Stepping up to your first set of CDJs at a gig? To many DJs who never spin on CDJs, this may sound super intimidating at first. Have no fear: there are basic functions that work just the way any controller does. If you can play on any digital controller, CDJs are no problem! Today’s tips will help prep you for your next big gig using the industry standard club rig.
1. Prep All Of Your Playlists + Tracks In Rekordbox
Rekordbox has made it easy for DJs to plug and play on any CDJ setup. Simply export your set to a flash drive, plug it into the CDJ, link them together, and you’re done.
The first thing you must know when creating a set in Rekordbox is the importance of setting up your hot cues and memory cues.
Hot cues allow you to create 3 different cue points within the track to use on the CDJ while mixing. By selecting these hot cues when preparing a set, they will automatically save to your flash drive when exporting.
Memory cues are also great to set up while using Rekordbox. Use them to give yourself more options to jump around in a song. Memory cues help you decide which part of the song you want to mix into. Simply just click the section you want to place the memory cue on, and hit “Memory” in Rekordbox. When you get to your gig, just hit the arrows that say “call”, and the CDJ will scroll through your memory cues.
Remember, properly exporting your tracks from Rekordbox can take a lot of time! The software analyzes your songs and then writes them to your USB. Be sure you give yourself at least a few hours to let everything fully export.
Pro Tip: export onto at least two flash drives to be safe. You never know what could happen at the venue, so always have a backup or two of your set on hand.
2. Link + Loading Your Tracks
You get to the venue and finally see these beautiful CDJs. Drop in your flash drive – but wait, what now? How do you load a song? What is the deal with all these folders? Don’t panic!
Once you plug in your drive, your library will only appear on one CDJ. To access it from other CDJs, hit the Link button on other units and it will find your drive on the LAN connection. If Link doesn’t work, ask the sound engineer, and make sure the Cat5 cables are hooked up properly for linking them together.
Loading a track is simple on CDJs. All you have to do is use the scroll button to find what you want, and simply click down on it to load the track. If you need to go back into other folders for any reason, just hit the back button at the top right of the player.
The Pitch Fader’s Quirks
The CDJs provide endless opportunities to mix in creative ways. But for your first set, you don’t need to know all of these functions.The first important feature to know for mixing is where the pitch fader is. It’s right where you’d expect!
The pitch fader on the CDJs will allow you to find the BPM range you need for mixing into another track. Your BPM will pop up on the screen once you load a track. CDJs have “soft takeover” – so you won’t jump around in BPM if the fader is off. Instead it displays a message “Move fader to current BPM”, a good way to avoid a sudden jolt in tempo.
CDJs’ tempo faders also have a range that’s adjustable with the button above the tempo fader. You can keep it nice and small, or set it to “WIDE” for more dramatic changes.
The most prominent and most used controls on the CDJs are naturally the play/pause and cue buttons at the bottom left of the players. Play/Pause is straightforward but it’s worth learning how the cueing system works on CDJs.
Once you place your cue and start to play, if for any reason you hit “cue” again, the song will jump back to where that cue was placed. For example: if the cue was placed at the beginning of the song, and you play 8 or 16 bars and hit the cue button again, it will jump back to the beginning – and pause the track.
Many DJs use this function to test out a new track as they’re bringing it in, tapping on the cue button in time with the downbeat to see if the songs are aligned and everything sounds good.
We won’t go too far into looping on CDJs, but it’s important to know how to set a loop quickly. This will vary my model, but on almost every CDJ the fastest way to set a loop is to hold down the LOOP IN button for a second. It will set a 4-count loop starting wherever you first pressed it.
If you want to quickly make it longer, tap the LOOP 2X button to double the loop size. You can do this multiple times for quick access to 8, 16, or 32 count loops.
Quantize: If you have Quantitize turned on, loops will always start on a downbeat. When you’re starting out, keep it on. You can always turn this function off once you’re more comfortable on the CDJs!
A big shout-out goes to DJTT Contributor Constantine K. for providing many of the excellent tips you read above. He is a producer and DJ from Grand Rapids Michigan and you can check out his latest work on Soundcloud.
What tips would you give to someone starting on CDJs? Share in the comments below!