The 5 Steps To DJing Success, #3: Techniques

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 4 mins
Last updated 6 April, 2021

In this special series, I’m teaching you about the five steps to total DJing success, and in this video you’ll learn about Step Three: Techniques. (We’ve already covered how I discovered the steps, and the two previous steps, Gear and Music.)

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These are steps that I discovered after 15 years working as an international DJ and club promoter, and ten years running Digital DJ Tips – steps that I also wrote about in my Amazon bestselling book on DJing, “Rock The Dancefloor!”

Now these articles will give you all you need to learn DJing the RIGHT WAY – but they do assume you’ve grabbed yourself a FREE copy of the book. I told you how to get that at the bottom of the intro article, so if you haven’t been there yet, head over there now!

Step Three: Techniques

The five steps are Gear, Music, Techniques, Playing Out and Promoting Yourself. We’ve already covered Gear and Music, and today we’re talking about techniques.

One of the biggest issues we find as a DJ school in helping people master the techniques of DJing is trying to counter the over-importance novice DJs tend to put on them!

Let me teach you how to DJ: Discover my Complete DJ Course

What’s more, because many people wrongly think techniques are DJing (which of course, we know isn’t true – they’re just one of FIVE important areas a DJ needs to get right), there is a huge amount of conflicting advice out there, especially on YouTube.

Some DJs think that if only they could learn some of the flashy tricks they see performed in those super-popular five-minute YouTube DJ demos, then they’ll be able to do it – they’ll be DJs! Success!

Meanwhile other DJs, especially those longer in the game, argue that those “15 songs in five minutes” so-called tutorial videos are misleading, annoying and therefore no good to learn from, that they’re really only the DJ equivalent of what a video of the best bits of the most-watched videos from a porn channel might look like – and that actually, in the real world DJing is also, ahem, nothing like that!

The truth, as is often the case in these things, is somewhere in the middle.

Yeah, DJing has moved on from two turntables-and-a-mixer, and yes, modern gear has some neat tricks it’d be silly to ignore. But no, performing those tricks with no thought for the audience or for pacing things is clearly also misguided.

The most constructive way to approach it is to remember that DJ techniques are simply tools to help you do what you’re really there for – to play the right music, for the people in front of you, right now, track after track.

What to concentrate on

So what are the things you SHOULD learn? Here are three to get you started:

  1. Manual beatmixing – Being able to blend songs smoothly at similar BPMs is important, as it both allows you to use any type of gear, and lets you “take charge” if the tech lets you down. Some DJs love sync as it saves them time – but all competent DJs who use it know what to do when it fails.
  2. The correct use of volume and EQ – The single biggest mistake beginner DJs make isn’t to do with mixing, but simply not knowing the technique of keeping volume even when mixing, and not knowing which track is dominating in a mix at any one time. If you don’t know that, you’re simply not in control and it will show.
  3. Being able to confidently use headphones – Too many DJs simply come unstuck as soon as they’re in a venue where there is no speaker near to them (it happens, especially in the kind of venues DJs are likely to get big at near the start of their journey), finding they can’t beatmix or even perform effectively. Not good!

So what about all the tricks? Well, when it comes to the flash stuff, most of the best mixing DJs use just five or six simple, effective transitions – and a few variations – from song to song, time and time again.

Read this next: 8 Reasons Why Mixing Is Important For DJs

The real trick is knowing which one to use, when and where. A well mixed DJ set does not rely on hundreds of tools – it relies on a small number of techniques, used expertly and properly.

So in the book, we cover this carefully and so anyone can understand it.

I lead you through the vital mixer and deck controls, the importance of timing and counting when mixing, how to manually beatmix, five transitions that are enough to DJ any gig, and then – only then – do I move on to tricks using sync, hot cues, loops, filters, effects and so on – stuff that unless you get the rest right, is essentially pointless.

Also in the book, I link to a series of five videos to show you the basic transitions, properly. You won’t find those videos on YouTube, but they’re the stuff you REALLY need.

Two simple but effective tricks for all DJs

Now just to end off with, I want to give you two nuggets of advice:

One, always record your sets. Why? Because there is only one person in the world who DOESN’T hear your DJ sets the way they REALLY are when you’re playing them – and that’s YOU!

Mixes you thought flopped often sound fine! Mixes you loved, not so much. The truth is, you’re too involved in your DJing as you do it to judge how you’re doing.

The only way around this is to record your sets – every practice session, the lot.

Record them, and a day or so later, when you’ve forgotten what you did, listen back. You’ll soon spot where you’re doing well and where you need to practice – and you may be pleasantly surprised, realising you’ve been being too hard on yourself.

Learn more about my beginner DJ training: The Complete DJ Course

My second piece of advice is: Do not let any perceived lack of technique stop you playing gigs. If you can cut out the silence between two songs, you can play a DJ gig.

DJing is learned in public. You learn what’s really important with an audience. Trying to perfect your DJing at home is like trying to learn to play football alone in your back yard – it doesn’t work. To learn, you have to get on the field.

Seriously, once you master the basics, you’re ready!

Which is exactly where we’re going to pick up in the next article, as the fourth of our five steps to DJing success is Playing Out.

Check out the other parts in this series:

Please share your DJing techniques-related stories, thoughts, questions and feedback below.

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