How to Practice DJing Without Equipment – A Starter’s Guide


So, you’ve only recently gotten interested in DJing and looking to get into it as a hobby.

You don’t know if you’ll stick to it or enjoy it, and you don’t want to waste your money on DJ equipment.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with this article.

A DJ can learn a lot about mixing by operating under limitations like this. And the methods you develop can be added to your DJ “toolbox” for the rest of the time.

How to DJ Without Equipment?

DJing without equipment can be difficult, but it will help you perceive the principal elements and understand what each “button/knob” signifies within the DJ software.

To practice DJing without equipment:

  • Start preparing music
  • Use DJ Software (and map the keys)
  • Use online mixer
  • Construct mixes in a DAW

This is problematically only due to the simple fact that you can only click on one thing at a time (basically equivalent of mixing with one hand, only slower due to no hardware). 

Many critical transitions and fluency in mixing are done by simultaneously altering both tunes to allow proper blending in between two tunes.  

A controller will allow you to use both hands while also having every “knob/button” readily accessible to use rather than some being hid (like effects) in dropdowns that take much longer to go through via mouse.

Start Preparing Music

If you have music, start processing it. Analyze tracks, make crates, put in some essential cue points. 

Make sure your beat grids are good. Tag things. Tag them more.

Start doing research. If you’re specializing in a genre, read and listen to its history, and learn what it came from. Read those genres’ histories.

Learn about [the musical process and technical aspects of] DJing, dance halls, and electronic music, past and present. 

Do you have an interest in broadcasting? Learn all you can about that, too.

Get yourself at least passingly familiar with the circle of fifths, if you’re not a musician. Know what a key is, and what a key change does to people’s brains.

Watch/listen to as many sets in your tastes as you can, and take notes. Come back in a month and take more notes. When you find something cool, mark it down and try to repeat it later.

Use DJ Software (And Map the Keys)

Today’s DJ software will function surprisingly well on its own, even without using dedicated hardware (like a controller).

A lot of basic packages of DJ software are available for free. So if you already have a laptop, you can easily have basic DJ functionality with a little smart thinking.

Sure, there are limits. There are things you can’t easily do, like slowly filter out the bass of track A while you bring up the channel volume of track B.

There are no knobs on your laptop keyboard to turn, to smoothly remove the bass, but you do have a lot of buttons. 

5 Best DJ Software Available for Use Without a Controller

Rekordbox

One of the best DJ software out there used by many pros and amateurs. 

With Rekordbox, you want to start mixing one track and when that track is coming to end drop next track and lower volume on first track a little fast to get you going.

Many say not to use grids/sync. However, even utilizing them to better understand the mixing concepts will allow you to further improve your techniques by mixing using effects and EQ/key changes to make the mix sound seamless. 

There is a distinction between using sync and beat grids vs. relying on them. Become familiar with how they work, and you will be able to mix without it.

I used to do entire house parties with just a mouse and keyboard on Rekordbox. 

Only when I bought controller Pioneer DDJ-400 I’ve realized how easy it is to manipulate multiple parameters at once, and without having to take the time to make sure you’re clicking on this button rather than that.

You can download the Rekordbox DJ software for free. Run audio via standard aux/Bluetooth options on your speakers.

Traktor

Get the software version of Traktor. It is called Traktor Pro 3. Install this application, load tracks into it and go for it.

Beginners greatly use this software as it can allow you to have a beat grid, therefore being able to visually teach you how to count your bars as well as BPM. 

As a guy who knows a bit about this stuff, believe Me, you can do almost everything with just this application. It’s on you.

Especially if you have an iPad, Traktor DJ is an excellent tool for beginners. The interface is kind of shitty on an iPhone, but it works great on the iPad mini and up.

Virtual DJ

Virtual DJ is the software I started on and what I’d recommend for recording practice mixes. It’s designed to be mouse-click friendly, and you can put together a decent blend with it.  

You can use Spotify, which is excellent (test out stuff, then buy it for proper mixing). You can manipulate the EQ relatively well and use cues. For simple mixing/testing out things at home, it’s perfect.

Together with a couple of tutorial videos, it’s a great way to learn the basics and try out techniques and styles free.

I learned all the fundamentals from Virtual DJ; Cueing, beatmatching, looping, EQing, filtering, effects, and tempo control.

All MIDI controller mappings are written as scripts, which for me as a programmer makes much more sense than a GUI-based mapping editor that Traktor comes with. It’s much more customizable and is much easier to program than Traktor.

