I was recently chatting with Mojaxx over at DJcity about the new Numark NS4FX DJ controller – a reasonably well-featured, mid-price ($499) controller for Serato DJ software. His view of it was a bit less rosy than mine, mainly because he pointed out that to upgrade the supplied, cut-down version of Serato to a decent “pro” version costs a full $299 extra.
I was shocked – I hadn’t realised the cost of the software had drifted up so much over the years, and it go me thinking about the “hidden” cost of DJ software, especially from a beginner’s point of view, for whom of course added cost has to be weighed up carefully against reward.
It’s not just Serato. Virtual DJ, for instance, has always been expensive to buy ($299 is its current price, and I think it cost not far off that 10 years ago). It’s not just the price itself, either, but also how you pay: Rekordbox and djay Pro AI are subscription only, and of course some people hate paying subscription for anything.
So in this article, we’ll look at how much you’ll be expected to spend on DJ software over and above the cost of your equipment, how things have changed over the years, and where this may all be going. We’ll also give you tips for making your money go further.
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Prefer me to talk you through this? In this video, a recording of a live show from the Digital DJ Tips YouTube channel, I talk you through everything in this article, and we take questions from our community too on the subject.
Why do DJs need software?
It’s a good question and one non-DJs often ask, because of course, if you’re just playing records, you don’t need software at all.
And in fact, you still don’t necessarily need software to DJ on modern DJ gear. You can throw a load of music files onto a USB drive and DJ on club gear quite happily, and more pro DJs still do that than you might imagine.
Read this next: What’s The Best Software For DJs?
But even if you’re not interested in laptop DJing, nowadays it is still a good idea to use music preparation software to get your tracks ready for the DJ gear you’ll be playing on, to build playlists, and generally to make the most of that gear.
And if you want to use DJ controllers, DJ with DVS (digital vinyl systems), or just use all the advanced features of modern “laptop” DJing that only software can provide, then DJ software is a must.
What does DJ software cost?
For just preparing your tunes to play “standalone” without a laptop, it costs nothing – both Rekordbox (for DJing on Pioneer DJ’s “standalone” gear) and Engine DJ (Denon DJ and Numark “standalone” gear) are free for this purpose.
But as soon as you want the “full experience”, with no or few limitations, the costs quickly mount up. Looking at the top five platforms, the costs are:
- $299-$399 outright or $12-$15 a month (Serato)
- $9-$30 a month (Rekordbox)
- $299 outright or $19/month (Virtual DJ)
- $99 outright (Traktor)
- $49 a year (djay Pro AI)
Now of course, manufacturers of DJ gear do not want you to have to pay any more to get their gear working when you buy it. So hardware always comes with some way of DJing without you paying more.
Expensive DJ systems generally “unlock” a full or a very good version of the software they are made for, because the cost of the software is effectively folded into the cost of the hardware.
(Beware, though, that usually the software is only “unlocked” when the gear is plugged in to the computer running the software – if you want the “full” experience in all situations, you’ll still need to buy the software at some point.)
When it comes to cheaper controllers, the software you get can be severely cut-down (here’s looking at you, “Serato DJ Lite”), that really compels you to put the “pro” version on your wish list right from the off.
What do you get for your money?
This isn’t a review of the software platforms, rather a look at the pricing, but there are definitely nuances in what you get for your money that are worth exploring.
