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How to Become a DJ: Check Out Our Ultimate Guide

14-minute read

A female DJ mixing tunes at a rooftop party.
Ed Grasso

Ed Grasso

4 August 2021

There’s a feeling you get when you hear the right song at the right moment. And that's pretty cool. There’s another feeling you get when hundreds of people hear the right song at the right moment.

That’s being a DJ, and that can be even cooler.

If you’ve always wanted to be the person who gets people up and dancing, gets people feeling good, and gets people to pay you for doing it, keep reading.

We’re going to help you on your way to learn how to become a DJ.

How to Become a DJ in 4 Easy Steps

There are a few different types of DJs, and you may find yourself working as one or more of them. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Club DJs — Much like the name implies, a club DJ works at dance clubs using the existing sound system and gear. Some appear at different clubs, while others, known as resident DJs, work regularly at the same venue.

Mobile DJs — These DJs are usually hired for special events, such as weddings and parties. Mobile DJs usually provide their own gear and may act as an emcee or host for the event.

Turntablists — These performers are closer to musicians in what they do. They use their gear much like a musical instrument, often cutting and scratching to create their own sonic performance pieces.

No matter which type of DJ you gravitate to, you’ll likely need to follow the same steps to launch your career behind the mixing board.

1. Get geared up.

DJ equipment is pretty much a must, no matter what type of DJ work you do. It’s a key part of how to become a DJ. Being a DJ, like being any kind of performer, requires learning and developing skills. Having your own DJ setup lets you practice and experiment on your own.

It also makes it possible for you to work mobile gigs. And just like a musician with their favorite guitar, you’ll likely be more comfortable and perform better using equipment that you’re familiar with.

Kickin' it old school.

From controllers, to turntables, to PA systems and software, it’s easy to be overwhelmed when you start looking at all your options. You often can get started with just a few pieces of gear:

  • Two turntables or two CD players — These are what you’ll use to play your music, depending on whether your music is on vinyl or CD.

  • 2-channel mixer — This piece of gear allows you to switch between the two pieces of music on your turntables or CD players.

  • Headphones — These let you preview your mix between the two songs before your audience hears it live.

  • Powered speakers — These are what fill the room with the sound you’ve created.

If the idea of getting your hands on the equipment and manipulating controls is what you’re looking for in a DJ experience, a more traditional setup like this one could be the way to go.

Going digital.

While the desire to be a DJ will always come from your heart, how you express that desire may come from the same device you’re using to read this blog post. A good laptop and some DJ software can be all you need to get started with indulging your musical passion.

With DJ software, you can replace actual knobs, sliders, and turntables with your keyboard and mouse. It also can be a less expensive way to build a basic understanding of how to DJ, and sharpen your skills before you sink a lot of cash into more gear.

The software enables you to access music on your computer’s hard drive and easily mix tracks, match beats, break songs into sections, and mash them together. Many programs provide other features such as live looping and scratching, delay and reverb, and video and karaoke capabilities — many of the skills you’ll need to become a crowd-pleasing DJ.

Using these features, you can create a nonstop playlist of music that you can also save to use as a demo (more on this later) and to playback through speakers in your home or a sound system in a club.

There are a number of DJ software products to choose from. They all work essentially the same way, but some offer different features, such as exporting your library and playlists to a USB that you can plug into a DJ controller at a club.

Three popular software packages are from TRAKTOR, rekordbox, and Serato. Each offers a free downloadable version or demo (with limited capabilities) on their website, so you can get a better sense of what they can do and which one you might want to work with.

Gear you’ll need to start playing out.

While your laptop and software can get you started on your DJ career, you may want to look for equipment that’ll give you more control and flexibility, such as a DJ controller that connects to your laptop via a USB.

A DJ controller combines many of the functions of a mixer and turntables into a single piece of equipment. For instance, the large platter of each turntable is replaced with a smaller jog wheel approximately the size of a CD. This lets you manipulate the digital music files on your laptop as if they were actual vinyl records. A controller also includes the sliders and knobs for the mixer.

And if you do have vinyl records or CDs, your turntables and CD players can also connect to many DJ controllers.

