Here’s my DJ-ing run down for all you prospective DJs out there. I don’t claim to have it all right. Much of the info on products is opinion only. Also check out www.berkleeshares.com.
The first thing to say about DJ-ing is that many young people think it’s cool (which it is) but it takes a lot of hard work, patience, money, time and it requires someone who is musical. Unfortunately many young people who want to DJ can only do so in a fun way. This is cool though and no worries. I bought decks so I could teach young people and let them have a go. A few have really put their heart into it and gone places, 95% just have a go and a laugh
Remember this is a look at vinyl decks only. For CD/MP3 decks go look around the web, there’s loads of good products out there. However, quality CD/MP3 decks that scratch are more expensive than their vinyl counterparts. Think about whether you want CD/MP3 or vinyl decks. MP3 singles are obviously cheaper than vinyl singles and you have access to a wider range of music if dance / urban music won’t be the only dominant music.
2. What to look for in a vinyl DJ deck:
1. Get a direct drive deck which has a more powerful motor whereas the belt drive is powered by a belt and is not as powerful. Some decks have USB as standard.
2. Get decks with lids if you plan to use them out and about. This means they are kept safe and you can put the lid down when not in use. Many decks have been protected from accidents like drink spills and things being dropped, by lids. Alternatively, get carry cases so the decks are protected in transit and can have the lids locked down when not being used.
In the image below, you can see the decks are in a specially bought DJ case which flips down to close to transport. The plug fits in to the back of the decks and the case makes a space for this.
3. What do you want the decks for? A youth club venue to practice on needs the most sturdy decks possible. When phoning up a place ask them and ask around. In places where urban music dominates, the ability to scratch will be very important. In areas where the dominant DJ based music is dance music you can go for cheaper non-scratch decks.
3. What else should I think about?
1. A good stylus and cartridge. These can come together or separate. In the picture below the cartridge is the part that says ‘Ortofon’ with the needle hanging down from the cart. You’ll see that there are 4 leads – red, white, blue and green. These need to be attached from the needle to the tonearm properly as per the instructions in a manual. The needle should be at right angles to the cartridge and located centrally in every way possible. Where you see the screws in the picture, I have added a metal plate to add weight to the needle for scratching. Be careful that when you do this, everything lines up so that the cartridge is in line with the tonearm (if it’s at an angle it won’t playback vinyl properly and damage will ensue).
Many decks are fitted with the Stanton 500s which are excellent cartridges / needles for basic mixing. The ones shown above are the Ortofon Carts.
Tip – Remember to keep hold of the little protective things that you slide onto the needle. Always put them on when not using and definitely when transporting.
Standard carts are the Stanton 500ALs. These usually come with the decks. Carts go up to £195 in price. People love to scratch (learn to mix first). To scratch properly you need good decks plus quality scratch carts (the bit that holds the needle) and needle (the bit that touches the vinyl). Go for Stanton 505SKs for good basics or Shure’s M44Gs and M44-7 (high end discontinued scratch carts). Remember that it is perfectly possible to scratch with the needles that come with decks though they’re not usually designed for that. Discourage scratching until people know what they’re doing as scratching will damage your vinyl in time, especially if done in the wrong way.
2. A quality mixer. Mixers are different and have many different features. Standard mixers will have 2 input channels on the mixer (though at the back they may accept 4 different sources). If you want to drop other sounds into a mix, consider a mixer with 3 channels/faders. The image below shows a Stanton SA3 mixer.
On this image, the bottom knob is called the crossfader. If this is on the left it plays back the deck attached to the left channel, if it’s on the right it plays the right deck. In the middle it will play both sounds. The 2 knobs above are called faders and these control the volume of the left and right deck. Some DJs mix by having the crossfader in the middle and using the faders for control, many use the crossfader. The other buttons control the treble, mid and bass, the headphones, the mix in the headphones and more.
You get some mixers with ‘kill switches’ (which instantly cut out the treble, mid or bass) or a hamster switch (that allows the DJ to reverse the cross-fader direction) but we won’t worry about that too much.
