When first starting out as a DJ, deciding on which software is right for you can be confusing. With so many feature options, price points and hardware controllers to choose from, unless you have a clear idea of where you want your DJ journey to take you, it can be overwhelming.
In this article, we’re going to outline the five best DJ softwares for beginners, and give you the lowdown on what makes them unique, what hardware they support, what to look out for when picking your software and how you can decide which one is for you based on your DJing style.
Pioneer DJ rekordbox DJ
Price: from £10 a month (however, some hardware unlocks some software features for free)
- Builds familiarity with the Pioneer DJ ecosystem, the industry standard in clubs around the world
- Lots of potential add-ons
- Limited range of controller options
Best entry-level controller: Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX4
Pioneer DJ’s dominance in club and festival DJ booths around the world makes their rekordbox DJ software a strong contender as your first DJing app. Given its heritage for organising your music, anything you prepare, practice and play in the app, is also reflected when you export your music and move to the club. That means that if you add cue points, loop points, change names, add artwork, tweak labels or even rate tracks while practising at home, it’ll all carry over when you plug your USB stick into a CDJ or other compatible player. This is without doubt rekordbox DJ’s biggest pull and should be a consideration when you’re choosing your first software.
Even if you don’t intend to use CDJs in a bar, club or event any time soon, there are still some compelling reasons to go with rekordbox DJ. Its mixer is pretty simple and includes all the features you’d expect – three-band EQ (low, mid and high), dual-band filter per channel, which cuts out low or high frequencies from the music depending on which way you turn it and a gain knob for each channel too. While the layout is a little cramped, the on-jog screens display everything you need to know about the current track that’s loaded, while looping is handled via a dedicated button, which can be set to up to a whopping 512 bars.
The performance pad section can be assigned to Hot Cues, as well as Pad FX for applying FX while a pad is pressed down, Slicer that splits eight transients into loops, Beat Jump that moves the playhead a set number of bars forward or back, key shift for pitch shifting tracks, and more. FX wise, there are 34 to choose from, though some are unlocked based on your subscription plan, which we’ll get to later. You can even chain three FX in a row, and assign the chain to deck one through four, the sampler section or the master, giving you a total option of nearly 40,000 different combinations. Not bad. If that seems excessive, you can switch to one FX per chain, giving you more parameters to control. The sampler is another nice feature in rekordbox DJ – it gives you eight slots to load in samples like kick drums and snares, vocal hits, FX sounds or even full tracks.
Another big pull for beginners is rekordbox DJ’s extensive support of streaming platforms. If you’ve not yet managed to build up a large music collection, streaming offers instant access to millions of tracks, streamed straight into your DJ deck. Beatport LINK, Soundcloud, TIDAL and Beatsource LINK are all supported, but all come with their own subscription costs. An important point is that record mode is disabled when streaming platforms are being used on all software mentioned here, not just rekordbox DJ.
Other features include a mobile app and the ability to design your own lighting, project lyrics as visuals and even a built-in sequencer to trigger external equipment in time with your music.
Fitting so many features into a laptop screen means that rekordbox DJ can sometimes feel cramped. There’s a lot going on, and therefore a lot of text, icons and sections that can be confusing at first glance. It’s easy enough to strip things back though, and you can collapse areas of the software you’re not using.
It’s also limited when it comes to controllers – you can only use Pioneer DJ controllers with rekordbox. That being said, the DDJ-FLX4 – Pioneer DJ’s affordable, portable rekordbox controller – is one of the most popular DJ controllers on the market, even among pros, and is a great option if you do want to stick with the Pioneer DJ kit infrastructure. It does, however, support DVS control too.
As mentioned, Pioneer DJ offer a 30-day trial on their rekordbox DJ software. After 30 days, you’ll need to decide what subscription model is for you, starting at £9.99 a month or £99 a year for the Core plan. Like most subscriptions, it’s expensive in the long run but offers an affordable starting point for new DJs who want to experiment with different software before deciding on the DJ app for them. Please note that all of Pioneer DJ’s controllers will unlock the software for free, however, if you then decide to plug your laptop into a set of CDJs you may need to pay a subscription. There are also other features such as vocal analysis, extra effects and add on’s such as lyric mode, DVS, lighting mode and cloud library sync all bundled into paid subscription tiers.
