This a question that came up with our VIP students on our coaching webinar last night, and we really enjoyed compiling this list as it’s full of things DJs who have DJed on all types of gear (vinyl, CDJs, controller, and – yes – even the Apple Watch) take for granted, but that people who have only used, say, an iPad DJ app or a simple controller, may not realise.
After all, it is the stated aim of many new DJs to “get good” on all gear. We hear DJs saying things like: “I’m going to get good on my controller, then I hope to get some CDJs, then hopefully, eventually, some turntables, and master vinyl!”, for instance, which is pretty typical of the hunger to learn this art properly, and to be applauded.
But ultimately, while I don’t recommend doing that as a path to competency (far better to master the gear you’ve got and get in front of an audience, ASAP), I understand the sentiment: There must be universal things that DJs who can apparently effortlessly play on all types of gear have, and that are worth working on – right?
Well, it turns out that there are. It’s by no means exhaustive, but here’s our list:
5 skills for DJing on any gear, anywhere…
- Manual beatmatching – No getting away from it kids, if you want to mix with other types of DJ, and use their gear, you need to know how to mix beats away from sync functions. Vinyl doesn’t have sync, CDJs (older ones, at least) don’t have sync, and so on. It’s one of the basics, and you’ll need it to start becoming a “universal DJ”
- A certain level of geekiness – I’m talking a bit of technical know-how, specifically with audio gear. You need to be able to spot little faults in wiring, set up amps, mixers and DJs ad hoc, find that elusive cable that will make something possible, work out why the power just went off or what’s causing the crackle in the speakers…
- A working knowledge of gain staging – Your DJ controller has functions called “autogain” and “limiter” that make your DJing on it sound good, however you have the volumes set. But other gear may not. You need to understand how to set gains, output volume, mixers, even PAs, so that the signal is loud, crisp and clear without distortion, or you’ll come unstuck for sure
- A small, lean and utterly heroic selection of tunes – I’ve DJed on cassette decks in Cuba, on iPod in hotel rooms, at retro vinyl parties, and many more whacky settings. I’ve learned if you can find a small set of drop-dead amazing tunes, you can get away with murder when it comes to mixing – just as well when you’re mixing on cassette decks! Music first, mixing second, especially on unfamiliar gear…
- The ability to mix without monitor speakers – Monitor speakers (speakers in the DJ booth) are there to help you hear your set properly, important when the “main” speakers may be metres away. Without this, beatmatching is difficult. But you need to learn to cope anyway, because you’ll find venues like this, trust me. Learning to beatmix in just your headphones or compensate in other ways for the lack of good sound in your booth is essential
We believe people want to DJ because of a passion for music, and specifically, for sharing that music with as many people as possible. That’s why we champion all types of DJs, in all types of venues, using all types of gear. It’s all valid. there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to DJ nowadays.
But if you want to be able to say “yes” when asked to DJ impromptu out of another DJ’s vinyl collection, or go back-to-back with a CDJ DJ using your controller (no sync button will help you there), or if you get told “get the bloody PA working, and you can play all night!” in a cool beach bar, or any one of the million other situations where you could turn an alright night into an amazing one by spinning some tunes, the above are the kind of skills you’ll be looking to work on alongside the stuff you already do.
Do you agree with our list? Is there anything we’ve missed off? Please share your thoughts in the comments!