Today’s modern DJ has a staggering number of options available to them when it comes to DJ software. DJ software has become an indispensable tool allowing for amazing creative options. Every level of DJ from beginner to seasoned pro can take advantage of the benefits of good DJ software.
One of the most common questions is which DJ software is the best and it’s as much a debated topic as Apple VS Microsoft. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know when it comes to DJ software. We’ll also give you the low down on three of the most popular platforms available giving you all the info you need to make an informed decision.
What is Digital DJing Software
Before we dive into the comparison it’s best to go over a few basics. Before the digital revolution DJing was a manual process requiring expensive gear. These days DJ software gives you all the tools needed to do the same thing. Most DJ software is designed to be used with a DJ controller. While you can use some software without any hardware you’ll want to look at picking up a controller to get the most out of the software.
DJ software replicates the traditional DJ setup on your computer. It’s usually comprised of at least 2 decks and a central mixer. A playlist underneath allows you to drag and drop tracks onto one of the digital decks. The central mixer has all the features of DJ equipment allowing you to adjust volumes/levels and crossfade between the two songs. Added features like loops and FX allow you to get creative with your mixing all without needing expensive hardware.
DJ software has become part of an integrated DJ setup that includes hardware that is connected to the software. This has given rise to the digital DJ controller allowing the best of both worlds. It gives you tactile control over the music whilst leveraging all the features and convenience that software offers.
It’s rare these days to have to lug around a crate of vinyl or even CDs. Most DJs have upgraded to using a digital setup that includes both hardware and DJ software. This allows them to have all their music on a USB thumb drive.
There is no denying that DJ software has revolutionized the industry. It has opened the door for beginners to experience the joy of DJing as well as giving professionals a new avenue to explore their craft.
What to Look for in DJ Software
Now that the basics are covered let us go over the features you should look for when selecting DJ software.
DJ software needs to be easy to look at. You’ll be spending endless hours looking at your screen interpreting information. The last thing you want is a cluttered layout. Additionally, you’ll find software that has a dark background will be easier on your eyes. This is not to say that colour is a bad thing as long as it’s used effectively to display key information like waveforms of the music.
Good DJ software will also have flexibility when it comes to the layout. Having the ability to hide functions you don’t use will be important to streamline your workflow. Additionally, if you do have hardware plugged in you may not need certain sections visible in the software. Any space saved on the screen allows you to quickly make changes in the software or browse through your library of songs.
Speaking of your music library you want powerful tools to be able to tag your files with extra notes. Having the ability to alter the ID3 tags is also important. Flexibility to be able to organise your collection to best match your workflow is also desirable. Integration with iTunes can be helpful here as you can migrate your existing playlists across saving you a lot of time.
Most DJ software will analyse your music so that it can render a waveform allowing you to see where the breakdowns are as well as auto mark the beats. This allows both visual information when you load a track as well as a clear indication where to capture clean loops. Music analysis has come a long way but some software is better at it than others. If you plan on using loops or the sync button to match your beats try to find software that is known to analyse tracks as accurately as possible.
I’d also suggest you double check what file formats are supported. While most DJ software supports most file types some of them do not support Apple Lossless or ACC so keep this in mind when selecting software.
You also want the ability to control multiple decks at once. 2 channel is obvious but having access to extra channels in the software can open up your creativity as your skills evolve.
A great range of FX to add to your mixes and easy to use loop functions will open up a world of options to your DJ sets. Make sure the software offers a decent range of choices in these areas.
The last thing I’d like to mention is the ability to record your mixes. There is nothing more satisfying than the ability to record your mix and then listen back to it down the track. It’s a great way to celebrate your awesome mixes as well as learn from your not so great ones. Having this function built into the software will make this process so much easier.
Top 3 DJ Software Applications
Now that you’ve got a good idea of what DJ software does and what to look out for let’s break down how the three most popular applications go in these areas.
