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Written by: James Todoroski
Long ago, being a DJ was extremely difficult. Purchasing and learning to use turntables was expensive and difficult. Buying and hunting for records in record shops was expensive, tedious and when owning hundreds of vinyls, they were difficult to carry around. Nowadays, however, everything is simpler and more compact. USB’s and websites such as Beatport, Traxsource, and iTunes have changed the way DJ’s access their music. While technology as a whole has made Djing easier and more convenient, as a result, anyone can become a DJ. However, not everyone can become a great one. In this article, we’ll show you what you’ll need to begin with, and how to get on your feet as a DJ.
Start out small
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to fork out $5000 for CDJ’s and a Mixer to start out. Essentially, when in the beginning, the idea is that you learn the foundations of DJing before you jump onto expensive equipment. Learning how to beatmatch, use filters, effects and progressing your set is all the basic skills needed to learn how to DJ.
Popular YouTuber ellaskins posts regular videos of himself DJing. While he often uses CDJ 2000’s and an XDJ-RX controller, the principles of his teachings can be used on any set of decks or controller. Take some time to invest in a good controller, just to learn the basics. Some of the best value-for-money controllers include the Pioneer DDJ-SB Mk2, Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk2 and the Numark Mixtrack Platinum DJ Controller, with each coming in at or under $400 (USD).
Find quality music
Ripping tracks off of YouTube is easy and free, but every DJ in the world will tell you that’s a bad idea – and rightly so. When downloading a track off of YouTube, the website’s algorithm is programmed to cut all frequencies above 15kHz, as a result, your tracks will sound noticeably bad in any club or bar. In addition to this, stealing music off of YouTube is stealing revenue from artists.
Instead, head to trusted websites such as Beatport and Traxsource. These websites allow users to easily navigate around and discover music from a vast range of genres. Regardless of the genre you choose to play, take some time to scroll through the various subgenres and discover all that electronic music has to offer.
Know what you want to play
This is arguably one of the hardest things to do as an artist. With so many sounds and ideologies available at the touch of a button, deciding on the genre/s you choose to play is difficult. The main dilemma young DJ’s often face is deciding on whether to play what’s popular, or what they love. The answer is, there’s no straight answer. This decision comes with time and discovery. Go out and find clubs and bars you’d like to play at and learn their sound and what they play. You won’t find the answer on your first night, but the more you discover, the quicker you’ll develop a niche and a specific sound.
Practice your craft
Contrary to the beliefs of haters and non EDM-fans, DJing isn’t simply “button pushing”. DJing is a technical art form which requires skill and attention to detail. Once you’ve got yourself a controller, take a look at some of your favorite DJ’s and analyze how they mix their tracks. It’s also a good idea to go out out to local clubs and bars, and see how DJ’s mix their tracks.
Also pay great attention to their track selection. This is an area of DJing which is greatly neglected. However, there is no formula for this. It’s best to visit the venues you wish to play at and get an understanding of the vibe of the venue, and take notice of which tracks they do and don’t respond to. If you hear a track you really like, don’t be afraid to ask the DJ for the song name. Nine times out of ten, they’ll tell you.
In addition to this, YouTube channel ‘Digital DJ Tips’ is also a great place to look at. Hosted by Phil Morse, a DJ of 30+ years experience, you’ll find video answering all your queries. For more info take a look at their blog.
Get a press kit
While this isn’t essential for playing at small-medium sized venues, larger clubs will require you to have a press kit, so before you get to that stage, it’s good to create one from the beginning and gradually add to it and fill it up as you grow as a DJ.
Include a bio. Make two versions; one that fits in a single paragraph (essentially a tl;dr version for the interwebs), and a long form one that PR writers and organizers can cherry-pick bits about you. Be sure to invest some money in a good photographer who’ll take good-quality, professional-looking photos. These are used to include your photo on flyers and posts across social media. Finally, include a link to your SoundCloud/Mixcloud and Beatport (if applicable) where promoters will be able to see your music and mixes.
Build a following
As a general consensus, most reputable clubs and bars won’t book an unknown DJ. As an unproven commodity with little to no experience, most promoters won’t take the risk on you. While some will do this, don’t hang your hat on that. This is why it’s important to build a following.
Start up a SoundCloud or Mixcloud account and upload a number of homemade mixes. While you can record yourself mixing on your decks or controller, some DJ’s use their DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to create mixes.Once finished, be sure to include links to these mixes in your press kit, as this gives promoters an idea as to what your sound is and what you’re likely to play.
Start producing music
While you don’t have to be a producer in order to be a DJ, it’s highly recommended and will also help your mixing and music theory skills. Building a presence online as a music producer can help earn you gigs in clubs. Should you find yourself releasing music on prominent record labels, make sure to include this in your press kit bio, as this will greatly boost your chances of earning gigs.
While this all sounds great, starting out can be difficult. YouTube channels such as ADSR Music Production and Zen World are excellent places to start, with both channels offering quality tutorials for beginners and experts alike. For users who use FL Studio, also take a look at the YouTube channel, FLP Family. The channel uploads remakes of popular EDM songs, giving producers an easy way to grab new samples and presets, as well as understanding song structure and track layout.
Don’t typecast yourself
While it’s great to have solid knowledge and expertise in one particular genre, it’s bad to only have knowledge in one specific genre. In doing so, you’re restricting opportunities for future gigs. Make a concerted effort to expand your horizons and gain as much knowledge and exposure to other genres as you can. However, keep in mind, if you’re also a producer, it’s best to try and play genres that resemble your productions’ sound. Eg. If you’re a house producer, don’t shy away from tech house, deep house or techno gigs.
In doing this, make sure you know each genre’s must and must-not plays. Learn the classics and crowd favorites, as well as everyone’s last favorites – you never want to empty out a full dancefloor. As a whole, do your best to know your genre and your library. It’s one thing to have a large library, but its full potential is wasted if you don’t recognize any of the songs.
Know your crowd
Landing a new gig is always fun, but in order to do your best, it’s imperative that you know who you’re dealing with. If you’re playing a wedding, for instance, be prepared to play more slow songs than usual and try to get a grasp on the bride’s musical tastes beforehand. If you’re playing a nightclub, get familiar with what the club owner prefers and what his or her regulars like. The regulars keep the club afloat and, by extension, pay your fee; learn how to keep them happy. However, be careful with requests. For example, if you’re playing an industrial-techno set and a patron requests a Hardwell track, kindly reject their request. Ultimately, if a request doesn’t fit the venue’s sound don’t do it. A good way to gain a proper understanding of a venue’s sound is to visit it prior to the date of your gig.
Start looking for gigs
Now is the time for you to put your knowledge to the test. Despite this, finding gigs can sometimes be hard to come by – but it’s not impossible. Facebook and Google+ groups are a great way to meet other fellow DJ’s within your city. Sometimes, many venues post expressions of interest, looking for new DJ’s. Be sure to like and follow your favorite venues on Facebook and look out for posts like these. In addition to this, try to look for communities and forums that post gigs and job opportunities in your local area or city. This group, for example, is open to all DJ’s, promoters and venue owners etc. in Melbourne, who are looking for gigs every weekend.
Now you know what it takes to become a DJ. While things may be difficult at the start, remember; nothing that was ever worth it, was easy. Take this new-found information and run wild. The world is your oyster.