One of our core beliefs here at Digital DJ Tips is that anyone can DJ – it’s not hard. If you have music you love and want to share, the technical basics can be taught. But being a good DJ, in terms of technique, music selection, and professionalism, of course takes a lot of hard work.
So if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and can’t get past a roadblock in your DJing on your journey to “good”, here are tips that may get you unstuck:
Five Steps To Better Practice
1. Define your objective
What is it you actually need to work on? Do you need to get comfortable with your equipment? Do you want to mix without syncing? Would you like to work with acapellas?
When I was starting out, my objective was to “DJ for three hours without making a mistake”. That’s probably a good place to start out from. But whatever it is, set yourself a goal before you begin, and keep it in mind as you play – it’ll keep you focused, and only by doing this will you know when you’ve got there.
2. Pick your first song and press play…
It depends on your chosen objective, but I recommend making your practice session as close as possible to an actual DJ set. That means you start by putting on your first song, and pressing play. Song selections will then be made on the spot moving forward, picking from playlists or crates that you’ve packed prior. They are called “practice”, after all – not “theory”!
Recording your practice sessions is a great way to find out what areas you need to improve on. It will allow you to experience your set as an audience member, which is very different from listening to yourself as you mix. You’ll learn about your tendencies that you may not notice while you’re “in the weeds”: In my case, one of the things I realised was that I needed to take a step back from my mixer’s effects knobs and just let the music play.
3. Understand that practising isn’t always fun
There are some things that you need to practise more than others – maybe it’s a scratch that you’re trying to nail, or a transition between two songs that’s always given you trouble. Whatever it is, you’ve got to realise that while DJing is fun, practising to get better at DJing can also be difficult. You get better when you work on things that you aren’t good at – and failing repeatedly at something that you’re trying to improve on isn’t a great feeling. However, it is necessary – this is what separates great DJs from those who simply can DJ.
To keep practice sessions from feeling like backbreaking work, split your sessions into two: Practise what you’re already good at (which feels great), and then practise what needs improving (which doesn’t feel great). This retains the fun factor of DJing while still having ample time to work on your weaknesses.
Also, try to strike a balance between “repeating the same technique over and over” and “playing as if it were a real-life DJ set”. It’s important to stay focused, decide what you are practising, get it tight, and move on.
4. Listen back to your session
After you practise, take a break and playback your session to get an idea of what you’ve accomplished. Think about pace, and think about how you could improve the mixes that didn’t work. List transitions that you’d like to redo and tweak, making note of their timecodes so that you can refer to them next time.
If listening back to your own stuff seems like a pain or a waste of time, then you should work harder to make something that you are proud of – or just wait a while before doing so.
5. Don’t overthink it: J.F.D.I.
If you’re not sure what “J.F.D.I.” stands for, it’s a slightly ruder version of the “Just Do It” Nike slogan. It is also the most important piece of advice we can offer – don’t think, do. Practising and getting good gave me the confidence and the skills I needed to do what really matters – book gigs, see different cities, and make money doing something I loved.
I cannot emphasise how much easier DJing was for me once I started approaching practice sessions with the same diligence I had when I was practising to play the guitar. Too many people overlook the importance of practice and “doing the work”, which I think is due to the instant success / social media-driven culture that’s prevalent right now. Learning effective practice and establishing a consistent routine takes time, but once you’re used to it, progress comes quicker.
• Josh is a mostly-retired DJ and musician who has played in the UK, France and Spain.
Any practice tips you’d like to share? What’s the one thing that you always practise during a session? Share your thoughts below.