What You Need To Know About DJs
There are many different kinds of DJs, and many different reasons for those DJs to exist. Let’s start with getting serious about YOU: What kind of DJ are you interested in becoming?
The Club DJ
Each club has a different feel, reputation, and audience… which also means that clubs vary in what they expect from their musical selection. Typically, the job of the resident DJ at a night club is to maintain a moving dance floor. Often, club DJs will perform long blends (transitions) between songs, or some other trickery to keep people’s feet moving. This DJ must know how to ramp the energy up and down, and maintain a balance between an active dance floor, and a busy bar.
The Performer (Turntablist)
People go to see this DJ because of who they are, their reputation, and what people think they can do behind the decks. Their mixes are displays of raw skill, impressive tricks, and clever transitions.
The “exhibitionist” DJs fit here, such as turntablists (e.g. those who focus on cutting and scratching), “controllerists”, and other types of live performers.
The Mobile DJ
These are the ones who perform at your wedding, set the tone for your corporate event, or provide a memorable prom party. Often the entrepreneurial type, mobile DJs have a lot of things to keep track of. In some cases, they are solely responsible for the setup and teardown of equipment, planning the show, managing the crowd, and making any announcements. This kind of DJ often needs to be comfortable with taking requests (and sometimes even entire playlists), speaking into a microphone, and investing in sound equipment.
The Radio DJ
The concept of the DJ owes it’s origins to radio. The radio DJ’s job varies greatly, from the person who announces the weather between songs, to full-on music curation. While many corporate radio DJs have lost control over the music, the art lives on in podcast format.
ELEMENTS OF DJING
The software described above will give you a large amount of control over various aspects or elements of the music you’re mixing. We’ve broken these down for you below:
Sometimes referred to as “timestretching”, beatmatching involves manipulating the tempo and phase of songs so that they blend together. Tempo describes the speed of a song, while phase refers to the song’s beat. When beatmatching, the DJ adjusts the phase and tempo of two songs (using either controllers built into the software, or manually using external controllers) until they’re equal.
In the past, successful beatmatching required quick fingers and a trained ear. Fortunately, the development of high-tech (and often free!) digital software has made this far easier in recent years.
Tempo can be manipulated using a tool known as a pitch fader (included in most DJing software), which allows users to either speed up or slow down a track. You can adjust the phase by keeping an eye on the software’s phase meter, and simultaneously using DJ hardware such as a jog wheel (a moveable disk that looks like a record or disk) or your software’s pitch bend button to achieve the desired effect.
Phrasing is mixing at a point in the songs that makes sense from musical perspective. Most of the songs DJs mix are in 4/4 time, which means that there are 4 beats per bar (a “section” of music in a song). Usually major changes in a song occurs every 8 bars (e.g. shifting from the verse to the chorus), which also happens to be a great place to bring in another track.
While mixing, you will have to remain aware of the track’s time by counting, so that it sounds natural when you layer another song on top of it. This ensures you don’t add a new track (starting on the first beat) while the original song is on the second, third, or fourth beat of a bar—this will make for a choppy transition, causing the mix to play out of sync.
Most types of DJ software give the user control over several aspects or types of volume: signal volume, channel volume, and output volume. The diagram below depicts how sound is manipulated from the source to achieve the desired output, which is more or less the same process for both internal and external mixing. The knob labeled “3” is the signal volume, or the volume coming from the musical source.
Equalizing, also known as EQing, is the process of adjusting the frequencies (the pitch of the song—or how high or low the song sounds when it reaches our ears) of two tracks so that they fuse together in a complementary way. Without EQing, chances are your mixes will just sound like noise.
Basic Types of DJ Equipment:
The amount of DJ equipment options can be somewhat overwhelming for a beginner, especially since choosing the equipment is crucial to creating quality sounds. There are however a number of essential gear that a DJ needs to make killer playlists and provide your audience with enjoyment.
- Input devices
Putting tunes together requires at least two input devices, which can either be turntables or CD decks. You can choose from a wide range of input devices that will allow you to mix tunes and mashup tracks without a pause in music.
The mixer is the core part of any professional DJ setup. It is a type of audio mixing console that allows DJs to perform different effects and tricks. DJs use the mixer to make smooth transitions between different recordings while they are spinning a set. It can also be used to play record players.
High-quality headphones allow DJs to listen, cue, and mix tunes with precision. It is one of the most important tools for determining the right timing to play songs rhythmically. The equipment you use is based on your preference, but it is important to consider comfort as one of the main factors in choosing your headphones. You’re going to be wearing headphones for hours on end, so you want to use a pair that not only reproduces sounds accurately, but is also comfortable to wear.
- Sound system
Using studio monitor speakers is a great way for beginner DJs to hear their mixes with clarity. While Hi-Fi speakers produce high-quality sounds compared with inexpensive audio equipment, they also amplify certain frequencies that can make it difficult for beginner DJs to hear what the mix actually sounds like.
Most modern DJs opt for a simpler (and easier) digital setup composed of a controller and a laptop. If you no longer use vinyl records or CDs, then purchasing a controller is really the only step you need to take to create a viable DJ setup.
GET TO KNOW YOUR DJ HARDWARE INSIDE AND OUT
Its all too easy to unwrap you new shiny DJ hardware and just start playing with all the buttons and dials and faders all at once! But you’ll never truly understand your mixer or decks unless you take your time to find out what each little tool can do. So slow down, pick a track you can loop for 20 minutes. pick one or two controls and see what they do.
See how creative you can get with just those controls in play. Once you feel you’ve mastered how to use them, move on to another pair. No piece of DJ hardware is perfect either, learn what shortfalls your system has or find out what shortfalls YOU have when trying to use it. It’ll help you identify areas you need to improve and also find solutions to the issues in your setup.
5 Laptop DJing Tips
- Know your software’s standalone capabilities
Not all laptop DJ software have the ability to be used as a fully functioning DJ app without a DJ controller or audio interface connected. Serato DJ, for instance, needs compatible hardware in order for it to be used for DJing. Furthermore, some software are more customisable than others: Virtual DJ 8 and djay Pro 2, for instance, have deep keyboard shortcut customisation features. Virtual DJ 8 even lets you create your own scripts and make tweaks to the engine code.
- Use the 80/20 rule with keyboard shortcuts
Learn the key commands for transport controls (play, cue, stop), find out how to toggle effects on and off, how to do full-kills on EQs, how to access hot cues, and so on. Basically, think of all the functions you use the most when you DJ on a controller, and then try to look for the keyboard shortcuts in your DJ software.
- Pack emergency accessories in your DJ bag
A splitter cable is crucial if you want to be able to preview and cue tracks. Splitter cables let you listen to your next track in your headphones without it playing on the main speakers. If you don’t need headphone cueing (say you’re just playing back tracks for a function), an 1/8″ to RCA cable will do. You’ll also want to try packing a small wireless mouse for more flexibility and if you prefer not to have your hands cramped up on the keyboard and trackpad.
- Sort your music and organise playlists ahead of time
Since you’re spinning and searching using the same input device (ie your laptop keyboard), you’ll want to be especially organised with your music so you don’t waste time going through your cluttered hard drive for tunes. Keep your playlists up to date and your DJ library sorted so your keystrokes / keyboard time is spent interacting with the music you’re playing instead of searching the dark recesses of your hard drive.
- Explore making your own mappings
You can also access more advanced features like samplers and performance pad features by making your own custom mappings – the trick is to have them easily accessible in your keyboard or via a Shift layer. Again, consult your software’s manual to learn where to find them.