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How to Become a DJ as a Beginner: The Ultimate Guide

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How To Become a DJ - iMusician

The thrill of music in your ears, adrenaline running through your veins, and an unmatched high watching the crowd dance — this is just one aspect of being a professional DJ. Are you thinking about becoming a DJ yourself? Keep reading!

In this ultimate guide on how to become a DJ, we’ll cover everything you need to know about a DJ career, the qualifications required, and top tips on how to get started!

What is a DJ?

A disk jockey, traditionally abbreviated as a DJ, is an artist who curates and performs pre-recorded music for an audience. Their job is more challenging than simply playing tracks recorded by other artists. They are in charge of carefully selecting, mixing, blending, and presenting a standout music set that will meet the expectations of the audience.

DJs usually have a deep knowledge of music genres and composition, which helps them mix tracks seamlessly. Additionally, they have an extensive and eclectic library of music and are considered masters of music selections. There’s still more to being a DJ than having a large music collection and the ability to mix tracks together. In order to become successful, a good DJ must have a devout dedication to the craft, be creative, technically skilled, and able to read audiences.

DJs commonly use a variety of audio equipment, such as turntables, audio mixers with crossfaders, DJ controllers, and digital software to mix tracks, perform dynamic and inventive song transitions, and maintain a vibrant and spirited atmosphere at the venue (club, party, etc.). All in all, they play an important role in the world of music, particularly the nightlife scene, and are responsible for keeping the dance floor alive.

What is the difference between a DJ and a music producer?

Music terminology can sometimes get tricky. For example, the terms DJ and music producer are often used interchangeably. However, in the DJ-ing world particularly, both terms have a rather clear definition.

As we already know, a DJ is a professional who fundamentally plays pre-recorded music for an audience using various audio equipment. They are usually more focused on and interested in music events and entertaining their audience. Some DJs, known as turntablists, toggle between two vinyl records using the crossfader. Other DJs sample pre-existing recordings to create their own music — these are sometimes considered both a DJ and a music producer.

Music producers, on the other hand, are deeply involved in the creative and technical aspects of making a musical recording. Traditionally, a producer’s role mostly lay in assisting and supervising recording and performing artists, but today, they are seen as the creative and technical masterminds behind the scenes.

They spend most of their time in the studio, overseeing the recording sessions, supervising the engineering of the recording, coordinating the whole production team and process, and ensuring that the artist delivers acceptable-quality performances. In popular genres, like hip-hop or dance music, producers can also create new music by sampling pre-recorded tracks. Sometimes, they even double as DJs, taking the creations they’ve produced to live audiences.

What qualifications do you need to become a professional DJ?

Generally, no specific qualifications or certifications are necessary for you to become a professional DJ. That said, however, being a DJ is not easy and definitely doesn’t happen overnight.

Talent and strong music skills as a foundation

As a starter, having a natural ear and some musical talent is essential. Additionally, you will want to develop solid music skills, diving into the realm of music theory, production, and engineering. There are various ways to broaden your knowledge and enhance your skills.

Some, perhaps not a few, prospective DJs pursue formal study, which is usually either a college degree course or some specialized training. So far, there is no official DJ-ing graduate or post-graduate program. Still, studies in broadcasting, music technology, music production and engineering, or radio may give you the initial skills needed to work with audio and the respective equipment.

The drawbacks to pursuing a university degree and online or in-person courses on DJing are usually their high prices and the long time it takes to complete them. For these reasons, many DJs turn to online sources, particularly articles and video tutorials, to gain the necessary skills.

Thorough understanding of DJ equipment

Many also believe there’s no fair substitute for first-hand experience, encouraging aspiring DJs to use top DAWs and learn through trial and error. Overall, understanding how DJ equipment works, alongside mastering the musical side of things, is a necessary skill to have.

