How To Become a DJ

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How Do I Get Started?

The idea of becoming a DJ can be an appealing one for many different reasons, and the idea is especially popular these days.

In this guide, I break down the general process of going down this path into 10 steps, as well as providing some other general tips and suggestions for starting your DJing career or hobby.

The purpose of this guide is not to break down every single skill and technique in great detail.  These things will come with practice and dedication.  This is a fairly generalized guide which is meant to direct you down the path to being a happy and successful DJ.

See Also- Best DJ Controllers 2015: The Ultimate Guide

Step One: Learn What DJs Actually Do
Becoming a DJ

What kind of DJ are you interested in becoming?

Okay, so you probably already know what a DJ is.  But, I have a mild obsession with completeness, so please humor me for a moment.

Strictly speaking (and in modern context), a DJ is anyone who plays pre-recorded music for an audience.  If someone hires you to advance an iPod playlist at a cookout, you’re DJing.  But, since you’ve made it to this guide, I imagine you’re interested in doing a little more than that.

So, let’s break it down into a few (somewhat) coherent categories.  These are not hard and fast definitions, because many people (such as myself) often end up swapping different DJ hats.

The club/bar DJ (resident)
This is the DJ that has a (recurring, usually) gig at the local night club or bar.

Each club has a different feel, reputation, and audience… which also means that clubs vary in what they expect from their musical selection. Typically, the night club DJ’s job is to keep the dance floor moving, uninterrupted… often by doing long blends (transitions) between songs, or some other trickery to keep people’s feet moving.

Ideally, this DJ knows how to ramp the energy up and down to balance between an active floor and a busy bar.

The performer/guest DJ
There is a lot of overlap here between this type of DJ and the last.  The reason I put this in its own category is because the performer/guest can have a different kind of pull.

People go to see this DJ because of who they are, their reputation, what people think they can do behind the decks, etc.  This can include anyone who has built up a following that people will come out to see.

The more “exhibitionist” DJs also fit in here, such as turntablists (people good at cutting, scratching, and various record tricks), and other semi-live performers.

The mobile/wedding DJ
A notably different style of DJing is often required of the mobile DJ.  This is usually more of the entrepreneur type, and typically where you will have the most success in making some money.

This kind of DJ often needs to be comfortable with taking requests (and sometimes even playlists), speaking on a microphone, and investing in his or her own sound equipment.

The Radio DJ
This is where the concept of a DJ comes from in the first place (see some DJing history here).  I don’t really have much experience in this area, and it can vary greatly depending on the format.

We will mostly be focusing on the “live audience” kind of DJ for this particular guide, though we will be covering some radio DJ tips soon on the podcast… stay tuned!

Of course, these are broad categories and it really breaks down much further than that.  I have written elsewhere about what makes a good DJ, and we’ll be getting more into that in this guide.

Step Two: Determine Why You Want to DJ
Why you should DJ

Do you have stars in your eyes?  Want to start a business?  Just for fun?

There are a lot of reasons that you may wish to become a DJ.  The most important thing is to be completely honest about what those reasons are.

And, since we’re being completely honest… I wouldn’t count on success if your sole purpose is to get rich and famous.

That’s not to say that you cannot make money in today’s world as a DJ, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t shoot for the stars.  I’m a big fan of the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing with full conviction, passion, and effort.

But, if the only reason you’re getting into DJing is because you want to be famous, you probably won’t have the drive to do the required work.  You have to love it.  And in today’s world (“everyone is a DJ”), standing out takes a lot of hard work and a lot of luck.

Many people want to DJ because they love music and the idea of sharing it with a receptive audience.  Some think it will help them get laid. Some want it as a source of income.

Whatever the reason is, identify it so that you can act accordingly.

(Hint: if you just love doing it, it isn’t going to feel much like work.)

Step Three: Test The Waters

Get your feet wet using some free DJ software.

Let’s get a feel for some software to get an idea of what a DJ does, without making any big investments.

There are a number of different options here, so I’ll just briefly cover a few of the popular ones.  The first two are free, and the last has a free demo.

Virtual DJ Home
Atomix Virtual DJ is an entirely free and fully functional piece of DJ software.  It supports as many decks as you want, and includes pretty much all the bells and whistles that you would expect, such as key lock, sync, loops, sampling, recording, and more.

If you want more advanced features, such as timecode control (we’ll get into this later) or video output, you can upgrade to one of their paid products.  See a comparison chart of their product line here.

Many people choose Virtual DJ because it is fully featured, well supported by the community, and it is free.

This is another popular option, and for good reason.  It is entirely cross platform (there’s even a Linux version!), is very well-featured, is open-source, and even supports timecode control right out of the box.  To my knowledge, this is the only free software to do that.

The community has built-in support for many popular library formats and DJ controllers.  See their feature list here.

Traktor Pro 2
Native Instruments’ Traktor Pro 2 is my personal choice.  It is not free, but they do provide a free and fully-functional demo so that you can try it out before making an investment.

Traktor’s syncing, quantization, and effects are some of the best in the industry. They even offer their own hardware, such as the Kontrol S4 which is fully integrated with (and designed for) Traktor.  Upgrading to Traktor Scratch Pro gives you timecode support.

Additonally, a number of third-party controllers come with Traktor LE (the “lite edition”) bundled.  This can be a very low cost way to start using Traktor if you plan on buying some hardware anyway.

There are many more options outside of this… Numark Cue, Image Line’s Deckadance, PCDJ, Serato DJ (requires approved controller), and more.  This will come down to a matter of preference… however, it’s worth noting that Traktor and Serato are considered to be the industry standards.

