What You Need to Start
My recommendation: never pull out your wallet if there’s a free version. We’re living in the greatest time in human history when it comes to the Digital Age. SO MUCH can be done remotely from a computer and at such a minimal cost. When it comes to DJing, I try taking full advantage of this, slowly investing more and more as time goes on.
If you’ve never driven a car before, would your first choice be spending all you have on a Lamborghini? Well, let’s hope not. That thing would be driving you and probably straight into oncoming traffic. In the same vein, your first decision shouldn’t be to go out and buy a $1000 four-deck, state of the art mixer when you’ve never had any DJing experience. We want to dip our toes in here.
The Cost-Effective Route
Taking the cost-effective route when learning how to DJ largely involves using the gear you already own. “But, wait. Hold up a second… I already own some DJ gear?” Yes, that's an affirmative, ghost rider. Like I said, your computer can get you to a lot of places you want to go to. You might have the other essentials as well, but if not, a cheap trip to your local electronics store or Guitar Center should do the trick.
Here’s the hardware you’ll need:
Your computer - The first DJ controller you’ll ever own
Small speaker you can plug into with an aux cord (No Bluetooths!)
Headphones or earbuds (Again…. No Bluetooths!)
Cable splitter - Allows for you to cue songs in your headphones without hearing them through the master output
That’s it! You have the bare essentials now. There’s also one more thing I’d like you to remember when it comes to the hardware: Wires > Wireless.
Why? To put it simply: predictability. You’ll quickly learn when starting out that technical difficulties will occupy half of your practice time until you get to know your gear like the back of your hand. Bluetooth speakers and headphones are great for some things, but DJing is not one of them. You’ll rarely ever see gear that has Bluetooth capabilities. Save your time and just stick with cords.
Okay, we have our hardware covered. Now, we need to download the software. Pioneer and Traktor are a couple of the historically well-known brands out there, but we’re starting to see some cool DJing software from a bunch of different brands nowadays. There are even apps you can get on your phone for mobile DJing! Not my cup of tea, but hey, it might be yours. What I’m saying is explore your options - start researching these free DJ softwares if you’d like. In the end, it’s unlikely you’ll stick with the same software you started with so pick one that fits you best for right now.
One tip I have for choosing the DJ software that’s suited best for you is to think about where your music is. You can’t go wrong with downloading songs to your computer because audio files are universally accepted by every software out there. Here’s a good list of beginner DJing software best for setups without an external controller.
Your options start to become more limited if you listen to your music through Apple Music and Spotify or other streaming platforms because not every DJing software has those integration features. If you’re using music from streaming, start your software research here. But however you slice it, the point remains clear that if you’re balling on a budget, there’s a myriad of opportunities to start learning how to DJ.
The Investment Route
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that no matter your circumstances, you should always go with the cost-effective route when you’re just starting out. I actually recommend taking the investment route if you have the funds to do so. The reason why I think this is because if you’re in it for the long haul, you will eventually be twisting knobs instead of clicking computer keys. And the investment really isn’t that steep if you choose to start with buying a controller.
For your initial investment, you’ll need a simple 2-deck controller - new or used depending on what your budget is. The goal is to find something in your price range that doesn’t throw all of the bells and whistles of modern DJing equipment in your face overwhelming you with options. The more limited the capabilities of your first controller, the better. You need to focus on the basics before you can become a Diplo.
Take a look at these 3 beginner controllers that are reliable pieces of gear and in the price range of $75 - $150:
So What’s Next?
Every person has their own path to follow so it doesn’t matter if you start with or without a controller. There will always be the “next best thing” type of gear you’ll have to get acquainted with and learn how to use. In the beginning, the key objective is to build a strong foundation. And you do that by attaining a firm grasp of the basic concepts at work.
This - the key concepts of mixing and musical structure - is what I will be going over in the next iteration of my “Intro to DJing” blog post series. It doesn’t matter if you’re using your own gear or the gear of the DJ at the bar because once you fully understand the basic concepts, you’ll be able to apply that knowledge across the entire spectrum of DJ equipment - just like learning how to ride a bike. Stay tuned for the next post “Intro to DJing: Learning How to Mix”.
Much love and #RideTheWave,