I have often been approached after gigs by new or aspiring DJs asking “What kind of DJ gear should I buy?” The answer to that question is not always an easy one. I know I’m dating myself here, but when I first got into being a professional mobile DJ at the age of 18, I did not have the choices we have today as far as gear goes. Back then it was “Do I buy a set of Technics SL1200 turntables or another brand?” Professional-grade CD decks
were just starting to show up on the market at that time too. I was fortunate that my first DJ job was with a company that already had systems you would sign out. We had a set of “Tec 12s,” a Numark four-channel mixer, an EV amp and two EV 15” cabinets. My biggest expense was buying records for the parties I did. But the knowledge I learned from the other DJs about different types of gear was priceless at the time, and has guided me since.
My usual response to the question above is “Buy the best gear you can afford,” just as any good tradesman will tell you to “buy the best tools you can afford.” As a mobile DJ, you should treat your gear as an investment, and like a good set of tools, you want the best gear you can get your hands on. I certainly understand, starting out you often don’t have a lot to spend on gear. That’s ok. There are plenty of financing options offered by dealers to help you cover the purchase of new gear.
STARTING WITH THE SOUND
But if you have to start somewhere, I strongly recommend putting the money into a good set of PA speakers. Similar to a car, the best way to make it handle better is to put a good set of tires on it. Conversely, a low-end set of tires will make even a Porsche handle badly. The same holds true for PA speakers. A good set of PA speakers should be durable enough to stand up to the abuse of mobile gigs, but most of all, they have to sound GOOD! I recall being at an event where the DJ was using little more than two iPods and a mixer, but he ran a quality set of speakers and they sounded great. What is a “quality” set you ask? I always suggest looking at what other DJs are running, and getting their opinions. You can also check out the online reviews of different brands and models of speakers. Be sure to buy speaker bags to protect them from bumps and scrapes. Your speakers are the one piece of kit your audience will see as well as hear. No one wants to see badly beat up cabinets no matter how good they sound.
The next consideration is what to use as a music source. If you have been DJing as a hobby, you probably already have this covered. If not, the online DJ forums are full of discussions debating turntables vs. CDJs, media players, or all-in-one controllers as sources, so I’ll leave that discussion for them. Each has their pros AND cons but from a purely economic standpoint, the best “bang for the buck,” in my opinion, would be a controller. Unlike turntables and media players, a good quality controller will set you back about $400 to $1,000 as opposed to double that for a pair of media players or CDJs. Add a mixer, and you start talking about some serious cash! Controllers are also very compact and pack a lot of features into their small form factor, which makes them ideal for mobile gigs.
One drawback is that most controllers use a laptop (or sometimes a tablet) running DJ software as a music source. Computers and tablets can and do fail, so it’s a good idea to have a backup source handy. I always have a backup copy of my “crates” and a DJ app on my iPhone and iPad, just in case. A backup is a good idea, regardless of what you use. Many controller models available today feature a “stand alone” mixer, meaning if the computer crashes, you can still use the mixer portion on it to spin from an outside source without needing the computer. If you are considering going the controller route, be sure the model you select has this feature.
There are new controllers coming onto the market today that do away with the computer all together. [Ed. note: See p. 59 for an announcement of Denon DJ’s new entry in this category.] While this is a glimpse of things to come, we’ll be seeing laptops for the foreseeable future. As with the speakers above, it’s always a good idea to read the online reviews and talk to other DJs about what they use.
THE RENTAL OPTION
If you are not in a position to invest in gear as you start out, another option is to rent your gear. A good rental house will offer quality gear, and you get the added bonus of trying out different brands. Just make sure you include the cost of the rental in your rates, and be sure to check the equipment out BEFORE you leave with it! Bad enough your gig is ruined by a bad speaker or amp, but to be on the hook for preexisting damage that you didn’t cause is even worse.
Rental houses also often sell off gear, so you may be able to find a bargain on used gear if you keep your eyes open. While we are on the subject of buying used gear, there are plenty of deals to be had out there for good used gear online. I would be leery of buying used gear on auction sites or Craigslist unless the seller offers a refund if it does not work as advertised. Ask questions of the seller, and if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. As they say, “caveat emptor”—buyer beware. A little common sense goes a long way here.
Whatever gear you do end up choosing to start out with, understand that as you grow, your skills and your style will too. As you upgrade your gear, you can then explore different options available to you that fit you and your DJ style. And that is part of the fun of being a DJ!
Filed Under: Issue #168, Sound
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