Beginner DJs and Buying Gear

A question I am asked often by beginner DJs is, “What gear should I start off with?”  This is a tough question because the answer depends on what type of DJ-ing you are doing and where you have visually projected yourself in the future.  The first question I have is, “Are you DJ-ing for fun or for money?”

If you are DJ-ing just for fun, then your choice of gear is irrelevant.  If fun truly is the name of your game the options are many.  There exists facial recognition software that enables you to use your face as a MIDI controller, there are ways to hack into your Xbox Kinect so that your whole body can be used as a MIDI controller, and there are countless new desktop controllers coming out everyday for computer DJ software.  Then there are the practically outmoded CD players.  Of course there is also the wagon wheel of DJ technology…the turntable.   It’s really just a matter of preference and what level of frustration you want to experience while learning to DJ.  The quick of it is: Software = fast, easy start.  Turntables = slow, hard start and high possibility of discouragement.

At the end of the day, DJ gear is just for the DJ and no other.  People in the audience dancing (if you can manage to get them to do so) don’t care what you are using to play music.  Fancy gear only impresses other DJs and impressing other DJs isn’t that important in the beginning.  DJ with whatever you can afford at the time and work your way up to better gear if you decide to stick with it.

As far as gear and technology, in this day and age, mobile DJs can get away with murder.  I was at a wedding in Chicago and the DJ used Win Amp and two powered speakers for the gig.  I was appalled, but I wasn’t the client.  As low rent and unprofessional as I thought it was, it didn’t matter what I thought because the client was happy.  This guy waltzed in with some freeware, two low budget speakers and sat in a folding chair all night and calmly raked in close to a grand.  He played all requests, had no complaints, did no mixing at all and was tipped handsomely at the end of the night.

From reading the above story most people will probably scoff, “That’s not really Djing!”  Sure it is.  It’s a different kind of DJ-ing that teaches a very important lesson to people that want to make money as a DJ.  It’s not about you and your fancy gear, but your audience. 

So say you do want to be a mobile DJ.  This is what I would recommend:

• Two Powered speakers (meaning that they have amps built into them and are self-powered eliminating the need for a separate power amp purchase

 • For laptop owners: software with a compatible hardware controller.  Most DJ controllers come with some kind of free stripped down software that is perfect for mobile DJ work

• Non-Laptop owners: two CD decks or turntables and a DJ mixer.  Your DJ mixer should have a microphone input because most of a mobile gig is talking and announcements.

• A wireless microphone.  It has to be wireless because you want to be able to pass the microphone to anyone in the room without the risk of someone tripping over a cable and possibly suing you or your employer

• A Disco ball and a pin.  Nothing screams low-budget and tacky like a couple having their first dance as husband and wife in the dark.

• Colored lights (preferably with motion sensors that pick up sound). You could skip the disco ball and just use moving colored lights, but it would be of your best interest to have both the disco ball and the colored lights.

Now let’s imagine that you don’t want to make the most amount of money with the least amount of skill (which is what mobile DJing is).  Let’s say you want to be a club DJ.  Technology has changed the game on this one a bit and created a DJ limbo placed between mobile DJ-ing and Club DJ-ing known as the Bar Gig. 

Bar gigs usually have a sound system for you to pipe into, but no DJ gear available.  The downside of a bar gig is that you have to bring in gear.  The upside to a bar gig is that you get to use the DJ gear that you are familiar with be it software, CD decks, turntables or any combination of the above.  Bar gigs never pay very well unless you can manage to get more than one in the form of residencies.   A residency just means that you are there on a regular basis.     

So what gear should you buy for a bar gig?  Depends on if you have aspirations of becoming a DJ at a legit club.  If the occasional bar gig suits you just fine while you are working your real job somewhere else then you can use anything from iTunes to Serato Scratch Live.  If you dream of being in a real DJ booth one day, you have to learn your way around the industry standards.  Standard professional software is either Traktor or Serato Scratch Live.  Real clubs will even have an in-house Serato break out box or a TTM 57SL mixer (which has the breakout box built into it).  As far as hardware, the standard for years has been either Pioneer CDJ-1000s, CDJ-800s, one of the various Pioneer mixers and Technique 1200 turntables.  You don’t have to purchase these very expensive items to learn how to use them, but it wouldn’t hurt.  In case you haven’t figured it out already, the higher you work your way up the DJ food chain the less gear you have to lug around.  It’s how you determine if you are working at a legit club or not.


Bar gigs are the DJ limbos because you are right between the two points of highest made income for a DJ, the mobile gig and the club gig.  Bar gigs are the most fun and often require the most DJ skill, but unfortunately are the worse paid gigs of the three types of gigs mentioned.

It’s important to note that, even if you never plan to do a wedding or private holiday party as long as you live, investing in a mobile sound system is always a worthwhile investment.  With your own sound system you can create gigs like a mobile bar residency or private house party.


In closing, buy what you can afford in the beginning.  It’s easier to figure out what the appropriate gear investments are for you if you stop to think about your ending DJ goal or destination.  Buying top gear in the beginning is always a good idea because top gear is always easy to sell if you should decide DJ-ing is not for you.  On the opposite side of the same coin, don’t let lack of finances stop you from being a DJ.  DJ with whatever you can get your hands on.




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