What DJing With Just A Laptop Taught Me

laptop dj

DJing with just a laptop.
Pic: Create Digital Music

I'm a part-time DJ who usually does private events, although I do enjoy rocking the occasional party. A while back my mixer broke (water got into the inputs, don't ask how!), and a lack of funds drove me into looking for a quick-fix DJing solution that didn't need a real mixer, and pretty quickly too.

I found that with a bit of practice, I was able to play sets completely from my laptop. And while I don't DJ like this any more, I wanted to share with you my experiences of DJing this way.

How it happened
As I say, I broke my equipment and needed a solution, fast! I had actually already been using Mixxx, the open source DJ software (as at the time I didn't have the funds to buy Traktor or Serato in order to try out digital DJing), and so I decided to sit myself down and teach myself to DJ with Mixxx, and just off of my laptop. The first thing I learned was to use a USB mouse - much easier and more precise than the laptop's touchpad.

I thought it would be a good idea to make heavy use of beatgrids, but I soon learned that I couldn't rely on software for all music; lucky I can beatmatch manually from knowing how to DJ with "real" equipment, as I found that I needed to much of the time.

I already had a Numark DJ I/O sound card to use, so I could separate the headphones and main outputs fine. I was all set...

My first party as a laptop DJ

So I went to my first gig (a large party) with just my laptop, and I have to say that I was nervous as hell! People were giving me weird looks ("Where's your turntables/mixer?"). When I told them I was just going to use my laptop, the skeptical looks intensified...

However, I donned my headphones, loaded up my playlist, and started laying down the tracks, and guess what? I did just fine.

I wasn't able to meld in samples and loops, but I tried something similar by looping parts of tracks loaded in my second software deck and adjusting EQs and faders in the Mixxx dialog. I found this worked well to give my sets a bit of something extra.

What it taught me
This experience, and subsequent experiences DJing with just my laptop at parties, confirmed to me that real skill in DJing is reading a crowd and track selection, whether using "real" equipment or just a laptop. After all, anyone can DJ a set. The question is, can they get people in the mood to dance? This became very clear to me when I was using just a laptop to DJ with. In that respect there's no difference.

Macbook Air with Mixxx

Mixxx is a free, open-source DJ program.

The biggest surprise for me was realising that for digital DJing, and especially with just a laptop, it's just as important to be able to beatmatch manually (either with headphones or using waveforms) as DJing the traditional way.

Many times, I was forced to do gigs just reading waveforms. I had to know my tracks and know how to beatmatch well to pull it off.

I don't still DJ this way; since then, I've bought a Kontrol S4 and Traktor, and overall I'd definitely recommend using an actual controller, especially if people want to get into controllerism and that type of thing.

But for getting started or for basic mixing? A laptop is just fine.

 

• Mubeen is a part-time DJ from Houston, Texas. Later this year, Digital DJ Tips launches a manual dedicated to teaching absolute beginners all they need to know to DJ in public using just a laptop PC.

Have you played in front of a party, bar or club audience from just a laptop? What were your biggest surprises, triumphs and difficulties DJing this way? Or are you a wannabe DJ who just needs a push to get started in this direction? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

  1. mixxx is a great program, and the next version should add FX and better beatgridding/bpm set ups.

    • Phil Morse says:

      I met Sean of Mixxx at Musikmesse the other week, he was excited about some of the stuff coming up for the program.

    • The latest version of Mixxx has LFO and Delay, but it’s not very refined. Traktor is a BEAST at FX and cue-juggling, and I’d like to see some more controls integrated into Mixxx for FX. Even so, you’ll want knobs and buttons to do more complex FX routines, and then you’ll be spending money on a controller anyway…

  2. Great article. I am a college student just starting out as a DJ. I recently did my first set EVER in public on just my laptop because the DJ for my friend’s party pulled out at the last minute and I did not have enough time to get a controller before the party. Judging from the crowd, they didn’t care what I used to DJ with as long as the music didn’t stop and they were having a good time. I had to teach myself how to beatmatch with waveforms as the night went on (I don’t have headphones yet) because the crowd didn’t react well to the set I had planned, so I threw it out and had to improvise – I knew all my tracks fairly well, but I went places with my set that I never thought I would go. Here’s a sample of the set that I did: http://i.mixcloud.com/CXkxU

  3. as always, a high quality article with a few very good points.. now I am off to practice my beatmatching :)

  4. I think DJing with just a laptop is completely wrong. You’re always stuck in front of your screen and you can’t pay as much attention to the crowd. It’s like playing ping-pong without a paddle; it can be done, but you’ll work much harder and get terrible results.

    I’ve seen it done live with Mixmeister Fusion Live, but in my opinion that’s not much better than recording your set before-hand and pressing play or lip-syncing. I’m not going to tell you how to run the site, but I think publishing an article about how complete beginners can play out with just a laptop is an insult to what we all do and love. You have to have a certain level of involvement, devotion and love of DJing to play out for other people and it’s impossible to fully express those feelings with a trackpad and a keyboard.

    • Phil Morse says:

      I have no problem at all publishing this article. I was resident DJ at one of Manchester, England’s biggest house clubs for 12 years, and I DJed my last year there exclusively from a laptop and a copy of Virtual DJ. All I had was a custom keyboard mapping. Are you saying I was suddenly not a DJ? I am not saying it was the same as using my old gear, but my music choice, programming and mixing meant I rocked the club just as I’d always done. DJing is about a passion for music and for performing that music in front of others. The rest is periphery. Indeed, soon we will publish a full guide on how to go from complete beginner to playing a gig in 28 days using just a laptop – that’s how confident I am that it can be done and that we can teach it. At that point, you might want too look away for a bit. ;)

      • After re-reading my comment I realized I came off a bit strong (editing would be nice, all in due time though). I think there’s a HUGE difference between starting from scratch with only a laptop and already knowing what you’re doing but being hampered by the lack of hardware.

