Learning to DJ
September 28, 2005 9:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in learning to be a DJ.

I've always thought that being able to mix properly would be great fun. Are there any online tutorials that can get me started with the basics (or more advanced concepts)? Also, is there any good (free) software available? I'm not interested in dumping down cash for equipment at the moment, so if there are any software only solutions, that's ideal. Thanks!
posted by awesomebrad to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Even if you find a software solution it's like being taught to play the guitar using a keyboard. Sorry, but you'll need at least a cheap turntable and a sizeable vinyl collection (50-100). You don't need top of the line equipment but you do need the equipment to learn properly.
posted by geoff. at 10:29 PM on September 28, 2005

well, part of beat matching is listening, so while any software experience will not be equivalent to building muscle memory by actually grabbing and cueing vinyl, you may be able to get a feel for adjusting pitch and finding cue points.

More importantly, you'll find out whether you feel like dropping the cash on a setup AND the records to play on your gear, the latter cost, of course, will eventually dwarf any initial outlay you might make on decks if you are at all serious about DJing.

I don't know of any software solutions offhand that are free, but I don't doubt they exist, and will at least be a reasonable start for you. Similarly, I have seen DJ technique books and I'm sure there are DJ technique websites. Ideally, you'll have a friend to play with, and possibly "back to back" with, as you'll want to listen to what a GOOD mix is, if you don't know already.
posted by fishfucker at 11:12 PM on September 28, 2005

that said, i'd compare it more to a CD dj moving into vinyl djing than a guitar player picking up the piano.
posted by fishfucker at 11:13 PM on September 28, 2005

Books? Videos? Bleh. Unnecessary.

1) Get yourself a semi-decent pair of decks, a pair of monitors, good (this cannot be underestimated) headphones, and a mixer. Get direct drive decks-- you'll learn bad habits on belt drives, which you'll have to train yourself out of later.

2) Buy records. Lots of records. Fair warning: it's black crack, and the decks are your pipe.

3) Play.

4) Repeat #3 until you go insane.

That's pretty much it. If you want to really teach yourself about clever mixing, your best bet is to start with techno. Because it's rhythmically-based, as opposed to melodically, it'll help you figure out when a good time to mix is (and you can really only learn that by ear). Simplest way to learn to beatmatch is to have two copies of the same record. Leave one playing, and learn to push the first beat of a bar (from the second deck) perfectly on top of the first beat from a bar on the other one playing. Once you get that under control (and despite how simple it sounds, it does take time), then start trying to match the beats. Set the first record playing at plus or minus a few percent, and try to match the second to it. Trust me when I say this is easiest with two copies of the same record.

You'll also want to go out and see/hear as many DJ's as possible. Be that trainspotter by the booth, watching how they organise their vinyl, how they handle it on the decks. Listen while you watch; note that X action on the mixer sounds like Y over the speakers. Pay attention to how DJ's put together sets.

And practice, practice, practice. ~1-2 hours a day.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:29 PM on September 28, 2005

Oops, forgot. Step 1 will cost you a minimum of $1K.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:30 PM on September 28, 2005

i posted this awhile ago...there's a this decently great free virtual turntable program that is decent. Probably not as good as traktor or expensive programs or real turntables, but if you're just practicing some beat mixing, this program is perfect.


programmed by an artist named "subi" from the monotonik net label.
posted by EvilKenji at 12:02 AM on September 29, 2005

I really have to urge you against using a computer program to learn mixing. It's absolutely nothing like having your actual hands on actual records (products liek Final Scratch, of course, are the exception).
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:21 AM on September 29, 2005

I have to agree with what everyone's said here. You can't learn to be a DJ without DJ equipment.

However, you don't need to drop a bundle on a pair of 1200s. Stanton sells some very cheap direct-drive turntables that are fine to learn on. Combine with an inexpensive two-channel mixer, and you're doing alright.
posted by Jairus at 12:47 AM on September 29, 2005

I'll agree with all the others....don't do it on a PC...

Borrow some gear, go and see a friend with two turntables...buy two copies of the same record - a good intro to beat matching and cutting i to get them sounding like one record...I taught someone to beat match in an hour this way (with Raze - Break 4 Love fact fans)

Then just get out there and enjoy it...I remember playing my first night 20 years ago - and no amount of practice will help you when its time to choose the tracks for the party.

Spend much much more time buying and listening to music than practicing your beat matching - honestly, no-one really cares if you can mix for toffee, if you play good tunes - all will be forgiven.

You can buy DJ equipment pretty cheap on teh Ebay - or even cheap electronics shops do small setups for working on at home. I DJ twice a week - sometimes three times - for 5/6 hour sets...and I only have one turntable and one CD player at home - no mixer.
posted by mattr at 2:05 AM on September 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Everyone will tell you to get Technics 1200s.

I have one of those and a Stanton, and i like the Stanton much better (more responsive, less prone to skipping on the backspin)

Note also that beatmatching with a CD mixer is a lot simpler than vinyl, and its not the easiest to learn one based on the other.

