DJing For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organised

Part I: Stepping Up to the Decks

Part II: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox

Part III: The Mix

Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live

Part V: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Stepping Up to the Decks

Chapter 1: Catching DJ Fever

Discovering DJing Foundations

Equipping yourself

Making friends with your wallet

Knowing your music

Researching and discovering

Connecting your equipment

DJing Takes Patience and Practice

Working as a DJ

Chapter 2: Starting Up with the Bare Bones

Making a List, Checking It Twice

Considering Input Devices

Thinking about turntables

Deciding on CD decks

Musing on MP3s and PCs

Mixing It Up with Mixers

Monitoring Your Music with Headphones

Powering Things Up with Amplifiers

Figuring Out the Furniture

Considering ergonomics and stability

Selecting store-bought stands

Killing vibration with bricks and air

Locating Your DJ Setup

Chapter 3: Shopping for Equipment

Taking Stock Before You Shop

Trying before you buy

Budgeting your money

Crossing over with digital DJing

Buying Brand New

Cruising the high street

Opting for online shopping

Buying Second-hand

Bidding on auction websites

Scanning newspapers

Dipping into second-hand and pawn shops

Making Sure That Your Kit Works

Checking cables

Testing turntables

Vetting CD decks

Monitoring mixers

Assessing headphones

Sounding out amplifiers and speakers

Chapter 4: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs and MP3s

Sizing Up Records, CDs and MP3s

Circling around vinyl formats

Polishing up on CD options

Byting into MP3s

Researching and Buying Your Tunes

Buying MP3s

Purchasing CDs and records

Choosing what to buy

Weighing up Classic and Current

Protecting Your Records and CDs

Storing records

Cleaning CDs, records and needles

Repairing vinyl

Fixing warped records and CDs

Repairing scratched/cracked CDs

Backing up digital libraries

Part II: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox

Chapter 5: Keeping Up with the Tech-Revolution: Format Choices

Clashing CDs against Vinyl

Finding your format

Reflecting on vinyl

Keeping up with CDs

Choosing Analogue or Digital

Functionality: My Way Is Best!

Turntables and records are heavy and cumbersome

Turntables don’t have built-in effects

You can’t see the music on CD

Using CDs lacks aesthetic performance

Bars don’t have turntables for DJs any more

Turntables are more expensive than CD decks

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Hybrid turntables let you have it all

The new kid: Digital DJing

Chapter 6: Getting Decked Out with Turntables

Avoiding Cheap Turntables

Motoring in the right direction

Watching out for pitch control design

Identifying Key Turntable Features



33/45/78 RPM

Strobe light


Target light

Pitch control

Counterweight/height adjust


Removable headshell/cartridge

45 RPM adaptor

Customising Your Sound with Advanced Turntable Features

Pitch range options

Pitch bend and joystick control

Tempo Reset/Quartz Lock

Master Tempo/Key Lock

Digital display of pitch

Adjustable brake for Start/Stop

Reverse play

Different shaped tonearms

Removable cabling

Digital outputs

Battle or club design

Built-in mixer

Setting Up Turntables




Servicing Your Turntables

Chapter 7: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles

Sliding with Slipmats

Choosing an appropriate slipmat

Winning the friction war

Getting Groovy with Needles and Cartridges

Feeling the Force with Counterweight Settings

Nurturing Your Needles

Chapter 8: Spinning with CDs

Knowing the Requirements of the DJ’s CD Deck

Laying out the design

Navigating the CD

Adjusting the Pitch

Smoothing Out Vibrations

Working with the Cue

Locating the cue

Storing the cue

Checking the cue

Starting the tune

Taking Advantage of Special Features

MP3 playback

Master Tempo

Hot Cues


Sample banks

Reverse play

BPM counters

Digital DJ software control

Having Fun Experimenting

Chapter 9: Bits and PCs: Digital DJing

Designing Your Digital DJ Setup

Processing computer hardware

Memory and processor considerations


Controlling the Digits

Laptop/computer only

Enhancing the basics by adding hardware

DVS using records and CDs

Connections and requirements

Adding Hardware Controllers

All-in-one hardware controllers

Control and effect

Putting CD decks and mixers in control

Your way is the best way . . . for you

Picking Out the Software

Software designed for DJs

Taking Control

Livening up software choice

Bridging the gap

Exploring Alternatives

DJing with iPods and USB drives

Mixing on the move

Chapter 10: Stirring It Up with Mixers

Getting Familiar with Mixer Controls



Multiple channels



Headphone monitoring

EQs and kills

Input VU monitoring

Gain controls

Balance and pan controls

Hamster switch

Punch and transform controls

Built-in effects

Effects Send and Return

Built-in samplers

Built-in beat counters

Beat light indicators

MIDI controls

Choosing the Right Mixer

The seamless mix DJ

The scratch DJ

The effects DJ

The rock/party/wedding DJ

Servicing Your Mixer

Chapter 11: Ear-Splitting Advice about Not Splitting Your Ears: Headphones

Choosing a Good Set of Headphones

Single-sided, coiled cords

Swivelling earpieces

User-replaceable parts

Sticking it to your ears

Remembering that the Volume Doesn’t Have to Go Up to 11

Using Earplugs

Chapter 12: Letting Your Neighbours Know That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers

Choosing Suitable Amplification

Settling on your home stereo

Purchasing powered speakers

Opting for separates

Allowing a power margin for error

Working with Monitors

Working with the speed of sound

Positioning your monitor

Noise Pollution: Keeping an Ear on Volume Levels

Protecting your ears

Neighbourhood watch

Realising that you only need one speaker

Chapter 13: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections

Getting Familiar with Connectors

RCA/Phono connections


Quarter-inch jack

Plugging Into the Mixer

Connecting turntables to a mixer

Connecting CD decks to a mixer

Connecting iPods and personal MP3s players to a mixer

Connecting a computer as an input device

Choosing your mixer inputs

Plugging in your headphones

Connecting effects units to a mixer

Connecting mixer outputs

Connecting a mixer to your home hi-fi

Connecting a mixer to powered speakers

Connecting a mixer to your PC/Mac

Troubleshooting Set-up and Connections

Everything’s connected, a record (or CD) is playing, but I can’t hear any music through the amplifier

I can hear the music from the amp now, but I can’t hear anything through the headphones

One of the turntables sounds really bad: it’s distorting and the high frequencies sound fuzzy

Why do my needles keep jumping when cueing?

I hear a really strange humming noise coming from my turntables

Why is everything distorting badly when I play a CD?

Why is everything really quiet when using my turntables, even when everything is turned up to maximum?

Everything sounds nice through the mixer, but distorts through the amp

Music is playing through the mixer, but I can’t get any music into the PC

The meters are flashing like mad in the software, I’m able to record what’s going in, but nothing is coming back out of the PC

Why doesn’t my recording device seem to record anything when connected directly to the mixer?