        The creative process of playing around with knobs, being in physical contact with what happens to what you hear and learning how the hardware interacts with the software is extremely different than the process of just playing around with a mouse cursor on your screen.

        I got into DJing because I wanted to be like the greats and be able to produce similar results. I think if I’d tried to go the laptop-only way I would’ve been discouraged at the extremely steep learning curve and not being able to do what I wanted because of my hardware restrictions.

        That being said, I tried out DJing with my laptop before getting a controller of course. Nobody I knew had any DJ gear so I couldn’t actually try out what it was like before plunking down cash for a controller and so I played around with Virtual DJ and Traktor using just my laptop to see what it was like and if I liked it. It’s a perfectly normal part of learning how to DJ and it has it’s use at times, but I think people should know they’re going to be very limited in what they can do with just a laptop compared to other options.

        I understand your point about how DJing is about music and playing it for other people but I would want to reach my full potential when I play for other people and not feel restricted by my lack of hardware. As soon as I thought my Omni Control was lacking in features (I really wanted 4 decks, even if I couldn’t handle it at the time I knew it was a feature that I would want down the road) I started searching for some better suited equipment, trying to expand by abilities and what I could offer people.

        I am very confident that it can be done and that you of all people can teach it, but I think there’s a reason most people use external hardware and not just a laptop. People that will visit your upcoming article will most definitely feel inspired by your story and it will help a lot of them pick up DJing, but they should know that if they want to push their game further it’ll probably require a certain investment on their part other than just time and a profound love of music. I think a DJ who wants to play with the big boys should want to be the best he can be and I doubt playing out with just a laptop is going to let you excel.

        • Phil Morse says:

          I agree with you, but sometimes doing something is better than doing nothing, and I am a big fan of action, not just wishing and wondering. The next step once you’re hooked is definitely to decide what gear you want and go for it if it’s right for you, but gear doesn’t make the DJ.

          By the way DJ Toto, would you like to help with some feedback on the manuscript for the laptop DJing course? Your input in particular I feel would be valuable. Email me via the contact form (bottom of site) if so.

        • “I think a DJ who wants to play with the big boys should want to be the best he can be and I doubt playing out with just a laptop is going to let you excel.”

          Or playing f*ck-awful David Guetta records. No offence mate, and apologies in advance – but looking at the tracklist for your last podcast I’m struggling to see any passion for music. Maybe that’s more important?

        • You’re definitely the first one I’ve seen around here that dissed the playing styles and tracklists of other commenters. I live in Quebec City where all you hear in clubs is top 40 crap and pretty much no one around here even knows who Eric Prydz is.

          It’d be impossible for me to get any gigs or exposure if I only played tech house and dubstep. No offence mate, and apologies in advance, but a good DJ doesn’t play what he thinks is best regardless of what the dancefloor thinks. If this is your train of thought, and judging from what you’re saying it most certainly is, then your opinion doesn’t really matter to me.

          It’s hard for me to stay polite when someone makes such an un-constructive and useless remark. Good for you if playing techno around the clock works for you. But questioning my passion for music because we have different tastes in music makes you one of the worst types of DJs I know of: haters. And no one likes a hater.

        • DJ MAD NL says:

          Gotta say great article and should remind us that we all started somewhere. Back in the days I learned beatmatching on belt driven turntables without pitch control and you had to do it by hand and ear, selecting tracks with not that much BPM difference. After that I moved on to belt driven turntables with pitch control which were never accurate afterwhich I could afford to buy my first Sl1200. If you keep that in mind it is exactly the same. The newbees can’t afford all the gear yet but learning it the (technical) “hard” way like we did in a way will surely benefit them down the road.

          @Shinohara, taking the above into account I think you can eventually excel using just a laptop. I do have all the gear from S4 to CDJ’s and a DJM but I still believe the new kids on the block can probably be very creative with the right keyboard mappings and macros.

        • Pepehouse says:

          I would be interested in a custom keyboard mapping for VDJ since the now free version doesn’t work with controllers. I use Traktor but I would like to mess around with the free VDJ just for a change, I tried to map the EQ kills without luck and bassline swapping is a must for me so I gave up but it’s still installed in my desktop waiting for a solution.

      • Oh and I most definitely won’t be looking away when you publish that article, it’s an essential skill to have if you’re ever in a pinch and if it can help me become a more accomplished DJ, then I’ll take it!

        • I think the thing to remember is that, with a laptop, you can only do one continuous action at a time, and that action isn’t very accurate. You can obviously hit buttons etc as well: but I think the quality of your mix is very much limited by inability to adjust multiple pots/faders smoothly and simultaneously.

          I’ve taught a few people to DJ this way, mostly so they can get familiar with the software they’re using before buying a controller, but I’ve always tried to make it clear that a laptop without a controller is a temporary and inadequate solution.

          @Phil – I’d be curious to hear how you managed to DJ professionally without at least volume+EQ controls on pots?

          • Phil Morse says:

            Custom keyboard mapping, with key pairs for vol, bass, mid and treble for both decks mirrored left/right – hard to explain but worked fantastically. It’s the basis of the course I’m preparing to teach others.

        • Pepehouse says:

          I would be interested in a custom keyboard mapping for VDJ since the now free version doesn’t work with controllers. I use Traktor but I would like to mess around with the free VDJ just for a change, I tried to map the EQ kills without luck and bassline swapping is a must for me so I gave up but it’s still installed in my desktop waiting for a solution.

    • Dont mind the people, Phil – sometimes they don’t realize, that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a midi midi button you push, or the keyboard one.

