If you want to learn to DJ or improve your skills, but you’ve got very little time, you may feel it’s an impossible dream. But it isn’t – and in this article, you’ll learn how anyone, however busy, can fit DJing into their lives.
Yes, it’s essential to be laser-focused and super-organised. But we’ll show you exactly how. And the upside is that you will quickly grow and succeed as a DJ, even if you’re a complete beginner, and even if you have an awful lot else going on in your life too.
As a DJ school, here at Digital DJ Tips we are used to helping super-busy people – people with demanding jobs, families, and other commitments – to find time for DJing. The system outlined in this article has been proven to work. So read on, and let’s stop DJing being just your dream!
To be clear, this strategy isn’t designed for people who are just happy to dabble in DJing. If you’re super-casual, just curious about the basics, and don’t have any particular DJing goals right now, you should instead check out the online version of our best-selling DJ handbook, Rock The Dancefloor!.
This strategy is designed for go-getter types – the type of person who is already successful in other areas of their life, but who has a burning desire to become a good DJ, too.
And it’s definitely designed for you if you despair at not having the time for any of this.
Just a warning: When you apply a strategy like this, no matter how busy you are or how much of a beginner you are, it is not uncommon for things to change really quickly in your DJing!
Take the cases of two of our students, Robert and Markus:
Robert and Markus have highly stressful, demanding jobs, and home commitments to deal with, yet have both managed to successfully fit DJing into their lives. What’s more, for them – as with so many people who manage to incorporate the hobby of DJing into their lives – it is a great distraction and thing of joy.
And most importantly, they’re getting results: Both have mastered the technology, and while Markus is closing in on his first mixtape, Robert has got several mixtapes under his belt, released them publicly, started to build a fanbase, and has even started livestreaming.
If you want to start hitting goals in your DJing hobby, even as a complete beginner, you need to follow a strategy, like Robert and Markus have. What follows is just such a strategy.
Then, read on to learn how to fill your sheet in, and how to use it to help you start achieving your DJing dreams – however busy you are.
Introduction To The Strategy
First, know that it’s not enough to just want to do this – if so, you’d have already done it! (You’ve wanted to spend more time on your DJing it for ages, right?)
It’s also not enough to spend half of your time researching, learning all about, and continually buying gear. It’s fun, sure, and it makes you feel more like a DJ (after all, if you weren’t a DJ, why would you be spending all that time worrying about DJ gear?).
But in truth, “DJ gear addiction” is just another form of procrastination. Many great DJs use what you might regard as sub-standard, old or otherwise far-from-ideal DJ gear – and are very happy with it. They’re too busy DJing to worry about such things!
What you need to kickstart your DJing hobby, get you moving in the right direction, ensure you’re learning the right things, and give you a steady sense of achievement, is a strategy.
You need a simple, repeatable framework that you can use over and over again to continually improve your DJing skills.
That’s what this is. And it comes in four steps:
Step 1: Choose the right DJing goals
Step 2: Figure out the work and schedule it
Step 3: Do the work
Step 4: Immerse yourself in the DJing world
Below is a breakdown of how every part of this strategy works. The best part is, whenever you feel you’ve lost your way, you can use the strategy to “nudge” yourself back on track.
This isn’t a “crash plan”- it is a new way of approaching your DJing hobby, for life. And it works. So let’s get started…
Bonus: Your free worksheet
I put together a worksheet that you can use each time you follow the four steps to achieve another of your DJing goals. Click here to download a copy.
Then, keep it on your hard drive, and either print it out or fill it in with your computer’s PDF reader each time you follow this process. It’ll keep you on track.
Step One: Choose The Right Goal
Most people fail to find time for DJing because they haven’t carefully enough defined what they’re trying to achieve, and so they get disillusioned before they really start.
They DJ less often than they’d like, and when they do practise, they feel they’re not doing the right things.
They overall feel they’re just playing at DJing, not really achieving anything.