Part III: The Mix

Chapter 14: Grasping the Basics of Mixing

Knowing What Beatmatching’s All About

Discovering How to Beatmatch

Choosing skills over thrills

Setting up your equipment

Locating the first bass beat

Starting your tunes in time

Adjusting for errors

Knowing which record to adjust

Using the Pitch Control

Understanding BPMs

Calculating BPMs

Matching the pitch setting

All hands (back) on decks

Playing too slow or too fast

Taking your eyes off the pitch control

Introducing Your Headphones

Switching over to headphone control

Cueing in your headphones

Centring your head with stereo image

Practising with your headphones

Using new tunes

Quick Beatmatching

Chapter 15: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure

Why DJs Need Structure

Multiplying beats, bars and phrases

Hearing the cymbal as a symbol

Everything changes

Counting on where you are

Actively listening to your tunes

Studying Song Structure

Repeating the formula

Accepting that every tune’s different

Developing your basic instincts

Listening to a Sample Structure

Chapter 16: Mixing Like the Pros

Perfecting Placement

Intros over outros

Melodic outro

Melodic intro

Mixing Breakdowns

Controlling the Sound of the Mix

Bringing the cross-fader into play

Unleashing channel-faders

Letting you in on a big, curvy secret

Balancing it out with EQs

Using Mixing Tricks and Gimmicks

Spinbacks and dead-stops

Power off

A cappella

Cutting in

Effecting the transition

Mixing Different Styles of Music

The wedding/party/rock/pop mix

The R and B mix

Drum and bass, and breakbeat

Beatmatching tunes with vastly different tempos

Chapter 17: Scratching Lyrical

Setting Up Equipment the Right Way

Weighing up needles

Wearing out your records

Giving slipmats the slip

Touching up mixers

Making the mixer a hamster

Preparing for the Big Push

Marking samples

Following a line-up

Fixing the hole in the middle

Scratching on CD, MP3 and Computer

Marking CDs

Scratching on PC

Mastering the Technique

Getting hands on

Changing sample sounds

Starting from Scratch and Back Again

Scratching without the cross-fader

Introducing cross-fader fever

Combining scratches

Juggling the Beats


Practice, dedication and patience

Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live

Chapter 18: Building a Foolproof Set

Choosing Tunes to Mix Together

Beatmatching – the next generation

Mixing with care

Changing gear

Getting in tune with harmonic mixing

Keying tunes

Knowing how much to pitch

Developing a Style

Easing up on the energy

Changing the key

Increasing the tempo

Avoiding stagnation

Respecting the crowd

Demonstrating your style

Chapter 19: Creating a Great Demo

Preparing to Record the Demo

Programming your set

Picking and arranging the tunes

Bridging the gaps

Practising your set

Practise makes more than perfect

Setting up to record

Correcting recording levels

Looking After Sound Processing

Keeping an even volume

Setting your EQs

Testing, testing

Adjusting the amplifier

Performing the Demo

Staying focused

Becoming a perfectionist

Listening with an open mind

Making a Demo CD on Computer

Editing your mix

Burning a CD

Creating a track-split CD

Sending Off the Mix

Chapter 20: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ

Marketing Yourself

Flooding the world with your demo

Playing for free

Joining an Agency

Researching an agency

Meeting the criteria to join

Keeping agencies in your musical loop

Cutting your losses

Networking Your Way to Success

Selling yourself

Making friends

Going undercover

Marketing Yourself on the Internet

Chapter 21: Facing the Music: Playing Live

Investigating the Venue

Scoping out a club

Gearing up to party

Preparing to Perform

Selecting the set

Organising your box

Knowing What to Expect at the Club

Dealing with nerves

Getting used to your tools

Working in a loud environment

Playing Your Music

Reading a crowd

Handling requests

Taking over from someone else

Finishing the night

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 22: Ten Resources for Expanding Your Skills and Fan Base

Staying Current with Media

Visiting DJ Advice Websites

Getting Answers through DJ Forums

Reading Other Books

Getting Hands-On Advice

Listening to Other People’s Mixes

Participating in Competitions

Hosting Your Own Night

Uploading Podcasts or Hosted Mixes

Immerse Yourself in What You Love

Chapter 23: Ten Answers to DJ Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask

Do I Need to Talk?

What Should I Wear?

How Do I Go to the Toilet?

Can I Invite My Friends into the DJ Booth?

How Do I Remove the Beat, or Vocals?

How Do I Choose My DJ Name?

Do I Get Free Drinks? (And How Do I Get Drinks from the Bar?)

Who Does the Lighting for the Night?

Should I Reset the Pitch to Zero After Beatmatching?

What Do I Do If the Record or CD Skips or the Software Crashes?

Chapter 24: Ten Great Influences on Me

Renaissance: Disc 1


La Luna: ‘To the Beat of the Drum’

Ibiza 1996, Radio 1 Weekend

The Tunnel Club, Glasgow

Jamiroquai: ‘Space Cowboy’

Digital DJing

Alice Deejay: ‘Better Off Alone’

Delirium: ‘Silence’

Sasha and Digweed, Miami 2002

Chapter 25: Ten DJing Mistakes to Avoid

Forgetting Slipmats/Headphones

Taking the Needle off the Wrong Record

Banishing Mixer Setting Problems

Getting Drunk when Playing

Surfing while Mixing

Leaning Over the Decks

Avoiding Wardrobe Malfunctions

Spending Too Long Talking to Someone

Leaving Your Last Tune Behind

Not Getting Paid Before You Leave

Chapter 26: Ten Items to Take with You When DJing

All the Right Tunes

Making It Personal with Headphones and Slipmats

You’re a Star! Taking a Digital Recorder/Blank CD

Packing Your Tools and Saving the Day

Always Being Prepared: Pen and Paper

Keeping Fuelled with Food and Drink

Spreading the Music with Demos

Keeping Moving with Car Keys

Have Wallet, Will Travel

Just Chilling: Chill Mix for the Ride Home

DJing For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

by John Steventon


About the Author

John Steventon, also known as Recess, was transformed from clubber to wannabe DJ by BBC Radio 1’s 1996 ‘Ibiza Essential Mix’. Fascinated by what he heard, he bought a second-hand pair of turntables, his best friend’s record collection, and started to follow the dream of becoming his newest hero, Sasha.

With no other resource available when he first started DJing, John would take notes, writing articles to refer to if ever he felt like he needed help. Joining the Internet revolution meant 15 megabytes of free Web space, and as he’d already written these notes about learning how to DJ, John thought it would be good to share that information with the rest of the world wide web. He created the ‘Recess’ persona, and expanded the site as his knowledge grew. Originally a small, basic Web site, has grown over the years both in size and reputation, to become one of the foremost online resources for learning how to DJ – the place where newbie DJs turn to.

Having developed a career as a TV editor at the same time, now heading up post-production at a TV production company, he has scaled down the time spent DJing in clubs, but Recess is always online to help the new DJ overcome those first few hurdles, and offer advice to those who need that extra bit of reassurance.

John is 31, plays way too much squash and poker, is married to Julie, and they both live together with their daughter, cats and a smile on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland.


This book is dedicated to my Dad, Richard Steventon, who I’m sure would have got a kick out of seeing his son write a book.