Choose a software package and start playing around with it.  There are plenty of tutorials which can be found on YouTube that can go over the basics of most DJ software.

One more thing worth mentioning: if your entire goal is to be a scratch/turntablist/exhibitionist DJ, there is very little you can do with a keyboard and mouse.  You will probably need to invest in turntables, or at least a very capable all-in-one DJ controller, to head down this road.

Step Four: Learn Basic Skills

Mixing, EQing, phrasing, beatmatching, and prep.

There are a number of things you will need to learn in order to be a competent DJ.  We’re only going to cover them briefly here… remember, you will probably need to research some of this stuff on your own… and practice, practice, practice!

You’ll quickly learn that this is a major point of contention in the DJ community.

The reason is that technology has arguably made this skill somewhat obsolete.  All the major DJ software packages, and even the latest CDJ from Pioneer has built-in “sync” functionality.

The purpose of beatmatching is to get the two tracks you’re mixing to play at the same tempo (the speed at which the song is playing) and phase (the beats from both tracks playing in-time with each other).

Think about it like two cars driving next to each other on the highway, as explained in this video by ellaskins.  Tempo is the same as the speed, such as 60 MPH.  Phase is having the two cars directly next to each other.  Here’s a basic tutorial which gives you the idea.  He’s using CDJs, but the principles apply across the board.

So, why learn beatmatching when there is such a thing as a sync button?  Well, firstly it gives you the ability to beat-mix on pretty much anything out there.  Turntables and most CDJs require you to do this manually.

It also helps develop and tune your ears so that you know what to listen for (when tracks drift out of time, phase, etc.)  Even when I’m using DJ software and allowing it to sync my tracks, I use my ears to adjust the phase appropriately… since I know how it sounds from beatmatching.

I’m the kind of DJ who doesn’t like spending hours prepping and beat-gridding his tracks, but I’ve never felt the need to because I can do all of these things manually.

The overall point is that learning to beatmatch will make you a better mix DJ, whether you’re digital or not.  That being said, many mobile and radio DJs don’t feel the need to beatmatch at all.

You can always come back to this later, but I think learning to beatmatch early is a great idea.

Beatmatching is accomplished using a pitch fader (to adjust tempo).  You use a jog wheel, pitch-bend button, or the physical manipulation of a record to adjust your phase.

That’s phrasing, with an “r”… not phasing.

This one will make sense to anyone who has ever played a musical instrument.  A song is structured based on beats and bars (measures), which make up the song’s phrases.

Phrasing simply means to mix your tracks together at points in the songs which make sense.

Almost all music that you will be DJing is in 4/4 time, whether you play electronic dance music, hip-hop, funk, or top 40.  What this technically means is that there are four beats in a measure (bar), and that the quarter note gets one beat.

In contrast, 6/8 time means that there are 6 beats in a measure, and the eighth note gets one beat.  For all intents and purposes, all you have to think about is you will be counting to four a lot, because most “DJ-able” music (and most music made these days) is 4/4.

Have a look at this video which gives a pretty good explanation of how phrases work.

Volume/Gain Control
A typical DJ mixer (as well as mixing software) contains a few types of volume control.

Firstly, each channel should have a gain or trim knob, which allows you to adjust the level of the signal (by watching your meters).  Then, each channel has a line fader (unless it’s a rotary mixer, in which case you will have a knob).

The line fader adjusts how much signal you’re sending to your main output, which also has its own overall volume control.  Then, of course, there’s the crossfader which allows you to fade between one channel and another.

If you’re just learning how to mix and you don’t have any hardware yet, you can still control these things in software.  Some programs, such as Traktor Pro, have an “auto-gain” feature.  It gets you in the ballpark of where you want to be so that your levels match up when mixing one song into another.

Volume control is often a subject of debate.  Traditionally, while watching meters… green is good, red is bad, yellow is pushing it.

Unfortunately, due to DJs having a habit of slamming everything into the red all of the time, many manufacturers have adjusted the way their mixers work so that people can mix “in the red” and not hurt anything.

Software also works a bit differently and has its own gain structure.  This can make things quite confusing.

The best thing you can do is read your manual to find out where you should be maxing out your signal.

When in doubt, staying in the green is just fine.  If it needs to be louder, boost it on the amp/PA/house end… don’t distort your signal before it even gets there.

EQing (or equalizing) is the act of boosting or dropping certain frequencies so that two tracks can blend together well.

EQing is an art in itself.  But to get started, just realize that the majority of your “space” is taken up by lower frequencies, especially in dance music.  So, typically you will not be mixing two loud kick drums over one another, since they are simply too loud to combine.

I have written up an article specific to EQing, which you can find here.

Step Five: Break Out of the Box
Pioneer DDJ-SZ

Invest in some hardware & get an idea of what DJing feels like.

If you’re starting to get an idea of how things work, and you’re enjoying messing around with your DJ software, it’s probably time to invest in some hardware to get a feel for DJing.

A keyboard and mouse is good to get you started, but there is only so much you can do without investing in some hardware.  There are a number of routes you can take, here:

The all-in-one controller route
This is probably the easiest and best way for a budding DJ to get started, and controllers are getting so good that many of them have reached the status of “professional grade”.

Pieces like the aforementioned Kontrol S4 (meant for Traktor) or Pioneer’s DDJ-SX(meant for Serato DJ) have everything that you need to mix an entire set in-the-box, including a built-in sound card (audio interface).  Most of them have CDJ-like jog wheels (though, not all of them… for instance, the Novation Twitch takes a different approach.)

The all-in-one route is normally the cheapest way to get into DJing, especially if you already have a laptop.  Check out my controller guide, which will give you my top 5 picks for controllers in three different price ranges.

