How To Practice On Club DJ Gear You Don’t Own

Recently we’ve noticed DJs around the web asking about getting a chance to use club gear before playing a gig. One of the best things you can do before a DJ set is be completely familiar with the DJ gear that you’re going to be using. But for those who are new to some types of gear, how do you get time behind those particular decks? Learn from DJTT’s own DJ community a few great strategies for gaining experience on club DJ gear.

Gaining experience on professional club DJ gear isn’t super easy for every person who wants to take on learning how to mix. Especially for those DJs who don’t have a lot of cash to throw at the problem of acquiring DJ gear, it’s not uncommon to have more experience mixing on a virtual set of decks with little-to-no outboard gear.

And the truth is, the industry standard set of club DJ gear now runs well over $2,000. It’s not exactly a casual hobby investment, but for many DJs, not having that experience can be a huge hinderance.

Rent The Gear

Where do you think most of the DJ gear in your town or city is right now? Most likely there’s a large stockpile in local audio gear rental companies – this is where clubs and promoters go when they need to get certain bits of kit that they don’t have locally. Anyone can rent this gear, and usually it’s only a fraction of the price of purchasing it.

A few tips for making sure you get your money’s worth if you rent DJ gear to practice on:

  • Ask the rental company if there’s a time of the week that’s cheaper to rent (often weekends mean higher demand and prices)
  • See if there are weekly / monthly rates that are a better deal
  • Shop around! If you’re in a big city, quickly call each rental store and see what their rates are.

Go To A Music Instrument Store

While the last decade hasn’t been especially kind to brick and mortar stores selling musical instruments (see this analysis from February 2015 on the financial decline of Guitar Center), they still remain one of the few places for many musicians to try gear before they buy it.

Historically, these stores are more than happy to let budding DJs come in and test out gear in exchange for a potential sales lead. Of course, this comes with the drawback of it being an unpredictable environment. Sales people will bother you – they want to make their commission, other customers will want to play with the gear as well, and you’re likely to be surrounded by a ton of other noise from other instruments and DJ stations.

Overall, a musical equipment store is great place to check out and learn about pro DJ gear, but not the best way to actually get solid practice time in.  

Find A Friendly Venue / Play At Soundcheck

Image credit: @djthay420 on Twitter

If you’re going to be playing on unfamiliar DJ gear at a venue, why not try to find a way to play in that DJ booth before the actual show? If you’ve got a good relationship with a venue owner or a promoter, ask to show up earlier in the evening on a slower night and get a chance to play on the gear.

One of the best things about this plan is that you are using the exact gear that you’re going to be using on the night of. If there are any quirks (especially common with well-worn club mixers), you’ll find out before you show up for your gig. 

There are a few drawbacks here as well – not every club will be willing to let you in early, and some club owners might (unfairly) doubt your ability to DJ if you’re asking to get some practice in.

Read our 2013 article on talking to promoters and club managers to build these relationships so a request like this is a breeze.

Swap Gear With DJ Friends / Local DJs

Just a sampling of the local DJ groups on Meetup.com

Have you found a community of DJs in your local area? Meeting and befriending other DJs will pay dividends in many ways, and one of them is the potential to share and trade gear. One DJ might have turntables and want to try out CDJs, or two DJs might want to swap controllers to try out a new brand or model. 

I’ve personally found Meetup.com to be a great place to find these local groups of DJs looking to connect with others. Even if you can’t find the bit of kit you need right away, odds are you’ll meet someone who can point you in the right direction.  

Watch Videos Of The Gear In Use

This one might be the most obvious to many DJs because we live in an era in which almost every piece of gear in any area of technology has a video of someone using it. Not only are there tutorials for DJ gear, but you can also try searching for videos of complete mixes on that specific gear.

Taking the above example of the Kontrol Z2 mixer, a quick YouTube search reveals this 20-minute POV mix video that would be very informative for anyone who knows how to DJ, but might not know the ins-and-outs of the Z2:

Have your own thoughts on how to get experience with club DJ setups before the big show? Share your stories in the comments below. 

clubclub dj geardj gearDJ gear storeexperiencegaining experiencemusical instrument store
Comments (19)
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  • djrizki .

