A common question from people starting often revolves around what equipment they need and whether laptops are essential to DJ. The short answer to this is no. After all, DJs only ever used to DJ without a laptop. These days we have more options on to DJ than ever before. So let’s go over the various methods and find out how do DJs DJ without a laptop.
There are several ways to DJ without a laptop. Whether it is with basic decks or a smartphone app, the options vary in features, learning curve and setup cost. Which one you go for depends on how seriously you want to get into DJing.
The Traditional Setup
In the traditional setup, a DJ didn’t require a laptop at all, instead, they used a mixer plugged into vinyl or CD decks. So straight away this one method in how do DJs DJ without a laptop.
That said, the latest CD decks include USB inputs allowing you to put your music collection on a USB stick and plug them directly into the decks. Which removes the need for a laptop in the DJ booth. However, you would still need a computer to organize and put your music library on a USB stick in the first place.
However, if you only used CDs or vinyl then, of course, you are not limited to, or in need of, a laptop in any way at all. Instead, you just need to purchase CDs or vinyl and play your music this way.
Although this method of playing DJ sets is becoming much less common as more DJs move onto an entirely digital setup.
A brief note on vinyl decks in particular…
It is a sad fact that all but the biggest clubs seem to be letting their vinyl decks fall into disrepair. It is now fairly common to go to a smaller club and be expected to use CD/USB decks only. While this does mean you don’t need a laptop it’s not good news for the vinyl purists.
DJing in this traditional sense, with vinyl and CDs, doesn’t require a screen as everything is done by ear. This means the DJ will have learned to beat-match manually and syncing the tempos of the tracks in their headphones.
With a lot of modern DJ equipment and DJ software, the software itself can do this via the sync function.
Modern CD Decks – How Do DJs DJ Without a Laptop, the Industry-Standard Way
While a traditional vinyl DJ setup had no screens at all, modern CD decks like the Pioneer CDJ-2000nxs2 do incorporate them (see our deck recommendation here). And these now include a lot of the information that you would normally find on a laptop screen.
This again gives you a lot of the functionality of a full laptop setup, without actually needing the laptop itself. Given the smaller screen, you tend not to be able to fit all the information on in one go. Instead, it’s a case of either prioritizing what the DJ needs to see at that moment. With other options accessed by flicking through menus to the relevant information or select the next track for example.
This is why, in some cases, although the CDJ-2000nxs can be used entirely without a laptop, some DJs will still prefer to use them with one. They then have all of the information on one screen which makes navigating, for example, their music library much easier.
All-in-one DJ Controllers
This is another common method of DJs DJ without a laptop. All-in-one DJ controllers allow you to plug in USB sticks directly into the controller. Then via built-in screens, you’re able to select tracks and perform all the normal functions of a traditional DJ setup.
The functionality and features available on a controller vary depending on the manufacturer, model, and price. High-end all-in-one systems, such as the Pioneer RX2, allow you to do everything that you might find on a laptop driven DJ system.
The benefits of having software built into a DJ controller is that the software can be updated to keep the features of the DJ controller up-to-date.
With a traditional DJ setup, however, you are more limited to the features that are already built into the mixer or the decks.
How do DJs DJ without a laptop using Tablets and Smartphones
With handheld devices getting smarter then the need for all-in-one units or traditional DJ setups is actually becoming less vital. There are plenty of DJ apps out there and they are quickly becoming more and more sophisticated.
Although the sound quality is arguable at this point, you can help this by routing your phone through an audio interface. Then there is no reason why you couldn’t use something like DJ2 to perform a set.
Or for more advanced features the Traktor app that incorporates things like EQ, FX, and filters. This allows you to create an entire DJ mix as if you had Traktor enabled hardware in front of you. The only limitation of this being is that things tend to be slightly fiddly given you are doing them on a smaller screen.
Phone apps are another way of how do DJs DJ without a laptop. And I have seen it done when we played a festival in Bishops Stortford, UK.
