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What Do DJs Use To Mix Music? The Truth Revealed

Over the past decades, the technology used by DJs has evolved as much as music itself.

Staying up to date with the DJ zeitgeist can be tricky if you don't follow the news... But don't worry, you've come to the right place!

This guide explains all the contemporary tools and techniques used by DJs to create mixes.

You'll learn about all the different types of setups DJs can use to make mixes, and I'll explain how to choose the best type for your specific needs!

TL;DR - What Do DJs Use?#

  • DJs have several options when it comes to choosing mixing equipment.

  • Some DJs take the traditional, hardware path.

  • Other DJs follow a more modern, digital route.

  • Both styles have their uses and strong situations! Which is best for you?

DJ Equipment Overview#

DJ equipment

While there are many different types of setups available to DJs, they commonly include the following gear (or at least a digital simulation of it!)

  • DJ Decks

  • A DJ Mixer

  • DJ Software

  • A Music Library

  • Speakers

  • Headphones

  • A Laptop/Computer

  • Audio Interface or other Recording Gear

The exact setup and combination of gear will vary based on setup styles and preferences (outlined below).

In the next section, you will learn about these pieces of equipment in more detail.

What DJs Use To Mix: In Detail#

The exact pieces of gear available and used have changed over time, as DJ equipment has evolved and developed through history.

If you want to mix tracks and create DJ mixes, then you will need some of the gear from the following list - but the exact combination is up to your preferences!

Later in this guide, I'll discuss how you can choose what type of setup is best for you.

Note, that if you go for a software-centric setup, like using DJ.Studio, you can use a more minimalistic setup, as the software often simulates many components of the hardware.

DJ Decks#

One of the most important parts of a DJ setup is the decks. These are the devices used for playing tracks, controlling the speed of playback, and a few other functions like play/pause, and cue.

A DJ Vinyl Record Turntable

The earliest form of decks were vinyl record turntables. These are not used as commonly today and are seen as somewhat of an ancient dark art. While vinyl records are known for their rich, analog audio quality, they are also inconvenient and expensive. You need to carry around a wide selection of physical records, which weigh a tonne, and aren't fun to transport around clubs!

A CDJ

CDJs were the next development and came about thanks to the advent of digital technology. These decks used CDs instead of vinyl, making it easier for DJs to transport their collections. Due to the way the mechanism works, they are also more stable and sturdier than mechanical turntables.

A Dj Controller

DJ controllers are probably the most common kind of decks today, thanks to their affordability and portability. These either use a USB stick to load music or are connected directly to a computer. These all-in-one controllers also feature the controls of the mixer, so they combine both the mixer and decks into a single package. There are a bunch of different controllers on the market today, and each one has its own unique style and feature set - but they are all mostly used as a controller for software on a computer, and generally don't work as a standalone device.

Another cool deck type is DVS - or digital vinyl system. These mimic the feeling and response of vinyl decks, as they use turntables and 'control vinyl' however they have the freedom and flexibility of digital, as they actually control digital audio on the computer, rather than creating an analog signal like a real vinyl player.

A DJ Mixer#

A DJ Mixer

The next most important part of a DJ setup is the DJ mixer. This is a piece of gear that lets DJs control the volume, equalization, and other values of the music. This enables them to create smooth transitions, and also get a bit expressive and dynamic by controlling the various parameters in time to the music.

Most DJ mixers offer at least two independent channels of control, although you can find models with 4 more channels to allow for larger DJ setups.

If you use some kind of hardware-based setup - using CDJs or vinyl decks, then some kind of mixer is essential, as you need to mix the analog electronic signals. However, if you are using a digital setup, you can get away with using a basic dj controller.

These are mostly used for manipulating different audio sources - including microphones too, letting you move smoothly from one song to the next.

Learning how to use the mixer is key, no matter what kind of setup you use, as it's the tool at the core of creating mixes and transitions rather than a static playlist.

DJ Software#

rekordbox DJ Software

These days, DJ software is one of the most important and central parts of a DJ setup. You can find a range of different DJ software with a couple of different types - either live or studio.

The majority of DJ software uses the live format, which aims to simulate a decks and mixer setup. These types of software are also commonly designed to be used with DJ controllers, as this provides the best experience.

Studio Style DJ Software

You can also find 'studio style' software, which uses a different workflow and is more suited to creating mixes in a non-live situation.

