AS disc jockeys have morphed from the anonymous spinners of old into stars in their own right, the ranks of aspiring turntablists have increased exponentially.
â€œBedroom D.J.ing is huge, vastly larger than pro D.J.ing,â€ said Steve Mitchelides, president of the online retailer DJDeals.com, which sells equipment for both kinds. Mr. Mitchelides estimated that 80 percent of his gear was bought by people who D.J. for their own amusement â€” like singing in the shower â€” and for their friends.
The good news, as the holidays approach, is that D.J.ing is fertile territory for gifts. It involves turntables, mixing boards and other audio equipment.
There are several D.J.-in-a-box sets that offer everything for the beginner, but experts advise steering clear of the least expensive packages, since any D.J. worth his stylus is likely to outgrow it or destroy it in six months or less. In particular, make sure that the turntables included in the package are direct drive, not belt driven.
The Stanton DJLab.2 includes two direct-drive turntables, cartridges, styluses, slip mats, a mixer and headphones for $400.
If you want something that will take you further, and you are willing to spend more, you can assemble a basic kit of classic gear.
The industry-standard turntables come from Technics, starting with the $440 SL 1200MK2. The Technics, famous for their ability to take abuse, also tend to hold resale value.
A turntable requires a cartridge, which is the assembly that holds the needle. Before you buy, it is important to know your D.J.â€™s style.
There are two broad categories of D.J.â€™s: house and scratch. House D.J.â€™s tend to layer one record over another, creating mash-ups played in the clubs. Scratch D.J.â€™s slide records back and forth to integrate that â€œwikki-wikkiâ€ sound effect in their music. House D.J.â€™s tend to like a higher fidelity cartridge, like the Ortofon Concorde DJ, which sells for $115 ($40 for a replacement stylus). Scratch D.J.â€™s need a cartridge that will hold the groove, like the Shure M44-7, $65 ($40 for a replacement).
No D.J. can scratch without a slip mat, which allows the record to be manipulated on a spinning platter. One favorite is Butter Rugs, which come two to a package ($15) from thudrumble .com. Or you can have mats with custom art. Send a 300-d.p.i. photo file to Glowtronics (glowtronics-store.com), and about a week later, youâ€™ll have that picture on a slip mat. The minimum order is two for $30.
Blending the songs between the two turntables requires a mixer. Many pros favor durable Vestax mixers. The Vestax VMC 002XL is a good start, with a three band tone control and smooth, reliable cross-fade control.
Headphones are necessary, rakishly draped around the neck. Even a $14 set will do for a beginner, but Denon headphones, like the popular DN-HP 1000, come with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, especially useful because headphones often break.
These days, some D.J.â€™s are trading in LPs for CDs. Thatâ€™s possible to do because of CD players like the Stanton C-314 ($400), an entry-level player that lets D.J.â€™s scratch the same way they can with vinyl.
Still others are moving into the all digital realm, replacing records and CDs with MP3s. New digital devices, like the Hercules DJ Console MK2, let spinners virtually scratch and drop beats and mix digital music files. For D.J.â€™s who aspire to playing parties or clubs, that saves carting hundreds of pounds of record crates to each gig. The Hercules MK2 ($240 for the PC, or $325 for Mac) has jog wheels to manipulate the music, as well as the tone control and sliders common to mixers.
The console comes with a simplified version of Traktor, a music-mixing program from Native Instruments, which increases the ability to make songs match in tempo, as well as to create loops of sound.
If your jam master already has the gear, it is important to store and protect it. The pros use a case like the Odyssey CDJ10e, better known as a turntable coffin. The $140 hard-sided case is covered with carpeting, and the inside is padded to cradle two turntables and a mixer.
Having the gear is only part of the battle. How do you get the skills? The basics can be found in online tutorials. Search YouTube under â€œHow to D.J.â€
Or you can get personal training. Scratch DJ Academy, founded by Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, mints about 800 D.J’s a year through its six-week D.J. 101 program in New York. It costs $300, as does a five-day crash course. The school has branches in Miami and Los Angeles.