Inside the Booth - Why Does a DJ use Headphones?

January 22, 2014

Why does a DJ use headphones?

 

There are several reasons why a deejay uses headphones. The most important function of the headphones is “Isolation”. Many other dj sites will define “isolation” as cutting out external sounds so that the deejay can hear the mix accurately, but this is false!

 

The true meaning of “Isolation” is cutting out the annoying voice of that 18 year old girl who has had one too many drinks, and has been standing in front of the console for the last ten minutes telling you it’s her best friend’s birthday/hens night/end of menstrual cycle party and she wants you to play “bleeding love”. Or to cut out the monotonous drone of the drunk guy who has told you for the eight hundredth and sixteenth time that he is also a deejay and you should listen to him and play some “skrillex”.

 

I will pause now for a minute to wait for the raucous laughter to slowly die down before I proceed with the real reasons why deejays use headphones.

 

Okay… so headphones serve a very important function, which is to allow the deejay to listen to the next song privately, before playing it live. Now before you storm off to your nearest club and slap the deejay for being anti-social and listening to songs privately, let me just say that a lot goes on in those headphones that you don’t hear (and believe me you wouldn’t want to hear). A deejay is actually preparing the next song and getting it ready to be mixed. This involves cueing up the song to the position he/she wants it to start at (for example, forwarding the song to the first beat or to the part where the vocals start), beatmatching, rehearsing the mix and much more.

 

Needless to say, without those trusty headphones, you would have to suffer listening to a bunch of unwanted sounds as the deejay prepares the next song to be mixed in. But words can only do so much, so here’s a sample of what the same mix sounds like in the deejays headphones, as compared to what you hear on the dancefloor.

Sample 1: DJ's Perspective

Sample 2: Audience Perspective

 


As you can probably tell, the first sample was very messy. It involved lots of starts and stops of the incoming track, rewinds, mistakes etc. Its basically a testing ground for the deejay.

As mentioned above, isolation is another reason why deejays use headphones. In big venues, sound reverberates all over the room, and this results in some noise being generated. Imagine placing a large speaker in front of a door, and playing it loud. You will hear the original sound from the speakers as well as the sound of the door vibrating. Also, different frequencies of sound decay over different periods of time. I’m not a sound engineer and can’t really explain much more than that, but basically the point I’m getting at is that in large venues, there is noise and delays. Putting on a pair of headphones isolates some of these external sounds, and provides the deejay with a sterile environment to listen to the track that is being played live as well as the next song that he/she is about to bring in. 

There you have it. I hope this short article has provided you some insight on the role of headphones in deejaying. Till next time...

DJ Santo

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