This article will explore the best DJ software for live and studio use in 2022.
DJing is one of the most popular ways of live performing electronic music. The term DJ is an acronym for Disc Jockey, meaning somebody who can manipulate playback devices to create long mixes.
Although the term was invented in the 1940s, DJing in its current form is a product of many genres, including Hip Hop, Disco, and House. DJ Kool Herc, the “father of Hip Hop,” created many techniques which DJs still use today, like cutting, a technique of looping a percussive section of a song to create what is known as a “break.” In the 1980s, DJs like DJ Steve Dee helped evolve the art form of DJing even further, with techniques like beat juggling gaining popularity.
Today, all you need to DJ is a small controller, laptop, and DJ software. So let’s dig right in to explain all of these and shed some light on the mysteries around modern DJing.
What Is DJ App?
A DJ app is a software that helps you DJ without using multiple pieces of equipment. Traditionally, DJs needed a mixer and two or more sources of playback devices, either turntables or CDJs.
A DJ app is meant to help you create DJ mixes, either using only the app (on your laptop or even phone) or by pairing it with a controller.
How do you use the DJ app?
Certain apps will let you create mixes just by using your phone or laptop. This bypasses all the heavy and expensive equipment needed to DJ in a professional setting. Other DJ apps will link with a DJ controller, a piece of equipment that has an onboard mixer and playback system.
This way, you must install the right drivers, and your controller will work alongside the app. However, most professional clubs and venues work with their equipment, which usually consists of a mixer and two or more CDJs.
Therefore, most DJ apps help you organize your songs, add cue points, set loop points, and add key tags. Afterward, they’ll let you “burn” your songs on a flash drive to carry with you and pluck on any club system. This way, your songs will always be organized and relieve the weight of carrying your laptop and equipment to various clubs.
Top 6 DJ Software 2021 (And 2 Best Free Apps)
1. Pioneer Rekordbox
Rekordbox is a music management and DJ software by Pioneer.
Pioneer designed Rekordbox to complement and enhance all Pioneer DJ hardware. It’s a subscription-based software, and users can organize their music, play music on CDJs from their iPhone or a flash drive, upload and store their playlists on the cloud, and much more.
- Cloud library sync
One of the main functions of Rekordbox is the ability to organize your songs and playlists over different devices. Everything will be synced, and eventually, you can use your iOS devices to play music in the club on any compatible CDJ. This is a handy feature that saves you the trouble of having to carry with you gear or hard drives since everything is stored online. The library sync works through Dropbox, and it’s available on the free plan with 2 GB of space. Additionally, you can subscribe and increase your available space. The best part about this feature is that everything you prepare while organizing your songs, from BPM and grid info to cue points, is all autosaved and stored on Rekordbox servers.
- 3Band waveform
The usual waveforms DJ apps use are Blue or RGB. Rekordbox features a 3Band waveform which shows the audio’s strength through three different colors: blue for the low end, orange for mid frequencies, and white for the top end. You can still use the old waveforms through the preferences menu. The brilliance of this new waveform is obvious; the DJ gets to understand with a simple look the exact structure of a song. An even more advanced option that comes with the creative subscription package is vocal detection. While analyzing your tracks, Rekordbox will highlight the areas where vocals are detected. This means that you can transition between songs easier with no clumsy mixes of crashing vocals (which I’m sure you’ve all heard of from amateur DJs in plenty of clubs).
- Ableton link
This is an exciting feature for users of Ableton Live who wish to perform their songs through Ableton but also DJ with Rekordbox. The new feature will sync the song you load on Rekordbox with your Ableton Live session, which makes for even more exciting and fluid live performances.
The new norm in the DJ world is online sourcing songs for your DJ sets. Platforms like Beatport and Soundcloud launched new models where DJs have the opportunity to play music through these services without the need for downloading songs or physically owning records. Rekordbox supports Soundcloud Go and Beatport Link, allowing users access to millions of songs to mix and play with.
Rekordbox is available on Windows 10 – 11 and macOS 10.14 – 12. Depending on your subscription, Rekordbox will be compatible with different Pioneer DJ players and mixers.
