What’s the bare minimum that someone can start learning how to DJ with right away? The easiest and often cheapest solution is often to start out by getting a copy of DJ software and learning the basics. In today’s article for the budget-conscious, DJTT contributor Steven Maude rounds up the options for DJ software (and basic accessories) to begin mixing.
DJ Software For Less?
There are plenty of software options for all budgets, from free to a few hundred dollars. You’ll likely have to pay to get the same software that your favorite DJs might be using, but there are often free (though feature limited), versions of the same software available. There are also lesser-known alternatives that are completely free to use.
Free Option #1: Starter / LE versions
Most music software has basic limited demos for trial purposes. These are often either restricted in their features, or locked down after a certain amount of time of use:
- Traktor: Native Instruments’ DJ software has a demo that never expires. The only catch: each session lasts only 30 minutes. Too disruptive for performing, but for trying DJing out, that’s more than enough.
- Serato DJ: Depending on what hardware you have, you may be eligible to use Serato DJ‘s Intro software. This is a less featured version of Serato DJ, but enough to get you started.
- VirtualDJ is entirely free to use if you’re not using any equipment (any mixer, controller, etc – requires a license).
- Rekordbox DJ offers a 30 day trial – but after that, will lock you out of the performance mode entirely.
Free Option #2: Open Source DJ Software
There are also open source, free alternatives to paying for DJ software. What’s the catch? There really isn’t one: software developers have decided to make their code freely available, and projects that capture the imagination of developers and hobbyists often attract contributors to help build the software.
Both of the following projects have been around for a while:
- xwax is a simple software for working with timecoded CDs/vinyl, which runs on Linux only. The only hardware beyond a computer is an audio interface, turntables or CDJs. And, as we’ve mentioned previously, it’s the basis of PiDeck. PiDeck’s a new and alternative standalone solution if you don’t want to get involved with installing Linux onto your existing laptop.
- Mixxx runs on Windows, OS X and Linux, looks a lot like Traktor, and lets you use controllers or CDJs/turntables. We were impressed with how far it has developed in a recent review.
Buying Used DJ Software?
Some software allows the reselling of their licenses, meaning that used copies are also a way to get the software at a discount price. For example, Traktor, Serato, and Ableton all allow registered licenses to be transferred to other users.
Obviously, be a little cautious if you’re buying from someone you don’t know online. But if you can verify that the seller is trustworthy, this could be the cheapest way to full-fledged software.
Buying DJ Software At A Discount?
Keep an eye on the calendar! Generally, there’ll be certain times in the year when sales/offers are run. Usually around the competitive Thanksgiving Black Friday/Cyber Monday period, though occasionally there are summer or other seasonal discounts too. In no rush to upgrade or buy, and you’d rather save a little cash? It may be worth holding out for these price drops.
If you’re either following the companies on social media, sign up to their mailing lists, or are checking DJ/producer forums such as DJ TechTools’ own or the long running KVR Audio bargain thread, you’ll no doubt catch these deals when they’re running.
Unless you already have a decent sound card or audio interface, you might want to invest in one of these. There are two reasons why:
- On Windows, the drivers for built-in audio hardware don’t often give low enough latency to be responsive; the slight delay will make it much trickier for you to react correctly (OS X’s Core Audio means this is a less common an issue for Mac owners).
- You also need multiple audio outputs (for headphones and speakers), and, if you’re intent on using CDJs/turntables with timecode control, you’ll need multiple audio inputs.
But there are several reasons why you might not need to:
- Your DJ controller might already include a suitable soundcard
- For Windows, using the ASIO4ALL driver might be worth a shot to audio latency of your existing hardware to acceptable levels
- If you have low enough latency, a budget solution to the multiple output problem is a mono splitter cable which splits the stereo output into two mono outputs, one for headphone monitoring, one for the actual output.