    Another option is find a DJ Studio locally, just like a band studio, these DJ Studio consist of small/medium room with a complete standard DJ Club gears, that they rent out on hourly basis

  • MomofMusic

    Can someone advise on equipment and software for my 17 year old that wants to get into DJing and music production? He has asked for Ableton 9 software. Please advise as well as starter equipment.

  • Big C

    This is a great topic – and something every DJ will face unless they always use their own equipment.

    I started with my Serato SL1 box with a Rane TTM-56 mixer and Technics 1200 turntables that I saved up for some time to buy. This is still the setup that I practice on at home the majority of the time. I plan on buying CDJs as soon as I can afford them.

    I have made the switch almost completely to playing out on Pioneer CDJ’s via USB stick. If the event I’m playing doesn’t have USB stick capable CDJs or is just using turntables for the night – I’ll still lug out the Serato stuff and the laptop, but I try not to.

    After losing my hard-drive twice in the course of a year (yes I had it backed up, yes I am rough on my equipment) I realized that bringing a laptop out to my gigs all the time just isn’t the smartest thing to do when you are doing events on a very regular basis (once a week or more) and that just loading up USB sticks made a lot more sense.

    The big thing was renting CDJs. At the same time as I was having issues with my computer I was helping running a Friday night weekly event. I had the chance and ability to rent the CDJs monthly for a lower cost than it would have been just renting them once and awhile – and so myself and my business partner decided to go for it. We passed them back and forth and also lent them to some of the other DJs on our team to become comfortable on.

    I haven’t looked back since.

    Rekordbox is an excellent piece of software that does everything I really wanted out of Serato and I cannot wait until they release full DVS support for it.

    There is absolutely no reason to bring a laptop to a gig if you have USB compatible CDJs available other than just being afraid of how to use the gear properly (or if you are really pushing the boundaries with Ableton or STEMS).

    There is something to be said for keeping it simple though and just having to worry about your USB sticks and headphones at a gig is pretty priceless.

    Get a couple buddies together. Rent a set for a month. Each of you takes it for a week. Spend some time hanging out and jamming and mixing. It’s going to make you all better DJs anyhow.

  • LIEKIT

    There’s just one way to practice with gear you don’t have: find a job and save money. Buy two turntables or cdj from the past (they have all the features to beatmatch and do a dj set). Save other money and buy original music.

    Are you looking for fame and glory? Do yourself a favour and stop thinking about djing 😉

  • midiman

    i use traktor and a x1. this setup fits everywhere and does what i need. i dont care what mixer is in the club. i dont care about the players because i dont use them.

    • Comme Erçial

      Thats the perk of being a midiman. Not everyone is or aspires to be a midiman.

  • djfreesoul

    I started to do student volunteer work at the local student pub/bar. They had a Denon 2500-rig with a DJM500-mikser. I learned to DJ again with a familiar mixer, but a new player. The hot cues on that machine and great timing skills from good old vinyl mixing made it easy to learn. Since it was volunteer work, people had lower ecpectations to the DJ, so… I just winged it on the first night i played there. The rig was only used two times a month, so I could use it whenever I wanted. And the bar even had free coffee for the volunteers 🙂

  • No Qualms

    Thanks for the feature!

    Music management is the key to being prepared for all gigs.
    I find that the best way to cover all bases is to have a DVS interface for whatever software you use and learn the software well. That way it doesn’t matter what gear the club has, the in & outs of the interface are always the same, the software is always the same and your file management is always the same.
    So if they have crappy old CDJs you can use TC CDs, if they have new CDJs you can use TC on USBs, if they have turntables you can have TC vinyl. Either way you are covered and the learning curve is much smaller ?

    • Oddie O'Phyle

      A lot of CDJ’s have USB hook up too. I carry an extra pair of cables for HID and/or advanced audio routing (in Traktor) if the mixer is lacking an audio interface. I find that it usually has a bit tighter control than TC (just my experience though).

      • No Qualms

        Yeah HID is tighter, but only available on later model CDJs. If you walk into a bar or club and they have something like a NDX400 on one side and a CDJ1000 on the other you’re stuffed. (This is exactly the setup at a recent gig.) TC covers all bases. Plus I’ve been scratching with TC vinyl for years and never noticed any latency. Sometimes good enough is, good enough.

        • Oddie O'Phyle

          Boo-urns, walking into a digital player set up like that sucks. Situations like that, I have been known to pack my CDJs in their softbags and share with my friends. At the least it’s a free party, with friends and music. Struggling artists I get, nobody should have to struggle to play.

