10 Commandments For Better Digital DJing, #2

Pre-digital DJing

DJing has a long and rich history, and the smart digital DJ owes it to him or herself to learn something about it. Pic: DJ's Portal

Hundreds of you read and watch our first commandment yesterday, and your comments together with our guidelines are, we hope, going to build into the definitive manifesto for how to "do" digital DJing. By the end of this ten days, together we will have built a great knowledge base for all digital DJs to learn from, so please continue to help us by Liking each rule (if you agree with it, of course).

On that point, of course we realise that not all of these guidelines could possibly apply to all DJs in all eventualities, but we're pretty sure the vast majority of them apply to the vast majority of our type of DJ - people just like you, digital DJs who are in it for the music and who care deeply about their craft.

Today's commandment

Without obeying today's commandment, new digital DJs are doomed to never be better than the DJs who have come before them. Here it is:

Commandment #2: Respect the history of DJing.

Non-digital DJs sometimes get so defensive and angry with us in the digital DJing community, sometimes going as far as saying we're destroying the art of DJing. By respecting DJing's history, we can not only show them that's not true, but we can better ourselves at the same time.

So, as this is a campaign, first we'd like you to help us spread the word by clicking the Facebook Like button at the end of the post if you enjoy it - particularly today, because we need the non-digital DJs out there to read this too.





  • One of the most fun ways of exploring the way DJs can sample music and reinvent it, and the way a simple piece of music can be looped and used as the basis for literally whole scenes, is the Amen break mentioned in the video. Head over to It's a DJ's Life for three fascinating videos documenting the history of the Amen break. There are so many tracks that use the Amen break, it even has its own database!
  • Want to learn a bit more about cutting breaks together to make a continuous rhythm - the kind of stuff that looping makes easy with today's gear? Check out the originator of it all, DJ Kool Herc, describing how he invented this style, in this video: Kool DJ Herc, Merry Go Round
  • Try watching this video from the prolific internet DJ tutor Ellaskins, in which he builds on what Kool Herc shows us in the video in the previous point, explaining how you can mix two records using nothing more than the crossfader. After you've watched it, try and work out how you would duplicate this on a DJ controller. Hint: Look in your preferences to set the crossfader curve, and use cue points to mark the start of musical sections. Most DJ software has spinback and brake effects, to copy the vinyl techniques of the same name. Could you use those effects to add old school vinyl mixing techniques to your digital armoury?
  • Want to know how early mixtapes were made? Check out this guide to cut editing. If you want to make your own mashups, this is a basic skill that hasn't changed, only now you do it on the screen, not on the editing block
  • If you feel your digital music is badly organised and it is distracting you at gigs, we've got tons of resources right here on Digital DJ Tips to help you. Getting that "80 records" feeling comes from doing your homework: A good place to start is Why Packing a Good Box of Tunes is More Important Than Ever, which is a comparison of how I used to pack my tunes in the vinyl days compared to how I do it now
  • We talk about looking for inspiration outside of your scene and why it pays to keep an open mind in What Family Pop Concerts Can Teach You About DJing
  • If you're a movie type of person, had over to Musidocs where you'll find the best collection anywhere of music documentaries including a priceless wealth of dance and DJ culture material
  • Last but definitely not least, the very best book you can add to your collection about the history of DJing is Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey. It's over 10 years old now, but if you want to feel proud of where you've come from and learn from the greats, there's still no better guide

We hope this material has been useful to you, and thank you once again for Liking this post in order to help us spread our campaign for better digital DJing far and wide...

• Watch out tomorrow for the third of our 10 "commandments". And thanks again for your support.

Check out the other parts of this series:

What are your views on our second commandment? What have non-digital DJs or DJs from the past taught you? Or do you disagree with us, and feel that as digital DJs, we should forget the past and reinvent everything for ourselves? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Having to like this one as well as yesterday's is a little meh. But I still did it ...