Either way, DJ software is a vital part of a DJ setup, so you should check out some of our other guides on the best DJ software for a range of skill levels.

Here are some examples of popular DJ software:

Take a look at our full review of the Best DJ Software Apps to find out more!

A Music Library#

A DJ Music Library

Arguably your music library is the most important component of a DJ setup. If you have a great setup, but no music, you'll hardly be able to throw a good party!

Back in the day, a music library would be a large collection of bulky vinyl records, then tapes, then CDs. Nowadays we can use simple digital files to store as much audio as we like without increasing the carry weight!

Having a large, well-organized, and extensive music library is key to being a good DJ. It's also worth downloading files with the best sound quality you can, as low-quality files can kill a groove.

From oldschool classics to modern electronic music, the more varied your music library is, the more versatile your performances will be as a DJ. Explore as much music as you can and build a collection of songs you know and love. If you get into more commercial DJing then you might need to stock up on some crowd-pleasers - even if they aren't your thing.

You can organize your music library in a range of different ways, like using your PC's file browser, or even dedicated software.

Check out our guide on Music Organizer Software for some recommendations and tips!

Speakers#

DJ Speakers

Speakers are also a huge part of most DJ setups. Without speakers, you and your audience would be sitting mostly in silence.

The best type of speaker to use ultimately depends on the situation you are DJing in. If you are just having a chilled mix at home, then you can get by with some smaller speakers, although if you are throwing a large party, or mixing in a nightclub, then you're going to want a larger sound system.

Headphones#

DJ Headphones

Headphones give DJs the ability to cue up songs and listen in private before playing tracks out of the main speakers. This is another core component of DJing, as it allows DJs to prepare tracks, by beat matching and phrasing them, before playing them out loud.

You can find headphones that are specifically designed for DJs, I would recommend getting a pair if you think you're going to take DJing seriously, as you will spend a lot of time in your headphones and should go for a pair that is comfortable and has great sound quality.

A Laptop/Computer#

a DJ Laptop

If you go for any kind of digital setup, then a laptop or computer is essential. These are responsible for storing and managing your music library and also running DJ software to actually create your sets.

Laptops are the best choice as they are more portable - learn How to DJ From a Laptop!

An Audio Interface#

Audio Interface for Djs

Another useful, but non-essential, piece of DJ kit is an audio interface.

If you want to record DJ sets and are using either a vinyl, CD, or non-controller setup, then you will need an audio interface to get the mixer's audio output into a computer to record the signal.

You don't need this piece of DJ gear in a standard DJ setup, but many DJs use them to record a DJ mix. Depending on the type of software and setup you are using, you don't need one.

For example, DJ.Studio has an internal recording feature, that lets you automatically record your DJ set to a recorded and shareable file! But more on that later...

DJ Setup Examples and Types#

Due to the amount and variety of DJ gear available, you can create a whole bunch of different DJ setups. Wherever you go - whether it's a friend's house, a club, a bar, or a radio station, you'll constantly be seeing new and unusual DJ setups.

The best one ultimately depends on what kind of music you want to play, and how you enjoy mixing - but I'll go into more depth on this topic later in this guide.

Here are some examples of DJ setups, ranging from beginner to pro

Beginner DJ Setups#

basic dj controller

These setups are common starting points for DJs, where they might want to experiment with DJing without investing a lot of money in serious gear.

  • Software Only - The cheapest way to start DJing is to use a software-only setup. In this case, you don't need to buy any additional equipment (so long as you already own a computer). All you need to do is download songs, install some DJ software, and get mixing! With free DJ software like rekordbox and Virtual DJ, it works in a pinch, but it isn't very fluid to mix with a mouse. However studio software like DJ.Studio removes the need for real-time performance, and is designed to make it easy to create mixes using a mouse and keyboard alone!

  • Budget Controller - Another decent setup for beginners with a bit more interest in DJing is a simple controller setup. You can buy a controller for less than $50 and mix songs easily - although don't expect anything mind-blowing at that price. This is a good place to start if you want to get to grips with hardware DJing and lets you get a feel of using decks and a mixer without a significant investment.

Mid-Level DJ Setup#

Mid level dj setup

The following setups suit DJs who are looking to take DJing a bit more seriously but still don't want to spend loads of cash on gear.