If you want to do high-end scratching like the pros, you need a mixer that has 2 faders and has a crossfader that is easy to move with little friction. Many of these mixers are thin to allow the DJ to manoeuvred their hands to scratch and more. I recommend reseafrchiung carefully to find the right mixer for your needs.
2. Consider the price of vinyl. You’re looking at £3-£15 depending on what, how old, how new, if imported etc. It mounts up! Think about where you’ll store the vinyl! For example I’ve got a bunch of wack records (like 80) I’m selling. Why? Cos I didn’t choose carefully enough (and I’m not into dance music now). For example on hmv.co.uk a CD single may be £1.99 with a vinyl single being up to £6.99 (commonly £3.99).
4. Get a good-ish pair of headphones but don’t splash out unless for regular and committed DJs.
For headphones don’t be tempted to scrimp or save – go for Shure, Pioneer, Numark, Stanton headphones. Better still, the Sennhesier HD25. Choose closed back headphones. Some headphones have 2 cups/ears, some only have one. Some have a lead from each cup, others have just one lead.
You get what you pay for. I have a £49 pair of Sony headphones and not to put too fine a point on it, they’re poor. There’s no bass response and they don’t go very loud without the sound getting nasty! I cannot stress the importance of good headphones if you intend to play out.
5. Other parts on decks, mixers (such as crossfaders) are usually replaceable. Don’t worry too much about mixers in the budget price range, they’re all pretty much the same. As you pay more you get things like kill switches (cuts out bass, treble etc.), more inputs, samplers, hamster switches and better EQ. You can get decks and mixers with BPM counters – this makes mixing easier but ultimately it’s not helpful as you need to learn to mix without these
6. Remember that you don’t get in a car without knowing the parts of the car and why they’re there (well, at least the basics, hopefully). So don’t get in front of your decks and lose patience. Don’t expect to be a great DJ straight off. Be clear this is something you wanna and can do. Get to know the decks – I’m don’t mean like hang out with them and talk with em as that’d be weird – but know what they do, understand how to set up the decks etc. Get knowledge.
4. DJ-ing set up
Follow the instructions on setting up your deck very clearly. The hardest thing will probably be setting up the carts and needles if they’re not already done (unlikely in new decks). Look at the picture below:
Basically, the set up of the tonearm is fairly easy but it’s the setting up of the weight at the back of the tonearm that may be more difficult for beginners. I know I didn’t understand it at first, despite following instructions. The metal arm in this picture above is called the tonearm. On some decks like the Technics 1210s you’ll see that the arm is curved. There is debate as to whether straight or s-shaped arms are better for scratching. General consensus is that it doesn’t make that much difference but maybe choose decks that give you the choice of both. I keep my straight arm as I do a bit of scratching.
At the back of the image you’ll also see a black lever sitting on the rounded silver part of the tonearm mechanism. This is the anti-skate lever. Next to it underneath the rear of the tonearm (you can’t see it) is the height adjustment lever. Check your manuals for the recommended setup for these. Anti-skate compensates for inward tracking of certain cartridges near the centre of a vinyl. Set it to minimum. However, if your record skips when playing towards the centre of a vinyl track or jumps around or sounds plain nasty, gradually increase the anti-skate setting in increments (eg 1, 3, 3 etc.)
The thing to the right of the tonearm is the indicator of the speed or tempo of the track, called a slider. To make a track go faster, move the slider towards you (to the front of the deck). To slow a track down, push the slider towards the back of the deck.
In this picture, the part with the numbers on is the weight. This is one part but it’s important to know that when holding the silver part, you can twist the black part with the numbers on. Once you’ve set your needle up and attached it to the tonearm you need to balance the tonearm. This means slotting the weight into the back and twisting it until the tonearm floats freely (doesn’t tip forward or backwards). When this is done, hold the silver bit and twist the black bit so the number 0 is at the top. Once this is done you’ll need to move the weight forward again to increase the weight (using the silver part to increase the number visible at the top of the weight) so that the needle doesn’t slip. But don’t put too much weight on the tonearm (don’t crank it up to maximum) – it won’t help make the styli hold the record and will damage records. It’s a kind of DIY science. Try til your cartridge/needle holds firm to the vinyl.
