Top Tips to Improve Your DJ Skills
We have the top tips to be a better DJ.
- Song selection: Sometimes DJs are in such a rush to impress the crowd with the turntable and mixer skills that they forget that the most important skill to master is song selection. At it’s heart, DJing is about creating a mood, an atmosphere, that people find appealing. That atmosphere can be anything from down tempo chill in a swanky lounge to upbeat, sweaty dancing in a flashy nightclub with a sexual tension so thick you can cut it with a knife. The point is, the songs you select and play, and the order you play them in, are the single biggest factor in being the kind of DJ people want to hear. Always be discovering music. Collect the danceable and playable tracks. Organize them into playlists by genre and bpm first, then whatever other tags make sense to you.
- Where’s the Volume? The louder the music the better, right? Wrong!!! Mastering volume levels is a skill that many DJs take for granted. Think about it. No matter how much you like a song, you won’t enjoy it if it sounds distorted and too loud. The same can be said for your audience. You can also damage equipment by playing too loud. That’s why it’s critical to keep your meter levels out of the red zone. this is where distortion rears its ugly head. And distortion is the destroyer of good sound and equipment. The proper way to set your volume levels is to start from zero on the speakers, main and channel faders. Then work in from the speakers to the main mixer volume and finally the individual channel volumes. A right size PA should allow you to play loud and clear while leaving plenty of “headroom” for an extra boost now and then.
- Master the loop: If your a digital DJ (i.e. you use Serato, Traktor, Virtual DJ or any other prominent DJ software) looping segments of songs is one of the easiest things to learn when you start djing. When used properly, it is the foundation for building up songs transitions. Loops allow you to build anticipation and energy when mixing songs together.
- Filters: Low pass and high pass filters can help you manipulate songs in very useful ways. The low pass filter will filter out high frequencies, only allowing the low frequencies through. High pass filters filter out the low frequencies, only allowing the high frequencies through. The reason filters are helpful is that first of all it sounds cool. It also allows you to mix different songs together without overloading the bass or the treble. Two different, and competing bass lines will usually sound like mud. Using the high pass filter on one track will allow you to mix a vocal, piano or guitar part from that track with a bass line from another track. Instant mashup. EDM producers use filters all the time.
- Manual Beat Matching: Modern equipment makes beat matching push button easy. But learning how to manually beat match tunes will make you a better overall DJ, because it develops your timing, your ear and your ability to mix. On top of that, it earns you respect from purists and digital djs alike because you put the time in to learn. It’s part of mastering the craft of djing. And the best part is that it’s not really all that difficult to do. Simply adjust the tempo slider of one track until its noticeably faster or slower than your primary track. Stop the secondary track. Adjust the slider. Cue the beat then press play and count the number of beats the tracks stay in sync. Repeat these steps a few times until you have the two tracks locked in sync for at least 8 bars. Set a loop and you’re good to go!
- Key Mixing: Key mixing, or mixing in key, is simply mixing songs according to their harmonic properties. Key mixing is especially important to produce great sounding mashups and EDM (electronic dance music) mixes. Back in the days, this meant that you had to have a firm understanding of music theory and a good ear in order to figure out the key in which songs were recorded. There’s no real shortcut for developing this skill. Fortunately, today’s digital tools make it a much easier process. Software like Mixed In Key or Virtual DJ will analyze your songs and tell you the key. And although software solutions are far from perfect, they’ll get it right most of the time.
- Performance: Getting a crowd’s attention and keeping it is the name of the game and your performance is a key ingredient to the recipe. Body language is huge. As a DJ, you set the tone for your audience. If you want people to have a good time, then you better be having a good time and look like it too. Granted, some DJs get a little carried away with this and you probably don’t want to be that guy (or girl!) But that doesn’t make it any less important. One thing’s for certain, watching a DJ stay at their laptop all night is not fun. And performance isn’t limited to body language. It’s also about manipulating the energy using volume, different genres and creative transitions.
- Press Record: Recording your mixes gives you the feedback you need to improve your skills in a hurry. It’s really the only way to hear your mixes the way your audience hears them. Making mix tapes let’s you hear what works and what doesn’t work with your own ears. Pro grade DJ software will let you record your mix right on your laptop. But you can also use another computer and software like GarageBand, Adobe Audition or freeware like Audacity. Another trick is to set up your cellphone or tablet camera to record both the audio and the video of your performance. And these days, it’s easy to share your mixes via podcast, mixcloud or even YouTube.
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