As I talked about in a previous article, DJing can be an expensive hobby. And there are reasons why that is the case, including the fact that many aspiring DJs buy a lot of crap that they do not need. In fact, I have seen time and time again how aspiring DJs focus on getting the hottest, most technologically advanced apparatuses out there instead of focusing on what’s really important: essentials.
That is the reason why I created this article: I wanted to talk about what gear & equipment is essential and what isn’t, and what you should be spending money on and what you shouldn’t. In short, consider this an essential equipment guide for beginner DJs. No matter if you are on a budget or have the cash to spare, this guide will prove useful. I hope you enjoy it!
So before we start this guide, I think it’s important that we talk about what exactly is essential for a DJ and what isn’t. The word essential can be defined as denoting high importance or cruciality, and when it comes to DJing, there are several things that fit the bill, including:
This is the most obvious and most important. If you do not have a turntable, mixer, controller and/or CDJ to actually perform, you might as well be a fan in the crowd. This is the very first thing that you must consider purchasing if you are considering a career in DJing, and I recommend that you actually spend some decent cash on your controller/CDJ if you want to take this seriously.
Another important essential is the DJ software that you use. Most DJs out there use either Serato, Traktor, VirtualDJ, and I strongly recommend that you do so too. Software is essential because it gives you a myriad of different new tricks that you can use on a set to spice up the mix, making DJing much easier at the same time.
Promotion & marketing is everything when it comes to DJing, and that’s why the tools used to do so are essential for any DJ that is serious about their craft.
Promotion tools can include everything like Instagram & Soundcloud to of course your own website or anything that you use to get the word around to promote your services.
There are also some other essentials that do not really fit the categories above. For example, I strongly recommend that you buy high-quality SD cards and USB drives for the storing of music. This is because number one you need to have a diverse set of music stored and easily accessible in a portable drive and number two you need to make sure the drive is as reliable enough that It can be dependably used daily.
Aside from this, there are other things that DJs seem to get into and buy very early into their careers, but honestly, they aren’t essentials. Some of these include:
Many aspiring DJs think that they need to dress to the nines everywhere they play, and in their daily life in general, often spending thousands of dollars on the trendiest clothes out there instead of spending it on a good controller or even some more advanced DJing courses. And while having an image is definitely important for the average DJ trying to make it big, breaking the bank and buying the most expensive stuff out there definitely not necessary.
Thankfully, there are several ways to be well-dressed when DJing. That’s why there are many guides out there on how to do so, some useful and some not so much.
DJs often spend too much money focusing on their image and how other people perceive them instead of focusing on something much more important: their music. Many focus too much on creating a personalized brand with business cards, their own logos, and some even go a step ahead and customize their gear. Not only is this expensive, but it’s completely unnecessary for the average newbie.
This is perhaps the most important essential that any DJ can have. And this is for obvious reasons. The truth is that you need specialized hardware to mix songs, and the most important one is a decent controller. While DJing using a DJ software exclusively and mixing from a laptop is fine for people that are brand new to DJing, It won’t cut it if you are really serious about this and are thinking of playing in a professional setting. Aside from headphones, DJ controllers are the equipment most associated with DJs and for good reason, and it’s the first thing that you should be spending money on.
When it comes to buying a controller, you have 2 choices: either get an all-in-one system that includes a mixer or buy two separate controllers and a mixer combo and play from there. Out of the 2 choices, I recommend the latter. Not only do most all-in-one systems feature inferior performance and technology, but because they also feature a lot of technology that will babysit a newbie DJ, they are also thought to reduce a DJ’s credibility. However, all-in-one systems are cheaper though, which might be a consideration if you are on a budget.
The controller above is the DDJ-SX3, and it’s the one that I recommend if you are just getting serious about DJing. While the ideal thing to do is to use CDJs and a separate mixer, they are very expensive, and you are better off saving several thousand dollars and getting something that is a little bit more budget-friendly so that you can have money for other things.
If you are thinking of using a separate controller, then you are going to have to use a mixer for it. While many laymen assume that mixers and controllers are the same, the truth is that controllers are used to actually change songs, adjust the bpm, and use loops and other effects, while the mixer is used to adjust the mix between the 2 channels, vary the EQ frequencies of the 2 tracks, adjust the volume between tracks, etc. They are both very important for any DJ worth their salt, making this a definite essential.
Getting a mixer is also of utmost importance if you are thinking of mixing with gear other than controllers. You can use a mixer if you are thinking of using turntables instead of controllers, and you can even use a mixer with a laptop too. The only problem is that you are going to need a separate sound card to pre-listen to tracks. Overall, a mixer is a crucial part of any DJ's equipment, and I strongly recommend that you get one, especially if you do not have an all-in-one controller.
