Getting better at DJing is firmly on a lot of new DJs minds, it was certainly an obsession of mine when I first started DJing years ago. It took me longer to be honest as I was using belt drive turntables, I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.
Now days technology has allow us to become more efficient DJs, especially with the use of DJ controllers, DVS and CDJs. There are various methods of practicing DJing to get better, here’s my top advice that I can give to you to draw inspiration upon and get practicing.
1. Record your DJ mixes
One of the best methods when you are starting out is to record your own DJ mixes. If you are an honest person with yourself you can easily critique your own DJ mixes and pick out areas of transitions or EQ blends that you might need to improve upon.
Advice before starting to record a DJ mix is to consider one of the below options:
Plan a set – literally pick all the tracks in your DJ software and put them into a logical order that you want to mix them and then go from there. Hit record and practice a planned DJ set that you’ve sorted out. Maybe re-record after you’ve finished.
Remember you’re not allowed to stop the mix and start again mid-way through the DJ mix. This is cheating. The idea is to replicate the pressure of playing live to an audience.
Power hour – This is one of my favourite options. If you have a big list of tracks (more than 1 hour) then great. Just simply open up your full library list and DJ your tracks for 60 minutes. Time yourself if it helps. Record the mix and then listen back to it.
There might be tracks that you mixed together that work well and some that sound clashing in key or not in sync because of your beat matching skills. The goal is to mix as many or little tracks within 60 minutes to the best of your ability but without planning your DJ set.
Marathon set – The same rules apply for this but the goal is to DJ for 2 to 3 hours non-stop, you have to record your set and give yourself feedback at the end of the recording. This technique requires commitment in terms of time recording a DJ set and then listening to it again.
The goal is to purposely put strain on your mind and stamina to DJ for longer than 60 minutes and keep a high standard of mixing quality. This could be a scenario in the future that you get commissioned to play for a long period of time for example a festival.
Process of mixing, recording, feedback, writing down areas to improve (continuous improvement cycle)
How to record your DJ sets?
I’ve written a great article to guide you through the methods to record your DJ mixes here: https://beatmatchguru.com/how-to-record-your-dj-mixes/
DJ Software – The best advice I can give you in is to take advantage of your DJ software and hit record in there, for example in Rekordbox, Traktor or Serato.
External Recording Device – The other way is to record using an external recording device by plugging it into the mixer or Dj controller.
Sound Card – Finally recording your mix via the mixer output into a sound card connected to the computer can give you a high quality audio recording.
2. DJ B2B with other DJs
Starting out DJing I used to DJ on my own and learn how to mix that way. The genres that I DJ’d back then was mainly Garage and Drum and Bass, but then my friends from college and University started to get me into DJing Dance, House and Dubstep.
So before I knew it I was DJing back to back with my friends, sometimes recording DJ sets and sometimes simply mixing until we stopped.
The two areas that will benefit you when DJing back to back with other DJs is that you can see how they beat match, use the mixer, blend and transition into other tracks.
Sometimes it is really easy to learn by seeing others DJ, you can almost get instant feedback by bench marking your abilities compared to there skills and abilities.
Tips for DJing back to back is to:
- be confident
- try your best
- learn from the other DJ
- get feedback from them after the DJ set
- Don’t worry about failure, learn from it
- DJ three tracks each
- Stick to the same genre and go with the flow. Mix and blend!
3. Rent a studio to DJ on industry standard equipment
As a keen traveller, I’ve found myself with a backpack exploring new countries. Years ago it was hard to keep up with DJing while being away from my turntables, so I found that seeking out local recording studios within the country I was residing at the time.
Some of the studios have DJ studios with industry level DJ equipment setup. Sure it costs some money but there are two key things that you benefit from, 1) you don’t need to buy super expensive industry level equipment, 2) you get to keep up your Djing skills regardless of where you are or your own equipment is.
Finally, if you don’t have any equipment then it’s simple, you can go rent a DJ studio for an hour or two, maybe more. Read up and watch DJ tutorials online and get some practice in the studio.
Here’s one of my favourite and most professional looking studio setups I’ve come across:
Pirate Studios: The studio I’ve been to before is based in North London. They have professional studios with high standard DJ equipment. I’ve not been for a while but noticed on their website they are promoting that you can live stream from the studio which is amazing. Check out the north London studio here.
Turns out Pirate Studios are global and have studios for DJs to practice in London but also New York and Berlin.
4. House parties and Birthdays
There’s no better practice DJing when playing in front of an audience, that is the essence of DJing. The ability to read a crowd and their reaction is the core principle of DJing and the goal of DJs is to be entertaining their audience to get dancing.
If you’ve had enough technical DJ mixing practice and want to jump outside your comfort zone then setup a house part or small event in a local bar, even a mates birthday party.
The practical aspects that you can learn are far superior to that of DJing in your bedroom or home studio. People coming up to you requesting songs, the speakers in the DJ booth not in the position you’re used to and even technical issues with the laptop or DJ software you are using.
The pressure and issues are real and you will learn ten times as much in these live environments and scenarios.
5. Listen to other DJs and their transitions
There are tonnes of DJ mixes online so why not listen to their mixes and write down on your laptop or pen and paper. Evernote is a great note taking app/website that you can use to take notes.
I challenge you to do this and feedback and criticise the DJ mixes of other DJs. The major benefit here is to get into the mindset of feeding back advice so that you can pick out the same issues on your own DJ mixes.
