This article is provided for people new to Deejaying. It covers a wide range of topics for both the beginner and the advanced DJ. There are also a few subjects that we beg you not to ask us about. They are (in no particular order):
CD’s vs. Vinyl – Which is better?
This question has been beaten to death by both sides already. The best thing we can do is agree to disagree and move on with our lives. Both sides present good arguments, but the bottom line is that the issue is a holy war in which no one will sway the other. It is useless to discuss a topic in which no one gains anything from it.
If you are new to Deejaying and aren’t sure about which medium to pursue, refer to the "CD’s vs. Vinyl" section of the article. It presents the facts for both mediums in an unbiased manner leaving it up to you, the reader, to decide on which medium is best suited for you.
Club jocks vs. Mobile jocks
Again, another topic which has been beaten to death by people on both sides of the fence. It’s another holy war in which neither side will convince the other that they are right and no one gains anything from the discussion. If you aren’t familiar with the differences between the two, consult the section in this article comparing the two types of DJs. The text explains what each type of DJ is expected to do and how they operate.
The Best Album is…
I love gabber. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s probably because you’re part of the majority of earth who doesn’t particularly care for 180+BPM techno. I happen to be in the minority that does like it. I think "other" music sucks, and the people who like "other" music think gabber sucks.
Simple: Each of us has different tastes in music. Trying to pick "The Best Album" is much like taking a few thousand people to the video store and all agreeing on a movie. It doesn’t work. You have your favorite, I have mine. Lets just keep it to ourselves.
So, What is a DJ?
Tough question. A DJ (disc jockey) takes many forms. The three most common forms are: Radio DJs, Mobile DJs, and Club DJs. All three share the common goal of providing an entertainment for a wide variety of people through various means, mostly however, through music.
A DJ’s job is to combine all the elements necessary for their performance into one fluid package that can be easily swallowed by all of his or her’s listeners. For some DJs this includes talk and games, while for others it means spinning the latest and greatest to the hippest people in town.
All DJs, however, deserve respect for the job they do. This gets really tough among DJs themselves simply because you can’t fit too many ego-inflated heads into one room without some of them bumping into each other (and believe me, the average DJ has an ego-inflated head…). But in the end, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing – providing entertainment. Respect that.
What are the Different Kind of DJs?
There are three major kinds of DJs: Mobile, Radio, and Club.
Mobile DJs are the most common. They generally work parties and special events (i.e.: weddings, birthdays, etc.) onsite. This sort of work usually entails entertaining a wide array of tastes and age groups, as well as a bit of MC’ing.
Radio DJs are the least common. Their task is to make sure there is never any dead air time by filling it with either their words, or music. Again, there is a certain mass appeal that needs to be worked on and being a Mr. Personality is important.
Club DJs can be found, but aren’t nearly as prominent at mobile DJs. They have a very specific clientele (age group wise) and are expected to play the latest and greatest all the time. This sort of Deejaying often requires the most technical know-how on mixing since style and uniqueness are critical to establish a name for yourself and the club you work for. Rave DJs tend to fit into this category because of the similar mixing skills required.
Before we can even get to the interesting stuff, we all have to be speaking the same language. Here are a few terms you should know to communicate with other DJs effectively…
Pitch control: The ability of a device to change the tempo of a song. This is very important if you are beat mixing.
Pitch lock: The ability of a device to change the tempo of a song, without changing the pitch. This lets you drastically speed up songs with vocals without a "chipmunk" effect.
Pitch bend: The temporary changing of pitch to get beats in phase. Vinyl DJs typically use their fingers to speed up or slow down the record by pushing/pulling the record by the label. Some twist the spindle in the center to change the pitch momentarily. CD players offer this as buttons. Once the DJ stops bending the pitch, the decks will automatically snap back to the current pitch control settings. This is necessary since its possible for two songs to be playing at the exact same tempo yet have their beats out of phase. By bending the pitch momentarily, the beats come into phase and the DJ doesn’t have to worry about readjusting the pitch control.
Tempo: The speed of a song. Usually measured in Beats Per Minute (BPM).
Mixers: The essence of a mixer is that it can combine two or more audio signals into one output signal. It should be noted though that most mixers can do much more than just combine signals.
Turntables (alias: TT’s): The proper term for a "record player." Now – if you ever hear anyone say the "rec.. player" term again, you must take the time to either severely hurt them or educate them. Whichever you deem appropriate.
Beats Per Minute (BPM): The number of beats during one minute of a song. An identifier of a song’s tempo.
Cueing: Using your headphones to find the spot you want to start the next song.
Throwing: Giving a record a little push when it starts up so you don’t have any lag time while it gets up to speed. CD players do this by featuring instant start. (normal CD players may take a few tenths of a second before a song starts) Throwing a record nulls the lag time while it accelerates from zero to 33ish RPM. It sounds silly at first but it is actually very critical for beat mixing. (see below)
Cross fader (alias: x-fader, fader): A slider control which moves from one input channel to another in a very smooth fashion. The volume on each channel is inversely proportional to each other, so if the x-fader is completely on the left side, you will only hear the input for that channel. Once you start moving it to the right, you will gradually hear the right channel becoming louder. When the x-fader is in the middle, each channel will be of equal volume. As the x-fader continues to the right, the right channel will approach full volume, and the left channel will diminish.