      And I’m pretty sure that there are many that would be a lot faster on keyboard + mouse combo than some of famous DJ-s using whole loads of midi controllers.

      • Phil Morse says:

        We’re all friends! I’ve spoken to DJ Toto and he’s on the same wavelength really. Winning people over is part of what this site is about.

    • I get this point of view all the time. It’s rather common. I find that this sort of DJing does involve a lot of screentime, but I do find my moments to get away and dance

  5. “This experience, and subsequent experiences DJing with just my laptop at parties, confirmed to me that real skill in DJing is reading a crowd and track selection, whether using “real” equipment or just a laptop”…thanx, i couldn’t have said it better! nice article. same here, been djing for years with cds and finally switch to a laptop last year. i agree to 100% on all the stuff you said.

  6. I’ve been to a gig/party and the entire night’s performance was by a guy who loaded his playlist into Windows Media Player and pressed play. In the strictest (or even loosest) terms he was not a DJ. He just played some music that he liked to a crowd of people and hoped for the best. So long as the music didn’t stop, few people were bothered how the tracks were delivered. Admittedly they were all his friends and hadn’t paid to see him perform, nor did many of them decide they were going to dance more than drink that night.

    I’ve also seen artists turn up with a Launchpad and Ableton Live and clear a dance floor. Same goes for vinyl DJs. DJing, in my opinion is a lot to do with the relationship between the “music selector” / DJ and how good he or she is at steering or being steered by the people before them. If the dance floor was full before you got on, empty when you played, then filled up when you got off one probably shouldn’t blame Allan & Heath any more than the coincidence that everyone was tired when you came on lol

    I’m not a DJ, this is just a lot of hot air hahah

  7. Great article, (as always) I started out on on my girlfriends mac with DJay, then PCDJ for my PC. I had actually seen a DJ at a club using just a laptop, so i though that it was somewhat normal. I quickly learned if you wanted to get technical more was defiantly needed. I went to a few house parties that had DJ’s with full PA systems, Controllers, CDJs and mixers. Decided i was going to get something. I went into guitar center (pretty much blind since i knew no DJ’s) and ended up with the vestax typhoon. It was an awesome controller to learn the ropes on in traktor. I soon out grew that controller and added an X1. Awesome combo by the way. Did a couple gigs at a bar and club, then, again I out grew that combo (or maybe got bored). I now have traktor pro 2, Kontrol S4 and X1 with a full berienger powered PA system with sub (for house parties) some lights and lazers and like 5 pairs of headphones. I do it because i love it, i work a full time job but practice every night and try to do gigs every weekend. I never charge for house parties, mainly cuz i have more fun spinnin for them than if i wasn’t. Its amazing how far people can come in such a short time if they really have the drive and passion for music. I have no doubt u can teach someone how to dj a gig just using a lap top.

    Phil im sure you have seen this all ready but heres a good example of something you can do just by using a keyboard.

  8. I Djed a corporate christmas party this past season and when I hooked everything up my cheap ass controller didnt light up. Luckily this older crowd could care less how well i was gonna beatmatch that night. I managed by cross fading all night. It was boring as hell, but it can be done. As mentioned in the article, a mouse makes this situation a bit easier (i borrowed one from the front desk)and now i pack one just in case dissaster strikes again.
    BTW. People still danced and i still got paid…

  9. As others have said, the key to everything is music selection. Unlike many DJs I never intended to become one – I started by helping out some friends who’d just bought a nightclub. They asked me because they knew I loved music and had a large collection. So over the next few months I learnt the technical side of DJing in front of 500 people every Friday and Saturday. But I never had an issue with music selection because it was always my intention to fill the dance floor – my own taste of music was irrelevant. I honestly believe this is one of those abilities you either have or you don’t. I’ve lost count of the number of DJs I’ve seen who stand in the booth and please themselves – sticking rigidly to some lacklustre pre-prepared set irrelevant of the reaction. Real club DJs always roll with the crowd and whether you’re using a laptop, two 1210s or Jean Michele Jarre’s light-synth – music selection is everything.

  10. I’ve always thought it a good idea to start on a laptop, which most people have anyways, rather than blowing a bunch of money on gear and then deciding that it’s too much work. If the passion is there, the gear can follow. Looking forward to the manual Phil ;)

  11. AdriaticBlue says:

    Wonderful article my friend in Spain. :-)

    I recently had a long email discussion with a local DJ friend who feels like DJ Toto about laptop-based DJing. I did not hesitate to tell my friend, who I personally think is a great DJ, that he sounded quite frankly RIDICULOUS saying that laptop DJs are not “real” DJs. Where does this nonsense come from?! If laptop DJing does not work for you as an individual, then that’s you and look at it only for that.

    I won’t get too high on my soapbox yet will conclude with this:

    -Mubeen, thank you for offering your experience on DJing with just a laptop and being successful at it! I enjoy learning how others DJ and am stoked that there are many equipment options to getting it done.

    -DJs, whatever equipment you choose to satisfy your clientele at your venues is what matters, not the DJs criticizing you for your choice in equipment.

    -I have a glimmer of hope that the DJ community will one day nix such baseless arguments of what makes a “real” or “great” DJ and simply learn to embrace one another, mentor one another and more importantly, respect the choices of their fellow DJs.

    Thanks…

    • Couldn’t have been said any better. I’ve read every comment to this post and this one is undoubtedly the truest and most open-minded as we should be! To each his own.

  12. Great stuff Phil ! Nice to see everyone getting involved too :)

    Its an interesting concept DJ’ing from just a laptop….but in all honesty…the ones who are saying its not DJ’ing are idiots….

    What is the difference between using a laptop keyboard and lets say… a Novation Launchpad or a Monome to Dj? The answer….NOTHING! They all fall into one lovely concept…Midi.

