How To Be a DJ In 2021: The Ultimate Guide

How To Be a DJ In 2021: The Ultimate Guide

Do you love dance music? Would you like to become a DJ but don’t know where to start?

You are in the right place! Thanks to our guide you will find useful tips and advice to start DJing.

Discover the ideal equipment, the necessary skills, some fundamental notions, and start your journey right away: who knows that a working career cannot be born from a hobby!

What kind of DJ do you want to be?

When it comes to DJs, the first thing you usually think about is the guys spinning decks at clubs.

Did you know that the term “DJ” also indicates other professional figures?

Let’s see them together and try to understand what kind of DJ you want to become!

The “classic” DJ of discos

disco dj

Here is what we were talking about before, perhaps the best known type of DJ, that is the one who takes care of choosing the music in discos.

This DJ does not only have the task of “putting the songs one after the other”: the songs must follow one another without stopping, continuously and without the track ever emptying.

Generally, every club or disco has its own DJs.

The “performer” DJ

DJ-performer

His work is essentially the same as the DJ we find in discos, but he has been able to recognize himself for particular skills.

Thanks to his fame, he is hired in various clubs and events, where he becomes the “attraction” of the evening.

Even the so-called DJ turntables are DJ performers, who amaze the audience by performing their work not only with excellent technique but also with acrobatics, in short, DJs who, in addition to being listened to, must be watched!

The “animator” DJ

He performs during private parties or weddings, taking care of the soundtrack of the day and adapting his repertoire to the requests and tastes of the guests.

In this case, the DJ brings all the audio equipment (speakers and possibly also the lights) and often also takes care of entertaining the audience by speaking into the microphone, making dedications and announcements.

The DJ can then switch from simple background music to group dancing and dance.

The radio DJ

DJ-radio

Even those who work in the radio are defined as DJs: in this case, the work consists of choosing the songs (or in the execution of the pre-established schedules by the radio) and in conducting the broadcast.

The DJ producer

The term “DJ producer” generally indicates dance and electronic music producers.

Sometimes those who DJ do not produce their own music, as it is not said that whoever composes unreleased dance tracks is necessarily also a DJ, so let’s pay attention to the term and remember that the DJ producer is the one who produces music in the dance environment.

In this guide we will talk about DJs in the most common sense of the term, that is, in reference to those who mix two songs, performing perfect transitions between songs.

Become a professional DJ

As you have seen, there are several figures that revolve around the term DJ and, although some can earn more than others, all of them can do the job of a professional DJ.

Surely being able to earn with your own unreleased tracks or being a popular artist is not easy, but those who are good and believe they have the right qualities can try their hand by starting to play at some party of friends or working in some small club or in the program of nascent web radio.

DJ-professional

Everyone starts with a little apprenticeship, after all, you have to study and learn, propose yourself, gain experience to improve and create a name for yourself, even if only locally.

Once you start getting more and more salaries, you will be able to supplement your salary and maybe only be able to DJ as a primary profession.

The all in one controller

The all in one DJ controller is an instrument on which you can insert your music tracks, effects, and cue points (or particular points of a song) via CD players or USB key.

So with an all in one controller, you don’t even need a computer!

While the basic and inexpensive models may be suitable for beginners, the high-end models are very expensive.

The DJ console or DJ controller

The DJ Console instead allows you to use a computer with software to manage the tracks, while the actions can be performed on the physical machinery.

In this case, the console must be combined with a mixer (if not included) and a computer equipped with software.

dj equipment 2

Portable DJ

DJ laptop is undoubtedly practical: the DJ can take it with him to any club or party.

A desktop computer is more suitable for working at home or in the studio on musical productions or remixes that require machinery of a certain power.

At first, we recommend using the laptop you already have (as long as it has the necessary specifications), with which you can learn the basics.

Once “ready” you can consider buying a different and more powerful model.

Your computer will have to be more than reliable when you go to perform: what if you find yourself with your laptop crashing in the middle of the song?

