When you are just starting out as a DJ it can be a difficult choice to invest on a DJ controller. Usually good DJ controllers aren’t cheap. You might think a DJ controller is not necessary when you can do basically everything with just the software. But truth is far from it.
So, do you need a DJ controller or is software enough? You definitely need a DJ controller. Even if you are a beginner. Just using the software great for learning to DJ but using just the software is too time consuming and inefficient for those looking to build a career as a DJ.
What is DJ software?
In the 1970s, we can find the earliest pop music DJs. DJs at that time used vinyl records, turntables, audio consoles, and other heavy equipment at disco shows. In the 1980s, DJs used cassettes to play songs. In the 1990s they used CDs and from the 2000s DJs started using digital audio such as mp3 files.
In the bygone era, DJs would transfer songs from CDs or vinyl records to gigs (live musical performances).
With technological development, large collections of music could be stored on laptops, and DJs switched to DJ software. DJ software allows you to combine music being played from two different sources at the same time and combine them to develop unique tracks. You can use such software on your laptop or your smartphone as an app.
Features of DJ software
The interface of DJ software has the following core features:
- Virtual turntables – Turntables are a dated instrument on which vinyl records were moved back and forth to create scratching and other rhythmic sounds. Virtual turntables on DJ software mimic the real turntables.
- EQ and gain controls – Equalizers are used for enhancing bass. Gain controls balance the audio output.
- Crossfaders – Blends numerous audio sources and adjusts their volumes
- Transport controls – Different software functions like start, stop, pitch, bpm (beats per minute).
- Real-time effects – This can be added to existing songs to develop unusual and ethereal mixes.
How DJ software works
DJ software displays the waveforms of the audio files which are played from two or more different sources simultaneously. Waveforms provide information on what is currently being played and what is coming next. This allows the DJ to make wise decisions about mixing.
The software identifies the tempo which is the number of beats per unit time or the rate of passage of tracks. This information is necessary to align the beats. This can be done manually or with the software.
Algorithms enable DJs to fix the tempo (speed of beats) irrespective of the pitch (loudness).
Different effects are applied by the DJ such as distortion, equalizers, and time effects like reverb that create echoes and delay that copy the sound of different spaces.
What is a DJ controller?
A DJ controller is a MIDI device. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A DJ controller is a MIDI controller which is a physical interface that enables you to manipulate devices that work with MIDI. MIDI is a protocol or language that allows digital music gadgets to communicate.
DJ controllers use the MIDI or HID protocols that connect with computers using USB. A DJ controller mimics the characteristics of a conventional turntable and audio mixer. It is a device that consists of various components like encoders, knobs, etc which are combined with mixing software to create mixes. DJ controllers provide a link between hardware and software.
How DJ controller works
First, the DJ controller should be connected to a laptop or computer. The controller receives an audio signal from the DJ’s laptop when the two are connected. The DJ manipulates with the music and the DJ controller acts as his interface. The knobs, buttons, and faders need to be in sync with the software.
DJ controllers contain a microprocessor that can control DJ software without using a keyboard. The DJ controller itself cannot do the mixing but sends commands to your computer to allow the software to do the mixing. The data is sent to the laptop.
The DJ software interprets the data, processes it, and sends it to the controller. Many controllers have a sound card that sends the audio to the speakers.
Music is copied on to a jog wheel which is like a virtual vinyl. Jog wheels mimic the features of a conventional turntable. DJ mixers can also be incorporated into a DJ controller. This allows you to change the signals on the jog wheel. Using these functionalities, a modern DJ can do everything that a DJ from the past with turntables can.
Pros and Cons of using a DJ controller
- You can connect the controller to your laptop that contains all your music. You don’t need to carry USB and heavy hard drives with you.
- You can create and edit playlists and search for extra tracks to add to the playlist.
- A DJ controller contains all the functionalities that a professional DJ requires. You don’t need to purchase any separate gadgets or software.
- It is small and hence, portable. Busy DJs don’t need to worry about carrying large and heavy DJ gear.
- Since they are small, they don’t need extra careful handling. Only the right amount of care is needed.
- They are inexpensive.
- They deliver powerful performance compared to conventional DJ gear.
- They have more features.
- They are easy to use.
- There are separate DJ controllers for different levels of expertise.
- Sometimes software’s come free with the controller. So, you might not need to pay for a DJ software.
- Can be expensive. There are cheap ones available but they are not worth the money. Even if you are a beginner starting out with a good controller is recommended.
- Not all DJ controllers support all DJ software. Some DJ software is manufactured in partnership with some DJ controller and vice versa. Some DJ controllers will work with only a specific package of software.
- Some controls of the controller may not map with some controls of the software.
- Sometimes when the software upgrades, the mappings don’t change. In that case, the software cannot be used with the controller and vice versa.
Pros and cons of using just DJ software
- No need to pay a premium for a good controller
- DJ software can create impressive and spectacular mixes of tracks.
- There are different built-in effects.
- Beat syncing is automatic. It does not need manual operation.
- No soundcard or dongles are needed.
- Software’s MIDI clock can be synced to external programs.
- Waveforms show bass and treble in different colors.
- Navigating through different controls and features can be troublesome
- Takes a lot more time than using with a controller
- It is necessary to insert your sound card into club PA (public announcement).
- Waveforms don’t provide frequency information.
Best DJ software for beginners
As a beginner it can be difficult to pinpoint which DJ software would be best for you. So, we went our way to list some of our favorite ones. If you are a beginner than these would be great for learning the tropes of DJing.
Below is a list of our top 3 best software for beginners. Due to their popularity many controllers support these softwares more or less. So, if you start with these there will be a lesser chance of running into compatibility issues.
- Rekordbox DJ
It is cloud connected. It allows you to search, import and arrange innumerable songs in a music library. It also includes advanced features like star ratings and related track searches. It gives you a thirty-day free trial.
- Serato DJ Pro
Its Graphical User Interface is very easy to use but professional. The interface displays waveforms and performance features. The software offers a range of effects that enhance mixes. The effects range from reverb and delay to a variety of unique and creative effects.
- Traktor Pro 3
It has a feature called mixer FX that delivers club-style effects. The Traktor Limiter feature doesn’t muffle the sound even when you layer numerous tracks and samples.
There are plenty of other DJ software out there. So, Finding the one that best suits your needs and style shouldn’t be that difficult.
Back in the day, to be a DJ you would need turntables and vinyl records. With the advent of technology, becoming an expert in the DJing field has become easier and cheaper. With so many DJ gear options, it may get confusing to choose the right equipment or software.
We hope this article has helped you in understanding the tidbits related to DJ technology. If you are a beginner DJ, we hope you can now decide if you need a DJ controller or if the software is enough for you to rock the stage at the next party.
Thanks for taking you time reading our little article. We wish you the best of luck with you journey into the world of DJing.