Most people have toyed with the idea of being a DJ – here are seven steps towards making your wistful thinking a reality.
1. Know your music
If you’re a DJ, you’ll have to know the chart-toppers of the times, as well as cool music to separate you from other DJs. Getting a track you like from a band nobody has heard of will make your listeners perk up, and you’ll have to be flexible enough to deal with the occasional request from your audience.
If you want to sidle over to the producer side as well, you’ll have to know a bit more about how music actually works. Take the time to learn some basic scales (major and minor) and if possible, start to play an instrument. Noodling around with some melodies and taking the time to play songs you like can help to increase your sense of melody. It’s also worth listening to the way songs are arranged – where the choruses are, how long the build-ups are, and how the verses are built around them.
2. Get the gear you need
As a DJ, you’ll need some gear that can play music and samples, as well as something to transition between tracks. For this, you’ll need a sampler or CD player, and a crossfader. That’s the bare minimum, it’s all too easy to just sit back and play someone else’s remixes and fade to the next one at the end of each track. This style of DJing is frowned upon, so expect the occasional cry of “noob!” during ‘your’ set.
A more popular method among DJs who know what they’re doing is DJing via a laptop – everything you need to do can be done with software, and the choice of what to use is staggering. For a beginner, I recommend Virtual DJ or Native Instruments’ Traktor, and a laptop running at least an i3 with a gig of RAM.
For those who have progressed through the ranks of DJ-dom, and know what they’re doing, Ableton Live is a must-have. The creative freedom is staggering, and allows for a huge amount of flexibility in one’s set. The ability to remix a song on the fly is revered in these higher echelons, and Ableton is the tool to use. For an example of how it’s done, take a good look at The Glitch Mob or Deadmau5’s live performances and compare them to their album tracks.
Whatever you use, if it’s going through or out of a laptop, you’ll need to invest in a good quality soundcard. Laptop headphone jacks and the adapters – coupled with the adaptors you’ll need to get the sound to loudspeakers – are notoriously buzzy, and the soundcard will eliminate this to provide you and your audience with high-quality, crystal-clear sound.
3. Get familiar with your gear
Your bedroom is your stage. Whenever you can, get your headphones on and mix your heart out. Practice makes perfect, and your room is a good place to get your confidence up. A lot of music software has a pretty steep learning curve, so you’ve got to be willing to put in the time it takes to get to know your programs inside and out.
YouTube is your friend – it’s overflowing with tutorials for every software/genre/OS imaginable, so don’t hesitate to check them out.
4. Find out what makes your audience tick
Are you planning on pumping trance ‘til three in the morning, or are golden oldies more your style? Either way, you have to know for sure that your audience wants what you have to play. If you’re playing at the local nightclub, it’s in your best interests to actually go there beforehand, and listen to the people already playing there.
If statistics are your thing, bring a comprehensive questionnaire with you. By the time you leave, you want to be forming a track list in your head.
5. Work on your stage presence
A big part of being a DJ or performing producer is audience interaction – the trick is to hit the fine line between shouting “are you having a good time?” every five seconds (you might end up sounding like a neurotic waiter) and never looking up from your gear, completely ignoring the audience.
Make sure to mention that you’re happy to be where you are (mentioning that it’s a beautiful town is usually a hit), and use big movements to get them waving their hands how and when you want them to.
6. Have Fun
Clichéd as it sounds, it’s true. People love seeing that the person blowing his/her mind with music is having a great time, so dance, smile, and don’t forget to thank people afterwards.
7. Just go ahead and do it
Many people wish they could take the time to become a DJ, but can’t because of their jobs or other commitments. A life on stage and a nine-to-five job are difficult to run side-by-side, but there’s nothing to stop you from fooling around, and mixing some tracks at home.
To all fence-sitters out there wondering if taking the plunge is worth it: If you’re interested in DJing, then do it – you won’t regret it, and it’s a great way to blow off steam after a day at work.
Image by luis de bethencourt via Flickr (cc)
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About Roan Song
Roan is a multi-instrumentalist and bathroom vocalist, as well as a part-time philanthropist. A great lover of music, he is on the UNISA Honour Roll for his achievements in musical theory. Roan Song is fanatical in his worship of Grammar as an unofficial religion -- particularly the demigoddess "Semi-Colon" - and knows the true meaning of irony. On wireframe, he covers audio technology.