Another essential for any DJ is a good pair of headphones. They are important because of the fact that DJs need to pre-listen to tracks to match the BPMs of the songs already playing. The headphones will (ideally) noise-isolate your ears from the venue’s sound output, which will facilitate the syncing of two passages. While some DJs prefer using earbuds for comfort purposes, I don’t think it’s a good replacement for a proper set of headphones.
The ideal thing would be to get a set of headphones with some sort of active or passive noise cancellation. Headphones with active noise cancellation are much more expensive and more fragile, but they do a better job of blocking noise than headphones with passive noise cancellation. Active noise-canceling headphones are quite expensive, which is why I just recommend that you use the ones above.
A laptop is super useful for DJs because of the diverse things that you can do with it, and because of this, it’s essential that any DJ needs to have. The first reason why you need a laptop is that you need to find music to actually mix with. The internet is the best resource for this, and most of us find our music there. Also, it also serves a promotion tool for yourself and for collaborating with different artists as well.
But most importantly, a laptop is important because it gives you the ability to use DJ software with your traditional gear. We all know about DJ software like Serato and Traktor, and they are a necessity if you will be using certain controllers. There are some types of controllers that only need an SD card or USB with the music for the mixing to take place, and if you have one of those, then the laptop is technically not needed.
Another must-have for any DJ, USBs and SD cards will give you a few advantages over other ways to store music. First of all, they are super portable. This is perfect if you need to play at a venue that has their own gear. The only thing that you need to do is plug in the drive to the controller or laptop and off you go. Another big advantage is the fact that USB & SD cards are relatively sturdy storage drives. Most of us have a USB that gets dropped pretty often and the thing keeps functioning as normal, which is especially important if you absolutely depend on the music inside.
Another reason why SD cards are a big necessity is the fact that most drives today can hold a lot of information. The drives posted above can hold about 32 GBs of info, which is about 5000 songs, more than enough for 99% of us. They are also super cheap, especially when you consider how useful they are. In short, I strongly recommend that you buy both a USB & SD card. You are going to need them sooner or later.
A professional microphone is widely considered to be a key part of any DJ gear set, and a must buy if you do not have one. The reason why a professional DJ microphone is important for us DJs is because of their build quality. Well-made microphones will not only receive a more precise input, but they also will be much more resistant to impacts and being dropped, something super important when you consider how often microphones tend to be mishandled.
Buying a professional microphone is also an essential piece of equipment because you don’t want to have your mic die in the middle of a set. Many clubs have their own microphones but they have the reputation of being super unreliable as a result of them being badly abused and mishandled. That’s why I always bring my own microphone to my sets and I strongly recommend that you do so too.
One of the unfortunate results of a career as a DJ is often said to be hearing loss. The truth is that constant loud noises will reduce your ability to hear high and low pitched sounds, and that’s why wearing musician earplugs is a necessity. Unlike traditional earplugs, musician earplugs do not completely mute out or muffle outside noises, something achieved by how the earplug is shaped. The result is allowing you to lower the sounds that the PA and the headphones output without compromising on sound integrity.
The earplugs that you want to buy need to be as small as possible so that you can wear headphones under them. The ones that I posted above are made by Eargasm and they feature a very compact shape, over 20 DB drop in sound levels, and an affordable price tag to boot. If you care about your hearing, musician earplugs are definitely essential, and you can’t do better than getting a pair or two.
One of the most overlooked but most essential things that you must own if you are a DJ is a complete set of audio cables and adapters, with spares if possible. They are essential because they allow you to adapt to the setup of a particular venue or club. After all, there’s nothing worse than arriving at the club that you are supposed to mix on to only find out that their audio cables aren’t compatible with your gear and so you can’t connect to their PA.
Adapters are also extremely useful and any DJ that’s serious about their craft should have several different ones. This is especially important if you tend to use more specialized gear that uses different cables than the usual stuff found on most DJ controllers, mixers, and headphones out there. In short, spare audio cables & adapters are not only super useful, but they are really affordable too. They are definitely essential that you should carry around with your gear.
DJing can be fun and everything, but the truth is that the setting where the events take place isn’t exactly a place to relax. Quite the opposite: headaches, colds, and other maladies seem to be the norm for us DJs, and because of that, medications are definitely essential. There are some times where we are playing a set because we gave our word and we’d rather not be there. And when these moments come, medications are a lifesaver.
I recommend that you carry a small pouch with you with things such as Tylenol, Benadryl, Excedrin or anything else that you might need inside. The meds that you carry will obviously vary depending on what you tend to suffer from, but in general, you are going to want to carry cold medicine and OTC painkillers with you.