Beatmixing (alias: beat matching, beat synching, hot mixing, mixing): The art of bringing the beats of two different songs into phase with one another and fading across. For example, if the song the crowd is hearing is 130 BPM, and the next song you want to play is 132- you slow the second song down to 130 BPM using pitch control, and cue it up to the beat. When you are ready to bring the second song into play, throw the record so the beats stay aligned and listen to it on your headphones. MAKE SURE THEY ARE IN SYNC!!! Once you are sure things are in order, use your cross fader to let the new song blend into the old one, and eventually go completely across so only the new song is playing. This will give the illusion that the song never ended. Once you get the hang of getting beats into sync, you will quickly find many more interesting ways to fade in and out of songs.
Decks: A very generalized description of gear used by a DJ to play music. Most often referred to turntables and CD players.
Vinyl (alias: records, wax, 12" (reference to LP), 7" (reference to single)): If you aren’t clear on what a record is, then this probably isn’t the sort of thing you should be doing…
"I want to learn how to DJ? What should I do?"
The single greatest piece of advice that can be given to someone starting out is – PRACTICE! Many aspects of Deejaying are reasonably intuitive and will present themselves the more you practice. The core of being this sort of entertainer is being able to work your music. Learn your songs well, and get your beatmixing down solid. A natural progression will start from there.
The hardest part about writing this document is covering all the different choices available. From my experience and listening to other professional DJs, I’ve learned that most decisions are personal choices that only you can make. If you find yourself unsure about what direction you want to take, examine both for yourself. Its not nearly as easy as someone telling you "decision X is the best way to go," but you will be much more confident in your choice and will have much less room for bad decisions.
The first few questions you have to ask yourself are common amongst beginners, and they are:
- Do I really want to do this? This may seem like a terribly odd question to be asking, but it is something that you need to evaluate carefully. Deejaying requires a lot of time, energy, money, and patience. If you aren’t sure you have these sort of facilities, avoid making any commitments until you are sure.
- What sort of equipment do I need to start with? If you aren’t sure about whether this is something you want to seriously pursue – don’t buy anything. Find a friend who’ll let you use their equipment and practice on it a bit. (Don’t forget to take them out to dinner in exchange!)
Once you’re sure you want to get into this some more, be ready to drop serious money on gear. Professional level gear should run you about$1000 to get started. This will include either a pair of turntables or a pair of CD players, and a mixer. You can use a home stereo as your amps and speakers while you get started.
If you aren’t sure that you’re going to be doing this for the long haul and can’t drop $1000 for equipment, then skimp as much as you can and save for the real stuff once you’re sure. This means getting turntables with minimum features (i.e.: Gemini XL-BD10’s) and a simple mixer. If you’re going to spin CDs, this becomes tough real quick…the minimum priced pitch control CD decks are from Gemini and cost about $250 a piece. They are good starter decks, but moving up to better CD players in the future is something to seriously consider.
Bottom line: Spend the least you can if you aren’t sure. Buy the real stuff as soon as you can afford it and are sure that’s the direction you want to take. And don’t forget to buy a pair of good headphones! You can get them from department stores for about $40 for a decent pair.
CD or VINYL?
There are basically four things to consider when deciding this:
What do you already have? If you have a large quantity of CDs, moving to vinyl probably isn’t the best of choice. There are very few reasons to abandon a large quantity of CDs. The same is true if you already have a lot of vinyl and few CDs. Buying a CD player is probably not the best choice right now. However, don’t let this isolate you from the other in the future. There is always room for a DJ who can work with both mediums.
Style: Some styles are easier to get on one medium than another. This is especially true of underground dance music. If you find yourself spinning a lot of rave oriented material, you may have to move to vinyl simply because most new releases come out on vinyl first. On the other hand, if you are spinning a lot of Top-40 type material, you’ll probably find most of your selection is easiest to get on CD. Every style has their own preference of medium. Choose the one that best suits what you want to do.
Availability: This ties in very closely with style. My only comment with regards to availability is that – you can always find it on either vinyl or CD. It may be harder to find Ace of Base on vinyl than on CD, but it is out there if you look hard enough.
Mixing style: This is where most people get separated in the issue of Vinyl vs. CDs. Each has their own benefit. Here is what Jim had to say on it: "Lets see someone sample as cleanly and start as quickly as a CD! Sure, you can’t scratch, but that’s what the turntables are for. Be more talented, use both. There a lot of times when I can’t get something on CD and have to resort to vinyl, and vice versa. But there are advantages to both, so why aren’t more people willing to take advantage of that???
- You can have more precise mixes with CD’s, so that is an advantage.
- You can scratch with vinyl, so that is an advantage.
- You can do instant starts with CD’s, so that is an advantage.
- You can do spin backs with vinyl, so that is an advantage.
- You can sample a sound and cue back up in an instant with CD’s
- You can hit the stop button on the turntable, so that is an advantage.
- You can fit far more CD’s in on spot, so that is an advantage.
- You can find some really cool tunes on vinyl that aren’t on CD
- You can find a wider variety on CD, so that is an advantage.
- You can cue up a record faster, so that is an advantage.
- You can see the precise time left/advanced on a CD.
Where the hell is this going????? Nowhere. Use both and appreciate advantages from both. The only person who wins in this argument is the one who has mastered both, and is happy with both.
And to sum it all up, Al Weltha said: "The heated debate between the pro-CD and pro-vinyl factions over which is better has all the merit of people who argue over whether their beer tastes great or is less filling. i.e.: Whatever floats your boat works!"
It’s a ‘style thing.’ If you have a preference, GREAT! Use it! If you don’t, then maybe you should TRY a couple of different options before you make up your mind. Your personal solution may depend on the tools you have available. People can often learn a lot by trying something new.