Serato DJ Pro
Serato is a powerhouse piece of software developed in New Zealand. With an extensive history in audio software, they helped give birth to the modern digital DJ era with their innovative products. A Serato DJ controller is a common sight in many aspiring DJs lineup of gear.
Serato DJ Pro is their flagship DJ software and it lives up to its industry-leading title. Its interface is clean and well organised making it very easy to use while still offering a lot of depth for more experienced DJ’s. It also offers good choices in customising your interface. Both vertical and horizontal waveform display options are available. Speaking of waveforms they’re displayed in colour. This allows you to see the bass, mids and treble giving you more information to perfect your mixes.
The clean interface plays well into the library management with the ability to alter ID3 tags within the program. You can also use your existing iTunes playlists. It offers smart crates as well which is a clever little feature to group your music based on your parameters like BPM.
It’s also packed with all the features a modern DJ needs. It offers excellent music analysis and comes with a heap of FX’s with the option of extra add-on packs to expand this further. Full looping functionality is also available. They also offer a clever beatjump function which allows you to jump through parts of the current track without skipping a beat.
In software, recording is also available so you don’t need another piece of software to record your mixes either.
Serato DJ Pro offers everything a digital DJ needs and their history of reliability has cemented them as a firm favourite among many big-name DJs. Serato has a long history of digital vinyl DJing advancements. As a result, they became the choice for turntablists who wanted to move into the world of digital DJing. Be aware that their dedicated vinyl scratching emulation software is a separate purchase. There is also a staggering amount of DJ controllers that have been built to work with Serato DJ as well. It’s highly likely you will be able to find a controller that you’ll like.
Native Instruments Traktor Pro 3
While Serato DJ Pro is an amazing piece of software it isn’t your only choice. The biggest competition comes from Native Instruments with their Traktor Pro 3 software.
Native Instruments has a long history in the DJ game and is the primary choice for many DJ’s. It offers a clean and professional interface which is customizable to your preferred layout style. Waveforms are also displayed in colour and there are a couple of colour options allowing you to further customise your view.
Library management is top notch and is designed to offer a natural workflow. Full editing is available of ID3 tags and integration with your iTunes playlists is also embedded.
With the release of Traktor Pro 3 Native Instruments reworked their music analysis algorithm and it’s outstanding. While no DJ software ever gets it right 100% of the time this powerful piece of software is as close to perfection as it gets.
Extensive looping options are also available. It also incorporates remix decks to create unique remixes of tracks on the fly. A huge range of FX is also built in adding an extra layer of creativity to your mixes. You can also record directly from the software.
Creativity is where Native Instruments has tried to differentiate itself from the competition. They created a whole new way of manipulating your tracks. Stems is a new file format that separates tracks into its main components like vocals, bass and melody. You can then manipulate these individual sections to create mashups, layer acapellas and so much more. Additionally, these stems have their own waveforms giving you a visual guide to each component.
Native Instruments offers a good range of controllers and other hardware for their software. While the hardware is generally fantastic it can limit your choices. If you have a piece of gear from a different manufacturer it won’t work as seamlessly with Traktor Pro 3 as their dedicated controllers. Some prefer this closed environment much like some people prefer the closed environment of Apple over Microsoft. Luckily as mentioned their hardware tends to be great so this shouldn’t be a deal breaker if you are set on their software.
Much like Serato, their scratch software is sold separately and it isn’t cheap. Be sure to factor this in if you plan on scratching aggressively. On top of this, they have experimented with controllers without jog wheels. If this is important for you be sure to check out their full range of hardware before committing to Traktor Pro 3.
There is no denying the power of Traktor Pro 3 and it has all the tools a modern DJ needs to master digital DJing. The innovative features and quality hardware has won over many professional DJ’s. This has all been achieved while also still been approachable for a beginner.