It’s hard not to recommend rekordbox DJ, largely down to Pioneer’s dominance in the clubs. Learning to DJ on their software and hardware, as well as analysing your music for their kit, and familiarising yourself with rekordbox generally will put you in a strong position if and when you decide to branch out to clubs and festivals. However, if you’re more interested in mobile DJing at events like weddings, and already own a non-Pioneer DJ controller, or intend to buy one, there are other options out there that might be better suited.
If you’re new to rekordbox and want to learn how to DJ with a controller such as the DDJ-FLX4 then check out our dedicated courses below.
Serato DJ Lite
Price: from Free
- It’s free!
- Can upgrade at your own pace
- Lots of controllers to choose from
- Less FX, no record mode and only one view mode in Lite versus DJ Pro
Best entry-level controller: Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX
Serato DJ Lite is a free, stripped-back version of the main DJ Pro software. It might not have the bells and whistles of some other paid-for apps, but it definitely isn’t a novelty and is an excellent choice for learning the basics of DJing.
Serato DJ Lite provides almost all the features you’ll need to get started with DJing. Alongside iTunes support, Serato uses what’s called Crates, which you drag and drop your files into depending on genre, style, event or however you want. It also offers plenty of streaming platforms alongside your other Crates, meaning you don’t need to build up a huge library of music before starting. Similarly to rekordbox DJ, Beatport LINK, SoundCloud, Beatsource LINK and TIDAL are all supported but come with their own subscription costs.
The basic layout of Lite features two decks with four cue points per deck, as well as looping functionality up to eight bars. There’s a basic mixer with a volume fader, a trim knob and a crossfader. There’s also a sampler mode to trigger up to four samples to add some hype to your sets if your controller has performance pads.
One of the clear benefits of choosing Serato Lite is the range of controllers it supports. Where rekordbox only allows Pioneer DJ controllers, Serato allows you to use a whole range of models and brands including Numark, Vestax, Hercules, Reloop, Denon DJ and Pioneer DJ too. That means you can pick up a cheaper controller second hand or buy a unit that suits your needs as a DJ, be it one with higher quality jogs for scratching, more performance pads for triggering samples and FX or any other feature you need. The full list of supported controllers is on the Serato website.
Differences between Lite and Pro
There are some key differences between Lite and Pro that need to be made clear, as they may be important to you. First of all, Lite only has one display mode – horizontal decks. That means you can’t view the waveforms side-by-side, which is the standard setup for a lot of scratch DJs. Lite also won’t analyse the key of a track, though it will analyse the bpm and the waveform.
Lite doesn’t offer as many FX and they’re less tweakable than in DJ Pro, but there’s still enough to get you started like reverb, phasers and delays. And finally, record mode is not available in Lite, meaning you can’t record your set directly in the app. Quantise, which will automatically snap your cues, loops and playhead to the nearest bar, isn’t available in Lite either.
Serato DJ Lite isn’t basic, but it is simple. If you’re new to DJing and have an older controller or are looking to buy a more affordable one, it’s a fantastic place to start your DJing journey without dropping a lot of money. There are lots of upgrade options too, so you can scale up as and when you feel your DJing career is taking off. If you’re aiming to be a DJ who switches up their style and tempo often, Serato DJ Lite is a great option to master the art of open-format DJing before moving to DJ Pro. If you did want to upgrade you can either subscribe to Pro for $9.99 a month for $199 up front, but there are plenty of other tiers available. Find out about Serato’s subscription and payment options here.
If you decide to try out mixing for free with the Serato DJ Lite software you can get started just using your keyboard and mouse. Follow our 5 part detailed video tutorial guide here to learn how to DJ just using your laptop and Serato DJ Lite. If you already own a DJ controller and would like to learn how to DJ with it using Serato DJ please check out our relevant courses.
Traktor Pro 3
- The sound is excellent
- Very flexible for creative DJing
- Can be overwhelming for beginners
- Only supports Beatport LINK for streaming
Best entry-level controller: Traktor Kontrol S2 MKIII
Unlike Serato and Pioneer DJ, there are no subscription models with Traktor Pro. It’s £89 and that’s for everything, straight out of the gate. Though it’s more expensive up front, if you’re in this for the long run it’ll save you money over a year, and beyond. There is a free version of Traktor called Traktor DJ though it’s very much an entry-level software and Pro offers a whole lot more so we’d recommend upgrading from the off.