Once this is done and you’ve followed instructions and have your slipmat on and ready, you’re near time to go. BTW, a slipmat is exactly what it says. It provides a buffer between your vinyl and the metal deck so that you can hold the vinyl track lightly and allow the deck to continue spinning underneath.
5. DJ-ing Basics
Hint – when cueing up records, make sure you drop the next track to be played onto the non-playing deck as soon as you can and cue up (this means get the track in the right place ready to play) ASAP. You never know if the track playing may skip, or have some problems. You don’t want silence so as soon as one track is playing get the next vinyl on the platter (on the deck).
5.1. The set-up basics
Let’s bring in a couple of the pictures we’ve already seen. First:
On this picture of my TT-500, you’ll see that on the top left and bottom left there are silver buttons. These start and stop the platter spinning. They also have a little button that allows you to change the breaking time. This is the time the turntable takes to stop spinning once you hit stop. (Few decks have this). The platter is the metal part under the slipmat. The slipmat is the little black rug thing you can see on the turntable in the picture that says ‘Numark’.
The little button in between the main buttons on the left is the reverse button. Some turntables have this and it will play back your vinyl backwards! In line with the Numark logo at the bottom of the turntable is a light which illuminates the turntables a bit (not much). Next to that along the bottom there are buttons that allow you to set the speed of a record (33, 45 and mine has 78 though not all decks do). You can check on the record to see which speed should be used. A 33rpm (revolutions per minute) record will usually contain more tunes. As it spins slower (and is cut finer than a 45), there is more space to put the music. Next to these buttons are the pitch button and quartz lock. Don’t worry about these, for now at least.
Now for another image we’ve already seen:
On this image we can see the (silver) tonearm and the (black) headshell that slots into the tonearm. The cartridge is attached to the headshell as we’ve said above. You’ll see 2 screws in the headshell. This is where the headshell attaches to the cartridge below it.
We can also see a lever poking out to the right on the tonearm. This is a lifting lever and allows you to life up the tonearm much as you can on home hi-fi turntables. Next to it on the tonearm is an arm clip. It is really important to click this on when transporting or not using your decks. If you don’t it will fall off and could damage the needle. Obviously when DJ-ing, click it off.
I never use the tonearm lift lever, I always gently take the tonearm using the grip to the right of the black headshell and set it on (and take it up from) the vinyl by this method. I also leave the platter running at all times. Both are common among DJs.
You have to be musical to understand how to DJ. If you’re not, you’re gonna struggle. So not everyone can be a good DJ. But we need to understand a thing called bars as well. Bars in dance music are made up usually of a kind of tempo called 4/4. This means that every time you count from 1 to 4 you have counted 1 bar. You may remember music lessons at school getting you to count: 1,2,3,4 – 2,2,3,4 – 3,2,3,4, – 4,2,3,4. This would be 4 bars of 4 notes.
If you were to watch a stopwatch and clap every time it moved up a second, you’d clap 60 times in a minute. But let’s go further. Think of a favourite song of yours. Think of the main tune or riff of that song. For example the infamous Blur song ‘Woo hoo’ with the twangy guitar song is in 4/4 and has a riff over 2 bars. Think about it.
Understand that in mixing, each song has a certain amount of bars over which the tune is played out. This is important to remember so that you don’t mix into an new track in the middle of the tune of another. This is why many vinyl tracks have a good few bars before and after the main tune to allow you to mix in.
When you play back records, make sure you play back at the right speed. So if a record is cut at 33bpm make sure the 33bpm button is depressed, likewise with the 45rpm. Having said that you can make hip hop sound like drum’n’bass and vice versa, which can produce interesting results..
5.3. Tempo matching
The 2 records need to be playing at the same speed for one to mix cleanly into another. This is measured in ‘bpm’ with bpm standing for ‘beats per minute. So 60bpm (think of our clock example) would mean one beat per second, 120 bpm would mean 1 beat every half a second. Your aim is to have the 2 tracks playing at exactly the same speed as quickly as possible. You can practice this by getting 2 tracks with similar speeds (so 2 trance records for example). You can’t mix a hip hop track into a trance track as their bpm would be around say 96bpm and 140bpm respectively.
