How To Start DJing
This is my take on how to start DJing, this guide will cover most aspects that revolve around the art of music mixing. In the early 80’s, Greg Wilson was one of the first DJs to mix live on TV. The UK DJ embraced the American approach of DJ Mixing. Since the early 1940’s experimentation with turntables and in search of techniques for continues playback where the first steps of what would later launch careers to the moon and back. Today with top-end technology both in hardware electronics and software, we are spoiled in every way possible, sometimes too spoilt to delve into the fundamentals of what DJing is all about.
In this guide, we will discuss:
The Concept of Djing
Using DJ Effects
The Learning Process
The Concept of DJing
Long story short, Track A plays out, Track B mixes in. It’s not as simple as it sounds, neither is my earlier statement correct.
I’ll start in the middle, the concept of Djing is… Well, you are a story-teller. You entertain, spend days selecting tracks, spend months or years perfecting your skills, spend a considerable amount of time doing all the little “random” but important things like promotions, content creation, collaborations, and marketing etc. If you are fortunate enough you manage to them yourself.
DJing is both technical and creative. Cueing a song, triggering play on the first beat, beat matching with precision, and leveling the tracks are a few technical aspects. The mix, levels, multi-effect processors, onboard filters, looping functions, are a few creative aspects. Track after track, you build your story, the crowd follows you along a journey, by the end of it, most if not all would have a story to tell, a memory made, a great night out, and they will always come back for more.
Let’s go back to the start now.
Where do you start? There is no right or wrong way to start, it all depends on you. There is a “taxation” involved, an investment, this part is significant, do you invest time or money? I learned its a bit of both. You will need to check out what exactly is an industry standard at the moment.
For the last 20+ years, Pioneer has pioneered in the DJ realm. They are not cheap but are worth every penny. An industry standard set can set you back 5-7kUSD, and this is the best way to go about it;
1. You show commitment.
2. It is what most club/bar/radio etc. would have, so it makes sense to learn about on these setups.
In doing so the time investment drops. Think of time as a cost here, associate time spent as money spent. Then you are better off investing in top end gear and accelerating the time from getting from point A to point B, and not spending fewer dollars and reinventing the wheel at every iteration of gear you come across.
In saying that, let me contradict my self; if you are fine with spending time (you are on a budget or 8 years old), then you can get gear for a lot less and then spend years shuffling through till you get to where you want to. All in one kit are actually a great start, some are actually priced quite well, but again you get what you pay for. Like any hobby, it is expensive.
When learning how to become a DJ: mixing, EQing, phrasing, beatmatching, and preparation are a few skills to qualify one as a DJ performer.
Beatmatching is to get two or more tracks you’re mixing to play at the same tempo (speed) and are in-phase. Beatmatching is a skill on its own, it helps to tune in your ears, it’s a great brain exercise, many benefits to the mental and psychological activity of your brain/soul.
Phrasing or sequencing
Every song has a structure, a phrase here is a musical term, a piece or a block of a song, all blocks consist of 8 bars. A bar has 4 beats, so 32 beats in a phrase.
Besides beat matching, you will need to align the sequences of the tracks, beat for beat, a bar for a bar, otherwise, the mix won’t make sense. Most club/radio music falls under a 4/4, four to the floor type, from techno to hip-hop to UK 2-step Garage, they all fall under the 4/4.
Volume is such an oversight today, believe me, it’s crucial. Let’s take any track, your favorite track now, it sure has some loud parts and some less loud parts, now that track it has a level, that level is important to keep up and sustain from track to track.
Imagine you mix in a track that is much louder or softer than the track played out to the audience. If it’s softer the energy dropped and you get awkward looks, if it’s louder, the energy and vibe get mangled you are in the “red zone” and you get awkward looks again. Gain control is not rocket science, but if you misuse or abuse it, you may be forgiven but not forgotten, don’t be that person.
Most DJ mixers have a 3 band or even a 4 band EQ Filters on them, generally a low, mid and high filter. The goal here is to have a seamless transition of frequencies between the tracks. Another goal is to be used as an effect, mildly boost or severely cut some frequencies for the duration of a few beats, if the genre, mixing style or character permits, Richie Hawtin has perfected this style.
When using an EQ always remember this “balance”, if something is added, something else must be removed, to keep that balance, no conflicts, a pleasant and sweet approach to mixing. Mastering different Equalisation DJ techniques is a great way to express your self creatively.
Using DJ Effects
Again most mixers today, besides filters, they may have onboard effect engines, some reverbs, delays, phasers. These are sweeteners, are important but to get to this level where you got the time and mindset to “mess about”, that means you have mastered the fundamentals (cueing, beat matching, phrasing, volume, EQing).
Applying effects to a mix or at any point in a performance is a great way to “mess” around with the energy, vibe, un-expectancy/concentration of the audience, a great creative a surprise factor, less is more here, overusing effects usually deteriorates the story and loses its point.
Well at this point you started out and with the right amount of practice and mentorship you made it into ‘bed club’ bedroom DJ sphere. A great platform to start if you ask me, but it is quite lonely, and the urge to share your creations and energy is bigger than these confinements. Well, today there are myriad of ways to get the word out on the streets.
Mixcloud type of services can offer a great avenue for self-promotion, feedback, and a way to be heard, and with some luck, the right people can take you to the next level. Creating a digital mix is not difficult at all, mixer out into a recording device or a laptop and you are good. If Mixcloud type services are not your thing (which they should be, don’t be picky, you are competing with millions of other content creators that share more, create more than you, so get with the times), another rewarding opportunity is an online radio station, thousands of them, big and small always looking to fill out empty radio space, having a weekly or a monthly DJ show is always a great way to commit your self and test the waters.
In the physical world, it’s a recipe that has gone on for decades, put a mix on a CD, USB stick, cassette tape, whatever you fancy, and hit the venues, talk to people, take with you a couple of copies, hand them to the venue owner, the night organizer, the event promoter, the DJ, etc… Of course do your homework, find out if your sound fits the venue, the event promoter etc…
Be realistic, find smaller venues to start, and build your name and confidence, it’s one thing to DJ in front friends at home it’s another to do it live in a club full of strangers. Take every opportunity here, physical and digital, never pass anything, you can’t afford to. Create, share and love what you do, every step of the way; it builds character.
The Learning Process
Some self-promotion, well not entirely true. If you were blindfolded in a dark room and asked to find the door, it would not only take you a really long time to find it, maybe you won’t even find it, you just quit, get restless, panic and start attacking the walls. What if in this scenario, you had a guiding voice, what if that voice had a light too? What if you were able to consume years of professional DJ experience in a “structured” course environment? How fast would you learn? pretty fast. Now imagine 15+ years of DJing experience, industry standard equipment to practice on, with the mentorship, guidance, and care of a professional… wouldn’t that be a faster, more accurate, more efficient way of learning and getting from point A to point B? Most likely the answer is YES. It’s always beneficial learning from an expert, with a small group of like-minded people. If you want to learn how to DJ, then check out what we put together at GRANULAR.