Here at Digital DJ Tips, we absolutely believe that everyone who wants to should be able to try their hand at DJing, however much money they have (or don’t have). We simply do not subscribe to this idea that it is a hallowed, expensive hobby only for those with the cash to pursue it, or that if you don’t do it a certain way you’re not a “real” DJ, or that just because you’re doing it on less than ideal gear, you can’t learn and get better. (Check out this recent story if you haven’t already – it graphically reinforces our point).
Personally, I started DJing on a £20 mixer (see above) that took a nine-volt battery and only worked in mono, plus an single belt-drive turntable and two cassette decks. And I got my first paying gigs with that exact set-up – plus a PA system I hired with the money they paid me! So if, in the words of Lana del Rey, “you’ve got the music in you”, you want to see if DJing might be for you without shelling out piles of cash (or you simply don’t have access to the money you’d need to buy pro gear), here are a few suggestions for getting going:
1. Use any speakers/headphones you’ve already got
One mistake people make is that they think to start DJing, you need loads of specialist gear. Yet you probably already have loads of things that you can use. Of course, you need some way of hearing your mixing, but a hi-fi, a decent “boom box”, even your TV’s sound bar or cheap gaming speakers can probably get you going on this. (See our good cheap speakers for DJing article for some ideas.) As long as you can find a way to plug an input from your DJ set-up into it, you don’t need specialist monitors just yet. Also any headphones with a headband will do to start with. Just don’t try and throw a party using your home speakers – you’ll blow them up, I promise you! Keep them for practising…
2. Use free sources of music
One of the absolute rules of creativity in any area is limiting yourself. If you go down the route of torrenting all the music in the world, you’re overwhelming yourself (and you’re also stealing). But a great way of getting started is simply to fill your collection with carefully chosen free music, that the producers actually willingly give away! And my top tip for where to find it? You don’t need to go any further than SoundCloud. There you’ll find lots of interesting music, much of it free to download, from producers working in all genres. You’ll also have a far more original collection than those moneyed “DJs” who only buy the Beatport Top 100 and think that’s all there is to it…
3. Get free or cheap DJ software – and learn the keyboard shortcuts!
All DJing really is is choosing the right tunes at the right time for the audience in front of you. Throw in an understanding of beatmatching, and you’re getting there! And practically all DJing software will let you do this, including some very good free or cheap choices. For instance, you can get Mixxx for PC and Mac for free. It’s awesome. Or, if you have an iPad or Android tablet, you can get djay, Traktor DJ (iPad/iPhone) or MixVibes Cross DJ (Android) for just a few dollars. Trust me – you can DJ with just what I’ve described there. No need for any more hardware (except that which I describe in the next tip…)
4. Use a DJ splitter cable to plug your headphones in
One of the few fundamentals of DJing apart from some way of playing two tunes and manipulating their speeds, volumes etc is the need to hear one of those tunes in your headphones privately to “cue” it (get it ready to play over your speakers). With expensive DJ gear, mixers and controllers have this function built in, but with DJ software – assuming you’re not using any external gear at the start of your journey – you need to be a bit more resourceful.
You can buy dedicated DJ sound cards that give your laptop or iPad etc two separate outputs, but you can also “hack” this by using a DJ splitter cable, that effectively commandeers the left and right stereo channels of your single output and uses one for the cue (headphones) and one for the master. You can even make your own to save some more pennies. You’ll be DJing in mono, but it’s a small price to pay for “real” DJing – many DJs I know have such a cable for a backup, or a quick DJ set, without the need to carry a sound card around with them (they’re great for hotel room sets, too…)
5. It’s OK to buy cheap gear, just buy wisely
In point 3, I told you that you can get free or cheap DJ software that’ll do the trick. But the truth is, there’s an awful lot of poor free DJ software too. And the same goes with DJ gear. Absolutely the cheapest way to start DJing in terms of hardware is to buy a DJ controller, as these offer awesome value for money against traditional DJ set-ups, but if you’re buying budget, you need to be careful as there is some rubbish out there. Luckily, we’ve got our How To Choose A DJ Controller free book to help you choose whatever your budget, and you can always ask on the Digital DJ Tips forum too – we’re always happy to help you with this
I’m not pretending that good gear won’t help you – of course it can. And I’m not saying “cheap is better” – clearly there are some compromises above, some of them quite big. But funnily enough, expensive gear can actually be a distraction. As you chase feature after feature, thinking that only the very latest innovation on the shiniest new controller (that you can’t afford) will allow you to “make it” as a DJ, you’re not spending your time doing what you should be doing – making mixes, playing music, and enjoying learning the art.
Just like a beginner photographer wouldn’t know what to do with a professional SLR (and would be wasting the features of that camera by always using it on “automatic” settings – think “sync button”…) but could have a lot of fun learning to take good pictures on their smartphone with a decent camera app, so it is sometimes better to learn to DJ with what you’ve got or can afford easily, only upgrading when you’re sure about what you really need next.
The biggest mistake is to let yourself think you’ll “never be good enough” using what you have or can afford, or that you’re somehow not the genuine article. There are an awful lot of people who think buying lots of DJ gear is the same as being a good DJ, and conversely, there are a great number of DJs who can’t even afford hardware, but can bang out a great mix on free software thanks to having taken the time to learn it well, collect good music, and respect the traditions, art and culture of DJing. This is about your state of mind, not the state of your bank balance. And if you’re starting out of an extreme budget, we’re here for you. We’ve been there.
What did you start DJing on? do you feel the best gear is essential for DJing, or is it more important to approach your learning in the right way? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.