There is more to say on this subject than there is time to write it. Most of what you’ll learn about equipment will come from experience. (Remember: PRACTICE!) Here are a few things that will get you started…
If you are just getting into things and are unsure if you want to be doing this sort of work a year from now, investing into a big "it can do everything" mixer probably isn’t a good idea. There are a lot of good smaller mixers available which fit the bill fine. There is a common misconception that a better mixer will make a better performance. A better mixer will only better a person’s performance once they have the practice and know how to make effective use of their "it can do everything" equipment. Even then, a good DJ doesn’t need it to do everything for a good mix.
My favorite example is when I let a local radio station (KUCI 88.9FM in Irvine, CA – Riders of the Plastic Groove Show) use my mixer for an evening. DJ Ron D Core (a big name in the Los Angeles area) was one of the guest DJ’s for the evening and refused to use the station’s mixer that had circular faders. (He said it was like using a washing machine.) My very simple Atus 200 sat between his turntables and let him mix one of the best sets I had ever heard. Believe me when I say the mixer had nothing to do with it.
My point: Equipment never makes up for talent.
A few names to start with are:
MTX. Very few poor reviews have been posted concerning the unit and it seems to be a popular unit for many DJs. It is mid-priced ($200-$500) and offers all of the elements needed in a good DJ mixer. Nothing flashy, just solid performance.
Gemini mixers are a definite consideration for the starting DJ. They offer a wide array of mixers from entry level to professional and most DJs who use them seem to be pleased with their performance.
Radio Shack is just bad news. Within the last three years of my net presence, I have only heard ONE good comment about their equipment and staff. (This comes from frequenting many different newsgroups, including many technical groups). Their mixers are the best priced, but it many not be a unit you’ll want to keep for a long time…
Vestax is better known for the CD players. I haven’t heard much about them or their mixers, but you should just know that they are out there. Somewhere…
The Rane MP-24 is a high-end mixer constructed with the professional in mind. At $1000 for a single unit, they are the most expensive DJ mixers available, but Rane has managed to justify the price tag with an impressive array of features and professional components. There is an audible difference when using one.
These features include: ALP faders for clean transitions, four independent outputs, transformer isolated light trigger output (so you won’t lose your sound if the light chaser cable shorts), a loaner program in case your unit goes bad (although it has been noted that redundancy is a key feature), and last but not least, a feature to disable the MIC from tape outputs (this allows you to use the MIC during a performance, but not have the taping reflect these announcements). 48-hour repair turnaround is also available.
A note about sampling mixers: Sampling mixers have received mixed reviews in regards to their quality. Some have found their quality to be fine while others complain that they are too spotty. It seems a lot of people agree that the samplers are typically good enough for drum loops but not good enough for vocals.
The features you need to look for in a DJ level CD player include:
- Instant start
- Fast cueing
- Pitch control/Pitch bend
- Easy to read display
Features that are nice to have:
- Pitch lock
The choices you have are:
Some basic common tidbits of information:
- The smallest unit of sound on a CD is a frame. One frame is equal to 1/75 sec.
- Instant start means a start time in the hundredths of a second. Claims of instant start "In under 1 second!" are bogus.
- This article doesn’t consider a CD player to be a DJ CD player unless it has pitch control. Although there are many DJs who use traditional CD players for their work, that sort of list would be better suited for Consumer Reports to tackle.)
Suggestions for CD-Player Care: (derived from the Denon CD-Player Tips 1.01 by Joncas D)
Although these were pulled from a Denon specific document, most of the suggestions are applicable to all CD players.
- Rack mount the unit – this will result in much less physical abuse on the unit In the case of the Pioneer unit, keep it in a coffin.
- Keep it clean – Dust and the sensitive electronics inside the unit don’t get along.
- Use sticky on one side clean lamination sheets to protect the display from scratches.
- Support the back of your rack-mounted unit with a sturdy brace made of metal or wood. This will help reduce skipping caused by vibration.
- Use three units of rack space instead of two and fill the gaps with foam pillow. This reduces vibration even more.
- Make sure your CDs are clean if you find cue times getting excessive.
Operational Tips and Difficulties
Try turning the unit off and then back on. Most problems fix themselves this way.
Don’t bend your controller cables (if you have any) tightly. This causes errors when the units communicate with each other.
Denon’s good reputation in the pro-audio market reaches well into the DJ market as well. All of their products are solid performers and are often the standard by which other units are compared.
On the lowest end if the DN-1000F. This is a single unit CD player with instant start, +/- 8% pitch, pitch bend (+/- 12%), and frame cueing. It’s a solid performer and is extremely easy to carry around. There are two special plugs in the back to connect it with another DN-1000F and to connect it with an RC-35 adapter (see below). The open/close button on the tray is protected which means the unit will not eject a playing CD. This kindly keeps clueless people around you from stopping a playing song. The CD must be either cued or paused to be ejected. Last but not least is the self locking transport. The laser pickup automatically locks in place when the power is shut off.
Right next to the DN-1000F is the DN-2000F. This unit is no longer manufactured but there are still quite a few out there. The DN-2000F is essentially two DN-1000F’s packaged in one convenient box. Both CD players are in one box, which only has a power switch, and eject buttons on it. The controls for it are all on the RC-35, which comes as part of the package.
The RC-35 is a remote control for the DN-1000F and DN-2000F players. This allows you to mount the actual units in your coffin (often seen a little above the knees) and keep the actual controls (pitch, start, stop, track change, cueing) and backlit display right next to your mixer. This unit comes as part of the DN-2000F package and is required to use the DN-2000F.
