Your Questions: How Hard Is It To Switch From Controllers To CDJs?

Moving from a Traktor Kontrol S4 to this might seem daunting, but it isn't really once you break it down into the things you need to learn.

Moving from a Traktor Kontrol S4 to this might seem daunting, but it isn’t really once you break it down into the things you need to learn.

Digital DJ Tips reader Noala de Aquino writes: “Love your tips. I’ve been DJing for a while (seriously for about two years) and now I’ve decided to go pro and master all kinds of techniques. I’m taking lessons with vinyl, and soon with CDJs. That beatmatching practice is a bitch! I have a Traktor Kontrol S4 at home and I just love the possibilities that gives me with the sample decks (I’m so looking forward to have Traktor 2.5!) But my question is: How hard is for someone who started with digital DJing – Traktor, Virtual DJ, S4, Numark Omni Control – to switch to Pioneer CDJing? I’m crazy to start playing, but I’m a little insecure about the change.”

Digital DJ Tips says:

This question comes up regularly, and my first piece of advice is: Don’t be scared by it! It’s not that hard – although I guarantee you’ll miss some of the things you take for granted on your controller.

The main thing is to practise beatmatching on your controller manually without using the “sync” button or beatgrids, as you don’t have those on CDJs. You need to get used to setting the speed of your tunes using the pitch sliders. It’s fine to look at the BPM numbers (as CDJs have those), but nothing more. Don’t use the phase meters either – any visual help while mixing is a no-no.

The second thing is to practise “packing a crate” for your sets. If you’re using CDJs, it’s a probably best to use USB sticks for your music. Work out how much music you can fit on them, and make playlists containing just that amount of music. Selecting from a prepared set list is pretty essential when using CDJs, as you don’t have the great benefit of instant searching your whole collection like on a laptop. Even if you choose to take your music on CDs, try and practise on your controller with just the music you’re planning to take, in order to get used to the limitations.

Finally, while CDJs are different from controllers, it’s not a massive leap. If you can get to practise on a CDJ set-up (which it sounds like you can), getting used to the units and a hardware mixer is simple. Don’t worry unduly about that – you’ll nail it pretty quickly. It’s the beatmatching and library management where you are best concentrating your attention. It’s a great thing to be able to do, by the way. While software is streets ahead of CDJs for flexibility, DJing is about more than controllers and software – and good DJs can play on pretty much anything. Good luck!

Do you have a controller at home but play with CDJs when you’re DJing out and about? What tips can you offer to help DJs get comfortable with both types of DJing? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Comments

  1. I’ve always DJed at home on a Behringer BCD-3000 as it was the best I could aford at the time. And I still do my livestream sets from home on it.

    But the first time I got to go on CDJ’s it felt a little awkward at first but after about 10 minutes I felt at home. Fact is, the Pioneer workflow is pretty much copied by a lot of companies, many MIDI controllers work in the same way as the Pioneer stuff does, only difference is that with Pioneer gear you have no sync tools, that’s it basicly from ym point of view.

  2. I currently own and use a Pioneer DDJS1, it is an excellent piece of equipment and I can perform many, if not all of the actions I’m used to doing on turntables. My familiarization with the DDJS1 left me feeling comfortable enough to play on CDJs, as the experience is very similar. Just as Phil stated, I would get comfortable using,testing, and loading music to a quality USB drive, and also be sure to learn and embrace Pioneers RekordBox Music preparation software, as it is a free download and allows one to set cue points, loops and tags. Never give up on your goals, see them through, and keep practicing, you will reach your dream.

  3. I think Phil pretty much summed it up…”The main thing is to practise beatmatching on your controller manually without using the “sync” button or beatgrids, as you don’t have those on CDJs. You need to get used to setting the speed of your tunes using the pitch sliders. It’s fine to look at the BPM numbers (as CDJs have those), but nothing more.”

    But to go a bit further, this is where knowledge of music theory (more specifically song structure and tempo) comes into play. Phil is right, it should not be too intimidating-BUT-if you have relied on syncing as well as trial & error in terms of where to mix-in/out of tracks without a good “feel” for each of your tracks and how they are constructed by their producer(s)/bandmates this is where you have to be careful and pay attention.

