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How to Become a DJ: A Beginner’s Guide

There are many other skills and talents that needed for someone to become a true success. It takes hard work, dedication, and creativity. If you’re thinking about becoming a DJ, we’ve written a 9-step guide on how to become a DJ and a successful one at that.

Step 1: Decide What Type of DJ You Want To Be

The first decision you will need to make is what type of DJ you want to be. There are many different types of DJs, and your goals must align with the type of DJ you plan on becoming.

Club DJs

Club DJ

Club DJs are those who work in nightclubs, music venues and even festivals. A club DJ’s job is to create a good party atmosphere and keep the dance floor moving throughout the night.

Every club has a different atmosphere, audience, style of music.  The key for club DJs is to strike a balance of maintaining a moving dancefloor and a busy bar.

A DJ who performs regularly at nightclubs are also known as a resident DJ. In most cases, they have established themselves within the club scene.

Mobile DJs

Wedding DJ

Mobile DJs specialise in providing music for clients during private events. You often find them playing at weddings, birthdays and corporate events.

They are often hired for an event to set the mood with background music or provide entertainment.

Given the nature of their job, they will often provide the equipment themselves.

Radio DJs

A radio DJ is a person who usually works for broadcast or internet-based commercial or non-commercial radio stations. In fact, the entire concept of DJing owes its origins to the radio.

While many DJs have lesser control over the music they play by the radio station, the role of radio DJs has evolved. Today, more of them often express their DJ skills in podcast format.

DJ Producers (artists)

DJing is not the same as being a DJ Producer, so don’t confuse the two! Yet, a DJ Producer is a mix of two art forms. They often play their own music or music produced under their labels.

For many DJs who produce their own tracks, they want people to love them as musicians too!

It’s a chance for them to showcase their musical talents and are often quite revered in the music industry.

Turntablists (Performance/Technical DJs)

DJ Turntablist

Turntablism is a DJ’s craft. It involves using the decks like an instrument. This means scratching, cutting and beat juggling.

There are also many artists who perform live shows with every piece of equipment imaginable – from drum machines to synthesizers.

Step 2: Set Yourself Clear Goals

Setting Goals as a DJ

Successful DJs have clear goals. They know what they want to achieve and how they plan on getting there. Goals should be specific. Not broad like “I want to become a famous DJ”. 

But first, you need to ask yourself why you want to become a DJ, and what success looks like to you. Below are the most common objectives and reasons behind becoming a DJ.

DJing to Make an Income

DJing for cash

For some people, DJing is a career. While for others, a side-income.

Having said that, a DJ can make anywhere from $25 per hour, a few hundred dollars, to upwards of $100,000. It all depends on the individual’s skills and experience as well as what type of events they’re playing at.

If DJing for an income is your primary goal, here are some obstacles you’re likely to encounter:

  • Expect competition to be fierce. There are too many DJs and not enough (paying) gigs
  • Expect to receive lesser pay while you’re establishing yourself
  • You’ll need to provide more value than just turning up for your set
  • Not every money-making strategy is the same. Find one that works for you

Whether you earn money by being the best wedding DJ in your area or want to make a few bucks on weekends, you need to figure out what angle will work for you. Getting paid to DJ may not be as direct as being handed $150 for 90 minutes. Instead, it could come in the form of selling tickets to your own event.

Djing for the ‘Love of Music’

Many people choose to be a bedroom DJ, a hobbyist simply doing it for the love and passion of their musical genre.

If this is you, then put yourself out there by meeting people with a similar test. Meet local DJs in the industry who share similar interests.

If your goal isn’t to make money but rather to share your passion for music with others, then just get started!

DJing for Fame and Recognition

“How can I become a famous DJ?” is a question that often comes up a lot for aspiring DJs.

Some DJs are on the path to becoming famous but here’s the problem: becoming a global superstar doesn’t happen overnight.

Building a name for yourself takes time and an overwhelming amount of hustle.

You have to be confident in your skills and show the world that you’re worth listening to. Which means working on your DJ career even when the going gets tough.