Still want to buy? Second hand kit is still likely to work perfectly well, although again with the caveat of checking support for your current OS before buying. If you’re using a controller alone without timecode, something like Native Instruments’ Audio 2 will get you started. The previous, now unsupported, revision (“Audio 2 DJ”) sells for about a quarter to a third the price of the current (“Audio 2”) version, brand new, and is likely suitable if you’re just using a controller and computer alone.
There are also sometimes good deals from buying new kit too. The current Audio 2 model, buying new gets you the cut down Traktor LE, and has a bundled $50 discount voucher that you can spend with Native Instruments on their online store. That would go far in buying you a Traktor Pro license.
If you’re trying to stay budget conscious with your DJ setup, do you even need to get new headphones? They’re very useful, but you may be able to get by with whatever you have lying around, especially for home practice.
Plenty of cheaper monitoring options around at lower price points, just to get started, such as Sony’s mid-range MDR-V55, or their very low budget Sony MDR-V150 ($25 on Amazon).
Less well-known brands sometimes shine too. These Monoprice headphones are in a similar low price range as the MDR-V150. Taking a blind risk on an unknown product isn’t ideal, but if a pair of headphones exist, it’s more than likely that some enthusiast in the DJ TechTools forums or over at Head-Fi forums has tried them and will be evangelising them if they’re a great deal. You’ll often find modifications too, like the ones for the Monoprice to improve their comfort, to get more out of your purchase.
Have we missed any great tips for saving on DJ software or basic accessories? Let us and other readers know in the comments.
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Here’s a relatively inexpensive alternative way to get into DJ’ing for under $1,000.00 and you don’t even need a laptop. You can grab a pair of used Pioneer CDJ-400’s which are USB and CD capable ($450-$500) or a pair of new Numark NDX500’s ($249.00 ea.) and then have your choice of 2 channel mixer ($100 and up or less if you decide to grab a low budget used mixer) or a Numark Mixdeck Quad which is an all in one with two CD decks, two USB inputs, and a mixer section all built in. No laptop needed whatsoever. You can even go lower budget on the decks with Gemini and their MDJ-500’s going for $199.95 ea. retail which have a full detailed screen with a readout for waveform and track info.
Why not include free controllers? Everyone owns a phone; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_F8t3L7qNU (iOS Android)
The best way to avoid wasting money, in my opinion, is to find another DJ willing to share their skills and experience. This needs the right attitude from the student, of course. The love of music comes first, skills second, equipment third 🙂
Great point – sharing gear while you’re learning is a great way to save money – but not an option for everyone 🙂
I used Mixxx for my super cheap DJ set up build. Although the KaossDJ I’ve replaced the controller with is Serato basic compatible and really not that much more expensive (plus its probably the coolest mobile controller I’ve ever used) https://blog.dataphilesmusic.com/articles/portable-dj-in-a-box-build/
Tip #1: Buy everything on ebay. Tip #2: Buy EVERYTHING on ebay. =)
Generally, ebay stuff is pretty good. Look for people who bought something, tried it, and just didn’t like it. You’ll save 40-50% that way. I’ve personally had some bad experiences with b-stock, particularly from Sweetwater. Their B-stock is almost always physically busted. Once you’re making money, then you can start buying stuff new. Otherwise it’s just a waste of $.
More like “DJ Software and Accessories if You’re Cheap AF” The Traktor Z1 and Pioneer DDJ-RB offer a ton of value – software, controller, audio interface all in one. Shit. If you cater to the “freebie” crowd these are the same ones who prob think it’s ok to rip music for their sets from youtube.
About 4 years ago I started with the shittiest controller that I had ever used the ion discovery dj, which costed me about the same price of the party mix but with very less features and also mix vibes was very limited!!!! Today I use kontrol x1 and xone k2 with a sound interface and external mixer.
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Mixvibes Cross (Windows and Mac) and DJay Pro (Mac and iOS) are also solid options. I was impressed with the Djay Pro demo on the Mac, when I plugged in a relatively obscure M-Audio controller and it was pre-mapped! The manual mapping interface in it was very user friendly too. You only “need” Traktor/Serato/VDJ for advanced performance features like slicer/freeze mode or remix decks.