You can also become very advanced in the later versions of Virtual DJ. It’s come a long way, and now I consider it to be very reliable.

Home Edition is 100% free and does 95% of everything Pro Edition can do. 

Serato

Some of my friends went straight for Serato DJ, the industry standard for DJ software, and watched many tutorials on youtube. 

I would say Serato is a pretty good software for grasping the concepts and know if you want to mix or not (assuming no prior knowledge with turntables or other stand-alone hardware).

If you’re not yet an adult and have very little spending money (like me in high school and many, many other people still), I highly recommend it, as it’s free.

You can download a free pro version of the software directly from Serato’s website to get a feel. 

DJay

If you have a tablet or iPad, I would suggest getting a DJ/mixer app. I’d suggest you go with Algoriddim.

Check out the DJay 2 or DJay Pro Apps, as both work with Spotify, and at least with the touch screen, you don’t need to pay the extra money for a controller, just to start and learn. 

That way, there will be a “touchable” feeling of DJing without having to buy a physical controller. 

You can download it on the App Store.

Mapping the Keys

If you take the time to set up your shortcuts for cueing, keys, setting loops, moving the fader, etc., it’s a lot better than using a mouse all the time.

By the time you use the mouse or trackpad to initiate a task, the timing is off because of hand to mouse delay (fumbling, not latency).

Also, learn (or map) the keyboard shortcut for a bass kill (which would simulate instantly turning the low EQ all the way down).

You can even control the EQ without EQ knobs. Cueing, looping and triggering samples would work with a mouse, but being able to mess with EQs requires a keyboard. 

You can map a lot of buttons ob keyboard mapped to stuff like: move the channel fader up 10%, turn the mid eq down 10%, nudge the track forward, etc.

Here’s an example of keyboard buttons mapping on Virtual DJ.

Use Online Mixer

There is an excellent online mixer called You.dj, designed to be super fun and easy-to-use.

If you’re a total newbie in all this, be prepared to waste a lot of time.

It is also convincing, you got all tools you need to mix music and videos online.

You.dj has a traditional DJ setup: 2 turntables and a mixer.

Your mission is to simultaneously play two songs on each turntable and use the mixer to blend them.

To spice up your set, you can use the loops, the fx pads, the eq, the sampler, the hot cues, the backspin, and the scratch.

The beats are automatically in sync to make it easier, and you can also change the speed of the music by clicking on the bpm value on top of the mixer.

You can access to all the music and videos on the bottom side. The menu on the left side allows you to search and to navigate into the music library.

Also, you can display awesome videos in the background by pressing these buttons on the mixer.

To finish, you can record your mix and share it with your friends by clicking on the record button (above the mixer).

There’s also a mobile version available for download.

Construct Mixes in a Daw

People will probably tell me this isn’t “legit.” Still, if a keyboard and mouse workflow for live DJing weren’t enjoyable anymore, I would construct mixes in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) like Ableton.

Ableton is an all-purpose DAW, and you basically can do anything in it, but the built-in tools lend themselves really well to loop-based genres like house, techno, and trance. 

Its time-stretching and sampling capacities make it stand out from other DAWs for electronic producers using those tools, but the built-in instruments don’t have a particular stylistic bent.

Back in the day, I used a program called Mixpad and basically taught myself various forms of drop mixing and beatmatching.

It wasn’t perfect, but when I got my controller, it was much easier to get going, as I already had some experience with manipulating the tracks, I just had to learn what buttons did it on the controller.

FL Studio is also plenty powerful for that task, and the result will be just as good as any other program could produce. Just line up where you want tunes to mix in/out in the playlist and automate the volume on each song’s channel. Chopping/scratching can be affected with automation or plugins like Gross Best.

To Conclude

Learning to DJ with the DJ software method instead of any other will teach you all of the basics and allow you to be much more spontaneous with your sets since you won’t have to prepare all of your sets for Ableton. It’s a ton of fun doing it this way as well.

Watch some tutorials on Rekordbox, install it, and get familiar with it. Check some Youtube DJs to see how they mix with your controller, get inspired. You’ll probably start with the free plan, but reading up on their premium plans might help you understand the software.

Also: figure out how to record your mixes. The best progression is made by listening to your own sets, being critical, and sharing them with people you’d like to get feedback from.

You’re about to embark on a fantastic journey, be jealous of yourself.

Tray Fiddy

Tray has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous DJ.... but that hasn't stopped him from mixing and throwing parties around the town. Tray has over 10 years experience of DJing at home and events.

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