Learning music production for DJs requires investing in the best software for your needs, understanding music theory, and collaborating with other artists.
It’s an increasingly popular way for DJs to set themselves apart from the competition and deliver unique DJ sets with tracks no one else is playing.
In this article, we’ll explore the software you should consider investing in and how you can transfer your DJ knowledge to production.
DJ Production Software List
There are several popular music production programs for writing original tracks, mashups, and remixes for use in DJ sets.
The main music production programs you should consider using are:
- Ableton Live 11
- Apple Logic Pro
- Reason 12
- Steinberg Cubase Pro 12
- AVID Pro Tools
- Imagine Line FL Studio 21
Ableton Live and Pro Tools are popular for professional music production and have been used for some of the biggest-selling albums of all time.
Before deciding which one to go for, make sure it covers all the features you’ll need and is within your budget.
DJ Production 101: Music Production For DJs (Step-By-Step)
Bringing elements of music production into your DJ sets requires understanding a range of techniques professionals use when creating original tracks.
We’ve broken down the process into a range of key steps to help you find the right equipment for your needs and work through learning the basics.
With our criteria established, here’s everything you need to know about music production for DJs:
Step 1: Choose Your Genre
While choosing a genre is important when starting out DJing in clubs, it’s a much bigger consideration when heading into music production.
The samples and instruments you’ll use when creating your own music will vary depending on your style, so you’ll need a clear action plan before spending money.
If you plan on producing drum and bass, you’ll need to think about what sounds and processes you will use for your breaks and bass lines.
On the other hand, if you want to produce vocal-drive house music, a great-sounding microphone for recording singing should be high on your wish list.
While the core software used to produce music will function as a sequencer for all genres, plugins, and VST synths also bring different sounds.
Likewise, music production hardware can be used for certain genres more than others, as well as classic drum machines that give a unique result.
Once you’ve nailed your genre, check out interviews with producers working in those fields to see what gear they use to assemble new tracks.
Step 2: Understand Music Theory
A decent grasp of the various core elements of music theory is needed if you’re going to produce well-structured tracks that respect basic musical rules.
Many of these fundamental principles are integrated into the process of DJing, which requires an understanding of tempo and time signatures.
More complex music theory elements such as key and harmonies are also sometimes used when mixing more advanced DJ techniques such as key and polyrhythmic mixing.
While you might be able to get away with limited music theory knowledge as a DJ and a producer, your limitations will stand out in poor-quality tracks.
Fortunately, there are plenty of informative resources online that you can use to learn the basics of music theory and apply this knowledge in your productions.
YouTube has dozens of tutorials available for free, and if you have a little spare money, you can sign up for an online course to explore music theory in depth.
It’s something you’ll continue to work on learning throughout your career, improving your tracks as your knowledge and experience develop over time.
Step 3: Choose Your DAW
A digital audio workstation, often abbreviated to a DAW, is perhaps the most important factor you’ll need to invest in when beginning your music production.
While producing music without a digital audio workstation using a pure hardware setup with a mixing desk is possible, most contemporary producers will use a DAW.
It’s a much less complex way to get started, particularly if you have no previous production experience and find the prospect of lots of hardware daunting.
Ableton Live and Pro Logic are two of the most popular DAWs today; both require payment but offer comprehensive tools and features.
There are also free and cheaper programs you can use to make tracks, with the open-source Audacity, a popular and free DAW for multi-track editing.
Just as you’ll need to set aside some time to learn music theory, so will you need to dedicate your attention to mastering the intricacies of a DAW.
With that said, it doesn’t take long to learn the basics of sequencing and arrangement, giving you time to learn new effects and other virtual instruments as you progress.
With DJ technology and tools continuing to redefine how DJs play, the world of production is enjoying similar evolutions in what can be achieved with the right tools.
Step 4: Experiment With Sound Design
Once you’re accustomed to arranging and sequencing your drums, synths, and melodies with good intros, outros, and breakdowns, you can experiment with sound design.
This covers everything from making your percussion sound more dynamic with reverb effects to using flanges and vocoders to alter vocals.
Sound design is where you get to really sculpt the aural spectrum of your music and give it depth and texture when played on the dance floor.
If you’ve been using DJ sound effects in your sets, you’ll already know how they can be used to create dynamism and additional interest in the music.
For example, high-end mixers and other DJ equipment with low, mid, and high-pass filters can really strengthen drums as you blend them into and out of a mix.
The same goes for using filters when composing dance music, giving your hi-hats and other percussion room to breathe as they flow through the track.
Step 5: Introduce Live Instruments
If you can play any instruments, it’s worth considering how these can be recorded and integrated into your music production habits.
