A Quick Introduction To DJ Software (and how to choose the right one!)

A Quick Introduction to DJ Software

LAST UPDATED: 19th November 2022

Choosing the right DJ software doesn’t need to be painful, although there are a couple of things you’ll want to consider.

In this post, we’ll break down the best DJ software providers in the market right now (the 6 most widely used by working DJs around the world), whilst also considering WHO they’re best suited to.

As well as providing the relevant trial or ‘demo’ links where applicable, we’ll also link to two additional free options at the end.

Understanding DJ software

Going back to the mid-90s, DJ software was originally developed as a library storage tool, with the idea that DJs would no longer need to lug their heavy record boxes back & forth to gigs. Nowadays, of course, it’s a much more powerful technology, with way more utility.

Once you have your preferred DJ software running on a laptop, all you need is some compatible DJ hardware (like a DJ controller) to take full advantage of its features & functionality. From there, you’ll receive regular in-software updates that keep you at the forefront of the latest DJ tech & innovation – for what’s a relatively small investment.

Compatibility with DJ controllers

Whilst there are some DJ controllers that work universally with most DJ software, the majority are only compatible with the software program (or programs) that are endorsed by the manufacturer.

That said, it’s definitely recommended that you stick with the software the controller was designed for (or at least one listed by the manufacturer) if you want to avoid compatibility issues.

Fortunately enough, when you buy a DJ controller the appropriate software usually comes with it!

What else to consider?

As we spoke about in our DJ Controller post, it will help if you already know what the purpose of your DJ setup is. For example: is it a stepping stone to playing out or is it just for fun?

And, if you do plan on playing out at some stage, what kind of DJ are you aspiring to be?!

Aside from that, your choice of software can simply come down to which one you’re most excited about and/or which interface you’re most comfortable with. You don’t need to over complicate it!

Once you’ve decided (or at least narrowed it down), you can then start looking for a compatible piece of hardware to marry up with your preferred software.

So let’s take a look at the best DJ software in the market right now…

1: Serato DJ

Serato DJ Pro - arguably the best DJ software provider on the market - and perhaps the best DJ software for beginners

Serato is very easy to navigate with a nice clean-looking interface, which makes it arguably the best DJ software for beginners. They also have a stripped-back version called Serato DJ Lite, which can be easily upgraded to the Pro version at any point.

The Lite version is usually fine for your typical two-channel entry-level controllers, although you’ll want the Pro version for anything more serious.

Serato was very popular with scratch DJs back in the day (and still is), and it remains the preferred choice for many pro/working DJs around the world today – in both dance and hip hop circles.

It’s one of the market-leaders for good reason, and a great option if you’d prefer not to be locked into one of the main manufacturer’s ecosystems of products, as is sometimes the case with Rekordbox and Pioneer’s hardware, or like with Traktor and Native Instruments hardware, for example).

In the most recent update, Serato 3.0 (which is in public Beta as of early October 2022), ‘stems’ technology has finally been integrated into the software. This basically allows you to remove or isolate components of a track – ie the bass, drums, melodies or vocals. This Beta version can be used with the both versions of the software – Lite & Pro.

Bear in mind that a ‘Beta’ version means it’s not complete yet, and they still need to iron out any bugs. This also means you shouldn’t be using it in a live environment until the full version is released.

Cost: The Pro version starts at $129 USD or $9.99 per month. The most you can pay (if you had the ‘Serato DJ Suite’ license bundle – which most DJs probably wouldn’t need) is $349 USD or $14.99 per month.

Supported streaming services: The latest versions of Serato DJ integrate with streaming platforms including TIDAL, Beatport Streaming, Beatsource Streaming, and SoundCloud Go+.

Supported hardware: You can view their full list of supported hardware/DJ controllers here.

Free version: download Serato DJ Lite here.

14-day free trial: download Serato DJ Pro here.

2: rekordbox

Rekordbox DJ software - one of the best DJ softwares on the market

Next up we have rekordbox — a music management system and DJ software that natively integrates with Pioneer’s hardware.