To Julie: my best friend, my wife, my smile; without whom I’d be half a person. You are my lobster. And for this second edition, a new addition; to Jaime Steventon, I still can’t believe we made a person. I can’t wait to know you.

Author’s Acknowledgements

My list of acknowledgments is surprisingly long, but these are the people without whom this book would not have been inspired, created, or nearly as long as it ended up!

Thanks to Graham Joyce, who sold me his record collection and started me on this journey, who got me my first break in a roundabout way, and took me to the place that I eventually met my wonderful wife. My sister, Pamela Tucker, who claims if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have made friends with Graham and is therefore responsible for everything good in my life! My mum, Mary Steventon for being my Mum and for helping with the text accuracy in this book (even if she had NO idea what it all meant). My uncle, David Steventon, for sowing the seed that maybe people would find my writing interesting; my lovely in-laws, Jim (sorry, ‘Sir’), Margaret (the lasagne queen), and Vicki Fleming for entertaining Julie while I spent months writing this book; Carol Wilson for making sure I wasn’t signing away the rest of my life; and Lucky, Ziggy, and Ozzy for being my writing companions.

Ian, Jason, Nichol, Al, Gus, Jonny, Dave, Gary, Tony, Iain, and the other poker people for letting me blow off steam until 7 in the morning trying to take their money. All the staff and DJs at what used to be Café Cini in Glasgow where I got my break as a DJ. Paul Crabb for inspiration and distraction (I know, I still can’t believe I wrote a book before you!) and Flora Munro for work deflection and a hell of a cup of coffee.

This book wouldn’t have had half the info in it if it wasn’t for the following people helping me out and kindly granting me permission to reuse images of their gear: David Cross at Ableton, Adam Peck at Gemini, Stephanie Lambley for Vestax images, Sarah Lombard at Stanton, Tara Callahan at Roland, Mike Lohman at Shure, Sarah O’Brien at PPLUK, Carole Love at Pioneer, Grover Knight at Numark, David Haughton at Allen & Heath, Wilfrid at Ortofon, Justin Nelson at NGWave, Ryan Sherr at PCDJ, Laura Johnston at Panasonic, Jeroen Backx at Freefloat, all at Etymotic, NoiseBrakers, Sony, and Denon, Mark Davis from, Yakov V at for his help with the Harmonic Mixing info, everybody on all DJing Internet forums for letting me bug them for the past eight months, all the visitors to my Recess Web site, and everyone else who has touched this book in any way – I can’t mention everyone, but thank you all.

And finally, from Wiley, Rachael Chilvers, whose support, understanding, and encouragement made it a pleasure to write this book, so that it never felt like work and never became something I didn’t want to do (and also for laughing at my poor jokes and stories).

Phew . . . let’s hope I never win an Oscar!!

Thanks for reading this book. Good luck, keep the beats tight.

Publisher’s Acknowledgements

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Commissioning, Editorial and Media Development

Publisher: David Palmer

Production Manager: Daniel Mersey

Project Editor: Rachael Chilvers

Content Editor: Jo Theedom

Proofreader: Charlie Wilson

Cover Photo: © Sergei Bachlakov

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Lynsey Stanford

Layout and Graphics: Ashley Chamberlain, Melanee Habig, Joyce Haughey

Proofreader: Laura Albert

Indexer: Ty Koontz

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


People come to DJing from different places and for different reasons, but you can split them up into those who love the music, those who want to make money and those who think that DJing is cool and want to be famous. You may fall into one or all three of these categories, but the most important one is loving the music.

If you’re a good DJ and get lucky you could become rich and famous, but when starting off if you don’t love the music you may become bored and impatient with the time and practise you need to invest in your skills, and quit. Even if you do manage to get good at DJing, if you don’t love playing and listening to the music night after night, working in clubs will start to feel too much like work. DJing isn’t work; it’s getting paid to do something you love.

When I started DJing I already loved the music, but the first time I experienced the true skill of a DJ working a crowd (Sasha, Ibiza 1996) I fell in love with DJing, and knew I wanted to be one. The mechanics of it didn’t occur to me until I first stood in front of two turntables and a mixer; all I wanted to do was play other people’s music and have control over a crowd.

About This Book

This book is based on my website that, since 1996, has given new DJs all over the world the start they needed to become great DJs.

Because beatmatching is a complicated and important skill for DJs who want to play electronic dance music (house, trance, progressive, drum and bass, breakbeat and so on) it has its own chapter (14), and I mention it frequently. However, the book also contains the mixing skills and musical structure knowledge that enable you to mix rock, indie and pop music, or to DJ at weddings or other parties, so no one’s left out. I use a very simple technique for starting off as a DJ, which begins with the basics of starting tunes and matching beats and then covers the skill of creating transitions between tunes, important for any kind of DJ to master, whether you’re a rock, wedding, pop or dance DJ. You can find many other ways to develop your skills, but because these other approaches skip the basics, and involve a lot of trial and error and confusion, I’ve had much more success coaching DJs with this method than with any other.

