How to DJ with a Laptop: The Essential Guide

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How to DJ with a laptop: Far are the days when if you wanted to become a professional DJ you needed to invest in turntables and a mixer and to learn how to beat-match, the technique used to get two records playing in sync.

With new DJing technology, you now have the opportunity to become a DJ in a cheaper and more accessible way. All you need is a laptop to start your career of master mixer from the comfort of your home!

However, the advent of new digital DJing technology is also making it more complicated to get started, as there are plenty of options to choose from, which might overwhelm anyone not familiar with DJing. But don’t despair! We put together this essential guide about how to DJ and especially how to learn DJ on a laptop. If you want to start your DJing career or if you simply are interested to learn more about how to become a laptop DJ, keep reading, you’ll find everything you need in this article.

To learn how to DJ on a laptop, all you have to have is a functional laptop and the right software. While it is true that there are many options available on the market, there are two major players that have been dominating laptop DJing for almost a decade. We are talking about Traktor and Serato. Their latest versions are Traktor Pro 3 and Serato DJ and they are both worth considering.

Depending on the type of look and style you prefer, these two are very similar in terms of what they offer. These two software applications allow users to organize and prepare their music, to mix the tunes with up to four decks and slice and loop sections of your favourite tracks, as well as manipulate effects. Also, they provide you with an effective analysis of your tracks and with the option of determining the musical key and tempo of each song, to automatically synchronize the songs to match to the playing track.

Read: Best Macbook for DJing

The two software comes at approximately the same price, with one being priced at $99 and the other one at 99 euros. Serato offers a free version of the software, with limited features, but with everything you need to get started and learn the basics. Traktor also offers its users a demo mode, which can de download for free but used only for 30 minutes at a time.

Traktor offers the unique feature of Stems deck, a music format developed by Native Instruments that allow users to purchase music to be played in different parts (such as drums, melody, vocal, and bass) to mix and manipulate them separately.

On top of these two staples in the market of laptop DJing, there is the addition of the software by Pioneer DJ, Rekordbox DJ. Previously on the market to prepare music before transferring to a CD or USB, this software now incorporates playing and mixing functionalities. Also, this software comes at a slightly higher price ($129) but users the opportunity to purchase the software through a subscription, for $14.99 per month. Serato also has this option, for $9.99 per month.

Keep in mind that Traktor, Serato, and Rekordbox work on both Windows and Mac OS X operating systems, which might be a problem if you own a laptop with a different operating system.

Serato DJ Display
Serato DJ Pro

Can you DJ with only a laptop?

The short and simple answer to this question is “yes, you can DJ with only a laptop“. Indeed, most of the software for DJing is designed to not need any extra hardware. This makes everything easier, especially if you are just starting. You’ll be able to simply use your mouse and keyboard.

It is important to note that if your objective is to become a professional DJ, after having a play around at home through your laptop, you will need to invest in some extras. Indeed, to get to the next level, you’ll need at least an appropriate audio interface and an interface with a separate headphone output, to monitor and track your music. You might also want to get a controller too, as it will help you work more professionally on your music. DJ hardware is not essential, but it allows you for faster changes and increased creativity, as all of the controls are in front of you. If you are a beginner, you should start by using simply your laptop in order not to get overwhelmed by the vast set of buttons and faders.

Read: Home DJ Studio Setup – The Ultimate Guide

If you do have the money to spend on some essential hardware, consider getting a USB Midi controller. This allows you to have some physical buttons to press, which can be extremely useful for playing, queuing, fade, or changing effects dials.

How do you DJ on a computer?

To start DJing on a computer, you need to start by downloading the right software. If you don’t own any hardware, choose software designed for standalone use. Keep in mind that while hardware might help you to enhance your experience and improve your skills, you don’t need anything else than your laptop to get started.

To successfully DJing from your laptop, you should get familiar with some quick keyboard shortcuts to allow you to change and mix quicker. You’ll need to learn to be accurate with what you are doing, as you’ll also have to move your mouse and click a virtual button, which might get more complicated than simply move a fader with your fingers.

To overcome such a problem consider reducing the resolution display of your laptop to make controls bigger.

To start with, try to keep things simple. Avoid over-complicating your set with lots of effects and loops. You will have more chances to mess up during your set. A rule of thumb is to simply use the low, mid, and high filters to enhance your mix for cleaner and better results.

Another good tip for keeping things simple and avoid mess-ups is to hide all the controls you are not using. This will reduce the probability of clicking on some controls by accident!

Have your DJ playlist in order and ready to go and you’ll master the art of DJing!

DJ With a Laptop
Photo by Nino Kojo on Unsplash

How do I download a DJ app on my laptop?

As not all laptop DJ software can be used at their full functionality without some hardware, you need to make sure you chose the right software for DJing on your laptop before downloading it. Of course, to be successful at Djing from your laptop, you’ll need a good laptop. Your laptop should be reliable and highly performant. Also, it needs to be equipped with a decent processor (a minimum of an i5 is recommended) and it should have enough RAM. After assessing your laptop is good enough, start investigating what is the right software for you.

After some research and having compared the most attractive options, downloading software is very easy!

If you have to pay for it, do so and then wait for the software to get downloaded to your computer and you are ready to start!

How can I DJ on my laptop for free?

If budget is an issue for you, rest assured, as there are several options to DJ on your laptop for free. To start with, you can make use of the free versions and demos of some of the most popular software mentioned before.

Additionally, you might want to consider downloading MIxxx, a free download, and open source that can be run on Linux operating systems as well. Other applications to choose from including Virtual DJ and Algoriddim’s Djay. However, one of your best options as a beginner would be to download Serato DJ Lite Software.

To learn some basic mixing techniques, you won’t necessarily have to spend on virtual classes. You can simply watch some DJ tutorials on YouTube to learn the essential principles of music theory and basic techniques. As you can see, learning how to DJ has never been so affordable and accessible! With a free download, you’ll be able (on top of other things) to start building your music library, with loops and hot cues.

Conclusion - How to DJ with a Laptop

As you can see, it is more than doable to DJ from your laptop. While there are some advantages to using some hardware, such as an actual DJ controller, doing it from your laptop it is possible and even more intuitive. If you are just starting, doing it from your laptop is the best option you have. Make sure you are familiar with some basic concepts and watch online tutorials to properly get started.

Of course, you’ll need to get used to using your keyboard and your mouse to mix your music, but with some practice, you’ll quickly master the art of DJing from your laptop. It is also a good way to assess whether or not DJing is the right career for you.

Don’t be afraid of starting your career as a DJ, even if you are short on money: you will be able to do everything from your laptop with the right software!

How to DJ with a laptop
Mike is a Mobile DJ company owner, providing entertainment services for Weddings, Birthdays and other events for over a decade.

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