(Pros: everything you need, simple to use, often made to integrate with particular software, great for mobile setups.  Cons: bulky controllers are often hard to fit into crowded booths, often plasticky or toy-like, sometimes looked down upon by pros, requires laptop.)

The modular controller route
This is often the choice for geeky/gadgety types, or people who have very specific needs for the way they perform.

A modular setup can be pieced together from any number of smaller MIDI/HID controllers.  Some examples are the Kontrol X1 and Kontrol F1from Native Instruments, and the Xone:K2 from Allen & Heath.

You then need to make sure you have some sort of good sound card (audio interface) to use for handling all these audio signals, cueing with headphones, etc.  However, some modular controllers (such as the K2 and Reloop Contour Interface Edition) actually have a sound card built-in.

You will need to pay attention if going this route, in order to make sure all of your bases are covered.  Modular setups are the most flexible, but usually they are also the most complex.

(Pros: flexibility, can piece together setup over time, unlimited options, satisfies “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”.  Cons: setups can get complex, your setup is non-standard, often plasicky or toy-like, sometimes looked down upon by pros, need multiple USB ports or a hub, may require external mixer and sound card, requires laptop.)

The CDJs (CD turntables) + mixer route
When compared to a laptop and comprehensive software, CDJs can seem fairly limited.  In order to get in the same ballpark as software when it comes to features, you have to splurge on something like the Pioneer CDJ-2000nexus, or at least something like the Denon DN-S3700.

Suddenly, you’re talking about spending a lot of money.  However, some people don’t need all those features.  For standard mixing, the Pioneer CDJ-350or a used pair of CDJ 800s or CDJ 1000s are just perfect.

Denon has a pretty nice lineup of CD turntables too, just keep in mind that Pioneer is largely considered to be the industry standard.

This is the main reason that people want to go the CDJ route…  any noteworthy club in the world has a set of CDJ 2000’s, or at least 1000’s (now discontinued).  People want to know how to play on this kind of gear, so they can just show up with their music and go.

(Pros: It’s what pro club DJs use (familiarity), most modern CDJs are great for scratching, most new ones support USB drives, most clubs have these.  Cons: pricey option, especially at the higher end (“Pioneer tax”), limited when compared to software.)

The vinyl + mixer route
Records are harder to mix than any of the other listed options.  Vinyl is also the most expensive format to buy music on.  So why would anyone want to go this route?

Three reasons: it’s rewarding, it’s sexy, and people love it.

For a lot of people, mixing records is simply fun.  Many DJs love that tactile feel of moving the physical record, and many people love watching a “real” DJ playing “real” records.  It’s also still the best route for the pure scratch DJ.

This isn’t the route for everyone, but for many, it’s the only way.

(Pros: it’s rewarding, it’s fun, some consider it more fun and rewarding, it’s fun to watch, it will gain you respect.  Cons: music is expensive, vinyl is more difficult, it’s the least portable option, and you have little technological assistance.)

Timecode/HID and hybrid setups
Many people feel that using a hybrid setup can give you the best of all worlds.

I love the feel of mixing records, and I love the convenience of showing up somewhere and not having to make room for a bulky controller.  However, I love some of the functionality that I gain from software… such as perfectly quantized loops and the convenience of a meticulously organized music collection.

If you look up DVS (digital vinyl system) on Wikipedia, you will see a definition like this:

“Vinyl emulation software allows the user to physically manipulate the playback of digital audio files on a computer using the turntables as an interface, thus preserving the hands-on control and feel of DJing with vinyl. This has the added advantage of using turntables to play back audio recordings not available in phonograph form. This method allows DJs to scratch, beatmatch, and perform other turntablism that would be impossible with a conventional keyboard-and-mouse computer interface or less tactile control devices. The technology is also referred to as DVS for either Digital Vinyl System or Digital Vinyl Software.”

Basically, the idea is that you use a special vinyl which contains a special kind of audio signal that your software picks up and uses to manipulate digital files.

You can then add modular controllers to add whatever functionality you feel that you are missing from the traditional “decks-and-mixer” setup.

Some CDJs now support MIDI and HID connectivity, which allows you to accomplish the same thing without the use of special timecode media.

(Pros: best of all worlds, feel like you’re mixing records but using any files you can find/buy, fun to watch.  Cons: though it has a small footprint, it can be irritating to set up in a club environment; easy to turn your turntable or CDJ into an expensive “midi controller” unnecessarily.)

If you’re not sure which route you want to go, I’d suggest getting a cheap or mid-grade all-in-one controller for now and re-evaluating later.

Step Six: Record a Mix (Tell a Story)
Record Your Mix

Use the knowledge you’ve gained thus far, and see what you sound like.

Once you have a basic idea of how to do basic mixing, you should record yourself to see how you sound.

If you’re using software and using internal mixing, this is quite easily accomplished since the software can record everything in-the-box.  If you’re mixing externally using a standalone DJ mixer, you will need to either route the sound back into a computer to record, or use some other kind of recording device.

Even many standalone DJ mixers (such as the DN-X1600 or the Pioneer DJM-850) these days contain an internal sound card, so you can record from them digitally even if you’re using external sources such as turntables or CDJs.

Now, recording a “studio” (bedroom) mix is obviously a little bit different than playing in front of a crowd.  Some of the skills which are important in a live setting, such as reading a crowd, do not apply when recording a personal mix.

However, you can use this opportunity to think about how to “tell a story” with your set.  This doesn’t mean it has to be an all-out concept mix.  Just think about how you want to start, where you want to be when you finish, and how you want to get there.

Perhaps you can imagine that you’re in front of a crowd, and play that scenario out in your head.