What if it breaks? Clearly, professionals always have high-end computers (or all-in-one controller) and many also carry a spare laptop with them in case of emergency.

Guide to the best DJ software

If you want to buy a DJ controller, you will need to install a program that allows your computer to “communicate” with the controller.

There are numerous free and paid software: at the beginning, a free program could be enough to begin to become familiar and manual, as you improve you can switch to increasingly professional software, with extra fictions and which will also allow you to use loop in live and then add customizations to your live sets.

Are there too many programs and you don’t know which one to choose? Here is a short guide to the best DJ software for you.

The following software are the most recommended:

  • Serato: one of the industry standards along with Traktor, compared to which it has fewer features, but a better interface.
  • Traktor: software loved by both professionals and non-professionals. Reliable, stable, and complete.
  • Virtual DJ: affordable price, available in various more or less complete versions (and therefore also more or less expensive).
  • Mixxx: Available for Mac only and free.
  • DJ Pro: great for those who use Spotify (premium version) and can thus access a huge music archive without having to download all the songs. Not all functions can be applied to Spotify songs without purchasing the tracks.
  • Torq: a very nice, complete, and reliable program. However, the interface is complicated and not immediate, especially for beginners.

As in any area, each product can be more or less suitable for your needs. In addition to your personal tastes, price, and ease of use, remember to ALWAYS check that your computer has the appropriate and necessary specifications for its operation and that the hardware is also compatible.

DJ mixer

If once a DJ needed hundreds of records, turntables and a mixer, today we have seen how we are enabled to be able to compact everything in the all in one controllers.

DJ mixer is often not necessary, as it is generally included in the controller.

What is a mixer for? Through the mixer, you can change the equalization, play with volumes and balances.

DJ headphones

The DJ headphones are another important and fundamental element.

There are different types of headphones for music professionals and those for DJs are specially designed for the needs of this figure.

During an evening the DJ must be able to hear the current track and the track he intends to play next.

The headphones must allow him both to be able to use them for pre-listening to the “incoming” song and to be able to comfortably listen to the two songs simultaneously.

dj headphones

The model designed for DJs in fact provides good isolation and also the possibility of being able to “turn” only one pavilion, so as to be able to switch from exclusive listening with headphones to double listening: the track to be thrown into the headphones and the track in play from a spy box or from the diffusion of the room.

Unlike an instrumentalist who has to perform a piece in the studio, the DJ does not need engaging listening: the important thing is that he can hear all the frequencies clearly.

Comfort is another factor that should not be underestimated: uncomfortable headphones can make hours on the controller a nightmare rather than a pleasure.

DJ equipment for beginners

Now that we’ve covered the main tools a DJ needs, let’s see what the ideal beginner DJ gear is.

If you already have a computer (which is most likely), you will need to get a DJ controller with a built-in mixer and compatible software.

To start having fun at home, you certainly don’t need an expensive pair of headphones, the important thing is that they are circumaural headphones.

The ideal would be to have at least discreet external listening, or two pairs of headphones with removable earpads to be able to hear two songs simultaneously from different sources.

Fortunately, today it is possible to have access to several free sources and tutorials that can show you the various controller models and software, so you can get a general idea of the various products without investing a lot or a little money blindly.

Learn to DJ

Once you have chosen the equipment, you just have to get to work!

Here are the basics for learning how to DJ: mixing, equalization, phrasing and beatmatching.

Making a smooth transition from one song to another is not easy: song A and song B can have different speeds, sounds and different frequencies… the DJ has to make this transition as natural as possible.

Beatmatching:

If song A has a tempo of 120 bpm and song B of 115 bpm, you will need to increase the speed of the second one to 120 bpm.

Phrasing:

Each song consists of several bars, instrumental riffs, verses and choruses. The DJ must find a point where it is possible to let song B in so that it melodically is pleasant to listen to and respecting the closure of the bars.

Equalization:

Song B could be very dark compared to song A and the DJ has to play with the frequencies so that the transition is also smooth in terms of sound.

