So you have finally decided to graduate from playing music from your spotify account for your friends to being an actual DJ? Good! Now is the time to actually get to know how to be an actual musician, spin records and write your own music. Exciting stuff, really. Except you don’t know where to start. Worry not because I too was in the same predicament about a year ago. After extensive research and consultation with my DJ friends I realized that this endeavor might be on the a little too expensive side for me. Still I persisted in my desire to turntables and intruded on my friends’ sessions. I would visit, learn from them and use their setups to practice. Eventually they got annoyed so I had to stop doing it. Still I tired to make myself better acquainted with the art of DJing and now you get to reap the benefits of my exploration. Lucky you will get to avoid the same mistakes I kept making.
The Basic Setup
All right so let’s talk about the basic setup. The basic setup is just what it is – basic. The very few things that you will need to be an actual DJ, mixologist and grand master. This means we will get to talk a little about turntables, needles, mixers, headphones and records, as we as a little bit about software. Don’t be scared though, there is way more equipment you can buy.
First and foremost are the turntables. These are pretty much iconic in modern culture. Starting with the very first DJs from the era of disco and still in use by the modern electronic music artists. The difference is that the turntables have come a long way since the very first ones, yet the idea behind them remains pretty much the same. You put down a vinyl onto the turntable and you start playing. Fun times!
The thing is, modern turntables have many new options that the ones from the 20th century didn’t even dream of having. The most notable feature is the ability to create electronic files from vinyl simply by playing the record on the turntable and using a piece of software. Always useful if you are a dj looking to sample a record.
There are several things to consider: you need to make sure your turntables are of solid construction. Don’t want random vibrations causing extra noise in the sound. You will have to pick manual turntables to make it easy for yourself to switch out records on the go. Also – you will need two, just as you always imagined yourself having.
When picking cartridges you need to know 2 things for sure: you need one with good tracking and with a wide response rate.
A cartridge with good tracking is less likely to skip when you are working the record. As a DJ you might want to start doing some scratching from once in a while, which might cause the cartridge to skip. Good tracking will prevent this and make it easier for you to manhandle the record.
A wide response rate allows the cartridge to be very precise in the music it picks up and play from the record. You want good sound quality when playing your records, right? So get a cartridge with a wide response rate.
The rest of the details of a cartridge are mostly up to your preference.
The mixer is your control center. It is where the music goes in from your turntables and laptop and from where the music goes out into the world. Here you will control frequencies, what the audience hears, what they will be hearing and how they will be hearing it. This is the central command of your entire setup and so it is important to understand that you need one of these. Makes life easier to have a physical one rather than a software simulation too. Whatever it is, get one of these. Price usually determines quality and there are certain things you need to look for, but that will be covered in a more detailed article later.
Why do you need slipmats? Because you want to minimize the friction between the platter and the record when you are holding the record. Why? Because you don’t want to break your record player or ruin your record. Fun right? Slipmats are pieces of cloth that are placed between the platter and the record and are pleasant and slippery to the touch. Not adhesive and rubbery, so make sure you get some slipmats. They will enhance your playing and keep your records long lived.
The headphones are not something to be underestimated. The right headphones will allow you to hear every single sound made by the record, to the tiniest detail. This will allow you to exert full control over the music you are playing. So how do you choose one? Well we are working on a list about headphones right now, but here are some of the qualities you should be looking for in your headphones:
- Comfort – You will be wearing your headphones for hours at a time when performing those extra long DJ sets. You don’t want your head and ears hurting, so grab a set of headphones that feels good on your head. The headphones are not a punishment, they are a luxury and should be comfortable, always.
- Isolation – you need to hear what is going on with your music. You cannot hear what is going on with your music if noise from the outside is getting in the way. Yes it might be your music, but it will interfere with what you hear in the headphones. So will the noise of the crowd and the voice of that random annoying dude trying to ask you to spin a record or two.
- Toughness – Headphones are prone to falling. This is especially true in a DJ booth. Your headphones will catch on the table and fall off landing on the ground, or get hit accidentally for some reason. Whatever it is, you will be active in the booth and you want a pair of headphones that can take a beating.
- Convenience – Two ears, one ear, half ear, whatever it is, you want headphones that you can easily manipulate about your head. Trust me, you will thank me for this some day.
- Frequency Response and Sound Quality – This is the most important part. You want to be able to hear what is going on in your music down to the tiniest detail. This means you want headphones that reproduce sound in its utmost detail, down to the tiniest frequency changes. Make sure you find a pair of headphones capable of letting you hear what you are doing. No, Iphone headphones won’t work.
Congratulations, you have everything you need. Everything but the records. These are the heart and soul of your performance. They are your samples, your sets and the reason anyone will come to see you. So make sure you have a collection worthy of the attention of the hundreds and thousands of people you are putting yourself out to.
It is funny, but DJs used to have extensive collections of exclusive music only they could play. This is what made being a DJ such a dream job for so many young people back in the day. Today the DJ might not have a set of exclusive records, but he or she must have the skills necessary to present whatever records they have right. Scratching, mixing and even producing their own music using samples from records is highly valued. Getting the right records before you do will get you halfway to being successful.
Laptop and Software
While the basic setup has ended with the records point on the list, you might find it interesting to include your laptop and additional software in the mix, especially if you cannot have some parts of the basic physical DJ setup. You can supplement most of the items listed above with software: mixers, turntables can all be made into software, and they have. Whether you use Ableton or whatever else is available, you should be excited to know you won’t have to get the physical items from the set to play. Software can be as expensive as the actual physical items though, so be careful!
Now that you know about the basic setup, all you have to do is start practicing. Put down your spotify account and reserve in exclusively for listening purposes. Start buying music and masters, as well as records, and start recording. Practice daily, for an hour or five, whatever you can. Eventually your DJ skills will get there. You will start creating beats and mixes that people will be dying to hear. Just practice your art, as much as possible. Listen to others, listen to trends and try to keep up.
Good luck and have fun!