What comes to mind when you hear the term DJ? Traditionally, we would conjure up images of workstations topped with turntables. At some point, that equipment was paired with large boxes of vinyl records that had to be carried to and from gigs. Then came CDs before they were replaced by USB sticks. Nowadays, laptops dominate the modern DJ set.
This is thanks to software that allows music makers and mixers of all skill levels to seamlessly control their performance through one intuitive interface. DJ apps are ideal for beginners, especially if you have budget constraints or prefer something more compact and portable. You probably don’t need any more convincing in this regard.
What matters is that you find the right option. Not all DJ software is made equal. There also happen to be plenty of great programs out there, so let’s begin by outlining some key considerations that will help you choose.
How to Decide
First and foremost: price. Remember that you may require spare cash for additional investments such as hardware controllers. You can often download a free version of a major program to try it out before upgrading to the full package. Use this to your advantage when comparing.
While you’re at it, assess the features and functionality of the app. Perhaps you want detailed waveform readouts. Maybe the volume meters need to be precise. You might prefer having access to many different effects. It’s wise to avoid programs that are overloaded with features as they can be unnecessarily complicated.
Stability is another major factor. The developers should be diligent with bug fixes and you shouldn’t deal with lag or freezing all the time. Compatibility can also be important depending on your setup. For instance:
- Will the software work with your current and future hardware?
- Do you need a specific sound card to run it?
- Can you connect to any other audio programs?
- Does it lock you into the company’s gear?
Finally, aesthetics is not to be overlooked. You’ll be staring at the interface for hours to come, so stick to one that’s attractive, efficient and user-friendly. With this in mind, we can start exploring the best DJ software for beginners.
- Completely free and open source
- Works with any operating system
- Accurate BPM detection
- Effortless broadcasting
- Requires some adjustment to work correctly
- Not the most modern design
If you’re still on the fence about putting any money down, opt for the free and open source platform known as MIXX. The popular application manages to cram all of the essentials that DJs need into a small cross-platform package. While slightly dated, the interface is smooth and low on memory resource, making it suitable for slower laptops.
MIXX comes standard with features such as effect chain grouping, beat syncing and time-stretching. You can also plug it into a physical CDJ or turntable. The classic two-deck layout is very familiar and highly customizable. Since it’s possible to tweak the code, only you are able to determine what MIXX can do.
- Perfect for beginners
- Clean and attractive interface
- Compatible with Beatport Link streaming
- Updated for 2020 with new features
- No free version available
- Lack of native hardware
Over its 20-year history, VirtualDJ has remained at the top of DJ software that accommodates new users. The latest version is refreshed with a slick design and impressive features. Most noteworthy is advanced harmonic mixing, which automatically syncs the musical key of two or more tracks. Built-in event scheduling is another great addition.
That said, it doesn’t include any information on how to DJ in the first place. For that, you can head to Pirate.com and check out the recording studio provider’s detailed posts on the subject. From techniques to recording to landing gigs and beyond, their website has everything you need to learn how to DJ in no time.
- Fully-fledged digital audio workstation
- Useful automation and navigation features
- Track creation and editing is easy
- Can record live sets
- Not suitable as a digital to vinyl system
- Falls short compared to dedicated options
This program is more akin to a jack-of-all-trades than specialized DJ software. That’s because Ableton Live is known as a DAW, or digital audio workstation. While not without its caveats, this does make the app exceptional in certain areas. Audio wrapping and track-based recording are top-notch here. It’s also user-friendly.
In addition to its pleasing design, Ableton Live is feature-rich with support for various plug-ins and VST instruments. You get access to numerous built-in effects and a capable MIDI editor. Unlike the competitors, Ableton lets you establish a master tempo so that you don’t have to beatmatch later.
Unsure which software to choose? These programs are all worth your while, but they aren’t the only options. Be sure to take a look at Rekordbox, Traktor Pro, Serato DJ Pro and MixVibes Cross DJ before clicking any download buttons. Soon enough, you’ll find the perfect mix of features for your needs.