  • CDJs and Decks - CDJs are a larger piece of DJ equipment which are a bit more versatile than controllers. Mid-level DJs might consider buying a pair of CDJs (which also work with USB sticks, you're not limited to CDs) and a nice mixer. Often it's worth buying a mixer with four inputs, as this future proofs it for later upgrades.

  • Basic Turntable Setup - Some mid-level DJs may decide to go down the vinyl route instead of digital. If you're a fan of the nostalgic analog sound of vinyl records, then you might consider mixing on vinyl turntables like technics. This can be a more expensive and inconvenient setup than digital methods, but it's fun to use and has an interesting and unique feeling.

  • Mid-Range Controller - Another alternative is investing in a higher-quality controller. You can find DJ controllers at every end of the budget spectrum, from as little as $20 to thousands of dollars. If you're considering taking DJing to the next level, and you want to go down the digital controller route, then perhaps look at controllers in the $200-$700 range. These have great features, are fun to use, and will last a long time.

Remember, the best choice ultimately depends on your needs and interests as a DJ - and your budget.

Professional and Advanced Hobbyist Setups#

A professional DJ Setup

If you want to become a professional DJ, or you are a pro, then you could use a setup like the following. You will also see these types of setups in professional environments like clubs and radio stations.

  • High-End DJ Controller - There are some really nice DJ controllers out there, with premium features. While they are expensive, they give DJs a lot of options.

  • 2 CDJs and 2 Turntables - This type of setup is common in professional nightclubs and radio stations - and allows for some of the most versatile performances. In this setup, you'll find a four-channel mixer connected to two CDJs and two vinyl turntables. This lets DJs mix any medium they want to seamlessly bouncing between digital and vinyl. At this level, it's also sometimes good to get a DVS-equipped system.

  • 4 CDJs - Alternatively you might consider going for a 4 deck digital setup. This lets you get really creative with DJing and mix up to 4 decks at a time - this is for the most skilled out there though!

  • Software Only - DJ.Studio? Some professionals may choose to use a software-only setup. Software like DJ.Studio is enough to make complete mixes on its own, without needing to use any hardware. This is a great tool for preparing mixes in the studio or creating mixes on the move with your laptop. Find out more about this software below!

Why DJ.Studio is a Great Place to Start (and Finish!)#

DJ.Studio

DJ.Studio is one of the best pieces of DJ software to start with and is an ideal choice if you want to make mixes without buying or using hardware. (It's also a great choice for professionals!)

Because DJ.Studio works like a cross between an audio editing Digital Audio Workstation, and traditional DJ software, it offers a unique workflow that is centered around a timeline editor, rather than real-time mixing. This presents the advantage of being able to meticulously craft your mixes without needing to record them live. You simply lay your tracks out on the timeline, edit them as desired, and it's good to go!

DJ.Studio is also kitted out with a bunch of features that give you the skills of the most advanced DJs, even if you've never mixed before. Thanks to artificial intelligence, key detection, and automatic beat matching, you can create professional-sounding sets, literally at the click of a single button!

I think DJ.Studio is a great piece of software to start off your DJ journey on, because it helps you to understand complex DJ concepts in a simple way, and also makes it easy to visualize the process of DJ mixing.

While it's great for beginners, it also has the capacity for depth and complexity that professional DJs look for - meaning you will never outgrow the software.

It has a bunch of features that aren't seen in any other software, and thanks to the unique workflow, will give you several advantages over DJs stuck using old-fashioned tools!

How to Choose Suitable DJ Equipment#

How to choose DJ equipment

It can be hard to know what to look for in DJ equipment when you're starting out. The amount of choice and variety can be overwhelming...

Don't worry, I've used my years of experience to put together this short guide! Remember, the "right" DJ equipment varies based on individual needs and goals. Prioritize quality, functionality, and your unique style to create an optimal setup for your DJ journey.

Budget, Quality, and Future Proofing#

Set a realistic budget for your DJ equipment. High-quality gear can be expensive, so knowing your budget will help narrow down your options. Invest in reliable, well-built equipment. Durability is crucial since DJ gear is exposed to wear and tear during performances and transport.

Consider whether the equipment you're choosing can accommodate future upgrades or expansions. This can save you money in the long run. Think about how long the equipment will remain relevant in the fast-evolving world of DJ technology. Upgradability can extend the lifespan of your setup.