The DN-1000F has all of these controls on the face of the unit already and therefore does not need the remote control for operation. However, it is handy if you want to mount the DN-1000F somewhere else and control it from the area around your mixer. Since the DN-2000F has been discontinued, the DN-2000F Mk II has been released. It is very similar in structure to the DN-2000F but offers many new controls to making mixing a touch easier. The display on the RC-35 is now active matrix instead of backlit making it easier to view from different angles, the power switch has a protector around it to keep idiots from turning everything off, instant start has been made a touch faster at 0.01 seconds from the old 0.03 seconds.
As a replacement for the DN-2700F, Denon has released the DN-2500 as its top of the line unit. The DN-2500 offers all the features of the DN-2000F Mk II as well as three pitch ranges, 4%, 8%, and 16%, a preset mode, a jog wheel for cueing, sleep function, index search, skip search, sampler with seamless looping, master tempo, brake effect (similar to turning a turntable off and letting the record glide to a stop), and a voice reducer.
It should be noted that these units use plastic CD trays. BE CAREFUL! They are $100 to repair and are NOT covered under warranty if broken. Clubs should mount the transport high to avoid drawers getting squashed by belt buckles when open. Mobiles should be careful!
Unlike the Denon series, the Pioneer CDJ-500 was meant to resemble a turntable more than a CD player. The unit fits nicely in a coffin space originally for the Technics SL-1200 and all the operations (including disc load) is done from the top instead of the side. The pitch slider goes +/- 10% and includes pitch lock. Instead of using buttons for cueing and pitch bend, the unit uses a large jog wheel to control the CD that is supposed to resemble the feel of manipulating vinyl. (Whether or not it resembles vinyl is up for debate, however, many say that it is easier to manipulate than the Denons.) It can also display CD-G discs and karaoke discs. The only noticeable downfall for the unit is it’s larger price tag. If you have the kind of money it takes to get one of these, go for it.
Gemini’s recent addition to the Pro-DJ market is the CD-9500 and CD-4700, units that are in direct competition to the Denon DN-2000F/Mk II and DN-1000F respectively. The CD-9500 features frame level cueing (1/75th of a second), a jog wheel allowing for six different search speeds, instant start, two disc bays, a remote control so you can mount the unit away from the controls, and the standard +/- 8% pitch control. Because it has only recently been introduced, we don’t know its long-term stability, however, initial reactions to the unit have been very favorable.
Cute features include a protector on the power switch so you don’t accidentally turn the unit off, and eject buttons, which will not eject the disc while it is playing. The CD-4700 is just like the CD-9500 except it sports only one disc bay and no remote control. An ideal backup unit or a good way to start buying equipment if you can’t afford a 9500 on the first shot. The nicest feature of the Gemini units is their price tag. Much friendlier than the Denon units with comparable features.
One feature that Denon has up on Gemini is the pitch bend buttons – the Gemini units only go +/-8% whereas the Denon units go +/-12%. The extra speed on the Denon units are useful when you’ve pitched up +8% on a track and need to push it just a little faster to get the beats in sync. On the other hand, the Gemini’s multi-speed search is terribly useful when seeking through long tracks. These are units worth checking out.
Protecting your CDs
Theft is a serious problems DJs have, especially with CDs. Because of their smaller size, it’s much easier to slip them out of parties, clubs, etc. and is much harder to prove ownership of afterward. There are, thankfully, a few things that you can do to help protect your discs from theft. A simple solution is to notch the cases. Unfortunately, this is a common practice and may not do you much good if the CD inside gets swiped.
Another option is to use an exacto knife and carve your name or other ID information into the clear center of the disc. Many used CD stores will require that the seller produce identification if the disc they bring it has an ID number (i.e.: drivers license) on it. A more noticeable solution is a special unremovable front clear adhesive with your name on it.
Depending on whether you are just starting or have decided to go pro, you have three choices:
- Gem Sound
There are many other people who make turntables, however, they’re a reason we will only cover these three models. If you have a question about a specific model not covered here, post it to the forum – that’s what it’s about. Starting DJs who aren’t sure if they want to drop $400/unit for a professional turntable should look into the low-end DJ turntables from Gemini. These units aren’t the best in the world, but in terms of bang for the buck, they’re a good option.
The Gemini XL-BD10 is a belt driven turntable that can be purchased for less than $100/unit. It has +/-8% pitch control so you can do true beat mixes with it. This sort of turntable is fine for learning how to work your music and get the hang of putting together a good mix. Gem Sound makes a line of turntables that are much similar to the Gemini series, and according to a Gemini dealer, GemSound is actually a bit easier to deal with. Another option for the beginning DJ.
The Technics SL-1200 Mk II and SL-1210 Mk II turntables are considered professional level equipment. There is a common misconception that the only difference between the 1200 and 1210 is their color, however, both models have been seen in both silver and black. The true difference is in the 1210’s ability to switch voltages for use in European countries. Both decks sport a high torque motor and use direct drive instead of belt drive. This results in a faster spin up time thereby providing means to do instant starts. The pitch slider allows for +/- 8% pitch and is extremely accurate. They are also known to hold their value for long periods of time due to their sturdy construction.
Gemini XL-1800Q IV is Gemini’s attempt at the 1200 level market. It features anti-skate adjustment, pitch control, adjustable tone arm, feather-touch start/stop, strobe illuminator, pop-up target light, XLR lamp adapter, and a S-shaped tone arm. The units are cheaper than the Technics, however, many say that they aren’t as pleasant to work with. If you’re tight for money, get behind a pair and feel them yourself before making a decision.
