7 Surefire Steps To Becoming A Better DJ

DJing in public

Our number one rule for improving as a DJ is to play in public. No excuses! If you’re not DJing in front of other human beings, you’re not going to get better.

Like anything worth learning, DJing is not something you’ll become good at overnight. But if you know exactly what you should be doing in order to improve, you chances of success will be much higher.

Six months back we asked our readers to help a new DJ to understand better how to improve his DJing. Many people won’t have seen that post, and lots of good ideas came out of the article, so here we’ve summarised them for you.

Start doing even some of these things, and you’ll improve in no time – and have a lot of fun doing it too!

Our seven surefire steps to becoming a better DJ

  1. DJ in public – This is number one for a reason. DJing happens in public. It’s a public skill. Doing it behind closed doors is not DJing – it is practising. When DJs say “how do I know I’m getting better?” my first question is “how did your last gig go?” If you haven’t played a gig yet, you’re not really getting better or worse, because you’re not really DJing at all! So, get a gig. Do you know a bar owner who’ll let you play on his quietest night? Can you play a friend’s birthday party? Will your girlfriend and her mates let you play for them on a Friday night at your home? Can you get together with a few other beginner DJs somewhere and have an hour each DJing in front of each other? All of these things count as DJing in public. Make this a regular part of your learning.
  2. Always record your mixes – that means from Day 1. It will help you to take your practice sessions seriously, and teach you to play for an audience, because right from the off you’ll know that someone will be listening back to it (if only you, later on). You don’t have to record everything you do, but do a mix to end each session and listen back to it later that day or the next day. Not convinced? Find out why digital DJs need to record their mixes.
  3. Learn phrase matching – When you hit auto-sync on your software, it sets the BPMs of each tune the same, and locks the beats so that they’re in time. It does the first bit well, but isn’t so good at the second. While it’s good eventually to know how to beatmatch, phrase matching is actually the more important skill. Music generally happens in “phrases” of 4, 8, 16 or 32 beats then repeats, and if you can line up these phrases when you’re mixing, you’ll perform mixes that are more musical, can carry on for longer and which just “make sense” on the dancefloor. All DJs phrase match. Work out what it is, and practise it. That’s what your headphones are for!
  4. Share your mixes – There
    Mixcloud

    You don’t have to be a superstar DJ to share your mixes on Mixcloud – it’s free, and it’s a great place to get your work out in public, however much of a beginner you are.

    are myriad places online where you can upload your mixes for free, and we listed some of them here. Get used to uploading your mixes to one or more of these services. Then use Facebook, Twitter, email, word of mouth or whatever to get everyone you know listening to and commenting on them. This is how DJs build fan bases, but initially it will help you to get wider feedback and a better sense of achievement. Set a target one mix a week, one mix a month, whatever) and stick to your plan.

  5. Listen to other DJs critically – When you’re out and about, start listening to other DJs slightly above your level – at parties, in bars, at pop concerts, residents in clubs, even mixes online. What do you like about their playing? How good is their tune selection? Do they do short or long mixes? Do they mess up or is everything smooth? Do they change styles? How do they react to their crowds? How loud do they play? How do they behave behind the decks – jumping around or concentrating intently? and crucially, what would you do different? when it comes to getting paid gigs a bit further down the line, you’ll need to know what makes you different fro your immediate DJing competition. Now’s the time to start considering what they’re doing, and what it is about your own developing personal style that is going to help you to stand out.
  6. Write stuff down – Keep a notebook (or a set of notes in your smart phone, a folder of emails to yourself, a Google Doc or task list – whatever) in which you write the following: Tunes you want (ask DJs, Shazam them); mixes you like; ideas for your DJ sets; mixes you’ve done that work; mixes that don’t; thoughts you have about things you want to try when you’re practising; and so on. Don’t worry about making it all neat and structured – just fill a notebook then read through it every now and then and do some of the things you’ve written down. You can’t possibly remember every idea you have about your DJing otherwise.
  7. Practise every day – It’s all very well doing the above, but you need to do it religiously. Professionals turn up and do it, however they feel. Amateurs do it when they feel like it and make excuses when they don’t. got a busy job (so have these guys but they’re smashing it) or kids to look after? Yeah, yeah, join the queue. If you’re serious, you’ll find a way. It’s much better to DJ a bit every day than save it all up for a marathon session at the weekend. This is the same for any kind of learning, and apart from putting you in the right frame of mind about the importance of DJing in your life, it also means you’ll learn quicker for the simple fact that if you’e done something recently, you’re thinking about it when you’re not doing it, and it’s actually in these short periods between practising that the lessons sink in and you can make leaps in your skills and knowledge. The more often you practice, the more new periods of “downtime” you have for this consolidation to take place.

