How to be a DJ

We know you fantasize about being a DJ: you practice that nonchalant head-nodding and headphone-clutching in the bathroom, don’t you? You’re picturing the sea of hands in the air and the big cheer as you kick the bass in. The DJ has replaced the guitarist as the contemporary uber-chickmagnet.

Now that music has gone digital, you can actually be a DJ without learning to manipulate vinyl, without spending three hundred bucks a week on records, and without lugging crates of them to every gig. You can carry your entire music library in your laptop, and through a small external sound card you plug your computer into the club sound system.

The new DJ software duplicates the action of two turntables, but it uses MP3 or WAV files instead of actual records. You rip your tracks from your cds, or you buy them online, then you load them onto the decks. On your screen, you can change the tempo of each track, sync them up, and cross-fade between them. The screen controls replicate a mixer, so you can “EQ mix” by playing with the bass and treble, or change the sound with filters. Most of the software also comes with sample and loop effects, and you can plug in an actual turntable or an electronic instrument and mix that in too.

There are basically two components to this set-up: an external sound card and the software for your laptop. Usually if you buy the sound card it comes with the software.

Probably the most popular of DJ programs is Traktor DJ. It’s used by serious DJs because you can hook it up to the popular vinyl control system Final Scratch, and because the latest version gives you four “turntables” instead of two. It takes a little learning. Buy the Audio Control 1 sound card interface and it comes with a simple version of Traktor. It will cost you about $350.

Slightly simpler is a system by M-Audio called Torq Conectiv, consisting of a small box with two volume knobs on it – that’s your sound card and interface with the club’s amp – and DJ software that lets you synch and mix your digital files. The basic package costs just under $300. We like it because it’s small and simple. M-Audio keeps coming out with new hardware for this system, for when you get more advanced: there’s a mixer to match, and a vinyl/cd system that allows you to add records and CDs to your digital mix. It’s very easy to get addicted to this stuff – like souping up your car – so go slowly.

We also like the very simple and less expensive Hercules DJ Console; it’s a small box that serves as your sound card and your mixer, bearing two jog wheels that act like turntables. It comes with its own easy-to-use software. The big advantage is that you can use it to control your Traktor software; the drawback is that you’re limited to two decks. Also around $300.

You can buy all of this stuff at Moog Audio,442 Queen West, 416 599-MOOG.

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