Your Questions: I Don’t Want To DJ On My Rubbish Gear!

re you letting a rubbish old laptop or a lack of decent software hold you back in your DJing? Don't, says Phil Morse in his reply to today's reader's letter.

re you letting a rubbish old laptop or a lack of decent software hold you back in your DJing? Don’t, says Phil Morse in his reply to today’s reader’s letter.

Digital DJ Tips reader Ben writes: “I am almost through with my senior year of high school and am aspiring to become a DJ. Anyway, I plan on getting a MacBook and Traktor software as well as a couple more parts to make a full DJ set-up. But right now, I only have a controller, some crappy free Virtual DJ software, and an audio set-up I hotwired together using an old stereo system and speakers (which I’m proud of).

However, I have ceased practising because the computer I have is working at full capacity, and as a result it shuts down occasionally. Also, I feel that using software I never plan to use is not a good use of my time. Is it right to feel like I should be doing something to prepare? And if I am right to feel this way, what should I be doing?

Digital DJ Tips says:

I sympathise with your situation, but you’re letting tech get in the way of DJing. DJing is not about gear. It is about playing music to to other people. Three things there: Music, playing it, and other people.

Firstly, a DJ is only as good as his music collection. What’s stopping you spending inordinate amounts of hours building the best music collection you could possibly have? Then playing it. You can play music on anything. One of my best friends DJed for me at my own wedding, using an iPod, a laptop running iTunes, and a small two channel mixer. He rocked it. Use what you have. And finally, other people. Play any parties you can. Play every Friday night for your sister as she’s getting ready to go out. Have a “music night” with your friends where you all do half an hour each. Do a BBQ party on Sundays. Play online. Just play.

Bottom line is, you don’t need to prepare; you need to just get on and do it. Traktor isn’t so different to Virtual DJ, and you already have a controller and soundsystem. If your computer crashes, reboot it or clean it up a bit. Or forget the computer and DJ from a couple of iPods. Music is more important than technique, and Traktor and a MacBook won’t make you a DJ. Passionate DJs would rather play on anything than nothing, so use what you’ve got and start working on the real skills of DJing – great music played in the right order.

(Incidentally, the “free” version of Virtual DJ is exactly the same as the full version except you can’t use a DJ controller with it – and as you don’t have a DJ controller, that shouldn’t worry you at all!)

Are you letting lack of gear stop you progressing in your DJing? Whats the most basic set-up you’ve ever relied upon? Any extra advice to add for Ben? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Totally agree with you Phil! No matter the gear, the fun is here :)

  2. says:

    the full version of vdj is certainly more feature rich than the free version. in addition to “using controllers” you have full scripting of those controllers, unlimited cues, unlimited decks, vst support, additional fx, etc, etc. you do vdj a disservice by describing it the way you do.

  3. First off, I agree with Phil’s words in “DJing is not about gear. It is about playing music to to other people.”

    I started on two crappy belt-drive turntables and a low-end mixer. That mixer broke on me one day before a party and I ended up using an even lower-end Radio Shack mixer.

    Every day I practiced. There are things UNIVERSAL to DJing that have nothing to do with brand names on laptops or software. Basic manual beatmatching, advanced blending, programming/song selection, networking, promotion, etc.

    I agree with Phil on building up not only your music collection, but your own style. I’ve spoken of many times how I started off in 1992 wanting to sound like Bad Boy Bill, but later evolved into me…a far cry from where I started.

    Some suggestions would be to first learn better ways to optimize your laptop. For all you know you might be running loads of bloatware and thus it crashes. Update your Windows and drivers. Look at this article from SMITTTEN on how to further optimize:

    Finally, you might want to think about getting a part-time job if you don’t have one. Save your money or look into layaway/financing. I remember layaway is how I managed to get my first pair of 1200s.

    You have to start small and build…you don’t start with top-of-the-line.

    ALSO…I agree with VDJ is a very good software. I would have gone on that if NI didn’t give me such a deal on Traktor. Worshiping brand names thinking that makes you a “real DJ” is a bad way to approach this culture.

  4. I’m a Traktor guy but Djs at the place i spin uses ssl and they won’t allow me to install my audio10… So i’m forced to dj with ssl… I find it difficult to use but after reading this article imma try my best to play it and have fun!!! Thanks for some inspiration!!

