Whether you’re looking for a new part-time gig, hoping to impress your friends, or trying to integrate more into the music world, DJing can be a great skill to pick up. Techno, in particular, is useful for raves or dance parties.
With a little time, anyone can learn to DJ techno music. You need a basic understanding of the genre and own a laptop or an iPad. More experienced DJs might need more, but it’s only necessary to be able to download free DJ software. Then, you can practice mixing, transitions, and create a playlist.
Keep reading for useful tips and tricks, in order from beginner to more advanced, on how to effectively DJ techno music for all types of venues and events. Interspersed are examples of songs, beats, and recommended starting equipment.
Understanding the Genre
To be able to fully master the art of mixing and mashing, needed for DJing techno, you first need to understand the basic principles of what makes up “techno” music.
A Brief History
Techno is typically seen as first coming into play in Detroit, Michigan in the 1980s. The music was seen as radical since it relied on remixing and loud, repetitive beats. The word “techno” did originate in Germany, even while the music was released in the UK and the US first. It has since become a word used to describe the music played in many clubs all around the world.
Techno is a category of electronic dance music, specifically recognized by a rhythmic, repeating beat. In contrast to many other genres of music, techno does not necessarily need instruments in order to be performed- most often, a computer is used to “mix” or layer different beats. The skill in mixing techno is both musical and digital- DJs must have a sense of rhythm, as well as computer accessibility.
A Couple of Songs to Familiarize Yourself With
Before you can effectively mix, DJ, or produce techno, you should listen to a few songs. Describing music is much harder than listening to it. Here are a few recommended songs by some of the great techno artists themselves, produced in the early years of the genre.
Even though techno is associated with European dance clubs, early techno was produced in Detroit, mainly by young African-American men.
- “Cosmic Cars” by Cybotron (1982)
- “No UFOs” by Model 500 (1985)
- “Big Fun” by Inner City (Kevin Saunderson) (1988)
- “Elements” by Psyche (1989)
- “Strings of Life” by Rhythim Is Rhythim (1987)
- “Dem Young Sconies” by Moodyman (1997)
As you might be able to tell, these songs typically focus on one beat and have just a couple of other primary instrumentals. However, they vary greatly in speed (tempo), emotion, and feel. Artists at the time recorded random sounds, like a car door slam or the squeak of a rusty hinge to incorporate into their music.
As techno progressed into today’s generation, songs became more and more complex, partly because of the more advanced mixing techniques that can be created by newer technology. Additionally, while artists can still record natural sound, computers can create more polished versions of audio clips.
Start Basic With Software
After you get your basic knowledge about what techno is, you can start trying to create some simple beats with free or low-cost DJ computer software. If you’re just starting out, this type of software is a safer bet, as it’s easier to learn and less hard on the wallet. Advanced or intermediate DJs may feel better about shelling out some cash for more complex versions.
Here are a few possibilities:
- MIXXX: You can’t get cheaper than free, and MIXXX is a great option because while it does have mixing, reverb, scratch, and multiple other effects, it doesn’t overwhelm the DJ with too many options.
- Audacity: This software has a clean appearance, with tracks lined up on top of each other. Like MIXXX, it’s free and has stretch, cut, layering, inverting, and more. Users of Audacity will find that they might need to spend some time messing around in order to orient themselves to the software. It gets easier with time and practice!
- CrossDJ: This system allows for a library of tracks, which is important for any aspiring DJ to have. The library allows for music to be cued, as well as for easy mixing of songs and beats. Unfortunately, the more advanced effects needed to truly combine songs professionally requires payment.
After downloading software, start experimenting with different beats and tempos, and see what sounds good to your ear. Mixing and twisting songs is the core of what techno DJs do. Additionally, you’ll need to find a playlist of songs that you may have to buy in order to insert them into the software. If you’re trying to spend no money, there are free songs and sound effects online, usually with Creative Commons licenses (just remember to credit!)
Additionally, it’s important to note that iPads also work well for beginner DJs. There are tons of apps available for DJs to mix techno, and you don’t need to go out and buy a laptop if you don’t have one.
