DJ'ing For Dummies.
Equipment and mixing tips for getting started in DJ'ing
Becoming a DJ is a fun and involving way to listen to your favourite music and share it with friends and strangers alike. As a hobby it can be very involving and time consuming but can eventually be a great source of alternative income and for the lucky few an excellent lifestyle choice.
First things first, don't become a DJ because you want to be the next Skrillex, Andy C or Diplo - sure, we all want that rockstar lifestyle, a different venue around the world every night and adoring fans. But these guys have worked hard, started at the bottom and worked their way all the way to the top in their own way... We'll come back to that later.
To start with you'll need a music collection. Obviously this is the important bit and will shape, at least initially, what kind of DJ you will be. You'll need to consider what kind of music you like to party to - do you feel funky house? Can you go mad to drum n bass? Can you cut it with the hip hop crew? Yes, you can be the DJ who plays everything but while you're learning its often a good idea to focus on one genre just to 'get your ear in', especially when you're learning to beat match for example.
It's good to make one thing clear at this point - learning to DJ takes time and commitment. If you play for an hour every day you should be beat matching reasonably well within a week or so. Expect a lot of clashing beats, clashing vocals, clashing everything in fact, but don't give up.
So let's move on to equipment - the big outlay in your quest to become a DJ. DJ's of olde would have got themselves a set of Technics 1200's or 1210's and a nice Vestax mixer and have been off and away. Indeed there's nothing to stop you doing that except the lack and expense of vinyl - although you can pick up second hand vinyl for a snip on ebay and in second hand record shops. The new technics are CDJ's - specifically Pioneer's CDJ's which are found in clubs the world over usually models between 850 (the older version) up to 2000. It's a good idea to get a set of decks, vinyl or CDJ, even if you are planning on becoming a primarily digital DJ, just to get the feel for using real 'wheels of steel'. The newer Pioneer CDJ's tend to have USB inputs too which is an even bigger space saver from the days of lugging vinyl around.
When it comes to DJ'ing software there are numerous options normally dictated only by your personal preference and, to a lesser degree maybe, budget. There are articles all over the web on the benefits of Traktor Scratch over Serato, I'll pass on that battle but will say only that they are both equally excellent digital tools. You will get DJ ponces who insit that Traktor is for amateurs or that Serato is for the kind of people who just get all the gear but have no idea. It doesn't really matter. Even VirtualDJ, which gets some stick from professionals, is an excellent piece of software. I have personally used all three; Traktor, Serato and VirtualDJ and they all have their benefits. Traktor and Serato would be more for your hands on DJ while VirtualDJ is, in the words of a friend of mine 'A bit cheat-y'. You can easily beatmatch at the press of a button rather than having to do it manually for the others, but saying that, I've used it on a professional set up for a few years and would reccommend it highly.
You will also need a decent mixer, although if you are using software you can get controllers with all the bits built in - Numark's mixtrack pro for example. If you're using a proper mixer then a decent two channel one should suffice, a pro Vestax or Numark model to start with would be ideal. If you've got the money and are sure that you want the best from the off then Pioneers DJM 850 is a good place to start - a multi channel beast and one of the industry standard mixers you find everywhere.
Another important piece of equipment is your headphones; good, solid, over ear headphones are essential. You will go through them though so it's up to you how much you spend on them. Using your Monster Beats looks cool and is fine in the bedroom but once you start playing parties you may find you want a more disposable set, at least to start with.
OK - you've got your equipment and your tunes and you're ready to roll! Where to start? Well, just play a set for yourself, keep it one genre to start with, preferably all the same BPM (thats beats per minute by the way, so the same tempo or speed) and just enjoy getting to mix the tunes together manually.
To beatmatch, you'll need one tune playing on one deck and the crossfader on the mixer all the way over to the channel with the music playng. In your headphones, find the first beat of the tune you want to mix in and hold it there. On CDJ's you can set the cue point, normally by pressing pause and cue, on the software you can normally set the cue point by pressing 'cue' but you can set up normally several cue points. Listen and identify the pattern of the tune thats playing, there will be a set of four bars with four beats in them - you'll understand if you're listening to the music right - tap your feet or count out loud if it helps. With tune 1 playing and tune 2 cue'd, try and drop tune 2 on the beginning of the bea, if you mess up just start again!
Once your tune is dropped you need to keep it in time by matching the BPM - normally using the pitch control (tempo sliders on the side of your decks or software - normally they say +10/-10 for example). Identify if the tune you've mixed in is too fast or too slow and then adjust the pitch up or down slightly as appropriate. In the early days this will probably result in lots of mistakes but once you know how to do it it becomes second nature and you will probably be able to do it in seconds.
And there you go... Thats basically how to mix two tunes together! The best things to do once you're semi comfortable with mixing music is to start making mixes for yourself, for your friends, for strangers you meet in the street and listen back to them, identify your weak areas and work on them. Offer to play birthday parties, bah mitzvahs, christenings, saturday night at the pub (OK, that one might come later) anything that can help your experience. Once you're fairly comfortable with mixing and what music you're playing you'll want to play out everywhere... Remember, we all have to start somewhere!