Have you ever listened to a new track and looked at the genre tag and thought “there’s no way that’s a real genre?” Genres, subgenres, and derivative genres are proliferating at an almost alarming rate these days, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming for the beginner who wants to understand what electronic music is all about. If you want to be successful as a DJ, however, it’s important to understand what all these EDM genres mean and where they came from. So to help kick off your journey of discovery, we’ll start this multi-post series by exploring the basics of where the most popular EDM genres come from and what defines them.
Why EDM Genres Matter
Does it really matter if you know the difference between techno and tech house or dubstep and drumstep? If you want to be taken seriously as a DJ, it does. That way, when someone asks you what your favourite trance song is, you won’t play them an Avicii track.
Exploring new genres and subgenres and subgenres can also be a great way to get inspired. If you’re getting bored with your current setlist, just start exploring some new crazy subgenre, and you’re bound to find something that gets you excited.
Finally, understanding EDM subgenres will also make it easier for your music to be found online, and it will make it easier for you to talk about your music as well. By tagging your track with the proper genre and subgenre labels, you’ll make any mixes or tracks you release online easier to find for potential fans. You’ll also have a much easier time explaining what sort of music you play to bookers, other DJs, and anyone else who might want to see you spin, which will make it easier for you to advertise your gigs and get people out to see you play.
American Genres: House, Techno, Trap
Most of today’s major EDM subgenres can be traced back to either America or Europe. House is the dominant American EDM genre heard on the radio these days thanks to artists like Avicii, David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, deadmau5, and Daft Punk. Techno, while it has become popular recently with European DJs, actually started with DJs in Detroit who were inspired by European artists like Kraftwerk. Trap, on the other hand, is a distinctly American genre which owes its roots to southern hip-hop producers and artists like Lex Luger and T.I.
European Genres: Trance, Dubstep, Drum & Bass
Battling house for top EDM popularity these days is trance music. This style bears some resemblances to house and techno, but involves the distinct technique of slowly building tracks to a cathartic climax before breaking them down through a slow release. Todays kings of trance are European DJs like Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold, and Armin van Buuren. Dubstep, with its wobbly basslines and syncopated rhythms, is an instantly recognizable genre that was born out of the London club scene in the late 1990s. Drum & Bass grew out of the London scene as well, but owes its roots to hardcore ravers rather than clubbers. This style typically involves faster tempos than both trance and dubstep, and is defined by its focus on the drum and bass elements of songs (hence the name).
This list merely scratches the surface of what’s out there in terms of EDM genres. If you want to learn more about the genres and subgenres that make up electronic music, keep an eye on this blog, as we’ll be delving deeper into this topic in the weeks and months to come. You can also check out some of our past articles on how to DJ for specific genres like house and hip-hop. Or better yet, you can sign up for our online DJ school and learn how to play around with these genres yourself. With a little training, you might even be able to come up with the next hot subgenre, like deep-post-acid-reggaeton or something.
A good pair of headphones might be the most important piece of any DJ’s rig. The right headphones allow you to hear your tracks properly when you’re performing, and can be great tools for mixing at home or in the studio. Trying to find the best DJ headphones, however, can be a challenge, especially if you have a limited budget.
What to Look for in a Good Pair of Headphones
Not every pair of headphones is specifically designed for DJ use (in fact, most are not). So how do you know which headphones to look for? Generally, headphones that work well for DJing will have a few things in common. First, they should be closed-back rather than open-back. This shouldn’t be a problem to find, as most headphones (especially those under $150) are designed with closed backs for sound isolation. You’ll also want to look for a comfortable pair of cans, considering you’ll probably be wearing them regularly for long periods of time. Usually, comfort means they sit over your ears, not on top of them (although this depends on your personal preference), and can be adjusted to fit the shape of your head well.
Other factors to consider might be things like durability, portability, and personal style. As far as audio quality goes, that will also depend on your personal preference, but as long as you’re buying a good pair of cans designed for professional use (rather than a $25 pair from Wal-Mart), you should be good to go. With those factors in mind, here are our 5 top choices for the best DJ headphones on the market right now.
Audio Technica ATH-M40x: $100
Audio Technica makes some of the best budget audio gear on the market. With Audio Technica products, you always get a big bang for your buck, so just because these headphones cost $100, that doesn’t mean you’re only getting $100 of quality. The M40x’s provide a flat response, so they can be equally as useful in the studio as they are on stage. As an added bonus, the M40x’s use a replaceable cable, which means you don’t have to throw out the whole set if you end up breaking the cable.
Sony MDR-7506: $100
These headphones are designed for studio and field recording, which means they provide plenty of isolation from outside noises. This will allow you to hear your headphone mix well over your live sound and the noise of the club. These headphones also fold up nicely, and have swiveling earcups, making them a versatile tool that you can easily bring to any gig.
Sennheiser HD 25-SP II: $149.95
Although the HD 25-SP II’s sit on top of your ears, not over them, they’ve actually become some of the most popular headphones for DJs. Diplo even has his own pair of custom designed HD 25’s, which he uses regularly. If you prefer on-ear headphones with a smaller, more lightweight feel, these might be the best DJ headphones for you. And despite their smaller size, they still provide a wide frequency response and clear audio image with plenty of bass.
Sennheiser HD 280 PRO: $92
Another great choice from Sennheiser are the HD 280 PRO’s. Unlike the HD-25’s, these are an over-ear model, which some might find more comfortable. They provide an incredibly flat response, and can be folded and rotated in a number of different ways for a variety of applications. Diplo has also been spotted wearing these cans, and they’re widely used in recording studios, radio stations, and other pro audio settings.
Shure SRH550DJ: $100
As the name implies, these headphones are designed specifically for DJs. Rather than providing a “flat” response like some headphones that are designed more for studio use, the SRH550DJ’s are meant to be used in nightclubs and other live venues. In addition to the high audio quality these headphones provide, you can also be assured that anything made by Shure will be super durable (just think of how much their SM58 microphones get abused and how long they last).
Of course, the choice of what makes the best DJ headphones is entirely subjective, so as long as you find something that’s comfortable and lets you hear what you need to hear, that’s all you need. For more tips on setting up your DJ rig, check out our lessons on what gear to buy. For only $19.95 a month, you can join Spin Academy’s online DJ school and get access to dozens of video gear reviews, plus video lessons everything else you need to know to become a great DJ, like understanding volume and gain structure, or how to master complicated moves like mixing on the half time or live remixing a track.