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How Does DJ Software Work? The Basics Explained

These days, DJ software is the most powerful piece of gear in a DJ's toolbox. This software provides a range of useful features for DJs - typically revolving around the ability to play and mix multiple tracks at the same time. They also tend to have features for organizing music libraries.

As you will learn in this article, there are two methods for Djing: you can DJ live, or you can create DJ mixes in a Studio. Each type of DJing uses a different style of software. Both of these have certain uses where they are stronger - although a pro DJ would make the most of both.

Keep reading this guide to learn exactly how DJ software works, what you can do with it, and why there are two different types. I'll also recommend some of the best choices when it comes to DJ software apps for you to start using today! This includes DJ Software for Mac, and DJ Software for PC

TL;DR - How DJ Software Works#

  • DJ software is used for creating mixes, either in the studio or in real-time.

  • The core features of DJ software are: playing multiple tracks simultaneously, changing playback speeds, and offering a virtual DJ mixer.

  • Most DJ software is designed for live use, although the studio method has a range of advantages in certain situations. 

  • DJ.Studio is a new, powerful DJ software that makes DJing easier and lightning-fast.

What Does DJ Software Do?#

What does DJ Software do?

The main purpose of DJ software is creating mixes, although the way this is done depends on the style of DJ software - as there are two main varieties, live and studio (explained below).

In essence, the function of DJ software is to provide a system for DJs to be able to manipulate multiple audio tracks simultaneously, to enable them to blend seamlessness between tracks. 

This mimics the functions of a hardware DJ setup - like vinyl or CDJ DJ equipment.

Regardless of whether the software is live or studio, there are several functions that are necessary for DJ software to be usable for DJs, in order to allow them to mix.

To enable DJing, DJ software needs the following features:

  • Import audio files from a range of sources.

  • Create 'sets', allowing users to manage their music libraries.

  • Play multiple audio tracks simultaneously, so two (or more) songs can be mixed together seamlessly.

  • A system for controlling when tracks play, typically a cue and a play/pause function.

  • Change the speed of audio tracks, so songs with different tempos can be beat-matched and play in sync with each other. 

  • Provide a virtual mixer, giving controls for changing the volume, EQ, filter, and other values to change the sound of tracks to make smooth transitions.

  • (Optional) The ability to record the DJ's performance, creating a shareable audio file of the finished mix.

  • (Optional) Being able to connect the software to a hardware controller, allowing hands-on performance and control.

The last two points are optional, because there are DJ apps that don't offer those features, but can still be used to DJ with. 

These are the main features required by the software to enable DJing. In the next sections, I'll explain the two main types of DJ Mixing Software, and go into more detail about the workflow process for each type.

The Two Types of DJ Software#

There are two types of DJ software, each with specific scenarios in which they perform better.

Live, and Studio, are the two types.

Live DJ Software#

Live DJ software

Most DJ software is built to support live DJing. This is the most common and oldest form of DJ software and is designed to simulate the functions of DJ hardware - allowing DJs to perform in real time to a live audience. 

Whether you are mixing modern electronic music or old-school classics, live DJ software lets DJs perform their DJ sets in front of a live audience.

This type of music-mixing software usually uses virtual DJ turntables and a DJ mixer and is best used when connected to a DJ controller to make the mixing process smoother. 

Otherwise, using live mixing software with a keyboard and mouse can be a bit fiddly. 

Live DJ software is the best choice if:

  • You want to DJ live, in front of an audience (at a club, party, wedding etc).

  • You have a DJ controller - for hands-on control.

Otherwise, you'll probably have better time using DJ software which enables the studio mix creation process.

Read the later sections to learn exactly how to use this type of software!

Here are some examples of live DJ software, which are explained in more detail at the end of this guide:

  • rekordbox

  • Traktor

  • Serato

  • Virtual DJ

Studio DJ Software#

Studio Dj software

Studio DJ software is a new format for DJs, which is changing the way mix creators and music lovers are working. 

This cutting-edge piece of music tech provides a range of features and benefits that are the perfect complement to Live DJ software, or an ideal standalone tool in many situations. 

Studio DJ software offers a new workflow that revolutionized the way DJs work.

Rather than being based around live performance, studio software is geared to creating DJ mixes in the studio. It's closer to traditional audio editing software, (digital audio workstations), however, with a design more specific for DJs. 

This makes it quicker and easier to create full-length mixes, without needing to manually record them in real-time.

This is more suited to creating audio for platforms like radio shows, podcasts, promotional mixes etc, where there is no need to actually perform live. 

Studio DJ software is the best choice if:

  • You don't need to perform a DJ set live to an audience.

  • You want to create more expressive and detailed mixes.

  • You want to save time and create mixes faster than in real-time.

  • You are computer/laptop DJing without using a hardware controller.

  • You are creating mixes for radio, podcasts, online promotions, events, fitness classes, and any other situation where there is no need to mix music live.

