10 Technical Errors You May Not Know You’re Making

Last updated 18 July, 2017

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Technical Errors
Avoid faux pas and facepalms: In this article, we will talk about common technical mistakes DJs make.

We all make mistakes. However, some of the technical mistakes that DJs make are completely avoidable. Because such errors may well cost you bookings (and a whole load of embarrassment), and because they’re so easy to avoid, it’s worthwhile nipping them in the bud as soon as possible. So in this article we’ll give you the heads up on a whole pile of them…

10 Technical errors

1. Using knock-off USB sticks

broken-usb-digital-dj-tips
You are putting a lot of trust in a USB stick if it is your only source of music for a gig. It’s better to buy a decent one to be safe.

If you are relying on USB sticks to store your tracks for use at gigs, make sure that you are buying them from a reputable brand (and a reputable source!). You can find USB sticks with loads of storage pretty cheap nowadays and fake branded sticks are being sold online. Is it really worth the risk of having yours corrupt without notice? Definitely not.

The last thing that you want is to be stood behind the decks, hyped to start your set and the equipment can’t read your sticks. Do some research and find out which USBs are most reliable. Ask other DJs which brand they use to mitigate the risk of corrupted data.

2. Not packing your gear properly

This mixer has had a tough time of it. Pack your gear properly to avoid losing caps or bending your faders.
This mixer has had a tough time of it. Pack your gear properly to avoid losing caps or bending your faders. Photograph credit: doktor-andy.de

So, you’ve ponied up big bucks to buy your beloved gear; why risk damaging it in transit to a gig? Loads of DJs will just put a mixer or controller in the back of their car, in a satchel or ask someone to put it on their knee. This is an accident waiting to happen. You really don’t want to be snapping off your EQ knob caps or bending your crossfader on your way to or from a gig.

Get a DJ bag that’s designed for your DJ gear. This ensures a snug fit during transport, which reduces the likelihood of it banging around while you head to your gig. At the very least, get a Decksaver cover to protect the face of your kit. Customised flight cases are also a good solution. Sure, they can be expensive but so can the cost of fixing damaged DJ equipment.

If you are on a tight budget, the cheapest way of protecting your gear (something often overlooked) is to keep and look after the original packaging. It might not look as snazzy as a shiny flight case but it does just as good a job!

3. Ripping tracks from YouTube & using P2P downloads

A familiar face to those around at the advent of P2P file-sharing. Don't do it. If you like it, pay for it.
A familiar face to those around at the advent of P2P file-sharing. Don’t do it. If you like it, pay for it.

Sharing tracks via P2P networks and ripping tracks from YouTube is illegal and unfair on producers. By doing this you run the risk of ruining the musical experience of your listeners. You might think that the ripped tracks sound fine when playing them at home but trust us, they won’t on a proper sound system. When it comes to downloading music for professional use, it is always best to get the highest quality bitrate available. Most DJs use either 320kbps MP3 or lossless formats such as WAV and FLAC.

It’s not just about the audio quality of your tunes though: By illegally downloading tracks you are hurting the industry that we love. If you like it, pay for it. Also, when using P2P networks you risk addling your computer with viruses and if your hard drive goes, say goodbye to your music library. Even if you have backed up your tracks, the viruses will be present on your external hard drive or USB sticks.

4. Relying on laptop USB power

An external USB hub should be an essential item for digital DJs.
An external USB hub should be considered an essential item for all digital DJs.

Your controller might seem to work absolutely fine running off USB power. However, if you have the option of plugging it into mains power, do it. Not only will the lights on your controller be brighter, the audio output will be louder. By relying on USB power, you also increase the likelihood of your computer crashing or it cutting off power to your controller if it is drawing too much current.

If your controller doesn’t have a mains power brick or you want to plug in several USB devices, makes sense to you can use a powered USB hub instead. This has the added bonus of giving you a bunch of USB inputs for other things like cameras and for charging mobile phones.

5. Plugging line output into phono input

On this mixer, you have phono and line inputs but only two-channels. You have to use the button to switch between the two.
On this mixer, you have phono and line inputs but only two-channels. You have to use the button to switch between the two.

