So, we probably don’t need to say but DJing is a hot topic these days, not just in the music industry but across all media and entertainment industries as well.
DJs are rising stars across both smaller venues and the world stage, opportunities are increasing rapidly and so are the technological tools and equipment available to them, including some of the best free DJ software platforms for Mac that we are about to discuss in more detail here.
1. Serato DJ Lite
Newly released Serato DJ Lite is totally free and can be used with almost any controller, which is awesome. Created by what are arguably the current leaders in DJ software, Serato (obviously..!), Serato Lite is top notch in pretty much every aspect.
Serato DJ Lite can be used with or without hardware, meaning you can test mixes without even connecting a controller or decks. This is a great new addition that brings Serato’s offline mode level with RekordBox and Traktor, who always offered the ability to properly run the software without hardware.
Serato contains 4 decks, a versatile mixer, awesome waveforms and an industry-leading browser. It has sample players, FX – the lot really! The areas its lacking in include key-mixing and pitch-shifting, inability to use video mixing or other Serato add-ons like Slip, limited UI customizability, no smart crates, limited loop functionality, no Izotope effects – it is quite a long list but the most important thing is that the core elements are present and unlimited. Not everyone needs these extra features.
- Uses Serato’s pro engine and core features
- 4 decks, full mixer, FX and samples
- Bulletproof stability
- Free for any controller
- Lacks many advanced features that you may or may not need
Mixxx is freemium software that combines power with some cool little features that differentiate it from mainstream DJ software. It can be used on Mac, Linux or Windows and it basically incorporates all the ‘top’ extras which the Big 3 flag and advertise all the time.
You can access RGB waveforms, four decks, FX and sample decks and even harmonic detection, which works well. Perhaps a key advantage is that the software is well-optimized for laptop DJing, so you won’t need any equipment to start spinning your favorite tracks. Being totally free, this software is backed up by a large community of extremely helpful users and developers. The software supports connection to many controllers with plenty of pre-made mappings and can even be mapped for use with timecode vinyls.
The interface is pretty heavy but some may enjoy this, it’s certainly comprehensive but it’ll display more efficiently on a nice widescreen. Macbook Airs, beware!
- Totally free
- Very solid feature set
- Backed up by a good community
- Interface is rather clunky
3. Virtual DJ Home
Virtual DJ has a place in the heart of many, it’s been here since the start and it’ll keep pitching its veteran-level feature set against the big guns. Virtual DJ has now moved into the standalone software-only area of the DJ software industry – it’s designed for use without a controller. You can still easily map its full version it to controllers, though, allowing you to create super-budget setups, but this is not available with the free Virtual DJ Home edition.
Virtual DJ has some quirks, for example, it allows for 99 decks…yep, 99! You can load 99 tunes up to different points and cycle between them. This is actually extremely useful for DJing at functions like weddings or parties. You can also incorporate video-mixing into your sets, even in the free version.
Other features are really well developed, for instance, you have a top-notch browser, audio editors, FX, samplers, recording facilities, etc. You can even connect it to streaming services like Deezer (not Spotify, though). It’s a great piece of software and even though it’s been around for almost 15 years, it still enjoys a large share of die-hard users that harness its extra features to awesome effect.
- It’s timeless!
- 99 decks are actually useful
- Can connect to streaming services – perfect for playing requests
- Stable, well-made and feature-packed
- Home edition doesn’t allow for connection to hardware
4. MixVibes Cross DJ
This software has been created by some leading developers and it’s earnt glowing reviews across DJ mag and other leading DJ publications and review sites. It’s designed primarily for sync laptop DJing and thus, it comes with advanced sync algorithms.
This is perfect for a hands-off approach to mixing at birthdays, weddings and other functions when you need to be away from the decks for periods of time. Of course, this software can be used with hardware though so it’s no one-trick-pony. It’s very well supported and has seen continuous development for some time – it looks like it’s here to stay.
In terms of features, MixVibes Cross DJ has two decks, multi-band EQs and mixer, tons of effects and an innovative sampler. A quality browser makes tune selection and mix composition easy. Overall, MixVibes Cross DJ offers a very similar package to pro-level software. It also supports advanced recording with a master limiter, UI customization, multi-controller support and advanced in-key mixing. Video DJ mode and bundled video effects top it all off!
- Fresh and innovative software
- Free version is unlimited
- Designed by those from RekordBox
- Comes with tutorials for learning DJs
- This is quality software but it’s power hungry so make sure your laptop is up to the task.
Ultramixer is a class piece of innovative DJ software. It has tons of excellent features which really set it aside from conventional software. The free edition is generous and packs most of the features you’ll need for mixing.
Ultramixer is designed for functions DJs, so if you regularly play long gigs that last several hours at events then Ultramixer is well worth a try. It’s basically the one-man-band of DJ software, combining light-show control editing with video DJing, a “live-text” function, an announcement function – the list goes on!