As Pioneer setups still remain standard-issue in bars and clubs around the world, one of the most obvious benefits of using rekordbox would be a smoother transition from bedroom to DJ booth – in part because their rekordbox-compatible controllers all mirror a ‘CDJ’ club setup/workflow.

Not only that: if you do ever transition to playing in a bar or club, you can also prepare your music at home in rekordbox – setting cue points and creating playlists, etc. – export it onto a USB, and not require the use of your laptop in the venue.

The release of rekordbox 6.0 (and iOS 3.0) in April 2020 brought a completely new 3-tier subscription model, scrapping the licensing model they had previously. The plans include ‘free’, ‘core’ and ‘creative’, with the major changes incorporating cloud music management across all devices (on the top plan) in conjunction with 3rd party services such as Dropbox.

It’s important to note, though: when you purchase a ‘hardware unlock’ device (which is basically any rekordbox controller) – unless you choose to upgrade your plan at some stage, you won’t need to pay a monthly subscription for the software.

Supported streaming services: Beatport Streaming, Beatsource Streaming, TIDAL, and SoundCloud Go+.

Cost/subscription options: View plans or get a free 30-day trial here. The two ‘paid’ plans both come with 30-day trials, priced at $9.99 for their ‘Core’ plan and $14.99 per month for ‘Creative’.

Supporting resource: If you’re looking to become a club or venue DJ, check out this comprehensive guide we did on how to become a DJ – 15 action steps.

3: Virtual DJ Pro

VirtualDJ Pro DJ software - arguably the best DJ software for beginners

One of the longest-standing players in the DJ Software market is Virtual DJ. It supports more DJ controllers and hardware than any other software (even than Serato), boasting ‘plug & play’ support for over 300 controllers.

Known for its live video-streaming and Karaoke features (to name a couple of things), Virtual DJ is a widely popular choice among mobile DJs and also beginners. It’s got a much slicker-looking interface than it did just a few years back, and there’s also a new ‘event scheduler’ feature which would most likely appeal to mobile, wedding and radio DJs.

There’s a few different versions and licenses to choose from, starting with a free ‘laptop only’ home version for PC or Mac, right up to their flagship VirtualDJ Pro offering for professional use. You also won’t need to pay for future updates once you’ve purchased a license/plan, and they offer a cheaper Pro license if you only intend to use it with a single DJ controller for home use only.

Latest Updates: In April 2021, Virtual DJ announced that users can now export their library onto USB sticks and then use them on Pioneer CDJs in a pro DJ booth. This is (or at least was) one of rekordbox’s biggest ‘unique’ selling points before the update, which makes it pretty significant!

Prior to this, in May 2020, they introduced ‘stem pads’, which allow for real-time track separation so the user can remove or isolate components of a track, such as the drums, melodies or vocals in the mix.

Supported streaming services: Beatport Streaming, Beatsource Streaming, SoundCloud Go+, and Deezer.

Supported hardware: You can view their full list of supported hardware/DJ controllers here.

Cost/subscription options: The Pro version is either $299 outright or $19.99 a month (USD). There’s also a cheaper ‘single controller license’ for home use only which could cost as little as $49, although it’s only available with certain controllers. Visit their website here for more information.

4: Traktor Pro

Traktor Pro DJ software - arguably the best DJ software for DJ producers

At No.4, we have Traktor Pro from Native Instruments. It’s most notably a popular choice among DJ/producers that specialize in electronic genres such as house & techno.

Whilst some say that Traktor Pro software isn’t the market leader it once was, it’s still the preferred choice with a lot of performance DJs due to its live remixing capabilities and high-quality range of FX. Popular features include their ‘remix decks’ and ‘stems’ (stems allow you to remove or isolate components of a track), although stems isn’t unique to Traktor anyone, with Serato and Virtual DJ also having their own versions.

Traktor also integrates with Pioneer’s pro gear in a DJ booth if or when you use it to play out in a club, although it’s still strongly advised that you stick with Native Instruments hardware to ensure tight integration with its software – certainly if you’re a beginner that’s just getting started.