One such example is Algoriddim (Djay), which gives you the ability to mix music via a track layout, or even a turntable look-alike. Another plus is that Algoriddim can be linked to Spotify, so you can download your existing playlists. There are both free and paid versions of the app.
Find a Beat (and Know Your Audience)
Since a techno song relies heavily on a central beat, you’ll need to choose one that’s suitable for whatever audience you’re playing for. If you’re at a high-energy dance club or an aerobic fitness studio, a faster, heavier beat would be appropriate. This may be about 130 beats per minute (BPM). It should have a quick, danceable rhythm.
Here’s an example of a metronome beat at 130 BPM.
And here’s one of a techno mix at 130 BPM.
Or, you may be creating a techno mix for a yoga class (it can happen!) or as background music for a dinner party or get together. In that case, you’ll want a slower beat, of maybe 100 BPM. Whatever the setting, your mix should match the energy of the people attending.
Here’s the metronome version: 100 BPM
And listen to a techno mashup at the same pace here.
A general rule when creating a mashup or a mix is that you shouldn’t have too large of a jump between beats in between songs. The most seamless transitions go off the fact that one song turns into another song of similar BPM. However, you can create a pattern or range by gradually increasing or decreasing the beat.
Create a Playlist
Depending on the scenario, you’ll either want to mix your music live (at a concert or club) or create a polished mix for an event where you won’t necessarily be DJing (a class, or for an event you’re participating in). Either way, you’ll need to create a library of music readily available beforehand, so you’re not scrambling to find songs. Find songs that appeal to you- old, new, or popular. A mix of all three is never bad.
Additionally, you’ll need a general idea of how you want the energy of the event to flow. This will determine the BPM of your songs, as well as the order of the set list.
While your playlist shouldn’t jump from 90 BPM to 140 BPM in one song transition, an interesting mix will slowly change. A good mix can guide the energy of the people listening- whether it’s a dance club that increases in energy or a cool down after a workout class that makes people feel relaxed as they stretch.
Even if you’re mixing live, plan a few songs ahead, so you’re never scrambling and put music in order for easy access.
There are a couple of typical patterns that techno DJs tend to follow:
- The hill: the BPM steadily increases to a peak around halfway, then decreases in the same pattern to the end. This range is great for exercise classes where the trainer leads the class through a warm-up, main set, then cool down.
- The ramp: As the name may suggest, this style simply increases the BPM to a peak, getting faster and faster, and then stays there. It may be useful for a high-energy dance club.
- Waves: This style is more complex than the other two, as the DJ needs to increase and decrease the speed over and over again. Great for a personal mix, a party where participants need some coaxing, or an exercise class that has peaks and valleys of intensity.
Again, these templates are not inflexible- your music can follow just about any pattern, given that there’s a smooth transition between songs. Many DJs say they just go by feel, and have had enough practice to determine which song will sound good following another. Have a friend review your playlist or mix before letting it play, and tell you if it sounds good on their end.
Work Out Transitions
Dance music DJs should have a variety of transitions between songs on hand. This is where the “mixing” aspect of DJing comes into play. How do you move from one song to the next? Seamless transitions signal to a skilled DJ.
For techno, you can always use “beat matching,” meaning a song flows into the next of the same BPM, while the beat never changes. This is only a matter of carefully placing the next song so that the same pause occurs between each beat.
DJs also “fade” music, meaning that as one song gets quieter, another starts to get louder in order to overpower the previous one.
Lastly, if you’re able to find songs that sound good layered, or songs that compliment each other, you can simply begin to layer them (no fade in needed) and then fade out one. However, this technique requires a good ear for what sounds good or an understanding of tone or music theory.
General Techno Tips
- Don’t dawdle on transitions. With high-energy, high BPM techno, you’re going to want your transitions to be just as quick. Rapid, dramatic change can really boost the mood and excitement of your audience.
- Switch it up often. Since techno focuses on beats and sounds rather than lyrics or melody, a techno song played for too long can get boring. Change tracks before you reach the end of a song.