Rekordbox is an excellent choice for the modern DJ. Pioneer hardware has been the industry standard for a long time, so it only makes sense to opt for Rekordbox as your DJ software. Depending on your subscription plan, you’ll get access to different pieces of gear, but the most important features are unlocked in the free edition: the ability to organize, sync, and store your songs. This means you can play in any club through an iOS device or a flash drive.
2. Native Instrument Traktor PRO 3
Traktor Pro 3 is a DJ software by Native Instruments.
The latest version of Traktor Pro has a brand-new look that’s slimmer and easier on the eyes. In addition, everything is clearly labeled, and all the crucial information you need to know about your tracks is at hand’s reach. Combine this with a few cool new features and the old and loved effects; Traktor Pro 3 is an exciting DJ software.
- Elastique 3 engine
Traktor Pro 3 has a new sound engine called Elastique 3. The best feature of it is its high-quality time stretching algorithm. Time stretching is crucial in the DJ world since, most of the time, you’ll have to speed up or slow down songs to match other songs. For this to be seamless, you need a sound engine of excellent quality, which Traktor 3 provides.
- Parallel view
The new Traktor Pro features a parallel view which places a larger version of the waveform on top of the screen. In addition, the new waveform features multiple colors, which provide information regarding the song’s frequency information, structure, and elements. This makes identifying your song’s progression, mixing songs in and out, and making last-minute mix decisions very easy and enjoyable.
- Filter knob alternatives
The filter knob is one of the most used effects on a DJ mixer or controller. Traktor Pro 3 introduces a few alternative add-ons to excite the overused filter knob. These effects are reverb, dual delay, flanger, noise, gater, barber pole, crush, and dotted delay. The idea is that once you select one of these effects, you will be able to apply them through the single filter knob, but in a much subtler way than you would with regular effects. As a result, these effects sound much more pleasant than the similar ones found in the Pioneer mixers.
Native Instruments has included some advanced mapping features in the new Traktor Pro. If you are compatible with Native Instruments, like the S2 and S4 MK3, you can assign certain parameters to buttons or knobs you don’t usually use. For example, if you never use the polarizing sync button, you can choose to map it to the record feature, so when you push it, your set will be recorded. This is a very thoughtful feature that makes Traktor Pro 3 extremely user-friendly.
Traktor Pro 3 is available on Windows 10 – 11 and macOS 10.13 – 12.
Traktor Pro 3 is a new and slick version of the old and loved Traktor. The interface is slimmer and much more concise, the colors on the waveforms provide instant information about the songs you are mixing, the filter effects sound excellent, and the time stretching algorithm is fantastic. There’s not much to hate about it, so if you have or are thinking about getting a Native Instruments controller to DJ with, Traktor Pro 3 will serve you well.
3. Serato DJ Pro
Serato DJ Pro is the new version of the old famous Serato DJ software.
Serato DJ Pro looks much better than its predecessor, with clear and sharp text providing the necessary information about all tracks you are working on. In addition, with some new features like practice mode, compatibility with many famous DJ equipment and controllers, and the ability to live stream your DJ sets, Serato DJ Pro is a serious player in the DJ software game.
- Practice mode
The practice mode is something that users of the old Serato, including myself, were begging for. It’s a mode where you can practice your sets with two decks, tempo sliders, a crossfader, and hot cues without the need for any equipment. This is a great feature for professional DJs who need to practice an idea on the fly on their laptop (at a café, for example) and also a great opportunity for curious users who are just getting into DJing and haven’t spent any money on gear yet.
- Streaming music
Much like in Pioneer’s Rekordbox, you can stream songs from services like Tidal and Soundcloud Go to use on your DJ sets. If you are subscribed to either of these two streaming platforms, you can access the millions of songs uploaded there to include in your DJ sets. Note that for this to work, you need to be connected to the Internet.