Set the crossfader to the middle slot and make sure that the sliders for your 2 decks are in their middle slots to playback the correct speed of the vinyl. Get 2 exact same vinyl tracks, 1 on each deck. Hold the decks lightly so you can feel the decks spinning but the vinyl (with your finger on) doesn’t move. Find the start of each track (when the tune or beat kicks in) and move the vinyl track backwards and forwards to find the start point.
Now release both vinyl at the same time and you’ll find that more or less they will play the tune at the same time. If you try this again with one of the sliders set faster you’ll find they no longer play in time as one is faster. This is tempo.
Hint – most DJs keep the decks spinning and put / take the vinyl off as they’re spinning rather than start / stop the decks all the time.
Now get deck 1 playing and put a different vinyl track on deck 2. To try and match these two, you’ll need to use the slider on the right of the deck 2 (as deck 1 is the lead deck currently).
This pitch slider thingy will show a +10 and a -10 pitch change. This basically means that the record you are spinning will go around 10% faster or 10% slower than the speed it was recorded at. Some decks allow you to increase and decrease the pitch (speed) even further. Other decks allow you to change the speed of a record without changing the pitch in the sound that is played – this means it decreases the chance of vocals sounding like Mickey Mouse..
Remember that moving the slider on the turntable towards you makes it play back faster (+10), away from you makes the turntable go slower (-10).
5.4. Beat matching
Even if you can get the speed of 2 tracks the same (and at the moment it will be very hard), you’ll find that the 2 tracks may not be playing the same part of the tune at the same time. In our above experiment if we had both vinyl at the same speed and released at the same time, they’d play the tune at the same time. But if the tunes were the same speed and we set the needle in the middle of one vinyl and at the beginning of the other and released the needle, we’d hear a mess.
What we need is for the 2 tracks to be at the right kind of point at the same time. For example, if you’re mixing house then the beat is in 4/4 time – eg. the bass drum is continually going ‘boom, boom, boom, boom’. Beat matching means the record being mixed into the one playing has to be going ‘boom, boom, boom, boom’ at the same time. If you’re mixing hip hop or drum’n’bass and want stuff to be at the same tempo, it’s the same principle.
Get 2 different tracks which you know are at the same tempo. Set the crossfader in the middle. Put the volume on the deck 1 slider slightly below that of deck 2. Now start the track on deck 1. Hold the track on deck 2 with your fingers. Find the start point of the tune as we advised above. Now, in time to the music played out on deck 1, move the track on deck 2 backwards and forwards in time. Keep doing this gently. When you feel it’s a good time (remembering the loop / bars of the tune on deck 1) let deck 2 go.
Now to get the 2 parts to be in the same kind of place you’ll need to nudge deck 2 forward or gently hold it until you hear the ‘boom boom boom boom’ going on both decks at the same time. Satisfying huh?
As we’ve said, often when beat matching (and when the record is at the right tempo), you find the ‘boom boom’ of record two is slightly ahead or behind the ‘boom boom’ on the first record. The way to sort the beat matching and get the 2 records into sync is to slow record 2 down or speed it up by either flicking or touching the outside rim of the platter (spinning ring) or touching the centre part of the record itself.
Learn to mix first of all with the cross fader in the middle so that you can hear both records playing. Don’t worry initially about the headphones.
5.5. Putting tempo and beat matching together
A more difficult practice scenario is getting 2 records with different tempos (but of the same music type and close in tempo) together. Start up deck 1 and let it go. Now start up deck 2 and find the start point of the track again. Release when you feel ready and try to match the tempo (using the slider) and get them playing the beat at the same time. Keep on practicing.
