I Wanna Be A DJ, How Do I Get Started? Part 1
I get asked all the time “How do I become a DJ?” I love having this conversation because I love being one. Sometimes it happens when I’m in between mixes in a loud environment, and sometimes it happens on this blog or on our You Tube Channel. Either way the answer is quite simple. “Become What You Already Are”. You are already a DJ to some degree. It might sound Zen-like or Utopian but it is true. You probably have a favorite song or you’ve compiled a play list to listen to or even to share with a friend. If you have ever made a mix tape for a special occasion or for a significant other or for yourself then you’re already closer to being a DJ than you think. Here are the first things to consider when your journey begins.
Decide what you want to play and start your collection. Start with what you already have and build upon it. Without dating myself (accurately anyway), I bought records in vinyl form the old fashioned way. I watched 120 Minutes late on Sunday nights and made a list of what I liked. I went to the local record store with my list and bought what they had and asked Eric to order what they didn’t have. Rinse and repeat every week. My intentions back then were to compile a collection of cool tunes so I could record my favorites on a cassette and share with my friends who wanted to listen to it. These days you have many resources in which to listen to and purchase good music. DJs will post their Top 10′s on sites like Beatport in order to give you an idea of what’s hot and you can almost always purchase the tracks directly from the site. There are also a multitude of music blogs that exist to keep you up to date on new releases, remixes and the artists and DJs that are making the hot tracks. So in essence you want to get educated on the music and the people that create it, decide what you want to play and buy it, build your collection and finally, prepare it for presentation. You can then start to develop ideas of how you want to program your mix based on what you want to accomplish. This process is ongoing especially if you want to stay current and get gigs. At the end of the day, it is really all about the music. No matter what.
BYOG – BUY YOUR OWN GEAR
Period. No matter what it is, professional, intermediate, or beginner, new or used. You can learn to play on anything, but I strongly encourage you to invest the money, great or small, into owning some sort of DJ set-up. There is a process involved in deciding exactly what to buy, and we can certainly help here at Unique Squared. But, a Jedi one does not become without his or her light saber. It’s paramount to have the gear at your disposal so you can get used to the mechanics and tolerances of your equipment in order for you to develop your skills. It doesn’t have to happen over night, but it has to happen in order to become a true DJ. Do some research for there are many options. I started with a Gemini mixer and 2 Technics SL-1210Mk2′s. I purchased the mixer at an Air Force Base Exchange and I ordered the turntables from a Navy Exchange catalog. Yup, I served in the Navy. Nuclear Field. Anyway, this was a standard DJ set-up in the late 20th century and it was perfect for me at the time. I use a controller now but the layout is directly based on the very set-up that I started with a long time ago. Two turntables and a mixer. The point is I bought the gear and I learned how to use it because it was always at my disposal. Then I learned to love it and I never looked back.
LEARN THE BASICS
Crawl, walk, run, fly. This can be defined in many different ways in term of DJing. I follow a basic guideline when I give lessons. Without getting into great detail here’s my nutshell version:
1. CRAWL – Listen to a lot of music but especially the music you want to mix. Count 8′s, 16′s, and 32′s. Listen for intros, verses, bridges, choruses, builds and breakdowns. Listen for the mix when you listen to other DJs. You have to develop your ear in order to differentiate between 2 tracks. All of this can be done before you even touch the equipment.
2. WALK – Learn your mixer. Learn your turntable or CD player. Learn your controller. Learn how and where to plug in RCA, XLR, and 1/4″ cables. Press every button, turn every knob, slide every fader. Learn the tolerances of your cross-fader, channel fader, pitch adjust, jog wheels and turntables. Learn how to cue and monitor each channel on your mixer. All of this can be done before you put on a record or load a track.
3. RUN – Mix two tracks. Every one has their own way of doing this, but this my favorite. I would match two records of similar BPM on the turntables so that they were already beat matched and no pitch adjustments were needed. My student would then practice throwing each track on the first beat to get used to the feel of the record and turntable and monitoring through headphones. After they become comfortable with that, they could slowly bring in the mix, adjust the EQ, and slide the cross fader to the incoming track. I would then speed up or slow down one of the tracks so that they would have to listen to match snares or hi-hats and adjust the pitch in order to match the records before bringing in the mix. Rinse and repeat.
4. FLY – Inevitably, everyone wants to learn tricks. Only after becoming comfortable and confident in a basic mix can one attempt scratching or EQ filter sweeps. Mixing tracks that have complimentary keys is also an advanced technique that can be implemented after hundreds of mixes and an accurate musical knowledge of one’s record collection. We’ve all seen some incredibly creative things that occur behind a good DJ’s turntables and once you have the confidence and experience it is time to fly.
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
Yes, I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is my mantra when it comes to DJing. This has many meanings when it comes to DJing. When it comes to learning how to mix it is important to understand that you will become frustrated on occasion. Don’t give up because you WILL get better. If you are learning to mix on what one may consider to be substandard DJ equipment then you will be happy to know that once you get the hang of it you will probably be more accurate when you finally get the proper gear. It is a labor of love as I’ve said before and the fulfillment that you get when you’ve practiced and practiced and finally start seeing the result is truly amazing. Nothing Is Impossible in technical terms relates to what you do when you mix. You can express your music in so many different creative ways if you can break down musical boundaries and be inventive.
So you wanna be a DJ? Great, you should. Everyone should. I respect the art form and I respect any one, beginner or professional, that does it. Why? Because I love music and there’s music out there that one of you is going to play or mix that I haven’t heard yet and it’s probably incredible. In the weeks to come I will share my views on what it takes to be a DJ. In Part 2 I will go into more detail about making and uploading mixes, promoting yourself, gigs and gig etiquette, and creating your own business. Stay tuned. Cheers!
Check out Part 2 here.