Technology: The essential part of a DJ set up

What is a disk jockey (DJ)? The first image that may pop into your mind is that of an individual with large headphones on their head. You’re not wrong, many DJs often have large headphones accompanied by huge bags full of CDs or vinyls records. As glamorous or exciting a DJ’s life may be, it can be a difficult and tedious task. The time spent preparing for sets and gigs, finding vinyls and burning CDs can demotivate and discourage many people. Although as the technologies continue to improve, the need for these large bags, countless CDs and hours of CD burning have all but disappeared.

As a DJ myself, technology (in particular digital vinyl systems) has changed my approach to DJ’ing and has become an essential part of my set up.

I just didn’t want to accept it at the time.

A standard DJ set up

The Journey Begins

My origin story starts of with me in my friend’s garage. I had known him for roughly 3–4 months and he had invited me over one day to see his DJ equipment. He simply said to me;

“You might as well become a DJ.”

That was all it took to get me hooked.

Sorry if you were expecting a heartbreaking story full of action, drama and a potential love interest, my origin story is nothing like that of a superhero.

I never really stopped to think what becoming a DJ would entail, I was under the assumption that I would be the greatest of all time and master the craft in no time flat. This was certainly not the case.

I was in store for many sleepless nights and hours of burning CDs. I’ve always been one for hard work, I went from spending my evenings playing games to arranging music and practising. Truth be told I thought of myself as a pretty good DJ.

In actual fact I wasn’t that good.

At the time I used equipment which I thought was fairly cutting edge. This consisted of:

  • 2x Denon DJ DNS1200 Media Players
  • Numark DXM-09 Mixer
  • Sennheiser Headphones
  • 2x KRK Rokit 4

If you look at the set up it’s nothing too spectacular but it did the job, being able to use the equipment effectively was a different story. I spent a lot of years learning how to mix songs and use this set up properly (I replaced much of the equipment due to poor maintenance and technical issues). I got to a point where I felt very confident in my abilities.

“I can play anywhere.”

Over time I kept hearing a name whilst at bookings and gigs, it was a name I never wanted to acknowledge or associate myself with. That name was Serato.

For those who don’t know Serato are a software company who specialise in creating performance tools for DJs. These enable users to manipulate audio files in variety of ways from the comfort of a laptop or computer whilst using, a turntable-like interface such and DJ controllers, DJ decks and vinyl players i.e a DVS (Digital Vinyl System).

This innovation in technology has improved the quality and standard of DJ mixes and performances.

With their flagship vinyl emulation software Serato DJ, users gain access to their entire music library, granting greater control and opening new doors to DJs coming from the ‘traditional’ use of CDs and vinyls.

Love vs Hate

Now my initial concerns with systems like Serato were;

“The computer is doing all the work, you’re not really mixing.”

“How can you mix that so fast? It’s not right.”

“Serato is for those DJs that are lazy.”

I had come from a times of mixing with CDs, where I put in my blood, sweat and tears into learning how to mix. In some cases actual sweat, these booking tend to get very hot. Then out of nowhere comes DJ So & So mixing in half the time claiming to be the next DJ EZ (Never heard of him? Have a look at this YouTube link and thank me later).

I didn’t understand why people in the DJ community were flocking to this new style of mixing, it just seemed like a losing battle, a sort of out with the old in with the new scenario. Soon found myself stuck in the past, arriving at bookings with my large bag full of CDs, while my Serato counterpart would arrive with a easy to carry Apple MacBook and a small piece of hardware called a Rane SL2 (used to connect the Serato DJ to the DJ decks and the mixer).

I had a tough tough decision to make, stick to CDs or jump onto Serato.

I chose the latter.

I asked a friend who had Serato to give me a lesson. This felt like me learning the craft all over again, I hated to be quite honest but nothing in life comes easy so I kept at it. It wasn’t until I used Serato for the first time live that I realised something;

“This is pretty amazing.”

I just had my eureka moment.

Accepting the truth

I had to face the hard facts, Serato really did make my life a lot easier. When I got the money together I bought myself a fancy Apple MacBook Pro and a Rane SL2. All of my issues and concerns were absolute nonsense, I was too stubborn and set in my ways that I couldn’t see how this new piece of tech could help me improve as a DJ.

Whilst writing the article I often laughed as I looked back on how narrow-minded I was. But I can happily say, since I started using Serato I don’t think i’ve burnt another CD since.

Being a DJ doesn’t have to mean carrying CDs or a slim laptop. Being a DJ to me means providing the best experience for your audience regardless of what equipment you use.

The technology available has made it easier for anyone to pick up DJ’ing as a hobby or even a career. Sure if I had Serato back when I started, my journey would be somewhat different. But I am grateful I had the chance to start off with CDs and I encourage anyone to give it a go.

It really has become quite easy.