    Its all DJ’ing…people have different needs so its silly to say “oh you must have faders” and you must have this and that….BULLSHIT….I decide what i need nobody else. I’m just finalising my dj set up and its most likely going to be an APC40, Axiom25 keyboard and a midifighter, do you know why? Because its what i need !!! Lol

    Yes using just a laptop with no faders or knobs is tricky, but its not impossible…if anything…you should master that before you buy external gear.

    Anyway….just remember guys that what is termed as DJ’ing is changing quickly; Technics are now not being manufactured anymore, we have people dj’ing with mouseheads on and laptops that control howgood someones night will be…we live in a powerful time.

    What we need and what we want are 2 completely different things.

    And as Phil said…Djing with just a laptop doesnt have to be your only option, its a knowledge and applyable skill you can use when you want and need.

    Aswell…Deadmau5 uses a Monome, you give him just the keys on his laptop and i am sure he can produce some astounding results too.

    Sam Ben-David

    – London School Of Sound
    – Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/SamBenDavid

    (The above represents my own thoughts and not those of London School of Sound)

  13. Great article and interesting followup comments. DJ Toto’s reaction is interesting because it is still such a common viewpoint (mainly among djs who started on vinyl).

    I’m in the camp that believes it doesn’t matter whether you play from a laptop, wax cylinder, reel to reel tape deck or wind up gramophone, as long as your tune selection is good. I also believe you can get by with zero mixing skills IF your tunes are good enough.

    Having said that, there is no denying that the human – computer interface is important. Although clearly not essential, well designed controllers help the dj to focus on the music rather than the software interface.

    • Phil Morse says:

      “I also believe you can get by with zero mixing skills IF your tunes are good enough.” – agreed, I’ve seen this so many times.

  14. @Toto

    “It’s hard for me to stay polite when someone makes such an un-constructive and useless remark. Good for you if playing techno around the clock works for you. But questioning my passion for music because we have different tastes in music makes you one of the worst types of DJs I know of: haters. And no one likes a hater.”

    Sorry..how does that make me a ‘hater’? I don’t really understand what that means. If all else fails just call someone that doesn’t agree with you a ‘hater’? I don’t hate you man – I don’t even know you! What am I meant to be hating? What I *didn’t like* though was the way you came rolling into this thread dissing people for the kit they do or don’t use and claiming you know what ‘real’ DJing is. I don’t want an internet slagging match man, but your attitude in that first post sucked and you needed bringing down a peg or two.

    I genuinely feel sorry for you if your local scene means you can’t play music you like, its tough – and I can relate to that. Bristol has a huge dubstep and jungle scene, but techno isn’t massive here. But guess what? I’m using that to my advantage. Started getting to know people, and the gigs are starting to come in. Playing something different makes me stand out – if I switched to playing what people expected I’d have a thousand other local jocks to compete with. Yes, playing for the crowd is a vital DJ skill – but so is challenging them and championing new or unusual music, not just the Beatport top 40. It’s about finding your own sound that makes you unique.

    Or maybe it isn’t anymore and I’m just wrong. I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years on and off – and I got into it for the love of music, not a love of DJing as some lifestyle choice that didn’t exist back then…mumble grumble etc.

    • You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Every single one of my episodes, except for the “Special mixtape” one, is mostly made of songs no one in my city knows about. If you’ve really been doing this for 20 years you should know better. Most of the people that listen to my podcast in Montreal, which is pretty close to where I am, don’t even know these songs.

      Believe me when I tell you I’m quite different from the other DJs in the clubs. I’m not saying I’m better or special, but they just don’t play the same things, they only play mainstream stuff. Think Rihanna, Katy Perry and Eminem.

      And instead of finding my own sound by playing other people’s music, I’m currently producing some tracks. They’re extremely basic and I have a long way to go, but I’d much rather spend time doing this than digging ever so deeper into rare, unusual and exotic music that won’t appeal to any club manager here who really insist you play top 40 “hits”.

      • “You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Every single one of my episodes, except for the “Special mixtape” one, is mostly made of songs no one in my city knows about. If you’ve really been doing this for 20 years you should know better.”

        Lol – I’ve never been to your city, how would I know?

        Look, lets top this silliness. Its boring and pointless and unfair on what Phil is trying to do here. Best of luck man, especially with the production efforts. Don’t rule out that crate digging tho…

      • Phil Morse says:

        Guys, I know you both well enough to know you’re both good people… so I am going to ask you to leave it there. This is a thread about laptop DJing, not music choices.

        Toto went a bit over the top in calling this article an “insult to DJing” but he admitted that later on and we sorted it out.

        But he’s also right to point out that this is NOT a music website – it is a DJing website. Here, DJing is about finding that sweet spot where you can play what makes you happy and find an audience whom it also pleases, and if what you’re playing fulfills you and the crowd you’re playing for, this site doesn’t care if what you’re playing is Country & Western, happy hardcore or experimental electronica.

        In fact, it celebrates it – this is a global website and as such there can be no overarching rights and wrongs when it comes to music.

        Right, rant over – but please, let’s leave it there, eh? :)

  15. Using only a laptop is fine if you just want to be a jukebox but there’s so much more to DJing than that. A big part of the excitement of DJing is the physicality of it. Part of the reason I think digital DJing is hated on so much is that when people first started doing it, before dedicated midi controllers came along it just looked ridiculous, ‘checking your emails’ was the oft-quoted phrase. First impressions tend to last, and this is one that a lot of people have put a hell of a lot into trying to shake off, by getting controllerism and DVS accepted in the DJ booth, and arguing that they aren’t a threat to what DJing has always been and also provide new opportunities. The idea that anyone can turn up at a club, with a laptop and a hard drive full of mp3s, little to no experience and no great technical skill is hated with good reason. It undermines the whole idea of DJing because it belittles the years of practice DJs spend developing technical skills, be they button mashing a la Ean Golden or the turntablism of a Jeff Mills or Grandmaster Flash. What’s more is it stops skilled people from earning a living because they’re undercut by the laptop only DJ. Now you want to write them a manual so they can learn in 28 days what should take years? The things in life that have any real value don’t happen in 28 days, they take time, dedication, blood, sweat and tears. Playing to a club full of people is a right that should be earned!