    Here’s the best part….doing this will make you a stronger DJ. Technology does lots of the work for us these days in term of the technical aspect of DJing, but understanding those technicalities from a musical point of view (in this case by not having the assistance of syncing, etc.), this DJing experience will make you better as a well-rounded DJ.

    Ask any of the folks you admire who are in the limelight right now how they learned to DJ, and I bet that most likely their foundation will sound like what I described above, along with programming, etc.

    Good luck!

  4. If you’re going to be DJing on Pioneer CDJ’s and DJM then I would recommend that you get RekordBox on your computer and use it. This is Pioneers DJ software and lets you organise your playlist and set cue points etc just as you would with Traktor. All you need to bring to the gig is your laptop which you plug into the mixer, then you just load tracks into the CDJ’s off your laptop.

    At least this way you can just focus on your beatmatching and mixing and not have to worry about finding tracks and setting cues whilst your performing as you can do all this before the gig.

    I don’t understand when you say “go pro and play on CDJ’s”. There are plenty of “Pro” guys who use controllers. It’s not that hard to plug a controller into the club mixer.

  5. Just turn off all the visual aids in the decks on traktor and just leave the bpm visible. I use the ddj-t1 at home and have never pressed the sync button but I originally come from vinly and cdj’s. You can plan your sets no problem using the s4 it does not matter what form of hardware your using the tune will always be the same so as long as you are listening to your music before playing out you should have no issues.

  6. I agree with Eros. I started DJing digital for seven years ago. Then with Mixxx and an one of the first Hercules controllers. Nowadays I use Ableton or Itch depending on what kind of set I’m going to play. I have never DJd on CD or vinyl and have no real plan of starting, I am doing way to many things that is just not possible on CD or vinyl.

    So my question is why? I have never played anywhere where it’s not possible to connect a controller, so that is not a good enough reason.

    And all the talk that it more pro with CD is bs, in my experience people respond more to your skills (where 99% is choosing good songs) and your ability to send good energy from the DJ booth too the dance floor, big smiles, hand waving and lots of jumping around then what kind of equipment you use.

    Yesterday I saw a guy do an awesome set on a really old hercules and virtual DJ. The place was filled with people and everyone was having an awesome time. The guy got applause when he was finished. How often does that happen on a normal club?

    Use what you are comfortable with, that is the best advice I can give you.

  7. if you know your music notting can stop you

  8. Maby is because I been thrue all the different mediaholders, but why does ANYONE want to go from controller to cd?
    It’s like “no, I don’t like stereo, I’m gonna go back to mono”, or that ABS, automatic gearbox and antispin on you’re car is cheating.
    Pioneer made a fantastic job convincing dj’s to buy cd-players, and no one even play cd’s on them ;-)

    • I totally agree. Coming from vinyl and CDJs… I will never go back.
      I prolly do many things manual that the software could do or help me with, but still, the freedom of digital is amazing and even with highend controllers you are looking at a much smaller investment.

      Also I never had any problems with Clubs to date. Most clubs here (central Europe) are already accustomed to push that CDJs back or even ask beforehand and there will only be the PA mixer you plug into.
      In the clubs around here I would say that 50% of the djs if not more are already digital. However what I love about it is that everyone does it different. From the small scale controller/laptop guy, to the highend controllers with midi fighters and launchpads, you can see everything. And everyone of them is cool in their ways, as long as the music comes first….

      But if you insist on playing on CDJs …. it is just a tool. If your music is not good and you cannot transport your “mojo” to entertain the crowd, then you will fail no matter what tools you use.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      Add one more to not going back.

      Look, I get that people want to be “taken seriously” for their skills, but “going retro” isn’t going to make that happen for you. To be honest, it’s a not a heck of a lot harder to go “back to CDs or LPs”, but the question is “why would you want to?” Sure, manual beatmatching is a great, but you can do that (without pressing sync) on controllers now. You literally gain nothing and lose a lot of control when you go retro *AND* you’ll be fighting with all the people who have controllers who are able to do all the stuff you can do on your CD players (and more) in less time, which is the bane of DJs everywhere… the time to pull off something cool.

