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So You Want to Be a DJ?

Find out what it takes to master the art of mixing and matching grooves seamlessly.

This post is in partnership with Pepsi Refresh Project

Imagine: There’s a crowd of people in front of you, and they’re all grooving to your sounds. And it’s all because you’re mixing and beat matching in perfect harmony with the mood. Sound appealing? Maybe you’re meant to be a DJ.

Don’t be daunted by getting started; even the biggest names had to take first steps. Like global phenomenon Paul van Dyk, a Grammy-winning DJ who’s played before millions (check out his newest album, Evolution, coming out later this year). “In the beginning I mixed mixtapes just for myself and some friends,” he says. “One of my friends actually passed one of those tapes onto a promoter, and that’s how I got my first gig. So it was somewhat by accident.” Or Markus Schulz, one of the top ten DJs in the world (his latest album, Thoughts Become Things II dropped July 1), who as a teen break dancer, one day set up a party with his crew and ended up playing the whole time.

It’s an amazing gig, if you can get it. “When you walk in to perform, no matter how long you’ve been doing it, you always get a thrill,” says Schulz. “It’s about being able to hold a crowd fixed for an entire night, with the musical journey you’re taking them on. It’s a great feeling!”

Borrowing from the pros, here are some tips and tricks for making like a master DJ, whether you’re mixing for a packed club, or to pump up your friend’s birthday party.

Get Set Up

Try a software program like Virtual DJ that mixes your chosen mp3 songs; you’ll just need a laptop, mixer, and sound system to start. From there, upgrade to two turntables to go with your mixer and add in a system like Serato that lets you access all your digital files (no more lugging around creates of records or CDs), matches beats, loops songs, and has other nice tricks.

Find Your Sound

Let’s be specific here. As Schulz says, “Find your sound. Not the one everyone else around is playing, not the one all your mates are necessarily talking about, but the one that speaks to you. You can be an exceptional DJ, but if you’re doing what every other one on your block is doing, you’ll only rise up a certain part of the way. It’s about passion.” ‘Nuff said.

Cultivate Yourself

What kinds of traits are helpful for DJs? DJ Apryl Reign, who won a 2010 Pepsi Refresh to teach youth how to DJ and beat match at Elementz, lays it out: “Deep knowledge of great music, great crowd pleasing skills, a good sense of humor, and a desire to push yourself to the next level.”

Go Out and Play!

Get out the word on Facebook, among friends, at any party you attend that you’re willing to play—for free, to start. Ask around at restaurants, do house parties, sign up for open turntable nights at cafés where you sign up for half-hour slots. Above all, practice, practice, practice!

Have a Good Time

No one wants to see a downer DJ, no matter how good the music. Rob Roster (a.k.a DJ Motiv) Portland, Oregon is a full-time contractor by day, DJ whenever he can by night. “Convey energy and excitement; you want people to say, ‘This guy’s digging it,’” says Roster. “The money doesn’t cover the practice, prep, and equipment until you’re big time, so the payoff is someone telling you at the end that you rocked.”

Bottom Line?

As van Dyk says, “If you would like to become a DJ you should first of all ask yourself ‘Why?’ If the answer is anything else than ‘Because I love music,’ there is no need for you.”

Read more from the GOOD Guide to Arts and Culture here.

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