While browsing through my Facebook feed this morning I stumbled on a video that makes a case for starting photographers not to focus on getting expensive gear but rather on building their skill set.

To prove their point, two pro photographers went to work with a cheap Canon Rebel and another amateur photographer used the ultra expensive Canon 5R Mark IV (the body alone costs more than USD 4.000…).

 

Although the photos with the expensive camera by the amateur weren’t bad, the ones shot by the professional photographers on the cheap camera looked crisp and inspired, as professional pictures should look.

What does this mean for DJ’s?

I think this translates perfectly to DJing, or to any skill where technology is heavily involved.┬áTo be clear, I’m only talking about technical skills here. Besides those, a professional DJ has certainly much more experience in managing a crowd and keeping a dancefloor filled.

If you are a skilled DJ, you will be able to pull off a fantastic set on a cheap DJ controller, as long as it has the minimum required features you need to do your thing. Likewise, if you are new to Djing, doing a set on a full NXS2 system that costs well over 6K, will not sound significantly better than doing the same set on an entry level DJ controller.

But if that is true, why are CDJ’s and DJM’s so popular and used all over the word by professional DJ’s? Surely it’s not just for the looks?

Being a professional DJ

Professional DJ’s need professional equipment not because they wouldn’t be able to use cheaper gear, but because pro gear has features & functionalities they need to deliver professional sets, time and time again.

To make my point, compare both setups below:

Pioneer DJ NXS2 system and DDJ-RB compared
Pioneer DJ NXS2 system and DDJ-RB compared

Essentially, both setups have similar basic features:

  • Two decks and a mixer setup
  • Play/Pause and Cue buttons
  • A mixer with a 3 band EQ
  • A crossfader
  • Effects

But it’s quite evident that the NXS2 system has few more buttons & knobs than the DDJ-RB, right?

For a pro DJ, those extra features are essential working tools they need to deliver their sets. A professional DJ that has been around a CDJ/DJM setup for years and has done countless gigs with it knows exactly what do with every knob & button and knows how to put it to good use. Things like:

  • Working the EQ levels to precisely cut out certain frequencies
  • Applying layered effects that you wouldn’t know are there but that add something special to the mix
  • Precise beatmatching that sounds like a pre-recorded set but is actually done live
  • Mixing more than 2 tracks at the same time

All this becomes even more important when playing in big venues and on top of the line sound systems, as every small manipulation is amplified to the extreme, and thus, every mistake as well.

For a beginner, all those extra buttons are just confusing, and probably will go unused until enough experience and skills are acquired. When you start to DJ, your focus goes to get the basics right: beatmatching properly, track selection and working out what goes well with what…

Why a cheap DJ controller is enough to start with

A basic DJ controller is enough for beginners simply because it offers all the features you need to learn the basics of DJing.

As your level of skill progresses, you will naturally learn more about advanced techniques and feel the need to upgrade in order to be able to use those techniques in your own Djing.

Also, and this is important, your gear requirements will change once you make it outside the bedroom. A cheap DJ controller might have all the features you need to learn the basics or even to do sets in front of an audience. But if you start playing out for real and in different settings, you will need a DJ controller that can adapt to these different settings.

I really like, for example, the Numark Mixtrack Platinum, and I think it’s the perfect DJ controller for beginners. But it has only 1 RCA master output, and that can be a problem when bringing your controller to a club, or if you are a mobile DJ, to hook it up to a professional PA system.

In many cases, you will need a booth output with independent volume control, and the Platinum simply doesn’t have that. That would be, in my mind, a very good reason to consider a controller upgrade.

Conclusion

If you are a beginner, no need to go for expensive gear right out of the bat. A basic, inexpensive DJ controller will do, and as you move and grow as DJ, your requirements will change and you will evolve naturally towards more complex, and per definition, more expensive gear.

If you want to further advice on what DJ controller to choose as a beginner, check out my decided article on what are the best DJ controllers for beginners.

  • Nick J

    Couldn’t agree more. I am a hobby DJ, but have had experience in clubs and pubs with the highlight of my “career” so far – the opening set on the Ninja Tunes stage at the Secret Garden Party a few years ago. I started with a pair of Axis 9’s and a 3 channel Vestax mixer. About 700 pounds sterling all in, not the most amazing pieces of kit but they got me started. I later added a Peavey grabber and kaos pad to my set up. This was enough kit to allow me to develop my style and practice all aspects of djing. I’ve just moved over to Serato and have bought the entry level numark mixtrack pro 3. It’s practically all that I need to do what I do (although I would love a four deck setup one day) And I’ve rocked a couple of parties with this setup and had a few paid mobile disco gigs as well. In my mind the fundamental skill for any DJ is tune selection, whether you play out on a 6000 dollar at setup or a 600, if your tunes suck no amount of hardware is going to save your ass!

    • I didn’t touch upon the aspect of music selection but you are absolutely right, you can kill a DJ set with spot on track selection on a 150 dollar plastic controller and absolutely clear the dancefloor from behind 6000 dollars worth of gear. Thx for your input!