- 64-bit processing
The biggest improvement regarding Serato DJ Pro’s performance compared to its predecessor is the 64-bit processing. This ensures that Serato DJ Pro will make use of your machine’s RAM to its full potential, which results in a much smoother application function. It also means the app is less likely to crash while performing live (something the old Serato DJ was notorious for) and can store an infinite number of songs.
- Performance pads
Serato DJ Pro features a few different pad modes for creative performances. The most common use of the pads is the hot cue function, but you can also set it to roll, sampler, slicer, beat jump, and pitch play modes. The pads can also access different modes depending on which DJ controller you use. For example, if you use the Pioneer DDJ-SR2, you can access the pad scratch mode.
Serato DJ Pro is available on Windows 7 – 11 and macOS 10.11 – 12.
Serato DJ Pro is a serious update to the previous Serato DJ app. The interface is much slicker, the 64-bit processing makes it a workhorse, and the performance pads are creative and inspired. It’s also a great place for new DJs to start since they can buy it all without a subscription and just use the practice mode until they save up enough money to invest in some good gear.
4. Ableton Live
Live is a DAW and performance tool by Ableton.
As the name suggests, Live was primarily designed to be used in a live performance setting. It’s the only DAW we feature on the list simply for this reason. You can link it with any sequencer, synthesizer, or other DJ software and use it to create songs on the spot through the session view.
- Session view
The session view inside Live is used for live performances. It’s where you can create pattern blocks you can trigger when performing live. This window might seem intimidating the first glance, but it’s easy to understand. It’s split as a mixer, with vertical strips that represent channels. Each channel has volume faders and panning knobs and can have different effects on. The channels can be MIDI or audio. The exciting part of the session view is that you can create different patterns of MIDI to trigger when you perform or store a variety of different audio samples or loops to trigger.
- Excellent effects
The onboard effects inside Live are of the highest quality and include familiar options like delay, reverb, saturator, and limiter, but also creative options like granular delay, hybrid reverb, beat repeater, and frequency shifter. The advantage here over other performance software is that the effects can be added on any channel you have, and you can load an infinite amount of them, as long as your CPU can handle it, of course.
- Follow actions
The following actions are not very well known to the casual Ableton Live users but can be powerful performance tools. The idea is that you create a bunch of different patterns inside the same channel. For example, let’s say six patterns that contain a single different chord each. Assigning a follow action to a pattern will decide which pattern will follow. There are a few different actions you can choose, such as previous, next, first, last, and any. If you click any, then you will have a chord progression that’s always changing since the six patterns will be triggered at random.
- Communal experience
Ableton Live is ideal not only for individual performances but for groups or bands. If you have an audio interface with multiple inputs, you can add a guitar, a vocalist, and a bassist to the mix. Link them all inside Live so that each has their own channel in the session view, and the Ableton Live performer can process their instruments live. For example, you can modulate the guitarist’s sound through the various effects or loop it internally or process the vocalist’s voice to create different textures. Alternatively, the instrumentalists can perform while you add drum layers, percussion loops, effects, and synth layers through Live. The possibilities are endless.
- Re-imagine your songs
Live is a DAW, so it’s primarily marketed toward producers. However, if you own Live, chances are you make your original music. The biggest benefit of performing with Live is that you can re-imagine your original songs by exporting stems, arranging them as loops, and re-triggering them in a live context. For example, you might want to bring the verse bass in the intro so that your fans instantly recognize your song or start with the chorus and finish with a verse, or even recreate the song’s melodies and chord progressions through different synthesizers. The session view is the place where you can experiment and have fun with your songs.
Ableton Live is available on Windows 10 – 11 and macOS 10.13 – 12.
Ableton Live is a different performance tool than the rest on this list simply because it doesn’t focus on DJing but a free-form approach to structuring and performing your music sets. As a result, you can link it to most major DJ apps, link it to other instances of Live so you can play with your friends, and re-imagine your songs.
5. Algoriddim DJay Pro
Algoriddim DJay Pro is a DJ software and app used on various devices.
Most notably, DJay Pro is designed for Mac, iOS, and iPadOS devices. Of course, it works on Windows and Android devices, too but lacks a lot of the great features that are included in the iOS version. One of its most exciting features is the video DJing mode.