Keep reading to learn the workflow process of Studio DJ software!

The next two sections walk you through the workflow process of the two different types of DJ software. You can also find a lot of Free DJ Software to get started with!

Guide: How To Use Live DJ Software#

how to dj live

Live DJ software is the perfect tool for mixing to a live audience, the majority of DJ software is designed to operate in this method.

Follow these steps to mix a DJ set using live DJ software:

  1. Fill your music library.

  2. The foundation of DJing is having a large pool of music to draw tracks from. The wider your library is, the more versatile your expression as a DJ can be.

  3. Choose, and play the starting track. First impressions count! So make sure your first track is a good demonstration of your style and tastes and is exciting enough to entice the audience to stick around.

  4. Pick the next track. Now you need to choose a song to mix with the first track. This should be something close in tempo and style. Don't play the track yet!

  5. Beat-match track 2 to 1. To enable a seamless mix, the second track needs to play at the same tempo/BPM (beats per minute) as the first track. This is achieved via beat matching. Check out that link for a deeper guide but in short:

    1. Play the second track through the headphone cue (not the main speakers).

    2. Adjust the pitch control until the 2nd track's tempo is the same as track 1's.

    3. Restart track 2, and start it at the right time to phrase match it with track 1.

  6. Start the transition. When the time is right, you can start to transition from track 1 to 2. There is basically an infinite number of transition techniques to use, so learn what's available from that article! Essentially you want to slowly remove elements of the 1st track while bringing in the second. This can be as simple as a volume crossfade, or as complicated as you like!

  7. Turn off track 1. Eventually, the first track should be silenced, and only the second track is playing.

  8. Repeat! The above process describes the core technique of mixing from one track to the next. All you need to do now is pick another song and repeat the process. Keep picking tracks until you come to the end of your DJ set.

All the tools needed to use the live technique are available in live DJ software - although this method is best used with a DJ controller, rather than the mouse - which is a bit tricky to use as a live performance tool!

One final stage to consider is recording. Most (but not all) DJ software has the ability to record your live performances. 

recording your mix

This is great if you want to share your mixes. Although, not all software has this feature, and often it's restricted to the more expensive versions. 

You can use an external DAW (digital audio workstation) to record - like Ableton, Reaper, or Logic, although you might also need an additional audio interface to record!

However, with Studio software, the 'recording' process is much quicker and easier, as it doesn't need to be done in real-time...

Guide: How To Use Studio DJ Software#

Using studio dj software

Studio DJ software offers a different approach to DJing than live tools and has a relatively contrasting workflow.

There are limited choices when it comes to studio-style DJ software - as there are only really two programs - MixMeister, and DJ.Studio. MixMeister hasn't been developed for years, and no longer works on many machines.

For this reason, we will explain the workflow process for DJ.Studio, as this is the best and most current option for this type of software.

  1. Collect songs - Building up a large music library with a variety of genres will help when creating a DJ set in the studio. That said, you can create a mix from a short selection of tracks.

  2. Build your playlist - Next, you need to choose the songs you want to include in a mix. The choice is yours, but it's best to choose tracks that fit well together and have some kind of common theme -whether it's speed, genre, or mood. DJ.Studio lets you import tracks from your hard drive, or even from YouTube.

  3. Automix - Once you've compiled your set, it's time to mix it using DJ.Studio's revolutionary Automix algorithm. This analyses the musical keys and tempos of your set and determines the best order based on harmonic mixing and beat-matching. Learning how to do this manually takes years of training, so DJ.Studio gives you professional-sounding results on your first try!

    DJ.Studio automix
  4. Refine the mix - After the automix system arranges your mix, you should spend a bit of time fine-tuning the placement of tracks, making edits, and potentially rearranging and adding more tracks. DJ.Studio lets you perform a range of operations for adding an extra layer of expression to your mix too, including adding effects, automation, and loops at any part of a track.

  5. Perfect the transitions - DJ.Studio includes a powerful transition editor. This lets you specify exactly where to start and end transitions, and how the transitions are performed. You can start off by using some of our basic transition presets, which offer a decent range of variety at the click of a button. After this, you can use manual transitions, where you can draw in precise automation for any of the transition values simultaneously. This lets you create blends that otherwise wouldn't have been possible with traditional live software.

    DJ.Studio transition editor
  6. Final Checks - Before you finish your mix, you should have a quick listen-through to make sure you are happy and that there are no mistakes. Make any final changes before moving on to the next step.

  7. Record and export - When you are happy with your mix, you can record it and prepare to share it on another platform. DJ.Studio provides several options for exporting, including as a WAV or MP3 audio file, as a YouTube video, to Ableton Live as a multi-track project, and more. Your mixes can even be recorded at faster speeds than real-time, saving you hours of effort that it would take to record them live.

This is the basic process for creating mixes in DJ.Studio. As you can see, the workflow is pretty different from the live method. 

This is more efficient and allows you to create more mixes at a rapid speed.