5.6. With the headphones
Finally we’ll introduce the headphones. This adds a couple new complications. On your mixer there will be a headphone volume control and a headphone mix control, cue select and possibly other controls too. These control the headphone volume (obviously!) and the mix you hear in your headphones. For example you can hear deck 1 alone, or deck 2 or a mix of both) and there is a control that allows you to directly choose which deck you’re hearing (you can flick between 1 and 2).
Now we want to do the same practices we’ve done above in parts 2, 3 and 4. This time however, we want the crossfader set across to the right and the deck 2 to be playing back in the headphones alone. The way to hear both tracks is to listen to deck 1 through your speakers in one ear, and deck 2 through the other ear in the headphones. This is tricky at first but after a while you’ll be able to separate out and hear both tracks.
The final trick will be to mix both tracks in your headphones. This is needed when you can’t hear the monitor speakers in a club very well. It’s quite hard.
Hint – remember that if you prefer it you don’t need to mix using the crossfader but can mix by keeping the crossfader in the middle and using the volume of the left and right faders.
6. Mixing hip hop / different styles
OK, so we know how to mix stuff so it’s at the same tempo. But is that all there is to DJ-ing? What about when the songs have different tempos or when we don’t want to speed up the track so vocals sound like Mickey Mouse or slow like Barry White? Like with rap / R&B tunes..
a. Scratching the start of the incoming track in time with the outgoing track. When the outgoing track ends (or you cut it), you stop the scratching of the incoming track and release at the start / cut in point you’ve chosen. Scratching techniques need to be chosen carefully, being sensitive to the crowd, the vibe and the tracks. So no wild scratching between 2 down-tempo tunes ai!
b. When the outgoing track is ending or near to ending, hover your hand over it. On the other deck, hold the incoming track still (or have the needle at the right point and stop the deck spinning). At the end of the outgoing track or at the end of the bar / break, spin back the outgoing track. Simultaneously, release the incoming track, remembering to cut back the fader with the other hand (or hit start). This also works when you ain’t had time to cue up the incoming track.
c. If 2 tracks aren’t at the same speed you can always slow one down / speed it up at the end of the track and release the other track immediately when the one playing fades down or ends (or vice versa for an incoming track).
d. You can mix in a faster or slower track over the top of an outgoing track by choosing your moment – for example if the start of the incoming track only has words – or if the outgoing track has instrumental and say no beat. Or you can say bump trying to keep it in tempo and drop in the next track you feel is right (or fade it in – gradually increasing the volume) and fade down the outgoing track.
e. Beats, breaks n samples. If ya can, get hold of a couple vinyl tracks of beats n samples. Or create your own and play em back from CD (make sure they’re cued up without the 2 second intro you get on some CDs). Using a breaks vinyl. you can mix between 2 tracks by dropping in the breaks record then cueing up the net track on the other turntable. If you’re more experimental you can cut to a vocal sample then either scratch that (if you can) or let it play the vocal sample while quickly cueing up another track on the other turntable then cutting across to the new track from the sample track as the sample finishes..
This isn’t a complete list. More will be added in time. Experiment. Nothing is wrong. Possibilities are endless. Dream. Learn. Practice. Achieve. Advance.
7. More advanced stuff
Hint – Know thy vinyl ! It’s important to listen to vinyl before mixing it in – in your home or spare time. Even better is to know exactly when tunes kick in on a record and knowing how many bars you have to mix in. This will create tighter, punchier mixes.
1. Vinyl is cut at 33rpm or 45rpm. Some DJs like to mix 45s into other 45s and 33s into 33s as far as possible. Sometimes this can actually help you mix and the sound can be smoother because records are cut at the same speed. See what you think.
2. Use the bass, mid and treble controls and kill switches if you have them. When mixing one record in, think about how boomy it may be having 2 bass drums banging out at the same time which can sound bad, distort or sound plain baaaad.
Why not cut the bass on the record you’re bringing in and as you mix, bring the bass up and the bass down on the record fading out. The same applies for mids and trebles. You can also use bass etc, creatively to create a bigger build up before a track kicks in by maybe moving the bass level up and down and finally back up when the track kicks in .
