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A lot of the current discussion around DJing focuses on EDM and producer-as-a-DJ styles.  In these scenarios the DJ is quite often solo on stage and is the primary focus (other than dancing of course).   While the equipment, venues, and style of DJs has changed over the years (usually falling into similar groups based on musical genre), one key premise has remained the same; keeping the party going.  From the earliest iterations of the DJ, his or her primary task was to play music as a means of controlling the party.  Perhaps one of the biggest differences between DJs today and their contemporaries from 40 years ago is the divergence of the hip hop DJ and the dance/disco/EDM/etc. DJ.  When I say ‘hip hop DJ’ I’m not referring to a club DJ that plays mostly hip hop and rap, I’m referring to a DJ that plays with live MCs.

So you’ve been invited to DJ at a hip hop show, but you haven’t done it before, what do you do?

There are a couple different scenarios that you might encounter:
-          You know the MCs and have rehearsed ahead of time with samples and full tracks
-          You have heard the MCs and they have given you their tracks ahead of time to listen to
-          You meet the MCs at the show and they give you complete tracks and the play order
-          You meet the MCs at the show and they give you a pre-made single track mix of their set

For our purposes here, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail regarding rehearsing with DJs.  At this point you are performing as a live group akin to a ‘band’ in many ways.  We are going to talk about what you can and should do if you get a gig as a DJ for a live hip hop show.  One of the most important things to remember as a DJ in these scenarios is that most MCs need the music to be played almost exactly as they rehearsed it.  Unless you are dealing with veteran performers or highly skilled freestylers, any deviation from the original track will completely throw off the MC.

So how do you prepare for the set?  Quite often you will get invited to play a show with one MC or group and will end up playing for at least one other MC on the bill.  They might have a USB stick with their instrumentals that they will give you before the show.  You should always transfer the files onto your hard-drive and sort them the same way you would any other track that you would play in a DJ set.  If you use Serato or Traktor it is best to create a new folder for the show and each MC that you are spinning for.  If you are using Ableton you should import the songs into the Live set you have built for that show.  Unless you have sufficient time to warp the tracks properly and prepare for the tempo changes in their set, it is usually best to leave the tracks unwarped.  If they have provided you with a single-track mix of their set you should try to put in cuepoints (in Serato/Traktor) where the songs change or create duplicates of the track and change the start position for each new song (in Ableton).

Once you have the tracks ready to go and you are on stage you will basically just hitting the play button.   The MCs will often control the pace of the set and they’ll give you the cue to start playing and will often want to stop in between tracks for a little stage banter.  Be prepared to stop the tracks and/or do a ‘rewind’ for the MC if they call it out on stage.  Remember, unless you’ve discussed it with the MC before hand, don’t modify the tracks in any way.  Beat repeats, delays, cross mixes, etc. will all throw off their flow if they’re not expecting it.  If you’re feeling adventurous and think the MC will be OK with it you might be able to pull of some EQ cuts, filter sweeps, or something similar  at the end of verses, but be cautious.  There is one exception to the ‘don’t change the songs’ rule; scratching over top.  If you have a free turntable and some source material to scratch with, most MCs like it if there is a bit of (tasteful) scratching over their tracks.  However, only attempt if you are a proficient enough to pull it off!

If it is a smaller show, you might also be called on to play music between the MC sets.  This is where you can take over as the performer.  It’s always a good idea to figure out the style of the show before hand and prepare a small playlist or set.  Just be aware that you’ll have to transition in and out from your performance to becoming background support from the MCs.

Overall, DJing for hip hop shows is a fairly easy gig from a technical standpoint, but you’ll often have to deal with disorganization and difficult personalities.  If you can easily navigate the backstage chaos of one of these shows you should be fine out on stage.  If you are easy to get along with and can pull of the sets without incident you will often get invited back by the MCs for more of their shows.

If you want to learn more about DJing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin-Academy.

So you scored a gig at the awesome club in town you’ve always wanted to play, what next ?

Go check out the crowd
This is paramount. Just because it’s a top 40 club, or just because it’s a hip hop club doesn’t mean you can walk in and just play any set for the respective genre and blow the club away.

