So You Want to Spin.. No You Don’t, But Since You Won’t Listen Here’s Some Stuff You Should Know

I don’t know if all loud-mouth upstarts get the same “how do I start?” queries as often as I do, but I get it about once a week, coupled with “what do I need to buy”.  If you are about to ask these questions, here’s my warning:

DJing is a contagious disease with no cure, only remissions.  It will suck up your time, your finances, and your brain space.  It will likely negatively impact your family and social time for a long time, until (I hope) it becomes a natural act that just requires maintenance to do well.  But then of course you’re still not done, because you’re shooting for Excellence, so there’s more time to be spent.

But you’re not going to listen.  So I’ll ask you to consider, REALLY consider, WHY you want to spin… your long game. This is going to cost more and be more painful than a nice big ass tattoo,  and should be given as much thought.  Because, trust me of all people, what you want in the end should determine how you start.  Oh, and don’t believe your own bull about “play for myself and my friends at house parties” because once you’re already thinking house parties, you’re thinking of playing out, so be honest.

Now, if you really, really, really, just want to hear newer music and always have a mix of your favorite songs for your car, get a simple, cheap controller and an appropriate piece of software that allows you to record (the one that comes with your controller probably does not allow that, don’t get pissed, be ready), don’t be ashamed of the synch key and have fun.

But that’s not going to stay true, even if it is true now so I (and I speak with authority here) implore you to spend half your play time on beat matching *even if you don’t think you’ll ever need it*  I’m not going to explain, you’ve heard all the arguments, the only new thing I’m saying is sure, sync for a little of your practice time too so you can have some fun, enjoy your tunes and learn your mixer functions but also learn to beat match regardless of if you think you’ll ever have a need to do it.

A common thought is that controllers are for beginners (you) and masters (not you yet) but I don’t know of many controller masters who haven’t sidestepped to vinyl or cdj along the path back to the controller greatness (actually, I don’t know any who didn’t start on vinyl or cdj that are REALLY working their controller today) so if the little tweety bird on your shoulder has any thoughts of “other things,” get a 4 channel controller that has two “ins” for line/phono… this means it’s not only a controller but also can be used as a mixer for cdj’s or turntables, saving some money on your likely next step.

Now, three or so years ago I was pretty sure about this “play for myself” thing and my first controller was a basic 2 channel that was gifted, I’m pretty sure, to shut me up from whining about nobody playing my music.  But the first I BOUGHT was a four channel.  Whatever you get, avoid anything your friends call endearing names like “fisher price” and make sure it’s sturdy with replaceable parts.   For your first piece, just grab what you can get used and get the basics down.. even reading every review in the world and talking to every dj  you respect, there’s no way to no what features and functions will matter to you, so buy used and cheap (but fully functional) and then start your research for the 100% inevitable replacement you can expect in 6 months or so.


So you admit you want to play out some day?  GOOD, good, honestly is important.  A lot of people will tell you to get cdj’s and they are probably on to something, because that’s what you’ll find at most shows, but I don’t know shit from cdj’s so I can’t speak to them.  What I can say is that I’m told repeatedly it’s much easier for a vinyl dj to learn cdj’s than for a cdj dj to learn vinyl and since you want to be able to play it all in the end, I’ll pass on the advice I was given (and ignored because I believed the “play for myself” hype) and tell you to start with vinyl.

And let’s be clear, when I say vinyl, I do not mean control vinyl with Serato or Traktor (both excellent tools, by the way). I mean go ahead and jump in the deep end with turntables and a mixer and all that jazz, with real records and expect to hate life for a while until it jells a bit after a lot of hard work.

And what do THOSE folks, the vinyl starters need?  Here’s what my rig, after a LOT of research, idea stealing, question asking, and used gear trading has lead me to think is a good starter set up.

1.  2 Technic Turntables 1200 mk2 or better.  A few notes, a) THERE IS NO Q, it is pronounced “tek-nik”. Everybody is wrong, I swear, I looked it up repeatedly to win bets. b) there are other, newer manufacturers that make products that are “just as good” or “better”.  But for at least the time being, Technics are still industry standards so if you plan on playing out, learn on what you’ll play at shows; learn on Technics.  BUT if a friend has something else, play with them a lot, as obviously the more shit you are comfortable on the better.

2. A mixer.  All you’ll you’ll need for the first few months is a crossfader, two volume faders and a couple eq’s, so if you’re in a hurry and low on funds grab whatever is cheap but expect to be replacing it within six months unless you start with something a little fancier.  To save money in the long run, if you agree with me that “industry standard” is the way to go, get something in the Pioneer DJM family, the 500 is a great starter; although it’s more machine than I need at the moment I’m in love with my 900.  Anything else, any other name or number ASK SOME DJ’S… there are some winners and some stinkers out there.. there are better mixers than my 900 for less money but I chose it since it’s the best instrument I’m likely to run into at a gig.

