It's easier now than ever to learn to DJ and get started out playing tracks. There's more equipment, music and gig opportunities available for DJs than ever before. However, even in the dawn of the digital DJing age learning to DJ can still be a challenge. Here are seven of my top tips for new DJs that will help you get started on the right track.
Find a mentor
One of the most important things you can do to help yourself out as a DJ is to find a mentor. This could either be a private DJ teacher, or a teacher at a DJ course. It could be a friend who has been DJing for a while and is willing to show you some techniques on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Although there are plenty of great tutorials online, many people will still find it easier to learn to DJ from another experienced jock. In addition to showing you technical skills, they may be willing to share some of their personal experiences about gigging, DJ battles and more with you. As a bonus, they may also invite you to their events where you might have one of your first opportunities to play for an audience!
Your mentor will be able to help advise you on things like making equipment choices and show you the right way to scratch, mix and share ideas about how to DJ creatively. You will save a lot of time and money if you can learn the correct way to DJ from the get go. Mentors can be found just about anywhere, but you will need to seek them out. If you're lucky, you will find someone amazing who will teach you all about the exciting world of DJing.
Build a music collection
Every DJ needs to have an incredible collection of songs that represents their musical tastes. While many artists play only one sound, it's a good idea to be open minded about musical genres and include great tracks from every genre in your library. Building a music collection will take time and resources. Start from scratch and begin to dig for records on a weekly basis. Nowadays the majority of your 'digging' time will be online, and there's many sites that sell dance music including beatport.com, wasabeat.com, and www.junodownload.com/djdownload. You can also download exclusive remixes and tracks from sites like soundcloud.com and music blogs. It's likely in the future we'll see DJs playing tracks from streaming sites like Spotify but we're not quite there... yet.
For those who still prefer the good ol' fashioned trip to the record store, there's still a number of quality indie records stores in every city that need support. One of the main advantages of going to a record store is the staff, who are usually very knowledgeable about music and often times DJs themselves. They'll be able to refer you to hot tracks that just came out and recommend cuts you might not have heard. Sadly record shops are dwindling in numbers but it's still worthwhile experience to check them out. And it's still cool to have at least a few real records in your collection. Even if they're just for show.
Get with the Program
In my opinion, the best way to DJ in 2015 is to use a digital DJing software program. This will allow you to bring hundreds of gigabytes of music to your gigs and play them all. Though there are many DJs who prefer to DJ using USB keys, the disadvantage to this is it only allows you to bring a limited amount of tracks to your events. The two major digital DJing software programs are Traktor and Serato, although more are available including Flow and many others. Native Instruments Traktor is my personal digital DJing software program of choice; I appreciate all the effects inside the program, the low latency and its ability to be MIDI mapped to any controller. The best thing to do is to choose one program and master it. Ask your mentor to teach you all of the software's tricks, how to use the preferences, and how to set it up with your gear. In your free time, learn more techniques about how to use your digital DJing software program by checking out more articles and videos on AskAudio and AskVideo.
Get some Gear (not the cheap stuff!)
You are going to need some equipment to DJ and it's best if you can start off with something good. Before you buy anything, think about your own goals as a DJ; would you like to play in a club, on the radio, at weddings or rock the home scene? Are you interested in scratching or mixing? All of these choices will determine the equipment you should purchase. Talk to your mentor or the person who works in your local equipment shop and ask for their recommendations. Take the time to research online to find out what the equipment will cost and consider getting another job to save up if need be.
It's best if you can invest in a few pieces of quality pieces (or just one controller) that will last you a long time. Good brands to look for are Pioneer DJ, Native Instruments, Rane and Allen and Heath. The more you like your equipment, the more you're going to want to practice on it, so do invest in something that you really want. Make sure to take someone who can drive with you to DJ shop, it's likely the gear you purchase is going to be too heavy to walk home with.
Note: While it's good advice to start out with quality gear, in reality many great DJs got started off on a mixer that they bought in a pawn shop with their dad. Something is better than nothing!
Play with Others
Sara Simms & ENDO.
While DJing is often thought of as a one-man activity, no man is an island. DJing is a fun pastime that can be done in pairs or groups and there's much to be learned from playing with others. Find a DJ buddy (preferably one who is a little better than you!) and have a couple jam sessions. Some things you could do include: alternating mixing tracks, taking turns scratching, or doing something more musical like figuring out a way to perform your productions live together. This friend could turn into to someone who you could start a residency or mixtape series with, or better yet someone who could become your production partner.
Learn to Produce
If you're serious about DJing, then it's incredibly important that you learn to produce. This is just as essential as learning to DJ as your music becomes your calling card as a DJ. Many of today's popular DJs have started out as producers and became DJs later on in their career. DJing and production are still very different activities but are becoming interconnected these days with new innovations like Native Instruments Stems and production platforms like Ableton Live.
Be a Part of a Scene
Hardwell & Sara Simms.
The best way to become known as a DJ is be a part of a scene. When you're not practicing, hang out in clubs, go to see your favorite DJs play and get to know people. If you've got a real love for the music then everything else you need is going to fall into place if you make an effort. Do get to know promoters, other DJs, label owners, photographers and others who are at the parties. You're going to need all the other contacts you meet so do be kind to others and spread a little love. Most of all, have some fun while you're at it!