Controller Clinic #24: Confused About My First Step Into Digital

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First Steps In Digital learn to dj
Last updated 6 August, 2017

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Traktor Kontrol Z2
A great digital mixer for Traktor, the Kontrol Z2 is nonetheless the kind of purchase a DJ who knows exactly what he wants and what he wants to pair it with would make. It’s not the obvious choice for a beginner.

Digital DJ Tips reader Dinn writes: “Hey, I’ve been producing dubstep and electro for about two years but have never DJed. I’ve been trying to decide what gear is best for this new movement away from the traditional style of DJing with CDJs and everything. So my questions are: Does genre (house, dubstep, electro, drum & bass) dictate what methods you should use to DJ at your best? Is it worth the risk going for a product like the Midi Fighter that requires knowledge of Midi mapping against something like the Kontrol S4 or Kontrol Z2 where it’s automatically synced to the software? And why is DJing with software and a laptop so looked down upon? I hope you can answer these because I’m kind of lost.”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Some great questions there, Dinn, and we get asked some of these a lot. I can definitely help you in your dilemma!

DJing is at its essence controlling two musical sources so you can perform recorded music without gaps, and that’s the same no matter what genre you’re performing in. It’s really not about gear: It’s about the music in your collection and the people in front of you. A simple controller set-up that lets you learn this is where to start. You can easily set up and learn on this at home, and plug it in in small bars, lounges and parties – the kind of places you’ll “learn the ropes” in public at first.

A basic DJ controller like the Mixtrack Pro 2, Denon DJ MC2000 or Traktor Kontrol S2 is a great starting point, and would be all you need to learn the basics of the art: things like beatmatching, song selection, EQ, mixing, looping, cue point use, basic FX use, key mixing etc.

Learning what it’s all about this way will clear up most of your confusion, because from your email, I think you’re trying to run before you can walk. For instance, the Kontrol S4 is a complex four-channel DJ controller with features you probably won’t use for a long time, the Kontrol Z2 is a DJ mixer that needs other gear to be used properly, and the Midi Fighter is an additional controller to gear you would already own that is used for very specific purposes. This stuff is for the experienced digital DJ who knows exactly what their workflow is and what they want to do, and is overkill for the new DJ (plus, you could always expand your set-up later if you wanted).

Why do people look down on digital DJing? Because it threatens the way they’ve always done it themselves, and they don’t like the way it’s lowered the barriers of entry into this craft. They see the way it shortcuts things like beatmatching as cheating, and don’t attach value to the new skills and techniques it opens up. In my view, though, the real pros don’t fear amateurs, newcomers or innovations – instead they get with the program and concentrate on upping their own game. Those who don’t? It’s probably best to politely ignore them and get on with doing your own thing…

How would you advise Dinn? Do you agree it’s best to start small and simple, master some basics, then decide what to move up to, or would an “all-out” approach from the off be better? Please share your thoughts in the comments…