Pioneer rekordbox DJ
Pioneer’s foray into the digital DJ software landscape is rekordbox DJ. Compared to other software in the marketplace, they are a newcomer to the scene. There is no denying that Pioneer has a massive history in the DJ world. Their hardware is the global industry standard but does this dominance translate into quality software? Let’s dive into the details to see if they can match the existing powerhouse’s.
Rekordbox began its life as music management software. It was designed to allow DJ’s to prepare their tracks for use on Pioneer hardware. In 2015 they expanded it to offer a complete DJ software package with all the bells and whistles.
This history as music management software has led to a quality range of options and features for organising your music collection. Full in application editing is also available. They also offer a clever related tracks feature. This feature will bring up options for your next track based on BPM, key and even past performance history. This can help when you’re digging for that next track and time is running out.
It also offers a clean interface that supports up to 4-channel mixing. There is also a solid range of customizable views and coloured waveforms. It can suffer from some of the problems all DJ software encounter which is clutter. You can still have a clean setup that only includes the functions that you care about. You do however need to spend a bit of time refining the core features you want visible.
It has an extensive range of FX built in with more options available for purchase. The sound quality is also outstanding utilising the sound processing from the CDJ-2000NXS player and DJM-900NXS mixer. This gives you the best sound quality possible. You can also record your mixes from the software as well so you can enjoy that sound quality all over again.
Other innovations include the new Lighting mode which can operate your lighting without your input. It recognizes variations and synchronizes your lights for a seamless performance. Lighting adds a tonne of atmosphere to your DJ sets and not having to control it manually is a great feature. Of course, if you like to manually control your lighting that is also available.
Pioneer offers a large range of hardware to go with the software. If you like the idea of owning Pioneer hardware this software is a natural fit. Plus you’ll know that each piece of Pioneer kit will work seamlessly with the software. Consistent updates from Pioneer show that they want to push rekordbox DJ as much as possible. It’s great to see them backing their software and always looking to improve it or fix bugs.
Rekordbox DJ is the new player on the scene but they are growing fast. A Pioneer DJ controller running rekordbox DJ is a very good option for both beginner and experienced DJ’s.
Now that we have gone over the big 3 in the space there is something else worth covering and that is compatibility. Before diving into one piece of software I’d recommend you research the hardware you plan on purchasing. The vast majority of hardware has been built with a specific piece of software in mind. You can still mix and match hardware and software if you want. Keep in mind the further you stray from the suggested software the more potential features of your gear you may end up missing out on.
There are options to map the controls on hardware to specific functions of the software. This can be a daunting task. You may spend a lot of time fine-tuning or searching for a MIDI map for a specific controller to work the way you want it to work with your software. So while it is possible you need to be mindful of the extra work involved if you go down this path.
Where possible aim to get the software that works with the gear you want to buy especially if you are a beginner. You want to get started DJing with as little hassle as possible. Modern controllers can be set up super fast when coupled with the relevant software it was made for. This means less time figuring out the technical details and more time mastering the art of DJing.
Which One is the Best?
So which one do I recommend I hear you asking and I wish I had a definitive answer. To be honest all three options are great. Any beginner or experienced DJ will be able to learn and fine-tune their skills using any of these great pieces of software.
All three offer intro or light versions so feel free to check them out if you want to dive into the details before making a choice. You can find the intro/free trial versions below:
Serato DJ Lite – https://serato.com/dj/lite
Rekordbox DJ 30-Day Trial – https://rekordbox.com/en/news/rekordbox_download/
Luckily most DJ controllers come with some form of software bundled with the hardware. If you can’t make up your mind focus on finding a controller you like and use the software that comes with it. Keep in mind some packages only include the introductory or trial versions of the software. You may need to upgrade to the full version to get the most use out of your hardware. This can be a big stumbling block if you’re on a tight budget.
Irrespective of which choice you end up making you’ll be able to start mixing tracks and learning the fundamentals of DJing. Don’t stress over the decision too much. You’ll be creating amazing mixes before you know it!