Choosing a specific goal to aim at fixes that.
To start with, understand that we are going to go after your DJing goals one at a time. It’s much better to achieve one goal then move on to the next than commit to too much and fail at it all.
With this method, you don’t have to do everything at once.
However, that does mean that choosing wisely is super-important.
So, here are the five steps to picking your next DJing goal:
i. Pick a goal that is specific and realistic, but that also excites you
If your goal is something big, it’s fine to pick a step towards the bigger goal as your current goal.
But make sure it is achievable, and also make sure to describe your goal in such a way that you’ll know when you’ve done it!
So for instance, “get better at mixing” is a bad goal, but “make a mixtape with 10 great transitions on it” is a good one.
ii. Be imaginative!
Your goal doesn’t have to be something like the classic “play a gig”. To become a great DJ, you need to progress in five key areas (as taught in or book, Rock The Dancefloor!).
So your goal could be to make a mixtape, finish a re-edit or bootleg, learn a new piece of gear, finally organise your music, or to master a specific technique (eg a scratch technique, or a beatmixing skill). All would be valid.
More ideas: You could choose to build your DJ website, take a course, perform a livestream… remember, this isn’t your only DJing goal ever, it is simply the one you’re going to work on now.
This works for established DJs, too! Back at the start of the 2020 lockdown, I decided I would livestream a DJ set once a fortnight, and I followed this exact process to figure it all out – and it’s still going today. So don’t be scared to set just a single goal.
iii. Be clear about WHY you want to achieve your goal
What is it going to feel like when you have achieved it? Who will you tell about your achievement? What will it let you do, that you couldn’t before? What will come into view that wasn’t possible until you achieved this goal?
Be clear about the reason why you want to achieve this goal, about how it will change the way you think about your DJing or your progress as a DJ. Getting this “why?” sorted will help you through times of low motivation in the weeks ahead.
iv. Set a completion date
Ninety days or three months is a good goal length. It is long enough to get something worthwhile done, not so long that you will put off doing any work until the deadline starts to loom.
Setting a goal a year off almost guarantees that you’ll do nothing towards it right away. But setting it next week either means you’ll pick a goal that is not exciting or ambitious enough, or you’ll find an excuse not to do it (“it wasn’t realistic in the first place”).
Ninety days is the right length to fix both of these issues.
• If you’d like to read more about this 90 day idea, grab a copy of Brian Moran’s excellent book, “The 12 Week Year” (Amazon link here.)
v. Make it public
Whether you tell your friends, post it on social media (our Global DJ Network Facebook Group is a good place), no matter. The point is that sharing your goal immediately makes you accountable for it.
None of us wants to be seen to not achieve what we set out to do, so it’s a good way of putting a bit of the right kind of pressure on yourself!
So, have a brainstorm and list out goals you want to achieve in your DJing. Pick one to go for, right now. The rest can wait. Constantly revise this list, though: It is your self-guided curriculum for improving as a DJ.
Step Two: Figure Out The Work & Schedule It
Having a goal isn’t enough, because your goal is the outcome, not the work needed to get there.
So you need to first break your goal down into the tasks needed to achieve it, and then plan them into your calendar. What we’re doing here is separating the thinking from the doing, because once you’ve done the thinking, all you have to do is execute the steps, and you’ll achieve the goal. So let’s look at the steps needed:
i. Decide the tasks that need to be done to reach your goal
The next step is to grab as piece of paper (or better, download the free worksheet we’ve prepared for this, which has space for you to complete this on it), and start figuring what tasks need to be done to get from where you are now to achieving your goal.
For instance, if you want to make your first mixtape, your steps could be:
Now, this is where students often lose confidence.
“How am I meant to know what I need to do to achieve my goal?” they ask.
But you know more than you think. A simple way to break through this psychological barrier is to ask yourself:
“If I had to achieve this goal in three days, not three months, what are the 3 things I’d definitely have to do?”
