Learning to DJ

Hi Lines,

I know this is a bit out of the ordinary on the forum (topic wise) but I’m wondering if folks on here DJ. I’m thinking about investing in a controller and beginning to teach myself. Problem is, I know what I’d like to DJ, but the resources online seem a bit lacking and I wanted to turn to a community that I trust a bit more.

I’d like to learn to DJ for club settings, but hoping to start off preparing mixes. I would describe the music I am looking to DJ music ranging from disco -> rave (detroit techno, breaks, electro, hip hop, etc. basically not EDM festival music). So with that being said, I’m wondering what controller I should invest in (this question is also coupled with what software i.e. Serato and Traktor). Mixing with turntables is not super crucial, and one day when my record collection is big enough I’d consider learning to use turntables and manually mix. For now I’m just hoping to start and I’m not terribly worried about the stigma of using software.

Any advice is greatly appreciated!

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I went through a DJ phase in college, I got a numark dj2go controller online and would try to string together songs with it.

Based on that, I say learn to beatmatch! It’s seriously fun, challenging and very much worth your time right now. To most people the difference probably won’t be noticeable but the satisfaction of quickly getting the tempo right and cruising through a weird transition, all while keeping the time and rhythm is so good.

All that being said I was terrible at it and never did anything more than play for myself in my dorm room between classes, but that’s my take on starting out new.

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Definitely planning on learning to beatmatch, miswrote that and edited to say mix two turntables due to the error. On the side of software were you using Serato?

How to DJ Right: The Art and Science of Playing Records by Frank Broughton (https://groveatlantic.com/author/frank-broughton/) is surprisingly good as an introduction to DJ skills and styles.

I haven’t played out for years. I was in a very vinyl/dubplate-centric scene, but switched to software because I could play more variety of material (e.g. promos I’d received digitally) and do more with it in the mix (e.g. more layering, quicker cuts and switches). Beatmatching was never my strong suit and I’d get overly nervous about trainwrecking in front of people. Software was safer in a way, but it also allowed for an intensity and nonlinearity that couldn’t otherwise be achieved. But I loved zoning out mixing vinyl on my decks at home.

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Selection and sequencing are much more important than mad DJ skillz™ and gear. A DJ is there to provide a service to the crowd. Empathy and humility are key. It’s not about you but about how the crowd responds.

Learn that stuff if it turns you on - I used to enjoy my 2-3 minute drum n bass crossfades - but people care about what records you play and the order you play them in, not so much if you beat match precisely.

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If you’re an iOS person, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you can do with just an iPad (or even iPhone). Check out NI Traktor and the Z1:

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/traktor/traktor-for-ios/

If you like the NI way of thinking they have a whole DJ ecosystem you can buy into.

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Oh yeah definitely read about Traktor and its where i’m leaning however I was wondering if it’s annoying to transition to CDJs later (and presumably whatever software is on them).

This in a nutshell.

No amount of practising at home is really going to prepare you for playing out publicly. If i were you I’d try to get a series of bar gigs with CDJs as this is a great way to learn while learning how to read a crowd in a much less stressful environment.

I have no experience with controllers but have played fairly regularly for a while mostly with vinyl but in the last few years I started to use CDJs a lot more. Vinyl is very fun but it can be hard to find good conditions for it - you can definitely expect bad turntables and needles, bass feedback, people bumping into/dancing against the desk. CDJs are really easy to learn and very fun. Beatmatching is way easier and cueing very intuitive.

Beatmatching is really fun. Don’t be afraid of trainwrecks or galloping horses - learning how to correct mistakes is crucial.

Most important tip is know your music - listen and listen and listen and…

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Yes, would love to pick up CDJs but wondering what is ideal to start with when you can’t afford CDJs. Also, regarding music tips and reading crowds, I know that I’ll have to just practice & gig. Also I’m trying to learn as much as I can from sets that I enjoy, BRs and mixmag sets.

There are lots of angles on this and diffferent approaches. From my perspective, dj-ing is taking two vinyl two records and beat-matching on direct drive turntables.

If you want to learn to do this, buy turntables, start off with two copies of the same record, match those up, move outwards.

I failed to do this, I regret not doing so…

So, there are now other ways to do this, easier, Traktor, etc. But that feels like a bit of a commoditised game to me, personally.

Personally, I think the best starting point is Traktor with an S2: you can play with sync when you want to focus on creating a flow and reading a crowd, and you’ll have the jog wheels to learn beatmatching with. Don’t worry about turntables and vinyl unless they really appeal to you: most working DJs play on pioneer decks with USB keys these days.

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All this is most likely true. But working with the tactile
nature of vinyl vs other methods? It’s like playing guitar vs playing Guitar Hero, for me.

Note that I can do neither. My friends that do/have done this professionally for 20 years moved to CDRs etc because the transportation for vinyl was a nightmare, bad backs etc.

I never made this particular transition, so can’t really comment.

However, I enjoy making music with whatever tools are at hand, so I’m sure CDJs can be cool.

I was starting to get into Traktor quite a bit, but after buying an NI Mixer (Z2) and a couple of controllers, it all felt a bit a) computer-y, and b) complex.

I also much prefer DJ-ing my own tracks (with a few others mixed in for fun), which led me down an as-yet-incomplete rabbit hole : a totally bonkers bespoke Eurorack + monome + guitar live performance / DJ / do everything setup. ER-301 and norns as centerpieces, with the arc and grid as nice minimal controllers to make everything less complex to deal with when rocking out.

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But working with the tactile nature of vinyl vs other methods? It’s like playing guitar vs playing Guitar Hero, for me.

This is what I was talking about stigma wise. After all, I think we all agree its about the music choice first and foremost and then all the technicalities next. @mateo Thanks for the suggestion, that’s where I was first headed, I need more wax to take the vinyl route, and I don’t think a controller would rule out the possibility of learning to beat match.

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I dj’d with vinyl for many years before switching to traktor, and I don’t miss the tactile nature of vinyl at all. There was definitely a time early on where I enjoyed the challenge of beat matching, but that eventually became a means to an end, and computers are a better means to the end for me.

There really isn’t as much stigma as there was in the past: there are still traditionalists for sure, but CDJs are ubiquitous, and some of the top names in the business use computers.

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How does Traktor compare to the CDJ onboard software?

They’re all pretty much the same. If you haven’t, you should check out rekordbox which is both an app to manage the music on CDJs and a DJ program in it’s own right. The basic version is free.

No stigma here. That’s why I was careful to phrase as personal preference. Like I said, the guys I know who do this for a living moved from vinyl many years ago.

Personally, I tried both, was a crap beat marcher, but still preferred using records.

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for me a dj should have (with this order)

  1. a large repertoire and knowledge of the musical genre(s) (s)he is playing.
  2. a sense of the situation/mood of the people listening/dancing and where they want to go.
  3. a sense of how to drive smoothly along the various aspects of the music (tempo, groove, mood etc - long list here), possibly by planning many tracks (not only the next one).
  4. a knowledge of how to manipulate the musical flow along the tracks (beat tracking etc).
  5. a technical knowledge of the equipment and their operation.
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Do you know if I got the Kontrol s2 if I could try using it as a controller for rekordbox? I’d like to use traktor but i’m assuming not every opportunity will have me using traktor for djing.