If you feel you need an extra boost to take your craft to the next level, consider applying for the position of assistant or intern (often referred to as a roadie) with an already-established DJ. This experience will give you the perfect hands-on insights into the creative, technical, and business side of the DJing profession.

Before you turn your passion into a living-making career, you can also start with DJing on local community radio stations, at friends’ parties, weddings, local bars, or event halls. Or, as the DJ Steve Aoki suggests, “throw your own party, invite your friends, and let everything else happen naturally.

Effective communication and negotiation skills

Outside of musical and technical skills, you may need to work on your communication and negotiation abilities. Learning to interact with people will be invaluable for crafting connections, networking with potential partners, employers, and other industry professionals, and creating more personalized and audience-focused live sets.

6 different types of DJs

Today’s DJing landscape is certainly diverse, with many different types of DJs existing in the music industry.

1. Radio DJ

Radio DJs came into prominence with the emergence of radio. They host live and pre-recorded shows on traditional, satellite, or internet radio stations, as well as streaming playlists and podcasts. Historically, radio DJs have been considered tastemakers who have the power to influence current trends, and put unknown artists into the spotlight and help them break through.

The current commercial radio DJ role leans towards hosting rather than pure music curation. Oftentimes, radio DJs invite artists and conduct interviews with them, provide commentary on the music playing, and announce and debut new releases.

Well-known radio DJs include Howard Stern, Chris Evans, Jo Whiley, and Zane Lowe.

2. Club DJ

Club DJs are primarily found at dance music nightclubs and bars, where they entertain crowds and perform sets the audience wants. A skilled club DJ knows how to read the crowd, adjust to its tempo and energy, and play music that will keep the ones on the dance floor moving. Typically, club DJs use equipment provided by venues and often perform at one-off events. However, it is also possible to secure regular gigs at bars and clubs or even become resident DJs at specific venues.

David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix, and Armin Van Buuren are some of the most internationally recognized club DJs.

3. Wedding DJ

The role of a wedding DJ is pretty straightforward — they specialize in performing at wedding receptions, playing music to create a pleasant atmosphere, entertaining guests, and luring them onto the dance floor. Sometimes, wedding DJs also double as conferenciers or masters of ceremonies (MS), presiding over and hosting the wedding.

4. Mobile DJ

Mobile DJs are versatile entertainers who don’t specialize in a particular venue or type of event. Their power lies in their flexibility and the ability to perform anywhere a DJ is wanted, whether that’s private or corporate events or weddings. To achieve this, mobile DJs are usually required to bring all of the necessary equipment, including a professional sound system, lighting, and DJ controller equipment. Sometimes, they may be asked to take over the role of the MC for the event, too.

To successfully shuttle between different types of venues and occasions, they need general musical know-how and a large music repertoire spanning various genres and music eras. On top of that, this type of DJing may require a level of physical strength (and a suitable vehicle) to transport, set up, and manage all the gear.

5. Turntablist

Turntablists are unique DJs in that they use the turntable as their musical instrument. Usually, they use two or more turntables and a DJ mixer with a crossfader. This equipment allows them to toggle more vinyl records simultaneously while improvising to make an unusual and standout set. Typically, they include various audio samples and sound effects, like scratches, joggles, and other creative sounds and beats. Generally, turntablism is considered the art of ‘manipulating sounds and creating new music,’ resulting in noticeably unique performances.

As a turntablist, you can perform at various music events like festivals and gigs, as well as clubs. Many DJs of this kind also have YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, or Twitch accounts, where they promote and highlight their craft or upload their routines and tutorial videos.

Some of the best turntablists of all time are Craze, Babu, Qbert, and Mix Master Mike.

6. DJ/producer

We’ve already touched upon this earlier, but a DJ/producer is an artist who uses pre-existing recordings to create their own music, such as remixes, mash-ups, re-edits, and original productions. They take over the role of a producer in the studio to make their recordings before streaming them online or going on the stage and performing them in front of a live audience.

