There are plenty of areas in DJing to get to know about and experience. Only through practice and experience do we get to know and get better at DJing.
In this article I wanted to bring together the most ideas as possible that every DJ should know to help them on their journey as a DJ, whether that be at a complete beginner level up to a professional level, mobile or wedding DJ for example. Let’s get stuck in!
Just a quick one! I’ve put together the ultimate DJ progression check list, sign-up & download here.
1. Beat Matching by Ear is an Essential Skill
Learning how to beat match by ear is one of the most important skills when it comes to DJing.
DJ controllers and CDJs make it so easy to beat match music by visually checking audio waves and pressing SYNC buttons, anyone can jump on the decks and DJ within a short period of time.
Really what it comes down to is knowing every aspect of DJing. If you want to have a solid foundation of DJing skills then beat matching by ear is one of those skills that’s going to stand the test of time.
In a scenario there’s a technical issue with a CDJ or DJ controller forcing you to beat match then knowing how to is going to be a walk in the park. If you don’t then you’re screwed, especially if you’re playing out live in front of an audience.
2. It Takes Practice for Your Brain to Separate the Live Audio out of the Speakers vs Cue Audio in the Headphones
When you’re learning and practicing how to DJ by ear then it does take some time to learn how to hear the live audio vs the audio coming in from the headphone (aka the new track about to be mixed in).
All I can say here is that from my experience is that if you’re a musician then it might be a bit quicker for you to pick up. I used to play a lot of guitar and piano growing up so I found that separating sounds in my mind fairly easy.
Beat matching by ear and listening to the two different sounds can take some time. For me it took hours of practice, especially difficult on belt drive turntables, but in the end it was and is still such as satisfying skill to of achieved.
Practice and repetition will record into your subconscious therefore booming second nature. Get practicing your DJing until it’s second nature.
3. DJing Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
Second hand gear is what I started out using. You can also get hold of gear that’s very basic now and actually really affordable.
When I started DJing vinyl turntables were the only option, with the exception of CDJs that looked like a weird audio unit with tiny jog wheels compared to the modern day CDJ jog wheels.
DJ controllers offer one of the most inexpensive options for entry level DJs.
Check out the DDJ-400 Pioneer DJ Controller here. Around $150 online now.
4. You Can Learn DJing in Your Own Time, But a Course or Advice Speeds Up Progress
When I was starting out I had a lot of mate that were into DJing and so I naturally picked up DJing through them. We used to DJ a lot together, buy record vinyls together and then play DJ sets at each of DJ setups.
This was the best way I feel that you can learn too.
Option two in my opinion is learning at your own speed online via finding a few separate tutorials here and there e.g. on my channel on YouTube and on others DJ channels too.
The final and best potential option for DJs out there that are ambitious and want to get into DJing as quick as possible, DJ courses are the better methods to achieve your goals here.
5. Turn Down the Volume to Protect Your Ears
If you’re like me then listening to loud music is a bit of passion, especially when DJing.
As you get older you’ll realise how precious your hearing is. So when you’re at home DJing, whether it be producing music at home or DJing live out, protect your hearing.
It’s really important in the industry of DJing that you take care and protect your hearing. It’s really scary to feel or be aware that you might be in the process of your hearing.
I’m not saying don’t enjoy loud music, just be aware of it, especially for long periods of time. Turn down the volumes in your headphones and speakers to protect your hearing for the long term.
6. Get To Know Your Music Inside Out
Getting to know your music inside and out really does pay dividends when you’re playing live.
DJing with vinyls, I didn’t have the luxury of adding hot cues, memory cues and cue points in Rekordbox or Serato DJ software. It was all done by playing my music a lot and memorising where the cue points were.
If you can do this then you can spend a lot less time setting cue points in your music. Although it does give you the extra edge and less stress setting cue points, it’s very enjoyable being able to memorise the key tracks that you DJ with too.
7. Less Music in Your Collection is Sometimes Better
Less is more!
It really is true when it comes to music and your DJ sets. I’ve naturally always had a low amount of tracks that I like to DJ with.
In the digital age I’ve noticed that with so many music platforms out there, such as Beatport.com, record pools and music streaming services it’s easy to add a tonne of music tracks to your DJ software.
This is not always a great strategy if you’re DJing in front of an audience. As a DJ you are technically a performer too, no one wants to be looking at a DJ that is staring at a laptop searching for music via a search bar in the DJ software.
Having less tracks means you’re more likely to find that tracks that you require quickly to keep the crowd dancing and bopping away.
8. Organising Your Music Will Help You to DJ Better Live
As a related point to have less music is better for DJing, over time your collection will grow, therefore organising your music is vital.
Organising your music might seem trivial, it’s an absolutely essential part of your DJing toolkit. Keep your music organised in the DJ software that you are using whether it be Serato DJ or Rekordbox, the principle is all the same.
Some ideas to organise your DJ music is by;
- Historic DJ sets
- Key (harmonic)
- My favourite folder for organisation is ‘floor bangers’
DJs can use these folders to read the crowd and quickly find the music they need to keep the party and the dance floor moving.
