If you’re new to DJing and just getting started then you may of already noticed that some DJs use headphones briefly. Well there’s a fundamental reasoning behind this and is one of the core aspects to DJing and beat matching music.
Why do DJs use Headphones?
DJs use headphones to listen to the music track that they are about to mix into the music song track already play live on the speakers. DJs press the Cue button on the relevant channel to hear the track which allows them to beat match the music to songs playing live. Also to hear what the mix will sound like before moving the crossfader to the middle.
Here’s some top tips to explain to you why DJs use headphones and how you can too. There’s a lot to learn with DJing so why not start with learning the basics of headphones.
1. Cueing The Next Track
The concept of using headphones is to simply cue up the next track. By “cue up” I mean to say you are simply listening to the next track, you can listen to it in the headphones before it is played through the speakers.
Why is this important? Well when channel 1 is playing a music track live through the speakers, you can hit the ‘Cue’ button on channel 2 no the mixer. This will enable you to hear the music track on channel 2.
Now this gives you the feedback you need to release the music track on channel 2 to fall in line with the live music track. You will achieve this by launching the music track in the correct phrase and tempo.
Once you’ve achieved this, simply listen to your mix (before it’s played live) by switching the headphones on the mixer from ‘Cue’ to ‘Mix’. You will be able to preview how the two tracks sound together before you move the crossfader in between channel 1 and 2.
So let’s recap…
Assuming the music track on channel 1 is playing live and you are using the headphones to beat match channel 1 and 2 music tracks.
Step 1: Hit the ‘Cue’ button on channel 2 to be activated (make sure you un-activate channel 1 ‘Cue’, otherwise you will hear both channels from the beginning which can be confusing to hear).
Step 2: Use the headphones to listen to the channel 2 track, count the beats of the live track and drop in channel 2 music track into the correct phrase.
Step 3: You can use one headphone at this stage, and use your other ear to listen to the live music track. This will give you a reference point to beat match using the pitch shift on the DJ controller, CDJ or turntable.
(note: you can switch the headphone knob to ‘Mix’ to hear how both tracks sound in terms of being beat matched or not – it’s personal preference which method you use).
Step 4: Once you can hear that both music tracks are aligned in your headphones, then it’s time to commence the mix. You can either take your headphones down a listen to the live mix via the speakers. Or you can switch the headphone knob on the mixer to ‘Master’, this will play the live master audio being played out of the speakers.
2. Clarity of Sound When Playing Loud Venues
DJs use headphones more often to hear clarity of the sound. By clarity I mean timing of the beats being heard by the DJ. Lots of venues and clubs are different shapes and sizes. also the DJ booths are in different places which means the position of the speakers can create delay.
The delay of the sound arriving to the DJs ears can cause problems with the clarity of the feedback which causes the DJ issues trying to beat match effectively.
This is why headphones are so effective in giving such a clear audio sound with no delays. Therefore making a great reference point to use when mixing and beat matching.
3. Protect Hearing
Loud music is a common theme when it comes to music playing live, especially in a DJing capacity. So there’s no wonder that DJs use headphones to their advantage which can help protect their hearing to certain extent.
The key is to make sure the volume in your headphones is not turned up too high, otherwise you will likely get ear fatigue and need a decent break from listening to music for a while to recover.
There are different headphones out there, some claim to be noise cancelling and lots of hearing loss benefits. There’s foam inside the headphone ear pieces that help to block the outside noise.
I’ve not tested them out myself, my gut feeling is to use headphones the correct way and don’t abuse them by being too loud.
4. No speakers Available
As a beginner DJ you may not have that much equipment available, and you may not have any speakers yet. Fear not, I know a few DJs that have mentioned to me that they have DJ’ed purely with their headphones when speakers weren’t available to them.
Two benefits come along with this is that you can save some money in the short term while you get into DJing. You can not annoy your family, flat mates or next door neighbours by turning up the speaker volume. (all of which people I have pissed off in the past).
Using the headphones to DJ (with not speakers, or no speakers on) can help train you ears to mix with the headphones purely. You never know when this skill might come in handy in a live environment when you are DJing.
5. No DJ Software (Purely Vinyl)
Modern day DJ equipment provides visual audio tracks so that you can see the beats moving when the play button has been pressed.
This was not the case for DJs back in the day using purely record vinyls to spin and mix with. Some DJs out there I’m sure rely too much on the visuals of the digital CDJ display or DJ software to beat match.
Well I’ve got news for you, this is not the way you should be beat matching. DJs use headphones for a reason, and that’s to beat match by ear.
Using your headphones to beat match is essential and should be the foundation for beat matching, the visuals are a back up to help you blend tracks together if required.
Do you need headphones to DJ?
Headphones are typically required to listen to the mix of two music tracks. This enables DJs to listen and beat match the new track that’s going to be brought into the mix.
How can I mix without headphones?
It is possible to mix without headphones by using DJ software that allows you as a DJ to see the visual audio waves of each music track. DJ software shows two audio waves moving to represent both tracks playing. Allowing DJs to align both beats together visually.