Learn to DJ Series

This definitely the most popular section of my website.

It took me about ten years to gain the professional experience that made me comfortable enough to attempt this project. I have five core videos to share here, totalling almost five hours in length. There are a handful of additional videos below that, on related topics.

The best way to take in this information is to scroll right down to the first video. Yes, I've posted a bit of stuff that you can read on this page, but most of it is just a outline of what's on each video, in case you're coming back at a later date and want to find a specific topic again. Let's get started.

Part 1 - Learn to DJ

In this video I talk about my own experiences within the industry, reasons why you'd want to be a DJ, different career paths (mobile, festivals, club resident, radio, etc), different ways to perform, the pros and cons of vinyl vs CD vs digital, some basic beat-mixing and turntablism background, and more. Scroll down for the video, but here's the outline:

- Introduction, background, education, career, my own musical tastes.
- Background as a DJ and a club manager.
- Future plans as a producer & teacher, and plans for future videos.
- The general format of this video and series, as an overview with lots of links to subjects that need to be covered in more detail.
- If you're on mobile, you can't see annotations, so the blog postings will also provide the useful links to other videos.
- Mentioning books.

Why Would You Want To DJ?
- Fun, social, and a great career if you enjoy music.
- Don't take the social aspects too far. Have fun, but stay in control when you're performing.
- Different types of DJ's, including: mobile DJ's, club residents, playing at parties and festivals, radio DJ's.
- Many DJ's cannot or do not make a living through DJ'ing. However, it is possible.
- How to "make it big" as a DJ.

Different Ways to Perform
- Originally, vinyl was the most common realistic alternative. Now, there are literally dozens of ways of performing.
- Traditional methods: vinyl.
- Switch to CD players, with pitch control.
- Nice to be able to have waveform display on CD players.
- Hybrid turntables, ie. vinyl plus CD plus mp3. Not popular, discontinued.
- You can use software with time-encoded vinyl to play mp3's and other digital files.
- Laptop DJ's: pros and cons.
- DJ software that is digital only.
- DJ software that incorporates time-encoded manipulation.
- Ableton Live.
- Purchasing music: vinyl vs CD vs mp3. Characteristics of each, ie. 7" vs 12" vs LP, compilation CD's, bit rates on mp3's, etc.
- Future possibilities: DJ'ing from tablets and phones.
- Live PA, performance art.

Styles & Techniques:
- Beat mixing or beat matching.
- Different styles of music, ie. EDM, mainstream, hip hope, etc.
- Turntablism.
- You need a background in audio equipment.
- Taking requests and playing for the crowd, versus playing a unique style.

Part 2 - Learn to DJ

In this video I talk about licensing, purchasing music legitimately, getting professional noise-attenuating hearing protectors, and most importantly, go over the purpose of a large number of pieces of equipment that DJ's will regularly encounter: mixers, headphones, pitch-controlled CD players, turntables, effects units, MIDI controllers, amps, speakers, subwoofers, monitors, compressors, graphic EQ's, crossovers, dance floor lighting, smoke & fog machines, microphones, cords & cabling, types of plugs, flight cases, and much more. Video below, but here's the outline:

Reviewing Equipment
- When to buy budget gear, and when to go for quality. "Buy cheap, buy twice."
- Mixers. Differences between DJ-specific and general audio/studio consoles. Different types of DJ mixers, ie. scratch mixers. Brands include Pioneer, Allen & Heath, Rane, Behringer, Denon, Numark, and Vestax. How many channels do you need?
- Headphones. Lots of variety here. You can choose between traditional cans (noise-cancelling padding surrounding ears) vs in-ear buds. In-ear buds are probably not good for playing at shows, because they don't have the noise-cancelling feature, but I use them at home a lot in quieter environments.
- Turntables. The Technics 1200 was the standard for decades. Technics, Stanton, Vestax, Gemini, Numark, KAM, Denon. Get direct drive, not belt-driven. Straight tone-arms are generally not as good as curved tone arms (in practice) even though they should be better for scratch DJ's. Lots to learn here, ie. needles and stylus and balancing tone-arm and anti-skating.
- Pitch Control CD Players. Pioneer are the standard, but there are also Denon, Tascam, Marantz, Numark, Stanton, Vestax, and American DJ. It's nice to get one with a waveform display.
- Laptops, tablets, phones, and MP3 players: long-term DJ's will look down upon DJ's working from purely digital equipment, but the truth is that these items are a cost-effective way to get started as a beginning DJ. More importantly, for a majority of DJ's, they actually have some significant advantages compared to old-school equipment like turntables. There are things like the iDJ2 for iPod. Make sure your laptop is set for performance, wifi is off, no unnecessary windows open. Talk about the benefits of having a sound card that lets you cue.
- Effects Machines. Examples are Korg's Kaos Pad or Kaossilator, the Pioneer RMX 1000 and EFX 1000, the Alesis Air, and the Behringer Tweakalizer.
- Controllers. Talk about the general point of having MIDI controllers of various types.
- Amps/amplifiers: You need these to get sound out of your speakers. An audio signal by itself is not enough, it needs to be boosted very significantly through a speaker. What is a receiver: an amp with a radio tuner in it.
- Speakers & Subs & Monitors. Speaker = top = main. Sub = subwoofer = bass bin. Monitors are just a type of speaker, used primarily for the benefit of the performer rather than the audience.
- Compressors. These are tricky to understand and to use properly, but they can help you manage the dynamic range and output volume from your system.
- Graphic EQ's (equalizers). Used to adjust narrow frequency bands within the overall spectrum. - Crossovers. Used to split an audio signal into different frequency bands (ie. low/high or low/medium/high) to route the proper part of the audio frequency spectrum to the correct speaker in systems with several types of speakers.
- Dance floor lighting. What's out there? Lasers, gobos, and more. Mention LED lighting being much cooler than the old halogen lights.
- Smoke & fog machines. I don't usually use these because of the risk of setting off a fire suppression system in some venues.
- Microphones. You need a dynamic microphone, not a condenser microphone. Condenser mics are designed for studio use, and need a special power supply called "phantom power" which is not normally found in a DJ setup.
- Understand cords and cabling and different types of plugs. For starters: TS, TRS, XLR, SPDIF, USB, Speakon, RCA/Phono, 5pin DIN, Low-Z vs High-Z, 1/8" male, 1/4" male.
- Buy flight cases to protect your gear. They're worth it if you ever expect to move your gear around!

Bad Ways to Try to Save Money
- Getting a license, and staying legal.
- Buying music legitimately, instead of pirating it: legitimacy, plus usually better quality.
- Playing remixes that you've done yourself - this is a grey area, and rules vary from country to country.
- Many DJ's cannot or do not make a living through DJ'ing. However, it is possible.
- Buy a set of professional noise-attenuating hearing protectors. You need your hearing to last for the rest of your life.

Part 3 - Learn to DJ

In this video I talk about music programming, set flow, mixing styles, beat-mixing (bars and beats and phrasing), mixing in key, DJ software, Ableton Live, and more. The video is below, but here's the outline:

Programming and Set Flow
- Think about "contingencies," ie. problems that might happen, and plan how you'd react to solve them.
- Theory about BPM's and energy levels. Gradually rising, sudden drops.
- Different mixing styles, drawn out versus abrupt.
- The importance of programming. Programming is 80% of your job. If you don't play songs that people like, it doesn't matter how technically skilled you are!
- For those of you playing venues where there will be more than one DJ, learn to be good at being an opening or closing DJ. Understand what the roles are for these two positions within a lineup. If you're the only DJ, you still need to think in terms of "warm-up" and "busy dance floor."
- Dealing with an empty dance floor. Do you play your great tracks early, or save them?
- Never play a track twice in a night.
- Dealing with Requests.
- Using a microphone effectively.
- What if you need to go to the washroom?

Do you need to Beat Mix?
- Radio mixing, and "chop" mixing or "drop" mixing.
- What is beat mixing/matching?
- Understand counting, bars/beats, and phrasing.
- Maintaining a flow is the most important.
- Planning out a set in advance. Pros and cons. Mostly cons.
- Beat-mixing on CD players. I have a sample mix online.
- Beat-mixing on vinyl. I have a sample mix online.
- Using the cross fader, or not.
- If you're getting frustrated when learning to beat-mix, just walk away for a bit. It's not easy. Practice is the only way to get better, but don't practice when you're frustrated.
- Mixing in Key.

Let's Examine some popular DJ Software
- DJ'ing software changes very frequently, every couple of years. Rather than reviewing various programs in this video, and making it stale within a year or two, I'll be producing a separate set of review videos. Not available yet.
- General notes about using laptops, CPU, hard drive size, windows versus PC, etc.
- Summary of some of the programs that are currently available, including Virtual DJ, Serato, Traktor, Deckadance, AtomixMP3, DSS DJ, and PCDJ DEX.

What About Ableton Live?
- What is it used for? Can be used for production, for DJ'ing, for remixing, for live PA (performance art) in front of audiences, etc.
- DJ'ing capabilities: it is set up differently than all of the other DJ-specific programs. It seems more like a production suite, but in some ways, it is the most powerful software for DJ'ing.
- Incorporating production work into your set.
- Making a studio DJ mix, my first popular videos.
- Learning to DJ live with Ableton. Mention video series.