3. Creating ‘new records’.. by mixing in a part of one record with the other.. by playing them at the same time. For example, if one tune has its melody line going and the other has just a beat, put the 2 together.. and hey presto you have a new track. You can then mix out the one track as the tune of the incoming track starts.
4. Think about what tracks mix into others. Think carefully about the tunes and the key a song is in. For example some tracks don’t go together because one is say in E, the other in E flat and it sounds plain wack. Other times, beats don’t match with other beats either. Test, think about it. Don’t just mix in anything. Think about the effect you want – smooth mixing, creative mixing, mad mixing?!?!
5. Scratching. An art form which we love. I will post tips on scratching in the new website. There are many techniques but get a scratch setup, decks, mixer and carts. Get specialist vinyl if you want (www.juno.co.uk) with samples, scratches and beats on if you want but anything will do. For more advanced scratching techniques, consult an expert, book or video! DJ Qbert’s DIY part 1 is excellent for example
6. Remember if you do go for scratching or even basic mixing, take care in your scratch techniques. So don’t hold down the middle of the vinyl or stop the motor from turning the decks but hold down the outside of vinyl or the label part, even the side of the vinyl.
7. Where are you going to be DJ-ing? Learn about your audience. What kind of tunes are they bumpin? What do they like? Find out what kinds of tunes to drop to hype the place. Remember that in a 1 hour set you’re gonna get people on and off the dance floor by your selection, mixing and skillz. You need to speak their language, challenge them, make them think, take them on a journey through the highs and lows. As a DJ you need to be a performer too. If you’re getting hype, getting crunk then people will be more likely to respond. Think about it. If I’m being real in my jumping around like a kangaroo and enjoying myself the audience will be feeling the vibe too. If I’m nervous with bad mixes and bad choices, don’t expect people to stick around.
8. Cuts / Punch in and out. This really is about cutting between 2 tracks. So when you’ve sorted the tempo of 2 tracks and have beat matched, you can cut the crossfader across between the tracks in time for a period of time.
So – vinyl 1 and vinyl 2 are playing out their tune. These tunes work well together. Both riffs last for 4 bars. So for example you can be playing vinyl 1 for a bar, then cut the crossfader to vinyl 2 for a bar and so on. Or play vinyl 1 for 3/4 of a bar and drop in vinyl 2 for the last 1/4 of the bar.. and so on. Remember that many mixers have buttons that reverse the crossfader without moving the crossfader (transform buttons). These may make this kind of cutting easier.
9. If you want to (and can work out) the beats per minute (bpm) – or speed – of your vinyl, you can write it in the middle of the vinyl near to the hole in the centre if you want to.
10. Mark your vinyl using a sticker either on the centre label of the vinyl in line with your scratch sample – or mark it on the vinyl itself so that you can quickly cue up your record when scratching. With medium and advanced this is an essential aspect of your arsenal.
11. Basic scratches – baby scratch, forward and reverse scratch..
The first way to learn to scratch is simply to find a nice sound on vinyl (a voice, a snare drum etc.) Then you simply move the record backwards and forwards gently. You can have the platter (the plate under the vinyl that moves) on or off.
When learning to scratch, the best way to learn is simply to slow down what you want to master. So if you want to learn the baby scratch (back and forwards) – then just do it slowly backwards and forwards, getting used to the amount of weight you need to use and learn to cue up the sample. Then gradually get faster. Then try varying your speed.
What about moving it up a notch? Now we need to use the crossfader with one hand, and move the vinyl with the other hand. Most DJs find that the best way round to do this is to use your weaker hand for moving the vinyl and the stronger hand to control the crossfader.
To master a forward scratch, again you want to start slowly. Find your sound on your vinyl then move the sound forward while allowing the crossfader ‘open’ allowing the sound to be heard. Then move back the crossfader before across you move back the vinyl to cue up for another scratch (otherwise people will hear the scratch back).
Then do this again but this time cue up the vinyl at the end of the scratch with the crossfader across so no sound is allowed out. This is to practice the reverse scratch. Then open up the crossfader so the sound can be heard while you drag back the vinyl. Then shut the crossfader off before you push the record forward back to the end of the scratch.