    • Phil Morse says:

      Thanks for your reply RobE, but there are for me lots of oft-heard half-truths here. Playing from a laptop does not necessarily make you a jukebox – the music determines that.

      No, using a laptop is not the same as using decks, but it is still possible to produce good results this way.

      Frankly, if the results sound the same, the vast majority of people don’t care, and quite rightly so. DVS is (in my opinion) an ephemeral halfway house between vinyl and digital borne from the fact that Technics (not made any more, remember) were already in DJ boxes, and to argue that there is somehow a fundamental difference between pushing buttons on a Midi controller and on a laptop keyboard is shaky.

      No, you can’t teach the passion for music or the burning desire to play that music in public in 28 days. But in the exciting new digital world, you can put the tools in people’s hands to let them take that passion and play a first-step DJ set. Of course, that is just the start of their journey into DJing.

      Yes, the dull mechanics of DJing just got considerably cheaper and easier. But it is, and always has been, overwhelmingly about the music. That’s what makes great DJs, not some arbitrary skill or other.

    • Hi RobE, at the risk of repeating some of what Phil said, there are a couple of points I’d like to take you up on. You say:

      “The idea that anyone can turn up at a club, with a laptop and a hard drive full of mp3s, little to no experience and no great technical skill is hated with good reason.”

      You see, I don’t really think there is any reason to “hate on” someone who has little technical skill and a hard drive full of mp3’s, if (and its a big if!) they can entertain the crowd. I don’t think anything else really matters.

      Later you said:

      “The things in life that have any real value don’t happen in 28 days, they take time, dedication, blood, sweat and tears. Playing to a club full of people is a right that should be earned!”

      I think you’re right here – a dj does need to earn the right to play to a big crowd. Once upon a time that meant hour upon hour of practice on Technics 1210’s, but not any more.

      Now “earning the right” means showing that you can entertain, not just once but over and over again, with music that is fresh and inspiring.

      Some of the technical skills a dj needs have changed, but it doesn’t mean it takes less work to be great. Sure, its easy to beatmatch with software now, but its no easier than it ever was to take your audience on a truly wonderful musical journey.

      • Lets be clear, when I talk about technical skills I don’t just mean beatmatching. Learning to EQ well, how to place a mix: where to mix out of one record and into another, how to do it: slow blends, quick cuts, swapping basslines, how to use effects, loops and cue points best, all this stuff takes a lot of time to master and is integral to what any DJ does these days. I only feel like I’ve got EQing really nailed after a few of years of intense DJing practice and production work, for example. You might be amazing at choosing the next record, but if you can’t do these things, then you can’t build a set. Programming a good set takes lots of musical knowledge AND lots of technical skill.

        • Phil Morse says:

          OK, two things:

          1) All the above is possible with just a laptop.
          2) Of course you can’t teach it all in 28 days! But you can teach people the basics, show them what they don’t know and why it’s important, and give them the unforgettable confidence-boost of a first gig somewhere (and I’m only talking a house party or a local bar, not a superclub) so they can then go away and begin their journey to learn the rest.

          And I know great, great DJs, BTW, who play one record after another – and that’s it. Wait for the fade, hit play. Mixing does not make the DJ, tune selection does – although I totally agree mixing can add a massive, defining new dimension.

        • Phil, I think that we have fundamentally different views about what DJing is. I come from a dance music background where mixing is king! A lot of the people on here give off the impression from their comments that they are mobile type jocks who play all kinds of music to different crowds in more commercial clubs, weddings, bah mitzvahs, etc. The guy in my local student bar who plays faithless, then the foo fighters, then U2 or something, might get the crowd going but he couldn’t be further away from what I understand a DJ to be. I see DJing as an art form that doesn’t involve just banging out big party tunes to ‘entertain the crowd’. A great DJ set can be almost a spiritual experience, and good DJs do this in the way they choose the records to play and the way that they mix between them, as well as all the other stuff I mentioned in my post above. I really find it hard to imagine how anyone can do this WELL with just a laptop. I’ve had a play around with Traktor just using keyboard mappings and its a nightmare! When I’m mixing between two records I’m often tweaking effects, loops and eq pots while fading stuff in or out. I don’t see how I could ever do all this stuff with just a keyboard!

        • RobeE,

          DJing with Traktor and a keyboard CAN BE DONE. It’s one of the features that attracted me to Traktor.

          It can be done. I spent a LONG time mapping my keyboard, but since I did the hard work by doing that as well as beatgridding my songs and setting up cues on some of my favorite records beforehand, I can reap the rewards.

          I DJ mainly house, electro house, techno, and DnB, and I can do it from a keyboard in Traktor. I keep a separate mapping file on my hard drive which allows me to lay down tunes wherever whenever with Traktor and my keyboard. I beat-match, do long crossfades, quick cuts, mix between four harmonically complementing songs, use dubs, use samples, perform mashups, and even do some basic remixing (adding build-ups, mashing up songs, skipping from cue-point to cue-point) off my keyboard and mouse. Sure, it’s no where as good as when I have the knobs, buttons, and faders of my S4, but it does the job.

          I’m not saying laptop DJing is better than DJing with dedicated equipment – it isn’t – but it still can be done. Especially when strapped for time and on a budget.

          Thanks for your outlook and opinions, I do enjoy debating and listening to others’ views.

