How do the pros mix with CDJs

So my understanding is most clubs use CDJs as standard (correct me if I’m wrong).

I don’t have the money for them, but I’d like to develop the skills to use them with my Prime GO, so I’m just wondering (this is a question for folks who’ve Dj’d professionally/been paid to DJ/or experienced amateurs) - how do people actually mix in these settings? What standard should I be aiming for? I get there is probably quite a bit of variety, but just looking to get a general idea.

Do DJs match tempos electronically or by ear? Use hot cues? Do you use waveforms as a visual aid? Do you always adjust beatgrids on the PC beforehand or just use your ears on the day? How well should you know the songs you choose to play?

Thanks for your advice kind people.

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I hope the first response will start with

“this is how I play”

“I play this kind of venues”

“This style of music”

“This kind of crowd”

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Hello @bekind,

There are many ways today that you can dj, as You also mentioned. Best is to know how to beatmatch by ear. When all the other technological aids fail, Your ears are the best to overcome the challenge. Knowing Your music is another skill that is very helpful. You need to understand how single tracks are maid, to find the best spots for transition. This is very helpful in creating a flawless, smooth mix. Another skill that helps a lot in emergencies is drop mixing. It needs a bit of preparation (finding a good spot to start the track as it drops - for example in a moment 1bar before the drums start). This can get you out of a tricky situation if something goes wrong on another deck (for example freezing decks or some issues with club gear).

There are many other things to know to be a skilled dj. I think others will also throw in some good advices.

Happy mixing!


Depends a lot on dj’s/genre/workflow … Personally I beatmach by ear; I do use a lot of hot cues and loops; I use waveforms as a aid for ‘what’s coming’, high/mid/low visualizations on lesser know/first time playing tracks, but not for beatmatching, as I play with unlinked players; I do a little bit of grid adjustment (mostly ‘1st beat’ correction), but not ‘precise’ adjustments as I don’t use sync, so its not that important for me - Engine grids are very good for the genre I play (progressive house and melodic techno); You should know and organize your tracks very well - It is very important, and it’s vital for a nice flow on your sets - It gets easier as you become more experienced. Always try different stuff/workflows/organization methods and define what’s best for you. Having a few different dj’s teaching you and giving advice is always nice - this way you can adapt and use the best of all worlds and avoid bad habits ( believe me you’ll get some as you become more experienced :rofl: :joy: ) Don’t be afraid to ask; It’s a long road that never ends, you’ll always learn new stuff.


The real pros like Paris Hilton just turn up with a premixed set on a pen drive :slight_smile:


Ah man, don’t be such a pessimist! :smile:

The reason pre-mixed sets might potentially come into it, with big name DJs playing with a huge lighting and video setup is that the light and video show has to be kept in sync with the music, and syncing precisely to someone DJing on the fly is not the easiest option.

If the LJ/VJ guys have a pre-arranged set where they know precisely when the chorus comes in, or when a transition will happen, it makes the logistical side much easier.

As others have said, there’s more than one way to DJ. Best to learn without all the aids first, so you can DJ without relying on beat grids, BPM and key readouts, waveforms and that jazz. Then once you have the technique down, you can use those things to assist.


So do you match tempos digitally at all? Even roughly when you’re performing or do you just pick tracks and beatmatch the tempo exclusively by ear. That’s a steep learning curve!

It may look hard at first but once you learn it becomes ‘instinctive’ Plus on the genres I play most of the tracks are close in BPM so it’s not that hard to beat match. Pitch sliders and jog wheels are so good on modern equipment, that’s not so hard to learn. As @PKtheDJ said, learn the basics and have a good foundation, and build up from that. As most skill - related activities, you may say one day ‘fck that’s so hard, I will never be able to do it’ only to learn it and in a few days say ‘fck I was stupid, it is so easy now’

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You know what the track tempos are before you load them, though? So you have a rough idea whether it needs to be slower/faster? How do you organise your music? I have my crates split by genre and energy levels low/mid/high sub crates

I organize my music pretty much the way you do - lower, warm up tracks, mid energy and high energy tracks. I try to keep a certain number of tracks, it doesn’t make sense having a ‘ton’ of tracks and never play those tracks. As I get new music almost daily, at least once a month I go over my collection and delete those ‘so-so’ tracks. As for track tempos, I don’t really look at it before loading. Once you learn to beatmatch just hitting play and nudging back and forth on the jog you will instincly know if it is faster or slower. I do order by key when playing unplanned sets, and select tracks on the fly, not really checking bpm. This works for me as my main genres don’t have a lot of BPM variation, but may not be the best aproach for open format or other genres.