Becoming a DJ/producer may be a great path for someone who wants to express themselves musically beyond the scope of traditional DJing. Producing your own stuff may also help you gain a larger fanbase and thus reach another level of success.

Notable producers/DJs include Tiësto, Skrillex, Marshmallow, as well as the previously mentioned David Guetta, and Steve Aoki.

What basic equipment do you need as a DJ?

As we’ve outlined earlier, there is a specific gear that you will need to master to succeed as a DJ. Let’s have a look at some of the most fundamental tools.

1. Headphones

We’ll start with the basics. Owning a pair of high-quality headphones is a must for every DJ out there. Headphones are connected to the headphone jack on a DJ controller and allow the DJ to listen to one or more songs playing simultaneously. We, therefore, recommend that you make a well-informed investment and select headphones that will be comfortable and have a great sound quality.

We’ve already done some research for you and selected a few that are affordable yet well-rated:

2. Laptop

A laptop tends to be a part of everyday equipment, so chances are you already have one and don’t need to make an additional investment. However, you should pay attention to your laptop's speed and some of its components, mainly the CPU and RAM.

The CPU, also called a central processor, is the most crucial processor in a computer, also often called the brain of the computer. It handles executing the instructions of a computer program, including input/output (I/O), arithmetic, logic, and controlling operations. RAM, on the other hand, stands for random-access memory and is responsible for storing work data and machine code. We are by no means experts in computer science and informatics, but overall, it is essential to ensure your laptop operates smoothly so that you can run a DJ software program of your choice.

3. DJ Controller

A DJ controller is a truly magical gear that will make your DJing (almost) as easy as pie. This device, probably the most common type of deck nowadays, is used to help DJs play and mix their music, working together with a selected DJ software. A regular DJ controller includes knobs, encoders, jog wheels, backlit buttons, faders, touch strips, pads, and other components.

DJ controllers are commonly manufactured and designed to work with one or a few DJ software programs authorized by the manufacturer. As most controllers use the standard MIDI or HID protocols to communicate with the computer via the USB port, a wide range of software programs should technically be able to work with them. However, it may require considerable effort to actually make a controller function with unsupported software.

The great thing about controllers is that they are lightweight, portable, and relatively easy to manipulate. Such properties make the device an excellent choice for DJ beginners who are looking for a simple way to get an initial glimpse into the craft, as well as club and mobile DJs who need transportable gear.

The following controllers may be worth the investment (yes, unfortunately, they are generally rather costly):

4. DJ mixer - optional

While many DJ controllers today also feature the controls to the mixer — meaning, they function as the mixer and decks simultaneously — you can also choose to purchase an individual DJ mixer. This piece of gear lets you control the volume, equalization, and other elements of your music, allowing you to create smooth transitions and play with the expression and dynamics of the tracks.

DJ mixers are primarily essential when you opt for a hardware-based setup using CDJs or a turntable. However, if you’re using a digital setup, which is much more common nowadays, a regular DJ controller will be more than enough!

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5. DJ software

In its simplest form, a DJ software program allows you to combine and mix two or more individual tracks to create a new remixed song on your computer or a mobile device. A typical DJ software program has a visual interface with two or more playback decks, crossfaders, and a wide range of levers, switches, and controllers, including transport controls and controls for EQ and gain. Some programs also have diverse sampling options and various integrated real-time sound effects.

Overall, DJ software is designed to simulate and replace the workflow, features, and tools that a traditional DJ setup offers. Such a setup usually contains CDJ decks, which are specialized digital music players for DJing, and a DJ mixer. Alternatively to DJ software, a DAW (digital audio workstation) can also be used for DJing (but primarily for recording and producing music).

