Learning To DJ: Questions Beginners Always Ask

Satoshi Tomiie

Satoshi Tomiie rocks it, digital style. If you want to learn the skills that can put you in front of a crowd playing the music you love, today we answer some of your questions.

I’m one of the moderators of the busy Digital DJ Tips Forum. Because of this, I get a unique perspective on the thoughts, questions, fears and concerns of hundreds of people who are starting out learning to DJ, every single day.

Today I’d like to answer some of the questions that come up again and again among beginners on the forum. How can I learn to DJ? what gear should I buy? What about scratching? What’s the minimum I need to start? Where can I get help choosing DJ gear? Should I be learning to DJ on “pro” DJ gear? Here is our take on these and other common queries among new DJs:

“What can and can’t be taught when learning to DJ?”

Most experienced DJs agree that reaching a certain degree of skill in DJing is something that can be taught. You can be show how to use the hardware and software, how to get the basics of mixing down and so on. But the next stage – the ability to create “magical moments” – is harder. That’s because there are no rules on how to do this. It’s why if you want to learn to DJ, you have to accept that this is an art as well as a science.

Bedroom DJ

Sooner rather than later, plan to escape DJing in your bedroom! That’s where magical moments happen – with other people.

However, there are some general truths that apply. You have to have a genuine love for the styles of music you play. And importantly, you have to be passionate about presenting your take on them to an audience. After all, you are not playing this music purely for yourself (unless you only DJ by yourself in your bedroom). Rather, you’re playing for a crowd that wants to be entertained. On some level, crowds can react to your passion for music. Put it another way: They will most certainly notice if you are not fully behind what you are doing.

But although this second part can’t be taught, you probably are already nodding your head saying: “I am so into this music! That’s going to be no problem for me, this is truly all I want to do!”

If so, the good news is that you’ll pick it up along the way – as long as you do all you can to play in front of other people. That part is really the key to developing the skill of delivering those “magical moments” that mark DJs apart from jukeboxes or shuffle modes.

“Will the ‘right’ gear help me to learn better?”

Of course the software and hardware matter a lot. But they are just tools that are there to help you to get to your goal of becoming a good DJ and creating this magic for people.Think about painters and artists: Some prefer acrylic colour, while others do well with pastels and some even use a simple pen. Meanwhile, there are those who use computers and digital installations to express their art.

The same goes for DJs. There are some that can reach their goal by using two 30-year-old turntables and a 40 bucks used mixer. But there are also those who choose Midi controllers, synthesisers, sequencers and so on which costs thousands. It totally depends on what you want to create and what suits your workflow. But it’s important that the tools don’t not stand in the way of your creativity. It’s also important that you do not waste time trying to learn “must-have” tools that in the end, you do not need. Get a basic setup, and begin.

“So which is the right type of gear to learn on?”

So here are some typical questions: What is the best controller? What is the best controller below XXX dollars? What is the best DJ software? Are CDJs better than Midi controllers? If not, why am I told CDJs are more “pro”? So what do I really need to start DJing?

Pioneer CDJs

Sure, this gear’s great – but you really don’t need it to learn the essential skills of DJing, despite what anyone may tell you.

Let’s start by looking at why many DJs say DJing has to be done on CDJs. Because many DJs tend to be older folk, and (especially the more successful of them) have no need to care about value for money, it’s easy for them to say you need to use traditional, expensive gear. It’s how they’ve always worked, and it’s how they paid their dues.

However there are many pros (especially newer DJs) who don’t use CDJs at all. There are others who use them simply to control DJ software, which makes the CDJs effectively very expensive Midi controllers. Truth is you can buy Midi controllers that do a similar job for $200!

“But what about scratching and stuff?”

The iconic image of the DJ is headphones on, performing a scratch with his hand, right? Some DJs who learned scratching on vinyl of course like the feel of a turntable and tend to use DVS (digital vinyl systems) – digital gear hitched up to old-style turntables and mixers. However there are very good modern DJ controllers with either motorised platters (Numark NS7) or excellent jog wheels.

We particularly like the Reloop Terminal Mix 2, Reloop Terminal Mix 4 and Vestax VCI-380 controllers for this. With these, you can scratch equally well – see DJ Angelo’s Reloop Terminal Mix routines. Indeed, Digital DJ Tips has an imminent course on how you can scratch on practically any cheap Midi controller with jogwheels. So again, we’re going to show you it’s possible to learn on much cheaper than pro gear.

“So you’re saying the pros are wrong?”

No, just that we think what’s best for them probably isn’t what’s best for for you. The staff here at Digital DJ Tips has a mass of professional DJ experience. We all use digital gear in all of its forms every day – more so than many of the “pro” DJs, who use traditional gear predominantly.

Numark Mixtrack Pro

The Numark Mixtrack Pro: It’s cheap, it’s functional, and it’s perfectly good to learn to DJ on.

So please trust us when we say – you can learn to DJ properly on cheap, portable digital DJ gear. If you think you need expensive, bulky, traditional DJ gear just to learn to programme music for parties and start to lay down the basics, you might never even begin! Please don’t let this kind of thinking stop you.

