How To Become a Professional DJ – Master your skills
In our days you have easy access to informations that will give you possibilities to make your dreams come true. It is not that hard to master mixing and become a professional DJ.
Day by day and with more mixing experience, you will constantly improve your DJing skills. In such a large field, overwhelmed by DJs and live performers, you will have to make the extra step to stand out from the rest. However, in 2019 the technological advances in audio engineering and the easy access to limitless helpful courses and content, make it easier to master your skills and pursue your dreams as a musician.
In case you have already read our article How to become a DJ, congratulations you are a step forward from the rest beginner DJs.
So, let’s assume that you know the basics of mixing and beatmatching, and your performing skills are on average as well as some experience in live events, gigs, or/and festivals.
First steps to become a DJ
The first 4 steps as a total beginner DJ who wants to enter the music scene should be:
- Research and recognise your music style. Listen to DJ sets and latest track releases in your preferable music genre.
- Find the ideal DJ setup for you and purchase if possible. Many choices but you can start small and improve and invest when money starts to flow.
- Learn the basics of DJing, mixing, and beatmatching. It is not that hard, just dedicate time and energy to experiment, improvise and record. Get feedback from other DJs and your listeners.
- Build a social profile and get booked. You might have to start by charging nothing, but you have to start somewhere.
From beginner to professional DJ
As soon as you get these things done, we jump into 4 new steps on how to become a professional DJ.
- How to mix like a professional
- Track selection
- Enrich your DJ gear and live performance
- Get booked and promoted properly
Our purpose is to share advice on how to get booked at clubs and festivals, as well as tips on what you need to do to sound like the masters of DJing.
It’s a truly amazing feeling when you’re playing music for an audience. It takes skills, knowledge, and experience to create a group of followers and make the crowd go “nuts” and can’t wait for your next gig.
Let’s dig deeper on each step that will guide you to become a master of DJing and mixing.
1. How to mix like a professional DJ
Did you ever listen a live set or a radio show of Paul Van Dyk, DJ Sasha or the techno masters Carl Cox and Adam Beyer and wonder how every set of theirs sounds harmonic, with a smooth transition between tracks?
How often do you find yourself struggling in your playlist to find the next track to play that will keep the vibe on the dance floor?
Most of the professional DJs around the world mix harmonically in every set of theirs. And is not that hard as it sounds. Even with a basic knowledge of the 24 musical keys, a small cheat sheet and a tiny bit of preparation you will be able to mix like a pro.
All you really need to know is that every song you play is in a certain key. Key names always start with the name of the root note (such as “C”) and the scale (minor). The scales are usually minor or major, so you will see key names like “C minor” and “E major”.
If you’re not already familiar with musical keys, it will take a little time for you to learn the basics.
Welcome to Harmonic mixing
Harmonic mixing is an easy to learn technique that helps you sound perfect every time you play. It will offer you a creative way to mix songs together and most likely improve your DJ sets. Your next track will complement the one you’re playing, and your mix will sound musically correct.
Not to get me wrong, harmonic mixing is not a law of professional mixing. It is not a requirement to be a good DJ.
Elements of Harmonic Mixing
There are 2 actions required in order to have a smooth harmonically mixed DJ set.
1. Find the musical key of your tracks
At first, you need to analyze and figure out the musical key of your songs and label all your music so you can find the key quickly.
There are 3 main ways to find the musical key of your tracks.
- Mixed in Key Software. Mixed In Key is a DJ tool that analyzes music files to determine the key of each song in seconds. Makes it easy to explore your music collection and find songs in the same or compatible keys. It also tags their metadata, so the results will show up on all your favorite DJ software and hardware.
- Learn to find by ear. It will take time and practice, but with a help of a virtual piano, you will be able to find the key of a song by yourself. There are multiple videos on YouTube to guide you better than words.
- Research. If your music genre is exclusively electronic you can find the music key of every track on Beatport.com. If not you can still research online and find out.
Don’t forget to write down the key results, so you can find the key quickly. If you use CDs, write it on top of them or an extra cheat sheet. If you use Dj software or Ableton Live, make sure to rename each song and add the key at the end of the track name.
2. Learn which keys sound good together
Harmonic mixing doesn’t mean you’re mixing in the same key for in your entire DJ set. It means you’re mixing two songs that are harmonically compatible. Thankfully, you don’t have to study music theory to learn which keys complement each other. All you really need to know is the musical key of every song you play as a DJ.
Mixing with the Camelot Wheel
We have to give a big thanks to the inventor Mark Davis and Mixed In Key. The Camelot Wheel is a color-coded system that helps you figure out which keys are complimenting each other. Each key is assigned a code number from one to twelve, like the hours around a clock. The wheel is visually designed to help you learn harmonic mixing. Here’s how it looks like:
As soon as you find the musical and Camelot key of the tracks you need to label your entire collection (either writing on a piece of paper, on top of your CDs or update your DJ software to show the key of each song).
