Virtual DJ is a great piece of DJ software for Windows PC and Mac for learning how to DJ with digital audio files on virtual turntables. These days there are many great DJ controller software options out there like Serato, Traktor, and Ableton but with nearly 35 years of history behind it, we’re concentrating today on Virtual DJ 8 and Virtual DJ Free.
Today, we’re going to go through the basics of DJing and mixing. You’ll still need practice if you want to become a professional DJ, but this Virtual DJ tutorial should get you started. There are four parts to this intro – importing your library, basic controls, preparing tracks, and mixing.
What is mixing?
Mixing songs together sits at the heart of the art of DJing. At its most simple you mix songs together in such a way that they sound harmonized as if they were a single song. It’s not as easy as it sounds though, as you’ll need to beat match both songs, slow or speed up the tracks so that the beat on them both is exactly the same, and then line up all the other musical elements so that the songs work with each other. The idea is that you guide your set from one song to the next without breaking the music.
This means that you need more than a simple media player to mix effectively. You’ll need a virtual crossfader to control whether the left deck or the right deck is playing, a virtual equalizer will help too, and a sampler will allow you to add other sound effects and elements on top of your mixes too. This is where Virtual DJ by Atomix Productions comes in, offering a robust package that covers all aspects of DJing. Once you’ve downloaded Virtual DJ and gone through today’s tutorial, you’ll be able to start mixing and take your DJ career to the next level.
What you’ll need
As well as a PC or Mac or the Windows operating system, you’ll need hardware including a soundcard with two audio outputs and some headphones if you’re going to really get started. This will allow you to play different songs out of your speakers and headphones at the same time, which will allow you to line them up and beat match them both. It is possible to mix music without this basic setup but it will be next to impossible for beginners to do so. You can also add other DJing hardware to your Virtual DJ setup once you’ve mastered the basics.
Importing your Library
If you’re a new DJ, you’re going to need to organize all your tracks so that they’re easy to access when you want to play them. When you open Virtual DJ Free, start by finding your music library using the file tree on the left. Right-click and choose Virtual Folder, which will create a place you can keep all the tracks, remixes, and playlists you want in Virtual DJ. Drag a few songs you like into this folder, and then one by one drag them into the decks. This will allow the app to analyze the beats per minute (BPM) of each song. We think it’s a good idea to put any song you play in the app into your Virtual Folder, as it’s more comfortable than the messy Windows file tree. You don’t want to be searching through iTunes while you’re juggling your next beat transition.
It’s easiest to use Virtual DJ combining some simple keyboard DJ mixing commands with the cursor keys. Here are the three essential DJ mixer keyboard commands you’ll need:
- Tab – switch between A and B decks
- C – mark a cue point and play from cue point
- Space – play/pause.
- Choose two songs with similar BPMs. Drag one into deck A, the other into B.
- Press Space and deck A will start to play. You’ll see a waveform moving, with markers underneath. You should see that these markers pass the center in time with the music. If not (sometimes the auto analysis is half a beat out), tap the BPM button once in time with the music, and the markers will slip into place.
- Press space to stop the track. Now we want to set a cue point – the point where we want to start the song. Cue points are saved by Virtual DJ, so you only need to set them once for each track. Under the name of the song, you can see a small waveform of the whole song. Click the start of it and press Space to play – watch and listen for the beat you want to set as your starting point. Press Space to stop, then click on the big waveform with the cursor, and drag it back to exactly the right point, aligned with the center marker. Press C now, and your first cue point is ready!
- The C key behaves differently depending on the circumstances. When a track is stopped, C sets a cue point. When the track is stopped at the cue point, C will start the track (it will stop when you let go of the C key). When the track is playing, hitting C will stop the track and bring it back to the cue point.
- Hit the Tab key, and you’ll see deck B is highlighted and active. Now the C and Space keys will control that deck. Play that track, make sure the beat markers are OK, and set a starting cue point, repeating the method above. With two tracks prepared, you’re ready to mix! Don’t get put off if you’re not perfect right away – you’ll quickly improve with practice.
- Press Tab so deck A is active. Hold C to start the track, then tap Space and let go. You could just tap Space, but starting by holding C means you can jump right back to your cue point if you make a mistake when mixing, so it makes sense to do it this way!
- In the center of the deck is the cross-fader. Slide it to the right and your song will fade out, slide it back and it returns. When in the center, you’ll be able to hear both decks if they are playing, but if you slide it to one extreme, you’ll only hear one. Practice dragging it with the mouse!
- Put the cross-fader back in the center, then hit Tab to activate deck B. Click the SYNC button on Deck B. Now it’s set to the same BPM as the track you are already playing. This is the tricky bit. Hitting C will start your next track from the cue point, so try pressing and holding it with the beat of the first song. If the two tracks don’t sound quite in sync with each other, still holding C, tap the PITCH arrows. With these, you can nudge the track forward and back to get it just synchronized with the first. The blue and red beat markers should be lined up. Try it out!
Tap Space then let go of C, and you should have two tracks playing in time with each other. With the cursor, drag the cross-fader to the right to fade out deck A. That’s it! You can also fade out deck A using the volume slider, and by using the High, Medium and Low knobs – but it’s best to play with them once you have the basics down.
You will have to experiment with where to bring in new tracks, and how quickly to move the cross-fader. Try out different combinations of tracks and you’ll soon be able to put a set together!
Feel free to ask in comments for any more Virtual DJ advice.