Mixing :

Once song B has been prepared, it is necessary to carry out the actual transition, lowering the volume of song A in output while raising that of song B. Attention to the term “mixing”: it is used both to indicate the DJ mix, both to indicate the mix of a song during musical productions. In this second case, we mean a process in which every single track of the instruments is treated and equalized and put at an ideal “volume” so that as a whole each track is well blended with the others and at the same time clearly distinguishable.

Many software has features that make the transition easier, perhaps automatically putting the songs at the same time, but if you let the software do everything you will miss the fun!

Sign in!

Some software allows you to register: take this opportunity and you will be able to listen to your mixes again.

Often “live” it may seem perfect, but listening to it again you can notice small errors.

Registering is always one of the best ways to self-evaluate and improve.

Choose the songs you will play

There are DJs who have a very wide repertoire and can cope with different types of club and event needs, others specialize in some particular genres.

As the years go by, the music is divided into numerous sub-genres, so even a dance music DJ now finds himself dealing with EDM, progressive, house, deep house, trap …

Having an excellent repertoire is essential for the success of an evening!

Organize your music archive by genre in order to facilitate your search, choose the top songs of the evening and use them at the right time.

A piece of advice is to always keep some tricks up your sleeve ready to play in the event of an “underactive public”, or those popular songs that fill the track.

You will also need to always be up to date with the latest hits and have a good general knowledge of the most popular and requested songs.

Thinking of everything is not easy: worrying about the mix, thinking about the song to play after, … so creating a basic playlist can be useful!

You’ll always have time to decide to skip songs or add more, but at least you’ll have a starting point.

Extra instrumentation: Drum machines

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can add extra gear to your set-up.

For example? A drum machine!

The drum machine are electronic musical instruments with which it is possible to reproduce the sounds of percussion instruments.

They can be programmed with confidence at home, but also in real-time, allowing you to create drum patterns while performing.

Vintage effect: Vinyl records

Are you fascinated by vinyl records?

Then you might consider buying an instrument that combines vintage with technology in the future.

If you have a lot of vinyl, nothing prevents you from buying a turntable for 100% retro effect, but there are vinyl emulation software (DVS) on the market.

Using the program, you can play with your CDJs as if they were vinyl, or buy special controllers that look identical to turntables and on which special discs are positioned.

Through the software, you can use your digital audio files and move on the turntables to control them.

Make yourself known

Once you have learned how to DJ, you just have to make yourself known!

Start by recording your mixes and publishing them: remember to choose platforms where you do not risk removal due to the use of copyrighted songs such as YouTube or SoundCloud: your tracks could in fact be removed!

Some useful platforms could be MixCloud or HearThis.

To get more visibility, don’t be lazy, but complete the file upload with a nice cover, description and the most relevant tags.

Thanks to social media, you can not only make yourself known but meet other DJs with whom to exchange opinions and advice.

In addition to social media, it is obviously necessary to make yourself known outside your room: look for an engagement!

The first evenings are always best done in family environments, such as at a party with friends or in a small club in your country, where you will not be subjected to too much anxiety and pressure.

When you feel ready, you can then move to the next level and start proposing yourself to some private party or some small club, also updating the quality level of your equipment.

Make sure you also have all the cables you need to connect your controller to the venue’s audio system: it is always better to have more cables and of various lengths to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Getting information is always better: sometimes there may be special conditions, such as the need for particularly long cables to reach the room mixer.

It won’t be easy to get into the business at first, you have to hold on and start with the smaller clubs.

You may even find evenings organized specifically for emerging DJs, where multiple artists perform in sequence!

dj spinning decks

Be in good standing during the performance

According to Italian law, DJs must have a certificate of fitness for use or a kind of permit to work during the evening of the engagement in a specific place or club.

The certificate can be requested from INPS by the local that hires you like any other worker. This is possible for regular club DJs, while for casual workers the club often asks the DJ himself to provide.

In this case, the club could hire you for an occasional collaboration and pay you with withholding tax, paying the amount of the withholding tax and contributions on your behalf.