So in this case, you may say:
Choose 10 songs
Practise a simple mix
So there are your “big” steps. That’s a lot better than “I don’t have a clue”, isn’t it?
Armed with these, you can then break it down further, into individual tasks of an hour or 90 minutes each – in this case it could be “research tunes”, “practise transitions”, “plan mix on paper”, “figure out how to record and edit my mic” and so on.
Estimate the hours you need for each of these individual tasks.
This isn’t about perfection, because your work outline will definitely change – it’s just about getting a half-decent, working plan towards your goal.
Now you have enough info to move on to the next steps.
ii. Decide what you’re going to sacrifice to find this time
Your life is already full. and now you have an idea of the number of hours you’ll need to find to achieve your DJing goal in the next 90 days.
So list out how you spend a typical week, and/or look at your calendar, and figure out what you will take out in order to “find” the time you need.
It’s much better to realise and accept the fact that you’re going to have to give up Netflix for the next 12 weeks now, rather than realise that fact in three weeks’ time when you’re far more likely to start slipping on your DJing tasks and commitments otherwise.
Be upfront and honest about what you’ll be losing from your life in order to add this. And if you can’t find enough time, revise your goal accordingly.
For instance, here’s how one of our students, Joshua, implemented this:
(Joshua has also implemented some “life hack” techniques here to make the work easier to do – something we’ll be moving on to in the third step.)
Meanwhile, here are two more of our community members, Martin and Justin, on what they’ve sacrificed to find the time for practising:
It is important at this stage to be realistic. It’s a strong person indeed who can say “I’ll just get up an hour earlier every morning to do this” without accepting it’ll mean you’ll need to go to bed an hour earlier too, potentially affecting the things you usually do on the evening.
(Of course, if you aimlessly scroll through social media for your last hour before bed, well… there’s an obvious thing to give up. Hopefully you’ll be so tired you won’t want to…)
If you’re struggling to find things to “give up”, go back to the “why” from the first step, and imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve achieved this goal. Is it worth it? Hopefully, your answer will be “yes” and you can reconsider.
For me, it was easy: Social media. I only use social media now for work. It has saved me many hours a week.
Maybe you should look at the “screen time” feature on your phone and see where you’re spending your time, and decide if that is really serving you.
iii. Add your DJ time into your calendar
Now it’s time add your DJing tasks into your calendar. You’ll probably want to break down some of the sub-tasks even further to fit the practice times you have, and that’s great. Remember, this is not set in stone – it is a best-guess plan, because any plan is better than no plan.
If you use a digital calendar like the one that comes with your Gmail account, for instance, then great – use this. But however you do it, get these commitments into a calendar of some type.
Online calendars all let you set up different calendars to show on the same main calendar – so you can have a “DJ” calendar in a different colour showing alongside “Work” and “Family”, for instance.
A few other tips here:
Little and often is best – Psychologists have shown that we learn better when we have lots of breaks to let what we’ve done sink in. This also means that should you miss one of six one-hour practice sessions this week, you’ve still done five of them, rather than missing one six-hour session and blowing your whole week’s practice…
Routine beats random – Much better to have “every morning at 6am”, or “90 minutes Mon, Weds, Fri 8pm” than week after week trying to fit random days and times in. Forming habits is one of the strongest ways of beating procrastination, and routines help you form habits
Share your calendar with any “significant others” in your life – see next step for more on why this is important
If you’re using a digital calendar, set it up to send you reminders – a day before and an hour before is good. And have it show you as “busy”
Write into each practice session on your calendar exactly what you’ll be doing, and add any notes that’ll help you – This is crucial, and comes back to what we were saying about separating the “thinking” from the “doing”
iv. Get the buy-in of those who matter to you
It’s no good planning all of this in private when (for instance) your partner, someone who will be affected by these decisions, could well throw your plans into turmoil when you finally announce what you’re doing and they turn out to be shocked and disapproving of how it affects them!