If you're just testing DJing out, then try free software like DJ.Studio. If you're certain you're in it for the long run, it's worth investing in better gear if you have the money.

Understand Your DJ Style and Skill Level#

Different DJs have different styles and preferences. Are you a mobile DJ, a club DJ, a turntablist, or a producer? Your style will influence the type of equipment you need. Ultimately, your comfort and preference matter. Choose equipment that aligns with your workflow and style, even if it's not the most popular option.

If you're just starting, consider beginner-friendly controllers with intuitive interfaces. If you're more experienced, you might want to invest in more advanced equipment that allows for a more complex setup.

Try Before Buying#

If possible, try out the equipment in person before making a purchase. This helps you get a feel for the layout, functionality, and comfort of the gear. Most DJ software offers free trials which you should test before buying. try out our free 14-day trial for DJ.Studio!

How to DJ: Extra Tips for DJ Mixing#

How To DJ: Tips

Here are some extra tips for DJ mixing that can help you elevate your skills and create seamless and engaging DJ sets.

  • Know Your Music: Familiarize yourself with your music collection. Understand the tempos, keys, and energy levels of each track to facilitate smoother transitions.

  • Practice Beatmatching: Beatmatching is the foundation of DJ mixing. Train your ears to match the beats of two tracks by adjusting their speeds using pitch control.

  • Phrasing: Pay attention to the phrasing of your tracks. Mix tracks that have similar phrase lengths to maintain a natural flow. Learn How to Phrase DJ!

  • EQ and Filtering: Use the EQ (equalizer) and filter controls to blend tracks harmoniously. Adjust the bass, mid, and treble frequencies to prevent clashing and create smooth transitions. Find out more about EQ DJ Techniques!

  • Cueing: Use headphones to preview the next track while the current track is playing. This helps you line up the beats and adjust the speed before bringing in the new track.

  • Mixing Techniques: Experiment with various mixing techniques like blends, cuts, and drops. Develop your signature style by combining these techniques creatively.

  • Harmonic Mixing Skills: By taking into account the musical key of each music, you can use Harmonic Mixing to create more seamless and controlled DJ sets! Learn How To Mix Harmonically!

  • Know Your Gear: Master the functions of your equipment. Understand how to set cue points, loop sections, and trigger effects to enhance your mixes.

  • Build Energy: Control the energy of your set by selecting tracks that gradually build excitement. Plan your setlist to take listeners on a musical journey.

  • Read the Crowd: Pay attention to the audience's response. Adjust your track selection and mixing style based on their energy and engagement.

  • Use Effects Sparingly: Effects can add depth and texture to your mixes but don't overuse them. Use effects to enhance the music, not distract from it.

  • Practice Smooth Transitions: Work on seamless transitions between tracks. Experiment with different transition techniques like using acapellas, loops, or samples. Discover some Exciting DJ Transition Techniques!

  • Preparation: Plan your set ahead of time. Organize your tracks in playlists or crates based on energy levels, genres, or themes to make selection easier during your performance.

  • Record and Analyze: Record your mixes and listen back to them critically. Identify areas for improvement and learn from your mistakes.

  • Stay Calm Under Pressure: Mistakes happen. If you encounter a mixing error, stay composed and find a way to recover without panicking.

  • Stay Open-Minded: Be open to different genres and styles of music. Mixing unexpected tracks can surprise and captivate your audience.

  • Watch Other DJs: Attend live DJ performances or watch videos of experienced DJs to learn new techniques, gain inspiration, and observe crowd interaction.

  • Continuous Learning: DJing is a skill that evolves over time. Keep learning about new techniques, software updates, and gear advancements to stay current.

Remember that DJing is an art form, and it takes time and practice to master. Be patient, persistent, and open to growth as you refine your skills and develop your unique style.

We have a bunch of helpful guides on the DJ.Studio Blog, so check them out to become a master DJ!

Summary#

Now you are aware of the equipment used by DJs to mix music, you can start making mixes of your own.

I think it's a good idea to test out DJing on software before you buy hardware.

This lets you get a taste of the experience without spending money. Also, you can start it instantly today, as all you need to do is download some software like DJ.Studio and start mixing!

When you are sure that you enjoy DJing, then consider investing in a more serious setup and start buying the gear you need.

Although, many DJs use a hybrid setup these days, making the most of both software and hardware DJing!

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!

FAQs DJ Equipment Guide - What Do DJs Use?

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