You will of course play for the crowd when you’re there, but don’t miss out on a head start. Many clubs have frequenting customers who are coming week in and week out, these peoples taste in music won’t change from one week to another.

Go a week or two in advance and check out the club. Get a feel for what the crowd is vibing to in advance, what tracks are people reacting too and what tracks is the DJ playing that are missing their mark.

As a personal example, two nightclubs in town are both respectively top 40 clubs, one of them I can always get away with playing a good amount of house and electro at with top 40 and it really gets people going. The other it kills the vibe and they always react much better to hip hop. I always have to remember to use these different starting points when playing at each club.

Scout the gear
Lots of clubs will provide different degrees of gear. Make sure to talk to a sound guy or promoter or some one so you know what’s available to use, what the DJ before or after you plans on using, so you’re not getting surprised right as you’re setting up. I’ve gotten calls from promoter friends of mine half an hour before a show because it turns out the club doesn’t have a Serato box like they expected.

Prepare for your time slot
This is a two part thing. One is the most obvious that is talked about a lot which is know how to build the room. Don’t go blasting anthems and high energy music at ten o’clock, make sure you know the genre and how to build the mood and energy in that room.

The second part is for when you go to check out that night a week in advance don’t just watch how the crowd reacts, pay attention when the room fills up, how many people come at what time and in what mood they are coming to the club in, so you know what to expect and what you might be able to get away with.

With all that in mind
Don’t forget to just have a fun time no matter what, people will vibe off your positive energy, make sure you have a good time !

If you want to learn more about DJ’ing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin Academy.

Music News
Google finally announced it’s entry into the world of subscription music.  Borrowing from both Spotify and Pandora, you’ll get access for $9.99 per month.  Nothing new here folks, but a natural extension of Google’s already extensive stranglehold on the internet.

DJ Mix
Kaytranada is a young artist from Montreal who has been lighting it up over the past 6 months.  He’s done remixes of Janet Jackson, TLC, and Danny Brown and is definitely on my watch list.  Check out this mix that he did for Scion, you won’t be disappointed…

Music Business
Do you like Infographics?  Do you like music?  Then this is the picture for you.  The folks over at The Music Bed have created this slick looking chart to give a snapshot of how we consume music.

Free Mixtape
Hailing from Baltimore, MD, Los is a force to be reckoned with.  His recent signing with Bad Boy Records has shone the spotlight in his direction and his latest mixtape Becoming King shows us why.  Featuring guest spots from Wiz Khalifa, Diddy, and Ludacris, this is a must have for anyone listening to hip hop.

Song Stream
British Duo Mount Kimbie recently announced that their forthcoming album Cold Spring Fault Less would include two songs from 18 year old British singer King Krule.  Well, they have given us the first taste of the album with the track “You Took Your Time”.  The laid back beats combined with King Krule’s smooth vocals make this track a must-listen.

Red Bull Music Academy Lecture
The RBMA puts on some great shows and hosts some great lectures.  Case-in-point, the latest in their lecture series featuring Todd Edwards.  If you have an 90 minutes to kill listening to the him talk about his influences, the differences between house and garage, as well as several other topics, give this a spin.

Video Pick
Remember Cassie?  She had an album in 2006, did some collaborations with Lil Wayne, Diddy, and Akon, but didn’t do much else.  Well, last month she released a new mixtape, RockaByeBaby and it’s pretty spectacular.  Check out the first video from her latest release, “Paradise feat. Wiz Khalifa”.

If you want to learn more about DJing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin-Academy.

1. Kesha – Crazy Kids (DJ Tuck Fiyacracka Bootleg)

2. DJ Snake vs Junior Senior – Move Your Feet (Parisian Vision)

3. Knife Party – LRAD

4. Jose Nunez & Baggi Begovic – Owner Of A Lonely Heart (Original Mix)

5. A-Trak feat. Galantis – Jumbo (The Partysquad Remix)

6. The Hood Internet – Ignition (1901 Remix) (R.Kelly x Phoenix)

7. DJ Snake x Alesia – Bird Machine

8. Hucci x GameFace – The Leaves are Brown

9. Zedd – Clarity (Felix Cartal Remix)

10. Porter Robinson vs Krewella – Alive Language (Stafford Brothers Bootleg)

If you want to learn more about DJ’ing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School Spin Academy.