Every time you mix between songs in the same key, it’ll sound perfect. For example, when you mix a track in 1B (B major) into another track in 1B, this mix will sound harmonic.
Harmonically will also sound if you move forward or backward one block. So if you’re in 1B, you can mix into 12B or 2B.
You can also change the letter but keep the same number, and your mix will still be compatible. For example, 1B can mix into 1A, and 1B can mix back into 1A.
Let’s take the classic “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer which is in the key of C major. As seen in the wheel above C major is on 8B. And you can ideally match it with 9B, 7B or 8A (G major, F major, and A minor).
Tip: Mixed in Key is used by world’s top DJs and producers to help their mixes sound perfect, so it will almost degintely improve yours. You can run your music through Mixed In Key, and then update your DJ software or DAW to show the key of each song you import in a second, making your life much easier when performing live. Mixed In Key offers extreme integration with Traktor Pro, Serato, Rekordbox and Ableton Live to start harmonic mixing from day one. In a case, you still do not own a mixing software take a look at The best DJ softwares in the market.
2. Track selection
As a DJ your job is to connect with your audience through the music you play and the way you mix it. With so many DJs out there, you have to stand out from the rest. Harmonic mixing and a proper track selection in your set will guarantee a nice vibe at the dance floor at all times.
20 years ago you had to run to your local store and listen to the new CD and Vinyl arrivals. A decade later with the internet and computers, the life of DJs got a lot simpler.
In 2019 is a lot easier to access music, listen to other DJ sets, check out charts and explore countless new and old music. If you play digital music, build your library only with the highest-quality music files. Low-resolution MP3s or tracks ripped from YouTube videos will sound flattened when playing through a good sound system.
1. Build your music library
Picking the tracks you will play during your set is an ultimate personal matter. There are so many music genres only in electronic music I can’t even name. I would suggest you keep no attention of the top10 of each genre. This is music already heard and played a lot. Instead dig into new releases, upcoming artists and labels, as well as radio shows of your favorite DJs.
Important: All music files purchased through websites like Beatport.com are downloadable as WAV or MP3 files in high-resolution 320 kbps format. You should never be satisfied with 192 kbps files. You won’t notice the difference on your laptop speakers, but it will be obvious in a club.
2. Create a smooth flow throughout your DJ set
We have made it clear that you need to have your tracks labeled. BPM for beatmatching and Key for Harmonic mixing are the ones we know already. You can also categorize by genre (techno, deep house, indie, progressive house, etc.) but I don’t see a big reason to do it, as it will commonly happen to mix between genres during your sets.
Another thing famous DJs tend to keep notes about, as I also do, is the dynamic and energy level of my tracks. A good way to label them is:
1-3 for chillout vibes, ideal for warm-ups and early hour.
4-7 for uplifting songs, that will get the people moving, getting them ready for the main course.
8-10 for full energy dance tracks, so you will know what to play when the dance floor is full.
We cannot emphasize enough how important is to label all your tracks, as soon as you download them. It won’t take you that much time, plus you will always be prepared at live events. BPM – KEY – SONG DYNAMIC.
3. Enrich your DJ equipment for live performances
DJing and music production are two separate areas where a combination can offer pretty admirable results.
By personal experience and what many music producers will tell you, is that song production has helped them evolve as DJs. You will observe the structure of a track, each unique sound, learn how to count steps, hear the drums and bass, intros, verse, chorus, and be able separate each sound.
As we said at the beginning of the article, if you are mixing on a classic DJ setup with Vinyl, CDs or USB sticks, you might need to go shopping for a DJ software or music production software.
Add your own touch
Now you have probably already heard the mash-up or bootleg or any other word that is used to describe the blend of two songs together to create a new one. There is no limit to the number of sampled elements you can combine.
If you don’t have the money for a complete home recording studio, don’t worry, you can still get the job done on just your DJ laptop. You can either use your DJ mixing setup to produce a mashup live in a club. Otherwise, you can do some more preparation and prepare your own edit of two tracks, or a song and an acapella, or a song with your own samlpes inside your DAW or DJ software.
Whatever method you choose, keep in mind that for a proper mashup you take the beat or melody from one song and the vocals from another. A more complex mashup might alternate between two different drums or melodies while using an acapella from a third song.
We saw how in harmonic mixing you can easily change the key between 8B, 7B, 9B, and 8A, for example. However, when you’re making a mashup, it’s usually best to choose two songs in the same key.
Invest in your equipment
In our previous article DJ equipment for beginners, we presented to you the most popular DJ setups used in the music scene. To recap here they are:
- Pair of CD Players or Turntables + DJ Mixer
- DJ Controller + Laptop + DJ Software
DJ software such as Traktor Pro or Serato gives you unlimited performing actions when you are DJing and mixing. The machine is handling pretty much the beat-matching, so you have the time to concentrate on music selection, harmonic mixing, and your crowd.
