DJ Tips and Tricks. A DJ typically plays records in a sequence to the entertainment of the listening audience. In recent times though, a DJ’s role has evolved slightly to include mixing and tuning the songs they play, but the role remains essentially the same: dishing out a carefully selected playlist to a teeming audience of gleeful listeners.
As a beginner DJ, there’s a lot for you to catch up with. As you begin to explore the world of DJing, it might feel so broad that you are unsure where to begin. There is most definitely a long stretch between you and the pro-level DJ, one that might seem too difficult to scale. But we all started out as beginners. There is certainly no shame in that, only hope.
Let’s face it, mistakes will definitely be made as you try to scale up the DJing ladder. Having watched a ton of beginner DJs fail and crash out early in their career, and yet others almost effortlessly go through the process, here are some 30 tips and tricks to aid your own journey – in no particular order.
- Determine your Music Sound
What sound gets your juices running? What music lifts your spirit? DJing is as much to do with your music taste as it involves your quality in handling equipment. Don’t worry, for now, about the sound others will like. The stunning diversity of sounds in the music world ensures that there is a market for every sound. Do you vibe only to alternative rock tunes? Electro? ‘80s hip-house?
Whichever music genre gets you going in the music dance world, go down that lane. Don’t worry about being quite specific; you can make a name for yourself in a particular music niche. As the music world is diverse, so too is the listening audience, and no niche has so few songs as to become difficult. Determining your taste early on will be the push you need to look past the challenges and keep learning. When you play music you love, you flow better in your role, and the audience feels it.
- Have Fun
Closely related to tip number one above, having fun is an important part of DJing. This is perhaps the most fun-oriented job you can ever hold. Music brings life. You have to tap into this life while DJing if you are to really get your audience to feel the music. When you are really into it, the crowd knows, and they just love it. Better your technique, follow your heart, and have fun.
- What Kind of DJ do you want to be?
If you are yet to ask yourself this question, then you are yet to get started on the path to professional DJing. With your sound decided, you want to focus on what type of DJing you will be doing. Are you gunning to become a mobile DJ, scratch DJ, club DJ, or house party DJ? Or do you intend limiting yourself to the role of hobbyist DJ who simply plays for a bit of fun? Not only will your answer be critical to your practice, it will be important as you consider your choice of suitable DJ equipment.
- Select the Right Equipment
Your DJing experience will very likely have started with a simple PC with a DJ software. Once you decide this is something you really enjoy, it is time to go for quality equipment that will make your learning more professional, and all the more easier. This is an exciting but delicate step in your career that you don’t want to rush into. Although it might seem easy, you can easily find yourself with the wrong equipment, one that doesn’t suit your style. Selecting the right equipment early on to suit your sound and targeted career path will aid your practice and professional growth.
A typical club DJ will be fine with standalone players, a mixer, and a laptop/controller. Intending mobile DJs will find DJ controllers combined with a laptop very convenient for their needs. With two decks and a mixer built into a single unit, and the added convenience of music playback from a thumb drive, this is perfect. Scratch DJs will need a set of players with solid jog wheels, and adjustable crossfaders to ease the switch from mixing to scratching. Turntablists will need turntables, a digital vinyl system, and a mixer with adjustable faders. While house party DJs will require multi players and a 2 channel mixer.
- Know your Equipment
The whole point of getting the right equipment for your style and job type from the beginning is so that you can get fully in tune with its functionality before your first gigs. Knowing your equipment goes beyond simply identifying all of the primary functions of the most important buttons. Some buttons, such as the shift button, might seem unimportant to the ignorant, but can go a long way to opening up a world of other functions. Learn the function of every single button, knob and key you find on your equipment. If they are too advanced for you at the moment, you can always come back to them later.
- Don’t get Hung up on your Mistakes
Your reaction to your mistakes will determine your progression path in no small way. It’s great to set a high standard for yourself, and it is important that you hold yourself to these standards. But you must avoid being too hard on yourself. Mistakes are a learning curve. Perhaps more importantly, there are no perfect routines. What you might consider a mistake – a drift from your standard procedure – might be considered a touch of genius by your listeners.
- Establish Good Habits
It is easy to develop some bad habits while learning to become a DJ, habits that stick with you as you grow in your career. For instance, many beginner DJs ignore the EQ button and VU meters while learning and carry on this habit into their professional life. Get to know your equipment inside out and learn the professional habits of top DJs from the beginning. This will be important to avoid equipment damage, and to improve your performance.
- Get into your Beatmatching by Ear
Yes, we know, auto Sync functionalities are present in modern equipment to make your life easier. This is an awesome feature and it will definitely come in handy, but you don’t have to get hung up on the functionality from the beginning. You will definitely find yourself in a position where a club equipment does not have the Sync functionality. Every DJ needs to master their beatmatching skills by ear. Even with clubs that have modern equipment, this skill might come in handy when there is a breakdown of the equipment and you have to use the backup.