This is the point at which you teach yourself not to be mediocre.  Many novice DJs tend to hammer out their “banger” tracks, one after another, for an hour or two.  There’s no sense of ebb and flow; no sense of direction.

Most people find this boring and tiresome.  Of course, you are the DJ and you have the creative license to play however you wish.  But, I suggest learning how to think of a DJ set in the context of the whole instead of its individual parts… this is what separates decent DJs with great ones.

I like to approach a recorded mix like a well-constructed artist album.  It’s not entirely flat, but it’s entirely cohesive.

This is the point where you can experiment, try different things, and see what works.  Try recording a mix, putting it away for a few days or a week, and then coming back to listen to it.  Believe me, it’s much easier to be objective when listening to your mix when you wait a while before listening to it.

If you’re like me, you might be pleasantly surprised that any “mistakes” you make don’t sound nearly as bad as you thought they did during the recording session.

 Step Seven: Build a Following (Brand Yourself)
DJ brand

Construct your support base, build an online presence, show your worth.

Once you have a mix or two recorded that you’re proud of, you might start getting feedback from others… especially from people you don’t know.

I’ve noticed that, in most cases, people who listen to your mixes because they know you will rarely give you feedback that is useful (unless you are good friends with an experienced DJ).

While it doesn’t hurt to be told that your mix is “nice” or “cool” or that you did a “great job, man!”, it doesn’t help you much, either.

Upload your mix somewhere (such as Mixcloud), and try to get some feedback.  Find an active online community somewhere; for dance and hip-hop music, DJTechTools Forums seem to be a great place for this.

Or, if you’re a genre-specific DJ, perhaps seek out forums and communities based on those styles.

One important thing, though… make sure that you’re not just leeching from these communities.  Do what you can to give back!

One thing that I sometimes do is seek out sets on these sites that I think might interest me, and give feedback on them.  I don’t’t just give them a one-liner response (such as “hey, nice set man!”).  I write a paragraph or two telling them what I did or didn’t like about it (being tactful, of course).  At the end, I simply provide a link to my mix and ask them to give me some feedback in return if they have time.

Eventually, you will want to build an online presence for yourself.  I highly recommend having a personal homepage (preferably, with your own domain… mine is and a Facebook fan page.

If you’re tech-savvy enough, you can build a website yourself, or you could always hire someone at a place like eLance to take care of it for fairly cheap.  Having something to link and refer people to is critical, so that you can show what you can do to potential promoters or customers.

If you’re good, you might even make some YouTube videos of short mixes/mashups/whatever you’re in to.

Building an online presence is a good route to take these days, but while it will help you develop certain skills, it will not get you gigs.  That’s when you need to move on to local promotion.

Step Eight: Hustle (Put In Your Time)
Handing out flyers

Make yourself valuable to your scene or demographic.

This is probably the most crucial step in the whole process.

If you’re trying to break in to a particular scene, you need to make yourself valuable to that scene before you expect to start playing shows.

There’s no one specific way to approach this.  But, suffice it to say, if nobody knows who you are, you’re not going to get many gigs.

Early in my journey as a small town DJ, the nightlife scene that I was interested in breaking in to was in quite a lull.  My approach was to go to a struggling night club and offered to throw and promote my own event.

I ran a monthly Thursday night for about a year.  While it wasn’t what I’d call a raging success (and it wasn’t my first time playing in front of people), it did get me used to playing in a club, hooking up to a real PA, and gave me some insight into the promotional side of things.

In the bar/club world, it’s largely about who you know.  That’s just the way that things often work.  Befriend some like-minded people in the scene, and learn how to network like a gentleman (or lady).

If you do it right, you’ll end up with some great new friends, too.  Start supporting their shows and gigs.  Above all, think about how you can make yourself useful.

What are you doing that is valuable for your scene of interest?  When it comes to the club scene, collaboration is almost always preferable to competition.

Step Nine: Pursue Your First Gigs
Getting DJ Gigs

Play in front of real people – what it’s all about.

Playing in front of real people…. that’s what it’s all about, right?

A great way to get some experience under your belt is to play (or throw) house parties.  If it’s your party, book a few local seasoned DJs to play, and warm up for them, just as if you were warming up for a headliner in a club.

If you’re getting into the whole mobile DJing thing, try finding special one-off events that you can play (you might not want to start off with your first gig being someone’s wedding).

This can be anything… one of my favorite places to play happens to be a consignment shop.  Here’s a nice little write-up about DJing in “unlikely places”.

You may have to do some shows for free (and, be careful here, as it’s easy to get stuck playing for free).  In the club scene, throwing your own night is another great way to get some gigs, gain experience, and become known.

Start handing out demos and/or business cards to promoters, DJs, and friends at their events.  Show them that you were willing to support them… people will notice.

Personally, I made up business cards which have a link to my home page.  They can then listen to my demos right from my website.  I like this approach because people are more willing to keep your business card (that they can stick in their wallet) than a burnt CD which can’t be easily carried around.

A few tips in regards to scoring your first few gigs:

  • Become known by the regulars in your scene or venue before approaching a manager/promoter formally.
  • If you’ve done a good job with step seven, don’t just sell yourself as a DJ… sell yourself as a brand.
  • You’re probably going to play your share of empty rooms.  Get over it, and keep pressing on.

Another point I’d like to make:  How many long-time DJs do you know that give off that jaded vibe, after they have “put in their time” for so many years?

The truth of the matter is that the DJ hustle never ends, unless you’ve somehow managed to reach legendary status.  Make sure to keep your ego in check, and don’t let your experience get to your head.