The main point is this: becoming a DJ is not an easy way to being famous.

Bonus tip: Producing your own dance track can speed up your DJ career if it becomes popular.

Step 3: Learn How to Use DJ Software

DJ Software

Now it’s time to get into more practical steps towards becoming a DJ. Let’s start by exploring DJ mixing software.

There are 4 main platforms in the DJ industry: Rekordbox, Traktor, Serato and Virtual DJ.

Rekordbox

Rekordbox is arguably the go-to mixing software in this list because it’s designed for professionals in mind.

For years now it’s been widely used by most DJs (particularly higher-profile ones) in the music industry and nightlife scene today.

It can be used to import (and analyze) your music collection, create playlists and set cue points with ease – all of this before you even touch the club’s equipment!

Rekordbox’s Export Mode also lets you export everything on a USB drive which you can use to load up onto any Pioneer DJ equipment.

The Performance Mode enables users to use their laptop as DJ players if you’re using some of the cheaper DJ controllers or mixers.

This program comes as a free or paid version, with the free version containing most of the features you’d ever need to manage your music library.

Our recommendation: You should choose Rekordbox if you plan to own Pioneer DJ hardware and are thinking about playing in large venues or events later down the journey.

Traktor

Traktor, by Native Instruments, is another mixing software platform that’s used by many DJs to perform live mixes.

Yet, it’s important to note that to get the most out of this program, you should own one of the Traktor DJ controller range, the official hardware by Native Instruments.

The program is available in two versions: Traktor Pro and Traktor Scratch. The main difference between the two versions (which may be important to consider when deciding on your purchase) is that Traktor Pro has a more advanced set of features for professional DJs. Traktor Scratch’s simplicity makes it ideal for those looking to use Vinyls.

Our recommendation: Traktor is ideal for beginner DJs looking to learn basic Djing skills.

Serato

Much like Traktor and Rekordbox, Serato is incredibly popular. Unlike the other programs, Serato does not produce any hardware of its own. But they work with other manufacturers to ensure the software will be compatible.

Serato DJ Lite is free, reliable, and intuitive for mixing in two channels, and can be used with any pro hardware.

With Serato DJ Pro ($129), you get access to all the professional features as well as a few add-ons like Pitch ‘n Time DJ, Serato Flip and Pitch N’ Play.

The nice thing about Serato is that no other program has as much integrated support as they have. This leaves you with many options when it comes to hardware.

It is especially popular with scratch DJs thanks to its origin in turntablism.

Our recommendation: choose Serato if you want the added flexibility of using various DJ hardware or you simply want to practice your scratching skills.

Virtual DJ

The last option you have is Virtual DJ (formerly known as Mixvibes).

It is a DJ software for beginners or bedroom DJs with the most basic functions and it’s cheap, easy to use and has all the features you want from a DJ software.

But there are some disadvantages: it is not recommended for club DJs as it’s often looked at as a beginner-level program.

Step 4: Time To Get Yourself DJ Equipment

When it comes to picking the right DJ equipment, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Let’s start with the different types of setup options.

DJ Controller

A DJ controller is a type of hardware that has many functions that mimic the functions of a professional DJ mixer, and turntables/CDJs.

These controllers will have pads for cueing up tracks as well as faders to control volume levels.

Controllers are perfect for beginners because they create an all-in-one solution. Removing the need for extra equipment.

The prices of a DJ controller can vary depending on the manufacturer, and range from $100 to over $3000.

DJ controllers can be cheaper than a traditional setup. But still offer you most of the functions that the pros use.

Here’s what you want to look out for when buying your first controller:

  • The number of channels available. You should always start with at least two channels. However, you can go up to 5 channels (suitable for more experienced practitioners who can mix many audio tracks at once).
  • Controls such as knobs and faders which emulate those found in more professional setups
  • Whether the controller is a standalone device or can be plugged into other DJ equipment
  • How many effects are available as part of the package. Pioneer’s DDJ SX, for example, has five channels that include built-in pads to create loops and control samples in live performances.
  • The more faders, knobs and pads the better because they allow for a greater level of complexity when mixing music (usually)

Our recommendation: If you’re just starting and want to play at friend’s parties or home, start with something that has two channels. If your aspirations are bigger, then move onto the more expensive setup that offers more channels.

