If you want to become a professional DJ there sure will be a lot of tasks in front of you but the simplest and easiest way to just start tackling it all is to get a laptop, download a software and start DJing! Learning how to DJ with just a laptop isn’t going to be easy as most of the software will be new to you and you will take some time to adjust to all the options and DJ lingo but if you follow some basic principles and advice you won’t have trouble finding your way further down the road of DJing. Trust me, in no time you will find yourself scratching a great DJ controller at a party full of your friends!
To get started DJing with just a laptop there will be a few things that you might need. The first and most essential thing is a DJ software to enter your songs into. The best ones for that currently are Traktor and Serato. If you want to enhance your sound and plug-in capabilities, get an external audio interface. That will allow you to plug in microphones, speakers, and other audio gear on a later stage of your DJ career.
In this article I will introduce you to the fundamentals of becoming a DJ with just a laptop and show you what other will you need in the future if you want to up your game at some point. There are going to be things you will be hearing for the first time but don’t let that scare you. Every unknown hobby we dive into has this moment when it all seems unfamiliar but the more you dwell into it the more comfortable you start feeling when dealing with the matter. Anyway, let’s begin this guide, shall we?
As with everything else there always is a market leader. Well, in this case there are two:
Those two DJ programs are very similar as to what they can do but look and feel quite differently from each other which will ultimately be the deciding factor for you to start using one of them. In their websites there are options to download the programs in order to try them out. Personally, I prefer Traktor over Serato as it looks better (to me) and at this point I am way too used to it to make any changes.
The basic function of the DJ software is to allow you to:
- Load up songs
- Mix them (in the program’s decks)
- Slice/Loop sections
- Trigger samples
- Add and edit effects
I’ve talked in greater extent about these aspects in this dedicated article on the topic. Both these DJ programs have built-in options to analize your track and give you information about its BPM (tempo) and the musical key it is in. If you add a new track to the playlist, the program will also sync it with the currently playing one to make one smooth transition. There will be a time when you will make way cooler song transitions but it isn’t at the beginning of your DJ career. Just stick to the basics and emphasize more on your playlists and crowd reading.
Unlike Traktor, Serato offers you a Lite version which is sort of a demo and is free to download at their website. Otherwise, both programs are priced pretty competitively at around a hundred dollars. If you are on a tight budget then you might want to check out some of the free DJ apps such as Djay, Virtual DJ Home, and Edjing. Those are good enough for basic DJ functions and are good emergency saves if you don’t have time to prepare or buy a special program for a sudden event (like your best friend wanting you to DJ the wedding).
Pro Tip: If you want a 2-in-1 program which will act both as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and a DJ controller, go for Ableton Live. It is great for DJs who spend a lot of time in the studio recording various songs but also want something for the times when they are outperforming.
There are additional hardware items that will make your life easier and also boost your production quality. Those are:
- A Good Mouse
- A MIDI Keyboard
- External Audio Interface
- Headphones or Monitors
- A Great Controller/Mixer
Of course, none of this is truly necessary to be able to start DJing. As I said, for those first few steps you won’t need anything else but a good laptop and a good DJ software. Until you get familiar with the software, try not to get additional hardware. That will just distract you and probably overwhelm you when you try to study it all at once. Treat this as a step by step process. First you get the laptop and software, then you start adding a comfortable mouse with multiple controls, a sound card for better input and output quality. Once that is done, you can add microphones and external monitors to the mix.
One thing that you will end needing at some point is a DJ controller. There are multiple controllers out there and most of them have built-in mixers. In fact, in the DJ world controllers and mixers are often taken as synonyms.
If you live in an apartment I suggest getting a pair of good studio headphones. That will allow you to listen closely to your mixes and analyze them without worrying about waking up the neighbour’s baby. Monitors are a great option as they give you a good idea of what the sound will actually sound like to the people who listen to your mix but they are loud and often expensive. All those things cannot go directly to your laptop (besides some of the headphones) and that is why you need the sound card. Monitors, mixers, controllers, headphones, microphones – it all goes through it.
Some Additional Tips
Always consider the quality of your tracks. MP3s are good for home parties but if you want to step up your game you should be looking for a better sounding song format such as WAV or FLAC. If you cannot do that, at least get MP3s with a quality of 320kbps. For reference, MP3s you get from Amazon or iTunes are 256 kbps which sound okay on headphones but will sound really flat when played through a decent club audio system. Use stores such as Beatport, Juno, Bleep, or Boomkat to get your songs from as they offer the highest qualities.
Pro Tip: SoundCloud is a good source for legally downloading tracks which sound great. They will be enough to get you started with DJing and mixing at first.
Another tip I can’t emphasize enough on is to learn the keyboard shortcuts for your DJ program. That will save you time, energy, and nerves over the course of your career and will make your work far more efficient.
Last but not least, if you want to truly experience the laptop-only DJ feeling, get a good laptop stand that will hold up well even against pushing and other sorts of stress on it. Adjust the stand to be at a level where you won’t have to bend to reach it. That way you can dance and have fun without tiring yourself too much throughout the night.
What Laptop Is Best For DJing?
This greatly depends on your budget but I’d suggest getting an Apple MacBook Pro. Those are lightweight, durable laptops which don’t crash as often as the window machines and look reputable. No offence to other brands but no other laptop looks as much as a fashion statement as the MacBook Pro. If you cannot afford a new apple from Apple I have great news for you. Their older models are still just as good for most of the DJ purposes. They are built like tanks and don’t age as fast as Windows laptops. Just get a used one for a far lower price and enjoy almost the same benefits as the new one would bring you.
How Do I Get Started As A DJ?
In case this article hasn’t narrowed it down to a single start point it is good to make it clear. The first and usually the only thing you need to start DJing is just a laptop. Get one and trust me – everything else will become secondary. Once you improve you can widen your gear choice to a great DJ mixer, audio interface, sound systems, etc.
Learning how to be a DJ with just a laptop isn’t an easy task but it is the first step that every DJ must go through. Just follow my instructions on this article and you will be more than set for your epic beginning! Get a proper laptop, choose the right software for you, get a cheap sound card and you will have anything a novice DJ needs. If you enjoy my tips and want to learn more about studios, recordings, and DJ techniques, check out the “Professional Tips” section of the site.