How to Get Started DJing: How and What to Play

Do you want to become a DJ, but aren’t sure where to start? Do you want to learn how to mix songs, but don’t know where to buy them or what equipment to use? This starter guide will help you with your initial steps, and should answer some burning questions you may have have when it comes to getting started with DJing.

12 min
Beatportal Digital DJ Header 3b
Nov 19, 2020
Dan Cole

Starting out as a DJ has never been easier. The ability to access controllers, decks, and a near-unlimited amount of music means you can start playing straight away, picking up skills, techniques, and styles as you progress.

Not only that, but the costs required nowadays are far much lower than they used to be. Whether you’re looking to start out by using CDJs, playing with controllers, or just playing with DJing software, the setup costs now make it possible for anyone to DJ.

The introduction of Beatport LINK has also made the jump into becoming a DJ more effortless. To become a digital DJ, you no longer need to rely on downloadable music or downloading MP3s. With Beatport LINK you have access to millions of songs in all kinds of styles at your fingertips.

With the right setup, a bit of practice, some confidence, and of course the right music (and global health situation) you could find yourself playing at your favorite next party.

But before you ask yourself questions like how to beat match, or even — if you’re getting ahead of yourself — how to stream your DJ sets, you first need to decide on what tools you want to use as a DJ.

In the end, it is the music you play that defines who as a DJ. But to get behind the booth you need to find the right controllers, turntables, or decks that fit your style.

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DJing with laptop

The first thing you’ll want to consider is whether you want to DJ with or without a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Traditionally, the classic setup — playing with two turntables and a mixer — is a good option. But unless you use this setup with a digital vinyl system (we’ll get to that later), you’re limiting the amount of tracks you have at your fingertips to what is available on vinyl. Thus, by using a laptop, or an app with an in-built-streaming system, you allow yourself access to a far greater palette of music. This setup can also be prohibitively expensive, if cost is a consideration.

All of this begs the question: which DJ software is best for you?

DJing digitally allows you to get a handle on the fundamentals of playing. Whether you’re using VirtualDJ, Serato, rekordbox, or any other favored DJing software, you’ll be able to interact with the basic properties that will allow you to mix two (or more) tracks together. By cueing up tracks, looking at their waveform properties, creating loops, mixing your tracks together, and then playing with effects, you can start to properly understand how DJing works.

You’re not just limited to using a laptop either, with the majority of DJing platforms available as downloadable apps, some of which are even free of charge.

Starting off with djay / djay PRO by algoriddim, for example, is a great introductory tool to get started with DJing. With a free version that works on all devices and operating systems, you can experiment with waveforms, mixing, loops, and more. What’s more, the PRO version is compatible with multiple streaming services, including Beatport LINK, which allows you to integrate a near-infinite amount of tracks in your performance. The PRO version is also compatible with multiple controllers, allowing you to physically control the music you’re playing.

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DJing with controllers

You don’t actually need anything more than DJing software in order to start playing. But for maximum impact, you will want to look at adding a controller to your setup.

Controllers don’t just allow you to better interact with your music, they also give you the most satisfaction by allowing you to get a real hands-on experience.

Essentially, controllers are reproductions of traditional DJ setups, designed to be more transportable, easier to use, and with more up-to-date features that allow you to be more creative with your mixing. They are also often less expensive than traditional setups.

Controllers come in all shapes and sizes and are made by various brands, but most will come with the same functions: jog wheels, mixers, and pitch control. Most importantly though, controllers nowadays come with their own audio interface, which means you can connect it to your laptop, mixer, or soundsystem without having to invest in a separate system.

Whichever controller you use, make sure it’s compatible with the DJing software you’ve selected to work with.

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DJing with decks

For the more adventurous DJ, it’s recommended to start out with more professional hardware, CDJs. With CDJs, you get the full tactical experience of playing digital music with that tactile feel, allowing you to speed up, spin, or stop the music without pressing any buttons.

The most popular CDJs on the market are made by Pioneer DJ and Denon.

Newbies need not fear. Many systems are tailored such that they can be used by pros and beginners alike, designed with sync functionality and large screen displays that allow you to easily browse, cue, loop, and much more.

If you’re a regular viewer on streaming platforms such as Beatport Live, then you’ll notice that the majority of professionals are DJing with USBs, often using the Pioneer CDJ-2000. Pioneer have become the industry standard when it comes to CDJs, such that they are found behind the booths at many clubs across the world. If you want to be a DJ that can play anywhere, then learning how to play with CDJs will be a massive bonus in the long run.

You can access a near-infinite amount of tracks using CDJs as well. Both Pioneer and Denon use library software systems, in which you can access your entire music library.

By using management tools, you can tag, file, and find your tracks with the greatest of ease. Not only that, but both systems employed by Pioneer and Denon are compatible with streaming services like Beatport LINK, so you can integrate Beatport’s vast library of electronic music into your set wherever you are.

Denon DJ even has Beatport LINK integrated directly into the players, so that no laptop is required to access the complete Beatport catalog.

The final thing that we didn’t fully mention yet is digital vinyl systems (DVS).

These are the tools that allow you to control turntables through a digital medium, made popular through DJs who use Serato. This is when you see a DJ, like Jazzy Jeff, or DJ Marky for instance, controlling a turntable or CDJ through a timecode vinyl, or CD. As Beatport LINK is fully integrated into Serato, that means you can have the near-infinite Beatport catalog at your fingertips, controlling the music and the selection at your will.

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Finding the right music

Having looked at all the options available to you as a DJ, from ones that fit in your pocket to the ones behind the booth, the next step you need to take is finding your music.

Remember, music is the special sauce behind any DJ set.

The music you play, and the way in which you play it, sets you apart from everybody else.

That’s why when it comes to selecting your music, it’s important to find something that represents who you are. Build playlists to fit moods, and contain tracks that stylistically fit together. Dig for music that is unique, but crowd-pleasing. Browse playlists and DJ charts and keep up to date with trends.

This is where Beatport LINK becomes incredibly useful. Its game-changing functionality allows you to access an unlimited amount of music, regardless of the device you’ve used to perform with. For the first time ever you can experiment with playing a multitude of tracks, styles, and genres, without having to invest in records, or purchasing individual tracks.

With Beatport LINK you can seamlessly work between finding music and building playlists. Use your preferences, and personalized workflow within Beatport to search through a near-unlimited amount of tracks, tag them and file in your own custom-built playlist to play later.

It is through the use of proper file management that will help you select the right tracks at a later date.

And finally, practice. Regardless of your style and DJing medium, your confidence, technique, and knowledge of your music will radiate through your sets the more time you’ve put into playing.

To learn more about mixing with LINK, check out this video with Berlin’s Eluzie.

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