7 Surefire Steps To Becoming A Better DJ

| Read time: 4 mins
beginners how to
Last updated 18 February, 2014

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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.