How to Become a Good DJ

This is a question I’m asked often concerning DJing in Second Life, and my answer is usually “practice and dedication.” I’m not attempting to be abrupt or callous; it is the short version of the longer answer. No piece of equipment, software, song or magic fairy dust makes one DJ better than another. It is the collection of how the equipment, software, songs, and ingredients of the magic fairy dust that makes a DJ better. The most expensive software, mixing boards and techniques don’t instantly make a person a good DJ, it really takes a lot of practice and dedication to become good. I feel that what a person really wants to know is “How Do I Begin to Become a Good DJ?” That’s a question I can answer in more detail.

The starting point in any DJ’s career is your identity. This is the second important thing as a DJ. Are you going to be an Online DJ? Mixing, “Radio Style”, both? Are you going to DJ at Bar or Clubs? Where? What sort of music? Who’s your audience? What do you do best? Answer these questions any way that you want to, there is no right or wrong answer here, but remember to have an understanding of what you really want to do. The pitfall is to answer these questions to make the most money, in reality you should answer these questions truthfully; the huge payoff from DJing is not right around the corner.

The most important thing is to have a passion about music and increasing your music vocabulary. If you want to become a good DJ, you’re not doing this to become rich. Not only will you get bored but it will become disinteresting and “too much work”. You have to be willing to get that new CD, single, to look for that frequently not heard song for your audience. You don’t have to be a musical savant (it does help), but you have to be fairly knowledgeable of music, genre’s, important artists and the finer details that matter. Here’s a great example: Rhianna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” samples the “mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-kos-sa” chant from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna be Startin’ Somthin'” which was taken from Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa”. Knowledge like this not only allows you to recognizing and discusses songs, but helps you with mixing them. In the above example you can go from hip-hop to 1970’s disco/funk using that “mama-se, mama-sa” chant knowledge.

Listening is the third most important thing (and the most important skill) to have as a good DJ. I really recommend getting an iPod (or similar media player) and listen to music that you like with music that you are unfamiliar with. For instance, I’m not a huge country fan, actually I’m very unfamiliar with country, but one of my favorite Industrial songs is Gravity Kills cover of “Personal Jesus” which was originally done by Depeche Mode and also covered by Johnny Cash (which was my first real introduction into Johnny Cash.) I became very familiar with Johnny’s earlier work (such as “Boy Named Sue” and “I Walk The Line”) which helped me develop a part of my library that no one expects me to have. Today, I’m still not very familiar with country but I have a better understanding of it, which really helps me respect and use collaborations such as Nelly and Tim McGraw’s “Over and Over.” By listening to music your unfamiliar with you are exposed to new artists and tracks and it helps you make important connections between different songs. For those interested in mixing, continuing to listen to music helps you differentiating from a house song at 125bpm and a trance song at 140bpm. Listening also requires you to also see how other DJ’s do it, choose two or three DJ’s whom you admire or would like to emulate and go to their shows. Listen to how they mix their music, how they perform, you will learn a lot from listening to others. As well spend an hour a day to music or radio stations, by doing this you tap into the best sources for new music and information.

As for resources, there are a few really good ones. I highly recommend the book “How to DJ Right: The Art and Science of Playing Records” by Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster. They do a great job of breaking down DJing history, how to mix, and how to promote yourself as a DJ, there is a lot of helpful advice for any DJ. For communities, the DJ Forums (http://www.djforums.com/) is a great website where you can ask any question and get a response. There are some great tutorials on mixing, and is a great source for anyone searching for new music. For you Online DJ’s there is my own project the Online DJ Wiki (http://www.onlinedjwiki.com), which is still in development, but serves as a how-to for those interested in DJing.

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13 Responses to How to Become a Good DJ

  1. Good advice, Nexeus! Because I DJ at clubs (Lounge of Dreams, the Crow's Foot) and at on-air at COFE Radio, I have two approaches; the club is a social gathering where you should play crowd-pleasing music, while the radio is more intimate and it gives me a chance to present music that falls below the radar.

  2. Yes, this sort of approach does work quite well. It's how I take my podcast/djing online/djing in person, each one serves a different purpose that makes me a better DJ, but they all still exist as a part of my offerings.

