During lockdown the DJ community took to live streaming like fish to water, as real world gigs took a necessary hiatus.
Pivoting to online platforms like Mixcloud Live and Twitch, and broadcasting largely from their homes, this first wave of disc jockeys quickly found their feet. And, after the initial gold rush, webcam sessions became more and more professional as everyone got to grips with broadcasting from their homes.
Fast forward to now. Pandemic restrictions may have eased as clubs reopen their doors, but huge numbers of music fans continue to support DJ channels online. The community gets bigger everyday as more and more DJs make regular live streaming part of their routine.
Relative unknowns have amassed sizeable followings, and even make a fair chunk of change for their troubles. And whatever the time, there are tons of channels pumping out live music from all over the globe.
If you’re looking to become a streaming star, here’s a rundown of what you’ll need, and where to go, to get up and running...
The gear you need to get going
If you’re a DJ, we’ll assume you have the kit to play on: be it a sweet new controller and heavyweight digital crates, or, if you’re a wax nerd, 1210s and shelves groaning with vinyl. Add to that a laptop with internet access to your streaming platform, and you’re ready to start.
To record yourself cutting it up like a champ you can use your smart phone camera, or get busy with apps like EpocCam or CleanCamera. If your laptop has a webcam, fire that up. Or, if you have a spare 50 quid, the pro choice since the start has been the Logitech C920. This HD cam is smooth and crisp, if hi-def is something you strive for.
If space is tight in your house and you’re struggling for a decent angle to film yourself from, a clip on fish-eye lens can massively increase your visibility. You can experiment with camera angles – fixing a view from above is a classy move. Or you can have multiple cameras and cut between them.
Most DJs opt for the “straight on” view like they’re on stage. But as long as you can be seen, and the decks are in view, you’ll be golden. Oh, and have a bit of a tidy up in your room – no one want to see your stinking gym gear hanging on the radiator. That’s more of an OnlyFans vibe. House plants can also cover a multitude of sins.
Also, check the direction of your camera recordings: flip them around so that the decks appear to be going the right way round
Mics are another important bit of gear to factor in, too, as chatting to the live audience as you play has been widely agreed upon as the done thing. Pick one for your budget, opting for stands and pop shields for cleaner results.
Lighting is also something to consider. Not since the late 1970s have DJs been so preoccupied with disco balls and flashing neon. IKEA now offer ring lights with built-in camera stands for streamers, and screw-in colour bulbs are popular ways to make poorly lit rooms in your house have a more vibrant pop to engage viewers.
Where can you stream online?
There’s Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, depending on where you’ve built the most followers. But Twitch continues to build the strongest DJ community online. Traditionally a gaming platform, it’s now filled with worldwide scratchers and selectors, using its intuitive interface to beam out sets on their personalised channels.
Viewers can anonymously lurk and enjoy the show, or log in for free to light up the accompanying live chat room with requests, big ups, and throw up Twitch-specific emoticons or “emotes” and animated “bits” to cheer on their favourite artists.
Fans can pay to support these channels. And, for monthly fees that go to the DJs, get ad-free viewing, and exclusive subscribers benefits like custom emotes.
Mixcloud Live is also a fantastic place to strut your stuff, and gaining in popularity. It could potentially become the most viable place to play as it has licenses with record labels and rights holders, so DJs can play other people’s music with less fear of copyright strikes or takedowns.
With these platforms, DJs either go live directly via the platform, or use all-in-one streaming software apps like Streamlabs, Restream, or OBS, for extra features, or to go live across multiple platforms at once.
Reaching listeners and self-promotion
After you feel comfortable rocking a set while being filmed, it’s time get your name out there and compete against the countless other streams vying for an audience’s attention. To stand out, consider your branding. A lot of DJs have decent logos and graphical overlays that tie everything in, helping frame the screen and strengthen their identity.
Also, the channels that get the most views tend to be the ones that have built up a following through regularly scheduled broadcasts. And they always use other socials to shout about when and where they’re streaming next. A lot of successful DJs work off themes, or have well thought out and almost staged rooms to perform in, and stick to playing genres on certain days, to have a bit of a gimmick going.
Drum&bass heads should check out the maestro John B; his streams are an eye-popping mix of blistering beats, relentless gifs and fake backdrop changes that’ll crack you up as you’re getting on down.
Then the Canadian breaks outfit The Funk Hunters are known to stream in the witching hour with their “Midnight Medicine” sessions – a tripped out affair, with bonkers visuals, kaleidoscopic colours, and animations which will boggle the mind as their music soundtracks the whole experience.
Pittsburgh-native Buscrates rocks out disco 12’s in a studio kitted out with walls of records, reel-to-reels, and vintage synths, seductively lit, enhancing the retro mood.
Meanwhile hip-hop legend Skratch Bastid gives thousands of viewers a strong shot of turntablism on his “Tuesday Morning Coffee” show, featuring green screen trickery so it looks like he’s playing on the counter of his local coffee shop each week as he doubles up the beats.
Mainly, you should think about the community. Jump in the chat in other people’s streams, and become a regular, supportive presence online. It maximises exposure and firms up relationships with other creators and audiences out there.
“Raids” are massively popular, too. Via an extension in Twitch you can nominate the next channel for all your viewers to jump to like a swarm of (welcomed) party crashers.
Off the back of that, DJs from across the world join up to plan out day long back-to-back programming, building up hype and crazy viewing numbers along the way. Ask to get involved. DJs online are always up for building bridges and putting people on before and after them.
Tips for making a great streamed DJ set
Having a great stream is about having a great time. If you’re enjoying yourself, viewers will too. DJs like the notable vinyl obsessive The Gaff have bags of charisma, and it’s infectious. You don’t have to jump about like a banshee. But, starting the stream with positive energy really helps.
Then you can start calling out to people in the chat: if you get a new paid subscriber or viewer, you should shout them out. And track IDs and info on your tunes is always welcome. Engaging with people builds bonds and they get to know you, which translates into subscribers and followers, and grows your channel.
Don’t be afraid to ask viewers if the sound is good, or the connection is stable. Best they tell you your mic’s clipping now, or video is glitching out, so you can fix it sooner than later.
Plan out your sets a little more, too. Knowing what to sift through for the next hour or two in advance means less “Serato face” and more back and forth with your fans, and more considered mixes.
If you’re on a laptop with DJ software, most of your computer screen will be taken up with virtual decks, making it hard to monitor any live chat. Try logging into Twitch, say, on your phone at the same time.
Try out more chilled sets. Or dig deeper into your crates for rarer underground flavours. There’s not much need to rock a dancefloor here. People tune in from different time zones, and could have you on in the background while working. They can get the 20 hottest tunes of the day from any online shop. They’re there for your collection, so show it off!
Bottom line, have fun. If the buzz of playing music for people gives you life, then streaming is the perfect way to get that fix. It keeps your skills sharp, and it’s the ultimate business card. Zeros have become heroes online. There’s no giving out mixtapes, badgering promoters, or coming up through the bar scene. There’s a potential audience out here that could fill a stadium just waiting for you to put your first record on. Just do it!