    • Phil Morse says:

      We're going to ask you to like all 10, to show your agreement and help us in the campaign. At the end, we'll produce a meaty free guide containing all ten commandments, all video links, your feedback, and extra worksheets & resources - and we'll ask you to Like that too, to get your free copy of it! And then we'll stop - promise. :)

    • CosmicRift says:

      If you don't like the culture and your not in it for the music why are you on this site Ellgieff?

      • I think some folk just don't want to click that button, it's not that they're not into the culture/music. But this is a campaign, and we're producing 10 days of extra content on top of our usual output, so we don't feel bad about asking for something back just this once. Plus you can get it all free at the end anyway :)

      • You what, now?

        I do like the culture. I'm only in it for the music.

        Perhaps you could learn to read?

      • Phil Morse says:

        Come on guys, you're both great people because you're both regulars on who who love your digital DJing. So let's leave it at that :)

  2. Phil mentioned it. This book is a MUST -- Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey

    Believe me, I'm an old schooler (started in 1992, but have been into it all since 1984). There's a lot of things I learned about the CULTURE of the DJ from that book. Things I didn't know about.

    It's partially a history of the disc jockey, but also a look at the history of the DJ culture. I'll never forget when I first learned about Northern Soul and how it was the precursor to the Second Summer of Love in the UK; or how much reggae inspired hip-hop not just in sound, but in technique. You'll see who Larry Levan, Francis Grasso, and David Mancuso were...and how much what they did created the modern club DJ of today.

    Pop the $11 and pick it up. It's worth it.

    I also think Phil is dead-on about how in the past we would only go out with a limited amount of tunes. You had your 80-120 records with you and that was it. You packed smart, and learned to simply tell requesters that you don't have their choices and/or the night isn't about their choices. The lesson to learn from that is why DJs should still "pack crates" either in the crate system of their software or just copying selected files into a folder and only going with that.

    Rarely will I bring out the 500-GB hard drive of tunes. I'll just move 300-400 tunes into a folder on my laptop hard drive and go from there. The trick now is to get promoters/managers to trust your judgement rather than ride on you for not pleasing one annoying trixie.

    • Agreed- that's a great book to help understand the history of DJing and bit starts WAY back !

      For a movie that is a great pairing I would recommend SCRATCH. Focused more on early DJing & Turntablism but it's awesome.

      My Fav part is where one of the big name DJs is telling us how his dad had turntables and locked the needles away, but his friends would come over and they'd pick the locks to get at his needles then trash the needles and records scratching the hell out of them. Lol

      Great historical movie w tons of interviews

  3. Maximus Moretta says:

    Chruch! LOL!

  4. I'm glad you brought up cutting in this context, and especially giving it the context of of how most non-breaks (or non-drumnbass or non-hiphop) djs originally discovered it as a tool: running out of song. I can remember the first real club gig I did way back in the day (ok, so it was 97, but that's a pretty long time) and being so disoriented in the booth (mainly because of using a different mixer with an egregiously loud monitor setup) that by the time I got through my opening mixes (I had two I could do in my sleep at that point) I couldn't actually get the next song beatmatched by the time it hit the outro. So I did what anyone would do at the point: I cued the beat drop on the next track, closed my eyes, counted out the bars to myself, and then just cut the track over where the next bar would have been. And it went over so well with the crowd that I decided to do it more often, but on purpose.

    Cutting doesn't work as well with trance as it does with house or breaks, but you can certainly to the drop cut when its appropriate. And when mixing pop, its sometimes all you can do. To me it seems like its one of those fundamental parts of learning how to dj, that I never really realized modern digital djs might not experience it.

  5. Great stuff! Looking forward to the next parts..

  6. Problem: I've I already cicked the Like button, it appears unclickable if I try to read the post again (reloading the site, for example) and now I can't see the video and the rest of the post... =(
    Solve it please!

  7. Phil this like button is not working for me also if it was I wouldnt want to plaster my facebook with these 10 articles as I use facebook for work purposes.
    I would still like to see these articles anything you can do or should I just visit again sometime next week!
    Hope you are ok
    Cheers Tony

    • I'll add you to the list of people who I will email all the extra content to when the 10 days are up and the campaign has finished, Tony.

