If you’re fairly new to digital DJing, you will have no doubt seen all the different software packages out there to create your sets with and the choice can be overwhelming at first.
Users will have their favourites of course and if you ask around, the ‘fans’ will all have their own view and might potentially try to shout for their own personal favourite! Every package has its own merits though and so it’s important to look at the whole market before making your decision. All will do the basics of course – mixing, library management, EQs, cueing etc. so it’s worth having a look at what other features might be required (like recording sets etc). Most software packages are also available to trial for free too. So here’s our roundup of the key players to help you with your choice.
Serato covers off all the basics you would expect to find in a DJ package. Most DJs will have used it or at least tried it once or twice at some point in time and the company claims to be the most popular DJ software globally.
And of course it’s hard to ignore because of the awesome controller support it carries. Most of the gear suppliers (Pioneer, Denon, Numark, Rane etc) will have a controller (or even many) that works with Serato straight out of the box; in fact many will ship with the Lite version included.
Not only that; many club set ups (particularly with Pioneer equipment), will be ready to go with the software without too much fiddling. Serato just ‘works’. It’s also possible to integrate with selected music platforms like Soundcloud for track streaming on the fly.
If you want to go DVS (Digital Vinyl System), then Serato is touted to be one of the most stable out there, plus it has loads of add-ons, making it a solid platform for future growth: video, effects, key shifts & sync, are just a few of the extras available to help the user get more from the package.
Serato is nice on the eye: it looks great and its layout is uncluttered and simple. It’s possible to customise the layout too, particularly with waveforms, which is useful.
Managing libraries is pretty simple and intuitive with the ‘crate’ system making it easy to add new playlists and edit existing. You can even set up smart playlists with rules attached, making song selection even easier and automated. Integration with iTunes is good too. The virtual platters indicate position well, which is particularly useful with DVS.
As an all-round software, it’s hard not to like Serato. It has great features, yet is simple to get started with a huge amount of users and hardware integrations. It has a massive user base out there, and so support and help is easy to find.
Native Instruments Traktor Pro (recently upgraded to V3) is an entirely different beast from Serato DJ. On the face of it; they are both very similar and both can do digital DJing well and you could say that the look of the latest version has somewhat been inspired by Serato (now in sexy black as opposed to version 2’s battleship grey).
Where it really flies though is the sheer number of features and layouts. The package comes with over 40 high-grade effects and with the right controller, opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities. There’s also the availability of Remix decks with your main 2 decks for cutting and editing and adding affects on the fly. There are also Stems to think about, which are tracks split into 4 musical components for adding independently. Really cool.
Controller consideration has to be more considered than Serato, with less choice amongst the brands. However, the Native Instrument range of controllers covers all bases and there’s something for everyone at all levels. There are other controllers and mixers available from the big brands and MIDI mapping does make it possible to find integrations for use with others too (the Traktor fan-sites have loads to offer), so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. There’s also a number of great extras, like the padded Kontrol F1 that gives dedicated control for remixing.
The platform may not be as universally popular as Serato, but it’s a great piece of kit, with big-name DJs and producers having used one of its iterations over the years either live or in the studio. It’s incredibly powerful and the NI controllers are pretty solid. It’s definitely worth some consideration as the other half of ‘The Big 2’.
Championed heavily by Pioneer DJ, Rekordbox started life as a way to organize music for their range of standalone decks, such as their CDJs as DJs moved from CDs to other types of digital files. Over time though, the software has evolved and taken on a wider range of features to now make it an alternative to Serato and Traktor.
It’s still great at managing music and in particular, in the cloud and across multiple devices where synching is a breeze. It also works with the likes of Soundcloud and Beatport Link. Taking a file out of iTunes, adding in cue points and doing some beatgridding, means that all the metadata stays together, available for reading from multiple devices. Rock up to a club with all your songs on a hard drive and (as long as there’s supported hardware), you’re good to go.
As a piece of DJ software, it has lots on its side too. Borrowing a little from Serato, it has a reasonably simple interface, which is easy to navigate and personalise (the white background choice is really cool!). In fact, much of the feature list is similar and it’s not hard to pick up if you are familiar with other packages. There are plenty of users and tutorials around too if you need help. Whilst maybe not as polished as the market leaders, it’s worth an audition.
On the controller and mixer front, if you’re heavily into the Pioneer DJ ecosystem, then Rekordbox is going to work straight out of the box. All current Pioneer DJ kit is integrated with the software from standard. Whilst there is a free version of Rekordbox available to use, many of the key features are unlocked with a monthly subscription. The lowest is £9.99, whilst to get the full suite, it’s £14.99 per month.
Making up the Big 4 packages is Virtual DJ, which claims to be the #1 Most Popular DJ Software (for audio and video mixing) and has had over 100 million downloads. That’s pretty impressive.
It’s easy to use and powerful too, with all the basics well covered and even without hardware connected, is no problem to play with. It’s also free for non-professional use, but if you want to unlock all the tools, it’s $19 per month or $299 if you want to pay for lifetime access – that’s pretty steep in comparison to Serato and Traktor, which are available for less than £100.
Hardware support is more than substantial, with mappings for 300+ controllers and mixers from all the big brands, including Denon, Pioneer, Reloop, Numark and Hercules. It’s also possible to create new mappings and integrations with the built-in mapper interface.
You might not find too many big name DJs using VDJ, but it’s a solid performer and if just starting out, isn’t a bad way to get going.
This totally free and open-source programme looks like a fairly standard piece of DJ software and has all the key features you would expect to find (iTunes integration, 4 decks, loops and cues, along with BPM detection and sync), plus many that would cost if required with one of the more popular packages (like recording). It also integrates with 80+ controllers and DVS setups too.
For the price; it’s a great choice!
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Choosing the right DJ not an easy to make a decision and making the right one is important. Most DJs find ‘the one’ and tend to stick to it. It can be a right pain to change over and learn something new. Our advice is to look at the gear you are using or may want to use in the future and then download the trial versions of each one to test at home. YouTube also has some great content to help too.
So that’s 5 of the top DJ software packages covered. If there’s one we haven’t covered that you think is worth a mention; please drop us a line and let us know.