• Sigma's basic guide to DJing right

    This is basically a re-hash of the guide I wrote for the old site. It's based on what I think is a good way to learn as it makes you a versatile DJ. I'm not saying it's the only way to learn nor the best way to learn. Make your own mind up about that.

    Is DJing for me?

    A lot of wannabe DJs ask themselves this question, while some people already know the answer. DJ equipment is expensive, so you want to make sure you're not going to be wasting your cash on a hobby that you'll give up on after a few months.

    I think it generally works out best when a person gets into DJing through love of music/wanting to be able to do what DJs do. Combine a passion for music and a passion to learn the craft of DJing and that usually leads to a person that becomes a good DJ. Wanting to get into DJing cos of money or cos "DJs get chicks" are valid reasons I suppose, but just make sure you think about your motivations before getting into this. If you have a friend that has DJ equipment, try it out and see how it feels, or go to a store that sells DJ gear and get the feel of some decks/a controller. Sometimes that's enough for people to know it's for them.

    What DJ gear should I buy?

    There's all kinds of combinations, but these are the main ones: -

    Turntables and a mixer with or without a DVS (Serato, Traktor etc.)
    CDJs and a mixer with or without a DVS
    A controller of some kind used with a laptop and software
    A laptop and software only

    Some people say "it doesn't matter what you use", but it does. Think about what you're going to want to do. For instance, if you want to learn to scratch or beat juggle, then a laptop and software only solution is no good for you. Don't get swayed too much by other people's opinions when it comes to the main category of equipment you buy. Sometimes your gut instinct is the right one, but do your research. Read up about the pros and cons of each piece of gear. Watch videos on YouTube of people performing with the gear you're thinking of buying.

    What are some good tips for buying gear?

    I tend to favour the "buy high end gear, buy once" argument. The pros of buying high end gear are that it'll last you for years (maybe forever) and if you ever need to sell it, the depreciation is lower than it will be with some cheap "DJ in a box"-type setup. The cons are the initial outlay of course.

    Do your research! There's nothing worse than spunking money on a piece of gear you turn out not to like cos you didn't research it enough. I've made that mistake.

    Buying second hand can be a good way to get high end gear for a good price, but the old adage of "if it's too good to be true it probably is" applies. If you buy second hand, check the description of the items in detail. Ask for more information if you need it. Pay using a method that offers you some protection. If you can check out the gear in person, even better. Sometimes a crazy bargain does pop up, but remember that there are scammers out there who will gladly take your cash and deliver you nothing in return, so don't get suckered in.

    Also, some gear is better than none. You may be young and have very little income, so if a DJ in a box setup or very cheap controller is all you can get, then get it. It's a start. You can learn the basics and what you learn will translate over to the high end gear.

    Is there anything I can do before I own my first setup?

    Yes! Start building your music collection. Read up on the theory of DJing and the main skills you'll need to learn. If you understand the theory, you can start putting it into practice once your gear arrives. Watch videos on YouTube of other DJs performing. Listen to some mixes done by skilled DJs that are mixing the kind of music you'll be mixing. All of this not only gives you something to aspire to, you can analyse what they are actually doing and that will help you.

    What are some tips for building a music collection?

    There's 2 schools of thought: -

    1. Buy music that you like. You can't go wrong with this. Try and buy music in high quality (it's debatable what "high quality" is, but don't cheap out on really low quality MP3s or pirate them). If you can get acapellas and instrumentals of tracks, all the better. Even if you can't see a use for them now, you will later on.

    2. Buy music that's useful for the kind of gigs you'll want to be playing. There's nothing wrong with this attitude either, as long as you know you're not wasting your money.

    I think an "all killer no filler" attitude is best. I would rather have 200 killer tunes in high quality than 10,000 random tunes pirated off the Internet in mixed quality. Be selective.

    What's some good "beginner mixing music"?

    Some genres/tunes are easier to mix than others by nature, but start learning to mix by mixing music you like. You'll have more drive to learn if you're actually enjoying the music you mix, so don't worry about difficulty level when it comes to the music itself.

    How do I start? What are the basics?

    The technical basics of mixing are these: -

    1. Levels. You adjust the levels of tracks, usually using the gains on your mixer, in order to make sure that one song doesn't drown out another or is way too quiet. Use a combination of the LEDs on your mixer and your ears.

    2. Beat-matching. This is where you use the pitch controls on your equipment to get the 2 songs playing at the same BPM. It's vital in mixing music. Some DJ software will do this for you, but if you never learn to do it manually, you can never use gear that doesn't have auto-sync. Think of it like only being able to do basic maths by pulling out a calculator, rather than learning your times tables. Opinions on this differ, but if you can beat-match manually, you can use pretty much any piece of gear. If you can only use auto-sync, you can't.

    3. Phrase matching. A track is broken down into phrases. A phrase is where something about the music changes. For instance, a song may start with 8 bars of beat, then a bassline kicks in. The 8 bars of beat is your first phrase. When you mix, you're trying to line up phrases from 2 or more different tracks in a way that sounds pleasing to the ear. Good phrase matching skills are also vital.