  3. Nitish says:

    Hi nexeus. I really apreciate your advice! you seem to know your subject very well and had a very good experience in this field.Im not a Dj. Im only a musician. I study indian classical music but also messing up with sound equipments, i have a little home studio, working with musical programs (Reason, FL Studio etc).. you know, such stuff.. sequencing music, making jingles, im crazy about synthetizers, modules such stuffs! Im very curious by nature and like to learn many things as far as music and any other ARTS also are conserned.. I tried a game on PS2, hmm.. i forgot its damn name! :( nevermind, its a DJ game, with plenty of musics with which you can mix.. You have a Double Deck, mixer, sampler, and a beat box..
    That really interested me! I like to learn new things, to enrich myself, to explore new things. I started music become i loved it and i still do.. its my passion.. I just want to buy 'good' DJ equipments though a novice.. i want to experience the ''extazy'' behind that! :)
    Please, what do you suggest me to go for? i mean.. i already have amplifiers, loudspeakers, sudwoofers blablabla.. what dj tool, dj equipments do you suggest me to invest in?

    I'm not trying to show you what i have Nexeus, i just what you to know me, a bit about my background, musical background, for you to be able to guide me, to show me the way, the path to follow.. i only need help..

    Looking forward to hear from you!!..

    Thank you Nexeus!

  4. @Nitish Wow, that is an impressive background! There’s a plethora of equipment, software, etc that you can use, I come from a combination of the new and the old school. I am a really strong believer in CD Mixers, while vinyl is still very much in use, I feel that there’s a lot more to handle when working with vinyl. There are several options; I really like Denon and Pioneer equipment. If you’re going small, Denon is better, if you’re going huge Pioneer is better. The top of the line equipment is the Pioneer CDJ-1000MK3 and the DJM-1000. I have a more mobile set, so I’m using the Denon DN-S1000 with a DN-X100 (now the DN-X120) Mixer.

    Now, if you’re really into vinyl, get a Technics and add it to any of those mixers.

    If you want to go completely new age, a lot of DJ’s are going the Vinyl + Mac route. What they do is they get two Technics, plug it into their Mac and DJ using Scratch Live by using time encoded vinyl.

    I hope this helps!

  5. Anastasia says:

    What do you think if I whant to be DJ should I have talent or only wish to be DJ? And in what case “practice and dedication" would be enough?

  6. That's a really good question. Talent can be taught, some people are naturally inclined others are not, and while talent is really important even those who are really talented need to have that drive to be a great DJ to continue on. So I would say it is the wish, that drive to be a good DJ, that will get you through the good and rough times.

    As for practice, really take a listen as to what other DJ's do, learn how to beatmatch. If your primarily online and do more of a radio style listen to FM radio, develop more of a flow. Practice and dedication really comes in strong when you WISH to be a great DJ, because it's where you start to really gain a lot of talent.

  7. Ali Abbas says:

    hi nexeus mm really really new in this dj thing i mm really intrested in being a dj but i dont know where to start from could just help me out in some ways like which software is best fo just a try i want too learn starting from software can you just help mm out plzzz

  8. you'll need lots of things to become a dj

    1. music
    2. equipment
    3. talent

    also if you want to be a dj ask yourself how good you can stay awake!

  9. Gabriel Myers says:

    thanks for the advices. I jest decided to become DJ. I will be using cd to play music. I have a great passion for music. I am afraid at this point, but I think I can make it. once again thanks for the advice.

  10. Mtg Shop says:

    Would it be possible to get permission to use some of your posts on forums with a link back?

  11. Thanks for this blog. Here is another tip, if you want to become a DJ, you have a huge range of options in front of you, so you’ll have to start making decisions pretty quickly – do you just want to play some of your favourite tunes at a friend’s birthday party, or do you want to become the greatest vinyl pusher the world has ever known?

  12. Jim says:

    Nexeus…question for you. I'm older..by that I mean 36…established in a 9-5. I love my job…BUT I love music..more…….if I can get a crowd going………..It makes me feel alive. So..I'm going to buy some equipment for the house..nothing crazy…just to see what I can do.(play around) Any suggestions for someone who just wants to try??

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