          PS: As for messing with FX while fading, I use my USB mouse and use hot keys to dial down FX at the same time. EQ kills are also mapped to hot keys.

        • Phil Morse says:

          To RobE: there is nothing fundamentally different about where we come from. I am a mixing DJ and played house for most of my career. Just because We are a broad church here please don’t assume we don’t “get it”!

  16. Long opinion this one..

    I have read this post and I wanted to add something to this. I have been a DJ for years and its hard graft out there but great fun. I started in vinyl, then CD’s now I have moved with the times to laptop/s.

    Reason for this move is

    Vinyl can literally break your arms off your shoulders carrying your set around, take friends with you; if you do they will help, free entry and all.

    CD’s because of the above.

    Laptop: I took me a while to go with it as most DJ’s agree it’s not just the fact that you are playing good, stomping crowd jumping heaven, but the interaction with your audience is a must!. No one and I mean no one, not even me likes to see a DJ staring at a screen all night squinting finding that all important track, you’re a DJ and not “JukeBox” which is true, with modern tech with auto sync enabled on the laptop for getting the beats in time is not DJing…. Don’t call yourself a DJ if you do that’s my opinion. Learn to mix don’t just by a laptop, missing software and then – O I’m a DJ – I will do your house party for free!! “Look at meee im a dee-jay…..,” ye mate – take auto sync off and DJ….

    Do I sound bitter? I think so, hay I’m old school and hope that DJ’s agree. Plus every DJ that uses software has generally learnt from scratch, beat matching, playing in dark booths with a rubbish small torch looking at the vinyl, listening, sometime leaving it to play near to the end and mixing with only a few seconds to spare and doing this perfectly, get the skill first, learn mixing, beat matching, juggling (as in beats, not as in a circus as this will end up as a disaster!) or maybe not but it will be a crowd pleaser non the less!!! Learn equipment, sound generally get dirty. If I see you with a laptop squinting all night I will say something to you, trust me I’m a DJ… and don’t get me wrong I’m all up for moving with technology we all have to move on with the times its inevitable.

    Has Diing with a laptop taught me anything = nope,

    Has it made me mix better = nope

    Dose it help when at Gigs regarding equipment = yes, less to carry and I don’t have to scroll though white label vinyl/cd’s that I have not bothered to label.. my bad I know!

    Benefits of laptop DJing: it can cost an arm and a leg to get industry DJ tech in your home to practice, decks, mixer, effects etc. a Laptop and a midi controller and soundcard (a good one) is all you need which will be far cheaper to get you moving, but say this. If you have not learned, vinyl/CDJ’s and all you have ever done is from a laptop and your laptop wont start/ black screen of death what ever reason you have to move to CD or vinyl on the night……what you gunna do?

    It happened to me, over heated laptop, now I take CD’s with me also enough to last a whole set, jobs done; now I’m a DJ not JukeBox….

    • Phil Morse says:

      Thanks for contributing. But you do sound a bit bitter, yes, my friend! At least you realise it ;)

      CDs and vinyl won’t be in DJ boxes for much longer. Does that mean all DJs at that point won’t really be DJs?

      I’d say you had learned most of what you were going to learn before you switched to laptop. There’s plenty to learn for new DJs DJing from a laptop – everything, in fact.

      I learned on vinyl too, I’ve been DJing since I first edited a cassette tape, but times change, and they’re currently changing faster than ever.

      New DJs don’t care about anything you said up there. I’m not saying it’s right, just that’s how it is. Why should a 15 year old kid care about looking at vinyl with a rubbish small torch? It’s a different age now. I can’t change it, you can’t either, We can celebrate and go with it or get bitter.

      There’s no difference between squinting at a laptop and crouching over a record box flicking. Good laptop DJs interact with their crowds just the same as good vinyl/CD DJs do.

      • i don’t know if you haven’t learned anything, let alone have nothing to learn. Before I got into digital djing I had an acute interest in programming. Now that I’m fully entrenched in it, I have found that a lot of the more complex commands such as using multiple channel commands through midipipe within miliseconds, has been a huge struggle and just made me better at logic in general. And who doesn’t like a logical person :) Right now I have a setup that sends audio from Traktor to Ableton and midi back and forth from my hard drive, with the commands split into multiple commands. I got the idea from DJ Tech Tools. Sorry, Phil, I loved the videos you had on sale earlier this week.

  17. Yes it is true we do have to move with the times, cd/vinyl won’t be in the boxes in near future it is true what you say. But I’m not bitter in any anyway, at the end of the day we have all been there got the t-shirt and what not. Just stuck in old ways I gues..

    I respect youngsters doing amazing things with the tech that we have out now, tractor pro/scratch or whatever is used and they have made my jaw drop in orr and only learning from laptop is honored to them I would encourage all as there is loads to learn but nothing beats old ways but it’s me and my quark I have to live with…

    So I celebrate the tech as after all I use Traktor scratch 2 and love it to bits, and I was amazed at its functionality and what you can achieve with the tech that you could not do before, if I did not then what person would I be, a moaning man with man flu…. no I think not..

