DJing is easy.
Anyone can be a digital turntable DJ these days. Using a laptop and some mixing software is simple and it does not require much of an upfront expense.
But it wasn’t always this easy.
In the past, you needed two turntables and a mixer and a lot of skill. DJing was considered an art form.
It was challenging and exciting, especially when two highly skilled DJs faced off against each other scratching head to head.
But learning how to DJ on a turntable now seems a thing of the past.
Ever since the industry has made the shift from using turntables for traditional beat matching to MIDI controllers and other types of sync devices, the art of turntabling is in danger of becoming a lost art.
But it shouldn’t fall by the wayside. I encourage every DJ to at least learn the basics.
Even though it’s harder and no longer necessary, there are some definite benefits to learning old school DJing techniques.
Even if you normally mix using controllers and your laptop, learning how to use a turntable can add a new layer of sound to your setup and can come in handy depending on the type of gig you’re playing.
These days, it can be hard to find a DJ booth that isn’t designed for CDJs, Midi controllers, and a laptop setup. Some modern DJs may feel that scratching and spinning on a turntable is just another type of outdated technology, but there are many reasons why you should learn how to spin this way.
Why Learn To DJ On Turntables?
When you listen to a song on your computer, you have to admit there’s a type of robotic feel to the sound that makes it sound flat. It lacks that richness we used to enjoy when we listened to your favorite album on vinyl.
Spinning vinyl also keeps you active and more in tune with the music, due to the imperfections in analogue music.
Turntables have one of two types of motors: direct drive or belt-driven. A belt-driven model features a motor that’s offset from the platter and is connected to it using a belt. A direct-drive motor sits directly below the platter, so there is no need for a belt.
This direct connection leads to more consistent speed. But even a with a direct drive turntable, there can be some fluctuation in speed, leading to a subtle change in BPM (beats per minute). That is in addition to imperfections and fluctuations stemming from the needle or the vinyl record.
You may need to speed up some records to get them to play at their natural BPM. Others will need to be slowed down. Sometimes you’ll want to alter the BMP away from the natural BPM of the track.
When you are mixing traditionally, these are all things you need to pay attention to while the music is playing. This keeps you active and paying attention constantly. With a laptop, DJs tend to simply set it and forget it, because digital music reliably plays with a constant BPM.
Make Your Set Stand Out
Since the rise of digital music, it doesn’t take much time or creativity for a modern digital DJ to create a killer playlist. All you have to do is visit a variety of DJing blogs and check out the top tracks listed or the latest releases.
Then, just hit the download button and add tracks to a playlist. The downside is that finding tracks that many people haven’t heard can be a real challenge. But if you pull it off, it can be a great way to make your set stand out.
These days, there are a variety of labels that still release vinyl. Many of these labels only allow certain tracks to be pressed to vinyl. Some full albums may also be released only to vinyl.
If you want to create a unique set that makes you stand out from the competition, skip the laptop and iTunes account. Instead focus on tracks that most people haven’t heard.
When you’re first starting out as a DJ, scratching is a great skill to have. It can really help you add some flair to your set. It can also teach you how to cue up mixes correctly and often results in unique sounds that you could record and save for later use, if you ever decide to produce your own tracks.
But scratching takes time, talent, practice, and patience. If you don’t have much experience scratching, there’s no time like the present to get started.
These days, it is possible to find an all in one system that allows you to play music from your laptop and then scratch, but let’s be honest: it’s just not the same. You’ll want a set of real turntables if you’re going to get into scratching.
Remember the section above where I touched on the two types of motors: direct drive and belt-driven? Well, you need a direct drive motor in order to scratch. It just doesn’t work if there is a belt involved.
The Stanton T62 MKII is a great entry-level direct drive turntable, if you’re not sure which model is any good. It is specifically made for DJs, so it has all the features you need and delivers a great sound, while selling for a low price.
In addition to the turntable, you also need to build up your vinyl collection. You want to practicing with old vinyl, especially at the beginning, since you don’t want to damage your good records as you learn how to scratch. Once you get better at it, you’ll be able to scratch without causing damage to your albums.