Staying humble and always having a “how can I provide value” approach will keep you fresh and positive.  And who doesn’t like working with nice, positive people?

“The truth of the matter is that the DJ hustle never ends.”

Step Ten: Hone Your Craft

Learn to work the floor, and consider more advanced skills.

Great, so you’ve got some gigs under your belt and you’ve been bitten by the DJ bug.

So now you can simply kick back and let the gigs flow in, right?  Wrong!

Now is where you start putting in work so that you can become an expert at your craft.  Unfortunately, many man (MANY) DJs skip this step once they’re “good enough”.

There’s a lot more to DJing than transitioning from one track to the other:

There are a number of other things you can do to make yourself stand out as a DJ.

A lot of DJs (especially ones who play a lot of melodic content) like to mix in key.  Turntablists/scratch DJs can never have enough practice and fine-tuning of their skills.

Maybe you’re interested in adding more “live” elements to your set, using drum machines, samplers, remix decks, live musicians… the list is endless.

Just make sure that you are actually doing something worth listening to or watching… gimmicks will only take you so far.

As mentioned in the list above, you should learn how to choose appropriate gigs… but you should also be versatile.  Here’s a quote from my first blog post:

“Be versatile.  This doesn’t mean that you have to arrive at every gig with every style of music, and compromise your own sense of style and musical taste in order to water it down for the masses.  It simply means that you shouldn’t pigeonhole yourself if you want to provide value (notice how I keep saying “provide value”?).

I know that when I play a fashion show in a night club, I need to play music that is upbeat and bouncy without being too obnoxious or vocal.  I know that when I play an underground event at a warehouse somewhere, my crowd is going to be bored to tears if I play 95bpm jazzy trip-hop.

This one may seem obvious, but I see this happen so often that it’s silly.  Big wobbly dubstep tracks don’t typically belong at a coffee shop at 8 PM.”

Some Final Tips

  • Don’t expect to quit your day job.  In today’s digitally accessible world, being a DJ is easy… but making a living DJing is hard.  I’m not saying you can’t make a living as a DJ… you can!  But it’s important to realize that you need to put in the work, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
  • Do what makes you happy.  Here are 5 tips to help guarantee your happiness as a DJ.
  • Don’t ever move past step 10 on this list.  Always develop yourself as a person and as a DJ.  Don’t stagnate!
  • Learn the value of subtlety.  This will help you with your crowd reading and will help you turn your sets into a journey instead of a cyclone.
  • It doesn’t matter that anyone can DJ these days.  What matters is that you do it better.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this guide, and I hope that it has been of some use to you!

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  • Travis

    Wow! This guide was even more helpful than I was hoping it’d be. Thanks for putting in the time to create such a useful tool for us new “DJs”. I’m just about to start playing with Virtual DJ so I’m as new as they get!

    Thanks again!

    • David Michael

      Hey Travis! I really appreciate that, and I’m glad that you found this guide helpful!

  • Kunle

    What else do I need to hear/know as a guy that wants to add DJing as a part time hobby; you have just told me almost everything i’ll have to do as prerequisite and what to do getting into the ‘game’. so appreciate. Thanks.

    • David Michael

      So glad to help, Kunle… I plan on continuing to improve the page too, so any suggestions are welcome!

  • Cecil

    A great guide. Thank you very much. I am just getting started with VDJ and had some questions.
    As I am just starting out with House music, should I “make” house music or just mix other people’s track? And can you recommend some online courses for djing? Thanks

    • David Michael

      Hey there Cecil!

      Regarding “making” vs. “mixing” house music… that is a decision that is entirely up to you! You basically are trying to decide if you want to be a producer (making) or DJ (playing). Of course, nothing says you can’t pursue both… but contrary to popular belief, they are typically much different processes.

      Phil Morse over at Digital DJ Tips has some great courses… tell him I sent ya!

      Though, I would never tell you that taking courses is a requirement. You’d be amazed what you can learn from YouTube, forums, and blogs!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Chinmoy

    Hi :)
    This was quite a comprehensive guide to djing. I started nearly two months ago and I use traktor. I am interested in remixing tracks and I have the trial version of ableton but I don’t know how to use it to make remixes. I was wondering if you could help me out. Thanks :) 😀

    • David Michael

      Hi Chinmoy,

      Glad you enjoyed the guide!

      Making remixes is getting into production territory, and I mostly focus on DJing here. Of course, those lines are getting quite blurred these days.

      Unfortunately there’s no quick way to answer how to make remixes in Ableton… people have entire careers based around that. The best advice I can give? YouTube is your friend!

      I would suggest getting really specific on one particular task that you’re trying to accomplish, (instead of something so vague as “make remixes in Ableton”), and search for that. Focus on one little thing at a time.

      Start by finding an Ableton tutorial that teaches the very basics. So you’ll want to get on YouTube and search for something like “ableton beginner”.

      Here’s one pretty awesome-looking result I found by searching for just that:

      Once you feel like you have the basics down, maybe you want to find out how to add vocals to an existing song. When you try, the vocals are out of time. So then, search for something like “ableton sync vocals” or “ableton vocals tempo”.

      You’ll be amazed how much you’ll learn in a month or two of doing this!

  • ansul

    A good guide for me.
    may I know the initial budget needed to start a club dj, because for me its about investment to carry on a passion.

    • David Michael

      A decent laptop ($500) and a decent controller ($300) is a reasonable number… it’s not too bad these days. :)

  • Erik

    Like the earlier guides have stated, very helpful guide as I am a DJ NOOB. Please keep them and the podcasts coming.

    • David Michael

      Thanks so much Erik… so glad that it’s helping you!