    And if I did see a 15year old kid with a torch frantically looking though his collection of vinyl then I will say “you will be a great DJ one day son” it may bring a tear to my eyes.. haha

    Will it teach you new things = yes it will as tech evolves it will.
    Is it like old days = no
    Am I bitter man = narr just picky, but who is not these days, after all I’m British and have the right to be…

    Be free and mix well all, it is us that makes the world turn every weekend in the clubs with our music no matter what we use, play well and be safe

    • Phil Morse says:

      One thing I will say about you Mark, you’re a gentleman! Thanks for the input, we’ll have to whinge together over half a mild sometime. And enjoy the wedding on Friday ;)

  18. Yet again, another top article….
    I fully understood the intention of the post… basically to educate those that DJing can be done via a laptop / PC only if needed…
    By no means did I read that it suggested to do this only, just that if you are in a jam, in can be accomplished :-)

    I actually started my Digital DJing this way too… I had a copy of PCDJ and only my laptop and soundcard, then I discovered Traktor and havent looked back since!
    My humble opinion is that DJing is purely about the tunes you select and how you play them to rock a crowd, I have never bought into the Uber cool opinion of Technics decks etc etc….
    Nobody cares when on a dancefloor, how you make them move and with what equipment you do it with ? If that was the case Larry levan may well have gotten bottled off for playing reel to reel ? lol

    I now have the dream set up of Traktor S4, Traktor 2 and Traktor Control X1, my perfect digital solution….
    Oh and I’m not carrying around 8 cases of Cd’s anymore :-)

    MoZ

  19. Eky metal says:

    Hi there
    I have read some of the comments here .
    We have to all realize that money is a main thing here !
    We all want great gear , when I started I did not have much .
    Someone told me about virtual DJ , I was amazed what I could do !
    At the time I had a 2 channel mixer and 2 discmans!
    I have pioneer decks now and mixer , but I still use a laptop to .
    I have seen some club djs doing amazing stuff with a laptop and tractor pro .
    We all have to start some where !!!!!
    Cheers from Tasmania

  20. DJ Stone Crazy says:

    Just like with anything else, it never is the equipment. It’s the idiot using the equipment. Vinyl or digital, if you don’t have the skills, neither format is going help you. Nice read.

  21. BIKRAMADITYA says:

    Me too I started djing with 2 tape decks ,one Phillip turn table ,after sometime I baught a sony cd player ,which looked like a v.c.r,then I saw Gemini cdplayers & technics 1200 ,which I really needed but could’nt afford to buy.So asthe time passed I was somehow able to buy a KAM TWIN cd payer and a numark 3 channel mixer & later on I got the 1Kam turntable (Beltdrive).Couple of years after that nonstop gear collection started ,Pioneer cdplayers ,dj600mixers ,SL1210,denon2600f so on ,
    Now suddenly everything stops as the computers came & after that controllers .Now this LAPTOP djing is the next level in djing thats what I think……………

  22. So i did my 1st ever party with my laptop it was literally my first time playing in the crowd it went alright but it was a difficult thing for me because my music is just to be played in the night club not some high school small party because yeah my definiton of party is “dark and crazy with lights all over” but yeah i learned that a dj must find its place within a crowd, so yeah i still consider a noob but with more knowledge..

  23. JulianCor says:

    Hi,

    I started DJing in 2008 when a friend gave me some classes. Well that time I used to play only at home in my badroom with my MDJ-400 and 2 CDJ-400 I bought them to train, because knowing the tecnics is not enough you need to train your ears. Ok I got there, played in a fill places, when I got invited from the same friend. Years later I found on the internet something about Traktor. What DJ using your computer? Uauuu I was in love, because I always used computers and love music. So finally i could do something i really like in my life. So I been playing with Traktor Pro almost a year, just recently I bought Tracktor Scratch Pro 2. Ok you can use the decks again, but for what?, all the other good stuff you need is in the software.
    Been a Digital DJ for me really greatfull and I love to come home after a day of work, take my toys and go again, but to have fun.
    I play 3 day in a week, earn more money than my normal job. Saving my money and hope one day I will have my studio.

    Digital DJ want or not. Is the future!!!

  24. Phil Morse, that manual (“Later this year, Digital DJ Tips launches a manual dedicated to teaching absolute beginners all they need to know to DJ in public using just a laptop PC”), is it coming soon?

  25. This is awesome! I started out with my laptop but didn’t do any parties until I got my crappy control that I have now (which I’m about to upgrade). But I still face the dilema that I can’t use headphones to beatmatch or even listen to the track before I play it. I use waveforms and memory and believe it or not, I actually do a very good job. I always get compliments for my DJ’ing and sometimes I do better jobs than DJs that have very high tech and expensive systems. I think it’s all in the DJ behind the mixer than the mixer. Although good equipment is a plus and might let you reach higher potentials, use what you’ve got and make the best of it. You can get very creative with simple stuff and that will teach you more than anything!

  26. Great article. The first time i DJed with just my laptap (and Serato), i kept pressing the wrong buttons! LOL. Thankfully, it was an early, mingle & drink function and the sound system was horrible. I think i was the only one who noticed when i accidentally looped back to the beginning of a track.

    I’m much better with my laptop now, but coming from all vinyl i still prefer to manipulate each track with my hands. So either a high quality control or the good ol’ 1200s are my favorites! I go all-laptop if something goes wrong with the other set up.

    Thanks for the article!

  27. I am playing in Helsinki next weekend and I will be using just my Macbook with Traktor Pro 2.

    I will be buying a new controller at the end of the month, I am lucky in that I know that I have been booked to play Deep House and Deep Tech House/Techno.

    I will be going in knowing exactly where the set will go and in so doing be able to mix the entire set by eye using waveforms, in my opinion the night will not be let down in anyway as I know I can play my set with or without headphones or controller.

    I am actually looking forward to it as a bit of a challenge.

  28. Chuck van Eekelen says:

    Thanks Phil,

    Great article once again. What I especially appreciate in all that I have seen/read so far is the fact that there is no DJ glorification and an us vs the rest kind of attitude. And there is plenty of room for (I hate the word) newbees to come on board, find out a lot of information they don’t have to learn the hard way and use that to progress as fast as they like (still takes practice to master a skill, but a lot less than when you have no clue about where to start practicing).

    I believe it is possible to be a good DJ with only a laptop. I would be scared sh*tless doing it, but that would be because of the infamous, inherent instability of laptops. Especially in the XP days.

