only has one output, the little jack for your headphones. But, if you plug in your headphones, what will the “crowd” listen to? As I said earlier, this is great if you’re going to practice, but to play music for actual people, you need to upgrade your DJ set a bit.
By upgrading your set, I mean getting a simple audio interface, which is a device that will offer you an external output for the device you’re missing. That way you’ll be able to split the output in multiple channels, all done in Traktor preferences.
Why Is It Important?
This is also important due to another aspect of DJing, and that’s cueing songs. Surely you know that a DJ pre-listens a track before mixing it with the one currently playing.
That’s why it’s very important to have two outs. With a DJ controller, the hardware itself would have a built-in sound card that would allow channel split. In your case, without a controller, you have to seek different alternatives.
Now, I’m not trying to urge you to get any additional equipment, especially after encouraging you to DJ controller-free. But, if you are in a position to get one of those small mixer controllers, or add-on controllers, there are some really good ones for $200-$250. One of them is Traktor Kontrol Z1 by Native Instruments, for example.
What If Money’s Tight?
Anyway, if getting a piece of gear is definitely not an option for you, the best way to go around it is keyboard mapping. With a little help from Google or a tech-savvy friend, you could replicate a Traktor hardware onto your laptop’s keyboard.
This is possible, although it might get a little complicated to use in the beginning. But that’s only until you get a feel for it and learn how to hit the “pads” blindly. Half of your keyboard could be the left deck and the other could serve as the right one.
The best thing about it is that you can choose which control you want and where you want it. You can always think of new shortcuts and apply them one by one. And just to reiterate, keyboard mapping is possible with every software, not only Traktor.
Traktor Pro 2 is a very well-developed software with great user support, so if you own some Native Instrument products, you won’t be left hanging. Make sure to contact the team for every assistance you might need.
I honestly hope that this article was fun to read and that it was beneficial for your DJ career, regardless of whether you’re new or advanced. Gear is important and it’s good to have it, but a good DJ can spin anything they want, using whatever they want, anywhere they want.
How Do I Activate Traktor Pro 2?
After downloading, you have to activate your product. To do so, you have to visit Native Access and log in using your Native Instruments email address and password. In the upper left corner, you’ll see the Add a Serial tab.
In the dedicated field, add the serial number that was previously sent to your email address. By clicking Add Serial you’ll confirm that you’ve purchased the Traktor product. Your Traktor Pro 2 will be activated after that.
What Is Traktor Scratch Pro?
Traktor Scratch Pro is a DVS (digital vinyl system) that allows you to use real-time control vinyl, spinning on turntables, while at the same time selecting songs from your Traktor music library.
This setup comes with an external soundcard, which in this case is the Traktor Scratch Audio 10.
Is Traktor Pro Free?
Traktor Pro 2 and Traktor Pro 3 are not free. To purchase them, you’ll need $99 each and you’ll have lifetime access. In case you already have Pro 2 and want to upgrade to Pro 3, you’ll need $49.
However, Traktor does offer free software, such as Traktor DJ 2, available for Mac and Windows, and also available for iPad.
What Is The Latest Traktor?
Traktor Pro 3 is the latest and most advanced version of Traktor DJ software.
Can I Record In Traktor Pro 2?
Yes, recording is possible with Traktor Pro 2. To do so, you’d have to check your preferences within the software and set the mixing mode to Internal. At the same time, you’ll have to set your Audio Device to whichever one you’re using.