CDJ and Mixer

CDJ and Mixer

Considered the industry standard, CDJs are digital turntables that are found in various professional settings like nightclubs, festivals and music venues across the globe.

CDJs are usually plugged into a hardware DJ mixer such as the Pioneer DJM-900 or Allen & Heath Xone:23.

There are various CDJs to choose from, with most of them coming in at a price point between $600 and $3000.

The great thing about these types of setups is that many venues will already have them. This means if you’ve already bought Pioneer CDJs or XDJ and mixer at home, the transition to the club stage is much smoother.

Vinyl Setup

DJ Vinyl Setup

Considered the old school way of DJing, a Vinyl setup allows you to mix by playing vinyl records. People love this setup because records are generally harder to mix than the other options listed. Vinyl setups, therefore, requires a degree of technical skill.

Additionally, Vinyl is a more expensive format to buy music on. So why would an aspiring DJ want to go down this route?

It’s simple: it’s rewarding, fun and super cool. Suitable for pure scratch DJs.

It is also possible to combine mixing records with the full functionality of the software. In this case, you’ll need a Timecode and HID setup. A lot of people feel using this combination can give you the best of both worlds.

Using vinyl emulation software allows you to physically manipulate the playback of digital audio files on a laptop and use the turntables as the interface. This ensures the hands-on control of the vinyl is preserved. This is also known as a Digital Vinyl System (DVS).

DJ Headphones

DJ headphone

DJ headphones (not normal headphones) are an important piece of hardware every DJ needs as part of their setup. DJ headphones will allow you to accurately monitor the sound and prepare the next track you’re intending to mix into your set.

The price range for DJ headphones are wide but most people spend between $100 to $300 on a pair.

Here are the key differences between standard headphones and DJ headphones you need to be aware of:

  • DJ headphones are designed to be used in loud environments (like nightclubs or festivals), so they provide a high level of noise isolation. This is especially important when matching beats.
  • They’re built flexible so that they can swivel and be worn on one or both ears at a time.
  • They typically have a longer cord length.
  • The sound quality of DJ headphones is much higher than standard headphones: low distortion, wide frequency range, and high power handling capability.

It’s generally not good to mix without DJ headphones, especially for non-experienced DJs playing at a gig. This is because it opens you up to the risk of making mistakes that ultimately leads to a bad experience for the audience.

DJ Speakers/Studio Monitors

DJ Studio Monitors

While it is not necessary when starting, we recommend for all aspiring DJs invest in a pair of DJ speakers or studio monitors, even for a home setup.

DJ speakers are meant to provide accurate playback of sound, which is important if the DJ wants their music to sound good when played out loud on stage.

Most venues will already have a great sound system. But it’s important you buy your own since you’ll need them for your own practice sessions, recording your own mixes, or even playing at your own parties.

There are many different speaker setups available for purchase depending on how much money you want to spend and how you plan on using them.

The price of DJ speakers ranges from $80 to about $500 depending on the size and type needed.

Step 5: Learn Basic DJ Skills

Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash

Build your music library

The best way to start building your own DJ mixes and get creative with your sets is by collecting the right kind of tracks in your personal library.

There’s no better feeling than when you find and play that gem of a track that the audience loves and never wants to end.

What kind of music should you buy?

Know your crowd: Is it a club night or underground rave? What’s their preferred genre? If you’re not sure, scan through what’s on the charts for upcoming releases; they’ll give you a good idea.

Buy what you love: It sounds simple, but it’s worth considering your personal taste when building a music library.

Sourcing music on platforms like Soundcloud, Beatport or even Spotify is a great place to start.

You must buy your music to ensure bitrate quality and to help support the industry.