  5. I’m a Traktor guy but Djs at the place i spin uses ssl and they won’t allow me to install my audio10… So i’m forced to dj with ssl… I find it difficult to use but after reading this article imma try my best to play it and have fun!!! Thanks for some inspiration!

  6. Hey, you have better equipment than me. As for your computer crashing, you might want to check to see if you have any viruses.

  7. reminds me of my early days when all I had was a Numark Mixtrack controller I bought on sale (it was too good of a deal to be passed even though I know little about DJing at the time) and a $2 soundcard. man, I didn’t even have a laptop xD all I did was playing out on my desktop (which was full of documents and my projects)
    but I managed to sharpen my skill considerably and got some gigs at some local parties. but for the first few gigs, I had to borrow a laptop from my friend lol.
    after all, don’t let the gear discourage you from the wonders of your passion. cheers, mate!

  8. This takes me back to when I started with mismatched turntables and a 10 dollar used mixer back before DVS’s or any software. Its not about the equipment you have…its how you use it! As for Traktor, if you still want to get it, Native instruments is lowering to price on all software and hardware by the end of next month so this may help you out some in the funds department. To sort out your laptop try removing songs you do not use at all. run virus/spyware programs to remove all the bad junk. remove unwanted programs (just make sure they do not effect to OS). Run a disk clean up and defrag. When runing your DJ program be sure to close anyother running programs that you do not need at that time. Most importantly get music from Dj source sights, bootleg music download places just put more of the bad junk on you computer.

  9. my history

    1. gemini beltdrive turntables + gemini 2 channell mixer
    2. newmark tt200 turntables + berinher 3 chanell mixer
    3. technics 1210′s + allen & heath xone 32
    4. Hercules + traktor << now

    equipment is the bringer of fun and music's where the heart is

  10. If you’re short of money, get a PC. I got a used i3-pc for €250 6 month ago, a dj-friend of mine choosed a macbook for €1000, and they do exactly the same thing…

    Another rookie dj I know got a pioneer cdj2000 setup for €3-4000. And the funny thing is that he sucks more now than he did on an old xponent he had before ;-)

    I’ts more dedication, feeling and hard work than money…

  11. Yeah just play play play. If you’re going digital one thing to realize is, every program is just about the same. Not necessarily feature wise but in the fact that there are cue buttons, stop or pause buttons, loop buttons, pitch/tempo control, and more. The browsers may be different orthe effects may be different. Either way it doesn’t matter. Learn on one program if that’s what you have, it won’t be too much different in the transition to another. I’ve worked on vinyl, CD’s, Traktor, VDJ and now serato, it’s all the same idea. I’ve even played on systems I wasn’t familiar with but was still able to adapt because I knew the basics. A great DJ can still work with horrendous hardware. But don’t ever let that take focus from music selection and reading a crowd.

  12. Old hardware crashing all the time? Looks like you should give your system a fresh start. Reinstall your OS or even better go the dual boot route and dedicate second a windows installation only to DJing. This will improve stability a lot and all the other stuff you do apart from DJing cannot mess up your system.
    And talking about old hardware and no money: In my experience a lightweight linux distribution like Xubuntu running Mixxx still gets a lot even out of ancient hardware. If your controller is supported by Mixxx, i recommend you to try it. It works like a charm on my five year old Notebook.

    • I also have a an old laptop (six years and counting). Dual boot. If i want DVS it’s linux + xwax. If I want controllers, its hackintosh + traktor + faderfox dj3. In both I use a very cheap behringer ufo/uca202. works great!!!

      • DJ Forced Hand says:

        You have to make sure your gear works as it’s intended… you don’t have to have the hottest, most top-of-the line gear to play, but you have to make sure that your gear won’t bog down when you play.

        Computers are very different than CDJs, they’re a generic tool being asked to do a specific task. When you have stuff running in the background, it tends to reduce performance and on an old laptop, this can mean the difference between glitches, stalls, lock-outs and not.
        So, just like you need to clean the CD turntables from time-to-time, you need to make sure your computer is clean and running trim. If you can’t get performance when it’s clean, you have no other option than to get better gear.

        Right now, you can get a used PC that will be better than the minimum specs of Traktor Pro, Serato, Virtual DJ and even Torq, pretty cheap (around $300). Right now is an awesome time to get a really good sound card with a full, legitimate version of Traktor Pro ($119) which will work with the controller you said you have. You may have to shop around to get some cheap Behringer headphones that work for you. Also, did I mention that you can BORROW stuff from your friends? No one says everything has to be yours.

