If you are an aspiring DJ or like to spend your time at concerts and shows, you may wonder why DJs use headphones.
So why do DJs use headphones? DJs wear headphones to cue the next song on their playlist, as they need to be able to hear the next song before playing it. It also assists with finding the right moment to play the track, skillfully and smoothly mixing songs, and helps if the DJ doesn’t know or forgets the song.
Cueing is the main reason why DJs wear headphones, but there is actually a lot more than that goes into why DJs use headphones.
As you may already know, DJs don’t need to hear the sounds of the crowd, as they need to listen to the next song they plan to bring into the mix.Rhythm and matching of the beats of two different tracks are imperative to create a successful mix, so the DJ has to listen to the song before playing it for the audience. When the song playing in the headphones matches the one playing in the speaker in tempo, the DJ will turn up the volume of the next song so both play simultaneously and crossfade them to achieve a smooth transition.
This process is known as cueing and is the most important reason DJs need to use headphones. Headphones also come in handy if the DJ forgets the song or is completely unfamiliar with it, as it enables them to create the original mix on the spot. However, it is worth noting that nowadays software exists that can do the hard job of cueing music for you, so some DJs may not even need to wear headphones, if they choose to go the software route instead.
We’ve all been there: you’re at the club with your friends, but the music is so loud that you can barely hear the person next to you. This can be downright frustrating (and may even make you not want to see that DJ again!). Fortunately, headphones block the sounds around the DJ, so that they can focus on the next track. They also help protect the DJ’s ears from the roaring noise of the speakers in the club, so that they are not exposed to it at all times.
Most of the time, DJs don’t need to listen to how the crowd reacts. While it may be nice to hear the occasional song request, simply watching the crowd will give the DJ enough of an idea of how to proceed, such as whether to incorporate a more balanced track or a slower beat. In this sense, headphones are also an accessory that blocks useless noise from around the DJ (just be sure to take them off every now and again to make sure you can actually hear you and your buddies talk).
Besides cueing and protection, headphones often serve as a fashion accessory as well. Many veteran DJs can mix tracks without headphones and could therefore easily go without wearing them. Yet, the “dress code” of the job requires the DJ to have a pair of elaborate headphones on. When it comes to fashion, headphones help the DJ become professional and upscale, qualities which are coveted and highly thought of in the music industry. Plus, wearing headphones offers you that classic DJ look, and who doesn’t want that? Nobody will question your skills or authority when rocking a fresh pair of beats- they’ll certainly know who’s in charge.
A Word of Advice for Beginners
If you are just starting out as a DJ, be sure to wear headphones. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s for the best. Not only will it make you look professional and therefore help you gain respect in the DJ community and with nightclub patrons (as stated above), it will also allow you to get accustomed to the ins-and-outs of DJing; and provide you with more experience. Everyone has to start somewhere and wearing headphones will ensure that you get your cueing on point, add and mix tracks smoothly, and give you the greatest chance to succeed right off the bat. As with anything, there’s going to be a learning curve at first, but just remember what Babe Ruth said: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
How do You Choose the Right Set of Headphones?
Choosing the right set of headphones can often make-or-break whether or not your shows are successful, so be sure to put some thought into it before deciding what to buy. There are several factors that go into choosing the right set of DJ headphones (and trust me, it’s a lot more than just how professional they make you look). Comfort and longevity are certainly important (you’ll be wearing those beats for long amounts of time, so you want them to be comfortable), as is sound quality. Budget is also something to keep in mind- quality headphones can often cost you a pretty penny.
The amount of options for DJ headphones can be overwhelming, and you may not know where to start. For a more in-depth analysis of features that matter when shopping for a great pair of DJ headphones, check out our post on our top headphones picks for DJs.
Can DJs Cue Songs Without Listening to Beats First?
Yes, expert DJs can easily mix without headphones, and there are a few situations where this could happen.
- If the tracks are already chosen and put in a specific order beforehand (what’s referred to as a “pre-ready mix”), then there is no need for DJs to listen to the upcoming track. All the DJ has to do here is apply effects on the spot.
- Sometimes the entire playlist is pre-recorded, in which case listening to tracks is unnecessary.
- As I said before, some software can do the job for the person mixing, as it shows different waveforms and determines the best time to play in the next song. It’s important to keep in mind that technology isn’t perfect, however: sometimes these software estimates don’t sound very polished, and it can hurt the DJs reputation. In other words, it’s crucial for starters to listen and match before mixing something in.
There is one situation, though, where even veteran DJs can’t help but wear headphones, and this is when using turntables. If you cannot match the beat automatically or have it prepared before your initial set, headphones will be an absolute necessity.
What About Radio DJs?
So far, this article has focused on DJs who play gigs at clubs, but don’t forget that DJs play music on the radio as well. Radio DJs don’t necessarily have to wear headphones. When I had my radio show in college, I would only wear headphones sometimes, since I also liked to play the music in the studio, which I couldn’t hear if I had my headphones on. Other times I would wear them, since I wanted to feel and look more like a DJ. Besides, most radio DJs are just playing popular music and taking requests, not cueing songs or mixing tracks together, so the cueing aspect doesn’t really apply here. I never used headphones for cueing on my show, since I just played music I like. I’d argue that it’s a matter of personal preference- you do you.