You can find the equipment sections and how to use the variety of function options available to you in Parts I and II, and these are relevant to all DJs. Part III covers mixing skills like beatmatching, scratching, musical structure and mix transitions. Please don’t assume that because different skills are associated with certain genres that party DJs should rip out the beatmatching and scratching information or that club DJs should skip anything that mentions party DJing. Knowledge is skill, and the more skilful you are as a DJ, the better you’ll become, and the more work you’ll get.

Conventions Used in This Book

DJs often describe musical terms like beat structure using phrases that, to the uninitiated, can sound like gibberish. So if a boffin uses ten words to describe something, I try to put it across in a reader-friendly way.

I call the music you DJ with tunes or tracks. I’ve steered away from calling each track a song, because songs can imply vocals, and not all music you play as a DJ will have vocals.

A friend of mine read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and decided that instead of reading the various different dinosaur names, she’d read each one as dinosaur. I’ve done the same thing with CD/turntables/MP3 players and software in this book, describing them as decks unless I’m writing in specifics. I figured you’d get bored of lines such as ‘Go to your turntable/CD player/PC/iPod and start the tune. Then go to the other turntable/CD player/PC/iPod and put on a different tune’. Repetition isn’t a good thing. I repeat, repetition isn’t a good thing.

On a practical note:

Italic emphasises and highlights new words or terms that I define.

Boldfaced text indicates the action part of numbered steps.

Monofont text displays web addresses.

I alternate between male and female pronouns to be fair to both genders!

Foolish Assumptions

I assume that you find lines like the last one in the previous section amusing. Don’t worry; I know I’m not funny, so I don’t try too often. I won’t distract you from the subject at hand, but every now and then something takes over and I try to be funny and entertaining. I apologise for that now, but after all, an entertaining, humorous approach is what the For Dummies series of books is famous for.

Apart from that, this book assumes that you want to be a DJ, that you want to put in the time it takes to get good at it, you love the music and you won’t get fed up when it takes longer than ten minutes to become the next Tiësto, Zane Lowe, DJ Qbert or award-winning wedding DJ. I also assume that you don’t have vast experience of music theory.

How This Book Is Organised

All For Dummies books are put together in a reader-friendly, modular way. You can look at the table of contents, pick a subject, flick to that page and find the information you need.

The book still has a structure as a whole, like any other book. It starts at the beginning, with choices on what equipment to use, moves onto the process of developing DJ skills and ends playing live to a crowd of a thousand people. This structure means that you can read it from cover to cover like any book, with you as the good-looking hero or heroine!

Part I: Stepping Up to the Decks

Part I describes the core pieces of equipment that you need in order to be a DJ and the best ways to build your collection of tunes. I also dedicate a chapter to the art of shopping, with advice on shopping in the high street and going online to research and buy your tunes and equipment.

Part II: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox

From a format choice of CD or vinyl or digital DJing, to how the controls on the mixer work, Part II is all about using, choosing, connecting and setting up your equipment for DJ use. I wouldn’t dare to presume to tell you exactly what to buy, but I do offer advice on what may be most suitable for you and your budget.

Part III: The Mix

The nitty-gritty of DJing. From creating transitions between tunes, starting them at the correct points, beatmatching and the complicated moves demanded by the scratch artist, Part III deals with all the information you need to develop your skills as a DJ. This information is important, so spend lots of time with this part, because these chapters describe key techniques that mould and shape you as a DJ.

Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live

After developing your DJ skills, the next step is to get work and show people just how good you are. Part IV gives lots of information on how to sell yourself, how to create a great sounding (and looking) demo and what to do when you get work. DJing isn’t simply a case of standing in the DJ booth expecting everyone to love everything you play!

Part V: The Part of Tens

These chapters squeeze in the last tips, tricks and common sense reminders that ease the way toward you becoming a successful, professional DJ.

Icons Used in This Book

Every now and then, a little For Dummies symbol pops up in the margin of the book. It’s there to let you know when something’s extra useful, essential for you to remember, may be dangerous to your equipment or technique, or if what follows is technical gobbledegook.

remember.eps This one’s easy: it highlights something you should burn into your memory to help your progress and keep you on the right path on your journey to becoming a great DJ.

tip.eps Tips are little bits of info that you may not need, but they can help speed up your development, make you sound better and generally make your life easier as a DJ.

djdanger.eps When you’re starting out as a DJ, you may need to navigate your way through a number of tricky situations. A few of them end with broken records/needles and CDs, a crashed computer or a damaged reputation as a DJ. Heed the advice when you see this icon, and proceed with caution.

djspeak.eps They’re unavoidable; words put together by someone else in a small room that mean absolutely nothing. Where possible, I try to translate technical DJing terms into plain English for you.

