As I am sitting here drinking my Wild Cherry Pepsi, I am often asked how one gets started as a DJ. There will most likely be a lot of DJs attending next week’s Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas, NV.
DJ’ing is one of the most underrated fields of music. It is playing already finished tracks but in a way that turns those tracks into something new and never heard before. I work mainly as a music producer with a specialization in electronic music, this means I work with a lot of DJ’s. I passed this question around with DJ’s I know and these are the answers I was left with:
Involves a Lot of Practice and Training
People who don’t understand what DJ’ing is about think it is just pushing buttons and turning knobs. A lot more work goes into it. Keeping track of BPM or Beats Per Minute is one of the most important starting points to begin with. BPM is basically the tempo of the song. How fast or slow the overall song plays is set by the tempo or in DJ’ing terms BPM. The tempo can change (speed up or slow down) but when DJ’ing the overall tempo of a song will remain the same. Technology has made keeping track of BPM easier as software can tell you now at what tempo a song is playing. The reason why keeping track of BPM is important is when crossfading from one song to another. If the BPM isn’t aligned the kick drum and other portions of the tracks will be out of alignment. This will sound bad to the ears and is why DJ’s practice crossfading. This is also why DJ’s make a set list of what they will play before hand. Back then it used to be pen and paper. Now with software its become as easy as opening I-Tunes and building a playlist.
Produce Your Own Music
The main reason why DJ’s play completed tracks is because many of the tracks were finished up on computers. It would be very difficult and financially consuming to play these tracks live the way say bands perform. Instead DJ’s will play these songs through a DJ’ing deck and many of these songs will be there own.
Learn how to produce your own music and the best idea is to work with a producer who can help guide the session along with unbiased help. Most of the top DJ’s make their own music and only use the skill as a DJ secondary as a way to get they’re own music heard live.
Listen to other DJ’s for inspiration but never become a copycat: In a world saturated with DJ’s of every genre, the last thing you want to become is a copycat of another famous DJ. Create a style that is you’re own. With all the different genres and sub-genres open to a DJ, its not hard to find a place as a DJ. The trick is to find a place while not blending in. With the world being swamped with DJ’s of every kind the point is to stand out among the crowd by putting your own style on a genre of your choosing. Several DJ’s I know work in the sub-genre of dubstep, but they have added they’re own style to the sub-genre making themselves stand out. One DJ I know blends other genres with dubstep to create dub fusions with everything from Jazz to 80’s new wave. This style branches out to the performances as DJ’s work to keep there production style within their set lists as well.
Learn the technology behind what you do: Basically means that if you want to use software as a DJ, take the time to learn the software. An old saying in the audio field is “The tools are only as good as the man using them.” The reason why music producers like myself are hired is because we understand the tools we use in recording sessions. Users need to understand the tools they use when performing. After having bought new DJ equipment, you should take the time to learn and practice on the equipment. As software differs from one company to another, you should take the time to learn these differences. This also can mean deciding to be a pure digital DJ or run on timecode vinyl decks.
For those going the digital route learning on free software like Virtual DJ will help learning before deciding to purchase newer more expensive equipment. Virtual DJ is a free at home software perfect for learning how to DJ. Many of the same tools included in more expensive software can be found in Virtual DJ. Some DJ’s continue to use the software while including expensive DJ decks.
For those looking to use timecode vinyl decks a favorite of vinyl DJ’s has been Native Instruments Traktor. Traktor is blend of hardware and software. Native Instruments (NI) makes both the hardware and software that work as a single unit together. The favorite of DJ’s using vinyl decks for that authentic vinyl feel but with software is NI Traktor Scratch. In Traktor Pro Version 3.0 Scratch is automatically included within the software as before users had to pay extra for the Scratch features. NI not only has included features for vinyl DJ’s but has also redesigned the interface within the software from the ground up for version 3.0. This also means that previous Traktor digital decks have been redesigned as well. Native Instruments is continuing their legacy of pushing the limits of technology.
Develop a Winning Team
When seeing a DJ all one sees is the individual. people don’t see the support team working behind the scenes to keep the individual going. As the DJ it is never too early to start developing the support team. Basically find good people who can help you get work done behind the scenes. Get that music producer, film team/film editor, clothing and website designers, etc. early and start making you’re career in DJ’ing a lucrative business This is why DJ’s are the highest payed in music currently. Not because of the music or performance, but because of the other business deals that they make.
Be Careful of Company You Keep
Along with building a winning team is also being careful who you keep around you. You want to keep people who will support your needs in business and build you up. Those that act like an anchor of support are who you need around you. Those that do not support you and harm your business are never good to have around. Those who have become the most successful in the world learned this early in life. Most of all: The most important aspect of being a DJ is don’t take work too seriously and have fun. The job of the DJ is to help get the party started or keep it going. The two cannot be accomplished when the DJ is not having fun themselves.