A better way to building your music library other than the ones mentioned above are record pools, otherwise known as music pools.

Music pools are a great way to gain access to huge music libraries at a fraction of the cost of buying them individually.

Record pools are huge libraries of promotional music that DJs can use. But instead of buying them individually, you pay a monthly or yearly subscription. This is a great option that allows you to download high-quality tracks.

Key tip: always be collecting music to keep your content fresh.

Analyze your music using Mixed In Key

Mixed in Key Interface

Mixed In Key is an important part of the DJ toolkit.  This is a program that analyzes your tracks and tells you what key they are in. It’s important for a DJ because when one track ends on one channel, he/she needs to quickly find another song they can naturally transition to.

The best way to learn Mixed In Key is by simply importing all of your music into it. It will then write the key value of the music it detects and organizes your playlist accordingly.

Mixed in Key doesn’t just analyze tracks, it also has several other useful features.

Beatmatching

Beatmatching Example

Beatmatching is the science of matching two songs so that they’ll play at the same tempo, key and beat.

This is really one of the most basic skills you need to learn.

How do I learn how to beatmatch?

First off, you need software with some kind of BPM (Beats Per Minute) counter or calculator built-in (any of the software mentioned above will do). This will give you a sense of what beats per minute a song is.

Next, you need your music collection on hand (you’ll probably want to start with songs that have a similar tempo and key). Find two tracks that are close in BPM or keys. Use the software’s tools to find out how many beats there are for each measure of music and what beat number it is.

Once the track is loaded into the deck, it’s time to use the jog wheel to align the phase of the two tracks that are playing.

An easier way to beatmatch is by using a sync button. However, we recommend learning to do it manually as this gives you the ability to beat-mix with greater control.

This way of beatmatching helps to develop and tune your ears so that you know what to listen for when transitioning between songs.

We recommend practising on dance tracks as they generally have a consistent flow of rhythm that makes it easy to learn.

Phrasing

Example of phrasing. Counting 4 beats.

A DJ’s artistry is revealed through their ability to blend and mix tracks by matching phrasing at certain points in both songs that make sense.

You’ll need to have a keen ear, sharp eye, and count beats to successfully make these transitions without breaking the musical structure or bothering listeners with abrupt changes.

It does help to have a basic understanding of music theory but is not necessary.

Almost all music that you will be mixing is in 4/4 time, whether you play electronic dance music, hip-hop, or pop music. Technically, this means there are four beats per measure (bar) and that a quarter note gets one beat; so the key takeaway is to make sure to learn how to count to 4!

Gain control

What is gain I hear you ask?  Gain is the volume of sound. In more technical terms, it is the electronic process of amplifying your signal.

How you control it is in gain stages. Pretty much every DJ mixing hardware has three gain stages:

  1. The input gain – this is the gain knobs individually located across each mixer channel
  2. the channel output gain – This is essentially the volume line fader (you move it up and down)
  3. the main output gain – in other words, the master volume
  4. then there is the crossfader – which allows you to fade between the two channels (you move it left or right)
Different DJ gain knobs explained

Important rule: Each channel has LED lights to indicate the strength of your signal being amplified. Always make sure you stay out of the red. If you need more volume, we suggest boosting it from your speakers.

How to EQ

Considered an art and a skill, EQing is the act of boosting or cutting frequencies to blend tracks. All mixers have a three-band EQ in the form of low, mid and high-frequency range.

Why is it considered an art as well as a skill? To put it simply, the EQ is useful when it comes to creative expression. Check out this quick tutorial on some EQ mixing techniques.

We’ll be exploring equalization and filters in another guide.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The final piece of advice I would give you is to always keep practising all the skills outlined above.  If you practice regularly, all the skills will become second nature and instinctual.

It’s that simple.

Key tip: never play the same song twice in one set.

Step 6: Record Your DJ Mixes

After enough practice and gaining more confidence in your ability to mix, we recommend you start recording your DJ sets.

You’ll be able to analyze your progress and make improvements when playing it back to yourself. And if they’re good, you can also publish them across your social network (more on that later).

