Imagine yourself behind the DJ booth, hands in the air, while a lively crowd dances to your beats. Doesn't that sound like a dream come true? Well, guess what? Becoming a DJ, especially for beginners, is not as far-fetched as it may seem. In fact, it's a popular career choice these days, and with determination, nothing is out of reach. Don't be afraid to give it a shot! Like tackling any new endeavor, the initial stages can be challenging. To kickstart your musical journey, consider these five beginner DJ tips. Just as finding a dollar on the sidewalk is the first step toward becoming a millionaire, taking these simple steps is the beginning of your journey to becoming the next Martin Garrix.
Understanding what being a DJ actually means
Starting off your ‘becoming a DJ’-project begins with an understanding of the definition. This two-letter-word is the abbreviation of ‘disc jockey’. Taking us right to the next phase: “what does a DJ do?”. In basic terms: DJ performs recorded music for an audience. Simple, right? Not so fast!
DJs come in all shapes and sizes. DJing originated in radio, the most famous ones selecting the music and broadcasting it to the world. While we have mad respect for these guys that gave birth to your dream job, we understand this blog should inform you about becoming a DJ in front of a raging crowd. Also by selecting this segment, you’re not fully there yet. Take, for instance, mobile DJs. These guys and gals perform in different locations and settings such as corporate events or weddings. A great way to start off your career, understanding how to work the crowd and make some first bucks. Looking for a slightly bigger audience in front of your decks? Becoming a DJ in this segment might require a bit of patience, stamina and investments, but hey, seeing that crowd bounce to your beats is priceless.
Learn to spin with the right tools
Mixing your favorite tracks into a groovy DJ set is done by more than simply having a good sense of rhythm. Although this might be the #1 skill you need (sorry if we’re bursting some bubbles now). Exploring DJ software plays a vital part in becoming an electronic dance superstar. Take a look at our personal top 3 for beginner DJs:
Free software with Serato DJ Lite
Compatible with many different types of hardware
Simple, yet professional user interface
Keeping your music library organized
Comes free with several Pioneer controllers
Modern, visually appealing user interface
Great FX options like stems manipulation
Good playlist management features
Clean, well-organized user interface
We’d strongly advise you to do your research thoroughly. Every piece of software has different perks depending on your DJing goals.
Start learning basic DJ skills
Now that you have the tools ready to propel you toward your musical aspirations, it's time to dive in and make use of them! Becoming a DJ involves more than just developing an excellent taste in music. Let's delve into some fundamental skills that every beginner DJ should begin honing.
Remember when we said having a horrible sense of rhythm might become a problem? We are not trying to be mean, just realistic. Nothing is worse than dancing your feet off to some fiery tunes and the DJ mixes in a track that has a completely different tempo. Your happy dance now becomes a mood-killing seizure and you might as well chuck that fifth tequila shot. Anyways. Understanding the process of getting two tracks to play at the same tempo and phase so you can mix them without making your crowd boo is called ‘beatmatching’. It’s the most important thing to understand for a beginner DJ.
Tempo = the speed of the track measured in BPM (beats per minute)
Phase = getting two tracks aligned so they play at the same time
After you’ve made sure you have two tracks playing ‘side by side’ at the same tempo, it is time for the next step in your party-starting adventure.
There is a point in time in which it makes sense to create a transition between two tracks. Typically, music performed by DJs has four beats in a measure (bar), referred to as a 16 or 32 counts or 4/4 time signature. Understanding and, most importantly, hearing this structure is the first step in the process of phrasing.
As someone who has a sense of rhythm and music, you can hear whenever a phrase ends or begins. You can compare a phrase with a part of a journey. Every phrase says something about the location of the track during its journey. Is it building up? Are we in the middle? Or nearing the end.
Align the phrases of two tracks makes it possible for you to transition at the correct, or natural time. Thus, creating a seamless mix that keeps your crowd on its feet. And not wondering what the bloody hell you’re doing.
Don’t let a lack of volume control ruin your dream of becoming a DJ. Controlling your volume is another basic skill you need to ensure flawless mixing. When you’ve got your two tracks aligned, the next thing to do is turn down the volume of track 1 while turning up the volume of track 2. And mind you, this is not as easy as it sounds.
Equalizing or EQing
In some cases, the frequencies in the tracks you want to mix don’t match. Or a large chunk of the music is dominated by bass making it difficult for the party people in front of you to hear the lyrics and sing along. And that’s what we want, right? Understanding and managing the EQ settings on your mixer are here to save the day.
The EQ allows you to control the high, low and mid range frequencies on the DJ mixer. It also plays a vital part in mixing two tracks together. Transitioning at the moment that speaker-blowing kickdrums dominate both tracks is not going to get you into the DJ Mag Top 100 without properly using your EQ.
Equalization is just another ingredient to the delicious recipe of smoothless mixing. And also one that can take your rookie skills to the next level.
Practice makes perfect
It’s a cliché, we know. But practice does make perfect! No record-breaking artist skipped their bedroom sessions and ruled mainstages from the very start. Besides becoming best friends with your newly acquired DJ gear, you should also begin to master the art of crowd control, selecting your tracks, sculpting your act and so on and so forth. Let’s look at some topics you shouldn’t forget when becoming a DJ.