The third option provides that the artist is registered in a cooperative for show business operators, which will request the certificate, issue an invoice, pay the amount due for taxes and contributions, and will pay the net amount to the worker.

In case of control, the person responsible for the non-presence of the certificate of viability is the owner of the venue or the organizer of the party.

Music tracks, whether on CD, vinyl, USB stick, or computer, must be original and used from their original medium.

This means that you cannot import tracks from an original CD and use them: even if you prove that you are in possession of the original disc, you are using it on another medium (computer) and this for the law is equivalent to not being in compliance.

The options are therefore 3:

  1. You bring all the different original supports and use each song from its support: definitely not very functional.
  2. You only use the notebook and all the songs you use you have purchased and downloaded on that computer: feasible if you have made an archive of only original songs purchased and downloaded directly to the computer you use during the performances.
  3. Purchase a special flat-rate license from SIAE: against a flat-rate payment, you are granted the use of a music archive of “tot” songs (based on the license purchased you can have a certain number of tracks in the archive).

In case of control, the responsibility regarding the possession of original or licensed pieces lies with the artist.

Create music

Almost all DJs end up wanting to create original songs, thus becoming DJ producers too.

If you want to create original music, you will need multitrack software, thanks to which you can compose your song.

A minimum of knowledge of music theory is essential to create correct chords! You certainly don’t have to enroll in the conservatory, but at least study the basics.

Become famous

There is no method that can ensure you reach fame: you might be the best DJ producer in the world, with the best song in the world, but luck always plays a huge role in success.

The only thing that is 100% certain is that if you keep your songs closed in the drawer you will not get anything, so, just like with the DJ career, publish your material and make it known to the whole world!

The use of SPAM is strictly forbidden: do not share your song 20 times a day and do not publish the link on all sites and groups in the world, especially if not related to electronic productions.

The good fortune of living in this millennium is not only the fact of being able to produce in one’s own bedroom without inaccessible economic investments but also being able to share one’s creations with the whole world.

Clearly publishing something online only means making it available to a potential audience, but how do you attract people to your link? How to get them to press “play” on your song?

You have to come up with something, invest in effective and targeted promotion, use all the free tools that the internet makes available to you, and propose something original.

In fact, originality is the keyword to attract attention! Try to create your own style that stands out from the crowd!

To make yourself known you could make your song available to video creators on YouTube: everyone who sees the videos will hear your song!

Create a video yourself, maybe a series of tutorials dedicated to DJs or music listeners of your genre, like video reviews from the best clubs: the soundtrack will be your song.

The use of social media at a promotional level can bring excellent results, but remember that you will have to put all the effort possible!

When you manage to build a good fan base, you may be contacted directly by a record label!

Record label: essential?

Years ago you couldn’t have done almost anything without a record label!

People could only have listened to you on the radio or bought your CD in the store.

Today you can sell your products yourself, post videos and songs.

Some labels (even of certain importance) are now looking for many of the new artists to take under their wing in talent or on social networks, considering their fan base.

Before submitting your material, try to build a good following and make sure you propose yourself to labels that deal with your musical genre.

If you find a label interested in releasing your songs, read CAREFULLY the contract that will be submitted to you and make sure that the collaboration takes place fairly.

You bring your songs and your followers, the label, which will have a percentage of your sales, will have to offer you something in return, such as some type of promotion or visibility.

Some well-known labels are very popular and just sharing the song is enough to increase your visibility and reputation exponentially.

Record labels used to pay all the artist’s expenses and often even offered an advance.

Clearly, the label aimed to return the expenses (and any advance) with the sales of the records, which today is unthinkable for emerging artists.

Sales have taken a huge hit with the arrival of mp3s, streaming services, and piracy that is increasingly difficult to fight, so don’t show up with advances or other surreal things.

Some labels today are just red herrings, aiming to get paid by aspiring artists for services such as studio recordings or video clip production.

In short, you simply need to be careful, check how labels work by visiting their sites, and carefully evaluating the proposals that are made.

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