Finally…

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Have you just started DJing? What are you finding the most challenging about learning? Do you think we’ve missed anything off of our list? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. I agree with all points and want to add one more…be open to constantly evolve. DJing culture is never stagnant and constantly evolving so all be open to new styles of mixing, beat matching, Dj gear etc etc. DJing has become a very saturated, cutthroat industry so you always want to stay current with what’s available because there will always be someone waiting to take your spot. Keep spinning always…..

  2. I have nothing to add. Solid article in my book. I shall share.

  3. I love all your posts ! and seriously I love this website. Thank You :)Its my start …a never ending musical start :)

  4. and one of the most important step…

    at some point forget about anything anyone has ever told you and try to rediscover things yourself.

  5. dj distraction says:

    Phrase Matching…I love it! Next thing to learn after beat matching.
    I’ve seem many pro DJs here who up to now doesn’t know how to phrase match.

    BTW, if you’re using Traktor, displaying the “Beats” and “Beats to Cue” will help your phrasing technique better.

  6. Jon Cravenwood says:

    beatmatching and phrase matching is a must. I think any DJ who uses software should know how to beatmatch by ear. Cover up your screen, read about how to do it using online articles and practice every spare minute you have. It might be tedious at first but once done right it’s a million times more satisfying than pressing auto sync + software doesn’t always get it right and it WILL save your ass when everything goes wrong!

  7. Great articles! I havent been in the game too long, if you have time give some of my tunes a listen much appreciation!

  8. Amazing. As long as I have been DJing, it is still nice to read reminder tips and see some structure and theory put into writing about DJing. These are musts! I do not share mixes on mixcloud (or anywhere else) yet out of pure laziness. I rat myself out. Maybe this week I will.

  9. Well, I had problem with first point. Yes It´s important to play on public BUT I will not play anything what people (not me) want.
    If I will accept offer and play on some birthday party I know that everybody want that I play some Rihana or Lady Gaga and this is not me, this is not music which I will to play.
    So I thing, yes try to play public, but no for every price.
    I´m beginner and I have this problem so I try to learn mix a different styles, make my mix interest for people who like commercial tracks with non commercial tracks….yes long way from “bedroom” :)
    sorry for grammar

    • It sounds like you’ve already found a way to mix what you like with what your crowd likes… which is the fundamental job of a DJ who want to educate AND entertain.

      • I like lot of styles, from hip-hip through dubstep, dnb, to funkyhouse, discohouse, techhouse.
        So I have a lot to choose from.
        But I don´t like pop.

  10. Regarding practicing each day – which after a while can become quite boring if you are doing the same thing time and time again. I’ve found setting up a training program for practicing like you would for a daily fitness program really helps.

    For example:
    30 mins a day (An hour if you have the time)

    Monday – Effects (15mins trying out effects and how they sound on different tunes in your mix / Then 15 min mix implementing what you have just practiced).

    Tuesday – Phrase matching (15mins practicing, then 15mins mixing putting into action what you have just practiced)

    Wednesday – Scratching (15mins practicing, then 15mins mixing putting into action what you have just practiced)

    Thursday – Effects (15mins practicing, then 15mins mixing putting into action what you have just practiced)

    etc etc etc.