So have the conversations upfront with your significant other, family, friends, boss, or anyone else who you need to approve of what you’re planning. You want them to understand how important this is to you, and to be behind you from the start.
OK – now you’ve got a DJing goal that you’re excited about, you have half an idea of how you’ll achieve it and how long it’ll take, and you’ve broken it down in to an exciting plan in your calendar. You’ve even got approval from those who matter in your life.
If you’ve ever planned a diet, or an exercise regime, this feeling will be familiar to you: Day one. Time to put into action what we’ve committed to. So let’s look at how to make sure we stick to our plan…
Step Three: Do The Work
Buying new DJ gear makes us feel like we are DJs, but it isn’t doing the work. Dreaming about playing gigs makes us feel like we are DJs, but it isn’t doing the work. Talking about it to friends makes us feel like we are DJs, but it isn’t doing the work.
The only way we will get closer to our DJ dreams is by actually doing what we already know by this stage is what we should be doing in order to progress. And that’s what the third of our four steps is about.
Because you’ve already done the planning, you’ll find this much easier than just trying to somehow remember to find time to “do a bit of DJing”. You won’t be worrying about what to do, as your work is clearly marked in your calendar. You’re just going to do what you said you’d do.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t little tricks and hacks that’ll make it easier for you. Here are a few that work time and again for us and our students:
i. Have a dedicated DJ area that you never have to “break down”
Not everyone has this luxury, but if you can – do it. Just throw a cloth or sheet over your gear when you’re not using it. Wire it all in to one socket, so the flick of a single switch powers everything up. And don’t hide it away – have it in the room where you spend the most time!
Here’s one of our students, Jesse:
ii. Learn to DJ in just headphones, so you can do it any time or anywhere
If you’re lucky, your DJ controller may have a “split cue” option on it, which puts what normally comes into your headphones (the music you’re “cueing up”) in one ear, and the “master” (what would normally go through your loudspeakers) output in the other. It means you can DJ without speakers.
But even if your gear doesn’t have this doesn’t, it should have a knob marked “cue” and “master” that switches what is going on in your headphones between these two options. Whichever you have, get used to DJing with it. It massively widens the times of day or night you can DJ, especially if you have sleeping family in the next room!
iii. Consider buying some noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds
Often when, say, the family is watching TV, you may love to spend some time practising, auditioning tunes from your laptop or phone, or otherwise listening to music for your DJing – just like this DJ, DJ Birdy D:
This is golden time that you should make the most of – and one of the best things you can have is some noise-cancelling headphones, to let you to listen to music or work on your DJing in the same room as other noise going on. (They also work great when travelling of course.)
I have a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ear noise cancelling headphones that have great Bluetooth connectivity for listening to music, but also can be wired and indeed, I use mine for DJing (with the noise cancelling turned off), too.
But there are lots of choices out there. If you haven’t tried noise cancelling headphones, you really should – they are a great “hack” that I couldn’t live without.
iv. Make notes & update your calendar after each practice session
It doesn’t have to be an essay – just two minutes scribbling down how it went, what you did, what’s left to do, and thoughts that may have come up as you were practising. I have a simple pad and paper for this.
The point is to tie up any loose ends, get any fleeting ideas onto paper where they’ll immediately become a bit more “real”, and to give yourself a sense of achievement, too! This will also help you to plan better for future goals, and help you to understand the things you love doing and those that are a bit more of a challenge for you.
As you find tasks naturally take less or more time, and other tasks appear that you’ll need to do too, take time now to alter your calendar accordingly too, keeping it up to date with what’s needed to achieve your goal.
v. Go easy on yourself!
When things go right, celebrate them! Tell people, share your successes. But by the same token, go easy on yourself if things don’t go to plan.
Maybe after a session you felt like you didn’t achieve much, or found yourself procrastinating for some (or all!) of your session instead of doing what you knew you should have been.
