Radio Presenter and DJ Maria Hanlon reveals all you need to know about learning how to DJ like a professional…
Does the idea of DJing really excite you? Are you totally passionate about music? If you answered yes to both of those questions, then you’re in luck as I’m about to share everything you need to know, from my experience, about learning how to DJ.
I’ve put together my top tips for beginners and then we’ll delve deep into the different routes you can take whilst learning and work out which is best for you!
Top Tips When Starting Out
A good starting point is asking yourself, what are your favourite genres of music? What do you enjoy listening to when you go out? Who are your favourite DJs? What sort of venue do you imagine yourself playing in? Think about the answers to these questions as you begin collecting music. As a DJ you definitely don’t need to stick to one genre, but when you’re learning to mix, I’ve found it easier to start with a couple of genres and then move onto more.
It’s essential that you have high quality music (preferably WAVs) and to do this you’ll need to buy your tunes or records. No one wants to hear the YouTube music video version of a song blasting out the speakers! I usually buy my music from bandcamp, Juno and Apple Music but there are plenty of other places too.
You might have heard of ‘BPM’, which stands for ‘beats per minute’, this will affect the tempo of your track and overall sound of your set. It’s good to pick songs with a similar BPM when learning to mix. You’ll also notice that different genres generally have different BPMs for example, garage is often around 130BPM whereas hip-hop is closer to 90BPM.
Here are a few simple suggestions to help you create a seamless blend when mixing:
· Buy a USB to keep your music on. Then you can run your tracks through rekordbox prior to mixing to create playlists. Once you’re happy with your playlist you can export it to your USB so when you start mixing, you’ll have your music organised in one place and will be able to see the BPM and waveform.
· Make sure your songs are the same (or similar) BPM before you mix one track into another and adjust them with the tempo slider if not.
· Beat matching – this is getting the songs lined up perfectly in time. You can use the ‘CUE’ button to hear the next track coming in through your headphones, and count the beats in time with the current track playing so you know when to bring in the next song.
· Curating a set – think about how long you are playing for and when you want the set to be at its peak, work towards that by gradually increasing the BPM throughout the set.
There are, of course, many different routes you can take when learning to DJ, and there’s no right or wrong way. So, let me take you through some of the options and you can decide which one sounds like the best fit for you.
Learn From Others
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘it’s all about who you know’ which is often true within the creative industry and can be hugely helpful when learning to DJ. Surround yourself with other DJs and observe them. You could even ask them if they could show you a few of the basics. I’ve asked many DJs in the past a few questions and they’ve always been more than happy to help.
Another way you can learn from others is going to events, nights out and festivals. Sounds like a very fun way to learn, right? Well, it is! Watch what other DJs do to get the crowd going, what type of music they play and how they curate their set.
In London, you’re spoilt for choice for DJ events but a few of my personal recommendations include:
· Keep Hush – Keep Hush is a member’s club for underground music heads. They run weekly live streams as well as pop ups, workshops, and projects to provide their members with platforms and skills.
· Brixton Jamm – Brixton Jamm host weekly ‘Open Decks’ every Thursday 6-10pm where they invite local DJs of any level to come and play some tunes in a relaxed environment.
· Radio Stations/DJ Collectives – Radio Stations/DJ Collectives often throw parties and events, so keep an eye across their socials as they can be brilliant for networking, making mates and getting involved. Voices Radio (where I work) put on lots of events and are always up for people coming down to chat and find out more. Plus, radio stations often have DJ kit, so having a radio show or working at a station can give you access to equipment.
DIY – Teach Yourself
There are so many successful self-taught DJs and teaching yourself gives you the freedom and flexibility to learn at your own pace. It might feel overwhelming to know where to start but, a strong starting point is to simply familiarise yourself with DJ equipment, work out what each button does and have a play around. It’s not as scary as it seems, I promise! If you don’t have your own kit or want somewhere to practice, while you’re waiting for the new UD Talent House to open, I’d recommend PIRATE.COM. Once you feel confident with the kit, start recording short mixes and send them to your friends and fellow DJs for feedback.
Courses & Resources
There are many online courses and free resources that you can use to learn to DJ, the ones I’ve found most beneficial include:
· rekordbox – rekordbox is free DJ platform suitable for DJs of all levels, you can run your music through rekordbox to see the waveform and BPM, as well as organise your music, make playlists and practice mixing within the platform (even without kit).
· DJ Mag – They recently created ‘How I DJ Series’ where some of the hottest DJs in the scene right now including Tiffany Calver, Conducta and Sherelle reveal how they mix, and their top DJ tips. Check it out here.
I know this might sound silly right now, but one day whilst practicing, everything will just click and you’ll feel confident to mix tracks together, select music, curate sets, the whole lot! Also, learning the basics is often quicker than you think. If you’re persistent and have confidence, (remember it’s fine to make mistakes, we all do!), after a few weeks you’ll look back and be amazed at how much progress you’ve made. But on the other hand, remember as a DJ you never stop learning and levelling up. It’s a journey, so enjoy the ride!
Words: Maria Hanlon
Listen to Maria Meets on the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month 3-5pm on voicesradio.co.uk