Where to Go from Here

Go to the kitchen, make yourself a sandwich, pour a nice cold glass of water or hot pot of coffee, put on some music you love and jump into Chapter 1 – or whichever chapter takes your fancy! If you want to know about beatmatching, go to Chapter 14; if you want to know how to connect your equipment, go to Chapter 13.

When you feel inspired, put down the book and try out some of the techniques you’ve read about. If you want to spend 20 minutes mixing between tunes so you can hear the music, but don’t want to concentrate on your skills, do it! Your love of the music and DJing is just as important as the mechanics of how you do it, if not more.

You can also jump online and check out the video and audio clips that support this book at The site that I’ve used to develop DJs from all over the world is now a resource for this book, just for you. You can drop me a line there, and ask me anything you want to know.

Part I

Stepping Up to the Decks


In this part . . .

Knowing what equipment you need, and where to get the music you want to play when you start your DJing journey can be a bit of a mystifying minefield. These opening chapters take you through the essentials you need to start DJing, and explore the shopping options open to you.

Chapter 1

Catching DJ Fever

In This Chapter

Having what it takes to be a DJ

Mixing mechanics and creativity

Reaching the journey’s end – the dance floor

The journey you take as a DJ – from the very first tune you play when you enter the DJ world to the last tune of your first set in front of a club filled with people – is an exciting, creative and fulfilling one, but you need a lot of patience and practice to get there.

DJ gadgets, iPod apps and console games like DJ Hero are introducing and inspiring new waves of people to become DJs daily. Hundreds of DJs over the world are on a quest to entertain and play great music. Everyone needs an advantage when they compete with hundreds of like-minded people. Your advantage is knowledge. I can help you with that.

Discovering DJing Foundations

DJing is first and foremost about music. The clothes, the cars, the money and the fame are all very nice, and nothing to complain about, but playing the right music and how a crowd reacts is what makes and moulds a DJ. As the DJ, you’re in control of everybody’s night. As such, you need to be professional, skilful and knowledgeable about what the crowd wants to hear, and ready to take charge of how much of a good time they’re having.

remember.eps What kind of DJ you become lies in how you choose, use and respect your DJ tools and skills. Become a student of DJing as well as someone who loves music and performing to a crowd, and your foundations will be rock solid.

Equipping yourself

When you first begin your DJing journey, you can equip yourself with two things: knowledge and hardware.

You can split knowledge into two: what you’re about to learn, and what you already know. In time, you can pick up and develop mixing skills like beatmatching, scratching, creating beautiful transitions and choosing music that plays well together.

A sense of rhythm, a musical ear for what tunes play well over each other and the ability to spot what makes a tune great are all things that you’ll have developed from the day you were born. Out of those three things, a sense of rhythm can be the best secret weapon you bring when first finding out how to DJ. I’ve played the drums since I was ten, which gave me a very strong sense of rhythm and a sixth sense for beat and song structure.

Don’t worry if you don’t know your beats from your bars, or your bass drums from your snare drums; I explain all in Chapters 14 and 15. You need to dedicate some considerable time to developing a feel for the music and training your brain to get into the groove, but with time and concentration, you won’t get left behind. The same goes for developing a musical ear, and recognising what tunes have the potential to be great. With experience, dedication, determination and yes, more time, you can develop all the musical knowledge you need to become a great DJ.

The hardware you use as a DJ can define you just as much as the music you play. The basic equipment components you need are:

Input devices to play the music: You can choose from CD players, MP3 players, a computer with DJing software or DJ turntables that play records.

A mixer: This box of tricks lets you change the music from one tune to the other. Different mixers have better control over how you can treat the sound as you mix from tune to tune.

A pair of headphones: Headphones are essential for listening to the next record while one is already playing.

Amplification: You have to be heard, and depending on the music you play, you have to be LOUD!

Records/CDs/MP3s: What’s a DJ without something to play?

remember.eps Providing that your wallet is big enough, making the choice between CD and vinyl is no longer a quandary. The functions on a turntable are equally matched by those on a CD player, and digital DJing (see Chapter 9) means you can use your turntables to play MP3s on computer software, so you’re not even limited by the availability of music that’s released (or not released) on vinyl. So the decision comes down to aesthetics, money and what kind of person you are. You may love the retro feel of vinyl and enjoy hunting for records in shops, or you may like the modern look of CD players or the versatility of computer DJing and prefer the availability of MP3s and CDs – it’s your choice.