Their flagship DJ Controller series includes the Traktor Kontrol S2 MK3 aimed at beginners, the mid-tier Traktor Kontrol S3, and their Traktor Kontrol S4 for amateur/professional use.

Cost: A Traktor Pro license is $99 US. Try the free demo or get the full version here. As of July 2022, users also have the option of an ‘add-on subscription’, called Traktor Pro Plus.

Supported streaming services: Beatport Streaming and Beatsource Streaming.

Latest Updates: Dec 2021: Traktor Pro 3.5.2 now offers an offline locker option for users of streaming services Beatport Streaming and Beatsource Streaming. This allows subscribers of those services to store up to 1000 tracks locally without the need for an internet connection. Some of the latest changes are broken down on this Native Instruments forum page.

August 2022: Traktor Pro 3.6 now has Pattern Player and Ozone Maximizer (subscription features only). The update also included a number of other smaller fixes. Additionally, NI have started publishing quarterly updates along with a road map for where things are heading.

Here’s Traktor’s full walkthrough video on the latest 3.6 changes from August 2022:

5. djay Pro AI

Next in line would definitely be djayPro by Algoriddim. The full version of the software is called djay Pro AI.

djay by Algoriddim - pro DJ software
Pictured: djay interface on various devices

Whilst djay is mostly popular on IOS devices for mobile and iPad right now, they also brag a seamless integration with your music library for Windows 10.

In their most recent update, version 4.0 in May 2022, they introduced tons of new features, most notably Digital Vinyl Control (DVS) integration. This now means pro DJs – for the first time ever – can potentially use their mobile to connect to physical turntables and mixers.

The software also has an innovative ‘Neural Mix’ feature which allows the user to remove (or separate) the elements of a track in real-time (such as the vocals and the drums), similar to the ‘stems’ feature on Traktor, Serato and Virtual DJ. Note: both these features are only available with the full version.

In addition to an ever-increasing number of DJ controllers, their software also offers native integration with Pioneer DJ’s pro gear in a DJ booth. From an innovation standpoint, it’s arguably the best DJ software on the market, although perhaps not ideal if you want the pick of the DJ controllers with the convenience of out-of-the-box native integration.

The software also integrates with streaming services including TIDAL, Beatport Streaming, Beatsource Streaming, and SoundCloud Go+.

If you want to see exactly which controllers are supported based on your device/operating system it’s best to visit their website.

6. Engine DJ

Engine DJ software - Professional DJ software
Pictured: Denon Prime 4 screen view on top and desktop interface below

Now unless you’re buying a piece of Denon’s hardware (or perhaps Numark as they’re owned by the same parent company, ‘inMusic’… we list all of them below), you don’t need to worry about this influencing your decision on what DJ software to use.

In the same way you would with rekordbox, for example, you would use Engine DJ as a track management/preparation tool on your laptop – setting cue points and creating playlists, etc – transferring them onto a USB ready to plug into one of Denon’s standalone units.

Aside from professional media players, these all-in-one DJ systems (where the Engine DJ operating system is built-in to the unit for standalone purposes) includes the Numark Mixstream Pro, the Denon Prime Go, the SC Live 2, the SC Live 4, Denon’s Prime 2 (note: this unit has been discontinued), and of course, Denon’s flagship Prime 4.

Also see our buyer’s guide: the 5 best all-in-one DJ Systems.

As for the quality of the software itself? Most notably, one of the key selling points of the units that it operates on is the WiFi connectivity. This allows the use of streaming services and also the ability to sign straight into your Dropbox to access your digital music collection in the cloud.

Asides from that, Engine DJ is extremely robust, and without a doubt as good as the market-leaders. Visit the Engine DJ website here.

What about free DJ software?

Lastly, if you’re really skint, or what you’re doing is mostly for fun, there are a couple of good free DJ software options available:

The first would be CrossDJ from Mixvibes. You can download their software for free if you only plan on using two channels. It’s available on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows.

Secondly, you have Mixxx, which is an open-source DJ software; meaning that the full version is completely free!

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