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How To DJ Without A Controller - The Best and Worst Methods

As an experienced DJ who's been spinning tunes for years, I've seen the DJing landscape evolve dramatically over time. While controllers and deck based setups are a staple for many DJs, there's a growing curiosity and need for alternative methods. 

Maybe your controller has let you down at the last minute, or perhaps you're just looking to break out of the box and experiment with something new...

Whatever the reason, knowing how to DJ without a controller can open up a world of creativity and adaptability, while staying on the old methods can sadly hold you back.

In this article, I'll share my personal insights and experiences on the best and worst methods to DJ without a controller. Whether you're a seasoned pro or humble aspiring DJ, you'll find practical tips, honest evaluations, and maybe even a few surprises. So, if you're ready to explore uncharted territory and elevate your DJing game, let's dive in!

TL;DR - DJing Without a Controller#

  • While controllers/decks are always best for live performances, controllerless DJing is rapidly become the pro DJ's secret. 

  • While most DJ software is designed to be used with a DJ controller, DJ.Studio makes mixes with your mouse and keyboard alone. 

  • Mixing without a controller opens up new opportunities and workflows as a DJ, and is very rewarding. 

  • You can start making killer mixes, controller-free with DJ.Studio!

Why DJ Without A Controller?#

You might be wondering, "Why would I want to DJ without a controller in the first place?" As someone who's been in the DJing game for a long time, I've encountered numerous scenarios where stepping away from the conventional controller setup not only became necessary but also highly beneficial.

For starters, sometimes it's just a necessity. You get caught off guard - perhaps somebody wants you to mix music at a party and there isn't a DJ hardware controller. This has happened to me on many occasions, and while it's not ideal, you can still make the most of it. 

Then, there's the challenge factor. DJing without a controller forces you to hone your skills and explore new dimensions of DJing. Learning how to mix tracks and audio files without using physical DJ gear can be an incredibly rewarding experience, sharpening your abilities and making you a more versatile DJ.

I think the most significant reason is the creative freedom it offers. When you're not tied to a controller, you can explore different software and techniques that might be outside the traditional DJing paradigm. This is where tools like DJ.Studio come into play. 

DJ.Studio is a powerful piece of software that allows you to create mixes using a timeline editor, much like a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This method opens up a whole new world of mixing music possibilities, enabling you to craft intricate mixes with precision and creativity that wouldn't be possible on a traditional controller setup.

Lastly, it improves your flexibility and adaptability. Sometimes, your controller might malfunction, or you might find yourself in a situation where a controller isn't available. Knowing how to DJ without one ensures you're always prepared to deliver a great set, no matter the circumstances, making you a more professional DJ. 

The Two Main Options - Live, or Studio Software#

When it comes to DJing without a controller, you essentially have two main pathways: live performance setups and studio software. Each has its own set of advantages and challenges, and choosing the right one depends on your style, goals, and the specific circumstances of your gigs.

I'll give you a brief overview of these two categories before explaining the methods in more detail. 

Live DJing#

  • You can still mix a live DJ set without a controller.

  • It's a bit fiddly, and takes some practice and knowledge.

  • Live DJing is always better with some kind of controller or decks.

Live DJing revolves around using DJ gear - be it CDJs, turntables, or software programs programs controlled by an external controller. So, a live DJing setup without a controller or decks will be the most challenging option - but sometimes it's the only option you have. 

In this case, DJs can just use DJ software like rekordbox, Serato DJ Pro , Traktor, or Virtual DJ - just without using a controller, and using the software alone. With just your laptop, you can manipulate tracks using the software's interface. It requires a solid understanding of the software's features and a good ear for beatmatching, but it's one solution for live DJing without a controller. 

I'll explain the techniques and tips for this later in this article. 

Studio Software #

  • Some DJ software is specifically desgined to make mixes without a controller.

  • This uses audio editing timeline/DAW-style software so you can make mixes in a non-linear fasion. 