      I think Phil means learn manual beat matching so that you feel it, so that you know how to do it, so that you have the rhythm in your soul, not learn manual beat matching so that the crowd knows you do it the “old school”, “proper” and “most respectful way” thinking you’ll have an edge over someone with automatic sync… because that part isn’t true. No one cares *HOW* you pull off something cool, they care *THAT* you pull off something cool (at the right time).

      Don’t be fooled or convinced by anyone else that old school is the only right way, remember… they had the best technology of their time and someone else was pooping on them for using it.

  9. I understand what a lot of people are saying on here. I have been questioning the same thing about controller-to-CDJ familiarity. I believe that controllers are standing finding their niche in the professional DJ world, but it seems like most venues prefer the all-around Pioneer setup. The CDJs, I think, are mainly being used for USB drives or SD cards, rather than CDs.

    Honestly, I love my controller and can do a lot with it that can be done on equipment 20x the price. Reliability is still an issue, though, since I sometimes run into the software crashing, audio issues, etc… (I might just have sh$%^& equipment!).

    As I said, I understand exactly what the original poster was asking when Phil responded. Again, I love my controller to death, but wouldn’t it be nice to just go on stage with a few USB drives/SD cards and rock the crowd with your sound…which I think is the main reason to DJ in the first place.

  10. FluffyClubBerlin says:

    :) it just takes you some Tracks to get thru it.
    I´ve just yesterday played a DJSet in a Location where our Floor was soundpolluted by the Neighbourfloor, so we´ve decided to play the same bpm as them to avoid a double bass ruining our performance – that worked out very well.
    B4 I was always a bit afraid about beatmatching just by the Ears, but if you once got it, you got it.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      Perfect usage of manual beat matching… and that is one of the reasons why you need to know how to beat match manually.

  11. If you can, try to get info about the setup ahead of time. Some clubs/promoters don’t know how to set up CDJs, and they go un-linked. This will determine how many thumb drive copies you need to take with you (because showing up with 2 thumb drives is a no-no. You need backups for each one….or maybe that’s just MY paranoia after a terribly run gig a few years back.) Or you can suggest that they set them up like PRO’s!

    Yes, there is a slight difference in the control and how you beatmatch, but can we also talk about Mixers and External FX? Most Controller Jockeys are used to having a plethora of effects and filters, which enhances the mix. If you haven’t used a Pioneer mixer before, you should also acquaint yourself to the FX control, and the behavior of the FX wet/dry on each effect.

    And, please, learn to beat match by ear.

  12. da flava says:

    I uses tsc pro2 with my pio mep7000 and sometimes just for fun,i would leave my laptop/software off and only use thumb drives and cds so i don’t forget how to use it in that way just incase traktor crashes or something else goes wrong.I started djing 15 years ago,software,about 3/4 years now and sometimes i do miss the work using cds(maybe i’m crazy) but its awesome.I’m thinking of upgrading to pio cdj850′s.

  13. I’m not going to sugar coat it: learning how to beatmnatch at the pro level, where you’re totally confident that you won’t train wreck in front of a packed floor, is going take a fair amount of practice time. You might get the basics fairly quickly but there are many little wrinkles and subtle things that can crop up in the heat of the moment, that only a lot of practice and experience can prepare you to deal with.

    The hardest technique to master are the very subtle adjustments that are required to “ride” a mix and keep two tracks totally in sync for an extended time. More often than not, the tracks will tend to drift out of sync and you have to learn to detect this immediately (including whether it’s speeding up or slowing down) and make the very subtle adjustments to correct it via the jog wheel and/or the pitch fader. Practice, practice.

    BTW, re: CDJs: unless you intend to spin vinyl, don’t bother with the Vinyl mode on the CDJs. Take advantage of being able to cue up the tracks and punch them in right on the beat.

    Here’s a few tips that might help, as you get started:

    - If you you’re trying to beatmatch and you don’t have the tracks totally locked in, don’t do it! You’re better off just cutting quickly to the next track (right on the beat of course) than risking a poorly beat matched transition.