Some others here are saying dont get in to dj ing if you dont have the money.. I would say thats not true, if you decide you want to be a vynil turntablist dj ok you will spend a lot on gear and maintenance, but if you are just trying to get in to the game dont worry its easier now than ever, and if you have a smartphone or tablet there are plenty of quality apps in the 5 – 10 dollar range , and sometimes those apps are even free on special promotions, so you can start for free with equipment you already have , I use the ios app “DJAY” and I got it for free on promotion they do every now and then , many clubs now even have usb enabled equipment so you can get away with only having headphones and usb drives, if you want to be a dj just do it ! You can upgrade and build up your equipment and stuff later
I agree heavily with this with one caveat. If it’s possible for you to do so, save up and purchase a decent USB/Midi/Audio mixer. One that can switch between analogue and digital and has a few buttons you can map to cue/play if need be.
I still yearn to have tables again but my trusty Z2 has been a phenomenal companion since I got her.
In the last couple of years mixers that have fit the description have been coming out more often.. I think Mixars has one.. and Allen and Heath.
Like the posts before me, starting on-the-cheap is basically for learning and deciding if one really wants to invest in a more upscale system. It is a good way to start, though…
. I bought a discontinued Stanton SCS3 unit for about $125/US, and it came with VIrtualDJ-LE. After about 6 months, I paid the $300 to upgrade to VDJ-Pro, and it was a great investment. I have since moved onto different gear, which happens to all of us who get hit with the gear bug. Yes, I have a day job to pay for stuff…(:>)
..–>>SIDENOTE: VirtualDJ explicitly states that if you get paid for a DJ, you are considered ‘professional’ and need to upgrade (buy up) from the “Home” or “LE” versions.
I have been DJ’ing on and off since 1979. That means I have thousands of legitimately purchased music. I have spent a lot of time converting vinyl to Wave/MP3, because I have more time than money to buy all of that over again. But, I bought it over time. There is no ‘cheap out’ for legally obtaining the music. That is just the way it is. And, it needs to be quality recordings.
Another fairly cheap option, if you have a touch screen…
(1) Use the screen as a controller… really! I have a 15 inch screen, and my fingers are a bit small. So, I am looking at the Acer T232, 23 inch screen.
(2) Buy a second sound interface, such as the Behringer UFO-202. It has both line in and line out. That gives a laptop a second line out for amps while keeping the headphone jack. Add a $50 mixer to the line in, and you have your microphone port.
..–>> SIDENOTE: I am really leaning going this way, but in a bigger way.
Using the touch screen allows Mixxx to be used as the controller, directly from a touch screen.
Yep, definitely means you can dip your toe in the water without have to invest a lot then find yourself with kit gathering dust or losing a chunk when selling.
Nor do you have to start with everything on the cheap either, but it means you can maybe invest more in, say, a controller and settle for lower end headphones, or going for different software while you save.
I’ve started on djay for iPad for $10 and then upgrade to djay Pro for Mac which at $50 is still super cheap, plus it has Spotify integration which is a big plus. Plus it has a free trial. For me it definitely belongs in the above list, not sure how DJTT can miss this?
Agreed — this was originally a 3000+ word article that we’ve edited down into parts, and I mention djay in another part when talking about ways to save on buying music — glad it got pointed out in the comments here.
Don’t have $100 for Traktor Pro?
Better get a job or find another hobby.
It soon gets a lot more expensive than that.
And don’t forget to BUY your music.
OR find talented unknown artists who release high quality files for free! Seriously.. In this age.. money for legit music isn’t even a concern.. If people try hard enough they can find lots of free quality music just by looking around.. It will have two benefits.. Punters asking about music will be able to support independent up and coming artists, and your crates won’t be like everybody elses in the known universe.
But yeah.. I agree on the money point.. One of the most expensive hobbies ever… and the premium shit (actual wax with actual grooves) will always cost money..