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An interesting topic/question, this one for a Denon DJ Forum - Especially the opening line.

So many variables are needed to really answer it, and I think the replies already have honestly covered the bases. So much depends on the DJ and what their workflow is …

So a more interesting approach with more diverse answers that would probably lead you to the answers you seek would be to ask “How do Pro’s mix without CDJ’s”. :wink:


Ok, I’ll practice the beatmatching more and see if I can get to the same point. Thanks for the advice and from everyone else, too.

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What you could do is start by using all the automatic cheats, then, one by one, over months or years, aim to stop using each of the automatics as you become more and more proficient.

Some people throw the idea in the air that if they automatics are there, then use them. Others maintain that the more and more automatics they use, the more time they have spare to be “creative”. Ultimately, do it the way that you feel says what you want said about your way of DJing or button pushing.

Remember too, as others have said, the automatics can, and will let down their users from time to time. So having some idea of how to achieve professionally skilled results manually may be something that’s of interest to you.


Compare it to the different transmissions on cars. :slight_smile:

There are manual and automatic, and if you take your test in a manual car then you are entitled to use either, because you know the manual method.

If OTOH you take it in an automatic then you are not permitted to drive a manual (stick shift) because you didn’t learn the “traditional method” first.


I will endeavour! I guess that means using only the methods available to vinyl djs?

I would certainly recommend learning to beat match by just loading up random tracks and matching them. Cover up the screen if necessary. When you can judge whether a track is too fast or slow, and can correct it quickly, then you’ve completed the first step.

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No - use the tools you have today to learn the skills we had to develop in days gone by.

My advice, start with the same track. Put both tracks at zero pitch and practice bringing one track in over the top of the other. This will teach you about tracks being in phase, and hearing them being out of phase, and learning how to correct this (pitch bend buttons or jog wheels).

Once you can “hear” the errors, move onto two different tracks, of similar style (I.e. techno with techno). Now use the BPMs on screen to roughly get the tempo right, mix in, and use the same techniques to get them back into phase. They will drift more as they are rarely exactly the same (bang on 124 etc), so you will need to work a little more.

This will take longer to master, and once you do, try and repeat this process, but instead of reading the BPM, use your ears to listen to which track is slower, and gradually move the pitch fader until they stay in phase for 10,20,60 seconds. Now you are mixing by ear, and you can check that you are close by then reading the BPM. Job done, beat matching complete, only another 90% of the art of DJing to go…

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Best to learn by ear. Unless your playing at a big club, believe it or not, not all clubs have cdjnxs… Some still rock the 1000mk3’s with djm800. The bpm is good but not perfect (it’s an approximate) gets you in the right area. I still mix as intro over outro and don’t jump about with hotcues. But it’s all down to style and preference you need to get acquainted too.

Learn the fundamentals all day. Once you have it down you can play on anything.


I will be going in with a Serato SL box/S9/S11 and a pair of time code CDs

I carry a pair of Timecode CDs with me all the time, even at venues with HID compatible kit

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Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I’m probably halfway through that. Nearly 10% of the way there!

One more question - what do folks do with headphones i.e. at what point do you turn cue off? After you’ve made the transition? Before you fade the volume in? After you fade the volume in?

What I’ve been doing is taking the headphones off/turning cue off once I fade the volume in, but finding it a little bit more difficult to beatmatch at that point if the track goes out slightly as I’m swapping from headphones + speakers to just speakers, if that makes sense.