Making friends with your wallet

DJing costs money. Whether you shop online or go to the high street, the first thing to do is look at your finances. If you’ve been saving up money for long enough, you may have a healthy budget to spend on your equipment. Just remember, the expense doesn’t stop there. New tunes are released every day and you’ll be bursting to play the newest, greatest tunes. You may start to think of buying other items in terms of how many tunes you could get instead. I remember saying once, ‘Fifty pounds for a shirt? That’s ten records!’

tip.eps You don’t get the personal touch, but shopping online can be cheaper for equipment and music. And if you can’t afford new DJ equipment right now use demo software on a computer to develop your skills, and then spend money on DJ equipment or controllers for the software when you can. Flip through to Chapters 3 and 9 for more information.

Knowing your music

Throughout the years I’ve been helping people to become DJs, one of the most surprising questions I’ve been asked is, ‘I want to be a DJ. Can you tell me what music I should spin?’ This question seems ridiculous to me. Picking the genre (or genres) of your music is really important, because you need to love and feel passionate about playing this music for the rest of your DJ career. (Head to Chapters 4 and 5 for more on genre and music formats.)

After you’ve found your musical elixir, start to listen to as much of it as you can. Buy records and CDs, listen to the radio, search the Internet for information on this genre and discover as much as you can. This groundwork is of help when choosing tunes you want to play and when looking for artists’ remixes, and is an aid to developing your mixing style. Doing a tiny bit of research before you leap into DJing goes a long way towards helping you understand the facets and building blocks of the music you love. Become a student of trance, a scholar of jungle, a raconteur of rock and a professor of pop – just make sure that you start treating your music as a tool, and be sure to use that tool like a real craftsman.

Researching and discovering

You know the music you want to play, you’ve decided on the format that’s right for you, you’ve been saving up for a while; now you need to wade through the vast range of equipment that’s available and be sure that you’re buying the best DJ setup for the job at hand.

tip.eps With technology advancing faster than I can write this book, you can easily get lost in the features that are available to you on CD decks, turntables, mixers and software releases. Take as much time as you can to decide on what you want to buy. Go online and do some research and ask others in DJ forums for their thoughts on the equipment you’re thinking about buying. Make sure that you’re buying something that does what you want it to do, and that any extra features aren’t bumping up the price for something you’ll never use.

Here’s a brief guide to what to look for when buying equipment:

Turntables designed for DJ use need a strong motor, a pitch control to adjust the speed the record plays at and a good needle. They also need to have sturdy enough construction to handle the vibrations and abuse that DJing dishes out. A home hi-fi turntable won’t do, I’m afraid. Check out Chapter 6 for more.

Mixers ideally have 3-band EQs (equalisers) for each input channel, a cross-fader, headphone cue controls and a good display to show you the level (volume) at which the music is sent out of the mixer so you don’t blow any speakers accidentally. Chapter 10 goes into more detail on this and other functions on the mixer.

CD decks need to be sturdy enough that they won’t skip every time the bass drum booms over the speakers. Jog wheels, easy-to-navigate time and track displays, and a pitch bend along with the pitch control are all important core features of a CD turntable. Chapter 8 is dedicated to everything CD-related.

You can use computers that use DJ software in various ways. From mouse clicks and keyboard strokes and dedicated hardware to simply using your existing turntables/CD decks and a mixer to control music on the computer, I explain all the choices in Chapter 9.

Headphones need to be comfortable, sound clear when played at high volume and cut out a lot of external noise from the dance floor so that you don’t have to play them too loud. Your ears are very important, so try not to have your headphones at maximum all the time. Chapter 11 is the place to go for guidance on headphones and protecting your ears.

Volume and sound control are the watchwords for amplification. You don’t need a huge amplifier and bass-bins for your bedroom, but similarly, a home hi-fi isn’t going to be much use in a town hall. Chapter 12 helps you find the right balance.

Connecting your equipment

After you have all the pieces of your DJ setup, your final task is to put together the jigsaw. Knowing how to connect your equipment isn’t just important, it’s totally vital. If you don’t know what connects to what, and what the ins and outs of your setup are, you can’t troubleshoot when things go wrong. And things do go wrong, at the worst of times.

Eventually, you’ll be showing off your DJ skills and someone may ask you to play at a party with your equipment; equipment that you connected up a year ago, with the help of your 4-year-old brother. Think of the soldier who has to assemble a gun from parts to functional in minutes; that’s how comfortable you need to be when connecting together the parts of your DJ setup – except you only need to kill ’em on the dance floor. (Chapter 13 tells you all you need to know about connections.)

DJing Takes Patience and Practice

No matter what kind of DJ you are – rock, dance, party, indie, drum and bass or any of the hundreds of other genres out there – it’s all about picking the right tunes to play for the people in front of you, and the transition as you mix between them.

