If you’ve ever gotten a rush from picking a tune that everyone loved, you know why DJs love what they do. You may even be wondering how to become a DJ yourself.
If you dream of performing at clubs, festivals, or even for your friends, there’s no better time to start your journey.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to become a DJ, the various types of DJs, and the equipment you’ll need to get started.
We’ll also answer some common questions about DJing, including, and whether you can become a DJ without any prior experience.
Let’s dive into how to become a DJ and get you started on your journey.
What is a DJ? Three main types of DJ explained
A DJ is someone who’s the designated selector of music at a party, nightclub, bar, festival, event venue or radio station. The term originated as a contraction of the phrase “disc jockey”, referring literally to the act of jockeying between vinyl discs to cue up the next track.
The term DJ now refers to a handful of roles related to selecting music or working with vinyl records.
Today there are three main types of DJs, each with unique skills, experience, and opportunities.
The most common style of DJ—they perform at clubs, bars, parties and events.
These DJs focus on mixing and beatmatching to keep the dance floor moving.
Club DJs play tracks from their collections at live events using vinyl turntables, CDJs, digital controllers or other playback devices.
The art of club DJing involves selecting music to match the audience’s energy and blending them seamlessly into a stream of compelling tracks.
Popular club DJs are sought after for their ability to work a crowd and control the energy on the dance floor over the course of their set
Radio DJs act as the host of a radio program and provide quips and commentary as well as selecting the tracks to be played. They engage directly with listeners via phone-in segments and conduct interviews with artists during tours or press campaigns.
While some radio DJs do play club music, being a radio DJ often requires specialized knowledge in a certain genre of music.
In today’s industry, Radio DJs are often seasoned professionals with lots of experience in the world of broadcasting.
A great radio DJ needs to have deep knowledge of their musical niche. But they also need the confidence of a media personality to discuss their content on-air.
Turntablists are old-school DJs with skills in the art of manipulating sound and creating new music through techniques like scratching and beat juggling.
In the tradition of the earliest “disc jockeys,” turntablist DJs rely on the unique qualities of a vinyl setup.
Easily the most challenging style of DJing—turntablists spend hours honing the rhythmic aspect of their craft and must have expert knowledge of how to manipulate vinyl to create new sounds.
The three most essential DJ skills
To become a successful DJ, you need to develop several skills—music selection, mixing and crowd engagement.
DJing is a skill like any other in music. It helps to have natural talent, but consistent practice and dedication are essential to building your skills.
Let’s dive into each skill in-depth.
1. Music selection
As a DJ you are the selector. That means knowing which songs to play and when to play them.
Listen to music actively. Consider how the track might sound on club speakers, or how it might change the mood and atmosphere when played at a certain point of your set.
The best DJs in the world are masters at knowing what the crowd wants to hear and delivering unexpected, interesting and inspiring selections.
Discover music by following new artists, constantly saving songs that caught your ear, diving through niche playlists and sifting through records at record shops.
Develop your knowledge of record labels and imprints and explore their catalogs to get a feel for genres and trends.
And, don’t be afraid to ask your connections for track IDs and sources of inspiration.
Keep up an attitude of discovery, collection and curation during your listening practice and that will help you develop your selector skills.
2. Mixing and performance
Learning the more technical aspects of DJing are important for ensuring your set goes well and is interesting for the audience.
While being a good selector is probably the most important aspect of DJing, knowing how to mix tracks in and out properly will contribute to better DJ sets.
You’ll have to learn how to blend tracks seamlessly by matching beats, adjusting EQs, timing effects, drops and cuts—these are essential skills for maintaining energy on the dance floor.
The good news is that modern CDJ equipment has made the learning curve somewhat easier—so don’t be afraid of the more technical side of DJing.
Once you’re confident behind the decks you’ll be able to incorporate effects and performance tricks into your sets.
And, you’ll be able to focus on making your selections and finding the perfect mix.
3. Crowd engagement
Connecting with your audience, reading their reactions, and adapting your set accordingly is key to creating an unforgettable set.
So watch how other DJs work the crowd around them.
If you’re DJing rap or pop with well-known lyrics, it’s important to know when a particular lyric is coming so you can cut the audio to let the audience sing along.
