CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a DJ.
Is becoming a DJ right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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If you have your heart set on a career as a DJ, high school is the time to start preparing.
• Start building your collection of music
• Develop your own style
• Work at student or community radio stations
• Post mixes to online video and music streaming sites
Determine what kind of DJ you want to be
The Club DJ
Every club seeks to create a certain feel, attract a certain audience, and develop a certain reputation. The goal of the resident DJ is twofold: maintain an active dance floor by performing blends or transitions between songs and strike the right balance to keep the bar busy.
Performer DJs attract people who want to see what they can do behind the decks. They are exhibitionist DJs and pride themselves on building a reputation and a following. Many are controllerists or turntablists, who focus on cutting and scratching.
The Mobile DJ
Mobile DJs perform at weddings, corporate events, and other functions. In general, these DJs are among the most entrepreneurial. They are very often solely responsible for the setup and teardown of equipment, planning the show, managing the audience (and their requests), and making any required announcements. The mobile DJ typically needs to invest in sound equipment.
The Radio DJ
The very concept of the DJ originated with radio. Because of the wide range of contemporary radio station formats, the job of the DJ in this sector can vary considerably; from announcing news or weather between songs to full-on curating music sets. While many corporate radio DJs have lost control over the music played, the art of DJ-ing lives on in podcast format.
Aspiring radio DJs may opt to include radio or media production courses in their education.
The Producer / DJ
DJ-ing is the playing of pre-recorded music to an audience. Producing is the original creation or recording of music. Sometimes, the same person does both. The DJ who is also a producer often holds a Bachelor’s Degree in music production or audio engineering.
Explore DJ software
There are three main industry DJ platforms:
This free music management software by Pioneer allows you to prep you library and export to USB, or play directly from laptop using Rekordbox DJ. Compatible hardware is required.
Serato DJ Pro
This is the most popular DJ software. Its new Practice Mode allows you to DJ for free with no hardware connected.
A free demo of this software is available.
Learn the basic skills
Here is a brief review of the basic DJ skills:
The purpose of beatmatching is to get two tracks playing at the same tempo (speed) and phase (beats playing in-time with each other).
Phrasing means mixing your tracks together at points in the songs which make sense.
Gain is the electronic process of amplifying your signal (making it louder). DJ mixers have three gain stages over which the DJ has control.
Equalizing (EQing) is the act of boosting or cutting frequencies so that multiple audio tracks blend nicely.
Explore DJ hardware
While it is possible to begin DJing using only your laptop, you are eventually going to want more control over what you’re doing. Consider the following types of DJ setups:
DJ Controller Setup (recommended)
This is the most cost effective way to mix with hardware. A DJ controller gives you tactile control over DJ software, allowing you to mix music on a device that is specifically designed for the task.
Compare the best DJ controllers:
The Controller Compendium
Read about four budget-friendly DJ setup ideas:
Baller on a Budget
CDJs are the so-called industry standard and can be found in nightclubs, festivals, and arenas worldwide. Originally designed to play music from compact discs, modern CDJs (and XDJs) play digital music stored on USB drives. The players are plugged into a hardware DJ mixer.
Compare various CDJs:
The Pioneer CDJ Guidebook
Although records are harder to mix than any of the other formats and vinyl is the most expensive format, DJs find working with records rewarding. And… it’s considered ‘sexy.’
Timecode and HID Setups
Many people in the industry feel that using a timecode – Digital Vinyl System (DVS) can give you the best of both mixing records and having your entire digital music collection with you wherever you go.
Record a mix
Recording a mix in the quiet of your bedroom is very different than playing in front of an audience. Of course, you won’t be able to test your skills at reading a crowd. You will, however, have a starting point from which to experiment and analyze your abilities to generate ebb, flow, and direction; to tell a story; and to create a feeling with your mix.
With a compatible Pioneer mixer, you can use the DJM-REC app to record mixes using an iPad or iPhone.
For further information and inspiration, spend some time with The Passionate DJ Podcast:
Publish your mixes
Once you record some mixes that you believe are ready to share, find a host platform and release your work to the public:
• MixCloud is a safe – and free – place to host your recording.
• HearThis.at is another popular option.
Create artwork for your mix – for free – using the graphics tool Canva.
Build an online presence
• Pick one or two social networks and link your completed profiles to your mixes.
• Consider getting your own home page and domain to promote your brand.
• Keep content flowing.
• Post different types of content that communicate who you are: your own work; as well as music, artwork, and stories that inspire you
• Look at others’ work online. They may reciprocate.
Connect with club and bar owners. Offer to DJ or be a warm up for their house DJ at no charge for one or two nights. Sell both your skills and your brand. If mobile DJing is your goal, publish your availability in community newspapers and on community websites. Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth from your family and friends.
Get your first gigs
How to become a Dj
There is no standard route to becoming a DJ; no clear path to success. Although DJ schools and classes exist, many DJs are self-taught. The career, however, calls for much more than a love of music. It requires knowledge of music technology and equipment; as well as familiarity with music trends. For this reason, many aspiring to enter the field avail themselves of courses in sound and music technology offered by local colleges, music schools, community recording projects, and online.
In addition to mastering hardware and software used in the business, some DJs may even earn a Bachelor’s Degree in audio or sound engineering, which gives them a comprehensive understanding of sound and how to manipulate it. Coursework within a studio or audio engineering program may include analog technology, mastering and mixing audio, surround sound, mixing consoles, studio maintenance, and music theory.
Prospective radio DJs often take formal training in radio or media production. These courses not only allow them to develop practical skills but may include internships or work placements.
DJs who are interested in creating their own tracks may seek training in music writing, song writing, and production.
In short, there is more than one potential education track for DJs. The specific path chosen generally depends on the sector of the field in which they wish to work and the extent of industry knowledge they wish to acquire.
How to become a DJ
How to become a DJ
Being a disc jockey requires a vast amount of energy and musical knowledge. You do not need to go to school to become a disc jockey, though that option is available for those who wish to do so.
The basic needs for a disc jockey vary depending on their choice of venue. A radio disc jockey will have a set playlist given to them by the station management and may select tracks from that playlist. The playlist generally consists of only songs from a specific genre, with a few tracks included from closely related songs. For example, a station who has chosen to specialize in the pop genre may have a few borderline songs from country musicians in their playlist due to the pop-style sound of the tracks.
A radio disc jockey will need to be able to communicate well over the air, conduct interviews with musicians in a professional, yet fun, manner, and also be able to handle calls from listeners with professionalism.
A disc jockey in a dance club, rave, or other party-style venue will need to have strong skills for reading their audience. This enables them to keep the audience dancing all night without wearing them out or boring them. They will also need to be able to communicate well with the venue owners and managers, making sure that there are no conflicts with the songs they are playing, the type of audience their playlist is drawing, etc.
Overall, a DJ needs excellent communication skills and needs to be able to manage and organize a varied playlist and audience. A strong work ethic will help maintain employment with radio stations, dance clubs, mobile disc jockey companies, and private bookings. A disc jockey known for cancelling their appearances will not be hired as often as one who is diligent about their professional requirements.