(Special thanks to Aaron Grier for sharing this information on the BPM mailing list)
- Dirt usually manifests itself as crackles, pop, and increased noise, whereas a worn-out stylus typically sounds like the high-end has dropped out.
- The best record juices won’t leave any residue on the records.
- The worst ones will leave a layer of "gunk" in the grooves, and possibly draw plasticisers out of the vinyl itself making it brittle. The folks on rec.audio.high-end have shared cleaning recipes that generally consist of 75% water (deionized, filtered), 25% ethanol (everclear), and some photo-flo (wetting agent).
- For those of you who are more interested in pre-made cleaning agent, there have been positive reports with Disc washer D4 juice and a pad.
- Another suggestion is to use rubbing alcohol and felt cleaner.
- Once the record is clean, place a few drops of WD40 on the corners to return the moisture to it. Remember to do this last step VERY carefully.
- Don’t forget that bad needles can be the cause of record damage as well. Protect your vinyl – replace needles every few months. Your vinyl is your lifeline in this industry, take care of it.
Needle Care and Tone Arm Adjustment
(Written by DJ Ellis Dee)
- Mount the needle carefully, plug into mixer and make sure you attach the grounding wire to eliminate hum and noise.
- Back off main tone arm weight all the way to end.
- Move tone arm in position as if you are going to put the needle on the record. Don’t worry if it the tone arm sticks in the upward position – remember: the weight is all the way back.
- Slowly turn the weight until the tone arm balances parallel with the deck. Make sure it’s exactly balanced and level.
- Adjust the skating so the tone arm doesn’t sway to either direction but just sits there perfectly still. This will probably be "0".
- Move the black ring on the very front of the main weight until "0" is at the top. You are now at 0 grams tracking weight.
- Adjust the height ring of the tone arm assembly to about 3 so "3" matches up with the red line. Now lock the assembly down with the locking lever. You can mess with the height later once you feel more comfortable mixing.
Although it depends on what style of music you plan to work with and whether or not you plan to scratch, a good starting place for the tracking weight is 3 grams. To set the weight, move the main tone arm weight counter clockwise until it reads 3 at the top. Make sure to put your finger underneath the tone arm so it doesn’t it the platter and damage the needle. The more weight you track at, the better the needle stays in the groove. However, the additional weight will wear down both the needle and the records. Everything is a trade off…
Now you’re ready to go!
It’s a good idea to buy a bubble level (easily available at hardware supply stores) and adjust the rubber feet to insure your decks are parallel to the ground. This helps keep the needle in the grooves.
by DJ Ellis Dee Edited by Steve Shah
Steve’s Legal Notes:
Remember: It is illegal to sell other peoples work. In the case of mixtapes, reselling without acquiring permission from the song’s publisher is a definite no-no. On the other hand, it is legal to make Demo tapes. This falls under "fair use" of copyright law since the focus would no longer be the music as much as it will be on your mixing (i.e.: submission to a club for possible employment, etc.) Should you decide to sell your tapes, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
And back to DJ Ellis Dee….
Always master your mixtape on DAT. If you don’t own a DAT, rent one. A poorly recorded mixtape will reflect on your ability as a DJ, possibly giving you a bad name without good cause. Once you have a perfect master DAT (which is no easy task, mind you) you have to ask yourself some questions about marketing, money, and how big of a DJ you think you really are.
All of these center around the question: "How many mixtapes can I sell?" After all, do you really want to be stuck with 500 mixtapes in your closet? Your two choices are to dub them off yourself (for low to medium volume) or to retain the services of a professional tape duplicator. Regardless of the route you take, always use chrome position tapes for copies. Normal and metal position tapes are of inadequate quality.
The home recording method is where you boy the blank chrome tapes and make the labels/J-cards yourself. You’ll need a dual tape deck (preferably several decks) and a LOT of time. Since you’ll need to constantly rewind and replay your original, you’ll want to press your DAT to CD which costs about $40, however, you’ll then have a permanent master which will not degrade in quality. Once you have the tapes, you’ll need to think about the J-cards (the inserts which show through the tape’s plastic cover.) Believe it or not, good J-cards a big selling point. Spend the time and money (if you need to have someone else do it) to make clean, well designed cards. Color, of course, being much preferred. With completed, ready to sell tapes, you begin your marketing.
Remember that there are a million DJs out there and every one of them if your competition. Do you feel well enough known that people will recognize your name in a store and ask for your tape without goading? If not, its time to begin getting as much exposure as you can by doing as many events as you can.
As much as we’d like to deny this, there is a substantial amount of in-store politics when it comes to record shops. You need to learn how to get on the good side of the people working behind the counter so they will recommend your tape to people when asked. Possibly even recommend your tape without being asked.) Just being a good DJ isn’t enough, unfortunately, so giving the employees free tapes is a good way to make new friends. It’s not the most pleasant way to acquire business (giving away free tapes), but in the long run, you’ll find the benefit will cover such costs…
This section has been written by William Kelly, minor editing by Steve Shah, additions provided by Al Weltha. Note: This contract is meant mostly for mobile DJs, although I’m sure a club DJ can learn a thing or two to help protect themselves.
DON’T LEAVE ROOM FOR LOOPHOLES.
If you are lax on the exact rules, then you could leave spots wide open for your customers to bring up in case of problems. Check and re-check your contract. Think of worst-case scenarios, and would the customer be able to weasel out of the contract in those cases? My main generic suggestions for a good contract are:
- The date that you are scheduled to perform.
- The time at which you are scheduled to begin and to end.
- The place that it will be held.