The piano is a great instrument to learn if you’re not a musician, as this offers the foundational skills required for composing music on a MIDI keyboard.
It’s also a great way to enhance your mental health, with studies confirming that playing the piano improves brain health and reduces cognitive decline.
There are also lots of solo instruments, such as trumpets and other brass instruments, that can be recorded and used as part of your original songs.
Producing music entirely with software can often sound too synthetic, so bringing a live instrument to the table will add some warmth and organic flavor.
If you don’t play anything yourself, you can ask friends and family who can play an instrument if they’d like to contribute a melody to your tracks.
Step 6: Collaborate With Vocalists
A great way to create more original songs as a producer is to set aside the vocal sample packs and bring in a live singer to record a song.
Not only does it inject something truly unique into your tracks, but it’s also a good way to avoid falling foul of copyright infringement when using vocal samples.
Bringing a singer along is particularly attractive for clients booking your DJing services for weddings or corporate events.
While vocalists are less common at club DJ gigs, these private entertainment events and parties are much more welcoming of live vocalists performing a song.
It’s a great way to get the guests more involved in the set and join in with the songs you play in your set while enhancing the party atmosphere.
If you’re looking for new ways to get DJ gigs, your vocalist can also help promote the event and be a big part of your overall marketing campaigns.
Step 7: Practice With Mashups & Remixes
If you’re unsure about jumping into the deep end and producing completely original tracks, you can learn the ropes by experimenting with mashups and remixes.
Learning how to make mashups is easy, with plenty of free apps and programs designed to make quick mashups in a matter of hours.
You can use more in-depth programs such as Ableton Live and Audacity, and DJ software such as Serato DJ Pro and Virtual DJ also allows for mashup creation.
Producing remixes is more in-depth, and you’ll need access to some of the original song’s elements if you want to do a great job.
You’ll also need permission from the original creator to release your remix commercially and make money from any sales.
It’s a great, fun method for exploring some of the basics of music production, and the original track’s structure will help you master arrangement and composition.
Step 8: Perfect Mixing & Mastering Techniques
One thing that separates amateur music producers from chart-topping professionals is the quality of mixing and mastering that finishes off a track.
Mastering is something of an art form, and even a top-level artist will engage the services of a professional studio capable of mastering their songs.
While most people can’t afford the huge fees required to have their songs mastered by professional studios, it’s still possible to do a good job yourself.
This requires learning the basics around mixing and mastering, such as fine-tuning each track’s channel elements in the DAWs EQ settings.
It also involves an understanding of how compression works to help separate frequencies and give them room to breathe, making for punchier bass lines.
Other aspects of mastering to consider include limiting the track’s overall loudness, using saturation, and creating more space with stereo widening.
Once a track has been mastered, it then needs to be authored in the highest possible quality in a WAV file, ready for distribution on and offline.
As the role of artificial intelligence in music continues to expand, mixing and mastering from a home studio will likely create better results in the future.
Step 9: Get Feedback On Your Tracks
Whether you’re an aspiring DJ or music producer, learning how to promote your music is essential if you’re to hone and improve your skills over time.
Getting feedback on your produced tracks can come in various forms, from sharing it with a friend to posting it on a public music hosting platform.
While friends and family have a tendency to skew their feedback towards good feedback regardless of the quality, you’ll get more honest appraisals from strangers.
Check out any engagement your music gets online for constructive criticism you can take on board to refine an existing track or make the next one better.
If you’re getting great feedback across the board, sending some of your tracks to a record label may be worthwhile to see if they’re interested in publishing them.
It’s from music business professionals where you’ll get the most valuable feedback about working closely with DJs and producers.
Step 10: Share Your Tracks With DJs
While friends and family might not always be honest with their feedback, other DJs are likelier to speak their minds when you share tracks with them.
DJs understand clearly what people in a nightclub are looking for from a track and how the structure builds atmosphere and excitement.
By sharing your music with other DJs, you can get direct feedback from the setting where it counts the most and see what works in a live setting.
A good DJ will also likely have some knowledge about music production themselves, which could be invaluable if you’re new to the game.
If an intro is too short or a breakdown isn’t kicking back in as well as it could, a DJ is more likely to let you know about this than anyone else.
Producers who already have a label they’re releasing on can also take advantage of DJ pools for promotion, where professional DJs interact and rate new tracks.
Learning to produce music and integrate this knowledge and skills into your DJing career requires time and patience as you get to grips with the relevant equipment.
It’s a choice many DJs have made to go beyond simply pressing play and mixing tracks, allowing them to bring much more variety and originality to an event.
As you continue to learn new production tricks and evolve your techniques, your DJ sets will be guaranteed to get the crowd dancing.
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