  • This type of digital DJing is ideal for any situation where a live performance isn't required. 

On the other hand, studio software provides a different approach, focusing more on pre-production and precise editing. This is where tools like DJ.Studio shine.

Studio DJing software is designed to make DJ sets in the studio, using a computer alone. This is more similar to traditional audio editing software and DAWs, but designed for DJing. 

The benefits of studio software is that it's literally desgined for DJing without a controller - although this also means it isn't suitable for pulling of a controller-free Dj mix live, but you can use it for mixing tracks and music files ahead of time. 

As you'll see, learning the studio DJing method is very important, and helps to expand your creative horizons as a DJ. It's worth learning how to use studio DJ software even if you have a controller or deck setup. I'll explain how to use it in the next section!

DJ.Studio - The Software Designed To DJ With Your Mouse#

DJ.Studio is a game-changer for DJs looking to create mixes without traditional hardware. As someone who has spent countless hours experimenting with various tools, I'm excited to share the power that this tool presents. First, I'll talk about some of the features, then I'll run you through the steps of how to use it. 

Timeline Editor#

DJ.Studio operates much like a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), providing a timeline editor that allows you to meticulously craft your mixes. You can drag and drop tracks, set cue points, and adjust beat grids with pinpoint accuracy. This setup is perfect for DJs who want to produce seamless, professional-quality mixes with their mouse and keyboard.

Creative Control#

One of the standout features of DJ.Studio is the level of creative control it offers. You can automate effects, transitions, and EQ adjustments, creating a polished and dynamic mix. This allows for a level of detail that is hard to achieve in a live setting, making it ideal for preparing mixes for radio shows, podcasts, or live streams.

Flexibility and Accessibility#

Because DJ.Studio doesn't rely on external hardware, it's incredibly accessible. Whether you're on the road or working from a small home studio, all you need is your laptop. This flexibility means you can work on your mixes anytime, anywhere, without being tethered to bulky equipment.

Learning Curve#

DJ.Studio is intuitive, but like any powerful software, it comes with a learning curve. However, the time invested in mastering its features pays off in the quality of your mixes. I've found that once you get comfortable with the interface, the possibilities for creative expression are virtually limitless.

DJ.Studio - How To DJ Without A Controller#

Now you understand the benefits offered by DJ.Studio, mostly revolving around how to make a mix without a controller, now I'll show you the workflow process ion steps, so you can make killer mixes with your mouse. 

  1. Open DJ.Studio - You can run DJ.Studio in your browser for a streamlined experience, or download the desktop app for increased stablity and features. 

  2. Create a project - Now you can make a new project. There are three main types, one for mixing downloaded files, one for mixing YouTube and Spotify music, the other for mixing music from Beatport Streaming. 

  3. Add Songs - Now you can add songs to your project. DJ.Studio can connect to a range of other DJ software and music libraries, so you can access all your downloaded tunes directly in the app. if you're using an online project, you can import any track or full playlist directly from YouTube or Spotify. 

  4. Automix - You can manually arange your setlist, or you can use the AI automix assistant to quickly work out an optimal order based on harmonic mixing and beat detection.

  5. Refine and edit - Next you can start to sculpt and craft your mix in as much detail as you can imagine. Using the powerful timeline editor, you can change any detail of your mix just using your mouse and keyboard. The layering of effects and controls means you can create mixes and transitions that wouldn't be possible using decks or a controller. 

  6. Share - When the mix is finished, you'll probably want to start sharing it with your friends and fans (or just for yourself). DJ.Studio gives you a broad range of export options, so you'll quickly be able to send your finished mix exactly where you want it to go, in the right format. Pick your export type, and let the computer do its work. You don't need to manualy perform or record your mix, its all rapidly caluclated by your PC. 

It's that simple! This just shows the basic workflow DJ.Studio offers to make mixes just using your mouse and keyboard. It has a bunch of other really cool features, and it opens up a huge range of new worklfow processes thanks to how it integrates with other DJ software. 