There’s going to be another article in this series that focuses entirely on frugal / cheap but legal ways to build up a great library. You’re right – many artists give out great tracks for free, and deserve support 🙂
After getting my start on real wax (Which I have a tendency to speak about in magical terms) I had a long stretch of a struggle with 4 crates of records, no tables, no mixer, and no job prospects.. I had to hustle to find tracks that lit that fire in me.. Palms out were my saviors in the lean years.
Hope you enjoy and support our release then 😉
No doubt there’s plenty of good stuff for free.
But I would not start a hobby relying completely on that.
There’s still a lot of people out there asking for help with their cracked Virtual DJ installation and looking for “Beatport Top 100” downloads.
True… But that’s not where I started from or what I’m recommending… I couldn’t ever say I recommend Virtual DJ because based on my visual aesthetic preferences it doesn’t cut it.
Neither would I recommend DJs with a cash flow issue check the beatport 100 because all those tracks cost money.
Personally, I would say.. if you are interested at all in DJing, pick up a copy of traktor pro and an Audio 2. Traktor is an excellent software for digital DJs to start on and the Audio 2 is a good starting place for a DJ oriented card that can save the day even after upgrading a setup. Then I would recommend doing a web search for “genre audio blog” and also recommend looking for content aggregation sources for that material in general.. Download what’s available… Check the bitrate, and delete anything not 320kbps.
Probably expressed myself a little mistakably – my bad 🙂
I was ranting about that type of person that illegally downloads DJ software (Virtual DJ seems to be quite popular, maybe due to good availability in shady corners of the net) and then also illegally downloads music (often seen as Beatport Top 100 “packages”).
Though both music and software are available for a small budget these times, the above doesn’t cease.
I agree to all of your recommendations!
Ah. Yeah, that behavior stinks.
Like Dan said, there’s another post coming up where we talk about this some more, but this is spot on: free/pay what you want downloads via SoundCloud/Bandcamp are where I look for music these days. Not all the artists are unknown either, plenty of names you’ll have heard of give away free music/remixes at times.
Might not help if you’re wanting to play big hits — options like djay’s Spotify integration might help here — but, if you’re starting out and don’t want to spend a huge amount on getting music, legal free downloads are definitely an option, and one way to make your sets distinct too.
Or get the djay+spotify combo mentioned above and go for cheap route since djing is not an elitism market anymore…
It’s not about elitism – it’s about paying the artists.
Spotify is another way of doing that, though it means less income for the musicians.
The elitism wasn’t for the artist side, it was for the “buy a pro setup” usual mantra which try to keep the original turntable elitism ranting about cheap/cheat/toyish solutions 😉
Yep, I know.
I’m not an advocate for this #realdjing, too.
I think it’s good that the barriers of entry have been lowered for young DJs. I wish I had that option back then.
Use whatever you like and what makes people dance.
BUT also don’t have wrong expectations when starting to DJ, too.
It has the tendency to get pricey…
Starting with iDevices (if user wants to go fashion) is pricey itself but it’s still cheap against the “two turntables/cdjs” mantra I pointed. It could be pricey if the user try to pursuit this route to keep the “standard” (traditional culture mindset from the 80’s which is young as music conventions and old as technology speed evolution) but… the point that some of us were making was towards the “others” paths which aren’t listed even in the article. I’ve doing this same objection since djplayer appeared (with ipad1 compatibility for dvs) and most of the youngs have iPhones…
Elitism is force people to believe that only the expensive is the best option even in “start on cheap” article.
Computers aren’t so popular on today starters, Android is finally getting realtime audio on some popular devices and reliability on smartphones is bigger for these users. Later they could go pricey and buy a laptop! Parents will start with smartphones (to track them) and share their own computers in a mixture scenario. The iPhone guys will don’t need it 😉
So, is fun how advice an iPhone (old like 4s/5s does the job) is less elitist than a computer if you think in revenue (bang for buck) and the fact most people have smartphone than computers.
Price apps is another point on cheap argument.
First develop in iOS is being another (Korg gadget, GarageBand…) but djing is an old mind set paradigm so with articles like this maybe starters will go for a launchpad instead for a controller.