- Maintain a Single Genre
Besides the obvious reasons discussed above for knowing your music preferences, there’s even more reason to stick to one genre of music when you begin. Learning to beatmatch by ear is a difficult process. And the process differs from one music genre and BPM to another. You can prolong your learning process infinitely by switching between genres. By learning to beatmatch perfectly in one music genre, you are better able to adapt your technique from one music genre to another.
- Count to Eight
With your beatmatching skills figured out, it is time to get your tracks lined up by counting the beats. The bulk of the dance tracks you deal with will come in counts of 8 and phrases of 4. When cueing your next track, the timing of the next beat matters a whole lot. The first beat of the new track should be played right on the first beat of the playing track. This is important if you are to get your mixes to be flawless. Those into theoretical music or dancing will better understand this, so you can speak to a friend who is into it.
- Get Obsessed with Music
A healthy obsession with music is a must if you are to push your DJing skills from beginner to pro. Take in music of all forms. Soak it in. Learn to understand the structure of different music types and genres, and develop your ear to take note of beat structures and timings. This will be important when you begin blending different music types into one big party hit.
- Learn to Scratch
Okay, this is a little bit on the more advanced side of DJing, but you want to have it in mind. Scratching is something that gets the audience gyrating to your tunes. But they don’t get to hear it often. Learning to scratch – at the right time and moment – gives you something different. Interestingly, you can scratch over any music genre. If you scratch too much, though, you will get your audience off negatively. Know how the scratch blends in with your music, and throw it in once in a while to give life to your beats.
- Record your Mixtapes
You need mixtapes. Many of them. As a beginner, you are not yet ready to record your professional mixtapes, but you still need them. Get your mixer, press record, and go. When that is done, go back and listen to your records. Now you know what your audience will hear if you had played this to them. This will help you decide where you may need improvements. You can also enlist your peers to listen and offer constructive criticism. When calling for peer review, be sure to avoid the temptation of editing the mixtape before sending it over; it defeats the point. Go on with this practice until you are happy enough with the results.
- Practice, practice, and practice some more
Think of the biggest DJ you might know, a role model you look up to, and think of how good they are by your estimation. None that comes to mind was born a DJ star. For many, DJing started out as a side practice in the confines of the bedroom, to the hearing of a few friends, for a few years. Some have gone on record to have practiced for over 3 years before debuting their first gig. While consideration will always be given to a beginner for a few errors, thoroughly honing your skill prepares you for a killer debut that leaves your name on the lips of your audience. This is the kind of launch you need.
- Get out of your bedroom
No, you don’t have to practice for 3 years before getting out of your bedroom. Practicing is important, hugely important, but you can’t tell just how good you are without playing in front of others. In their quest to hit the heights before debuting, many DJs keep limit themselves to the bedroom, never confident enough to get a second, third… or tenth ear. Don’t be like that! Use parties with friends as opportunities to show off your skills. This will give you a feel of playing for an audience. Being nervous is a given considering the step you are taking, but it will be one that helps you going forward. You can also watch the reaction of the audience to your performance, and take a few cues from there.
- Go get Some Inspiration
Every DJ needs a role model. Your interest in DJing is likely down to the performance of a particular DJ. Whether your inspiration is local or international DJ doesn’t really matter. Get as many of their mixes as you can lay your hands on. Listen to them and take note of their transitions, mixing styles, scratches, and learn from them. Add your personal touch to their skills and patterns, and set it off from there. If you are looking to add a new style to your repertoire, simply look for your favorite DJ with that style and learn from their mixes.
- Stay Away from Cheap Equipment
The desire to save on our expenses means that we often seek out the cheapest commodities when we go to the market. In DJing, saving on equipment cost through cheaper purchases does not necessarily equate cost saving. Getting premium quality DJ headphones, laptop, mixers, and other equipment will ensure you do not have to constantly replace them. Regardless of what the manufacturer says, the cheapest DJ equipment begin to give way in no time.
- Be your Biggest Fan
Why wait for others to rave about you when you can do that yourself? As your hands get stronger, publish it on Soundcloud and share the link. Tell everyone of the amazing mix you have put together to get their boring day out of a funk. Promote it, hype it. You will not be getting any attention without promotion, and you can’t expect any gigs without attention.
- Imitate your Target Environment
This takes us back to the question of your desired kind of DJ. For instance, if you are aiming to become a club DJ, you should know that the club environment differs massively from your bedroom. Clubs are darker, music volumes are louder, and distractions are more. Try imitating this kind of environment so it does not come as so much of a surprise to you when you first step into a club. Turn up the volume, turn out the lights, and use your dedicated DJ ear plugs. You will get a feel of the environment before you even step into it. You want to simulate whatever environment you would most love to perform in as a DJ so the change does not come as a massive surprise.
- Remain Decent
Egos don’t make it very far in the industry you are about to join. Although this is an important life trait, it is even more important if you are seeking entry into the DJing world. Make your mixes, thrill the audience, wow your followers, and get bigger and better gigs. In everything, stay decent and grounded. Remaining nice and approachable to everyone you meet and interact with will open more doors for you than you can imagine. You will be working with a ton of different characters in your career, but you don’t have to be the irritant.
