Digital DJ Tips reader Kahlheins writes: “I just started to be a digital DJ and got a solid set-up (Native Instruments Kontrol X1, Xone 22, Akai LPD8, Audio 2 DJ, laptop). I’ve still got some problems mixing songs, and I don’t know if my techniques are good enough for DJing in a club. Here’s what I do: I pick songs, use the sync button to bring them into sync, mix the end bits of the songs and fade slowly into the next song. In-between, I play with some effects (gater, beatmasher etc) and I sometimes switch from one song to the other just in the middle of a song at a breakdown, but very rarely. That’s pretty much all I do.”
“Would a club expect me to create real mashup mixes? Like mixing two popular songs and playing them at once to create a ‘new song’? I got many problems with that and mostly my mixes sound crappy. Is that a neccesary skill in the beginning? And how do I learn it?”
Digital DJ Tips says:
Thanks for asking. You’re far from alone – we get lots of questions like this. Many people are stuck and don’t say anything, so thanks for writing. I’ve linked to a mashup article at the end, but the truth is, you’re worrying about all the wrong things.
Think about it this way (stay with me here). What do you need to pass a driving test? Do you need to be able to drive like a professional racing driver? Fly through chicanes 1/100th of a second faster than the next driver, take bends at 100mph without any more drama than a bit of rubber on the tarmac? Undercut other pro drivers, missing a collision by inches while still grabbing pole position? Nope, of course not. You need to know a few pretty basic things: Where all the car’s controls are (and to be able to find them in any type of car), how to control the vehicle safely, what all the signs on the road mean, and a few essential “tricks” (three-point turning, reversing). And just a bit of practice. Then you’re on the road! You’ve passed!
Does that make you a good driver? Of course not. You’re a rookie. It takes years to be a good driver. But it means you’re allowed on the road. It means you can play the game. What happens next is what turns you from a beginner into an expert. What do you do with the basic skills you know? Will anyone want to come along for the ride with you? What will you do differently? Where will you go?
DJing is pretty similar. You don’t need fancy mixes, and flicking from one track to another, or to be able to make live mashups, in order to be a competent DJ. To play the game. To get involved. These are things for the professionals, the experts. These are the things for later.
No, to get out of your bedroom and DJing in public (and to answer your question – forget about clubs for now, get some miles under your belt first), you need a solid grounding in the DJing basics. How to use equipment in the kind of venues you’ll come across. How to keep your levels right. How to get good quality music files, and how to locate them when you want them. How to programme music over a night. How to behave professionally and display minimum technical competence in any DJ booth. And a decent knowledge of your heritage, too.
Music matters most
Another thing. You didn’t once mention music in your question. Music is the whole point. Once you have those basic skills, it’s the music you play that matters. That’s what stands you out from the next DJ. That’s what gets you your following. That’s what makes you good enough to play in clubs. Finding the music that says “you” is what will sustain you and get you past “go”. It may indeed lead to you learning to make your own mashups and remixes. As your music addiction takes hold and shapes your whole life, you’ll certainly learn a mix or two along the way.
You’ll definitely find yourself spending the vast majority of the hours that you have for DJ practice simply looking for new music. Because the bottom line is, you can mix very simply, and still call yourself a damned fine DJ (and attract the following you deserve). Many DJs do just that. Most DJs certainly don’t use more than a few basic mixes for their whole careers. But those who get popular sure know how to pick the right tunes, and put them in the right order.
Club owners will be looking for experience, so get the absolute basics nailed, and DJ anywhere, everywhere, all the time. Enjoy the ride and trust that the rest will follow.
• Are you in the same position? Do you want to get these basic skills? You should check out our How To Digital DJ Fast course, which covers them all right from the beginning all the way to your first real public DJ set.
Can you empathise with Kahlheins? What advice would you give to help him to progress with his DJing? What are the most important skills for a beginner to concentrate on? I’d love to you share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.