How to record your DJ set

Recording a DJ mix with Tascam DR-05X

There are some options available depending on your DJ setup.

  • For laptop and controller setups, this should be pretty straightforward as most DJ software should allow you to simply hit a “rec” button.
  • Certain pioneer mixers (must be compatible) should allow you to use the DJM-REC app to easily record your mixes by simply using your iPad or iPhone.
  • A more costly option, but one that offers greater flexibility, is to use an external handheld recorder, like the Tascam DR-05X. You simply connect from the mixer or controller’s Record Out ports to the recorder using an RCA adaptor cable, and that’s it.

Useful tips when recording your first mix

If you’re starting, you’re more than likely to be recording your mix at home as opposed to playing in front of an audience.

Either way, it’s important to understand the key differences. For example, some skills that are important in a live setting will include things like being able to read a crowd, which isn’t necessary when recording a mix from a personal setting.

But the key tip regardless of the environment is to use this as an opportunity to take listeners on a journey or tell a story with your set.

A journey always has a start and a finish, and the in-between is how – the route.

This approach is what will differentiate the pros from the novices.

Step 7: Build Your Network & Following

It’s important to be smart about which social media platforms you want to use, and how much time you’re willing to commit. If it’s a hobby or side-gig for example, then an hour or two per week might be sufficient.

If it is more serious like a career move, however, be prepared to dedicate many hours of the day posting on all accounts. This is important if you want to grow a following and get noticed by promoters or corporate clients looking for talent!

Remember quality over quantity when creating content – if no one wants what you post because they find it uninteresting (which can happen), don’t bother publishing it.

Having said that, let’s discuss the ways to build your network and following.

Create an Online Presence

Example of a DJ's Facebook page

It’s no good trying to be successful without having an online presence.

So before you start, create accounts on all the social media platforms.

This is important because as you begin to grow your audience across your social profiles, it is likely they’ll want to learn more about you, so use this as an opportunity to link users to your mixes.

You should be creating a presence across these platforms:

Later down the line, I recommend eventually creating your own website. This is a great way to promote your personal brand.

Promote Yourself Through Social Media

One way to do this is by seeking out DJs who work in your genre and are at a similar skill level as yourself. Then follow them on Twitter or Instagram so they’ll hopefully follow back.

Then when other people begin following their profiles, they’ll find yours may appear as a ‘suggested‘ profile to also check out. This can attract some followers (provided you have relevant content).

Publish and Share Mixes Regularly

DJ's Soundcloud Page with published mixes

Always keep fresh content flowing.

When sharing your mixes across your social profiles, a great tip includes tagging the artists whose song you just played in your set. Not all, but some, are likely to reciprocate by sharing a shoutout to their audience, and if they have a large following, you can expect some followers.

Networking

Attending events is a great way to network with other DJs, promoters and club owners. Use them as an opportunity to put yourself out there and hand out business cards.

Another important tip for networking: always be providing value and support to the people you like. There is always the possibility they will reciprocate.

Step 8: How To Land Your First DJ Gigs

DJ playing at a gig
Photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

House Parties

This is a great way to build up some of that early experience and confidence playing in front of a small audience.

Don’t expect this to pay your bills, as you’ll find out more often than not you’ll be performing for free.

Having said that, if you did an amazing job, chances are the audience will remember you and invite you to play at their parties.

Use this as an opportunity to build up a small network and mini repertoire amongst your social circles.

This will come in handy when you eventually land yourself a gig in the club scene. You’ll be able to invite your personal network and get paid for it one way or another.

Organize Your Own Events

There is an inspiring quote:

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” ~ Milton Berle.

How do you build a door? If you feel comfortable enough, why not be the main organizer?

This is a great way to get your name out there.

Don’t get me wrong, organizing events requires time and effort. But if it’s done well, it can be very rewarding financially and give you the exposure you need.

It might seem scary at first, but once you start making connections with promoters in the area who are willing to work with you, and you can book one or two headliners (with yourself playing the opening or closing sets), this is a great way to build your brand up.