Pump up the volume.

If you want to work parties, weddings, and other events, you may want to consider a powered speaker or a PA system. These generally include a pair of loudspeakers, an amplifier (unless the speakers themselves are powered), and accessories such as stands and audio cables.

The size and output (how loud they get) of PA systems can vary widely. Two things to consider are the types of spaces where you’ll be playing and the size of the vehicle you’ll be using to get to your gigs.

If you plan to play a lot of events in halls and event rooms, such as parties, weddings, and school dances, you’ll need less output than if you’re playing in large warehouse-type spaces or outdoors.

Typically, the more output you need, the larger the gear will be. This can matter a lot, because sometimes how to become a DJ involves considerations outside of playing the music.

When I got out of college, I worked as a mobile DJ. Most of my gigs were parties and events in small spaces and event halls.

I had a compact hatchback that I used to haul all my gear, stands, and accessories, and several crates of vinyl records. When I started, I had to pay a friend to work with me just so I could use his car to carry some of the equipment.

I eventually invested in a more compact PA setup so I could fit everything in my car and not have to split my fee. Smaller, lighter gear also makes a big difference when you’re breaking down and packing up late at night after several hours of deejaying.

2. Protect your gear and your business.

When you’re thinking about how to become a DJ, something you may have picked up on by now is that becoming a DJ will likely involve owning a certain amount of equipment. It also can involve working in a variety of different and often crowded venues.

It’s one thing to take risks and push limits when you’re mixing beats and tracks. But if you’re looking to DJ for pay, it’s another thing to take risks with your business and your equipment. That’s why you should take a look at DJ liability insurance.

DJ Insurance: The basic breakdown.

Two coverages you may want to consider when looking at DJ insurance are general liability insurance and DJ equipment coverage (aka Content Coverage). General liability can cover you for a wide variety of risks and hazards, including:

  • Third-party property damage (e.g. clients or vendors)
  • Bodily injury
  • Medical expenses
  • Personal and advertising injury

How might some of these bulleted items play out in real life? Imagine you’re working a gig. The music is great and the dance floor is packed. Maybe it's packed a little too much, as one of the dancers gets too close to one of your speakers and trips over the base of the stand.

Turns out it’s her last dance for the evening. She has to go to the ER, where she’s treated for a knee injury. Not good for her, and potentially not good for you because you could be liable for her medical bills.

To make matters worse, while you’re carrying some gear out to your car at the end of the night, someone walks off with your prized headphones. Now there’s more money coming out of your pocket.

If you have DJ insurance with general liability and content coverage, both the medical bill and the cost of new headphones could be covered, up to the limits of your policies. Yes, finally, some sweet music to your ears.

Here’s something else that may sound just as good. We can find GL coverage for DJs from leading insurers, often as low as $25.95/mo.* And it usually takes just 10 minutes, so you could even get covered between sets.

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DJ Insurance: Adding to the mix.

You don’t want to be caught without the right song if the vibe changes. The same is true with insurance coverage. That’s why you might want to look at professional liability insurance. Professional liability covers you and your employees for claims of negligence or even if they just make an honest mistake.

It may be hard to imagine how a DJ could be negligent, but it’s important to know that even just defending yourself from a negligence claim could be expensive.

Let’s say you’re hired to play a very large party. The promoter predicts hundreds of paying partygoers. Unfortunately, due to being a bit off-beat that day, the actual attendance numbers are well below expectations. The embarrassed promoter blames you for putting on a poor show and sues you for lost revenue.

Now you have to defend yourself, and legal fees can add up quickly. Professional liability insurance can cover both the claim and your legal fees, up to your coverage limit.

Here are some of what professional liability insurance usually covers:

  • Legal defense costs
  • Omissions or alleged omissions
  • Negligence or alleged negligence
  • Claims and damages

DJ Insurance: Covering the entourage.

Congratulations. You’ve worked hard, your rep has grown, and now you’re in high demand. It may be time to bring on an extra hand or two to handle your gear or cover other events. If so, it also may be time to think about workers compensation insurance.