Picking the right tunes comes with knowledge, experience and the ability to read how the people are reacting on the dance floor (check out Chapters 20 and 21 for more on this), but you can discover, develop and refine the mechanics of how to get from tune to tune through practise and dedication.

djspeak.eps Beatmatching (adjusting the speed that two tunes play at so that their bass drum beats constantly play at the same time) is the mechanical aspect that’s regarded as the core foundation of the house/trance DJ. Given enough time, patience and practice, anyone can learn the basics I describe in Chapter 14.

Many genres of music aren’t so tied into the skill of beatmatching because the speeds of the various tunes mixed together vary so much it’s almost impossible to do. But this doesn’t mean there’s no skill in rock, pop or party DJing – the music you play is a lot more important than the transition, but you still need to avoid a cacophony of noise as you mix between tunes.

After the core skills of creating the right kinds of transitions, what sets a good DJ apart from an okay DJ is his or her creativity. You need another set of building blocks to help develop this creativity. How you stack up these blocks plays a big part in determining how skilled a DJ you become:

Good sound control is the first building block of your skill and creativity. You need a good ear to gauge whether one tune is too loud during a mix, or if you have too much bass playing to the dance floor. This skill is something that develops, and you can hone it through experience, but a DJ with a good ear for sound quality is already halfway there. Chapter 16 covers sound control to create a great-sounding mix, and Chapters 19 and 21 have information about controlling the overall sound of your mix when playing live or when making demo mixes.

A knowledge of the structure of a tune is the second essential building block in your quest to becoming a creative DJ. Knowing how many bars and phrases make up larger sections of tunes is important for creating exciting mixes. In time, DJs develop a sixth sense about how a tune has been made, and what happens in it, so they don’t have to rely on pieces of paper and notes to aid them with their mixes. Chapter 15 takes you through this structure step by step.

Although scratching is considered more of a stand-alone skill, you can harness this technique to add a burst of excitement and unpredictability to the mix. This is the third building block to creative DJing. Instead of letting a CD or record play at normal speed, you stop it with your hand and play a short section (called a sample) backwards and forwards to create a unique sound.

This also helps with the mechanics of using your equipment when DJing. People are taught to be scared of touching their records, or don’t have the gentle touch needed to work with vinyl or a CD controller properly. Scratching soon sorts all that out, leaving no room for excuses. Your dexterity working with your tunes increases tenfold by the time you’ve developed even the most basic of scratch moves as described in Chapter 17.

Working as a DJ

The hardest bit about performance is actually getting the chance to perform. Hundreds of people fight over every job in the entertainment industry and you need to come out on top if you want to succeed.

You need to set yourself apart from the competition and make sure that you have the skills to sell yourself. Convince club owners and promoters that you’re going to be an asset to their club, and then perform on the night. Here’s what you need to do:

Demo mixes are your window to the world. They’re the first way to let people know what you’re like as a DJ. Whether it’s your friends, your boss or someone in the industry, a demo is an exhibition of your DJ skills. Only release your best work, and don’t make excuses if it’s not good enough. Chapter 19 has the information you need about demos.

Market yourself well. Use all the avenues I describe in Chapter 20 to get even the most basic start in a club or pub or party night.

After you’ve secured any kind of work, your development from beginner to DJ is only halfway through. You’ve spent time creating a good mix in the bedroom, but now, no matter whether you’re playing Cream in Liverpool or the Jones’s wedding in a town hall, you need to pull off a successful night.

Your technique may be a little weak, but if you’re playing the right tunes, that can be forgiven. (That’s not an excuse to skip the basics, though!) The idea is to create a set that tries to elicit emotional and physical reactions from the crowd; in other words, they dance all night and smile all night.

remember.eps Consider the following (all of which I cover in more detail in Chapters 20 and 21):

Like anything new, preparation is the key to a successful night. Leave yourself with no surprises, do as much investigation as possible, research the unknown, settle any money matters and make sure that you and the management (or wedding party) are on the same musical playing field, so that all you have to worry about on the night is entertaining the crowd.

Reading the crowd is the most important skill you can develop and you may take weeks, months, even years to master the technique properly. The tells you pick up from the body language on the dance floor rival any poker player’s. You look at the dance floor and instantly react to how people dance, and what their expressions are, and then compensate for a down-turn in their enjoyment or build upon it to make it a night to remember.

Because you’re the main focal point of the night, you also have to be a people person. You’re the representative of the club, and so need to act accordingly. One wrong word to the wrong person, one wrong tune played at the wrong time or even something as simple as appearing as if you’re not enjoying yourself can rub off on the dance floor, and your job as an entertainer is on thin ice.

Above all, always remember – from the bedroom to a bar, from a town hall wedding to the main set at a huge night club in Ibiza, or playing a warm-up DJ set before a huge rock band takes the stage – you’re here because you want to be a DJ. You love the music, you want to put in the time, you want to entertain people and you want to be recognised for it.