Part 4 - Learn to DJ

In this video, I talk about the best ways to get booked, the future is in production work, closing remarks, and final tips & advice. Here's the full outline:

Best Ways to Get Booked
- First, practice constantly.
- Meet other established DJ's. Learn from them, offer something in return.
- Ask DJ friends if they can put in a good word for you as an opener when they get booked.
- Make friends with DJ's or Managers of clubs. Also, become friends with all the staff. Don't get drunk and act like an idiot in the club.
- Once you've made some friends, ask if you can practice or play for the staff for an hour before the club opens.
- Become a promoter. Throw a party, play as an opener or closer. This has pros and cons.
- Make friends with promoters, and offer to help them with their events.
- Have business cards. Leave several cards with EACH club manager and other DJ's.
- Demo mixes - why they can be useful. And what their limitations are. "Fake" mixes, not actually demonstrating any talent.

The Future is in Production Work
- Production work is now possible by bedroom producers thanks to low-priced software and equipment.
- Even if you never produce professional-quality tracks for public distribution, you might find a bit of amateur production work to be fun.
- Learning the basics of production, even if you never attempt to do it professionally, will help you understand the physics and structure of music better, and that will make you a better DJ.
- How to get started, schools versus learning on your own.
- A list of things that you'll need to learn: how sound works, sampling rates, bit rates, decibel scales, nyquist frequencies, dither, frequency spectrums, frequency ranges of various instruments, EQ'ing, using MIDI versus audio, virtual instruments, effects including reverb, echo, delay, chorus, flanger, compression, types of instruments, working with microphones and working with vocalists, mixing and mastering, and much more.
- Talk about all the different software that is used in production work.
- A soft start: re-editing versions of your favourite tracks.
- Move on to doing remixes of existing tracks.
- Producing your own music from scratch.
- Legalities of playing your own personal remixes.
- Learning some Music Theory can be useful. Also, learning to play instruments is fun.

Closing Remarks, Final Tips & Advice
- You will not become a DJ overnight. If you want to do it, you're going to have to put in literally months or even a year or more of practice and getting to know people.
- Your purpose is to entertain the crowd, not to entertain yourself.
- Always think about safety. Safety of yourself, safety of your dancers. Know what you are expected to do in the case of a power failure, or various other types of emergencies. Where are the nearest fire extinguishers and how does the venue's fire suppression system work? Where are the emergency exits?
- Additional research: read lots of books. Show a number of recommended books.
- Always carry a small flashlight (or two), and maybe a leatherman.
- Always check out your sound quality, whether in a club or doing mobile. Reccie beforehand too. Learn about how sound works, and especially about acoustics.
- Understand gain staging as a way to have clean sounds and avoiding distortion.
- Be professional in a business sense. Use contracts. Ask for deposits, get paid before you play, unless you've got an ongoing relationship with the venue.
- Personal development: get a driver's license, pay attention to personal hygiene, dress appropriately, make sure you can stay sober at some events, make sure you always keep your word. There are a lot of flaky and undependable DJ's out there. Having a reputation as someone who is dependable goes a long, long way in the industry.
- Don't diss other DJ's or producers or people in the scene, thinking that it makes you look better in comparison. Focus on peoples' good points, and if you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all.
- You'll be nervous the first time that you play at any new venue. Accept it. That usually goes away after you're onto your third or fourth track of the night. Again, don't use alcohol.
- Fun Staff: DJ Hero videogame.
- Remember who pays you: the promoters and managers. They want someone who is reliable.
- Know your music. There are tens of thousands of popular songs out there, in dozens of genres. If you're a specialty DJ, this may not matter, but if you're a mobile or even a mainstream club DJ, you're going to need to know a lot of music. You can never spend too much time researching and discovering "new" (or old) music.
- Don't be scared to dance.

Extra Stuff

This is all of the stuff that I should have included in the earlier videos, but I didn't think of until I was halfway through production. In this section, I talk about stage presence, using live sets as demos, not planning sets in advance, LED lighting, stage monitors, radio receivers, optimizing your laptop for performance, iDJ2, sound cards that let you cue, how many channels your mixer should have, waveform displays on CD players, and Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music.

Other Relevant Videos

At the very minimum, I think that the five additional videos below are the next critical knowledge that you'll need to become a competent DJ. However, even after you've gone through these five videos, I have dozens of other videos available in the Training section of this website - several videos each about turntables, mixers, Ableton Live, Virtual DJ, and other related topics. Have fun exploring!

If you made it this far, you've probably learned a lot! Next, visit: djbolivia.ca/training