With these three, they can’t say, "Well, we need you to start an hour earlier, play an hour later, move it up to next Saturday, and do it 100 miles away from where we first told you." That’s all covered.
- The price that you will pay for this time, and how much it will be if your crowd chooses to go into overtime.
Once again, be very thorough. If you charge extra for the drive over or the setup fees, be sure and include them in the contract. ANY money that you want to be paid, include in the contract. Seal any of those gaps.
- The deposit you must (or may) pay to reserve the date is:
You can require a deposit, but I personally don’t. HOWEVER…
- If you cancel the event, we keep the deposit (if one was placed) OR we charge a cancellation fee (if one wasn’t).
I charge a $50 cancellation fee, but think I might raise it.
- The deadline for the payment is this date…
This way they can’t keep saying "Well, we’re working on it." I give them 2 weeks after the event, normally. Even the longest of paperwork should be done by that time. In special circumstances, I’ll change this area of a contract.
- If we do not receive payment by that date, we charge $X per DAY past the due date.
Put this in big, bold print. I threaten $15 per day late fees, but I only really charge it if the customer is EXTREMELY late and/or if the customer is just someone really annoying. I’ve only charged a customer ONCE. If they see this on the contract, they’ll usually get the payment to you on time…
- Your company/establishment will be held responsible for damage/theft of equipment or damage to DJ company employees caused by crowd members, faulty wiring, etc… [This should take several sentences.] Also, put in something about how they must provide "adequate security" for the event.
This will make the customer know that you’re serious about the state of your equipment, and that they’d better keep a grip on the situation and be prepared to take responsibility for their crowd’s actions. This is really useful if one or a handful of people cause some problems, because the company will have to make a choice between "hiding" who really did it and paying for the cost themselves, or actually making the effort to find those who were responsible and making THEM pay the costs. By experience (where a drunken college girl knocked down our mirrored ball at a college-sponsored dance), I can tell you they’ll normally go for the latter.
Note that the tough part of that rule is the "theft" part; it’s hard to prove that you "brought" a record or CD and that it was "gone" when you left. Thankfully, I’ve never had that happen. Also, I learned from the earlier damage experience to put tape around the hook on my mirrored ball!!
- We won’t be responsible for damage to your facilities from OUR equipment.
This is pretty much covering your butt, and if you DO know of something that you have damaged that could have been avoided, it’s a good idea to go ahead and pay for it so that you don’t get the reputation of being a troublemaker. However, if they have bad wiring and your stuff blows something out, they can’t say "Well, it was bad, but your equipment threw it over the edge and thus you have to pay for rewiring the whole building."
Do NOT assume that just because you put a "not liable" clause in your contract that you are protected from your own mistakes. You CANNOT disclaim your own mistakes and be protected from lawsuit. Acts of negligence CANNOT be written out of a legal agreement. The only way you are truly covered is to outline the what-ifs in cases where YOU don’t perform as promised. For example: No-shows, equipment failure, illness, etc. should be dealt with. "I forgot" is negligence and *could* get you sued for the entire cost of the reception REGARDLESS of the language you put in your contract.
I’ll give you one more piece of advice: ALWAYS be honest with the customer. Make your contracts very clear, and to the point. Make sure you give it NECESSARY detail, but don’t try to be deceptive. Plus, make thorough checks for grammar and spelling errors. They can really hurt the customer’s respect for you, especially when they’re in a legal document.
Steve Rothkin’s DJ Info
Steve posted his notes from being a DJ onto alt.music.makers.dj and everyone who read it claimed it to be a tremendous help to them. He has since updated it with new tidbits of information, but it isn’t a article. It’s actually more like a technical reference manual, this article being more like an introductory guide. I recommend you take the time to download the latest version of it and read it.
Hearing Damage and DJs
A special thanks to all the people who contributed to this section of the article. The information is invaluable to all DJs no matter what their niche is. The people I’ve managed to credit for their contribution are: DJ AJ, KODIAX, ProformDJ
A DJ’s hearing is the ultimate gift. Without it, not only can they no longer perform, they miss out on a lot of life too. It’s important that you think about your hearing from the start – not after the damage may have been done. The typical nightclub DJ plays at around the 100-decibel range. Based on the Ontario Health and Safety Act, this means a maximum exposure time of approximately 2 hours. (See table below) Realize of course that these levels are coming from the speakers – the headphones are another story altogether. Research has shown a hearing loss of 10dB at 4kHz after five years with 0.35% of this listening population losing enough hearing to impair speech intelligibility.
There are three kinds of hearing loss:
Acoustic Trauma: This causes immediate and permanent hearing damage. This happens when a person is exposed to a sudden and excessive noise. (i.e.: an explosion, 140 > dB)
Temporary Threshold Shift: This is a noise induced chemical imbalance in the inner ear and will go away when time is spent away from the noise source.
Permanent Threshold Shift: This is noise induced hearing loss caused by damage to the cochlea, an organ covered with tiny hairs and nerves. The higher frequencies are where this type of hearing loss is first noted because the hairs for those frequencies are more fragile. This is the usual type of damage that leads people to believe that they are "getting used to the noise." What is really happening is that the damaged ear can no longer hear the damaging frequencies as well and therefore the perceived volume is lower.
So what can you do to help protect your hearing?
- Position the DJ setup behind the dance floor speakers. It’s obviously not nearly as noisy behind the speakers as it is in front of them.
- Earplugs. Surprisingly, there are many earplug options for musicians that protect ears while allowing for a clean enough sound to effectively play their instruments. If you DJ regularly and are exposed to loud noises for extended periods of time, you should see an audiologist to make sure your hear remains in check. Customized earplugs can also be made for a perfect fit in your ear.