9. Keep Your Music Files in One Folder on Your Computer
Keep in mind that you really need to store your files in one place on your laptop.
A lot of DJs out there might download their DJ music and then drag and drop the music straight away from the download folder to the DJ software folder.
Don’t do this!
Instead, make a solid habit of moving your DJ music from the Downloads folder to the main Music folder e.g. ‘House Music’ or ‘Hip Hop’ folders, stored on your computer.
This will stop any issues or ‘File Errors‘ with loading music onto DJ software.
10. Setting Mini-Goals Will Help You To Achieve Your DJing Aspirations
Settings mini-goals for yourself each day or each week will support you to achieve being the best DJ that you can ever be.
Structuring your ultimate goal and planning mini-goals to achieve your ultimate goal is a really good way to progress in DJing.
Ultimate Goal =
Mix and record my first DJ set
1. Learn how to beat match,
2. Learn how to match harmony of music together
3. learn how to mix for 60 minutes straight,
4. learn how to record a DJ mix.
Focusing daily on your goals will really help you get to those ultimate DJing goals you’ve set yourself.
If you want some inspiration for mini-goals, I’ve put together the ultimate DJ check list, sign-up & download here.
11. DJing Live Online Will Help Your Confidence When DJing Live in Person
“Practicing” your DJ sets in your DJ studio or bedroom with no one listening is not going to be a true representation of DJing live.
The answer. DJ stream live online or record all of your DJ sets. Also DJing on live online radio or on a podcast is another tip here too.
It’s as simple as that. Put pressure on yourself on purpose and you will be used to the pressure of DJing live in front of an audience anywhere.
12. Network Online and In Person
At the stage where you want to get some DJ gigs out in clubs, bars, events, festivals or radio / podcasts? Then make sure you put a lot of energy into connecting and engaging with people online and in person.
When I moved to Australia I knew no one out there related to the music industry.
After a lot of digging into the local scenes forums online and connecting with a few people I made the jump to meet these local scene people in person at their music events.
From there I managed to get gigs in a few bars and also DJ live on Kiss FM Australia.
Imagine if I hadn’t of tried networking, that experience wouldn’t of happened.
Networking can really change the path you take as a DJ and person. It’s really worth pushing yourself outside your comfort zone to connect with people. Your life can change as a result.
13. Help Others Out in the Music Industry
Connected to the previous point, helping others out in the music industry is like a hybrid form of networking.
Say for example a local music event is being advertised, that you know you wold love to DJ at one day, why not reach out to them. Offer your help and support.
You could help promote the event, help on the door on the event, support online sales and marketing. Literally anything the event organise might need help with offer your support.
A great by product is getting a DJ set in exchange and also meeting a lot of new music scene people.
14. Be Creative & Professional in Everything You Do
When you’re branding yourself as a DJ make sure you’re being as creative and professional as possible.
Make sure your branding looks slick, your website is clean and stylish, plus put out the best DJ mixes on your DJ website / Mixcloud etc. You will want people to perceive you as professional and not amateur.
Be professional in nature to the people that you meet too, whether it be a customer that you’re DJing for at a wedding or speaking to the staff at an event, people will remember you for that.
15. Learn How to Control Energy within Your DJ Sets
The key, also known as harmony, and also rhythms of music tracks can command how much energy you craft in your DJ sets.
Knowing how the energy flows throughout your DJ sets does help give you audience a break from dancing and can also help to build up to something more dramatic towards the end of your DJ sets.
Read my article on How to Construct a DJ Set, this will give you a tonne of info to get better at crafting DJ sets.
16. Generate More Than One Source of Income from DJing
There may be times in your DJing career where you might not be able to physically DJ to make your money.
So you really need to make sure you’ve got some other ideas to generate income from other avenues and sources. This will put you in good stead to stay afloat with money in the long term. You might not want to DJ in clubs forever, so this could be a good way to DJ less or not at all one day.
Here are some legit ideas that I’ve seen other DJs get involved with over the years. Hopefully these ideas can inspire you to improve your DJ income streams too.
17. Resolve Technical Issues with DJ Equipment
A very good skill to have, or at least some experience, is to be able to deal with technical issues going wrong with DJ equipment.
You need to know how your equipment works inside out, so that you know how to sense check your DJ equipment is working basically. This is to de-bug any possibility there aren’t issues. For example, the volume is switched off, or the DJ mixer is not plugged in.
More experience in solving technical issues will take off the pressure when you’re in a live environment.
18. Stay Healthy! Physically & Mentally
You might feel that this is strange advice but seriously hear me out.
There’s three points here, that’s abusing drugs / alcohol, eating well and physically exercising.
- There’s not point abusing alcohol or drugs when you’re DJing and throughout your career as a DJ. Your DJing quality and image will likely be compromised and might stunt the longevity of your career as a DJ too.