    • dj distraction says:

      In case the "Like" button started working already, you can always "remove" the post in your wall anytime by clicking the "x" button on the upper right corner of the post...but, it defeats the aim of Phil to get other digital dj here and know that there is a community that care for them.

  8. Another down-vote for the whole FB 'like' thing. Phil - I love your site, I feel like you're coming from a similar mindset to me (old school DJ getting back into it again post-digital) and I of course realise that you're trying to monetise this site by increasing readership and thus ad impressions. However, I don't feel there should be any conditions placed upon reading an article. Post it - or don't - but don't force your readership into putting stuff on their FB wall. Just my 10cents.

    • Phil Morse says:

      Thanks Andy! We’re publishing 10 commandments of digital DJing in addition to all of our usual posts – we’re working twice as hard here for this ten days! Everything we'd normally post is available for free, as always.

      And it is a CAMPAIGN – the whole idea is for our regulars (who hopefully agree with the content) to Like it in order to help us to get it out to people who DON’T normally come here. The reason for that is that digital DJing has a really bad name among general DJs, and the more DJs who DON’T play digitally we can get to come here and see how much care our digital community places in the way it approaches digital DJing, the better. That’s the aim – and it’s working because we have lots of new readers from this we would never otherwise have got.

      Finally, of course we understand not everyone wants to press “Like” – that's exactly why for anyone who doesn’t want to support us in this way, we offer you all the content for free anyway – just [@encode@ email="phil@digitaldjtips.com" display="email us"] and when the campaign has finished, we’ll send you all the material, no “Like” necessary.

      Now, can we get back to the commandments? We’ve got a great video to upload and a worksheet for commandment #3, that’s got sex in it and everything…!

  9. Good read as usual! Definitely worth a "like"

  10. Bye! Being rude that's not your site.

  11. Last Night A DJ Saved My Life - about every 6 months I pick up that book and read it cover-to-cover and always get some new inspiration out of it.

    I wish they would add a couple new chapters for the last 10 years though.

  12. DJ Gerard says:

    Great stuff Phil. 2 for 2 so far, cannot wait to read the rest of the digital DJ commandments. Hope I stay on board of your campaign. I will not hesitate ti voice my opinion if I disagree.
    I started with belt drives and moved on to 1200's quickly back in 1992. I was clubbing here in NYC all the time back then. Always taking it in not just what was played but how it was played by the DJ. His/her style? Amazing watching the building blocks change so subtle over the years. I have embraced digital DJing. I was reluctant at first but I love it now. I was one of those guys that would not touch a CDJ unless he had to. I would say "that's not real DJing". Glad I can laugh at myself today about that. Speaking of which, let's not forget (I know many will try to debate this) a CDJ is digital DJing. When you take that CDJ to its core it is a digital controller. There I said it!

    P.S. This weekend I am only bringing 300 tracks (files) with me. Best thing I needed to hear. Amazing how fast we can forget where we came from.

  13. The best DJs don't limit themselves to the tracks they had in mind. They are humble enough to take comments onboard and, sometimes, play a request: I was dancing once and i went to the DJ (Alan K) to tell him that i thought a specific track would mix well: i was amazed at how quickly and smoothly it mixed it in immediately and it went down a storm. That's true passion. The DJs who don't listen to their crowds are just arrogant pricks.

    • Phil Morse says:

      Sometimes - but if a DJ/producer is booked toplay his own sound, he'd hardly be expected to play inappropriate requests. It's a circumstance thing isn't it? You'¡re right, it would be an arrogant DJ who didn't play a suggestion that's great but that he just hadn't thought of. By the way, please be polite and respectful on here as per posting guidelines.

  14. As A youth, I had to respect those DJ's who came before me so I could gain acceptance as they passed the torch on to me. 20 years later, Technological leaps have made the passing of the torch somewhat tricky. I personally think that I am a hybrid of the old school and new. I love Technics 1200's, yet I love dicers and midi controllers to run Serato.

    In the end, Newer generations of DJ's should have respect or at least at the minimum, Appreciation for the hard work of all the DJ's that paved the way for them. Good video!

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