Dont Crash the Plane- Follow these rules.

When djing, your essentially a pilot manning the helm of a plane. While there are many obvious things your in charge of during the flight, there is one that you may not think of. Its your job to make sure the sound coming out of the speakers is the best quality it can be. Lets look at a few basic rules you should follow to keep yourself out of the red.

#1 Check Your Gain Stages

A gain stage is a point in the chain of devices where you have the opportunity to turn the signal up or down. If you start at 100% volume and have 5 gain stages then you could potentially end up with a very distorted signal. As djs we all have the tendency to turn up the volume, its hardwired into our DNA after all, so its important to know where you can turn things up. Follow these simple rules and you should be safe:

  • If mixing inside the software never crank the channel gains, these are the easiest to distort.
  • Clipping or pushing the master output of your software is ok as long as you have a limiter or compressor on. Clipping too hard will cause “pumping and breathing” though and should be avoided.
  • Many people like to set the software master output at -3db or less, we recommend you pick one setting that sounds good and leave it for the night.
  • on the club mixer, keep your master and channel faders up all the way.
  • if you find yourself in the middle of a set needing more gain, use the channel fader gain pot on the clubs mixer. Don’t turn up Traktors master output.

#2 Set your monitor levels

  • the booth monitors should be just loud enough to drown out the main speakers, canceling any delay in the time it takes the sound to reach you.
  • Slowly turn your monitors up until they are just louder than the speakers and leave them there.
  • Take note of this position and if you find it turned up later, go to step 3.

#3 Turn your monitors down between mixes.

Over the course of a set, your ears will fatigue greatly and loudness perception decreases dramatically. Essentially, your concept of what is really loud in the middle of the set is completely off. Would you want your pilot’s vision failing over the course of a flight?

#4 Use your ears!

Turn the monitors off and listen to the club sound system. Go out and walk the floor, make EQ adjustments and set your levels based on what the dancers will hear- not your position in the room.

#5 Turn it down, not up

Contrary to popular belief and a certain epic rock movie, there is no 11! As mentioned before, you cant keep turning it up all night to create more excitement. So why not try turning it down, and then turning it up? Hmmmm, revolutionary. Lowering the volume will make everyone pay attention, and create tension. Then hit them upside the head with a massive song at full volume and baroomph! instant club nirvana.

Dj BasicsTipsTIPS FROM THE PROSTraktor Tips
Comments (13)
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  • Slowgowin

    well i must say for being a self taught house dj and mixing on everything from no booth monitors to too much return sound from a large system. vynil technics and cdjs . that was a great entry level 101 so mixing levels. the first notable  problem i noticed while learning was?….. from what im hearing verses what they hear divided by my ear fatigue ….. thats real talk if you want to sound pro the who;e way. but this is only my guess    ian


    Another thing is the damn stereo /momo switch, its pretty obvious but often overlooked.

    The last two clubs i played at had the switch at mono. It sounds muffled and bass heavy. that took me a while to figure out. Im starting to think its the resident DJs switching that shit to mono when they got off.

  • D.J. Pegasus

    Great article. This should be required reading for DJs. Too many I've heard just crank the volume and hurt my ears!

    A couple things to add:

    – If your mixer has individual pre-fader gain signal indicators (e.g. DJM-500 and up) start with them set to peak at 0db (requires previewing the track to find the peaks.) This gives you plenty of headroom and avoids distortion later on.

    – Consider keeping the channel faders on the mixer just above mid-way so you have some wiggle room if you need to increase/decrease the incoming track's volume relative to the outgoing one. I can't tell you how many times this has been useful for me, especially when mixing into 80's music which isn't compressed nearly as much as more modern stuff.

    – Set the power amps to max volume (that the speakers can safely support) and use the Master fader on your mixer as your main volume control. Before the show starts, test the system with your master fader at full volume and make sure neither your mixer or the amplifiers are clipping (or going into protection mode!) If the mixer is, turn down the master fader. If the amps are, adjust the mixer's master output calibration, or just turn down the fader. If it's too quiet at this point, you need bigger amps!

  • Urban Fabric

    Always good info Ean. I think every starter dj should be issued these steps.

  • DJ Rio

    Great Ean, the sound quality is the most that we have to care of. After all we are in charge of the speakers and the products of our works go through those, the volume level and the EQ are very important.

    Thanks for this great article.

    Dj Rio

  • Aanrii

    JesC mentioned about guest djs and that was so true last friday. It was great party, volume knob was in the right place and then the guest dj came in. He cranked it up too much and then the sound started to hurt my ears. So I had to go and get those cheap ear plugs from the bar and then the music they played sounded just muffled.

    And this was all his fault and he could have avoided it by not turning the volume up. That's when I made note to myself: Don't play the music too loud. People usually don't enjoy pain while they are partying. 😛

  • Guust-Fi

    I even prefer to turn traktors master out down to about -12dB. That give's me a lot of room for effects and EQ keeping the signal completely distortion free. If I need more volume I turn it up in the analog stage.

  • DJ ToS

    Sorry, don't have anything to add but just have to keep track of the comments. Cheers.

  • Grizz

    great article!!! these rules really do work!!!

    i do all those steps EVERY time i dj. especially walking the room when i can or have i friend walk around. i have always turned the monitor down when i did not need to mix. that's why my ears still work great after 15 years of djing. another thing is your not "suppose" to be on the red on any mixer. that is why it is RED! turn it up from the correct way what ever your individual case may be.

  • Dj JesC

    Good info Ean,

    I hate it when you have Guest (DJ) Pilots aboard your plane and they want full power! They think that Electro/Indie or whatever the mix needs to sounds like Gabber-Hardcore!

    Its not how loud the speakers are, its how good the music sounds!