    4. EQing. Using the EQs on your mixer allows you to adjust the highs, mids and lows for individual tracks. For instance, you may want to lower the bass on an outgoing track to avoid bassline clashes with the incoming one. While I would concentrate on points 1-3 above more than EQing at first, it's still something you're going to need to learn. Don't just twist an EQ knob for the sake of it! Play around with the knobs on your mixer and listen to the effect they have on the music. Use EQs for a purpose, not cos you think "if I don't turn this knob, it'll look like I'm not doing much up in the booth!".

    So, yeah, how do I literally start the very first time I use my gear?

    OK, so you understand the 4 basic points I mentioned above, therefore a basic mix would work like this: -

    1. Set the gains for track 1 and play it.
    2. Cue up track 2 in your headphones and set the gains.
    3. Beatmatch track 2 in your headphones, adjusting the pitch to get the BPM as close as you can to the other track.
    4. Cue up track 2 again and bring it into the mix at the right time, paying attention to the phrase matching.

    I've ignored EQing there, but that's how most people would start out.

    My mixing sounds awful! What am I doing wrong? Should I just quit?

    There are VERY few people who can never learn to be DJs. ALL DJs sound terrible at first. Your beat-matching skills will suck and it may take you ages to get 2 tracks at the same BPM. You may not even be able to do it in time before a song runs out. You may bring one track in and it's too loud. You may get the phrase matching all wrong and get vocal clashes etc. All of this stuff is totally natural and part of the learning process. You don't pick a guitar up for the first time and play like Hendrix. You learn the basics of holding the guitar right, plucking the strings, playing your first chords. Don't give up cos you're not as good as you want to be in a certain amount of time - understand that it takes a lot of practice and be realistic, then you won't be as frustrated.

    What are some tips for getting better?


    1. Practice! Practice is key. Time spent on your decks makes you better. Reading theory on forums helps for sure, but once you understand that theory, only practice makes you better. Put the time in and you'll get good. Don't and you won't. It's that simple.


    2. Listen to mixes from skilled DJs and watch YouTube videos. As I said above, having someone to look up to is good. It gives you a goal. It also means you can break down what they're doing and try to emulate it and that helps you to learn.


    3. Record your practice sessions and listen back to them. Once you're at the stage where you're stringing short mixes together, start recording your sessions. Listen back to them and try and be critical. Identify your weaknesses and work on getting better in those areas. Being able to critically analyse another DJ is a skill in itself - not everyone knows good from bad as it's not something you inherently know - so all the time your "DJ's ear" is improving.


    4. Post mixes on here! Getting feedback from your peers can be really helpful. If you have not yet developed that "DJ's ear" then you may not be able to critically analyse your own mixes very well. Other DJs will be able to and they can tell you what you need to do to get better. Take negative criticism on the chin and learn from it. No matter how good you are, someone will say something negative about you, but it's about taking what people say, listening to your own mixes, and combining all of that to make yourself a better DJ.


    How do I know when I'm ready to start gigging?


    Most of the time you just know. Don't listen too much to your best friend who says "you're dope man! The best ever!" cos they're probably just being nice, but if you're getting good feedback on DJ Forums and you feel confident about taking that next step, then go for it.


    What skills do I need for gigs? What tips can you give me?


    I'd break it down like this: -


    1. Take gigs you feel you can do. It sounds obvious, but try and find gigs that you're suited for in terms of the music you spin and the experience you have. Visit the bar/club and see what kind of people go there and what the other DJs are playing. You'll get an idea of what works for that audience. An "I will educate these people!" attitude almost never works unless you're putting on your own night and trying to draw a particular crowd to you! Most of the time, it's you that has to fit in for the given audience, not the other way around. If you don't want to compromise yourself in terms of the music you spin, don't take the gig. That's fine too. Get in where you fit in and you'll be good.


    2. Track selection is king. Great tracks/no mixing is better than horrible tracks/superb mixing every time. Try and be the best you can in all areas as that's what separates the average from the great, but make sure you have the tunes to rock the place and you'll be good, even if your mixing is lacklustre.


    3. Don't focus too much on mistakes. If you make a mistake while mixing, don't spend ages trying to correct it. Just move on and forget it. People in the club aren't analysing you in the same way that you're analysing yourself.


    4. Be professional. If you want to be asked back to the club, try and be professional. That doesn't mean not drinking or whatever, but don't get blasted and make a twat out of yourself, haha.


    Is there such a thing as "cheating" in the DJ world?


    Not really. There's just good and bad practices. If you mime to a mixtape, then someone will eventually see through that and you'll also feel like a fraud the whole time you're doing it. If you use auto-sync, you are not cheating. You are making use of the tools that are available to you, but at the same time, if you haven't put the time into learning to beat-match manually, you are limited to certain equipment/software. I don't tell DJs to learn to DJ a particular way just because I did it that way. I try and tell them the methods that I think will make them the best DJ they can be. I want people to be better than me. I like to watch n00bs progress from struggling to playing regular gigs. My motivation is solely to try and turn n00bs into good DJs, not to push some kind of agenda based on biases.


    And who are you to tell me what to do?


    I'm not the most experienced DJ on here, nor am I the best. I have 20+ years of experience with DJing on and off (mostly off to be honest, haha). I am really passionate about DJing and wanting to get n00b DJs off on the right path and that's why I wrote this. I don't mean the term "n00b" to be derogatory. I just mean "new to DJing" or "thinking about being a DJ". We were all n00bs at one point.
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