There are probably nearly thousands of free online tutorials of the most popular DJ softwares to teach you how to use them and produce mashups, bootlegs, and remixes.
Combination of all the above will guarantee a harmonic well-presented music set. If you are well prepared you will have the time to connect with the crowd deeper and feel more comfortable with your track selection.
There is a new DJ setup ideal for DJs and music producers. It is involving Ableton Live and a keyboard controller dedicated to the most popular DAW out there. You can find out more The best Ableton Live controllers.
I hope you understand that if your computer or laptop is old or overstuffed with applications, softwares, and files, it will not perform properly. You can take a look at The best DJ Laptops and The best music production computer and find if yours satisfy the requirements.
It was never easier to become a music producer from home. Check How to build your home recording studio spending under $600.
4. Get booked and promoted properly
Nightclubs, festivals, and parties have always played a key role in supporting and promoting DJs all over the world. If you expect to go from bedroom DJ with a little experience to professional DJ who travels around the world to perform live, you are terribly wrong.
Modern DJing has evolved into an international business. It is more than just master beatmatching, harmonic mixing, music skills, and expensive gear.
That thing called “Branding”
As soon as you feel comfortable with your DJing and mixing skills you need to start promoting yourself.
You need to create an image, that transmits consistency, dedication, professionalism, and personality.
Let’s take for example world class DJs such as Richie Hawtin and Sasha. At that level, they have to manage multiple tasks at the same time. It’s not enough just to mix a legendary set with passion and creativity, or perform with expensive top-edge gear. Richie Hawtin and Sasha are entirely committed to what they do, they are entrepreneurs in their field and get updated about trends and technologies before anyone else.
Except for the master mixing, performing and social skills of professional DJs you will also see that each one of them has a distinctive sound, look and personality, and they each maintain a steady media presence.
The 3 elements for proper branding
- Distinctive Sound It will take you time, effort and practice until you find that sound that will make it clear who is behind the DJ booth. Devote on every one of your performances with careful track selection, remixes, and productions that will give the stigma of your presence.
- Image You need to create your own identity so you can stand out from the crowd of DJs wherever you might be ending up playing. Keep wearing suchlike outfits and don’t change your style every now and then.
- Media Presence Your social media presence, website, and the marketing materials you create, will play a big role in maintaining a continues relation with your fans and listeners.
If you take a look at early career photos of Sasha or David Guetta, could easily feature under “DJ fails”. Don’t be afraid of a professional photo shoot and to spend some money on design logo, website, business card etc.
Your media presence is not just creating a logo, a Facebook and Twitter account and maybe a website and you are done. You need to spend time, hire a professional, ask bits of advice that will improve your presence and reputation.
You need to be everywhere, at any time and before anyone else does. Make videos of you performing live, update at least one or two live set on sound platforms such as MixCloud. It is also nice to be involved in online conversations, news, or post about a big event even unrelated to music.
The purpose of a website is to take out the word and give the opportunity for people to find you and details about your work. Small Bio, Live Sets, Photos, Up Coming Events, and Contact are a must do.
Create your press kit
As soon as you will get done with all the above, it time to create your press kit. This is an informational package that provides club owners, booking agents, and publicists with all the materials they need to promote or write about you.
A typical press kit contains the following materials:
- Bio – A short, one-page bio that describes your musical background, lists of the genres you play, current gigs and any residencies worth mentioning.
- Photos – A high-quality promotional photo, or full portfolio if you have one. It also nice to include an extra folder with flyers, and event photos, just don’t overdo it.
- Career Highlights – Include work you are really proud of, collaborations with famous artists or competitions you have wone.
- DJ Mixes – 3 or 4 mixes are more than enough to show your strengths to the listener. , and organize the demos by genre.)
- Track Releases – If you are a music producer, you will surely have a lot of work to show. Music releases, remixes, and an awesome recording studio to add to your photo galleries as well.
- Contact Info – Your phone number and email must be included. The 5-6 most popular social profiles you have, website and also music platform profiles such as MixCloud, SoundCloud etc..
Take the time and prepare the press kit, as the most valuable thing you could do in your computer except music. Do not drop in the first sets you find in your lists, if your social profile has 93 likes do not add it in there. Point out your strengths and pros
Important: Do not, ever ever, include the cost of your services as a DJ in your press kit. This is something better talked in person or through a telephone, as your services vary on each performance, according to your experience, level of the event, possible transfer costs etc..
Carl Cox, Pete Tong, Jeff Miles, David Morales, and a bunch more top class DJs are going to their 60s soon. It is never too late to start even as a total beginner and become a professional DJ.
In our days you have easy access to pieces of information and possibilities you do not want to pass. It is not that hard to follow the steps above, research more, learn, practice methodical and do a proper job on “branding” and you will most likely make it.
Feel free to drop your comments below and add your advices to future DJs…
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