Random Thoughts about DJing with a computer:
1) Computers can make you a lazy DJ
It takes a lot of effort to stay "in the moment" when you are using a computer. Staying connected to the dancers in the room is vital. With CDs you might be thinking 2 or 3 songs ahead - but the physical act of moving the CDs in and out of the players helps to keep you connected to the moment. With a computer playlist, you could setup 4 hours of music and walk away. That would be a big mistake.
It is common to see DJs create a playlist and reuse it with minor tweaks for several weeks. I think this is the wrong approach. I begin every event with a blank playlist. I build the playlist on-site and based on who is actually in the room. It is more work, but it's worth it. It keeps me in the moment.
There are exceptions - if I know I need a few songs for that evening (birthday, dedication, J&J, etc) I'll build those into a playlist ahead of time. For social dancing, my rule is to build the playlist from scratch. I try to stay no more than 4 to 5 songs ahead when building the playlist.
2) Selecting music is harder
The single hardest part of the transition from CDs to a computer for DJing is the loss of tangible cues and the lack of any physical organization to your music collection.
With CD's there are a lot of "cues" about where songs are, and what songs you have. You might have a "blues CD" or a kewl song "near the front of the case." There might be a good fast song on a "red CD" that's "near the back" of the case. You might have drawn little stars on a CD with good "panic pull" songs. It will surprise you how much you have been relying on the physical layout of your CDs to know your music.
With a computer, you need to know the artist or title of a song to find it. There are things that can make it easier - having the ID3 tags filled out is very important. Comments, ratings, bpm, genre, and album can all be vital clues to finding the song you want to play next.
I can keep about 500 songs in my head at a given time - artist, title, genre, tempo, what the intro and outro sound like, the breaks, the chorus, etc. I'm constantly listening to music that I know I will be playing over the next few weeks to keep my head current. That was probably true when I was using CDs, but I’m much more aware of the limits of my memory now that I have instant access to my entire music collection.
There is hope - once you “get it” and adapt to finding music on a computer, going back to CDs feels so “antiquated” – you’ll miss being able to sort by bpm, or search by rating or genre.
3) Organizing your music never ends
I started ripping my CDs into the computer to make compilations for DJing. I was sick of carrying a CD with one good song on it. My mindset was to organize everything on the computer like CDs - since that is what I was making. And, because I was focused on making "best of" compilations of just my dance music, I only kept the songs on the computer that I wanted on the compilation CDs. That was a BIG mistake.
Originally I ripped everything in at 128 CBR. Then I switched to 192 CBR, then to 192 VBR. Now my standard is 224CBR! At least that makes it easy to find all the songs from each iteration…
After ripping in about 1000 CD's, the CD based organization didn't make as much sense anymore. I was finding all kinds of duplicate songs. I needed songs organized by dance, or genre - not necessarily by CD. This was a big problem for compilation CDs with various artists that I had.
So, I started to "move" songs around - two-steps in a two-step directory, WCS in a WCS directory, party songs in a party directory. Ugh! I should have been using "copy" not "move"...grrrrr.
What to do with "crossover" songs??? “This song is a wcs, and a hustle, and a disco!” I settled on making copies of the song - one in each directory category that made sense.
At this point my music is organized in three big categories: according to the dance, by genre, and by CD. Fortunately hard disc space is cheap.
I'm slowly moving songs from the CD section into the genre and dance sections. It's taking a loooooong time. Every time I do this, it breaks old "playlists" that saved the full path to the song.
Before a weekend event, I'll spend 6 to 10 hours working on the music that I need for that event: checking the ID3 tags - fixing typos, editing as required, removing duplicates, etc, etc.
You might think that you'll just pick a method of organizing your music at the start and stick with it. Maybe you will. You'd be the first person I've ever heard of who was able to do that.
4) Backups are not optional
Get a backup system today and use it!!! I mean it. Don't come whining to me later about how your computer crashed and you lost all your music. I told you to get a backup system and to start using it. :p
When I started ripping my music collection, I bought a DVD burner. 4GB was a lot of space for music back then. Today, you could get 8GB of music on a double layer DVD. That might be more than enough for most of you. Somewhere around 30GB of music I moved to a hard drive based solution.
I use two external hard drives to backup my music - just in case something happens to one of them. About once a month (or after any major changes - like a weekend of ripping CDs) I backup my whole collection.
There is a tool called "robocopy" that will become your BFF - if you have a windows machine.
Read the instructions for your DJ program. I can't stress this enough - you must know what all the controls do, and what the "hot keys" are for your program. There is no way to get around this. You must put in the time and read the manual. Oh, and read the manual while you are practicing with the program...
Which brings me to this final thought:
6) Practice, practice, practice.
There is no substitute for knowing what the $!@#$ you're doing.
Mankind has been looking for a way around reading the manual for all of recorded history - so far....nadda!
Setup your computer, attach some speakers, start the program and practice. Then practice some more. Oh, did I mention that you need to practice? You need to know how to fade a song early, how to cue up a new song immediately, how to search for songs, how to let the computer automatically start the next song, how to keep the computer from automatically staring the next song, what all the little buttons on the screen do, what all the "hot key" shortcuts for the program...
If you click on a song in the library and press "enter" (even accidentally) what happens? Why would it be important for you to know that ahead of time?