A guy blended tracks and did his entire set from his phone (app unknown). While the sound quality was reasonable from a visual perspective it looked pretty odd. In that, he basically looked like he was stood on stage texting the entire time, with some occasional dancing.
So yeah, apps, do remove the need for a separate laptop or indeed any other equipment at all.
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The Benefits of DJing Without a Laptop or a Screen
There is an ongoing debate within the DJ world as to whether all of this modern equipment has destroyed the art of a DJing. And it’s a fun debate. However, what has certainly been made easier is the practice of beatmatching / matching the tempos of different tracks. Matching the speed of two tracks is key to how DJs make mixing so smooth.
Back in the day, DJs would have to do this by ear. Beatmatching is an absolute art and skill in itself that would take many practice hours to perfect.
These days, however, you can do exactly the same using DJ software, laptops and the push of the button. In fact, CD decks themselves now have this feature already built-in so again no need even for the laptop.
This has led to many modern DJs not even being able to beatmatch manually. Which is fine…. assuming you’re only ever doing to be playing on professional-grade equipment. However, it can make a DJ fall down very quickly when they are using different or subpar/poorly maintained equipment.
This is why it’s an idea to be able to beat match and mix tracks in general without the aid of a laptop or sophisticated decks. You never know what equipment you’ll be faced with when you get to a club or a party.
So while some DJs may be asking how do DJs DJ without a laptop for financial reasons i.e they’re looking for a cheaper way to start DJing, remember that learning on proper equipment has huge benefits.
It will teach you how to DJ by ear which will set you apart from the DJs that are relying on software to do the job for them. Fakers basically.
Let Spotify do the work for you.
Just a further note here, if you’re not keen on doing any work at all then Spotify now features a DJ mode.
This, in essence, is Spotify taking a playlist of songs and then cross-fading between one tack and next. All it is doing is turning down the volume on one track and turning it up on the next. You can define how many seconds this takes in the settings.
So another answer to how do DJs DJ without a laptop? Well, Spotify is one way, zero laptops, or even effort, needed whatsoever.
Conclusion: How do DJs DJ without a laptop?
Hopefully, this post has given you some insights into how do DJs DJ without a Laptop. There are plenty of options out there and I could have included many more. But for the sake of readability, I choose not to include an endless list.
If you need help with a specific event then drop details below and I’m happy to give individual, free advice. The same applies if you’re looking at some specific equipment and would like some input.
FAQs: How do DJs DJ without a laptop?
Can I DJ with just a laptop?
Yes, you can absolutely DJ with just a laptop, in fact, there are a couple of different options. The most professional way would be to get and learn something like Ableton Live or Trakor. Both of these are full DJ programs that can be operated without extra hardware.
For a completely free solution, you can use Mixxx which is completely open-source software. The learning curve is fairly short and then you can simply plugin into a sound system and start playing.
What do you need to DJ with a laptop?
In terms of hardware, nothing. You can just plug the laptop straight into a sound system and start playing. In terms of software then there is a fully functional free option called Mixxx. Some of the best-paid options include Traktor and Ableton Live.
If you want to boost sound quality then it can be worth investing in an audio interface. These can be relatively cheap and, plugged in via USB, and help to make sure that high-quality audio is passed through to the sound system. If you are doing professional gigs at a club then an audio interface is essential.
Do DJs still use CDs?
Not often, due to CDs being prone to scratching they have largely been replaced by USB sticks. These also allow DJs to carry many hundreds and thousands of more tracks than if they carried CDs. Most clubs have now moved over to USB enabled decks and away from CD only. At the moment most decks accept both CDs and USB (like the Pioneer CDJ2000nxs) but in time these will be replaced by USB only decks (like the Pioneer DDJ range).
How can I DJ without a deck?
There are many options. These include using just a laptop with a free piece of software called Mixxx. There are also plenty of apps available for your smartphone, for example, Pioneer’s WeDJ. That said the easiest, automated way to DJ without a deck is to build a playlist in Spotify and then enable DJ mode.