With a few exceptions, workers comp insurance is generally required if you have full- or part-time employees. This type of insurance covers medical bills, lost wages, and legal costs associated with an employee who gets sick or hurt on the job.

Unfortunately, workplace accidents happen. In fact, the annual recorded workplace injury rate is 2.8 accidents per 100 full-time employees. On top of that, the average cost of workers comp claims is $40,051.

Investing in workers compensation insurance could make a lot of sense. Here’s what it generally covers:

  • Medical Payments
  • Lost Wages
  • Rehabilitation Expenses
  • Death Benefits

Now that we’ve discussed coverage, let’s get to the next steps in how to become a DJ.

3. Develop your skills.

Talent, creativity, and passion are three of the qualities that will distinguish DJs from one another, but there are some basic skills nearly all DJs need to have and develop.

Match the beats.

To keep the energy going during a show, you need to keep the music going. That means transitioning smoothly from one song to another with no break in between. To do that, you need to match the tempo, or the speed of the two songs as well as the phase, or when the downbeats occur.

Think about two people walking side-by-side. When they’re moving at the same pace and their left and right steps are in sync, that’s beat matching.

The beats per minute (BPM) of a song will determine how smoothly or easily you can mix it with another song. You can figure that out with a watch by counting the number of beats for six seconds and multiplying that number by 10.

Some mixers and most DJ software will calculate BPMs for you. From there, you can use the pitch control to adjust the speed. To match the phase, you can use a jog wheel or other device on your controller, or if you’re mixing with vinyl, you can manipulate the record on the turntable.

In many instances, you can rely on a software sync function to match the songs for you. This can save you a lot of time and frustration, but you should experiment with matching beats on your own.

From my experience, there was nothing cooler or more satisfying than fading in a new song perfectly matched to the one that was playing. It was a point of professional pride. It also took a lot of practice.

Find the mix points.

Matching tempo and phase are the first key points to a smooth mix. Knowing where to match the two songs up is another. This is often referred to as “phrasing.”

Think about trying to match up our two people walking. It’s a lot harder to do that if one of them is on a flight of stairs or passing through a doorway. A nice, smooth stretch of sidewalk would be better. In musical terms, that would be looking for sections of the music where there’s more bass and drum beats, and not vocals or other heavy instrumentation.

Transition smoothly.

This is the moment of truth where you blend songs together in such a way that people barely notice and just keep moving to the music.

One way to do this is by beat matching and phrasing, using the “cue” function of your mixer. This simply lets you hear how the songs will mix together in your headphones. Once it sounds good in your headphones, you use a slider to mix the new track with the current track over the loudspeakers.

You’ll also want to be aware of each song’s volume. It’s best to fade in the new song as you fade out the current one. How fast you do this often depends on the two pieces of music. It’s something good DJs develop a feel for, so it’s worth putting in some time to learn and develop that skill.

Hands free or hands-on?

Many DJ software programs can handle all aspects of mixing songs, and it is a good way to help ensure a smoother, more flawless show. How you choose to mix music will depend a lot on what works best for you and what type of performance you’re creating.

If you plan to be a turntablist and do a lot of scratching, you’ll definitely have to get your hands on the equipment. While I was more of a mobile DJ, much of the joy I got from it was the experience of actually working the turntables and mixer. I felt more like a part of what was happening and less like just a technician.

4. Let’s land some gigs.

At some point, how to become a DJ often involves just doing it. Before anyone will hire you to play a gig, they’ll want to know how good you are. That can be difficult if you’re just starting out and no one knows you. One way to show people what you can do is by recording some sets.

If your gear includes a laptop and a DJ controller, recording your set can be as easy as clicking a button. If you’re working with turntables and a mixer, you can often connect the output to a handheld recorder. There also are ways to record on your computer using some readily available free software.

Recording sets is useful for two reasons: It provides a demo to help promote you and it’s a great way to practice, try out new ideas, and focus on areas where you can improve.

Sharing it with the world.

Once you have a set or two that you’re happy with, you can upload it to a sharing platform. There are a variety of places to host your mixes, such as SoundCloud and Mixcloud.