- Nutritional supplements. Research found correlations between serum magnesium levels and noise induced permanent hearing threshold shifts. What does that all mean? Go down to your drug store and buy a bottle of magnesium supplements. You’ll be less likely to receive permanent ear damage once you do. For beginning DJs, train yourself to mix and monitor at very low volume levels. You’ll find that there is a natural tendency to turn the headphones and/or monitors too loud while learning to mix thereby requiring the same (possibly damaging) level once you’ve gotten the knack for it.
- If you’re working in a club where the dance floor is overpowering your monitor, turn the monitor off. With a little practice and warm-up you can learn to compensate for the delay created by signal processors, remote amplifiers, and echo.
- Leave the headphone slightly off your ear to soften the impact. If you’ve learned your music well enough, you don’t need to hear the music clearly, just well enough to discern the beats.
- These simple tips will greatly help you keep your hearing. A cause most definitely worth the time and effort.
The Ontario’s Health and Safety Act
Sound Level (in dB) Max Allowable Exposure (in Hours)
- 90 8
- 92 6
- 95 4
- 97 3
- 100 2
- 102 1.5
- 105 1
- 110 0.5
- 115 0.25
- Over 115 No Allowable Exposure
A big special thanks to: Simon Leyland, Dave Schwartz, Michael Erb, and Rob Clark.
Weddings are probably one of the most frequent DJ gigs going. Thankfully, alt.music.makers.dj has a few seasoned professionals who have shared their insight on the matter. Before getting into the internals of Deejaying a wedding, you need to ask yourself a very important question:
Are you ready for the responsibility?
The DJ has a VERY important role in weddings today. They need to make announcements, set the tempo, and manage the structure. There is a great deal of focus placed on the DJ (almost equal to that of the bride and groom) which means lack of performance on your part will result in a wedding gone flat. Depending on your relationship to the bride and groom this could mean anything from being sued to losing a friend. Be sure you understand what it means to be in this role BEFORE taking it.
Some additional things to think about before taking on the event are:
Do you have the appropriate gear? This includes speakers, amps, and microphones. They need to be powerful and sturdy enough for the number of people attending. With the speakers, be sure they are heavy enough so they don’t tip over with people jumping up and down on the dance floor.
Do you have appropriate music? This is especially true if you typically work parties and clubs/raves. Remember: You’ll need to appeal to a diverse group of people here, most of whom will still think C&C Music Factory’s "Gonna Make You Sweat" is the hot thing on the dance floor.
Are you comfortable talking on the microphone? You will need to (at the very least) announce the arrival of wedding party followed by introductions of each couple.
Appropriate attire: If you don’t already own a tux or other appropriate formal wear, be ready to rent one.
Once you are sure you are ready to take on the task, you need to prepare. There are many things you need to be aware of BEFORE getting to the wedding to insure things go smoothly. These things can typically be found from asking the person(s) responsible for organizing the wedding. Most often this is the bride and groom, however, if it is not, you may want to let the bride and groom know what the plan is. You don’t want ANY surprises on the wedding day itself.
Questions you need to ask include:
- What is the desired order of the event? (see suggestions below)
- What will be your role as the MC (Master of Ceremony)?
- What songs would they like played for their "Special Dances" i.e.: First Dance, Parent/Child dance, etc.
Any special song requests?
While discussing the reception music with the bride and groom, be sure to keep in mind the accessibility of a song to all the people there. If they have any odd or unusual requests (i.e.: a track from U2’s War album) you may want to ask them to rethink it since it isn’t very danceable and most people will not be able to recognize it. You may also want to ask if an odd or unusual request has any sentiment attached to it. If so, you could make an announcement that the song is special (be sure to mention why, i.e.: song playing when they first kissed, etc.) before playing it.
While asking for input you may find that one relative that thinks they know enough to do your job and may feel it necessary to tell you how to handle things. This can be especially troublesome during the reception itself. Don’t ignore them altogether, but take their input with a grain of salt. Be interested in what they have to say about the people there more than their input on what songs to play.
On the Day Itself
Be ready to work. Being the DJ doesn’t mean being a human jukebox, it means having to read the crowd, pick the right order, and guide the energy. (Mix alcohol into this and you’ll need to guide the drunks too.)
Note: Read the section on contracts first. You should have a contract between you and the wedding party agreed upon early. Especially take note of the time requirements – How long do they want you to play? To setup, you’ll want to arrive at least one hour early. This gives you enough time to setup and do a sound check. If you plan on doing any beat mixing, you may want to try a small one to get a feel for the acoustics and delays from the speakers to you. You will also want to get a feel for what "loud" is for the room. Be sure to test the microphone too. There should not be any feedback and the volume should be easy to control. Don’t forget to bring plenty of duct tape and a pair of scissors! You’ll need to tape cables to the floor. Also be sure to bring power strips and extension cords.
Tip: Bring two pairs of shoes. A pair for moving gear around and a pair for the reception itself. This will allow you to move your gear without as much risk of slipping and/or dropping things. Be sure to change into the appropriate shoes before people arrive. If your gear is not in coffins (although they should be), be sure to tie the cables in the back of your gear together so they appear clean and neat. Appearance is very important.
