5 Tips for Beginners
Pursuing a career as a DJ can be an exciting and sordid affair. Like most things in life, if you get into it for the wrong reasons, then you’re probably not gonna get very far. The early stages in most career pursuits are paved with times of economic uncertainty, self-doubt and self-destructive behaviour, but if the passion truly lives in your heart, it will be enough to propel you to the next level. I can say with almost absolute certainty that if you get into this with eyes on the glamorized results you see through the curated and filtered lenses of various media sources, then you won’t succeed.
You have to be in the 1%. What does that mean? Well, I know not everyone consumes music the way we do. DJs have a veracious appetite for anything audio-related. We read the music magazines, and trade magazines. We follow tonnes of artists and genres. We are in record pools. We go to the shows every week or month. We spend thousands of dollars on music every year through online downloads, digging at records, records pools and DJ subscriptions. And obviously, we listen to a lot of music. All the time.
Are you that person? Do you eat, drink and sleep music? Do you even shit music? If you do, then you’re probably designed to take a stab at it. There’s many routes you can go to specialize in your style. Wether you are going the route of the Party Rocker, Turntablist, Vinyl Specialist, Mobile Event DJ, EDM star or Techno Guru, there is a path you can take. Before you can get in front of the crowd though, you’re gonna want to know that basics, and you might as well save yourself some time by doing a little recon before diving in.
1. Track Selection
This is the most important element of DJing. If your content doesn’t match the venue or is not moving the crowd as you’d expect, then maybe you need to rethink things. I say go with your gut, if you have any chance of doing it professionally, you should have good taste in music. At least in your specific genre, if you go that route. The overall programming of your performance needs to elicit the proper reaction from your audience, and your airtight mixes and crab scratches fall on deaf ears if you haven’t picked the right songs.
2. Invest in the right Gear
It would be pretty hard to learn how to play the guitar if you didn’t have a guitar, right? Make the investment in some gear as soon as you can. A top of the line set-up used by elite DJs the likes of Mix Master Mike, A-Trak and Z-Trip, consists of turntables and top-shelf mixers like the Pioneer S9 or a Rane Seventy-Two. This will run you about $3800 in Canadian dollars. If this sounds expensive, well, it’s because it is. If you can’t afford this setup right away, don’t even bother trying to be a DJ…Kidding!! There are several more economical ways to get into learning the basics of DJ mixing. Companies such as Pioneer, Denon, Roland, Mixars and Traktor all have controllers or more economically priced mixers ($300-$1000) that can help you enter the world of DJing without breaking the bank. Just get mixing. I don’t mean to get all Craig Mack on ya, but ultimately, it ain’t about the gear you use, it’s about the Flava In Ya Ear.
This pertains to dropping your song in the mix at the right time, and playing the right song at the right time throughout the night. The more gigs you do, the more you will get a feel for the crowd and learn when to drop the bomb and when to hold back. Dropping a real banger too early, can sometimes not get the reaction you were looking for and then a half hour later someone from a group of people comes up and asks you to play it. Do you drop it again? Maybe. But, with so much out there in the world of music, its kind of a rookie move. Pacing is an important part of any DJ performance wether you are playing an amped up one hour festival set or pulling a long day doing a wedding or corporate event. Patience, Grasshopper.
The first mixing element you need to be aware of is the levels between two songs. Most DJ’s push their channel faders all the way to the top and adjust the gains to reach optimal levels. That way you know where your peak is. Push the channel faders to the top and play the track. Turn the gain until the light peaks on the last green LED. Try to keep your system bouncing in the green. DO NOT REDLINE you savages! You’re not tricking anyone if you want to go louder. Most clubs have compressors and limiters that will kick in and actually make you sound quieter, and besides, it sounds like shit. Go to a cue point in your track where it is the loudest, like in a chorus. Match this level to the other track. Once you have the right tracks and know your way around the mixer and keeping the levels proper, you can begin to learn how to beat mix. I could expand on this in great detail, but for now, I will leave you with he basics. Utilize your bass EQ to cut the lower frequencies on the track you are mixing in. After a certain mount of bars (4,8,16,?) turn the bass knob up on one track and down on the other at the same time. Presto!
5. Don’t Be A Jerk
This should actually be number one. On the list of how to do life. The reality is, nobody wants to work with a jerk. Unless you are incredibly brilliant, and have the the mixing, cutting and original compositions to match, your phone will not ring. If you have been a bedroom DJ for the past while and feel like you are ready to play out, check your ego at the door and get some laps under your belt. Finding an established DJ to let you open things up or drop a couple tracks here and there will go along way. Don’t expect any scratch for this. Think of it as an internship. You need to prove you can get the job done first. If you got the goods, the paying gigs will start rolling in before you know it.
This should be a good foundation to get you started. If you have any addition questions about the craft, comments or have something you think I should hear, then drop me a line at [email protected] or on Instagram @mrjtjames. Now get diggin’ and put that mix together.
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