Guide: recording a dj set, step by step

Everybody comes to the point where he or she wants to record a DJ set. Be it a live recording at an event, to prepare a podcast or radio show, or simply from home for one’s followers. In addition to self-promotion, recording a set can also be used for quality control of one’s own skills. Because in the heat of the moment you might not notice some mistakes, with a mix you can get critical votes. Sometimes you only notice small mistakes after listening to your own mix or after playing it to someone else. In this tutorial we will show you different ways to record a mix. Depending on the equipment used, this can vary a bit. In addition, you will learn what you should pay attention to before, during and after the recording process.

Recording media

Guide: recording a dj set, step by step

Not necessarily up-to-date: reel-to-reel recording.

Record DJ Set: CD/DVD recorder/tape deck

Trying to record a DJ set in this way is no longer up to date. Either the mix ends up in the trash or you deal with further conversion work. Apart from that, there is hardly any hardware left to buy that still has a long-term support in prospect. This variant of recording your mix is therefore, apart from nostalgic or lo-fi aesthetic aspects, not recommended.

Recording a DJ set: Audio Recorder

An audio recorder comes into question if you want to record an external mix, d.h. if the mixing is not done in a software, but at the mixing desk. There are different types of audio recorders. In the radio and studio area, 19 inch USB recorders are often used, which make it possible to record directly onto SD cards or USB sticks (e.g., for a DJ set).B. Tascam SD-20M). Somewhat more mobile are recorders like the Reloop Tape, Tascam DR-05 or the Zoom H-series, like z.B. the Zoom H1. We have compiled an overview of current and popular recorders for this purpose. Tip: It’s always an advantage if the recorder can record in a high resolution (eg.B. 24Bit/96KHz) and an uncompressed format like WAVE or AIFF. This gives room for post-processing, you can always compress down. If the mix is not taken from the rec-out of a mixer, the recorder should have an adjustable input level. An additional internal limiter provides overload protection (use only if high level fluctuations cannot be avoided). Leveling is done here as described above.

Record DJ Set: Using the computer

Recording a DJ set with the computer is probably the most flexible way, because from here the post-processing as well as the digital distribution is done. Depending on how the DJ setup looks like, it differs in how the mix gets to your hard drive. If you mix internally and maybe have a controller attached to your computer, the DJ software probably already offers a recording function with which the mix can be saved directly. When mixing on the computer, there is again the possibility to record the mix live or to assemble a mix via mouse. The former you would do in a DJ software, the latter in a sequencer like z.B. Ableton Live, where the songs are arranged and automated crossfades are applied. If you mix externally, d.h. on a mixing console, then the signal must be fed again via cable into the computer and recorded there with a recording software.

The recording

Even before recording, you should make sure that the signal enters the recording channel cleanly:

Vinyl DJ Set

If you play with records, make sure that you have dusted all records, the tonearm is adjusted correctly and the needles are still in order. How to do this, you will learn here.

CD DJ set

With CDs dust or scratches can lead to jumps. Check your playlist beforehand, so that there are no surprises when recording.

The level

Keeping the volume level in the mix is already one of the skills that many DJs pay too little attention to. Larger differences in volume lead to signal overloads, which do not sound nice and underline the lack of experience of the DJ. In addition, high level differences make post-processing of the recording more difficult. Keep the level in the range around 0 dB. This gives you room for the transitions.

Level tips

1. When creating your playlist, check the tracks that are out of line in terms of their volume and pay attention to the channel and master volume (VU meter) of your mixer before and during the transitions.

2. Peg the loudest track at neutral gain/EQ with the channel fader open at 0 dB and make sure that you don’t get louder than 1-3 dB during transitions. If you don’t have a decibel scale on the optical volume indicator (e.g.B. in the DJ software), then level the loudest track so that you stay in the green range on the master level meter. In the mix you should then use a maximum of "one LED" get louder/"get into the orange zone". If you add a tension in the mix, this procedure allows you to get 1-2 dB louder in the back of the mix as well.

3. The level meter is not a hundred percent security to keep the audible volume on one level, because tracks have different dynamics each. So the final volume balance is done by your ears.

4. DJ software allows you to change the dynamic range in the settings. Give it enough dynamic range so you can do the rest in post processing. A value of -6dB is OK.

Recording with an external recorder

Record DJ-Set with Audacity

Leveling with an external recorder is also essential. After recording, it is advisable to transfer the uncompressed file to a computer in order to post-process it there with a software. If you don’t have any software, you can download the free audio editor Audacity. How it goes on, you will learn under the point "The post-processing".

Recording with the computer

If you’re DJing with a Digital Vinyl System (DVS), there are several options to feed the mix back into the computer, depending on the software and sound card:

1. Mixer with integrated sound card: If your mixer already has a sound card integrated, there might be the possibility to send the mix signal directly back into the computer via the sound card (The Allen& Heath Xone:PX5 offers z.B. with its Traktor Scratch certified sound card to send the mix via a fifth channel back to the Traktor recorder).

2. Mixers without an integrated sound card: If you are using an external DVS sound card, CD/media players or turntables, then you can use a RCA to stereo mini-jack cable from the record-out of your mixer to send the mix signal from the mixer to the microphone input of your computer. For this you still need a software for recording. Note: Newer Macs no longer have the separate mini-jack input! Here you need a TRS to TRRS adapter cable or an external sound card.

3. External sound card: Recording the mix signal with an external sound card has the advantage over recording with the microphone input on the laptop that in most cases you can record in a higher quality. Standard would be 16Bit/44,1KHz, better is z.B. 24Bit/96KHz.

Record DJ set: With a software

For example with Audacity:

1. Select the recording device here (sound card).
2. Adjust the recording quality (z.B. 16bit/44.1KHz).
3. Make a test transition and check that the level in the software is not overloaded. D.h. the loudest part should still be below 0 dB!
4. If you are unsure, record 2-3 transitions and listen to them!

The automated DJ set recording

You don’t have to play a DJ set live. There is also the possibility to arrange the tracks in a sequencer one after the other and to automate the transitions. So you can e.g.B. Pre-record shows for a podcast when time is a bit tight. But to be able to match the BPMs, you need a software that has a good timestreching. Ableton Live has already made a name for itself in this area. How to record a podcast in Ableton Live, you will learn here.

Post-processing the DJ set recording

When you are done with the DJ set recording, you should see a waveform in your post-processing program, similar to the picture below. You may find that your mix will have volume differences despite your best efforts. This is normal and is due to the different compression of the tracks. But to get the mix a bit louder without overdriving it, there is a simple solution in 3 steps that is reasonable for a DJ mix. By using a limiter, you can trim the peaks of the waveform and normalize the whole waveform pull louder again. Note: The lower the limiter, the smaller the dynamic range. A relatively undynamic recording usually sounds muddy and tires the listener’s ear more quickly. Use the limiter with caution. Test possibly in several runs, which compression you like best.

Online Mastering

If you find the post-production steps too complicated or tedious, there is an online mastering service called LANDR. We already tested LANDR here and had good experiences with it, further possibilities can be found here.

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