Sure, “pro” gear is in clubs, and sure, maybe in the end you’ll want to learn to use it. But the good news is that the skills are transferrable – if you go about learning them in the right way. And actually, technically there’s no reason why you can’t also use modern DJ controllers in clubs, too, avoiding their gear entirely. Increasingly that’s exactly what modern digital DJs are doing.

“OK, so what do I actually need to start DJing?”

i. Minimum set-up to learn to DJ
Simply, you need a laptop, headphones, free DJ software and a mono splitter cable. That’s the minimum. In fact we even have a basic hour-long video course to teach you how to get started with nothing more than that set-up. Find out more about it here: Learn To DJ With Virtual DJ Home.

ii. Recommended set-up to start DJing
With the above you can get started. However our recommended set-up would be a laptop, a Midi controller with a built-in audio interface (or one without, and a separate DJ audio interface), DJ software, DJ headphones and some kind of amplified monitor speakers (ie you shouldn’t rely on the speakers built into your laptop). The best thing to do to start comparing brands is to download our free, 162-page DJ Controllers: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide PDF, which also details how to choose software.

“So I’ve done the above! Am I ready to learn to DJ?”

I’d say you are. You understand what can and can’t be taught, You’ve got a passion for the music, and you’re comfortable that digital is as valid as any other way of learning. You’ve also got yourself a nice, simple first set-up.

You should by now have signed up for our free weekly Learn To DJ Free email video course. But in our opinion, you should also be bold and go and book yourself a DJ date. Nothing sharpens practice sessions like knowing time is ticking away to your first gig…

If you do the latter, you might consider investing in our premium How To Digital DJ Fast course, which has taught thousands of DJs enough to play in front of an audience (here are some of their DJ success stories), and aims to do so in four weeks flat.

And most importantly, remember that at its heart, DJing is about creating moments of magic through playing pre-produced music (and sometimes remixing it live). All the software and hardware you use to achieve this is are only tools, and you’re no less a DJ whatever your choices.

Have you got any views on the best way to get started in DJing? How did you begin? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. Funny, the common questions I get asked are: “How much do you get paid?” and “How do I get your gig?”

  2. Me and some friends have started an “open mic” club night for DJs in my town. People send in their mixes and each club night we choose four or five DJs that get about one hour each as opening DJs. This has been very well received and we get more mixes then we have openings, but we try to give everyone a chance. The DJs get a chance to meet and speak with other DJs and the public get a mix of music they wont get anywhere else. Over all it is a big success.

    We started doing it because we remember how hard it was to get a gig and meet other DJs when we started our self.

    I’m writing this here with the hope that other people will start similar clubs in other towns and broaden our community and let new people in.

    • That is a great idea. I wish the clubs around here would do something like that. I think I might take your idea and try to get a club night going for that. Again, awesome idea.

  3. DJ Forced Hand says:

    I think you also need to include “at least a few hours of good quality pre-recorded music files” in the “Minimum set-up to learn to DJ” section, and “at least a few hours of a couple different genres worth of high quality music” to your “Recommended set-up to start DJing.” I say this because some people don’t consider this when they start off and ultimately, being a DJ is a method of presenting music to the people.

  4. All good advice! The most important is to love the music you play. If you are forced, or cave in, and play music you don’t enjoy, it will kill your love of dj’ing. This happened to me several years ago. Never again.

    • dennis parrott says:

      well said Daryl!

      i would only add that “learning to DJ” is NOT about the equipment and other technical bits. it is ALL ABOUT the music and how you relate to and interact with it as the DJ.

      most of the technical bits are just tools to accomplish the musical vision of the DJ.

      have something to say through the music. it will drive you to learn the technical bits to accomplish your vision.

      • Not always you can have a really good gig playing music you think is utter crap,the trick is that the crowd like it and it creates a good atmosphere then you buzz off the atmosphere,you dont need to like the music its just a tool.

  5. I’m not a beginner, but I really enjoyed the post and signed up for the ebook. Thank you.

  6. Bring on the MIDI scratch course! I can’t wait.

  7. Phill do you need any beta testers for the scratch course? Seriously I need it ASAP.

  8. I started DJing only with a laptop and Virtual DJ in friend’s parties! Then a bar owner saw me and offer me do a gig in his bar, i have been several times DJing in that place after that and now i bought a Mixtrack Pro! .. so definitely i think the tools are important but what care the most is music knowledge and creativity to create moments and environments with the music.

    Regards ;)

  9. 3J Million says:

    great points! I’d like to add is talk to people and ask them “what do u listen to” especially the ladies knowing what they want(or need)to hear can be a powerful tool in club but most of all practice practice PRACTICE ….