    In general I think it all boils down to finding out what gear you have to work with (be it at a venue, be it what you have and/or can afford yourself), what it can and can’t do and just adjust your workflow accordingly. Ok, maybe you can’t do fancy FX, maybe even beatmatching is out of the question but use what you have, make a show out of it and do what you can.

    Nice anecdote about that:
    I played in Baghdad in 1984 or so at a private party at the “Hunting Club” for the kids of the mmmm … priviliged class at the time. Two hifi turntables, both completely different, only one with a DJ stylus in it, neither with any kind of speed control, a preamp -no mixer- with rotary controls for channel gain and … well that was pretty much it actually. Oh, did I mention I did have a mic with an on/off switch and bass/treble control on the mains? :-)

    I said some harsh things under my breath when I got there, smiled at the guy that invited me (and paid me rather handsomely for it), shook it off and got cracking. Mind you, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody and I wouldn’t go looking for a gig like that, but I built a party that first night and got invited back twice more during my 4 month stay there (I was the regular club DJ for the Baghdad Sheraton hotel then) and I made it work.

    So if you love music, love to go out and give people a good time, if you have read everything you can on this site and practiced it til your fingers blistered and all you can bring is a good collection of music and your laptop, go out and do it!

    Like Phil so rightly says, once you start making money with your skills, put back a substantial part of your earnings into upgrading your gear. Don’t be in a hurry, but save til you can get the gear you like, that suits your needs and the level you want to be at.

    Make sure you are good at what you do with what you have at your disposal and make the house rock. You’ll be Da Man (this goes for the lady jocks too of course)!

  29. VERY INSPIRED TO START WITH JUST A PC IN MY HOUSE. I never knew DJ’ing would be enjoyable without a controller. HAHA. THANKS!

  30. Ruban Birch says:

    Hey guys.
    I recently have got into DJing because i held my own party and people loved the music and tracks. This lead to my first gig i did on Saturday. I only used my laptop to do the djing and i was terrified to begin with! I played some sick tunes for the first half of the party with an automatic crossfade of about 5seconds. Then when i went to turn the djing software on my laptop froze!!! D: I went bright red and need to do something.
    FAST!!!!
    So i pulled up itunes and fixed the software and managed to make a hasty transition to the software. After that the software i used shows the the tracks and allows me to see where it drops off and where the other songs beat begins. With this i just made the transition of the song, went to dance, hopped back up and did the next transition and so on. I did have any problems the rest of the night and everyone loved it!! thanks for reading guys. :)

  31. At the end of the day it’s all about if the crowd had a good time and if you kept everyone dancing. I’ve been dj’ing with just my laptop for awhile now(school expenses get in the way of me getting better gear) and i’ve always gotten compliments on how good my mixes/mash ups were. If you have the passion, and you work with what you got, it doesn’t really matter what you use. Also, the point of a dj is to entertain. Your typical club/bar goer is all too interested in what gear the dj has, they just wanna dance all night, and if you can have them and whoever else do that, and keep the floor packed… then you’ve done your job. And having better gear doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a better dj! At the bar i dj at i see other dj’s with sickest, newest gear, and they clear the dancefloor within the first hour or they don’t read the crowd and get super monotonous

  32. josh hopkinz says:

    After sellin my 1200s like an idiot, I got the dj bug again as usual, and was mad broke that I used my desktop and Mixx bahahaha I did a couple of gigss, and people called me dj desktop. I too now have Traktor and an S4…gotsta stay grateful.

  33. Meanmrmustard says:

    O.K. to all noobies

    the hardware does not matter
    i have dj’ed over 30 years, with vinyl, reel to reel, cassette, cd decks, pc’s and laptops, its just hardware.

    the most important thing is READ THE CROWD constantly.

    You are there to make people happy.
    You are not there to show off your music collection.

    YOU more than anything will make or break the mood of the event.

    look at everything, what they are wearing, drinikng, eating, how loud they are, how horny they are, EVERYTHING.

    • I agree just come out with a good sound play what they need to hear and your there. Everyone now a days has the music there is know right or one way to dj. I do believe house and tec are in a field of there own and looks better with tuntables or cd decks. Create your own style that works for you learn how to use a mic most dj’s are not very good at this part and singers or karaoke and dj guys and gals will be a little ahead on this when it comes to sound setup.
      Just remember having turntables don’t make you a better DJ by any means there are many different ways to DJ and Make some money. I think club and mobile DJ’s for sure are two different deals.

  34. Jonathan Ramilo says:

    Does anybody know of a way to connect with Mubeen Khan instantly? I want to email or Facebook message him about a more in-depth experience of DJing with only a laptop.

  35. Currently using a computer and Traktor demo to get the feel of djing with just a computer. I have found that one of the most important things to learn is the short-cut keys for cueing, hot keys, setting loops, moving the fader etc, reason being is, by the time you use the mouse or track pad to initiate a task, the timing is off because of hand to mouse delay (fumbling, not latency :-) )

  36. I’m 19. Started Dj’ing four years ago with a laptop and Virtual Dj, I learned to beatmatch manually with that, lack of funds forced me to continue playing on my laptop. I’ve obviously grown out of it, moved on to play on vinyl, cdjs and controllers. Even though it wasn’t much, the laptop and mouse got me over 1k likes on my fan page. Mixes that I’ve made with my laptop (I still do today) get over 2/3k downloads. This isn’t a bragging session on what and what not to dj on. Skies the limit! If I could build my entire fanbase with just my laptop and software, it’s no problem at all for dudes to get the basics on laptops at all (just don’t rely on it too much).

  37. sir,
    am from india,so which dj cable i use for djing on virtual dj 8 in windows 7.
    please help because griffin dj cable not available in india.
    so i need your help.

  38. i dont like using the touchpad too

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