Traktor Pro 3 is extremely powerful, with up to four decks for tracks, as well as Remix Decks, Stem Decks and Sampler Decks, which we’ll get into later. The mixer features the usual three-band EQ and filter per channel, plus gain and FX assign buttons, to send your deck to one of the four FX decks, alongside a crossfader. Traktor’s FX are some of the best in any DJ software not only because of their sound but because of their flexibility. Like rekordbox DJ, you can chain FX or choose to have one per FX deck, with more parameter control. There are the usual delays, reverbs and filters but there are also presets like PolarWind, EventHorizon and DarkMatter that combine effects and modulations in the background with out-there results. These can also be chained, resulting in some very wild sounds, perfect if you want to get creative with your FX section.
Initially, Traktor can be confusing, with so many view options and an extremely comprehensive Settings page. But that also means it’s very customisable, so once you get your head around it you can find your happy place and hide everything you don’t need or use.
Remix Decks are essentially banks and rows of samples that can be triggered, like a miniature Ableton Live inside Traktor. Samples can be one-shots, loops or triggers and can even be full tracks, meaning you can remix and trigger up to 16 sounds within four slots, each with its own filter and volume control. It may be more than you’d ever need as a beginner but it gives you a good insight into the power of Traktor and its performance options.
Stem Decks are a similar story, allowing you to load Native Instruments’ own proprietary Stems format into a single deck, which splits the track into four – often drums, bass, pads and vocals – allowing you to live remix, mute and solo various parts of the tracks. It’s worth noting too that Traktor only supports Beatport LINK and Beatsource LINK, with no support for SoundCloud or TIDAL just yet.
The range of controllers for Traktor is fairly limited, with NI making their own official Kontrol range. These are probably your best bet as they work immediately, plug and play, and are laid out exactly like the software. Traktor does support third parties but unless you already have one and are interested in trying Traktor, we’d recommend sticking to the official branded ones. Here’s a list of what controllers Traktor supports.
If you have aspirations of live remixing, using a lot of FX and are excited by the idea of four-deck mixing, Traktor is definitely a good option. It’s also super-stable, meaning you can tweak and twist without having to worry about crashes.
Don’t worry, if you decide to venture down the Traktor Pro 3 route we have courses available that will demystify all these unique features such as remix decks, stem decks and unique effects.
Price: from Free
- Intuitive interface for beginners
- Heaps of extras once you start learning
- More useful features are part of Pro
- Doesn’t sound quite as good as Serato, Traktor and rekordbox DJ
Best entry-level controller: Reloop BeatPad 2
Algoriddim djay is one of the most popular DJ software in the world. With heaps of awards for its iPhone and iPad app, it’s become a serious contender in recent years, with its desktop app adding some innovative features alongside support for over 50 controllers. It’s also super intuitive with a very friendly interface. Let’s take a look at why djay is so popular.
Given that djay was initially aimed at beginner and intermediate DJs, it’s all about usability. It won’t be as daunting as when you first open Traktor or rekordbox, and it uses familiar visual cues like vinyl-style decks, friendly faders, a colourful interface and large icons and buttons to keep things clear and obvious. There’s the usual three-band EQ, crossfader and filter per deck and there are heaps of layout options, with a classic stripped-back option, a four-deck horizontal view or Pro mode, which shows almost every parameter upfront for you to tweak, though all aspects of the interface can be moved around depending on what’s more important to you.
On the surface, djay may appear a simple DJ software, but under the hood, it’s powered by some impressive AI-driven technology, including the ability to separate vocals, drums, basslines and more from a mixed stereo track, a feature they call Neural Mix.
Elsewhere, djay supports video mixing as well as Ableton-style sequencing and looping of loops and one-shots, AI-driven automix and support for TIDAL, Beatport and Beatsource LINK and SoundCloud streaming. Controller options include support for more affordable brands like Hercules to pro-level support for Pioneer DJ’s flagship CDJ-3000s. In fact, it’s got one of the most comprehensive lists of controller support for any beginner DJ software – you can read the full list here. Another feature we love is the ability to sync metadata between the iOS version of djay and the desktop version, meaning you can create cue points on the go, for example, and they’ll be ready for you when you open the app on your laptop.