Among the most popular DJ software are:

  • Serato DJ Pro — perfect for turntablists,

  • Pioneer DJ RekordBox — an excellent choice for more advanced and experienced DJs,

  • AbletonLive — primarily a DAW, check out our ultimate Ableton Live Guide

  • Native Instruments Traktor Pro — very user-friendly,

  • DJ.studio — really good for beginners, and

  • VirtualDJ — very rich in features and components

6 tips on how to become a DJ

Now that you know about different types of DJs and the equipment you’ll need to become one, let’s look at some tips that will get you started.

1. Invest in the right

High-quality DJ equipment will become the absolute foundation of your DJing career. A professional setup may be costly — some tools and devices more than others — but quality gear is essential for creating wonderful mixes and enhancing your DJing skills.

Moreover, there is more than enough affordable yet top-notch equipment, so you don’t necessarily have to spend thousands of dollars to purchase everything you need. If you’re just starting out, opting out for the latest and most expensive tools will not benefit you that much, anyway. As we would recommend, first learn, improve, and then invest in more expensive equipment.

2. Polish raw DJ skills

When it comes to actual DJing, there is a lot to learn and thus many skills to hone. DJ skills include, but are not limited to, operating a controller, beatmatching (where you sync two or more tracks), mixing, EQing, phrasing, mastering DJ software, and applying scratching and other sound effects. It is, therefore, important that you spend enough time refining these skills.

According to Steve Aoki, ‘practice makes perfect.’ Talking about how he improved his DJ skills, he said: “I would just pick up turntables or CDJs and a mixer and practice in your living room. That’s like the easiest solution.

Another DJ, Matthew Goodwin, also recommends practicing your skills regularly. As he says, “Consistency improves confidence and skill.”

3. Learn how to properly use a DJ software of your choice

Learning how to use DJ software relates to our previous point. Any DJ software program includes a wide range of applications and functions. To enhance your overall DJ skills, you naturally have to become familiar and comfortable with the platform of your choice and learn to use most of its audio features effectively.

4. Amass an extensive music repertoire

It is essential to understand that the number of DJs has grown exponentially over the past few years. This means that the overall competition in the industry is at its absolute peak these days. The question, therefore, is: How do you stand out from the crowd?

Mastering your skills is one way; creating an extensive music library is another. The quality and range of your music can ultimately set you up for success — or failure. Some may argue that the overload of music nowadays can make one feel overwhelmed and lost.

While this might be true, we believe that major streaming services and specialized electronic platforms and stores, like Beatport, Traxsource, SoundCloud, and Splice, can let you access an incredible variety of tracks and eventually give you the power to create a diverse and unique repertoire.

5. Create your artist brand and identity

Outside of music, it is crucial to create your brand and identity. This means developing an authentic and standout name, logo, and visual style that effectively reflects your musical style and artistic personality. This will help you better understand and attract your desired audience.

Once your identity is established, make sure that your branding is consistent across all your selected channels and platforms, both online and offline. This includes social media profiles and posts, promotional campaigns, event fliers, merchandise, etc.

6. Focusing on networking and nurturing valuable connections

Building a solid and functioning network within the music industry is vital, regardless of the type of artist or music professional you’d like to become. Meeting the right people will allow you to make the right connections, which, in the end, can result in endless possibilities.

Getting to know club owners, promoters, and wedding planners can help you secure a gig or, in the best-case scenario, a regular, long-term ‘employment.’ On the other hand, meeting and collaborating with other DJs and artists can help you expand your reach and introduce you to new audiences.

How to brand yourself as a DJ

Besides putting energy into networking, marketing yourself as a DJ is how you’ll get people to notice, follow, and eventually use your DJing services. We wouldn’t particularly say that promoting your work and craft as a DJ differs that much from other artists and musicians.

Having a strong and consistent online presence, particularly across social media, is essential, as that’s where people — meaning your audience — generally are these days. With your artist brand in mind, strive to create engaging and creative content for platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, or Twitch. Remember that you don’t have to use all of them — it’s much better to focus on one or two platforms properly than all but with less focus.