  • Arnab

    hey david, that was a great guide, really awesome,
    actually i m a new dj, i am trying my hands on Virtual DJ 8, n now i am willing to buy a all in one DJ controller, i have selected Hercules DJ control instinct which costs around 200 dollars in india, its bit cheap because its my first hardware purchase, can u suggest me some more choices n some basic equipments, n bro please send me your e mail address at ( my e mail address, n bro please reply to my comment…

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  • Paritosh Biswas

    i want to be a dj…..
    any one help me…?

  • Anoop

    I am relly crazy about playing music in front of people,the beats, the grooves, people dancing crazy, seeing them happy…makes me happy,i am an IT professional but i want to try this one because i am very passionate and its been long i was pondering about a side career as a DJ,please help me how to go about it(guidance)?

    • David Michael


      I would say that MOST people opt for a “side career” when it comes to the world of DJing. Really, the process is just as described in the article. If you have any specific questions I’d be glad to try and help. :)

    • Carlos

      This comment explains me perfectly….

  • Jemster

    Great article – thank you for taking so much time and effort to write and publish it – at 43 and having spent too many years hijacking people’s party music you’ve provided a realistic insight into what’s required and I’m going for it!

    • David Michael

      Great to hear, Jemster… thanks for the kind words!

  • lisa

    This was, “oh so very helpful’. I appreciate when people break it down. Well as you mentioned that you appreciate giving and receiving feedback… i will add that there were many words used here that I did not know what they meant. Although there were many that you did explain which was helpful. I know sometimes when we are doing something for such a long time it is not that easy to remember all the basics…. but this was a great guide for me who is just beginning… I took the liberty to jot down all the words i was not familiar with and perhaps it can be one of your other blogs names, “DJ Tech Words”… 😉 Let me know and i will send them to your email… gracias…

    • David Michael

      I’m glad that you found the article useful, Lisa!

      If there are any terms used in the article that you aren’t too familiar with, you are welcome to email me with questions!

  • Pablo Andrey

    This is one of the best article I’ve been seen, but also this article is a helpfully guide to start to produce your own music

  • Ellen

    My 13 year old song is interested in getting some dj equipment. What equipment does he need to start with or should he download the software first? He is wanting a mixer and I know nothing about this! Thanks

    • David Michael

      Hi Ellen,

      Sorry for the delay!

      Your son would do well with some sort of all-in-one DJ controller, assuming he is going to be connecting it to a computer. If he does not have a computer available to him, a standalone DJ system like Pioneer’s XDJ-R1 (link). Standalone starts at a higher price, but of course, negates the need for a computer.

      Does your son use any particular kind of DJ software now? That may help point us in a good direction for a more budget-oriented controller.

      Hope this helps!

  • jtronicus

    NIce article. I’ve been DJing for 14 years and would have loved to find this back in the day when just starting out. I think playing all your big tracks first is a rite of passage. Everyone goes through that phase and then usually quits or develops as musicians. Hardcore druggies are an exception to this. They don’t seem to snap out of this trap, maybe because they’re too high to learn. I digress.

    Your interest should kinda just grow naturally if you enjoy the hobby. If I had to start over again I’d probably not put as much time into getting brand new tracks and focus on the content of what I was picking. After 14 years you have enough music to keep people guessing, but if half of it is shitty you won’t have as much to fall back on.

    Very nice read, thank you for taking the time to write it.

    • David Michael

      Thanks a ton for the kind words, jtronicus.

      “If I had to start over again I’d probably not put as much time into getting brand new tracks and focus on the content of what I was picking. After 14 years you have enough music to keep people guessing, but if half of it is shitty you won’t have as much to fall back on.”

      Hear hear!


    Can I traverse over many genres every time and give the crowd a wholesome sense of electronica rather than just playing progressive tracks?

    • David Michael

      You can do whatever you want… it’s your prerogative as the DJ!

      The key is finding what works for the particular crowd you’re playing for.

    • steve

      I don’t organise my tracks genre at all

      I tag them by mood – happy, melancholy, aggressive, neutral, anticipating etc..
      and by energy – low, mid, high (which is different to bmp, you could have a laid back d+b track with a high 200+ bmp thats less energy than a typical 120bpm house track)

      i have the genre tagged but its of secondary importance to mood, energy, bpm and depending on the kind of mix the key.

      now most of my playlist will be house, as I kind of use house as a glue and I like most house music, but for early evening I might shove some trip hop, moody d + b or ambient in there along side some more laid back deep house, later on I might stick some techno, some old school or electro in there along side more upbeat house. When im riding the rollercoaster to the top i might even go hi energy d + b / jungle.

      if you’re wanting to mix genre its best to stick with 4/4 beat tracks though at first. if think for you progressive -> techno -> electronica would work. look for tracks that kind of fit 2 genres to use as transitions between e.g. a track with a d+b rhythm but a house piano riff. also play at least 4 or so tracks within a genre before swapping.

  • nancyedward

    In my Opinion Track Selection the number one skill a good DJ must have..You can be an amazing technical DJ but if you choose shit tracks it makes you a shit DJ. I think it’s 90% track selection and maybe 10% everything else!

    Best Wedding DJ Melbourne

    • David Michael

      I can’t really fault that. :)

  • Raj

    Hi David, Thanks for the article. Am a small time music composer/ teacher.Brand new to DJ-ing. Just started trying out on Mixx.Wonder if you can recommend me good songs playlists in each genres of EDM. I don’t want to sound novice when i enter the stage.Thanks again. :-)

    • David Michael

      Hi there!

      So, I have good news and bad news.

      The bad news is that there is no easier way to sound novice when entering the stage, than to play a cookie-cutter playlist of EDM that someone else ripped off of’s top lists.