Said that I was/am pointing to you mate. I was pointing to traditionalism/purism since all of us look with “these look” or talk with our envision as gospel truth (me myself).
I will state: there are more paths than article pointed, some could be cheaper related to your context and there is no need for buy expensive gear to mix 2 songs. It’s so cheap and easy than ever an app could do it by itself.
Good point, as I mentioned, control vinyl and a Raspberry Pi is good enough to get started if you’ve got turntables already. So, you can definitely do this in less traditional ways (if laptop DJing has been around long enough for us to call it traditional).
I’d also written an article about the alternatives to laptops a bit more too; hopefully should be posted up on the site soon.
But for that same $100 you can get a Native Instruments Audio 2 (sound card) with Traktor 2 software. If you have a computer, this is a great introductory product. Get a pair of headphones (from anywhere), and you can DJ right away. It has two discrete outputs so you can both cue and play to mains in stereo.
Agreed. The Audio 2 is really good.
It doesn’t come with Traktor Pro, though.
They changed it – you now get a $50 voucher for the NI store.
So you’d have to spend $150 for that combination, which is still nice.
Aw man, it used to. 🙁 The site says it comes with Traktor LE
I started with Mixvibes Cross. The free version was great to start with.
Price point to features, Cross has to be the best software… hands down. $130 for DVS, video and it’s not locked to hardware.
Djplayer is 20€ (but now subscription model my bad)
Ms. Pinky is/was 99€/$ since day 1.
Deckadance was around 120€/$ too last time I check it…
On iOS you can find cross too (cheaper), edijing…
Some of them worked on 4/4s or even ipad1 over years and now with 5s (around 250€ in second hand or still being part of phone companies deals) you can run the new versions… in addition of lots of wonderful apps for music making (without piracy) and cheap most of them.
Did you tried my friend? I recommend almost try some of them 🙂
“Price point to features”. As far as I know nothing else gives you a 64 bit DVS client with video for $130.
These are entry level needs? Most demanded almost?
2nd hand CDJ 350’s and Xone:22 is what I would consider entry level for someone just learning. Some kids have parents that are willing to help them out.
Make numbers against smartphone/tablet which most of them have for parental control or study. Add software on top. In your setup you are considering them have computer which maybe was true for us but not for actual young but even if them have one a midi controller is the entry level not cdjs.
That’s the point I was trying to do in other comment… what was entry or standard for us isn’t by far what is actual due context. Most of the youngs who learn with turntables/cdjs are inspired by big brother/cousin (not talking about fb/google lol) who had these “culture” setup. Then articles like this or advice like yours make a neebie spent a quantity to “try” if djing is for them when they could realize it with cheaper options. Why to pay for options that them don’t know to need (video? Old cdj hid support? Dvs?) and maybe they don’t find fun?
Sorry Oddie but it doesn’t makes sense and I’m talking from experience to see neebies (and help them in forums over near 20 years from golden HipHop era when I made radioshow and started an associacion/crew to make courses about djing/digital djing/live produccing/live looping…) and over the years (and maybe biased to context why not?) here in Spain and over the net you can find the same over and over.
In the other side market pointed in different direction (and Ableton broke all the standards) but even in these terms… djing is very niche and computers/now smartphones a comodity.
Another question could be: These young really interested on the Artform should grow to a cdj/turntable setup? YES. I think it could be good for their progression but NEVER as entry level, instead of as a Intermediate after attend some course and try by themselves which option makes them more happy (inside their budget of course).
Ttablism is different beast but even on those I would recommend try new things like Numark Pt01 scratch or djplayer DVS/Mixxx with a cheap Behringer UFO200/turntable from a someone around before any big investment. It could benefeit them even in socialize themselves since they should grab the pieces involved instead ask parents for full fledge setup.
Here in North America, I can get a 14″ i5 thinkpad for the same price as an iPad. I can show you the bench marks for ARM vs Intel i series, but all that comes down to personal preference.
