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Last updated 28 September, 2023

It is often useful as a DJ to be able to “capture” and record audio playing on your laptop, for use in your DJ sets or productions – think music or samples from YouTube videos, Netflix content, things playing in your browser, Spotify and so on.

We use the trick I’m about to share with you a LOT for capturing and recording studio acapellas we’ve found – say, on YouTube – of songs we already own but want an acapella of, for instance. Also, this type of high-quality acapella content is often available on Apple Music, Spotify and so on, but there’s no easy way to download or record it without resorting to (probably illegal) dodgy-feeling paid-for ripping apps.

Read this next: 7 Easy Ways To Record Your DJ Sets

This technique is also useful for recording dialogue, soundtrack clips, vocals etc from movies/TV shows, via Netflix etc, that can then be used as DJ drops, or in your re-edits, mashups etc for your DJ sets.

It’s one of the “toolkit” features all digital DJs should have and be able to use, and as it’s “set and forget” (no need to launch any special apps when you want to use it – it’s “always there” once you’ve installed it), it’s well worth knowing. So in this free tutorial, I’ll tell you how to do it on both Windows and Mac.

What’s the problem here?

What you’re about to learn gets around the fact that usually when you go into the “input” settings on any recording app on your computer (eg the free editor Audacity, which by the way we totally recommend – it’s another secret DJ tool you really should have in your “toolkit”), you only get “Microphone” as an input option for what to record.

If you were to plug an audio interface into your computer (for instance connected to a synth or drum machine), your laptop would let you record that, no problem – but what you can’t do is record what’s actually playing on your computer. There’s no option for “record computer audio”. It’s infuriating!

Whether it’s a studio acapella on YouTube or a cool line from a movie, use the steps outlined below to capture whatever sound you need.

What if you could plug a cable from the headphones output on your computer to the microphone input on your computer – then you could record the audio, because you’ve taken it out of the computer and plugged it in the other end – right? And yes, indeed you could – this actually works, by the way, assuming your computer has those sockets!

Actually, there’s a way of doing precisely that, but “virtually”. We’re going to create a “virtual cable” that does this for us, using free audio drivers. Specifically, we’re going to add:

  1. A setting that lets you tell you computer to stop playing its audio out of your built-in speakers, and instead “feed” it into a “virtual cable”
  2. A second setting that lets you select that “virtual cable” (instead of the usual microphone setting) as an input in any recording software (again, we’ll be using free software Audacity as an example), so you can record it
Mac users can grab Existential Audio’s Black Hole virtual cable for free (or donation). Windows user? Go for VB Cable.

Whenever you want to use it, you just switch the computer’s sound output to the new virtual input, and your recording software’s sound input to the new virtual output, effectively wiring up a virtual cable that can “capture” the audio.

How to do it

Before you start, you need to:

  1. Download and install a virtual cable audio driver. If you’re using Windows, a good free one is called VB Cable – click this link to get it. If you’re using Mac, instead we recommend you use Black Hole – click this link to get it (it will request you donate money, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to)
  2. Get and install Audacity, again which is free audio editing software for Windows and Mac – click this link to get it
  3. Choose some audio to record! Go search for a great acapella of a song you already own on YouTube, and get it ready in a browser window
Find your system audio panel, and change your output device away from the default (eg speakers) to the new one – in this case, VB-Audio Virtual Cable.

Now, once you’ve installed your driver, go to your computer’s audio settings, and in the audio output settings, set your system’s default audio output to your new driver, instead of its default, which is usually “internal speakers”. That’s the first “end” of the cable connected. (By the way, as you’ve now set your system audio to not be your speakers, you will no longer hear any audio! We’ll fix that shortly.)

Launch Audacity, click the Audio Setup panel, then drill down to Recording Device and set your new input.

Next, open Audacity. In the Audio set-up settings, set the Recording input to your new driver (it will likely be set by default to “microphone”), and while you’re there, check the audio output is set to your usual output (ie speakers).

Scroll up to Playback Device to double check it is set to Speakers, which will let you hear the recording.

In order to hear our audio, there are a couple more settings we need to make in Audacity: Tick “Software playthrough of input” in the Record preferences, and click the little microphone symbol immediately to the left of the VU meter at the top right of Audacity to set “Start monitoring”. You can play any computer audio at this point, and you should both see VU meters flashing in Audacity, and hear it.

Click the Edit tab and choose Preferences, then under Recording (Options) check that “Software playthrough of input” is the only one selected.
Before hitting record, click on the microphone icon and tell Audacity to “Start Monitoring”.

Finally, prepare what you want to record, start recording in Audacity, and hit play on your source material. Because Audacity is an audio editor, once you stop your recording, you can now trim, normalise and output your file to WAV etc, ready to use in your DJ software or DAW. Remember to switch your computer’s audio output back to speakers once you’re done.

Hit the record button and click play on the audio you’d like to capture.
After making any tweaks to the recording, just export the audio and you’re good to go.

A classier solution

VB Cable/Black Hole are free, work well, are “always there” (ie they’ll be available in your audio settings), and it’s a solution that will be fine for most DJs. But there are other options, especially for Mac users.

Our favourite is an app called Loopback from Rogue Amoeba, which is essentially the same as this, but offers lots more features, like combining audio routing, having different settings for different apps, easy turning on and off, easy monitoring of audio, and a great visual interface. So if you find you use this feature a lot, consider the upgrade – it’s worth it.

Can you record DJ software this way?

We have in the past recommended a variation on what I just shared as a solution to recording your DJ software. Although DJ software has record features built in, they’re disabled when you’re mixing streaming tracks, for instance, so that’s one example of where you may want to do this.

Depending on what you’re trying to record, doing so inside your DJ software might be the simplest option.

But nowadays most DJ software includes a preferred way to route audio to laptop for the purposes of streaming your sets, which can also then be used to record that output if you wish. So while you may be able to get VB Cable or Black Hole to work to record your DJ software, you’ll probably find the manufacturer’s own solution to be a better option.

Finally…

I hope you’ve found this tutorial useful. Here at Digital DJ Tips, we are the world’s largest online DJ school, and this is a condensed version of a lesson from our flagship Digital DJ Lab subscription training programme.

In the full Action Plan in Digital DJ Lab, you’ll find detailed step-by-step videos showing you how to implement this on both Windows and Mac, plus useful links, a downloadable worksheet, and a tutor area where you can ask questions and get help – plus hundreds of similar lessons. Give it a go!

Click here to learn more about Digital DJ Lab and discover if it’s right for your DJ learning journey.

Click here for your free DJ Gear and software guide

Digital Creations is an IT company providing solutions for businesses to accomplish their goals currently and in the future.

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