      The good news is that the solution is both simple and liberating: your sound is entirely your choice. Play what moves you, and what moves the audience you are aiming for.

      Every gig is different, and it’s your job as the DJ to find that happy medium between what your audience expects, and what music you would like to share with them.

      After all, that’s what the DJ is all about, in my opinion. Music is capable of being entirely automated these days. But the DJ adds a human element to an otherwise automated performance… and can be an art all on its own.

      So find your sound, or find your audience. When you find one, pursue the other.

      Hope that helps, my friend!

  • Levi

    Hey my name is Levi. I want to be a DJ really, really badly. When i read through this page, i was thinking.. “i want to do this because i love the music” and that’s the reason, I love the tunes, and i would love playing out at friends parties and shit like that. I want to put people in moments, i want to do for my love of music. What are some things that i can do to to help me get on the track for doing this little thing of mine? any advice would be helpful :) i don’t really have any knowledge of this trade, should i start of just using some basic mixing software? should i also maybe buy a entry-level controller? would that help? anything to help me pull down the basics and get my feet wet like you say. what a some really key fundamentals that in you opinion that i would need to know? beatmatching? scatching? looping? all of the above? any tips man. Even if i could be a average to good dj i would die happy. This is all i really want to do.

    • David Michael

      Hi Levi,

      I would recommend that you read my article titled “5 Tips for DJ Happiness”:

      And yes, an entry level controller is a great start… especially if you have a decent running laptop already. There are loads of great options these days and it really comes down to preference.

      Fundamentals you should start with: counting/phrasing, setting cue points, learning whatever software/equipment you have chosen. Beatmatching is optional, but recommended, as it gives you a very good understanding and appreciation of the rhythm of your music.

      Once you’ve gotten this down, record yourself. Play an hour long set or so, and try to make it flow smoothly. Once you can make something fairly cohesive, which sounds nice and feels like it “goes somewhere”, you can focus on playing with things like FX, looping, scratching, etc.

      That’s my personal recommendation (opinion): focus on presenting the music, not modifying it or showboating. Once you can tell a story with the music alone, then you can start playing with it.

      Hope this helps :)

  • Alice

    Hi David! I find your article really helpful. I’m quite young (17) but I’ve found myself developing a strong interest in EDM any everytime I see a DJ playing, I literally go excited! I want to be like them, want to create those awesome tracks! Wanna ask you something. Are all the knowledge u mentioned above everything that one needs to know if he is to become a DJ or there’s more to it? And does creativity play a crucial part in being a DJ? I’m still pretty lost in this whole world of DJ. Will be extremely grateful if you can show me the ropes of this thing :)

    • Zach

      I’m 17 too and spire to be a DJ at least as a part time job one day, so I’m with you haha. I DJ right now for fun, but yes, creativity/mentality is a big part. Knowing what songs blend well together, watching how the crowd reacts and what type of songs they seem to like, etc. You also need to have a large library of songs in your head, and know them well so you can mix them.

      • David Michael

        Off to a good start, Zach! :)

      • Alice

        @zach @david: thanks for the advice guys :) it means a lot. I’ll just put my best foot forward then.

    • David Michael

      There’s more to it, Alice. For those who want to master a craft, there’s always more to it! :)

      This guide is meant to be an all-encompassing umbrella answer for “how do I become a DJ?”, and as such, doesn’t dig SUPER deep into any one aspect.

      Which is why the rest of the site exists, so that I can hopefully address issues one at a time. This way, young potential DJs like yourself have somewhere to turn when they are struggling.

      That’s what I aim for, anyway!

  • Deadwill

    Hello David I think I’m starting to feel it with electronic music actually I know how to play classical music all I wanna know is how well does classical music combine with electronic music

    • David Michael

      As the DJ, that would be up to you to discover! 😉

  • Justin T.

    So this article has definitely made me realize I don’t know much yet. But curious to hear if anyone can suggest great places to buy edm music. I prefer trance, progressive house, and electro house. Would be great to not learn to mix the top lists on beatport like David said. I get very emotional with my music and would like to continue to find music that’s unique. Thanks to everyone.

    • David Michael

      Hey Justin,

      Beatport is a perfectly valid place to purchase music, and you can completely ignore their top lists if you want. Just to be clear!

      By the way, it could use some updating, but here are 25 ways to help you find better music online :)

  • David Michael

    Hey there Eddie,

    I’m torn on answering this question.

    My initial gut instinct was to give a brutally honest “no”, because if you have to ask the question, perhaps it’s not for you.

    But after thinking about it a little more… sure, why not? It’s so easy to tinker and try here and there, and the cost of entry is nearly non-existent these days. I refuse to be considered part of some “elitist” club.

    There are lots of different kinds of DJs, and DJs with various levels of commitment . Not all of them want to be rockstars or replace their day job. Some just like having a hobby which helps them wind down after a long, hard day at work.

    So, my real answer is “yes, if you feel like you will get any value out of it.” Just know that if you don’t pursue it with passion and purpose, the results could match.

    Hope this helps!

  • Reginald L. Davenport

    After a lengthy absence I knew that I needed to get reconnected with the site here and just stay motivated…and the first thing I look at is THIS guide, which I thought to be very well written. I am a bit biased when I say this for a couple of reasons. First, I got my start in 1993 and taught myself how to mix. The second reason is that I took a Microsoft Powerpoint class in 1995/1996 and for my project I created a slide show aptly titled “How You Can Become a DJ”. The contents of the slide show almost mirror this guide to exactness. 😀

    • David Michael

      Hey, that’s awesome, Reginald! You wouldn’t still happen to have that Powerpoint around, would ya?