There are a few important considerations to keep in mind when you’re using a sharing platform:

  • Make sure you’re up to date on each platform's copyright rules. Staying within bounds regarding the rules will help ensure your mixes don’t get taken down.

  • Include important information such as a title, description, and track listings. Also, remember to add links to your social media and website (more on that to come).

  • Adding cool images to help differentiate and brand yourself can also be helpful, especially if you’re not yet well-known.

And speaking of your personal brand.

Trying to land gigs with just a few shared mixes is like trying to do a set with just a few songs. It takes more than that to get people to notice.

Establish an online presence.

Set up a website — Think of this as your online storefront. It’s another great place to host your mixes, as well as to provide information about you, your availability, and what types of gigs you play. Don’t forget to use your website to share any testimonials and images from previous shows you’ve done.

If you need some help getting started, check out this helpful article.

Use social media — This can be a great way to build your brand and stay top of mind for people who may not have a gig for you right now, but when the opportunity comes up, so will your name.

While you want to post links to your work, it’s also important to share information that your followers might find interesting or helpful. That could include posts related to music and the DJ industry, as well as local nightlife and other cool events. We’ve got some templates you can use to make that even easier.

It doesn’t always have to be about your music. Sharing other content that inspires you, reflects your personal style, or you think is just plain cool is a great way to tell your story and create your brand.

It also can be useful to use your social channels to contribute to an online community. Following other DJs and performers (and even providing a shout-out from time to time) can get you recognition from them in return and expand your audience.

Be willing to pay your dues.

When you’re starting out, be open to playing just about any type of gig you can. This not only gets you in front of more people, it also helps you develop your craft, deal with unexpected circumstances (“Wait, what do you mean the power outlet isn’t working?”), and be able to read a room and learn how to please different types of crowds.

Lowering your fee or even waiving it altogether may make sense if the gig is going to put you in front of a lot of people or score a lot of publicity you can use on your social channels.

And no matter where you gig, it’s a good idea to make sure people know who you are, especially if they’re having a good time. Tried-and-true promotional items such as business cards and signage can be low-cost investments that’ll pay back handsomely in the long run.

Make your own opportunities.

Just about everyone likes music and likes to have a good time. People planning parties and events may not think to have a Dj because they don’t know of one or they feel they can’t afford one.

Check out local charity events in your area. Look for block parties or local town days and other celebrations where you can offer your services. You’ll not only be gaining a valuable opportunity to show what you can do, you’ll be building goodwill in your community, which is like gold for your brand.

And speaking of community.

Getting gigs, especially in clubs, can often depend a lot on who you know. That’s probably not a news flash; it’s true in many businesses. But networking and building relationships doesn’t have to feel like work. Especially when you’re a DJ.

Checking out and supporting other DJs and artists can be a lot of fun. For one thing, there’s probably going to be some great music. Plus, getting to know other DJs is an excellent way to learn more about your craft and to share experiences (good and not so good) with like-minded people.

A Last Word About the Benefits of DJ Insurance

We get it. You likely want to become a DJ because you’re an artist. You’re a performer. You’re the proverbial stick that stirs the drink. At the same time, you’re also a small business owner.

We’ve already talked about the business advantages of DJ insurance to protect you and your equipment, but it has another important benefit as well. By being covered, you’re also minimizing the risk of the people who may hire you.

That can be a bigger deal than you may think. It can show people that you’re serious about what you’re doing and that you’re looking out for their interests. It can help make the case that you’re not just legit in the DJ world — you’re legit in the business world as well.

* Monthly payment calculations (i) do not include initial premium down payment and (ii) may vary by state, insurance provider, and nature of your business. Averages based on January - December 2020 data of 10% of our total policies sold.

Ed Grasso

Written by

Ed Grasso

As a 9-year-old at summer camp, I hated it — especially after being pulled screaming from the pool during the swimming competition. While this left me without an aquatic achievement patch, it also inspired the letter to my parents that got me an early release from Camp Willard. That showed me the power of writing. I’ve done my best to use it only for good ever since, such as writing for small business owners.

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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