How to DJ: A Beginners’ Guide [Part 2]
We continue our ‘How to DJ’ beginners’ guide, with an overview to equipment you may need
The first part of our ‘How to DJ’ beginners guide focused on the different DJ formats available to the modern DJ, and the pros and cons of each. Having decided which route you want to take, you’ll need the appropriate gear to do it. In part 2, we take a look at the sort of equipment you’re likely to need to get started.
First of all, lets take a look at some of the things you’re likely to need, no matter which medium/ format you DJ with…
The Gear all DJs use
Perhaps the item (other than records) most closely associated with the DJ, a pair of headphones is an essential tool. For the uninitiated, headphones are used to cue up your next track, allowing the DJ to audition tracks without having to play them through the main speakers that the audience will hear. If you want to DJ, then you’ll need some headphones.
Headphones come in a vast range of quality and price, from cheap and cheerful, to professional models designed specifically for DJ-ing. So which should you go for? Well, hypothetically, any pair of headphones will work, but there are some features which will make some better than others when learning how to DJ.
- Good Isolation – You’ll have your mix playing through loudspeakers (whether that’s at home, at Fabric, or somewhere in-between) so you need to be able to hear what your cueing up to play next over the noise. A well-isolated pair of headphones with a closed back will help immensely.
- High output – again, a pair of headphones capable of high output would help you to hear what you are cueing up.
- Comfort – you’ll be wearing these headphones for long periods. They need to be comfortable…
- A good length of cable – you need to move around quite a lot when DJ-ing, and a long cable will enable you to do it.
- Robustness – your headphones will be thrown into bags, transported, dropped kicked, and used a lot. They need to be up to the job.
Your audience won’t hear your mix without speakers to play it through. Whilst learning how to DJ, this could be as simple as connecting your rig to a hi-fi. Alternatively, you could invest in a pair of active monitor speakers (essentially speakers with built in amps). KRK’s rocket range is a popular choice for DJs, though smaller, more affordable options are also available. For bigger venues, and if you are aiming to DJ at functions, you’ll need a PA system of some sort.
Everything needs to be connected up, and you’ll need some cables to do it. What you’ll need depends on what you’re using.
Now we’ll look at some of the equipment options for each DJ medium.
What you’ll need to DJ with…
If you want to DJ from vinyl records, there are three main items that you’ll need: two record decks/ turntables (for a beginner, we’ll stick with two decks…), with adjustable pitch, and a mixer to connect them to. The mixer allows the DJ to adjust the volume of each record, and mix or cross fade the output from each. It also allows the DJ to select which turntable they are hearing through their headphones, to cue records up. The number of channels on a mixer dictates how many different sources you can connect and mix between. If you are only using two turntables, a two-channel mixer will suffice.
Turntables fall into two main categories: direct drive, and belt drive. Without getting too technical, belt drive decks are cheaper, but don’t produce as much torque as direct drive turntables. What this means is that they take longer to start and stop. This may seem minor, but when you are trying to accurately start one track at a particular point in another, fractions of a second are crucial. Belt drive designs also don’t have the same amount of force or turning power as direct drives, meaning that the DJ’s touch has to be a lot lighter. Direct drive decks are more expensive, but will enable quicker progress when learning.
The range of turntables available has decreased massively in recent years. However, Numark still produces a range of decks, along with complete beginners’ packs, such as the Numark Battle Pack.
DJ-ing from CDs is very similar to DJ-ing from vinyl. You will still need a mixer for all your cueing and mixing activities, but now, CD decks replace vinyl turntables. These come in an enormous range of types and prices. These days, however, even the most affordable offer a very usable feature set, with decks costing less than £130 offering adjustable pitch (for altering playback speed), loop functionality, play lists and shock mounting. More advanced units can be used in a manner similar to vinyl, enable the DJ to use scratch techniques, perform spinbacks and more.
The most famous of all CD decks are, of course, the Pioneer CDJs. These range from the cutting edge CDJ-2000 to the more affordable CDJ-350.
MP3/ Digital audio files
DJ-ing with MP3 or other digital audio files is the most rapidly developing area of DJ technology. There are several ways to do this, but currently the most popular is to use a laptop running DJ software, and a DJ controller to enable the user to er… control it… Whilst DJ software doesn’t tend to be as taxing on a host computer as say, music or video production, for the sake of future proofing, you are always as well to have a machine that is fairly current.
In terms of DJ controllers, the vast majority connect to the host computer via USB, and can be divided into two categories: those with built in soundcards/ audio interfaces, and those without. You may be thinking ‘my computer already has a soundcard- why do I need another?’ Well, this is because when DJ-ing, you need to be able to hear both what is playing (the main mix) and what you are going to play next (the cue mix, or usually headphone mix). This means you need two, stereo outputs, one for each channel. Typical computer soundcards usually have just one. In this regard, all-in-one units are very convenient, providing a controller that is designed specifically for the purpose of DJ-ing, with an audio interface with all of the outputs you’ll need.
Serato and Native Instruments produce the most popular DJ software packages. Virtual DJ’s software also enjoys popularity. Most controllers will come complete with a version of one of these three (sometimes a ‘lite’ version). If this is with an all-in-one controller/ audio interface, then you have a ready to go DJ package- just connect a computer and add music. The Numark Mixtrack Pro is an excellent option for the beginner, in this regard.
If you choose a controller without an audio interface (such as the standard Numark Mixtrack), then you’ll need to get a separate device for the job, with two outputs. The Numark DJIO is one of the most inexpensive available for this purpose.
This is a brief outline of the kind of kit you would need to learn how to DJ, but there is a certain amount of overlap. For example, it is possible to use CD and vinyl decks to control computer software (via Traktor Scratch, or Serato Scratch), and some CD decks come ready equipped to play back audio files from USB storage devices, or even be used as controllers for computer software (such as the Numark Mixdeck Universal). However, this should get you on your way to setting up your first DJ rig.
Stay tuned for part 3 of ‘How to be a DJ’.