I recomed you check out the rest of our website for more info, or check out the video above. But here are some of the other most notable features: 

  • YouTube and Spotify mixing - You can make mixes with music on streaming platforms, essentially giving you an unlimited musical library for experimenting with any music for free.

  • Stem Separation - One of our latest additions is a powerful stem separation feature. This lets you isolate layers in a track (drums, bass, melody, vocals) and gives you individual control over the volume of each one, allowing you to create new transitions cleaner than ever before. 

  • Export to other DJ software - This feature is super powerful for professional and performing DJs. You can export your finished mix as a prepared playlist into software like rekordbox and Serato. This means that you can work out the perfect mix in your studio, then send it to your main software to perform live. 

  • Video creationA neat feature in DJ.Studio is it's video creation engine. This makes it super easy to create unique, custom animated videos for your mixes. This makes them even more hypnotic and exciting, and promotes engagement online!

DJ.Studio is clearly one of the best options for DJing on a laptop without a controller, although it's not suitable for a live performance, which I'll give you some solutions for next. 

Other Options - How You Can DJ Without a Controller on Live Software like rekordbox#

If you're in a situation where studio DJ software isn't suitable, and you still need to mix without a controller, there are still plenty of options available. Mixxx and rekordbox, for example, are robust pieces of DJ software that can be used effectively without a controller.

I've tried all of these methods before, and they can work in a pinch. I will say that it's better to use some actual DJ software (even without a controller) than to use other methods - for example, DJing using two seperate tabs of YouTube (which I have done at parties before)!

DJ Software Keyboard Shortcuts#

Keyboard shortcuts for DJing with Serato Play

Rekordbox, Mixxx, and many other other DJ software, comes with a range of keyboard shortcuts that allow you to control playback, set loops, trigger hot cues, and manage effects. If you learn these shortcuts well enough, you can, in theory, pull off a pretty smooth DJ set just using your keyboard. 

I won't explain the specific shortcuts here, as you should easily be able to find them for your chosen DJ software.

Of course, because keys are on-off buttons, they won't allow the same level of smoothness as the knobs and faders of a controller, but it can come pretty close. 

Mouse Control#

You can just use the mouse to control DJ software. You can select and drop tracks, adjust EQs, and manipulate effects in real-time. While it might not be as tactile or multi-taskable as using a controller, with practice, you can achieve a high level of precision and control, and sometime's it's the only option you have in a pinch. Just don't expect to be doing any artisitc scratching or complex transitions. 

Preparation and Practice#

Without a controller, preparation becomes even more crucial. Ensuring your tracks are well-organized, cue points are set, and beat grids are accurate can save you a lot of hassle during your set. Practice is key to getting comfortable with the software's interface and mastering the timing and flow of your mixes.

Finally...#

Now it's time to put your new controllerless DJing methods to the test!

Somewhere between all of the above options, you should be able to find a solution that works for you. 

This is how I approach the issue:

If I'm aware that I'm DJing without a controller ahead of time, I like to make a mix using DJ.Studio. I also like to do this just for fun (even when I have a controller) thanks to the increased efficiecy and detail that DJ.Studio allows. 

Now, when I'm caught off guard, at a party or event, without any DJ gear, I'll just revert to using rekordbox with a mouse and keyboard. It's not ideal, but I've got pretty good at it over the years and can still pull off some decent mixes!

Expand your creative horizon today by integrating studio DJ mixing into your toolbox, whether you have a controller or not - start with DJ.Studio's Free 14-day trial!

Noah Feasey-Kemp
DJ/Producer
I started DJing when I was 15. Started a record label, residency by a club in Bristol. I’ve played at all the biggest clubs in Bristol (and the small ones) and have entertained thousands of dancers! I love writing about music, DJing, and technology. I've been blogging for DJ.Studio since the start of the project, and am always happy to answer questions and help fellow DJs out!

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