In this article we offer five essential tips for anyone who's learning to DJ.
Learn to Mix in Key
The benefit of mixing in key is that the mix will sound more natural to the listener, which is never a bad thing when you’re a DJ. With modern software, it’s easy to find the key of a track and a basic understanding of what keys work together can help you to structure your sets and file your tracks accordingly. This isn’t essential and plenty of transitions will sound absolutely banging whether they’re in key or not. Although, considering key when mixing and putting together tracks for your set you can be very useful when trying to achieve the smoothest sound possible.
Learn to use FX, but don’t overuse them
FX can play a key part in establishing your sound and mixing style. This has developed with digital mixing where FX became far more advanced and easy to control in both industry and bedroom standard mixers. Use of delays, filters, echoes and noise effects can now be heard in almost every DJs live sets and it’s a good idea to get yourself used to how you can use these basic FX effectively. Listen to some of your favourite DJ’s mixes to see how they’ve used them, remembering that timing is everything. FX can also be overused. Bear in mind that most digitally produced tracks have FX programmed into them so use these only when you think they’ll compliment what’s there. When used appropriately, these can be what makes your mix stand out from everyone else's. As so much of DJing is about practicing and teaching yourself, everyone learns to make these FX work for them in different ways. Spend time experimenting with the FX on your mixer or FX unit and see what happens. Get confident in using them, working out patterns and rhythms that you can replicate again and once you’re ready, apply them to your live sets. This will add a flavour and sound that’s totally unique to you.
Practice using samples & creating live edits to make tunes your own
Where DJs back in the day would have slaved for hours to makes cuts and edits to include in live sets, new home studio technology has meant it’s easy to manipulate tracks and make them your own. This goes a long way with crowds. While people love hearing new tracks, they also love hearing tunes that they recognise. Making edits of some of your favourite tunes using software such as Cubase or Ableton can help you to work tracks into your sets and is a great way to keep things fresh and to keep people moving.
Using samples when mixing is a similar principal. Having some samples prepared that you can cue and use off the cuff can really liven up your mixing and spark off a dancefloor. Dropping samples such as vocal and percussive cuts from other tracks will again help to make sets your own and help to keep your audience’s attention.
Watch and learn from other DJs
Don’t underestimate how much you can learn by watching other people DJ. If you’ve got a mate who can mix, get in touch with them and see if they can show you any tricks. If you’re at the stage where you’re playing in clubs, keep an eye on what others do in the booth so that you can take ideas from them. If neither of these are an option, not to worry, there are thousands of tutorials, along with videos of your favourite DJs mixing online. As always, it’s best to learn by doing, but you’ll be amazed at how many ideas you can pick up just by watching people and paying attention to how they mix.
Structure your sets appropriately
Probably the most crucial skill you can have as a DJ is the ability to structure a set well and adapt it to an audience. Think of how your set will fit in along with headliners and other DJs who are playing before and after you. When you’re practicing your mixes, think about how people would react in a club environment. If you’re on warm up duties, make sure you don’t play a peak hour set. Your set shouldn’t be all guns blazing at this point and it’s important to bear in mind how it will flow and affect the energy in the room. Try to play tunes that will keep your crowd moving but not going too wild. If you’re on a peak hour set and are playing bigger tracks, make sure you work some groovier stuff in with it. If every track is a banger, then your set will seem more repetitive and will get less of a reaction from the crowd. However, if you build up to the peaks in your set, you’ll maintain the audience’s energy and they can be ready to go off exactly when you want them to be. With experience, you’ll learn to read a crowd and pick your tracks accordingly on the night, so it’s worthwhile early on to get into the practice of categorising your music library by where songs will fit into your sets. For example, if you have a folder for heavier tracks, techier tracks, tracks to use for mixing etc., you’ll be able to practice putting together sets and mixing on the spot between different styles of tracks to see what flows best and gives you the best energy.