5 Modern Skills Every New DJ Should Have

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beginner dj skills starting out
Last updated 26 March, 2018

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Dj mixes the track
Today’s DJ environment has changes so much from ‘two decks and a mixer’, and a new DJ needs a very different set of skills from even 10 years ago. Pic: Point Blank

Technology has changed so much since I first started DJing with turntables and vinyl, that it’s an almost unrecognisable environment out there today for a new DJ – and I’m only comparing this to 10 years ago!

Nowadays, the basic skills needed to get anywhere (and I’m talking just to get to your first few gigs, never mind making a part or full-time living out of this game) are very different. In order to stay current and competitive, being able to turn up at your local record store on delivery day and knowing how to beatmatch really won’t get you far any more.

So if you’ve not yet started out as a DJ yet but are considering it, here are the five skills that I consider today’s DJ needs to stay current and competitive. Feel free to disagree with me or add your own at the end!

Today’s DJ should…

1. Know how to creatively use Midi controllers – Turntables and vinyl-only DJs are a thing of the past. As you sit there contemplating how to get going, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get yourself a Midi controller and learn how to use it properly – and this isn’t tied to just DJ controllers, either. With technology improving and moving at such a fast pace, the ability to create dynamic and live remixes has become the de facto standard of today’s top DJs. I personally am using Ableton Live with a Novation Launchpad to accompany my turntables along with Serato to scratch, to create multi-layer live remixes. How are you planning on using modern gear to make your sets that bit different from the rest?

2. Become an expert at networking online – Back when I started DJing (I bought my first turntables at Guitar Center and I still have the receipt!), the internet had only just really taken off. Yahoo! was still the premier search engine and AOL was still popular. Now, with the advance of the internet and all the technologies at our disposal, the web has allowed us to share our music and sounds around the world. Knowing how to leverage what is out there – Facebook, SoundCloud, Google+ and of course blogs and forums like this one – to share your work and get help from others is both how you get better and how you build a fanbase

3. Learn how to remix and mash up – The days of just mixing two songs together are over. Today’s DJ has to know a lot about mashing up, remixing and even producing, to be in any way serious about being a professional. Software packages such as Audacity, Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton and Reason allow DJs to mix, remix, and produce music to the next level, differentiating themselves from other DJs. After all, any DJ can just play a song straight, but is that how you are going to be different? Get serious about making your own music, even if it’s just mashing up, if you are serious about your DJ career

4. Get obsessed with learning other types of equipment – You might be extremely comfortable with your set-up, whether it’s Serato or Traktor with turntables, a DJ controller, or whatever, but it’s always important to diversify your knowledge of DJ tools and equipment. After all, understanding what’s out there and the resources you have available to you will keep you trying new ideas and remaining innovative in your DJ sets. Plus, you never know when you’re going to be called to DJ on another type of gear. Remember that good DJs can DJ on anything
5. Perform the music, not just play it – Everybody’s a DJ these days. It’s true. People download free software, mix some songs and yes, they can technically call themselves DJs. In my opinion a “good” DJ is more than a DJ who just plays the music, rather someone who performs it. Think about the popular DJs such as Tiesto, David Guetta, Avicii and so on – they don’t stand there like a robot and play tunes. They are actively engaged in the music physically and emotionally. If you’re DJing and just looking like a robot, you’ve got to change. It’s not enough nowadays

So – do you agree with me? Have I left anything out? Are you a new DJ diligently trying to learn skills such as these? Or are you an old skool DJ who thinks none of this is important at all? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

• Jonathan is a DJ and also the founder of Dbmlabs, a DJ clothing company dedicated to sponsoring and promoting DJs, producers and remixers around the world.

DJ Census 2019