As long as you can get through a set without too many huge trainwrecks (i.e. mix two tracks without the downbeats matching up so theres a sort of wall of noise thing happening) then you're golden.
posted by softlord at 5:57 AM on September 29, 2005

I don't know anything about DJing with a computer (I would recommend against it), but at the risk of starting a flamewar, consider CD DJing. Depending on the type of music you plan to play, tunes may be just as available and the sound quality will be better. Also, it's a more portable format, and CD decks have come a long way. Check out Pioneer's models. Granted you can't scratch or backspin, but there are digital effects that can mimic these sounds.
posted by hyperizer at 6:03 AM on September 29, 2005

and the sound quality will be better

posted by Jairus at 7:41 AM on September 29, 2005

As someone who started out with 1200s (and a dinky Gemini mixer, w00t), I'd strongly suggest the CD decks as well. The higher end Pioneer units feel great, are almost as intuitive as vinyl in my experience, and its just so much easier to get started (with CDs you have, mp3s, etc.). I love vinyl, and will never get rid of any of the hundreds of records I have, but it's expensive and getting harder to find these days.
posted by kableh at 8:11 AM on September 29, 2005

and the sound quality will be better


I can verify that with 45s (which are typically pressed light and jankily) that CDs indeed sound like removing a pile of blankets from in front of the speakers when you're playing in a club situation.

12 inches, of course, are pretty much meant to be played in a club and sound pretty much fine.

i still think you can learn important skills by beat matching on a computer. Beat matching is beat matching, no matter how you learn it. You will still need to deal with all the fiddly bits that happen when you're working with records which you will probably find super-frustrating after working in an virtual environment, but you'll get an idea whether or not DJing is something that actually interests you and whether you want to spend any money on it. At some point, as everyone suggests, you will need to buy turntables.

There's probably a lot of kids out there with a "DJ IN THE BOX" kit sitting around that they don't use any more. Just yes, make sure they're direct drive. Several years ago I picked up a shitty setup for $250 (two direct drive stantons and a cheap mixer) that I simply plugged into a home stereo, and it'd be fine to learn a couple skills on, but the torque would make anyone used to 1200s cry.

ime, however, people who learn to mix well on shit can mix on ANY decks. people who learn to mix well on 1200s or similar have trouble mixing on anything that's not top of the line (because they're used to wholesale grabbing center of the record and twisting it in order to speed it up or slow it a little -- you do that on something without torque and your mix is going to go straight to shit)*.

* the other method i've seen, which appears to work better on those sorts of decks, is to run your finger across the dots on the side of the platter.
posted by fishfucker at 9:55 AM on September 29, 2005

I know its not what you wanted to hear, but like everyone said, as far as DJing as a real hobby, you are best off with real decks and not the software.

If you just want to make more elaborate mix-tape things for your friends, then software might do the trick, but to really get into the art of mixing, it needs to be more hands on.

Vinyl sounds the best, especially in clubs, but if you plan on doing serious music collecting, you'll have to think about the storage space required and how heavy that vinyl is if you're renting a place and moving often (a couple hundred is no problem, but once you reach 1000, its a bit more burdensome).

Technics 1200 are the industry standard for vinyl not only because of quality, but also durability. I've had a pair that have been used heavily for the past 10 years and I've never had to replace a single part. You should be able to find 1200s used for $200-300 a piece. Though like fishfucker said, if you do get started on shit decks, 1200s will seem much easier when you make the eventual switch to quality gear.
posted by p3t3 at 10:58 AM on September 29, 2005

If you're not as serious about being a DJ as most of these responders are, I recommend The Virtual DJ program by Atomix. It's a fun little virtual DJ program that will likely get you tossed out of a club, but it's easy to use and you can practice making mixes.
posted by monkeyman at 10:58 AM on September 29, 2005

My only concern with CD decks is that vinyl is sold explicitly with public performance licence, while CD's are not.

And playing out with downloaded mp3's? That's just wrong, in every sense of the word. It's one thing to download mp3's for your own private enjoyment, and another to go out and make money off them.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:13 AM on September 29, 2005

Also, checking your profile, it looks like you're at Brown University. You might also try getting involved in their student radio station.

It's not as "sexy" as mixing at a club, but they might have a club style setup in one of the studios for "urban" music type shows. You can probably use the spare studios to play around on and listen to music before getting your own show. You can also get started there by helping them review new CDs that come in. It's a great way to get lots of exposure to new music and increase your knowledge of both music and of professional audio equipment.

I got involved in college radio around the same time I started DJing and it was lots of fun. Plus I ended up co-hosting a weekly special techno/electronica show that had a good listener base and I've been fortunate enough to keep hosting with a few other local DJs even though we've all long since graduated (self-promo: it happens to be tonight/thursdays from 10pm-1am ET @ wcbn - the UofM Ann Arbor student station)
posted by p3t3 at 11:28 AM on September 29, 2005

My only concern with CD decks is that vinyl is sold explicitly with public performance licence, while CD's are not.

seriously? do you have backup for this? it could totally win me some bar bets, i'm guessing. that's pretty awesome. Is it only twelves?
posted by fishfucker at 8:44 PM on September 29, 2005

Given that CD's aren't sold as singles the way twelves are, and every DJ I know of who uses CD's just buys them at $major_music_store, I'd say so. Check the licencing information on any CD: not licenced for public performance.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:15 PM on September 30, 2005

Ah, sorry, I didn't mean backup that CDs aren't licensed for public performance, but that vinyl is.
posted by fishfucker at 1:38 PM on September 30, 2005

Huh, seems I'm wrong about that. Taking a quick surveyof my vinyl collection... The majority do actually prohibit public performance. Some--whitelabels included, obviously--don't mention anything on the record or the sleeve.

Thing is, though, any label selling vinyl like this (as opposed to full albums being sold in a standard music store) knows who is buying them, and knows that they're going to get played out. CD's sold at a standard music store aren't sold under the same assumption. That doesn't change the legality of the situation, of course. Hmm. I'm going to have to get in touch with some friends at record labels, see what they have to say.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:17 PM on October 1, 2005

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