I stand by my original opinion of “PRICE FOR FEATURES” Cross has to be the best value. It’s 64 bit, stable, you can grow into it over time and the features that you get for $130 will cost you multiple hundreds as in app purchases for full desktop versions of other software and it’s not locked to an audio interface.
Frugal isn’t only about being cheap. As I’ve always seen it, it’s the best value for the lowest cost. Repurchasing as you grow isn’t going to save you any money.
If you continue. If you drop it then is money wasted.
For the power argument (classic mac vs pc now iPad aren’t enough powerfull) iPad 1 could handle djplayer with dvs. Check second hand market for iPhone 4s before state “for the price of an iPad”… which model? What features?
I can do dvs for less than 20€.
Vjing for less than 10€ (and for 60€ takete app), videoscratch with vjay/djay2 and stream over wifi with airplay without the hustle of cables…
Stems? Add fx like kaoss pad or turnado?
I also can record, mix a full song for 5€ with garageband. Even play like Ableton with their live loops feature…
I can continue but the best part is I don’t need to buy everything, just what I need.
For entry level production garageband (usually free with iDevice) gives a lot for the price and I can dj with it (drawback it needs a iPad air2/mini4/ iPhone6 to get some features due to apple segmentation) but there are lots of good apps under 20€
I have an old iPhone 4 (4s is under 100€ in second hand) which can handle dj apps and could do dvs/controllerism/video for under 30€. It cost less than your software and you still need something to run it.
What’s cheaper for someone without nothing in their hands?
By the way… Cross starts off with a demo version for free.
And has iOS version so, in the right context, is a winner for sure. 😉
Beyond colorblind people (even this is questionable) why would anybody ever need to label Tip/Ring? Ring=Red simple..
anyway… Deckadance is also a possibility.. maybe.. though I haven’t used it since they were sold..
That thing in the article is an insert cable for a console mixer. They label them because not everyone follows the rules about wiring.
Sure but my point is that according to the labelling that adapter fits the standard.. repeat standard, That has been in place for over 40 years.. I could understand it if somebody got the coloring code wrong and had to label it so that it would be correct.. I.E. the labels inverted on that picture.
An article on peasantry
Would DJ’s benefit from subscription model DJ software? I know there are options to subscribe to plug-ins and I think you can subscribe to Max4Live, but would a Traktor subscription make sense? When I was 16 it took me way too long to afford the $200 software, even though it’s probably cheaper now.
You can subscribe to plug-in here with people like Gobbler here for the frugal producer: https://www.gobbler.com/
subscription models are terrible because they generally end up being “you aren’t doing layaway on the software”. and what happens if you get a gig and then all of a sudden you need to reup your sub but you can’t because you needed the money from the gig to do that. yer screwed..
Djplayer gone this route meanwhile djay2 keep the licensing model and iap. Wait one yeah or two and let’s see…
That’s a really good point. Both are matched pretty well in terms of features and visual aesthetic. Nice full spectrum waves on each..
Buying subscription software is exactly the same thing as buying stuff with a credit card. Both have the same drawback. 🙁
djay pro (for the mac, and is in beta for windows) is $50 and is a good budget alternative
Good article! Mixxx with a DJ splitter cable is a good option for new DJs on a very tight budget. If you have a bit more of a budget, Mixxx with a Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 is a great option that will provide all the essentials. Mixxx is especially great for lower end controllers that come with intentionally limited software like the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 and Pioneer DDJ-SB(2) because it does have artificial restrictions like not letting you record your mixes or limiting the number of samplers or hotcues. You can use your controller fully without paying extra for what you already paid for.
As for cheap headphones, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much quality you can get from $30 Sennheiser headphones (I don’t remember the specific model, I think they have a few in that price range).
Mixxx 2.1 beta is coming soon, so stay tuned. 🙂
In my case I started with Mixxx (0€) , Numarck Mixtrack Edge (78€), Creative computer speakers (50€) and unknown brand hreadphones (12€).
With 140€ budget I had a nice enough set up.