Listening by ear will certainly help you tune your ear to hear the quality of the beat matching of other DJs too. This is a genuine skill that you need in your own abilities to DJ so well worth putting some time and effort into doing.
Mixcloud, YouTube, Soundcloud and radio show websites have heaps of DJ mixes so why not get critiquing mixes now and start learning a thing or two.
6. Watch DJs play live and see how they DJ
Many a time I’ve been to gigs and raves where I’ve starred inquisitively at the DJ mixing on the decks. I love learning new techniques and seeing how other DJs craft their sets together.
You can definitely learn a few techniques from other DJs to then bring to your own DJing abilities to then practice.
The way that DJs engage with the crowd is something you can certainly learn about too. That’s an area of experience that you can’t really gain when you’re DJing in a studio or at home. See how they hype up the crowd and potentially even read the audience too with the tracks they might play afterwards. Take note and get ready for your live DJ sets.
7. Get gigs and play live in front of a club / festival environment
Later down the line when you’ve got your DJing skills up to a decent level it will be prime time to crack on and get yourself some DJ gigs at clubs or festivals.
Even if you start out DJing to a handful of people at least you will be getting over a potential fear factor and pushing yourself outside you comfort zone. Playing in a bar, club of live stage at small festival is amazing practice, in fact priceless.
Hearing the sound of the monitors in the booth and on the live sound system will be so different. That’s great experience to get used to. The equipment might be CDJs that you’ve not practiced on that much but it’s all great experience. The under pressure type
8. Live streaming: Facebook live, Online Radio show
Lots of DJs of any level seem to be playing live on Facebook these days. The great thing about doing this is that the pressure is the same as playing live to an audience in front of you. Instead you are playing in your studio at home still but with the pressure of making sure you get the mixes down.
The goal here is to put pressure on you so there’s not a chance you can just stop the mix and start again. Play to your audience but online, this is the nearest you’re going to get to the real thing without playing in a club.
9. Enter DJ competitions
There are sometimes DJ competitions online and in a club environment that you can enter into. Usually there’s an initial stage that you need to qualify for and then you’ll get to the final playing in front of a crowd. I’ve not been in one myself, I’d love to in fact.
Genuinely I couldn’t think of anything better to gain experience and practice in front of a live audience of people ready to dance to your music. Here are a couple of DJ competitions from 2019 that might re-open for years to come.
Check the, out and get stuck in, the practice could be well worth it in the long run and potentially launch your career.
https://www.londonsoundacademy.com/blog/dj-competition-2019 https://www.mixcloud.com/competitions/elrowdjcall/ http://www.thesocial.com/save-the-social-glastonbury-dj-competition/ https://www.facebook.com/events/the-cause/dj-competition-the-london-dj- https://www.gottwood.co.uk/djcomp/
10. The Protégé Effect: Teach others How to DJ
I’ve taught my friends how to DJ before and sometimes I’ve found that they don’t always know how well they can DJ. So I decided that it might be a good idea that they teach someone else the basics of DJing.
The outcome was interesting because teaching someone else reinforced to them that they know what they are talking about when it comes to DJing. So the skills that they had they instantly became way more confident in.
Therefore a few of my friends I taught become more resilient when DJing in front of an audience. Turns out this is an actual thing call the Protégé Effect. you can read more about it below.
People that teach others helps them to learn the topic really well and builds confidence too.
11. Plan Exactly What You Want to Get out of each Session
To practice without a goal or purpose can be pointless. My advice is that if you want to make sure you progress you really need a direct, logical and well thought out plan. Write your individual goals and then methodically pick a goal per DJ session you play and focus on practicing a specific skill.
This is a great way to progress at DJing and any technique in music and you can monitor your progress. Make sure you practice a specific technique so that you can repeat it without even thinking consciously.
12. Replicate the DJ Booth: Move the speakers (monitors) in different positions
When I’ve played in bar and club the DJ booth monitors are in different positions. This threw my sense of hearing off slightly as I used to DJ a lot from my home DJ set where the speakers with either side of the turntables pointing right at me.
When playing in a bar for the first time there was only one speaker and that was situated behind me over my right shoulder. That was not what I used to.
So my advice is to make sure you practice DJing with your speakers in different positions in your room that your are practicing in. This will give you better flexibility in hearing the sound and wont put you off or phase you when you get into a DJ booth in any environment.
- Don’t practice new techniques for example scratching in front a of live audience until you can implement a technique without thinking.
- Prepare for each DJ set, even if you’ve not played live to an audience before.
- Learn your technical skills inside out so that when you’re under pressure the skills you have are second nature. This will allow you to perform better under pressure and deal with any new issues that you need to learn to resolve.
Can you practice DJing with just headphones?
DJing with just headphones and no speakers is possible. There’s a headphone switch on most mixers or DJ controllers that allow the DJ to switch between ‘CUE’, ‘MIX’ & ‘MASTER’. CUE allows the DJ to cue up the next track, once in the mix the DJ can select ‘Mix’, then once the crossfader is in between track A and B the DJ can switch to ‘Master’ to hear the live audio.
How do I get better at DJing?
Practicing DJing by recording your DJ sets and mixes can really help you to critique your own mixes. Feedback from other people can help give further tips and ideas to improve upon DJing techniques. Attending or taking a DJ training workshop can also provide a great foundation of knowledge.
Why do DJs only use one headphone?
DJs use one headphone so that they can hear the speaker, also known as monitor, that is in the DJ booth. In doing so allows the DJ to hear the live audio or mix transition more clearly to get better feedback when beat matching.