Club DJs keep a good handle on what the crowd wants to hear and they know how to build up a party atmosphere.
Learn to use the microphone to hype up the crowd with fun banter, or plan to incorporate some kind of performance into your set to build additional intrigue.
Remember, if people are dancing and having fun, that’s a good indication that you’re doing a good job.
What DJ equipment do beginners need?
Getting started as a DJ requires a little bit of equipment. You’ll need these if you want to learn how to become a DJ.
DJ controller and DJ software
A DJ controller is a MIDI device that allows DJs to control mixer and turntable software on a computer.
DJ Controllers come a few shapes and sizes and generally are designed to control a specific suite of software.
A few of the most common DJ apps are Rekordbox, Serato and Traktor.
We’ve written about DJ software and controllers in past articles if you want to find the perfect DJ Controller for you.
You’ll need a pair of decent headphones since these are essential for cueing up tracks and listening to your mix before it reaches the speakers.
We’ve written some great articles about picking up the best headphones possible before. Go take a look at the best headphones for DJs.
For practice at home, invest in a decent set of speakers to get a clear representation of your mixes.
For practice at home, invest in a decent set of speakers to get a clear representation of your mixes.
Check out our past articles about the best studio monitors for home studios, if you’re looking into getting a set of good speakers.
A one-gigabyte USB stick
Perhaps one of the more simple accessories DJs need, it’s important to get a sizeable USB stick where you can store your music.
On top of that, make sure it’s formatted for CDJs so you’re ready to go if someone asks you to plug in and start DJing.
Your USB is like your record library, so make sure you keep it full of music that you’re ready to DJ.
If you’re using individual turntables or CDJs, a mixer is necessary to blend tracks together.
As a beginner, consider affordable and user-friendly DJ setups, like a Pioneer DDJ-400 or a Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX.
If you’re looking to learn without equipment, some good DJ apps are Serato DJ Lite, VirtualDJ, or Mixxx.
If you’re getting your tracks from quiet sources like ripped vinyl or cassette chances are it won’t be mastered to radio-ready loudness levels.
That means these tracks might come out a fair bit quieter than other tracks in your playlist and cause awkward bumps in volume from track to track.
The best way to fix this is by mastering your tracks to get them up to standard loudness levels.
One of the main uses for mastering is to get tracks up to loudness levels so that can compete with everything else on the radio and streaming services.
So, a hot DJ trick is to pick up an unlimited AI mastering subscription and master all your tracks to make sure they’re as loud and punchy as possible.
DJ courses, tutorials and training
Both nline courses and self-teaching methods have their benefits. Courses provide structured learning, hands-on practice, and feedback from experienced instructors.
Online resources like YouTube also offer a wealth of information to help you learn at your own pace.
The best way to get started is to download some tracks you want to try mixing, learn how your equipment works and start practicing basic mixing techniques.
Building your DJ brand and networking
Developing a strong personal brand and networking within the industry are key factors in becoming a successful DJ.
Here are some tips for building your DJ brand.
Create a unique DJ name
Your DJ name is how people will remember you—it’s what they’ll see on posters and it’s what they’ll search for on social media and streaming platforms.
So try your best to choose a name that represents your style and stands out from the crowd.
Develop a logo and visual identity
Creating atmosphere and expectations about what your DJ style will sound like is very much linked to the visual aesthetic of your branding.
So be considerate of what kind of vibe you want to put out—a hard-hitting acid techno DJ will usually have a different look and aesthetic than a bubbly EDM DJ.
If design isn’t your thing consider tapping your network for professional design services to create a consistent and recognizable image.
Establish an online presence
Sharing your content, information about your next set, pictures of your studio and more is key for creating an online presence that fans can latch onto.
Attend local events, network with club owners, promoters, and other DJs, and share your mixes online.
For those interested in specific DJ niches, like house music or radio DJing, focus on building connections within that community by attending relevant events and participating in online discussions.
Give it up for the DJ
Becoming a DJ is an exciting journey that requires passion, dedication, and a willingness to learn.
By understanding the different types of DJs, developing essential skills, investing in the right equipment, and building a strong personal brand, you’ll be well on your way to success.
Remember, practice makes perfect, and the more time you dedicate to honing your craft, the better you’ll become.
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