You can also combine both software types into a hybrid workflow, making the most of each type's separate strengths. 

DJ.Studio external connections

DJ.Studio also has the option to integrate with external software. For example, you can link your rekordbox library to DJ.Studio and use your rekordbox folders inside. 

It also displays the assessed phrases of rekordbox in the DJ.Studio timeline.

You can also use DJ.Studio as a mix preparation tool for live sets. You can import all the tracks you want to use in your show, and DJ.Studio can work out the best order, and help you to mix harmonically. You can also test out transitions ahead of time. 

The 4 Best DJ Software Apps#

Now you understand how DJ software works, I'll share some of the best choices so you can get stuck in and start making mixes of your own.

DJ.Studio#

DJ.Studio - the ultimate djing software

Type - Studio

Price - Free Trial, $9/month Lite, $29/month pro, perpetual licenses available

If you want to start creating amazing mixes in minimal time, DJ.Studio is the best DJ software for you. 

This isn't designed for live use (yet), but this is the best (and essentially only) piece of 'studio' DJ software.

DJ.Studio offers a feature set that can't be found anywhere else, making the mix creation process easier and faster than ever before. 

While it's designed to be easy for beginner DJs to use, DJ.Studio also has the depth and complexity available for the professional DJ, so it's ideal for mix creators of any skill level. 

Some of the most notable features are the AI-powered automix system, the unique timeline editor, the fast recording, and even a built-in video creation engine for making audio-reactive visuals for your sets.

Unlike other software, DJ studio isn't designed to be used with a controller (although we are adding hardware support soon). This means that it's the best software to use if you are mixing with a mouse and keyboard. 

Thanks to the non-linear approach, you don't need to control things in real-time - so a controller isn't of any use. 

This makes it the best choice for laptop DJing, or use on a computer alone, as otherwise mixing with a mouse isn't very easy or fun!

This is also the best DJ software to DJ Using YouTube Videos!

We are offering you a free 14-day trial, so you can start testing it for yourself, and seeing how useful this tool is. 

It stands out from all other software on the market and gives DJs an opportunity to express themselves at a level that was not possible before.

rekordbox#

rekordbox

Type - Live

Price - Free Version /$13 month basic /$38 month pro

rekordbox DJ is one of the more popular DJ software options out there and is made by Pioneer DJ - one of the largest names in the DJ community. 

This is a long-standing community favorite and is found in many setups across the world. It offers all the features you need to start mixing live, and the free version is pretty decent too.

The main downside is that it can only work with a limited number of hardware controller varieties, mostly restricted to Pioneer DJ branded devices.

This is one of the better pieces of software to use integrates with DJ.Studio, thanks to the ability to import the phrase analysis, so you can get a better overview of tracks' arrangements in the DJ studio timeline.

Traktor#

Traktor

Type - Live

Price - Free Version/$99 Perpetual

Traktor by Native Instruments is another one of the most popular DJ software varieties on the market and is celebrated for its wide range of hardware compatibility, as unlike rekordbox it works with most DJ controllers.

Again, this has all the tools you need to start mixing live DJ sets and has a wide range of features and effects for expressing yourself. 

You can manage music libraries, mix multiple tracks together, beat match, use effects, and do everything else you need to mix.

Like rekordbox and other live software, this is best when used with a controller, rather than a mouse.

Serato DJ Pro#

Serato

Type - Live

Price - Free Version /$9 month pro 

Serato is also one of the more popular DJ software choices out there. This works in a similar way to the others, although has some differences. 

It's more preferred by scratch and hip-hop DJs, as it has a range of features that make it easier to create expressive remixes on the fly. 

Serato was pioneering in making DVS (digital vinyl systems) which recreate the feeling and setup of vinyl mixing, however, takes advantage of the freedom and flexibility of digital software by creating a virtual vinyl system.

There are two main versions of Serato, based on your budget and needs. Serato DJ Lite is the basic, free version, while Serato DJ Pro is the more expensive version which is designed for professional DJs.

Ultimately there isn't a huge amount of difference between rekordbox, Traktor, and Serato. 

They all more or less do the same thing, just with a slightly different appearance. DJ.studio is the software that stands out from the crowd, and will give users a distinct advantage over people who don't use it. Don't just take our word for it - try it out yourself for free!

Summary#

You should now have a clear idea of how DJ software works, and know what the best options are when it comes to choosing some software.

The best approach is to go for a hybrid method, where you use both live and studio-type software. By mastering both types, you will have the advantage of versatility over your DJ peers. 

You'll have the live software for performing to an audience, but you'll also have the efficiency and power of studio software for creating mixes at home.

This means you can get the best of both worlds by enjoying the freedom and speed of studio DJ software, and the performance and expression of live software.

All DJ software contains the tools and features needed to mix music - namely beat matching, mixer controls, library management, and recording features.

Don't forget to check out the other guides on our blog for more digital DJ tips!

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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