        I totally feel you on the needing hardware part to play, but as almost everyone before me says (and they’re right by the way), you need to practice however you can… There are people who feel DJing is more important than breathing and it’s these people the crowds will be judging you against.

        Just remember this: Gear and Recordings are a means to an end, No DJ ever got praise because they had the fanciest gear, they always get praised on their ability to please the crowd, specifically the person doing the praising (and most of that is through skillful application of music).

        — Now for the way off topic part —

        Totally interested in jalou1995′s set-up I want to know more… ALL tech interests me. I definitely think we should have a focus on scripting and such including how to squeeze the most out of your laptop and how to configure your program for your controller.

  13. Love your answer Phil! Agreed 100%

  14. I’m somewhat agree with Phil. But it’s really don’t get the same feeling with two radios and a crossfader.

    I would suggest you check if you could upgrade the RAM on your laptop. You might also consider reinstalling the system.

  15. Truth is, Phil is right, “a dj is as good as his music collection” before you start dj’ing you need to know your music and have enough music to get you through your gig.

    Practice is fundamental, the more you practice the better you become and the familiar you would be with your music.

    When I first started dj’ing I started with itunes and windows media player, and rocked a house party. Programs are only tools to b a better dj, is not gonna make you better at all. The industry standard in the states is the SSl program but I’ve seen dj’s rock out to a no name program. Practice is key to dj’ing.

    I started with a windows pc, and I had it running at his capacity, then I got a better pc. Once you start getting better and start doing tricks, you going to use up more computer power so thas probably why your computer keeps crashing. A macbook is top of the line laptop, but only buy it if you’re serious about a career.

    I started with a midi controller and then I went up to club industry standard. Let your dj business buy it for you, not your everyday 9 to 5.

    Like my buddy said “people talk, so when you good…word gets around…when you suck…word gets around” so perfect the art and then shoot out there.

    Hope this works! Keep spinning!

  16. DJ Gerard says:

    I love DJ technology SOOOO much it totally distracted me from DJing for awhile some time ago and hurt my work flow. Define your work flow – what music you get, where you get it, how you store it *(organize) and modify it (for example tagging), KEEP IT SIMPLE, are you maintaining it daily weekly or every other day. Then as suggested PLAY PLAY PLAY what you like and that which you know others like too. Your work flow shall remain but the tools you use to do it change i.e. computer, websites, software, controller, mixer, no DJ booths are identical etc.. 1200′s and a URI or Rane will be the last DJ “standard” for awhile. These days DJ hardware and software are like cellphones. But it may not be keeping it simple but it sure is taking DJing by leaps and bounds.
    To answer you question, work for your new gear and maintain your workflow with what you got till you can buy new gear if you want that new gear. I spent the summer after my 1st year in college working a full-time and a part-time job to purchase my 1st “real” turntables and mixer. I chose this over a car and a girlfriend at the time. 20 years later I can say it has paid off and I have no regrets. I regret more these days buying new (or used) gear just to check it out and satisfy my curious nature. But like I said I am a DJ gear junkie, including amps, speakers, headphones, mic’s, pc, mac, softwares, plug-ins…. ITS NUTS :) but life would be so boring without it.
    Kewp your workflow constant and interchangeable. Any new gear or software not matching it usually will not be worth you revamping your entire workflow.
    -Happy DJing

  17. Agree 100%. I have seen a lot of lucky people who had good setups to begin with… pioneer djm, 2 x sl1210…etc but they didn’t get too far. Most important fact like Phil said is about diggin music. Its that feeling when you found a rare gem that no one knows about and when you drop that tune everyone goes what’s the name of that song????? : )

  18. OK when i first started dj’n i was 13 and i had to household Turn tables that were my dads and i had and old phono , tape, am/fm changer that i took apart and made into a mixer. used an old amp from a house system . and 8 trak tape player and toy that made sfx . oh and my speakers where ones you would find in a house. So the mixer i added a fader to it cause to get rid of the click’n noise that would happen when i changed over tables had over 6 crates of records and about 30 8 track tapes that i had music on that i made my self. so ummmm it is not about the gear it is about how you want to do something you love. Gear will come it might take time but it will come keep do’n something you love and the shows will come too!