- Don’t layer two heavy bass beats. Since techno often relies on bass, (lower undertone beat), avoid mixing two heavy bass elements while playing live- it will sound muddled and is often too heavy for dance-style clubs.
- Find your style. Though this can be applied to DJs of any genre, techno DJs often develop skills and personal touches that define their particular taste. Like to scratch tracks? Layer? Transition every minute? With techno, your personal style can shine through since songs don’t often vary by too many degrees.
- Practice, practice, practice. To master any craft, you have to put in the work. Djing is no exception. Once you’ve found a style that suits you, you have to do it well! And the only way is practice.
Computers and free software are great – and it may be all you need to start your DJ career. However, if you’re really trying to get into the industry, there’s plenty of other (optional!) equipment out there that will make you look and feel professional. Once you feel confident about your abilities and sure that you’re in this for the long haul, it may be time to invest in more equipment.
Though apps are great, and to allow easy and low-cost mixing, a more experienced DJ will have a controller. Controllers are simply pieces of external equipment that hook up to your computer, and allow for easier mixing and reverbing in real-time. Most modern-day controllers are a combination of the turntable and mixer setup that was common a couple of decades ago.
This is a good one for beginners: The Numark Mix Track 3.
It can be connected to a laptop and features touchpads for creating a scratch or remix audio, sliding volume and pitch knobs, and a software download that comes with a purchase of the physical controller. It has just the basics of moving parts, and everything is labeled clearly.
Here’s another, the Behringer CMD Studio controller. It’s got a four-channel audio interface, meaning that recording sounds (can be useful for techno!) is easier and high-quality. Additionally, it has the necessary slide touchpads, so you can stop, start, and scratch music. Like the Numark controller, the Behringer comes with a software program that can be downloaded with a purchase of the item and connects via USB port.
If you’re getting serious about your techno DJ career, you might want to invest in some speakers. Clubs or parties like you to bring your own equipment, and when you own rather than borrow, you’ll know how to set them up to your liking.
Here are two recommendations:
- Electro-Voice Loudspeaker. At about $325, this speaker is in the range of normal for a high-quality instrument. With a high range and frequency, 1000 watts, and a face of 12 inches (or 30.5 cm), it can hold its own in a noisy environment.
- Behringer Eurolive. This speaker is on the more affordable side, at just under $350. It’s perfect for smaller venues, with a 10 inch (25.4 cm) face, and 200 watts. While it won’t necessarily be great for larger areas, you can practice your techno DJing for a smaller crowd while still looking and sounding professional.
In a loud, large, and crowded room, you’re going to want headphones in order to hear your mixes over the hubbub. Imagine people yelling, feet pounding, hands clapping…
For the most bang for your buck, try OneOdio Stereo DJ headphones. At Under $50, they’re cheap, yet highly rated, and specifically DJs. They’re ranked well for durability, perhaps useful for head-banging techno masters.
For a classier, more expensive pair, Audio Technica is recommended for DJs as well, and is described as “professional grade,” and complete with rotating ear cups. This pair clocks in at around $150, and is about middle-range for most DJ-recommended headphones.
To start DJing techno music, you’ll need to download free software on your computer or iPad. Practicing your skills without having to worry about paying for expensive equipment is good for beginners.
After, you can focus on your style of mixing songs through transitions or layering and learn how to choose a playlist appropriate for the energy of your audience. Remember to pay attention to the beats per minute, and not to make huge jumps between songs.
Lastly, more experienced techno DJs, or ones that play for venues, will want to invest in some other equipment to improve and share their craft. This can include headphones, controllers, and speakers (for larger venues), all at various price ranges. Now you’re ready to start mixing your first songs!
- The Wire: New Complexity Techno
- Science Direct: Neuroendocrine responses of healthy volunteers to `techno-music’
- NPR: Get Familiar With Detroit Techno: 10 Essential Songs
- Life Wire: Create Your Own Music Remixes With Free DJ Software
- DJ Tech Tool: How to Craft a DJ Mix
- Wire Realm: The Best DJ Controllers for Beginners