    When it comes to your ‘marathon’ mixes at the weekend within a few weeks you’ll notice a massive step up in the quality of your sets.

    And the best thing about setting up a training program like this is that you can chop and change it it to suit your needs as and when they change.

    • I love the post about time management. I find myself more and more telling myself i don’t have time like i use to to practice being that i work nights and have a 7 month old and a 10 year old son who i mainly see on the weekends. I love dj’n but struggle to find time to practice or land gigs based on the demands of everyday life.

      Thanks for reminding me i don’t have to dj for 3 hours to fell accomplished and that a little bit can go a long way!! Just manage wisely!!

  11. Can someone tell me a good alternative to Mixcloud and Soundcloud that works on the iPhone. No Flash support really sucks. My website looks good on a phone but the music links won’t play.

  12. Wonderful article. I appreciate all the information given as I’ve learning and want to get better, but like it says practice, play in front of a crowd and just do it.

  13. You forgot track selection….the number one skill a good DJ must have. You can be an amazing technical DJ but if you choose shit tracks (which a lot of digital guys do) it makes you a shit DJ. I think it’s 90% track selection and maybe 10% everything else. This I’d the problem with digital DJing, songs are so easily and cheaply available that people lose respect for the music and will play any old thing without even learning the song beforehand I.e using the visual waveforms to mix rather than your ears. It’s all about the music.

    • I have to agree on this one.

      I played on show two weeks ago and I didn’t play one song I didn’t get a chance to hear beforehand. The show went well although it was my first public mix in six years (I started again in June this year)!

      In essence it’s good to know your entry and exit points. If you don’t know the track and you didn’t expect the track to end the way it did, you are going to have to improvise very quickly or risk a slightly bad mix.

      In summary, know your music well!

    • Dj Dark Side says:

      This is the most important, & overlooked aspect of During. I was out of town about a year ago with my wife, & friends. We went to a dance club that plays house music which is what I Dj, & we all listen, & dance to. The Dj wore this fancy mask, & there were alot of great effects, but his track selection was complete garbage. I bumped into the club owner at one point, & told him the Dj he was paying sucked. My wife thought shouldn’t have done that, especially because I’m also a Dj. I say only a Dj can say how good (or not so good) another Dj is.

  14. Mauro Solis says:

    I want to add another tip, that had worked for me…
    Be creative and don´t be afraid to try new things. And in public too, of course.
    That will help you to improve the quality of your mixes and find your own style, learning to read the reactions of the crowd.

  15. the thing’s to remember is to have fun… and it is “NOT WHAT YOU LIKE BUT WHAT THEY LIKE” test out the crowd little r&b or hiphop
    or rock if thare geting in to it you know they like it

    P.S. don’t forget to try new mixes like rock and rap or rap and country mix it up and have fun!!!!!!!!!

    good luck to all………dj track……showtime dj’s

  16. I always do this when started to learn dj, I always observed my resident DJ and International DJ when they DJ, way they mix, how they interact the crowd, some special stuff only they do. At last, try it yourselves when is your turn on the deck. I’m not saying to copy everything they do, but every time you mimic and try out what they do, you’ll understand why they do it and how you can adapt it into your own style. I’m sure it will make you understand more and become a better DJ.

    at least this works for me :)

  17. Good points and heroic advice!

  18. I agree with all said! Though, would still say- Know your music collection well, entry point and exit(put hot cues on them – helps for digital dj/beginners – also pros too.)
    Another thing, while in public – try as much as possible to have fun -’cause you can communicate your nervousnes to you audience.

  19. Ive found this info very helpful. Beat matching,phase matching yea all of that is good, but from my personal dealings you have to read your crowd, play for your crowd not what you like. Always be perpared to take request

  20. I’m a beginner, just got my software today…hopefully I get to practice with friend’s house parties ;)

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