Join a live or digital DJ course
There are tons of music schools out there that master the art of DJing and are eager to help you out. The advantage of joining a live class is the instant feedback and personal attention. Every person is different and has different challenges to face while trying to become a DJ. Having someone there to guide you helps work on those specific things and start off your junior DJ adventure.
And for those that don’t prefer such a personal approach: all hail the internet! Your daily streaming services like YouTube offer a ton of videos that can help you optimize your beginner DJ skills.
Start recording your sets
Hearing and seeing yourself on camera is one of the best things ever, right? Right?! All jokes aside. Unless you have serious thoughts about marrying yourself, we believe this might not be your favorite thing to do. But we still advise you to record yourself mixing and watch it like you are part of your desired future crowd.
In the heat of the moment (yes, we understand dropping some fine-ass tunes can make you feel warm inside), you’re bound to miss out on mistakes you're making. I mean, most of us have recorded ourselves when conducting an epic singing- or dancing performance back in the days, right? And most of us were a bit disappointed when re-watching the footage later on. Well, at least you know what skills may use a little practice now.
Perform for your friends and family
Sound childish? Grow up! Everyone needs to start somewhere. And no, we don’t believe performing for a relatively small and biased crowd is the key that opens the door to Tomorrowland. But it can give you some important insights you don’t gain by sticking to online tutorials and lonely bedroom mixing.
Working the decks is hard as it is, especially for beginner DJs. But smooth mixing your tracks while entertaining the crowd, managing song requests, giving the aftermovie camera that million dollar smile, enjoying that fancy vodka you wrote down on your rider... Okay. Maybe we are getting a little carried away here. But there is so much goodness in becoming a well known performing artist. It is not easy being a DJ, but having kick ass mixing skills might get you to the mainstage of the biggest festivals. So, let’s get groovin’ and bring granny back to the 30s!
Get your name out there
Now you’ve invested heavily in becoming a great DJ, we still need to make sure that people know about you. That might feel like the biggest challenge of all, but doesn’t have to be. Beginner DJs can already work on plenty of promotional activities without having an overly popular manager or booking agency having your back.
Record your sets live and interact with listeners
You don’t need to rely on live events to present your DJ skills! The internet might be the biggest stage of all. Fun fact: you don’t need a booker to play there! Streaming platforms like YouTube or Twitch help you distribute content to the outside world. And that content can easily be a recorded live set! Getting yourself some basic recording equipment is enough to start streaming. Platforms like Songkick enable you to launch your live set as an actual event and have it mentioned on your Spotify account. Announce your live set on social media, start recording and ask viewers to comment or request songs to create engagement. A relatively easy way to make yourself heard on multiple online platforms.
Enroll in DJ mixing contests
Many event organizations and labels are born out of a love for music. This means they don’t only respect the headliners, but are open to new talent as well. Take Tomorrowland’s concept ‘The Sound of Tomorrow’, for instance. The winner of this collaboration with Pepsi and Fedde Le Grand, performed a set on Tomorrowland and released a remix on Le Grand’s label Darklight Records.
Enroll yourself in DJ mixing contests when you’re starting your DJ career. If you win? Great! It might result in a door-opening record deal or adding a respected festival on your list of bookings Not taking that golden medal home? Still winning! It is the perfect opportunity to get your name recognised by music promoters, have a kick-ass liveset you can distribute on your social media channels and receive valuable feedback from industry professionals.
Work on your social media presence
Getting your artist profiles up and running on social media is no rocket science. Creating content, growing your follower base and interacting with your fans, is a tougher cookie to crack. And let’s face it. Becoming an expert in digital marketing is not your first goal when trying to become a DJ. The amount of work it takes to create content, manage consistent uploads and engage with your audience might feel overwhelming. Especially when you’re just starting out. But don’t worry. With these simple tips and tricks, even Beginner DJs can combine developing a good social media strategy with becoming the next EDC headliner.
Plan a ‘content creation day’
You don’t need to create your content at the exact moment you want to post it. This can be quite stressful and distract you from learning important beginner DJ skills. Instead, reserve one day to produce all content you need for a longer period of time. Planning a studio day? There is more to it than just poppin’ some tunes, right? Capture it all! Ask a friend or family member to take multiple pictures of you behind the decks, composing a track, writing down some lyrics, having a coffee break or taking a walk to clear your creative mind. And voila: enough content to fill your Instagram account for two weeks.
Schedule your posts
Creating all your content at once is useless if you still have to set your alarm to post specific content. Again, not very beginner DJ friendly stuff. Luckily, there are several cheap social media scheduling apps to help you out such as Planoly.
Keep it personal
No need to craft complex branding strategies when you’re at the start of becoming a DJ. Your followers want to interact with you, right? So keep your content personal and close to home! Want to become the next Salvatore Ganacci? Mix weird genre songs and make your mom dance to it! Staying more on the serious level? Tell your fans about how you trigger creativity or provide more insights behind the lyrics of your last song. Long story short: don’t overthink it, just be yourself!
We could continue this article for another sixty pages or so, but like we said before: the beginning is the hardest part! Everyone who is trying to become a DJ experiences a different journey. And that’s a good thing! Just imagine every mainstage artist having the exact same setlists and having you scream ‘ey, oh’ at the exact same spots. Over. And. Over. No thanks.
Start by following these beginner DJ tips and the rest will come to you at the right time. Well, what are you waiting for? Becoming the next DJ Mag Top 100 entry doesn’t happen by itself! Best of luck to you and eh… save us a spot backstage!