Offer to Play at Local Gigs

If you’ve built up a network with promoters or club owners, there’s no harm in offering to play at local gigs.

After all, they’re a great way to get your name out there and build up experience. And even if you do it for free or at low rates, this is still good exposure that will lead to more gigs later down the line.

You can also offer other services such as inviting your own crowds that give them even more of an incentive.

This will show that you have experience and knowledge of the industry.

A few years ago I was playing at local gigs for free just to get my name out there. It’s a cliche that still works, but if you build up enough connections in the industry you can start to charge more as demand for your service increases.

Step 9: Level UP Your Craft

Read the Crowd

This is a skill that often gets overlooked by terrible performers – they just don’t read the crowd.

If you don’t do this, you can expect that dance floor to clear up, and in some cases, get yourself thrown off the decks.

Learn how to read the crowd – know how to react in real-time and adjust your set accordingly.

This means you need to work on building a catalogue of tracks that can cater for different moods, genres or even specific BPM’s.

If someone (like the club owner) is asking for deep house but they’re hearing techno – then something has gone wrong!

Pay attention to what your audience loves to hear and expect, not what you want to play.

Tailor to the Event

A DJ’s job isn’t just to play music, it is also about taking into account the event they’re playing at and catering for that specific audience.

If you are playing at a wedding reception then there will be different requirements compared to an after-party or club set.

Catering your sets/tracks to fit with the occasion will undoubtedly make you versatile.

Focus on Music Curation

Make sure you’re always curating music that will help you to consistently stand out regardless of whether you’re playing at an event or recording a mix.

If you have loyal followers attending your shows, make sure you’re offering them something fresh. Sometimes even the most catchy songs can get boring.

Learn to Pick the Right Gigs

If your career begins to take off, there will come a time when you’ll need to pick and choose your gigs. That’s a great problem to have.

Be sure to pick ones that will further develop your personal brand, not just what pays more money.

The Keys To Become a Successful DJ

Define What Success Means To You

What does success mean to you?  Is it successful to be a highly sought after producer or live DJ? Or is it to be a radio DJ playing across stations?

The answer is that there are many definitions for what “success” means.

Success can mean many things, but most people define success as being able to do whatever they love and make money doing it at the same time.

Did you know that 10% of people who actually write down their goals end up achieving them?

Depending on your definition, it’s important to set yourself important objectives/goals when striving for your defined “success”.

Learn From Your Favourite DJs

Ask yourself how were they able to become a success of themselves and what did they do to differentiate?

Find someone who can mentor you who has already gotten results in the industry. That won’t come easy, but if you establish the right contacts, anything is possible.

Develop a Business Mindset

Remember when I mentioned building your own mini network at the beginning then using that network as leverage to land yourself a local gig?

You can’t be strategic without adopting a business mindset. It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working smart.

Advanced Tip: Start Producing Music

Now this won’t necessarily be for everyone, and it’s certainly not an easy thing to do (hence why it’s an advanced tip), so do take this with a pinch of salt.

If you want to truly speed up your career into becoming a highly successful DJ and playing at gigs all over the world, then you should probably begin to consider producing your own music.

In this day and age, live beat mixing or just playing commercial music isn’t enough to draw lots of gigs, crowds and earn big money.

Part of the process will be your ability to produce music catchy enough to hit the music charts. That means having strong musical knowledge and getting signed to a label.

However, if you can do it, and many successful DJs have, then be ready to say bye to playing for free!

Most Important Tip: Enjoy Yourself

If there is one important piece of advice I would say to make this journey as satisfying and rewarding as possible, it is to simply enjoy yourself.

Remember, music is about feeling good, great vibes and a welcome break from regular routines. There’s nothing more enjoyable than being the one to make your audience feel good.

Final Thoughts

We hope you found this guide helpful on how to become a DJ. If there’s anything we missed, please drop us a comment below and let us know what it is or if you have any more questions about becoming successful as a DJ.

Good luck on your journey!

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