  10. Anders Lauridsen says:

    Hi!
    I just got my new numark mixtrack pro yesterday. But I just found out that I ordered the mixer with the wrong software(serato), and I really wanted virtual dj because that is what my friends use. So I went to virtualdj website to look at some of their softwares. I looked at virtual dj pro and virtual pro basic. I think virtual dj pro is a little to expensive for what I am doing right now with my dj. So I was thinking that I would buy “virtual dj basic”. But on the website they say that it’s only for analog mixers…
    - so my question is: can I use the software ” virtual dj pro basic” with my numark mixtrack pro?
    Hope you will help! :-)

  11. Phil,

    I already have a set of CDJs, but I have not been practicing due to completing college work. They are midi controllers. I wanted to know if it would be better to sell these and go with a digital controller. If not, how can a person with CDJs benefit from the “How to Digital DJ Fast” course that you have for sale?

    • If they’re Midi controllers, set them up to control your DJ software, and just use an analogue mixer. That’ll be fine, but to be honest, you’ll get 80% of benefit from the course whatever you’re using to DJ with, as it’s a course about DJing more than about “controllers” or whatever :)

  12. I just mess about with Traktor/Virtual DJ on my laptop and would like a cheap mixer to plug into my laptop to play at parties are stuff… What’s cheapest/easiest to buy??

    • Hi Sarah,

      Not sure if you’re still looking but I learned to DJ on the ‘numark mixtrack pro’. Mine cost around £160. For me it was ideal as I understood the concepts behind mixing and, like you, had used software to get a little practise but for me this wasn’t enough. I needed something hands-on to get used to the physical side of Djing. Not sure if you play an instrument but you know when you practise enough and it feels like your hands get used to playing as well as just your brain? Well that’s what I needed and for any beginner I would definitely recommend a midi controller just to get used to the feel of playing on decks. It’s hard for me to recommend the mixtrack over any other controllers as I haven’t actually used any others. But for me it’s been one of the most valuable things I’ve ever bought as I’ve used it to learn loads! The setup of the controller is pretty close to that of most ‘two CDJs and a mixer’ setups which is really valuable for getting familiar with where things are and, like i said, getting your hands to know what’s going on as well as your brain!

      Anyway, good luck with everything. Do a bit of research into controllers as I don’t know what’s available at the moment – there may be something better. I know there’s videos on youtube which go through the mixtrack and plenty of people using it so may be worth having a look at those and see what you think. Take care!

      Sushil

    • oh yeah, two things i forgot to mention:

      1) there’s two versions of the controller: the ‘mixtrack’ and the ‘mixtrack pro’. the only difference between the two is that the ‘pro’ has a built in sound card. if you buy the normal mixtrack, you will need to buy a separate sound card as one of these is necessary to get your equipment working. i went for the pro option for simplicity and cost. i think it worked out a little cheaper to get the pro rather than get the normal controller plus a sound card. however, the upside to getting a separate sound card is that it may come in handy later on to use with other equipment too – saving you money in the long run. again, just do your research before you decide :)

      2) there’s a new version of the mixtrack pro! i don’t know much about it but i know it exists and, obviously, it’s supposedly better than the first generation. and i know it has rubber pads which can be used to store samples (something which i wouldn’t say is important to have as a beginner). other than that, i’m sure there’s plenty of reviews and videos on youtube etc. personally i think i’d prefer the original as it has a more ‘traditional’ layout/look/feel but may be worth bearing in mind and weighing up the costs of each.

      just remembered you posted this months ago and probably don’t need advice any more but… yeah… good luck anyway!

      Sushil

  13. i believe this is a reasonable helpful forum post but i am still stuck and everywhere i look every site wishes to charge hundreds and hundreds of dollars jsut to teach you when all i need is to learn dont get me wrong there.But i wish to learn from a dj that is willing to teach me preferable first hand but even over videos.But there is a issue i have been having viewing the videos you have been sending through Phil Would it be possible if you could send them to my email address from you personally rather than as a bulk email that you send out?Also if possible in a windows media player format?

    please im really keen and just wish to learn so much as i wish to become a pub/club dj living the life style.If it is not possible Phil that you can help me would it be possible if you could get me in touch with a dj that i could chat with and learn off.I have asked every club in town if i could talk to their dj and i get no response back or i get the answer no.

    Please help

    my email address is beaubath1@gmail.com

    • Sadly we can’t email every reader personally – we have 400,000 a month. It would be impossible. However, we respond to every single email our readers send us, and have even taken on extra staff just to do that, as we’ve double in size every year since 2010!

      And our $97 How To Digital DJ Fast course (click the “Courses” tab above) has taught 1000s of DJs how to do this from scratch, to a proven method. You should consider it.

      Thanks for your comment :)

  14. Hi, I am thinking of getting the Pioneer DDj We-GO, but I am not sure if I need an amplifier or not. Can I just play it from my laptop speakers? Also, if I can play it without an amp, do I still need the RCA cables?

  15. I think the most important point is, that you really want to DJ. You know, I tried to teach some guys the basics of djing. Let me say, it didn’t work! They just bought their Kontrol S2 (me too I love it), but they didn’t practice. When I had showed them some tricks, they left and came back with nothing! So, I really like to share my knowledge because it’s much fun, but please PRACTICE ! If you do that with passion, you will get a good dj in 99%.
    Please teach me, if you think that I’m wrong ! :)

Leave a Comment