- With Serato DJ Pro, for your $299 or $12 a month you get what we consider to be the minimum “full” version – but you’ll have to pay $399 / $15 a month if you want the video and DVS additions, too. Serato is really expensive to buy, but to rent, one of the cheaper options. Master everything the software has to offer with Serato Made Easy
- With Rekordbox DJ, it’s subscription only. Pay $9 a month (“Core”) and you may just find you have all you need (cheaper Rekordbox controllers unlock a version similar to this too). Otherwise it’s $15/month for “Creative” (good enough for most people), or $30/month for Pro (full cloud features in conjunction with Dropbox, plus a basic editing package for creating your own re-edits). Get a deep dive into the software with Rekordbox Made Easy
- Over to Traktor, and for your $99 outright you get the whole thing, no ifs, no buts – though nowadays it does lack a lot of what Serato and Rekordbox have to offer. Learn to use it like a pro with Traktor Made Easy
- Virtual DJ again gives you the whole thing for $299 (or $19 a month), and you get a lot of cutting-edge features for your money, albeit for a price. See these features in action by clicking here
- Meanwhile djay Pro AI is $50/year, which gets you both the iOS and the macOS versions under one licence. We only really recommend this for Apple users nowadays, even though there are Windows and Android versions, but for this money you get a very powerful dual-platform package. Learn more about the software by clicking here
Are users being ripped off?
DJ software has brought DJing forward in leaps and bounds – key sync, beat sync, cloud music, video, visuals, studio effects, multiple decks, samplers, sequencers, editors, lighting control… the fact is that research and development costs money.
If you want enough of these things to justify the cost, and you’re happy with the payment model your software offers (ie subscription vs outright purchase), then you’re getting a good deal. But if you don’t see the value, and just want to “get DJing”, these prices can seem very high, especially for beginners.
It’s definitely worth thinking hard about how much of your money for DJing is going to be spent on software, so to help you to maximise your funds, let’s look at ways to get the best value when it comes to your DJ software spend.
6 tips for maximising your money
- Consider “hardware unlock” devices – higher-end gear unlocks Serato DJ Pro or Rekordbox Creative, but make sure you get all the features you want, especially with Serato, and consider whether you may want to use it away from your device
- When pricing up cheaper controllers, add in the price of a licence upgrade – Definitely in the case of Serato, whose “cut down” version is pretty limited
- Look out for sales – Join the mailing lists of the companies that make the software and see if they offer sales, for instance at Black Friday time – there’s no guarantee of this, but you can often save a lot of money this way
- DJ without DJ software – Rekordbox standalone gear and Engine DJ-enabled gear will all give you a modern experience without needing to invest in a DJ software platform, with you simply using the free versions of the respective platforms for preparing your music
- DJ with free DJ software – Mixxx is an open-source DJ platform that costs nothing. Sure you’ll need to jump through a few more hoops, and you may not get all the features you desire, but hey, it’s free. If you like open source, this may be for you (and it works on Linux, as well as Mac and windows – something none of the other platforms can claim)
- Switch platforms – Vote with your feet! If you don’t like the pricing where you are, go to a platform that has a better mix of features for your money, or that is just plain cheaper (Traktor is easily the cheapest of the “big four right now, at just $99)
So where is this all going?
We don’t have a crystal ball, but we think it’s pretty obvious that subscription is the way DJ software is going, as with all software. Serato now prioritises subscription, Rekordbox and djay Pro AI are subscription only, Virtual DJ has that option too, and only Traktor is holding out.
We also think you’ll see more cloud add-ons: Rekordbox’s top tier is in fact a Dropbox collaboration giving you unlimited Dropbox storage for your tunes, accessible on top-end Pioneer DJ gear from the cloud. We expect to see more companies offering their take on this.
Finally, don’t be surprised to see packages that include music. With all music online nowadays, and all DJ software adding cloud features, it is only logical for companies to be working on “DJ software plus cloud plus music” packages, where you pay one monthly fee for the lot. Virtual DJ already has a top-tier business DJ package that includes music.
Learn to DJ using ANY set-up: The Complete DJ Course
One thing’s for certain: For the majority of DJs nowadays, DJ software is part of their lives. So it does pay to fully understand what you’re getting, and what you’re paying for it.
So what do you think? Do you think DJ software is too expensive? Is it priced fairly for what you get? Or are the DJ software companies in fact underselling, and do you expect to see prices rising further? Let us know your thoughts in the comments…