      Glad to hear that my message is resonating with DJs of all sorts… even very experienced ones!

      • Reginald L. Davenport

        Well…I know I have the printed slides somewhere in the house…
        As for the digital version, not too likely that I will be able to access THAT anymore because that was on a floppy disk – lol

        • David Michael

          Haha… I still have a few handfuls of ’em around.

  • Joshua Kho

    What a fantastic article. Thank you.

    • David Michael

      No problem Joshua, thank you for reading!

  • Taylor Alexis Ramsey

    I am very passionate about music and I am wanting to get into DJing but I mostly want to cater to the LGBTQ community. Do you have any advice for me?

    • David Michael

      Hey Taylor!

      That’s a very specific audience requirement and I’m not sure why you’d want to limit yourself this way as a DJ, but there are certainly ways you could support an LGBTQ audience. Personally, I have played a few shows/benefits which address issues faced by this community.

      If your primary motivation is to support LGBTQ people using music as a mechanism, you might think about getting into some event promotion. Perhaps it would be a good idea to align yourself with other organizations or individuals who do this sort of thing, and arrange a music program with them.

      Other than getting a residency at a gay club, that’s all that comes to mind for now :) Hope this helps!

  • ODJO
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  • Domenico Cusumano

    Very well writtwn article thanks so much

    • David Michael

      So glad to help, Domenico!

  • David Michael

    Hey Dev,

    For your tempo transition problem… I wish this is something that I covered more, but honestly, the guys over at DJ Tech Tools are all over this one:

    That should get some ideas going.

    For your second problem, this may require a shift in your approach to DJing. If you’re working in an environment where you might utilize crowd reading (such as a nightclub), I would suggest to not create a strict playlist. Instead, I would either become very familiar with your music collection (even if it means making it smaller), or build smaller playlist “chunks” of tracks that sound good together. Preferably, both!

    There’s something to be said for not following an exact playlist… unless you are DJing as a “performer” who is doing some sort of routine (as is common with turntablists). Don’t be afraid to live in the moment, and decide what would sound good right then.

    Of course, the easiest way to fix this problem is to have more music than necessary prepared for your timeslot. But I like the above answer better! :)

  • Vantage

    hey David i am a 12 year old DJ and producer and i was wondering on how to gain attention because it is very hard trying to get people to listen and get into the business and i was also wondering if i could have a chance getting into the business since i am so young and i am not in it for the money i am in it for the life of a DJ. Thanks for reading

  • Oliver

    I´m just 14 years old ,but i would like amaze the people on a stage with my own music … I will first make it to my hobby, but later i would like to make it professional … I would like to make some beats at my K board ..
    Do you have some tips for me how to start and buy some stuff ?

    • David Michael

      Hi Oliver! Sorry I missed this earlier.

      If you haven’t started buying equipment yet, this should help you out:

  • Jack Clift

    hey david amazing article man!! I’m brand new to the DJing scene 15 years old and struggling to get my head around everything. how long does it take on average to get your head wrapped around a deck and start creating mixes. Thanks, Jack

    • David Michael

      Thank you Jack, I hope that Passionate DJ continues to be a resource for you :)

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  • rohit

    i read the whole thing thnks man

    • David Michael

      Glad to help, hope you found it useful!

  • Prasad Gharat

    Hey David,This article was very helpful and inspiring..i read it thoroughly and it’s awesome….I’m into djing since past few months and also made account on mixcloud…..response over it seems satisfactory…I’m doing great using virtual DJ8 rather than using mixx software…also i’m learning to produce edm music but it seems tough right now…yet i’m pushing myself harder….also i’ve few post on youtube too…I’m going to complete my engineering very soon and i wish to study more in this field of music….can u mention some courses which can be done in this field?
    Also i have a question regarding what more things i can do so that i can be noticed as DJ..What all things can i do to be noticed more around…i give as much time as i can since i’m in my last year of studies…and keep on djing cause it’s my passion now and i don’t want to drop my passion….
    can you help me with your expertise?

    • David Michael

      Hi Prasad! I answered this question for you on episode 19 of the Passionate DJ Podcast:

      Hope this helps!

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  • MaverickMidori

    I’ve badly wanted to do this for ages I just haven’t known when to start and what to buy, I do IT/AV at many functions and events, but I haven’t known how to approach DJing. How much money do you recommend putting in for a starter since most say you must put money in to get money out.

    • David Michael


      Sorry for the delay. If you’re looking for a setup to actually play/mix on, check out this article:

      That will help you make a decision, and spend your money wisely. If you’re talking about an actual sound system (i.e. speakers, etc.) that’s greatly going to depend on what kind of events you are playing, and how large they are.

      To some small extent, it’s true what they say… you’ve gotta spend money to make money. But it doesn’t take much to start. :)

  • Malaikah

    I am 13 and I just started producing music. I am learning how to DJ and I really found your guide very helpful. Please tell me what appropriate step should I take now.
    Thanks David!

    • David Michael


      That depends on where you are on your path to DJing. In other words, where are you in the guide? What is your next step?

      If you aren’t sure, go to Step 3 and start playing with some software. See which you like. Then just move on down the guide… that’s what it’s here for!

      Hope this helps :)

  • David Michael

    Be awesome, build a following, meet the right people, and get lucky. :)

    • Amber Lv

      Hi! But how to meet the right person? I mean, you just walk into one club and ask them: can we talk about it? I guess nobody will answer it. Can you explain in specific? Thanks!

  • Rudrapratap Mahida

    hey this is Rudra……from India. I am a dreamer and I want to become a DJ but in present time I am confused bcz i am studying in Canada and dont know how to start up my desire.

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