All in all, djay is extremely powerful. It has tonnes of features, some classic, some innovative, and also supports a long list of controllers. It’s also not as intimidating if it’s your first time opening a DJing app. Its filters and EQs might not sound as good as some of the other more pro-level software like Serato, Traktor and rekordbox, but it’s so flexible and its Neural Mix is so impressive that if you’re looking to be more of an open-format DJ who plays events and bars rather than just clubs, it’s got to be on your list. It’s almost affordable, with both a free version and a Pro version at £48.99 a year.
If all you currently own is a mobile device or an iPad then why not check out our complete getting started guide for learning to DJ with am iPad or mobile here.
Price: from Free
- Most features work in free mode
- Built-in tutorials
- Super customisable
- Doesn’t sound quite as good as the other apps
- Can’t use a controller in free mode
Best entry-level controller: Hercules InPulse 500
VirtualDJ prides itself on being the number-one most popular DJ software in the world. Many pro DJs credit it as how they started out as it’s one of the few platforms that’s offered a free version for years, meaning curious selectors grabbed it and caught the DJing bug, before moving on to other software or hardware. It’s got over 100 million downloads over the past 20 years, and in the past few, it’s reinvented itself adding some new pro features as well as tweaking the classics. Like djay, it also recently added stem separation technology.
When you open VirtualDJ, it’ll start on a beginner-friendly interface, with vinyl decks and large faders and buttons and a simple GUI. Also similar to djay, a lot of its power is under the hood, which we’ll get to later. Alongside the usual three-band EQ and filter per deck on the Starter view, it offers simple FX, a basic sampler and some beatgrid patterns for chopped-up repeats. If all you want to do is mix two tracks together with some FX and a filter, VirtualDJ will do it perfectly. It uses a Match button to sync things together so you don’t need to worry about drifting out of time early on in your DJ journey. Another handy feature is Key Match which will automatically sync the key of your tracks to avoid clashes. Once you’re ready to move on from the Starter layout to Essentials, more buttons and options will appear, including hot cues, more loop control and also expand the mixer view.
You can move at your own pace, and when you’ve mastered Essentials, Pro adds even more control to the mix, including a more-Serato style ‘jog wheel’, yet more hot cue and effects control and even user-assignable custom buttons that can be used to trigger whatever suits your DJing style most. How deep you go is up to you, which makes it a great program for beginners.
While djay has one of the largest lists of supported controllers, we’re going to go out on a limb and say VDJ supports the most, with a huge list of compatible hardware on its website. But, the free version of VirtualDJ doesn’t support MIDI controllers so if you want to go beyond the mouse, you’ll need to upgrade to either the Pro version for £20 a month or £314 for lifetime access, though some controllers come with a VDJ Home license so you can still use it to practice. That Pro version also adds DVS control and the ability to broadcast directly to a radio server.
VirtualDJ is extremely customisable, with skins built into the app that can totally transform how it looks, often mimicking existing hardware. It’s also got tutorial videos as part of the software to get you started with the basics of both DJing and VDJ. Its stem separation is a lot of fun, but is not without its imperfections, while it also supports streaming platforms like TIDAL, Beatport and Beatsource LINK, Deezer and SoundCloud, as well as a huge range of controllers. The Pro license isn’t cheap, but if you don’t intend on playing out any time soon and just want to practice, grab the free version from their site and start exploring.
Ready to get started with your controller using Virtual DJ? Our complete beginner course below will help you master the art of DJing.
The good news is, there are lots of powerful options at very affordable prices – sometimes free – for new DJs. Subscription models mean you can access the same software and features that pro DJs use without shelling out hundreds of pounds. The software and hardware combo you choose really depends on what you are looking for from an app, be it club- and festival-focussed sets using industry-standard equipment, house parties with friends, learning to scratch, open-format bar and wedding gigs or a combination of all four.
Hopefully, this guide gave you an overview of what’s on the market and can help you take your first steps as a DJ.