  19. Jam-Master Jake says:

    I quit DJing professionally (and at all) back in 2003. 6 months ago I was helping a friend set up for a major party she was coordinating (a Winter Wonderland Ball that was a major fundraiser) and 45 minutes before the party started, the DJ shot her a text and said they weren’t coming because they got a last-minute gig that paid more. My friend panicked, and I told her to relax and that I’d help her. The DJ system that she was borrowing was an old crappy Gemini CD-based system. I didn’t have any CDs, but I DID have my MacBook Pro that had somewhere around 3000 songs in my iTunes and my iPhone as a backup in my pocket. The DJ system also had 2 “iPod cables” (mini-jack-to-RCA) hooked into it, so I figured I’d spin using iTunes on my Mac and my iPhone. I leeched off an unsecured WIFI connection and found a copy of VirtualDJ Home (Free) and I downloaded it. I hooked my Mac into one channel and my iPhone in the other as a backup…and didn’t need it. I spun the whole dance–getting many compliments in the process–on just a laptop running free DJ software I’d never even HEARD OF BEFORE. I was even paid for my services! And that’s what lit the fire of DJing Desire in me once again. Within 2 weeks, I had purchased a Numark NS7FX and was back in the game again.

    2 nights ago I was roped into DJing at another friend’s house party. I was handed an iPad with a good music selection on it and a copy of DJay software installed. I’d never used DJay before, but I ran the iPad into their Bose home theatre system and DJed the whole party with no headphones sitting in a recliner. It was awesome!

    My point? I have some top-of-the-line gear and DJ regularly (both in clubs and as an on-air radio DJ)…and yet the 2 most memorable recent gigs of mine were successfully spun on rudimentary setups. Try and optimize your computer to run better, start saving, practice your ass off and USE WHAT YOU’VE GOT. You can rock ANY party with 2 iPods and a cheap mixer or a crappy laptop and free software.

    Remember: The most important tool of a DJ’s arsenal is the person running the equipment…the DJ themself.

    Also remember: crowds could give a sh*t about fancy mixing. They care about the flow of the music. Focus on playing killer songs in a divine order and you are already well on your way.

    • That’s an AWESOME story! And boy can I relate; not sure how many times I’ve ‘retired’ only to get dragged back in. Yours is another example of what makes a good DJ: Knowing music and people.

  20. When i first started i used 2 mismatched technics turntables that would skip . Had to use the pennies method. I would suggest working for a dj company. that is the best way to start . they can provide you with tips and really build your music database. On top of that, the money is alright but its a start to build on equipment, knowlege, music, planning. Dj companies love new guys because if they are serious they will get paid better and in the future you can buy a pair of nice speakers and subs or whatever floats your boat. I started the same way as you.. Now i have my own company and make serious money on the weekends. And its only 4-5 Hours. Practice first!!!

  21. Stavros says:

    Your computer shouldnt shutdown on its own. its not acceptable no matter how old a system is. clean up your hardrive and preferably reinstall your OS. open it up and clean up the fan. sounds like overheating to me. and if that doesnt solve the problem buy a cooling pad that also works as a laptop stand. then if you want to upgrade, max out the ram. I use my old laptop (more than 5 years old) just for music. no internet, no antivirus, just windows (xp), couple of music programs, the drivers , the music and maxxed out ram. pcs have been used to play music since the invention of mp3s. so finding a program that supports your controller and can be handled by your computer shouldnt be a problem. if you want to invest, then buy good music, as phil very well said!

  22. At your age I had two belt drive turntables and an a/b switch running into my boombox. I ran home everyday to practice and worked any job I could find to make money for vinyl. You’re in pretty good shape buddy, and don’t ever let where you are define where you are going.

  23. I spent years doing gigs exclusively off cassettes. I still remember how thrilled I was when CDs came out.

  24. Kong Lo says:

    I couldn’t afford to buy new expensive top of the line gear so I purchased the Numark DJ2GO and a USB soundcard. My first gig I brought it to the club and the resident DJ laughed at me. Later that night someone had poured vodka over his mixer and it blew up. The club owner was gonna close early but I convinced him to let me run the last 2 hours with the DJ2GO. Later that night the DJ apologized for laughing at the little midi controller and offered a partnership with him as a resident DJ. Who knew a cheap little controller was gonna be my opportunity to really DJ. Now I’m using the NS6 but still carry the DJ2GO and the USB soundcard as backup if the NS6 fails. The other DJ was using a Serato SL3 DVS setup with Technic 1200s.

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