DJs, rightfully, spend a lot of time working on their sets. This is the heart of DJing. However, if your live show sounds bad then it doesn’t matter how good your set is. I’ve collected some good tips here for the gigging DJ. Some may be common sense, some may not occur to you without them being pointed out like this. Either way they are all important and crucial for making your gigs sound their best.
Consider your source material. These days most DJs are using a digital library of music. That’s fantastic for organization but introduces challenges to high quality audio production. You want to use the highest bitrate sound file possible. The actual WAV file pulled directlyfrom a CD of the song is your best bet for digital DJing. FLAC is another good choice. Yet, the most common by far is the MP3 or the AAC for iTunes users. These are compressed audio formats meant to save space. That’s great for your iPhone, but bad for your 2000 watt PA system. When in doubt, listen. Compare the sound to the CD version or the WAV file from the CD. You should be able to tell a huge difference.
Don’t clip, don’t distort. Nearly every piece of audio gear can function as a volume boost. Your computer, your mixer, your amplifier. Each one of these has a point-of-no-return where the signal passing through it begins to distort. The easiest way to sound good is to make certain you aren’t doing this anywhere in your signal path. All the gear mentioned above, except perhaps the computer, will have lights turning red when you get there. Pay attention to that with your eyes. Pay attention to the sound with your ears. If it doesn’t sound right, this is where I’ll begin looking.
Use a good quality audio interface. If you’re a digital DJ, all sound is passing through a digital-to-analog converter. Most controllers have good ones already built in. On older controllers or thing like Traktor turntable setups, you’ll need a dedicated audio interface to get the sounds from your computer out to the PA system. Bit rate is king here. Look for the highest number that will fit your budget and you should be just fine.
Choose the right PA for the job. Talking about distortion earlier, using an underpowered system is the quickest way to create distortion. Each system will produce a certain volume and any effort to increase this will increase distortion. That causes bad audio and can easily cause physical damage to your equipment, also. Picking your first system is particularly difficult since you’re probably looking for versatility and affordability in a single package.
Give yourself a monitor. You have your headphones, of course, but using a floor monitor is highly recommended. In a strange room, it can keep your mixes in time despite acoustics that may be reaching you noticeably behind the main system. It can help you keep track of your volume when things start getting hectic as the night goes on. It can create a buffer against people who want to chat while you are mixing. Learn more about monitors here.
Use good headphones. Just like using a monitor, your headphones can be crucial in difficult situations. I’m reminded of a club where the DJ position was high over the dance floor on the side of the room away from the main speakers. That setup leads to delay. If mixed to the sound reaching your ears across the floor, your would be noticeably behind the beat. Good headphones will shield you from a loud environment and let you hear what you need. The best headphones will do that without straining your hearing or requiring massive volume that can damage your ears.
Use an audio mixer. You’ve gotta have your DJ mixer, of course. The crossfader makes all this possible. The tone controls, the faders, the gain and everything else on DJ mixers are designed for DJ performance. They function more like a hammer than their audio mixer counterparts. Run your DJ mixer output into an audio mixer before running it into the PA system. This gives you much more control in shaping your overall sound and volume. Even small inexpensive audio mixers will give you that, plus more and better microphone inputs.
Learn everything about sound. For better or worse, you will be your own sound engineer for nearly every gig you do. Sound reacts to different environments in different ways. The more you know, the more consistent results you get. Consistency is what keeps the gigs coming. There’s no excuse for not learning in this age of YouTube.
Plan and be prepared. Tour unfamiliar venues before the day of the show. Know what you’re going to need and bring extras. Have a second hard drive or even a second computer. Keep a second small controller in case your main rig goes down. You can never have enough cables or adapters. Create a checklist and follow it. Add to it as time goes on and you realize you need things while at the gig. Prep work on your sound can be more important than prep work on your set.
Focus. If you’re the DJ, you’re in charge of the party. Pay attention to what is happening around you, particularly what is happening to the sound. More bodies in the room changes the acoustics. You have to keep adjusting to maintain the best sound. Unusual noises; such as pops, buzzes or hissing; can be a sign of something wrong. Identifying these issues and solving them while still in the flow of the show is what can keep a good night from becoming a very bad one.
Those are my best 10 Tips for getting the best from your live sound. There is plenty more that goes into it, of course. Ask questions in the comments or call one of our Seismic Audio experts at 877-347-6423. We’re here to help!