Assuming you run an iOS device, you can use DJay Pro to its full potential with no need for a DJ piece of gear. Of course, the software is integrated with 50 of the most popular DJ controllers on the market from brands like Pioneer, Hercules, and Numark, but you can use the app on its own to DJ and blend songs.
As it’s mainly built for Apple users, DJay Pro works excellently with iTunes. All your iTunes libraries and songs can be linked easily with DJay Pro and be at your disposal for convenient mixing and beatmatching. In addition, Windows and Android users can use songs on their device’s memory to load and play.
- Neural mix
A feature that’s exciting inside DJay Pro is neural mix, meaning the ability to analyze songs and separate stems. For example, you can load a song you love and separate its vocals. Now you have an acapella that you can mix with a different instrumental in creating a live remix. Similarly, you can separate the drums of a track to create a drum break that you can blend with a different song. The sound quality of this effect can sometimes be clunky, but that’s expected since it’s a very complicated process to perform on audio, especially in real-time. The creative possibilities it unlocks, though, are endless.
- Video DJing
Another exciting and inspiring feature is the ability to DJ with videos. The video DJ mode supports 4K videos and allows the user to mix two video decks. In addition, there are different transition effects, custom text, and videos that you can download, even visualizer and sample packs that come with DJay Pro. Sadly, this feature is missing on Windows and Android devices. The number of possibilities the feature creates is infinite since now you can do your visuals in a live setting. You can even be a professional videographer or VJ who wants to use the app specifically for the video DJ mode because it’s that good.
Algoriddim DJay Pro is available on Windows 10, android, and all macOS and iOS devices.
Algoriddim DJay Pro is an exciting new option for DJs. It’s the ideal software for an Apple user since most of its more exciting features are available on iOS and macOS devices. You can get it for free with some limitations or get the full version through a subscription.
6. Atomix VirtualDJ
Virtual DJ is a DJ software by Atomix.
Virtual DJ is one of the oldest and most popular choices for DJ software. Throughout the years, it received some major upgrades, and the latest version includes interesting features like real-time stem separation, a three-section separation waveform, and an advanced EQ mode. All of these new features make Virtual DJ a very sought-after software.
- Stem separation
Virtual DJ has implemented a new feature for stem separation that works similarly to that of DJay Pro. The process happens through three advanced EQ modes: EZRemix, ModernEQ, and Stems. The first is a three-stem mode with drums, instruments, and vocal stems, the second a three-stem mode with hi-hats, melody /vocals, and kick stems, and the latter is a full five-stem mode with instruments, hi-hats, kick, vocal, and bass stems. They all sound exceptionally well, and this is thanks to the AI technology that happens behind the curtain. The advantages of this process are the creative options it provides DJs to create mashups and remixes on the fly.
Because it’s been around for such a long time, Virtual DJ has perhaps the most expanded hardware support of any other DJ app. It supports over 300 DJ controllers, mixers, and pad controllers by the biggest and most popular brands, so chances are that your equipment will work with Virtual DJ.
- Shapes waveform
The displayed waveform inside Virtual DJ has to be one of the most informative. Like Rekordbox, it shows the audio’s waveform in three different colors representing its beats, vocals, and instruments. This is important so you can identify a song’s structure at a glance or while mixing and getting ready to bring in the next song. In addition, the three different color shades are dynamically highlighted once you adjust their levels with the stem separation controls we discussed earlier. This means that you can literally remix a song if you wish for the drums to be louder or the acapella to be more prominent.
- Self-sufficiency and content
Virtual DJ was one of the first DJ software that supported the idea of DJing without equipment. Therefore, you can use it on its own on your laptop to practice or mix without any gear needed. There’s also a huge support team in the Atomix family who provide you with sampler loops and creative effects to add to your mixes.
Atomix Virtual DJ is available on Windows and macOS X.