Once the people begin arriving, you’ll need to play background dinner music. The ambient noise isn’t so much to annoy you as it is to make people more comfortable talking with one another. Preferred music for this sort of thing is instrumental and very light. Jazz and new age is ideal (i.e.: Kenny G and Enya). The occasional slow big band tune is fine too. Use good judgment – the music should only be background noise and easy to ignore. You should be ready with at least 2 hours of music, preferably 3. (Just in case…)
Unless asked to, be sure to have enough different stuff for variety. You may be surprised at who pays attention to the music. As things get started, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the wedding party. Most people will arrive before they do which means they’ll be crowd to contend with as well. When you see them arrive, greet them and let them know that you’re ready. Perform the introductions. Remember to speak slowly – they’ll be photos being taken as this happens. Have some music mixed into this as well, but again, keep it mellow and instrumental. The typical order of introductions are: Grandparents, Parents, Bridesmaids & Ushers, Flower Girl & Ring Bearer, Maid/Matron of honor & Best Man, Bride & Groom.
In between the beginning of dinner music and the dancing is the mish mash of eating, pictures, announcements, toasts, etc. Be sure to have these worked out in advance as to who will be saying what and what they’ll be saying. Here is a possible "order of operations," however, be ready to throw this out and allow for regional and family differences in how things are done. Be flexible, but insist that the order be agreed upon ahead of time.
Announce that dinner is being served. If there is a blessing to be given, this is the time for it. If it is a buffet style, you’ll need to "release the tables." This means explaining to the crowd to come to the buffet one table at a time so there isn’t a excessive line. Suggest a order (i.e.: tables that go left to right). Remember that the bride and groom go first, then the families, followed by everyone else.
As the dinner ends, the best man should announce the toast.
Cake cutting and serving. Ask the couple if they are ready for their first dance (done eating, etc.) If so, announce it. The song for their first dance should already be coordinated.
Announce the parent/child dance. Be sure there are parents involved with this before announcing it. It would be very awkward should someone’s parents be deceased and there not be a matching parent. This should be figured out BEFORE the actual wedding day. Open up the floor for family and friends for a slow dance. If there are enough people dancing, you may want to let it go for two songs.
Announce the dollar dance. Have at least 5-10 songs ready for this since you don’t know how long this will last. The first song for the dollar dance may be something that the bride and groom select.
Announce the garter/bouquet toss. Have appropriate music for this, esp. for the garter toss. Typically "The Stripper" is played, however, there have been some people using alternate songs such as the Mission Impossible theme. You may want to ask the bride and groom about this before playing it.
Open the floor up for everyone to dance. The opening of the floor is a big deal and you’re going to need a clincher song to get everyone onto the floor. The song needs to appeal to the young AND old so stick to classics from disco or rock. Something that everyone knows and is comfortable with. Up-tempo is important. Include rock’n’roll megamixes since they tend to cover a lot of favorites and will get everyone up and dancing. This is when you NEED to watch the floor like a hawk. See what the people respond to and what turns them off. This will help guide you in picking songs to play for remainder of the evening.
This is where no one can really tell you what to do. Every crowd is a little different and will respond differently to the music. Your ability to read the crowd and pick the right songs to play is critical to keeping the tempo of the party going.
Depending on the contract you signed with the bride and groom, you’ll need to be ready for anywhere from 2-4 hours of dance music. Its rare you’ll need more than that, however, should the contract call for longer play you’ll want to be ready for it.
Remember: You need to play songs to satisfy everyone – not a trivial task. The guests may have travelled a long distance to get there and spent money on a present. If they don’t like the music you are playing, they aren’t going to have a good time. The best thing to do is to play as many requests as possible (as long as they are danceable!). Encourage requests early on.
Assuming a "normal" wedding crowd, keep the music recognizable, keep mixing up the styles and don’t neglect to play an adequate amount of slow tunes (more of them earlier for the older guests). Perhaps every 4th or 5th song should be slow. Many times, slow songs will pull the older crowd onto the floor. Use this opportunity and follow up a slow song with a good oldie to keep them dancing.
Beatmixing: If you can do it, by all means, use this powerful tool. It’s a great way to keep the flow on the floor. It’s also a good way for people who are otherwise uncomfortable dancing to feel the beat and keep the same beat for a few songs at a stretch. If you can’t beatmix, try to arrange your sets so the BPMs are similar to one another in a set. i.e.: if you’re doing a dance set that starts with a 120BPM song, keep the next track about the same BPM. This will keep people from tripping over themselves. Surprisingly, this applies to slow dances too.
Switching styles: While the floor may seem to be full with the disco set, allowing it to last too long will likely make your crowd bored. Be ready to switch styles after a handful of songs. When switching styles, open up the next set with something energetic (unless of course its a slow set) to try and pull some of the people who are sitting down back onto the floor.
People breakdown: You’ll find that the older crowd will leave earlier than the younger crowd. Watch for who is staying on the dance floor and who is leaving. As the evening wears on, cater to the people who are on the floor, which most likely means more contemporary tunes. This is a great time to let some of the odder (but danceable) requests through.
The Macarena: We all love to hate it. Including the guests. But play it and watch the floor fill. Unless explicitly asked not to play it by the bride and groom, play it! Same goes for other line dancing songs – its popular to dislike it, but you’ll find more people on the floor dancing to it than any other time. (including the so-called old people.)
And…. DON’T FORGET TO READ THE CROWD!!!
Some Closing Notes on Weddings: Remember that a wedding is (in theory) a once in a lifetime event for the bride in groom. You can either be the source of fond memories or evil ones – understand that responsibility before you take on the task. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding.
Resurrected from an old thread long dead on http://groups.google.com/group/alt.music.makers.dj mixed by Steve Shah, who closed it with this bit of wisdom: "Always remember, it’s a great big disco world…" – Information Society