As you are probably well aware, DJing with Ableton Live is a bit different than DJing with Serato or Traktor.  There is a little bit more pre-production that goes into creating a Live set than with ‘deck’ style DJing.  With so many options available, where do you start?

We’re going to talk about one way that you can set up your Live project to create an easy to use hip hop DJ set.  There are many other ways that you can do this, but take this as a foundation to build upon and modify to suit your personal style.

Audio and MIDI Tracks
We start out with two audio and one MIDI tracks.  These audio tracks will be for the full songs and the MIDI track will be for a drum kit.  You can arrange these in whatever order you like, but I personally prefer to set it up and rename as; “Track A”, “Drums” “Track B”.

Clip Setup
A lot of hip hop (at least what has been in my current rotation) does not have the ebb and flow of large builds and breakdowns as a lot of EDM does.  This will affect where you can logically start playing clips and, consequently, will affect your mixing style.  The first thing you have to when importing your songs is warp them.  By default, I have auto warping set to the ‘Complex’ mode, but I have found that vocal hip hop sounds a lot better when using the ‘Tones’ or ‘Texture’ warp modes.  Higher quality audio files will go a long way when playing with warp settings, so try to use 320 kbps or higher and play with the settings until they sound right.

Once the clips are warped properly I like to make three versions of each song.  These versions will all be in the same track and will be staggered with the proceeding clips in the next track.  In the first clip I like to find the spot in the song where the first verse (or at least my favorite verse) begins.  Depending on the song I will usually let it play our for at least one verse and the chorus, so I try to pick a start spot that I can jump to immediately.  In the next clip I like to find an drum break and set a four or eight bar loop.   Drum loops like this can usually be found in intro and/or outro sections of the song.  I put this clip second because I don’t always want to start each new song with its default intro.  Personally, I like to mix out of tracks with these drum breaks because you can control the length and flow of your transitions.  In the third clip I will usually find a snare, clap, etc. hit from the previous drum loop and set it as a one-shot.  You can do this by disabling the loop bracket and moving the end marker to the end of the sound in question.

Why do this?  Well, I like using the drum loops to control transitions, but they can sometimes get stale very fast.  By having the snare hit from the loop in a separate clip you can play these two clips as you would play the kick and snare in a drum kit.  Voila, instant remix.

Occasionally, instead of a drum loop I will use an instrumental loop.  It is good to have a few of these available for the times when you just need to kill the beat and have a moment with the melody.  Some songs just have an instrumental break that is too good to pass up, while sometimes others just have drum breaks that don’t fit with what you’re doing.  It’s all a matter of personal taste.

Drum Kit
I always like to have a playable drum kit in my DJ sets.  There’s something about playing an instrument (if only a MIDI instrument) that makes it feel like I’m REALLY performing.  There are hundreds of drum kits that come packaged with Ableton Live, which gives you the ability to pick a kit that will blend with the sound of your set.  I usually end up using a good ol’ 808 style kit to keep things booming, but you should pick something that suits your taste.  You can use this kit in intros, breaks, or just to give a song a little more thump.

Since you are creating an entire MIDI track for this drum kit you can create a bunch of MIDI clips to go along.  I like to have a series of ‘elements’ MIDI clips in this track to boost the beats of the currently playing song.  What are these ‘elements’, you ask?  Basically, they are MIDI clips that only have one or two sounds in four or eight bar loops that can be played with a fully mixed song.  For example, a clip with claps on the ‘2’ and ‘4’ or a stream of eighth-note hi-hats.  These can be used to add energy, even out mix production between tracks, or to give a remix vibe to your songs.


To give a ‘Trap’ feel to any track you can create a series of clips with streams of hi-hats at different rhythmic values (i.e. from quarter notes to thirty-second notes).  You can trigger these clips at different intervals while a song is playing to change the vibe

Between the drum loops, one-shots, verse starts, and drum kit you should be able to come up with an interesting way to play your hip hop set.  However, this is only one way to set up and play so you should experiment with various setups and see what works best for you and your style of music.

If you want to learn more about DJing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin-Academy.

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