There's certain gear we all know you need when you start out. Of course, you've got to have a laptop for DJing. You're more than likely spend some time choosing a DJ controller too. And you'll need DJ headphones. Next - usually - you'll choose some DJ monitor speakers.
But what if you want to DJ at parties with your gear, or envisage yourself doing paid DJ gigs sooner rather than later? Would it be best to forget the studio monitors, and buy a PA system instead, that can be used at gigs and maybe even at home too? That's the question we look at today in part one of this two-part DJ PA mini-series.
Advantages of owning a DJ PA system
BY "DJ PA system", we just mean a speaker set-up you can DJ in public with. The "DJ" bit is a bit of a misnomer, as such a PA would be usable for other purposes too. There's nothing inherently special about a DJ PA. In fact, compared to a band PA, a DJ PA can be much simpler - normally, you'll just run a pair of leads from your controller to the PA system and that's it - far less complex than trying to plug a whole band in.
Of course, any PA system you'd even consider using at home has to be small - we're talking something that might work for 50 to 200 people when used out. but probably around 100-150. Next week we'll name-drop a handful of them. But for now, let's look at those reasons why you might choose this route:
- If you use your studio monitors or DJ practice speakers for parties, you'll break them. Apart from the fact that they're not designed for party use (home speakers are designed for close-field or mid-field monitoring, ie with you near to them, and not for filling rooms), such speakers are incredibly vulnerable at parties. They generally have no protection physically across the woofers and tweeters, but even if they do, it's not sufficient. But worse than that, they are not designed to compensate for when you push them too hard. You'll never push a speaker too hard practising at home, but at a full party, the number of people and the overall noise in the room will force you to run loud, and as drinks flow, trust me, the temptation to turn everything up to compensate for underpowered speakers will often win. Next stop? Blown speaker-ville
- You'll get more gigs and better set times. If you own a PA, you'll suddenly get asked to DJ at parties. And what's more, even if there are 10 DJs on the night, hell, it's your PA! That means you can call the shots more easily, and usually bag the best sets for yourself. Harsh, but true. If you want gigs, owning the gear can help you to get them
- You'll be able to hire yourself out. Want to make money from your DJing? Once you have a DJ controller, a laptop, some headphones and a PA system, you've got all you need to "be" a mobile DJ of whatever flavour suits you. Suddenly, you can provide gear and a DJ (you) for all types of events - especially if you invest in a microphone too to cover all bases. Look at it this way: You're a hire company as much as a DJ for rent. You can confidently ask for cash for these bookings. It's a good way to start to pay for your DJ hobby, even if you don't take this side of things very seriously
Disadvantages of owning a DJ PA system
Of course, every penny counts when you're starting out as a DJ, and maybe this money may be better spent elsewhere. Here are some counter-arguments to consider when you're deciding if going for a PA system is the right route for you:
- A good PA system costs more than good monitor/practice speakers. You can buy a reasonable pair of speakers for practice for a lot less than you're likely to pay for a reasonable PA system, at least three or four times less. Sure you won't be able to use them for parties, but maybe the places you see yourself playing already have sound systems, and maybe it'd make more sense for you to hire a PA system for special occasions rather than own one outright
- A PA system is not ideal for home monitoring. Apart from being big, they're generally not very stylish to look at in a domestic environment, and as they get the knocks and bashes inevitable in public use, they'll begin to look less so. Also, PA systems are designed to fill rooms, not sit in front of your face, and so unless your practice area is quite big, using your PA at home may not be the most comfortable or practical choice. Plus, you'll need to set it up at home again every time you return from a gig, rather than just leave it in your garage or wherever
- You need to watch it when it's being used by other people. Take your PA to a party and you've got to look over it, which means watching drinks balanced on it, other DJs turning everything into the red, even thieves. It can certainly take the enjoyment out of a night's DJing if it's your gear everyone's using. And them you've got to get it home again at the end of the night...
Should you own both?
The ideal situation is probably to own a PA system and some home monitor speakers. That way you can DJ confidently at parties or small paid gigs, and have a stylish system at home for practising. But of course, this adds to the cost of your set-up quite substantially. Whether or not you ultimately choose to go for a PA system as your only system or as an additional speaker system will depend upon how much use you think you'll get from it, how much you think it will jumpstart your DJ career, and of course how much money you have access to or are prepared to spend on your DJing.
But it's definitely the case that for many DJs, owning a PA system is the gateway to more gigs, to paying gigs, and to leapfrogging other DJs in the same situation as them. In these cases, it may be just what you need.
If this sounds like you, then the next article will assist you further. In How To Choose A DJ PA System, we look in detail at what you need to know to make an informed choice, as well as name-dropping some popular brands at different price points.
Hopefully by the end of that article, you'll be ready to do your research and get a system that suits you, whether you want a "one size fits all" solution, or some speakers purely to use in public venues.
Are you looking to add a PA system to your DJ set-up? Have you made the mistake of blowing up your home speakers by pushing them a bit too hard at a party? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.