    - It takes a while before you can master long, layered transitions, so practice making relatively short ones.

    - Make sure that the DJ monitor is positioned close to your ears and pointing more or less right at them. If the monitors are more than 4-5 feet away, the delay can affect your ability to lock the tracks in sync.

    - If the mixer has the capability to blend the playing track with the cue track, do that to a small degree in addition to using the DJ monitor. You’ll be surprised sometimes that a track that seems like it’s in sync only through the monitor doesn’t sound as tight when blended with the headphones. The headphones don’t lie.

    - There is NO substitute for knowing your music, inside and out. Know how the tracks start, where the bass line comes in, how the energy rises and falls, how long the outro is, etc. The difference between an OK mix and a great one is how the *musical* the transition sounds.

    - Your role is managing the energy and the mood of the room through music. Every track and every transition affects that energy – up, down or steady.

    - Listen to or better yet, watch other DJs – lot’s of them. Even if you’re not into that genre, you can learn what works (and what doesn’t). Put your personal musical preferences aside for the moment and watch how the dance floor reacts.

    - Record your practice sessions and your live sets if you can. You’ll learn a LOT. You’ll hear mistakes that you didn’t catch as well as very successful mixes that you didn’t realize came out as well as they did.

    - There’s no substitute for playing out live. Take every gig you possible can, including those thankless opening slots. Plus, when you can find a way to take an empty room and capture those first few punters and keep them engaged and finally get the room going, you will already have more DJ skillz than most of the other DJS out there.

    • That’s a great response Kenny, very informative and I agree totally with everything you have said.

      This topic seems to come up from time to time and I think its important to dispel the myth that CDJ’s can be mastered after 10 mins of use and that you could play out in a club.

      Beatmatching aside, like any piece of equipment it takes time and practice. Even the same effects of a DJM sound different to those off Traktor. We even had one guy on here a while ago who was due to play his first ever gig (he had never stood in front of a CDJ) asking for a few tips on what to do to get through the gig….absolutely crazy in my opinion. Oddly enough he never wrote back to let us all know how it went which is a shame cause I was looking forward to it !

      • I DJed on vinyl for many years first, and when they were released I took to CDJs in about 30 minutes. I think that’s because I already knew how to beatmatch – which is why we advise you teach yourself to manual beatmatch on anything, and then mastering CDJs won’t come too hard after that.

  14. if cdjs are now considered old and controllers new and you do not want to be limited by equipment then your skill set needs to be backward compatible so you can work on anything.

  15. Hi, i am new in digital dj, i read before “its no dificult to conect a controller in a club” i want to know if all controllers can be use in a club like a pioneer ddj t1 or ddjs1, or traktor s4?? Tks so much

    • It’s not difficult, you just need room, and to be able to get round the back of the mixer to plug in to one of the channels. Of course, that all depends on the club.

  16. Dakalo Thivhafuni says:

    Wow! What an interesting topic indeed. In my own opioon it doesn’t matter what u use so long u are able to use thr music to entertain the crowd. I love my numark mixpro controller on tracktor pro 2 scratch

  17. B.B. Koning says:

    This is a great post, and, as usual, there are many opinions.

    I bought the 6000 series Denon with the standalone mixer functionality.

    I am running Pio 400s on the CDJ side using just the standalone mixer, figuring those out.

    At the same time, I am practicing using controller mode and the 4 digital decks via Traktor.

    I am hoping that this will cover all bases.

    I have yet to play around with a DJM, but I am hoping that the Denon mixer will be close enough to give me the general idea when it comes to just using the standard club gear here (CDJ 1000 MKII, DJM).

    First and foremost, I am working on manual beatmatching.

    Some days I think I’ve got the idea, other days I want to throw the equipment out the window in frustration.

    It is a lot to absorb, but with time and practice, I am hoping the well-rounded approach will work out in the long haul.