Instagram and TikTok are excellent platforms for creating short-form videos. Some snappy, engaging, and interactive content showcasing your skills and creative process or showing people more about yourself can be exactly what you need to attract your followers! You can also upload artistic photos, short mixes, music teasers, gig videos, studio sessions, or DJ tips.

Many established and emerging artists create captivating content on their socials. For example, British DJ and producer James Hype shares a diverse range of content. Along with clips and shots from his live shows, he provides valuable insights into his journey as a DJ and offers tips and tricks for aspiring DJs, making him relatable and enjoyable to watch!

James Hype IG - iMusician

The Monaco DJ Jennifer Cardini uses her stylish Instagram posts to offer followers a peek into her DJing life while promoting her upcoming gigs. This approach effectively attracts views and engagement and boosts the promotion of her life performances.

Jennifer Cardini IG - iMusician

YouTube, on the other hand, is perfect for creating tutorials or routine videos. DJ Carlo Etendido excels at this. On his channel with over 700k followers, he shares mixes, tutorials full of helpful tips and advice, and reviews of tools and platforms for DJs.

DJ Carlo YT - iMusician

The video-live streaming platform Twitch has a long-established reputation as the go-to platform for video streaming, but it’s also immensely popular among aspiring DJs waiting to showcase their talent. Streaming on Twitch can help you build up your confidence as well as establish your brand and reputation within the community. You can also use the platform to find creatives to collaborate with and expand your reach overall. The particularly great thing about Twitch is that, unlike platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, it lets you stream whatever music you like – regardless of whether it violates copyright. The platform thrives on content like this!

Besides social media, building a professional website or artist page can be valuable for your brand. Even in the age of social media, having a functioning website is essential to being seen as a serious and authentic artist. With tools like the iMusician’s Artist Pages, you can create a professional artist website in just minutes! And the best thing — you don’t need any previous skills in building a website! It’s easy, fast, and has the sleekest design!

Artist Pages Mock

Conclusion

And that’s a wrap on the ‘how to become a DJ’ guide! Establishing a thriving and long-lasting career in this field may present its hurdles, but we assure you that if being a DJ is your dream, the effort and dedication you put into it (hopefully, just sweat and no tears) will pay off in the end.

Did you find our guide helpful? Explore more electronic music content on our blog, to dive deeper into the industry and continue advancing on your musical journey!

FAQs

Theoretically, becoming a DJ isn’t too hard if you have some talent, musical understanding, and the right equipment. The question is what your ambitions and goals are. Currently, there are an estimated 11,400 DJs in the US alone. The competition is fierce! Aspiring to become a successful DJ and make a good living may be challenging (but not impossible!).

You’ll need to work hard on perfecting your skills, creating an extensive library, and building a unique artist brand to stand out from the crowd.

Like almost any other profession, improving as a DJ comes with practice and experience. The time you may need to master it can vary depending on a number of factors — the quality of your equipment, access to support from other artists and professionals, your learning speed (some learn faster, some slower — both are absolutely okay!), your current well-being, etc. All in all, it may take anywhere from months to years of practice, performance, and perseverance to perfect your skills!

Instead of rushing to reach a certain point in your career, we would recommend being consistent and moving at your own pace. Often, taking time to do things properly and making steady, gradual progress can lead to greater success in the long run.

Becoming a DJ can be a very lucrative career, with dedicated and successful artists getting paid substantially well. However, reaching that level of success takes time, and even then, a steady income is not usually guaranteed. Fortunately, there are ways around it, such as establishing an additional source of income. The more time, energy, and passion you’ll invest into your career, the more you’ll likely gain in return. The journey might be challenging, but achieving solid pay is definitely possible.

Absolutely not! It is never too late to follow your passion and become a DJ, songwriter, singer, producer, conductor, or anything else you want to be! And that certainly applies at any age! While things change as you get older — and that’s perfectly natural — this shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dreams! So, let’s make it clear: you’re never too old to chase your dreams!

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Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.

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