If you plug a line output into a phono input, you will be met with an awfully loud and distorted sound coming from your speakers. This is because phono inputs have a preamp to boost the “quiet” signal outputted from a turntable, for example. Line output is already “loud”. When you plug line output into phono input, you are amplifying the signal unnecessarily. This is what causes the overdriven, distorted mess coming out of your speakers.

If you do this the other way around and plug a phono output into a line level input, the signal is too weak and at best the result will be a very quiet and muffled sound. Sometimes, these problems can be solved by the simple flick of a switch. Make sure to check the signal flow of your equipment properly before you start mixing.

6. Not checking / aligning beatgrids properly

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The beatgrids pictured here are perfectly aligned. This means you will have no problems mixing with the sync function engaged.

Ever wondered why that one track seems a nightmare to mix with sync on? Lots of digital DJs think that whacking all their tracks into DJ software and analysing them is a “set and forget” affair. It’s not. Yes, the software does a great job but if you are going to play these tracks in public, you must check if the beatgrids are accurate. This is especially important if you are using the sync function. One track with poor beatgrids will cock up your entire mix.

7. Not labelling explicit tracks

parental-advisory-digital-dj-tips
It’s parental advisory for a reason, kids don’t need to hear shipyard language. Tag your explicit tracks to avoid dropping any clangers.

If you find yourself being booked to play at events where foul language is likely to upset people, make sure you label your explicit tracks. If f-bombs start dropping at a kids’ party, you are going to have a load of angry parents on your hands. It’s an easy mistake to make but it is one that you will struggle to recover from.

Just make sure that all your tracks containing explicit lyrics are tagged accordingly. If necessary, only download clean versions of tracks to give yourself peace of mind.

8. Extracting tracks from other DJ’s mixes

SoundCloud hosts loads of DJ mixes and is notoriously used to rip rare tracks from mixes.
Soundcloud hosts loads of DJ mixes and people often rip rare or unreleased tracks from the site.

This is no different to ripping from YouTube, or using P2P downloaders. Sure, we have all taped from the radio as kids for home listening. However, by extracting tracks from another DJ’s mix or from the radio, you are opening yourself up to problems.

To start with, the quality of the rip is likely to be poor. Then there could also be DJ drops or shoutouts in the middle of the track; how embarrassing would that be? If people find out you are doing this, you are going to make enemies. Just don’t do it. Do some digging, find and purchase the full tracks.

9. Plugging XLR master output into mic input on a mixing desk

There are loads of inputs on a mixing desk. If you are not sure how to connect your equipment to it, ask!
There are loads of inputs on a mixing desk. If you are not sure how to connect your equipment to it, ask!

Sometimes, you will need to quickly rejig around the cables in the booth. You might be under time pressure to do it as well, so you can be forgiven for being flustered. However, always bear in mind that the only thing you can plug into a mic input other than a microphone is a pair of headphones. These can be used as a makeshift microphone in times of dire need.

Don’t attempt to plug any other input into a mic input because it will sound dreadful. You are inputting a stereo signal into mono. Just because the inputs look the same, doesn’t mean they will work the same.

10. Updating your DJ software right before the gig

You really don't want your laptop crashing mid-gig because of newly updated, unstable DJ software.
You really don’t want your laptop crashing mid-gig because of newly updated, unstable DJ software.

The latest version of your chosen DJ software has just been released and you have a gig in three days. To upgrade or not to upgrade, that is the question. When a new version is released, it can often be unstable and lead to mid-set crashes or glitching audio. Don’t risk it. Lots of DJs have fallen afoul of this golden rule.

Use your current version of the software and then have a browse around the web or ask other DJs on forums what they think. If you see any complaints then well done, you dodged a bullet and you can wait until the issues are fixed before you update.

Finally…

Some of these error come from laziness, some from plain ignorance, others can just happen until you learn from experience. But we’d rather you found out about all of ’em sooner rather than later. After all, it’d be a shame to let a silly mistake spoil your otherwise great work getting your tunes together and practising your mixing, wouldn’t it?

Have we missed any critical mistakes from this list? Have you been guilty of making any? Which do you think is the biggest technical mistake that DJs make? Let us know in the comments below…