- Eating well such as veggies and fruits plus a low carb diet is going to help you stay healthy and feeling positive and not dragged down in the dumps. The reason is if you’re travelling a lot you might be susceptible to eating a lot low quality foods which might make you feel sub-par and not perform to your best when DJing.
- Physically stretching and exercise is going to be great for you as a DJ. You can easily get a bad back from standing over DJ decks and sitting on long flights or car journeys. Focus on keeping physically fit will help you feel great in the long run. You’ll feel less stressed too.
19. Know the Structure of Music
Knowing the basic structure of music in general is going to come with experience but actually it’s a very important part of music that you need to know as a DJ.
Certain genres require different DJing techniques that allow you to mix in music at all different sections of music.
For example, knowing that there’s a break down before a big bass line drop is essential, knowing there’s a bridge solo section after the second drop is good to know too.
These little bits of knowledge will help you to mix your music together better and smoother.
20. A Wide Variety of Mix Transitions
Knowing how to pull off a wide variety of music mix transitions is really important.
Some genres you don’t even know how to or even implement many different mix transitions, especially if you’re very good at mixing with phrases. but it’s always good to have in your locker.
You never know, your unique selling point as a DJ could be known for having a lot of different mix transitions in your DJ sets.
21. Use DJ Effects Effectively
Minimise your use of the DJ effects on the DJ mixer and on each channel.
It’s sounds awful in the mix when too many FX are used too often.
My worst DJ effect on the mixer is the use of the Phaser, it just sounds crap and jumps the signal into the red, distorting the audio quality of the mix. Some DJs love it, no idea why.
22. Counting, Beats, Bars & Phrases
Get the basics right and count beats, bars and phrases.
As a beginner DJ this should be one of your number one skills to acquire a long side beat matching with the tempo sliders and adjusting the jog wheel.
This knowledge is the foundational aspect of DJing and you will need to get very good at it quickly in order to DJ at a consistent level.
23. Tailor Your DJ Sets to Your Audience
There’s nothing worse than a DJ playing a DJ set that’s not suited to the evvent or the audience.
Make sure you research the event or the audience that you’re going to DJ for. Great DJs tailor their music sets for the audience.
For example if you’re in the House music scene, not all DJs play a hard heavy deep bassline sort of set. Some DJs might play a lighter funky sounding DJ set.
The same goes for weddings, research from the client first the ideas they might have and curate a DJ set of music from there.
24. Dance, Show Personality & Have a Stage Presence
People engage with positive people. If a DJ gives off a certain vibe then people will pick up on that, particularly if a DJ is smiling, happy and dancing to the beats they are playing.
There’s nothing worse that a DJ simply standing still, frown up-side down, simply pushing buttons to DJ in front of an audience.
Having a stage presence is going to show off to your crowd that you’re into the music too.
25. Use DJ Software Looping to Your Advantage
Looping function on DJ software such as Rekordbox is really great technique to know.
You can manually control looping and also set auto-activate loops.
Either technique you use will help you to control how long you have at the end of a track to start mixing in the beats between one track to another.
It’s a great tip for DJs to know as you can bide your time and take of the stress if a track is short and coming to an end.
Check out how to loop in Rekordbox here.
26. Style Out Your DJing Mistakes
If mistakes happen in your DJ set such as pressing the hotcue button which activates a different part of the track or you press pause accidently and the mumsic stops.
Don’t fear, quickly accept it and move one. Even laugh it off. Some people appreciate that DJs make mistakes and that they are human.
27. Turn Up to DJ Gigs Early & Prepared
Make sure you turn up to any DJ gig that you are playing early.
You might need to for many reasons and here are some of them:
- Speak to the client or previous DJs about the setup
- Scout out how people are dancing and what the vibe is in the club generally
- Setup your DJ equipment
- Take the stress out of getting started DJing
28. Invest in a Decent Pair of Headphones
There’s nothing worse than DJing with a low quality pair of headphones.
- Audio quality
- Uncomfortable to wear
The investment into a decent pair of headphones is really imoportant so it makes sense to invest for the longer term.
Audio quality iss essential as you will be able to hear the music to the best of it’s quality and also you might damage your ears if the audio is too low-0end or tinny in sound.
There’s nothing worse than wearing uncomfortable headphones for long periods of time.
Here’s a review of the Sennheiser DJ headphones HD-25s that I use all the time for Djing and listening to music, plus music protection too.
What skills should a DJ have?
DJs are required to have beat matching skills which means having good rhythm, good technical skills to get used to setting up DJ equipment and also good interpersonal / business skills which enable you to network and grow a potential career as a DJ.
What Every DJ needs?
Every DJ needs headphones, DJ equipment that will allow a DJ to beat match or mix together two or more music songs. Speakers are important to then connect to the DJ equipment to play out loud.
How do DJs stand out?
DJs can stand out by creating a unique DJ name, having a signature look or DJ skill or technique. Standing out from the crowd also can mean creating music, putting on fantastic parties and also creating amazing online content to stand out from the crowd of DJs out there competing for attention.