3. Needles.  *THIS IS NOT WHERE WE LOOK TO SAVE MONEY*  Also, this is not a good subject to get dj consencus on.  Just do NOT walk into your local shop and buy the Numarks for a $60 a piece.  They will not last, they will damage your vinyl (which will become a very  big deal very quickly), they won’t sound good for long.  I’m low on funds and not good assembling little thingies together, so I’ve been happy with the Shure White Labels I found on Amazon for 70 a piece, with replaceable stylus (forget how much but it’s cheap).  Start with 2 fully assembled units but have a third stylus ready and waiting for the sad day one goes or better still a fully assembled third (and even forth) for the day one or both hit this shitter in the middle of a live set.

5. Monitor.  Ok, I don’t know the technicals here, but you want a Monitor speakers, not a stereo speakers.  I’ve been very happy with my compact little KRK Rokit 6, though I’d be happier if it were louder, I’m told by those wiser than me it’s better to mix to a softer monitor anyway (which I get, it’s just this song is sooooo goooooood I want it louder!).

5A) Monitor isolater.. this can be cushioning or a stand, but make sure it’s rated for your specific monitor. I love my isoAcoustics tabletop stand.  It prevents the vibration of the monitor from transferring into the surface it’s sits on which can realllllly change the sound; isolation makes everything sound better, more true, and makes mixing easier.

6.  RECORDS THAT GO TOGETHER.  Start with at least 20-40 that will work together.  Yes, if you  run into something you love outside the first crate you try to build, get it and put it aside,  but for learning find a seller who will work with you and help you shop.. or a friend who will walk you through and get you started.  **Random record buying is a waste of money, GET HELP to get started**  Are you friends with a dj whose tunes you like on vinyl…. maybe a bribe of dinner out will have them get you started with a list of what to look for.  Vinyl DJ’s LOVE new vinyl dj’s and WILL help you learn how to shop and start your first crate.

7. PROFESSIONAL DJ HEADPHONES.  Repeat DJ HEADPHONES, not Monitor headphones, not professional headphones, PROFESSIONAL DJ HEADPHONES.  Ask around and 10 dj’s will suggest 15 models, but the Pioneer 1500 model, though prone to breakages, seems to be the most common around and I’m satisfied enough with it, though am always trying to get my hands on other’s to try them out.  Now, what people will not tell you is that just as important as the sound in a headphone, more so even then durability, is GOOD COMFORTABLE FIT, so make sure you’ve tried on whatever you’ll buy, and GET THE GODDAMN WARRANTY with headphones.  AND GET THE CASE, not just the little leather bag.

8, SLIPMATS.  2 pairs, and there’s a reason… first, this subject can spark hot debate so I’ll just give you the results of the debates I sparked with the question..I tried and like the velvety ones that look like waves.  Why, I dunno, I just like how they grip the record, taste on the matter is personal.  Keep a spare pare in your record case for gigs, cuz you’re gonna WANT WHAT YOU ARE USED TO when you play out, so just as you bring your own needles to a gig, you bring your won slipmats, and there’s a decent chance you’ll forget them, so you need two pairs.

9. RECORD CLEANERS, you’re records will be 99% used… and gross.  I give my new records a pass with a Carbon Fiber Anti Static Brush (seems to do a better job than the velvet pads, though I own both) and then a liquid cleaner.  The liquid is great for “curing skips”.  Hotly debated topic, like most, I’ve settled on the affordable, “good enough” D4+ Cleaning system with pad and liquid.  This is not the best on the market, but it does the job.

10.  Needle brush.  Trust me.  NO FINGERS ON THE STYLUS!

11. Record clamp… (also called record weight).  Again, trust me.  I’m very happy with the Alchemist sliver and yellow model.  NO ONE HAS ONE, EVERY DJ WILL TELL YOU I AM NUTS but they are awesome.  Read up and make up your own mind.  They make handling lesser quality pressings of records easier to handle and sound better, among other things.

12. DISTINCTIVE DUCT TAPE.  I chose pink Hello Kitty.  EVERYTHING I OWN that might leave my house, down to the last cable, has “my” tape on it.  So while everyone else is figuring out who owns what at the end of the night, I can collect my things and roll out.

If you get all good deals, buy used, and don’t buy shit that needs early replacement, you might be getting started for as little as 2000….. so you know, clear up that credit line.

There’s more, always more, but here’s the start.


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