        • Oddie O'Phyle

          Back in the day, 20 years ago or so. Local Dj niches used to get together for social time at someones house (usually one with a pair of Techs), switch off every few trax show each other our fresh picks for the week and talk about hardware or producers. I was thankful, back in those days all I had was a pair of belt drive Pyramids and an old radio shack mixer. It was how I got used to the tables that a friend would bring out for the party or club (again, usually a pair of Techs), until I finally got a pair of my own. That social behavior encouraged a generation of techno, house and jungle/dnb djs. These days I’m happy that I can pay it forward a little.

          • No Qualms

            I grew up in the country with no access to DJ stores, owned no equipment and had no DJ clique.
            I used to DJ at the local roller skating rink on 2 tape decks and a disco mixer. Ever tried mixing cassettes, it’s crazy!
            80’s disco madness, I remember it was “Footloose” for speed skating and “Eye Of The Tiger” for figure of 8. It’s amazing that that’s over 20 years ago now ?

  • Oddie O'Phyle

    I personally have a set up that’s very close to club standard, but then again I was doing weekly rentals for a few years and found that owning the booth was cheaper in the long run if I was going to promote and dj. My friends know that if they ever need to brush up, that all they have to do is give a shout and book an evening to stop by. Anyone that I book for a club night or radio spot is extended the same offer to get a handle on the hardware. To be honest, I didn’t end up with a pair of 2KNXS and an 850 for myself. It was more about flexibility… weight, size, functionality and software compatibility. I got the kit to share with friends, have some fun and make a bit of cash while playing some good music. Allowing friends to practice and teaching those that have interest is good part of why it dominates my dining room during the week.

  • SNOOPP

    how i was practicing, it was more than 10y ago so there was no youtube channels with some info that you may have now:
    1. I was trying to understand what djs actually do by using traktor(if it was traktor). Basically trying to mix everything down normally. I mapped something to my keyboard(EQ, faders, some effects). This was some kind of controller.
    2. After year or so my friend added me on a lineup of some party, 500 people or so, but this was shocking, because after playing on PC cdjs was like from hell, i actually don’t remember how i mixed everything, i just hope that nobody realizes that i was first time behind the real gear.
    3. Because of playing really well on my pc i was producing some podcasts promoter from other country booked me on a gig. That was scary because i actually had no idea how real djs doing beatmatch, so i recorded few cds where was prepared tracks, i matched BPM with traktor and recorded everything with a same speed, so it was “synced” set 😀
    4. I started to work on a local radio station, as a technical stuff, but i was able to see how real djs work and i had some time to practice also.
    5. Milestone for me was one place, they suggested to play once in a weekend for a one year or more. There was CDJ 100, so this was really hardcore practice. DJs work is not only beat matching and stuff, you also need to work with crowd, and this place was excellent for that practice. Not so big, so i had to look on people while set to make sure that they are still there and dancing. Also i understand that when people is not only dancing but ordering something from the bar is making place owners more happy.
    6. After some time i had some basic skills and on radio they found that i’am not playing only rave music so they starts to book me and i quit that small place, because of fun that i have from a bigger events + profit was more motivating. I started to use different setups + youtube was already with some tutorials + with my vision of playing i understand that i am having some own style. I thing because i was playing every weekend i learned my material so well so i started to make somethng to make mix sound everytime different. Time after time other djs saing that i really play music, not just mixing, dont know anything about that.
    7. Few years ago i quit playing CDs, now i use controllers because they give me more freedom, when someone is starting to say that controllers is not serious > i can do stuff that normal dj can’t with cds, he will break his hands with that 😀 Sometimes i use CDs with USB, but only when i have some special party.

    One thing that really helps me that i learned music theory 🙂

  • AuralCandy.Net

    95 times out of 100 the “DJing with strange gear” scenario means you’ll be DJing with CDJ-900 or CDJ-2000 (Nexus or non-Nexus). Jogs, pitch, cues etc. are pretty self-explanatory, but the media management can be tricky if you never touched them before. Download the PDF and watch couple YouTube videos and you’ll be fine.

    However, if the venue has anything else thank recent CDJs that take USB-sticks, my advice is to bring your own gear. Burning CDs just isn’t worth the hassle.

    • Guest

      What is a CD?