Take comfort in the fact that creativity works in mysterious ways, and breakthroughs often happen when we least expect them. The truth is that even the most enthusiastic DJ has days when he or she is not “feeling it”. That’s fine. Remember that this is your hobby, not some ominous challenge!
So take a deep breath, smile, and start again tomorrow. Oh, and if you really don’t feel like practising? Here’s a little trick to try: Just get started, and promise yourself it’s only for 10 minutes. If you still don’t want to do it after 10 minutes, then stop. Make that deal with yourself, and more often than not, you’ll complete the session.
OK! Now you’re well on your way to achieving a DJing goal, the first of many. But the next step is also crucial, because in a way, it’s the glue that holds everything else together…
Step Four: Immerse Yourself In The DJing World
No, this doesn’t mean going out six nights a week. Let’s be realistic here. But the truth is that DJing and the wider music scene have a rich history and culture, and to get the most from your hobby and make the best progress, you need to tap into that.
Learning as much as you can this way will get you more enthusiastic about your practising – and practising will get you more enthusiastic about learning! It’s a virtuous circle. And the good news is, you can fit it into a busy life. Here’s how:
i. Subscribe to and use a streaming service, like Spotify
If you don’t have a streaming service, or you do but don’t make enough use of it, fix that. Streaming services like Spotify are the single best way of immersing yourself in the music you love, all the time.
Make sure you click the “like” button when songs stand out for you, because this means that the automatic playlists that the services build for you (on Spotify, “Discover Weekly” and “Release Radar”) will be more likely to be full of songs you like, all chosen for you, saving you immeasurable time.
The truth is you simply haven’t got the time to actively hunt down great new music in the way you would if you were a full time DJ – so whatever you think of algorithms in your life, this is one you should fix to work in your favour.
(By the way, TIDAL works with many DJ systems nowadays, and Spotify doesn’t – but I still stick with Spotify as I think its algorithms do a better job for music discovery, and it seems to work on more smart speakers and other equipment natively, too. By all means go for TIDAL – the fact that it works in DJ systems is a huge advantage.)
ii. Find ways to listen to your music everywhere
We’ve already talked about the genius of noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds. You can also get cheap, great-sounding Bluetooth speakers to have in your kitchen, bedroom, wherever you could potentially tap into your DJ music for a few minutes.
(We love the Minirig bluetooth speakers, which can also double up as portable DJ practice speakers, as they can be wired into your gear as well.)
You could also find music channels on your car radio, adding them to your presets. It doesn’t all have to be dance music – all music counts.
Once you have these things, make using them a habit. For instance…
I listen to music when exercising (I have a Garmin Forerunner 245 Music that lets me upload my Spotify playlists to it to listen to when out running, with no need to take my phone).
As I am the cook in our household, I also have a Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen.
And, I can listen to music quietly in the background at work, Shazaming any tracks that make me take notice, for investigation later.
In my case, just these three things mean I get to listen to music for my DJing for 10-20 hours a week, when I’m busy doing other things.
Do the same in your life, and you’ll soon notice your enthusiasm for music and DJing rising, and your music collection improving!
iii. Watch films, and documentaries about DJing, music and clubs
Do you binge on Netflix? Then binge on this type of Netflix content! Keep an up-to-date list of things you want to see (your DJing journal we spoke of earlier is a good place to write them), and ask for recommendations online if you’re stuck for ideas.
Also, don’t limit your curiosity to just DJ material – our currency as DJs is the music we play, and there is such a wide choice of music films, documentaries, biographies and so on out there.
iv. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks about DJing, clubs and music
Again, a quick Google search will throw up lots of choices. The advantage of this is that when you really don’t feel like listening to music (and it happens…), you can still listen to something to advance your hobby.