  18. Going from controllers to CDJs was quite easy for me as I could beatmatch on a controller kinda (had no idea what phrasing was). So I got on the CDJs and quickly realized learning to beatmatch might be kinda hard, so roughly one month later I could beatmatch quick enough to be able to mix. Right now if I mix 175 BPM music I can get two tracks beatmatched in roughly fifteen-twenty seconds if I know the songs. I suppose me learning phrasing on my CDJs and pretty much how to beatmatch properly is what made it easy for me.

  19. Khemfusion says:

    The way I see it is that we need to dose our technology.

    Its just like driving: if you learn on a manual transmission you are bound to be a better driver, you are a lot more concentrated on movements and surroundings, you are more reactive and have a better understanding of how it all works. (I know a lot of American djs that will not agree with that ;)

    Same for djing, having your eyes peeled on a screen looking at the phase meter, BPM or what not is gonna take your attention from the most important thing…..THE FLOOR!!!! And what if something goes wrong with the pc? What if a cd dj comes up to and says: Wanna play back to back? He has no problem with it….but you? Can you beatmatch your controller with his cdj flawlessly? Are you always gonna play Arone???? Hopefully not.

    WE ARE DJS, OUR MOST POWERFUL WEAPON IS OUR EARS!!! LETS NOT FORGET THAT!!

    So, are controllers for beginners? Of course not!!! What will set you apart from the rest is how much you will let the PC do the actual work!! Thats what i mean about dosing technology…And only you will know this subtle but fundamental difference, its not about showing off!!!!

    Also, If you learn how to manually beatmatch you will not only feel more confident but you will also be better at remembering song structures! Waveforms are cool but knowing where to drop a track by ear is much more versetile! Cue point juggling is also more efficient because you have developed a better tempo feel.

    Soon computers will be so powerful that they will be able to suggest the next track based on key, bpm and testosterone levels of the pple dancing………

    lets try to keep it real…for real…….

    Cheers!!

    Sorry for my crappy english….

  20. Khemfusion says:

    The way I see it is that we need to dose our technology.

    Its just like driving: if you learn on a manual transmission you are bound to be a better driver, you are a lot more concentrated on movements and surroundings, you are more reactive and have a better understanding of how it all works. (I know a lot of American djs that will not agree with that ;)

    Same for djing, having your eyes peeled on a screen looking at the phase meter, BPM or what not is gonna take your attention from the most important thing…..THE FLOOR!!!! And what if something goes wrong with the pc? What if a cd dj comes up to and says: Wanna play back to back? He has no problem with it….but you? Can you beatmatch your controller with his cdj flawlessly? Are you always gonna play Arone???? Hopefully not.

    WE ARE DJS, OUR MOST POWERFUL WEAPON IS OUR EARS!!! LETS NOT FORGET THAT!!

    So, are controllers for beginners? Of course not!!! What will set you apart from the rest is how much you will let the PC do the actual work!! Thats what i mean about dosing technology…And only you will know this subtle but fundamental difference, its not about showing off!!!!

    Also, If you learn how to manually beatmatch you will not only feel more confident but you will also be better at remembering song structures! Waveforms are cool but knowing where to drop a track by ear is much more versetile! Cue point juggling is also more efficient because you have developed a better tempo feel.

    Soon computers will be so powerful that they will be able to suggest the next track based on key, bpm and testosterone levels of the pple dancing………

    lets try to keep it real…for real…….

    Cheers!!

    Sorry for my crappy english….

  21. Lucrecio says:

    One element that is not being mentioned is that your DJing dynamic will change when you switch from the visual aids of software/controllers to a higher dependency on listening to the track. I went from vinyl to digital, all the music I’ve bought since has been played on a software/controller set-up. Recently I decided to use DVS and remove all trace of visual aids (I even placed the laptop behind me and only turn around to select the next track), and let me tell you, for a while it felt like I was playing the tracks for the first time. My brain immediately put all it’s processing power in my ears, and I felt doubt about where I was on tracks I have been playing for very long time. You will feel a difference between really listening to a track and following a waveform with your eyes.

    • It’s a good point, but I guess you have to weigh it up with what you gain through digital (or just use Traktor where there’s no parallel waveforms so you don’t get that aid in the first place)

Leave a Comment