Phone and laptop speakers are notorious for cutting off some vital part of the records you play on them. Low sounding frequencies below 200 Hz are mostly cut off and lost to the listener. Your DJ speakers are designed to pick up lower frequencies, which partially explains why they hit the low bass notes better than phone or laptop speakers. However, as you mix two same frequency sounds over themselves, they can get so loud that they distort the sound of your speakers. Equalizing balances these frequencies so that you can play two records over themselves without any distortions.
- Don’t Mess With the Faders
Knowing when to fade one track to let in another can be considered an art. Like scratching, this is a function that can get your crowd going, but it can also get them frustrated when used excessively. Use faders to tease the next track you will be playing by letting out a recognizable part of the track and quickly switching back to the playing track. This is an especially good practice for popular tracks. Avoid cutting off any vocals when fading. There is nothing more frustrating than having an interesting vocal cut short to the sound of kick-drums – which you may not even recognize.
- Vibe to your Songs
The DJs vibe can easily affect those of the crowd. A DJ who doesn’t get into the vibes of the records they play will find it difficult getting the crowd to do the same. Although you might find it difficult dancing and jumping around like you see your favorite DJs do on set, at the beginning, it is a practice that you should cultivate. Once you have mastered the basics of mixing and beatmatching, this should be gradually incorporated into your performance. Your positive energy and confidence rubs off on your audience and leaves club owners and promoters interested in your services again. This is one skill that is particularly important for you, if you hope to play dance music in live venues.
- Ask and you Shall Receive
I know just how scary asking for help can be. But your beginner days will be marred by a lack of personal equipment that can leave you in limbo before you even begin. Don’t be too shy to ask any of your DJ friends for their decks so you can practice. If you don’t know any such persons, solicit for help from friends who may know a DJ. Social media can also be a good place to get someone who will be willing to borrow you an equipment while you make plans to get yours. Just ask, you never know from where your help would arrive.
- Start with the Right Mindset
Lots of people rush into DJing, messing things up before they even begin. Going in with the mindset that this will be an extremely easy process is a surefire way to get yourself overwhelmed by the entire DJing experience. Still, believing it will be too difficult grinds you to a halt before you even begin. The key is to go in with a balanced mindset. Learning to DJ will not be a walk in the park, but it does not equate to climbing the Everest either. Prepare yourself that there will be challenges, but remain positive that you can always scale every challenge.
- Add Spontaneity to your Routines
Performing the same routine often and on can get you bored and tired, despite your best efforts. Learn to be spontaneous. As you master a new skill, view it as an opportunity to add even more spontaneity to your routines. Watch your mood and how your set makes you feel, then spontaneously decide on an action that can make it even better. This will come in handy when performing dance music in front of a crowd. You will need to switch things up, loop in parts of tracks to increase their lengths, or cut off tunes, depending on how you read the audience’s reaction to you’re a tune. And it can be the difference between an awesome night and a dreary one.
- Stay Out of the Red Zone
This is likely not going to happen when you are performing in your bedroom, still it is a tip you must not take for granted. When performing to a bubbling audience, you might switch to a tune that gets everyone on their feet. As you push up the volume levels to buy into this vibe, avoid pushing any of your levels into the red zone. The result will be a distorted sound that degrades the music and destroys the vibe. If there is a master volume, keep an eye out for it, and keep it away from the red using EQ controls or other level controls.
- Never Overdo it with Effects
Overdoing anything in DJing is always a big no. Effects can add an artistic touch to your performance, making your tracks seem that much more unique. It enhances your performance and can help ease the transition between records. But when you overuse your effects, they lose the special feel about them and become a redundant and annoying trait of your performance. Stutters, echo, filters, and any other effects that come to mind, when used only occasionally through your set, can give your performance new life.
- Use Careful Transitions
Imagine a DJ taking you abruptly from the thrill of techno to the boom of big band with no prior warnings. The drastic change in atmosphere can knock you off your groove and take the dance away from you, until you get used to it. Rather than making such drastic changes, transition carefully by playing a slow song or two that can give room for dancers to catch their breath before the change is made.
- Organize your Songs
Wherever you are playing – club, wedding, etc. – do not play the same style of song for so long. Have different carefully packed playlists that you can switch between at any time. There is no hard and fast rule as to how your organization should go. Most DJs choose to organize their songs by genre. Others prefer to organize them by mood, arranging them into categories that bother on the mood they demand of the audience. Similar to mood, some organize playlists into peak time tunes, warm-up tunes, new tunes, classic floor-fillers, etc. Find a categorization that works for you and swap the playlists as the night progresses.
Never Stop Learning
There are always new skills to be learnt, new techniques to pick up, or some new method to try. The moment you stop learning is the moment you stop growing as a DJ. And stagnation is closely followed by redundancy. Keep yourself fresh and your tunes hot by always learning. As a beginner, you will have to play around a lot before you find out what works for you. Even then, continue to try new things so that you can continue to improve.