Virtual DJ was and is still a great choice for the modern DJ. The stem separation sounds great and opens up a world of possibilities for mashups, remixes, and seamless mixing transitions. Finally, the overall look and aesthetic of the software are known to us all since it inspired many of the other DJ software we’ve used over the years, so getting Virtual DJ would be an easy learning curve.
Best Free DJ Software 2021
1. Mixxx Review
Mixxx is a free, open-source DJ app.
Mixxx is a solid free option for new DJs or people curious about DJing who wish to learn more about mixing and creating exciting party setlists. The app supports over 85 MIDI DJ controllers and includes many of the basic features you’d need in a DJ software to craft a well-thought-out mix.
- BPM and key detection
Mixxx helps you form an organized and comprehensive library with its analysis process. It will read your tracks and organize them by BPM and musical key tags. This isn’t a ground-breaking feature per se but seeing it on free software is always pleasing.
- True open-source format
Mixxx is entirely built by and for DJs. There’s no big company behind it but a huge community of DJs who help each other develop and evolve the app. You can access the source code and modify it if you are familiar with coding and have a cool idea that could be implemented in the app. This is the true exciting nature of Mixxx.
- Four decks and other features
Four-deck mixing is something that most apps offer on a paid plan, with a two-deck model applying in their free trial plan. Mixxx features four decks which you can use to mix with ease. The layout is simple and clear, and you can hide panels and modes you don’t need. For example, if things get a bit crowded on your screen, you can hide the fx bar if you don’t use it. Other features include looping, cue point setup, sync, beat grid, and quick effects knob.
Mixxx is available on all platforms for free.
Mixxx is a great option for new DJs and people who wish to get into DJing. Because it’s free and visually simple, it’s a great starting point for anyone to learn the art of DJing, and even if you already have some experience in DJing, you will find that Mixxx has a very easy learning curve.
2. Serato DJ Lite Review
Serato DJ Lite is a free and simplified version of Serato DJ Pro.
Serato DJ Lite is made for those who wish to try the Serato workflow for free before they decide to invest in the full version or for new DJs who need a free software to get started. The free version naturally comes with fewer features than the paid ones, but that’s completely normal and doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time.
- Practice mode
I was pleasantly surprised that the practice mode is included in Serato DJ Lite. This feature which lets you practice your mixes without any gear, is a new addition to the pro version and stays in the Lite version. If you decide you wish to get a DJ controller, Serato DJ Lite still supports you with compatibility with a wide range of controllers and DJ equipment.
Serato DJ Lite supports streaming DJing from major platforms, like Beatport Link, Tidal, Soundcloud Go, and Beatsource Link. If you are subscribed to either of these streaming services, you can easily link them to your Serato account and have access to your playlists and songs to DJ with. Additionally, Serato offers a 30-day free trial to either of these platforms so you can try and see for yourself if this format works for you.
- Live stream your set
Serato supports live streaming, so you can share your sets with your fans and connect with them live. There are plenty of tutorials on their official page that will guide you through the process, while they also offer you free visuals to add to your set. In addition, the software supports streaming on most major platforms, like Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, and Mixcloud.
Serato DJ Pro is available on Windows 7 – 11 and macOS 10.11 – 12, 64-bit only.
Serato DJ Lite is an exciting option for those seeking free but quality DJ software to play with. What makes it stand out is the supportive Serato community, the live streaming support, and the overall look and aesthetic that make Serato products so desirable. Overall, it’s a great option for beginners.
DJing has surely evolved a lot since its conception. Thanks to technology, the art form of DJing is now more accessible than ever before. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete beginner, there are plenty of different options for you out there.
This list is meant to be a guide for those seeking help finding the best DJ software on the market. Use it to learn the best options and find the ideal software that suits your lifestyle, workflow, and budget.
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Alvinos Zavlis is an artist/producer from Cyprus based in Bristol, UK. With three albums under his belt and plenty of singles, his catalogue covers a wide range of sounds, from hip hop and trip hop to IDM and experimental electronic styles, all fused together to create unique blends of sounds. He works as a freelance mixing and mastering engineer in Bristol for artists of all styles.