When you’re first learning how to scratch, it feels kind of awkward and you may not know intuitively how to go about it. You’ll certainly do it wrong and ruin a few records. That’s why you should always use practice vinyl, i.e. low quality records you don’t care about that you bought for the sole purpose of practicing.
A major part of learning how to scratch is learning how to stop the vinyl with your fingertips in order to avoid scratching it.
Like any other new skill that you’re trying to learn, in order to become proficient at scratching you’ll need to devote plenty of time to practicing. With time, you will get good enough to use real records and be confident you won’t destroy them.
Once you’ve got the basic techniques down, it’s important to know when to scratch. To begin, you need to learn how to listen for breaks in the music.
Once you’ve learned to identify good spots, a good way to keep track of them is to mark that spot on the vinyl. Some DJs use tape to mark the spots, while others use little stickers.
Eventually, you’ll also want to focus on building onto sounds by adding another song into the mix. While it’s easy to scratch a single-track, once you mix a couple of songs together you’ll end up with a unique piece. This is the kind of thing that can really set you apart as a DJ.
DJing On Turntables: Additional Equipment
In addition to the obvious, turntables and a mixer, there is one other major component you will need for a good DJ turntable setup: a way to hear the music. Speakers let other people hear it (and may not be necessary, depending on the type of gigs you play), while headphones let you hear it. They are vital.
Headphones Are Vital
If you want to be a professional DJ, you’ll need to invest in a solid DJ turntable setup. Aside from the turntables themselves, and the mixer, there’s some other gear you’ll in order to launch your DJing career.
If you only plan on playing in clubs or other venues that already have speakers, then you won’t need to worry about getting your own speakers. But you’ll definitely need to invest in a high-quality pair of headphones.
You use headphones to cue up the next track. They allow you to hear the next track, while the current one is still playing, making it possible to sync them up. You can’t very well play the next track through the main speaker where the club goers can hear, after all!
If you are serious about your career as a DJ, you’ll want to invest in high quality headphones. They can come in a variety of sizes and styles, but there are a few features you should look for when buying a pair of headphones specifically for DJing purposes.
Top Headphone Features
For starters, good isolation is important. When you’re DJing, your set is obviously playing through the loudspeakers.
In order to seamlessly transition from one track to the next, you need to be able to hear the next track, so that you can queue it up while the current song is playing on the loudspeakers. You won’t be able to hear anything unless your headphones have top-of-the-line isolation.
Typically, DJs choose headphones with a closed-back design. They should also be capable of high output, so that you can easily hear the track you’re cueing up, no matter how loud the club gets.
Since you’ll be wearing the headphones for the duration of your shift, you also want to make sure you choose a pair that’s comfortable to wear and highly adjustable. A long cable is also important, especially if you’re prone to moving around a lot during your set.
When you’re just starting out, you may not have the budget for a top-of-the-line pair of headphones. Luckily, there are some options that are reasonably priced and still deliver good sound quality and include the features you need.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are easily the best affordable headphones for DJs.
If you decide to DJ for small events, backyard barbecues, and birthday parties, then your audience will not be able to hear your set if you don’t have any speakers. You can’t expect these kind of gigs to provide their own.
Your best bet is to invest in a pair of active monitor speakers, which are speakers that come equipped with built-in amps. That way you won’t need a separate amplifier. The number of speakers you need will depend on the size of the crowds you draw.
Turntable DJing: Final Thoughts
Learning how to use your turntable to DJ is all about practicing mixing and scratching techniques. It is also important to have the right gear, like good turntables and the right pair of headphones, so you can properly cue up the next song and seamlessly transition from one song to the next. You also need to keep your records clean, so they don’t skip on you during a set.
In the beginning, you may feel awkward using a turntable to DJ, especially if you’ve used a laptop and mixer setup in the past. Over time you’ll find your groove and will likely end up preferring the traditional way of DJing, since it’s more challenging and gives you more opportunity to show off your creative side.