The interface is highly customizable and looks great, it has a 16-channel sampler, a 31-band EQ for dialing room settings, hot-cues, and a highly intelligent auto-mix module.
This software is complex and if you need it, you’ll know! It packs tons of features severely lacking in conventional DJ software and does so for free or a cheap price for full versions.
- Comes with a host of bespoke solutions for function and party DJs
- Robust and fully-featured
- Supported by a large community
- Very powerful
- A bit of a steep learning curve
Needless to say, DJing has now entered a digital age. Software couples with controllers to create a highly flexible, creative and powerful platform for DJs to mix and blend their tracks to new levels. It’s an exciting time and some of the creative techniques, transitions, and practices which have developed in the digital DJ world are really cool. Also, digital setups pack greater audio quality, tons of quirky and interesting features and perhaps above all, they’re cheap and accessible.
Meanwhile, a decent controller doesn’t need to set you back more than a couple hundred dollars. Most controllers do come with bundled software but often, you can’t access all the awesome features you might want. The good news is, there are several programs that do offer these features for free!
Now, we don’t only just have the Big 3 of DJ software – Traktor, Serato and RekordBox, we also have a host of other software platforms which range from the super-sleek and functional to the quirky, cool, clever, and ultra-simple.
An exception here is Serato Intro, which is free without restriction. It’s described in detail above and although Serato is the biggest company featured, the other software mentioned here is well worth a look.
DJ Software Guide
DJ software can act in one of two ways:
- Online, i.e. connected to a hardware controller or decks
DJ software brings your controller to life. Without it, your controller is just a lump of plastic and metal! DJ controllers are simply MIDI controllers, they need to be ‘mapped’ to software in order to work. The software essentially runs the controller. Think of your controller like an external PC or mouse – they need to be connected to software to work.
Some software comes pre-mapped to certain controllers. This is more common than it was a few years ago – now, you can simply connect your controller and select it within the software to auto-map it. A few years back, you’d have to manually map and edit everything yourself!
It’s not always possible to map software to controllers easily so make sure you double check manufacturer websites and community resources like forums before assuming you can easily connect your controller to any software.
- Offline, i.e. just running the software alone with no hardware
Not all DJ software works without a controller but the vast majority does now. In fact, it’s only recently that Serato Intro allowed this!
Mixing without a controller is perfect for jamming some tracks when you have no controller, or for practicing transitions, experimentation, set routines for functions and birthdays, etc. You can use software without a controller to organise your music and test it out without the hassle of connecting everything up. It’s also great for testing and practicing whilst you’re on the move.
So what are the core features of your usual DJ software?
Decks make the DJ world go round! All DJ programs features decks, at least 2 but sometimes 4, 6, 8 or 99 in the case of Virtual DJ (yes really – read on!). Decks run your tracks, display your BPM and beatgrids and display their waveforms allowing you to visually ‘see’ into the music.
Most DJ software comes with a mixer built-in to the software. WIth faders, EQs and gain knobs, etc, these mixers generally resemble real analog mixers. They work in the same way but are all 100% digital.
- FX and Sampler
FX have developed to become crazier and more inventive. Some DJ software allows for the combination of tons of FX which can be stacked and automated to create twisting textures and dramatic overflowing build-ups.
The sampler allows you to input and trigger sound effects. An obvious example might be the air-horn you hear in lots of RnB, Jungle and Reggae tracks. You can also often take a section of your track and place it in the sampler.
- Extra ‘Stuff’!
DJ software now comes with a whole host of other features, settings, and modules designed to make mixing more fun, versatile and creative. For example, Traktor has its Remix Decks which allow you to cut and sample audio into a 64-cell sample deck and Serato has Slip which allows you to remix tracks on the fly.
Also, most DJ software now allows you to analyze keys accurately and even pitch-shift your tracks subtly to move their keys around!
There are tons of extra features coming out which simply didn’t exist even a couple of years ago. The art of DJing is developing exponentially!
It’s hard separating these awesome free pieces of DJ software for Mac. At a glance, many will simply opt for the big brand Serato and their free DJ Lite software. It is awesome but some may quickly get frustrated by its lacking features. It comes with enough to get you going but as soon as you can execute great chops and transitions with some FX, loops, etc, you’ll be wanting more!
Give some of these other softwares a chance, you just might find one you love. Many DJs are branching out to explore new platforms, hence why some of these platforms have received great reviews in DJ Mag – they’re finally getting the coverage they deserve.
Above all though, they’re free so there’s no real harm in trying them out, each offers its only slightly different take on an industry which is probably overburdened by the Big 3 – Traktor, RekordBox, and Serato. There’s life outside of this bubble!
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