Again, the point of this is not to get direct DJing advice or learn about techniques and so on, more to enrich your understanding of the culture and history of music, dancing, venues, festivals, night life, musicians, and everything else associated with the hobby.
v. Buy related books and magazines
I love using a Kindle for this, as the recommendations of further books to read are often spot on, and you can buy books on a whim – perfect for when you’re on holiday with time to kill (I can get through half a dozen books easily on a two-week family holiday).
You can access Kindle books on your phone or tablet, too, so you don’t even need a dedicated Kindle – but Kindles are great in bright sunlight, and today’s also work with Bluetooth headphones and audiobooks.
But also coffee table-type books, especially photography from music scenes long gone, or books containing flyers and other paraphernalia that throw light on clubbing in other places or cultures, can really bring to life corners of our hobby that you may never learn about any other way.
I also subscribe to an app on my iPad called Readly that gives me hundreds of magazine subscriptions for a single monthly fee, and there are many music magazines on it including a real geeky synth mag I love called Electronic Sound…
vi. Use social media, but mindfully
Use it to your advantage by finding pages, groups and forums where other DJs hang out, and spending your time engaging in there rather than aimlessly scrolling.
Sharing your DJing hobby with like-minded people will help you to “make it real”, just like travelling with other people etches new places and experiences into your brain better than travelling alone. In other words, find a cohort.
And remember to give as well as ask. If you want people to listen to a mix you’ve done on Facebook, listen back and comment on other people’s first. If you want help, help someone else. give freely and you’ll get what you need.
I’ve put this at the end partly because I’m writing it in the middle of a COVID-19 lockdown, but mainly, because you’re busy and probably don’t get anywhere near as much opportunity to go out to clubs, festivals, concerts and so on as you’d like.
But that doesn’t mean never – so plan and enjoy those times when you get to watch DJs for real! Make the very most of them, and come back energised and full of ideas.
And remember, the quality and choice of livestreamed events available to sofa surfers nowadays is better than ever, with many of the big names beaming their sets right into your living room. It counts as study and research…
Now do it!
If you download the worksheet, choose a goal, figure out the steps, plan them into your calendar as lessons, and use all the tricks here to “do the work”, in 90 days, you’ll have achieved your first DJing goal.
The real power is in going right back to the start and doing it again and again. This is how to put structure on your DJing learning, and how to advance when you’re busy with countless other things in your life.
Try it – we’d love to hear about your successes.
Next Steps: 3 Ways To Take This Further
This article contains all you need to finally make progress in your DJing hobby.
However, if you’re looking for someone to help you go from where you are now to where you dream of being in your DJing, did you know there are three ways we assist DJs like you to do that?
One of them will be perfectly suited to help YOU to advance in your DJing:
The perfect casual/beginner DJ route – If you would describe yourself as a casual/curious DJ, take a look at our DJing Made Easy course. It is for super-casual DJs who just want to learn to be able to play a DJ set at, say, a party for friends, using a phone, a tablet, maybe a cheap controller – the very basics
The serious beginner/hobbyist route – DJed before but need to brush up on how it is done now? Had some gear for a while but not got as far as you’d like? Want to DJ in public one day, maybe even for money? Our best-selling and acclaimed The Complete DJ Course is for you
For the serious DJ wanting to stay on top of the game – Already a good DJ, but want to improve? Then consider a Digital DJ Lab subscription. Digital DJ Lab gives you training, workshops and coaching designed to keep you ahead in your DJing. It is 100% cutting edge material you won’t find in any of our courses
If you sign up to a course or programme from Digital DJ Tips, remember your DJing goal could simply be to complete some or all of your course. Indeed, combining the above method with a structured training course is probably the most failsafe way of improving your DJing in the next 90 days.
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Phil Morse is the founder of Digital DJ Tips. His DJ career has taken him from a 15-year residency in Manchester, England, to the main room at Privilege in Ibiza - the world's biggest club. He is also an award-winning club promoter, and has taught music tech and DJing since 2010. He regularly speaks at DJ seminars and events worldwide.
27 January, 2021
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