Becoming a DJ is largely about common sense. Working smarter to achieve the same results by creating habits that remove the difficulty and effort involved in hosting or joining a party. So whether you’re just joining your first online DJ lesson or have been touring for years, check out some good advice that’s relevant to basically all DJs.
Audio engineers call it gain staging. It’s when your maximum signal peaks at a preset level below 0dB, leaving enough headroom for further compression and signal processing. But many DJs adopt the old adage of ‘if it ain’t redlining, it ain’t headlining’. Because let’s face it: loud is fun. But pros don’t all follow that way of thinking. In fact, keeping your maximum signal level out of the red will raise the chances of your signal sounding clear. Especially on less professional equipment, which lacks the capability to compensate for an over-compressed or distorting input signal. So first adjust the gain on your mixer to set the level so that even at full fader volume, you aren’t able to redline. Then adjust your volume faders. If it’s too quiet, turn up the front of house system, not your gain.
Stay away from the mouse while DJing. It was boring to watch 10 years ago, and it’s even more boring to watch now. Aim to create a set that is interesting to watch. Not everyone’s there to watch you, of course. But some are interested in what you’re doing. Why? When you drop your crowd’s favorite tune, many of them will turn to notice you and what you’re doing. It’s brand-building time! A little tip of the cap, a nod, a fist-pump at this point goes a long way. So does having your eyes on the crowd and off your screen. A performance doesn’t have to be jumping on the tables or wearing a giant mouse head, but you should demonstrate some preparation for your image and presence. Keep them engaged!
Take the power back
Don’t do DJ sets on battery power. Besides the obvious risk that your machine might die, some software can act differently when it’s not connected to the power mainline. Audio glitches can happen when you plug in mid-set. Software popups relating to battery power can get in the way of your screen view at crucial times. And while we’re on the topic, use duct tape to make sure your cables are safely following an out-the-way snake to your feet. And if you have any weird or international plug adapters, tape them together too. Minimize the number of things that can go wrong when wobbled, bumped or unexpectedly yanked. Especially anything power-related. It’s extra work, yeah. So is being a pro, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by the people you’re aiming to reach. Learning how to DJ like a pro is about embracing common sense.
Keep 'em separated
Don’t mix the vocals of two different tracks at the same time. A mix is a conversation, and if two people are talking at once, it sounds bad. This is why the vocals in pop music generally only come in 15 seconds into the track. It allows the radio presenter to hit play, finish what they’re saying and introduce the song without any vocal clashing. There’s always room to get creative, so feel free to load up some hot cues, vocal one-shots or mangled vocal effects and stab at them to fill gaps in an underlying track. Or to prime the one you’ve cued up. But remember that to most people, two singers doing two different things at the same time sounds like a disaster, even if they’re in the same key.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.