With the major advances that have come in music software and DJ gadgets over the last few years, laptops, iPads, and even iPhones have come to play a huge role in modern electronic music production. That has meant that a lot of DJs are now ditching their turntables and CDJs in favour of simple digital setups based around a laptop or tablet. But while these setups are usually simpler and less expensive, they also require DJs to make sacrifices in the amount of tactile control they have over their performances – clicking on a virtual fader and dragging it with a mouse is a completely different experience than moving an actual fader with your fingers.
This year, however, we’re starting to see new DJ gadgets that put control back in the hands of digital DJs, and allow for fully software-based setups that recreate the feel of using real hardware. So if you’re interested in using your DJ software in a way that’s a little more “outside the box,” check out these 3 cool new DJ gadgets for 2015.
Have you ever wished you could just jam a physical knob into your iPad screen and use it to control your iPad DJ app of choice? Well now with Tuna Knobs, you can literally do just that.
The clever folks at Tweetonig, a small design company in the Netherlands, have come up with a set of knobs with suction cups on the bottom that stick to any touchscreen device and act as a radial stylus. This allows you to control parameters in apps like TouchOSC, iDJ2GO, and others by turning actual knobs rather than fiddling with imprecise touch-based controls on the screen itself.
If you want to be a turntablist, you need a set of turntables, right? Not so, says DJIT, makers of the Mixfader wireless crossfader. This handy travel-sized DJ gadget connects to any tablet or smartphone via Bluetooth, and controls the virtual crossfader section of any DJ app. So if you want to take your turntable skills on the road but don’t have much space in your luggage, this tool is for you.
Announced at NAMM 2014, the DJ-Tech CTRL takes the concept of the previous two DJ gadgets to a new level. Rather than interfacing with a mobile device, the CTRL is set up to control DVS software like Serato on your laptop. The CTRL is a portable surface with several knobs and buttons that control different parameters of your DVS software such as filters, loops, FX, and more. Once again, the idea is to allow you to take your hands off the laptop and control your software in a more tactile, intuitive, and ideally, musical way.
So what do you think: Do these DJ gadgets help level the playing field so more people can get into the DJing game, or do they just ruin it for the people who are doing things the real way?
Whatever your preference, we’ve got lessons here at Spin Academy to help you perfect your craft. If you’re an old-school turntablist, check out our lessons on scratching from Mat the Alien, or if you’re a new-school tech junkie, our Ableton Live tutorials will give you plenty to think about.
How often have your friends or family members told you to give up on your DJing dreams because you’ll never be able to DJ full time? How often has someone told you to “get a real job” or “start living in the real world?” How would you like to prove all those people wrong?
Every day, there are new success stories of DJs who have made the leap from weekend warrior to full time DJ. But for every success story there are a thousand failures. So do you have what it takes to DJ full time?
How to Know When You’re Ready to Quit Your Day Job
Everyone has to pay their bills, and there’s no shame in working a day job while you DJ on the side. But how do you know when the time is right to shake off the shackles of your Joe job and commit to pursuing your dream every day?
A general rule for freelancers who want to break out on their own is to leave a 6-month “grace period” where they can still pay their bills even if they don’t get any gigs. This is a good rule to apply to DJing as well. Most people will also recommend that you make sure you’re gigging at least 4-7 times a week on a regular basis before you quit your day job. This is also good advice, but what happens if those gigs suddenly dry up (and there’s a good chance they will)? That’s why you’ll want to have some savings to fall back on – so you can navigate those dry spells and focus on building your DJ career without having to worry about getting evicted and living on the street in a cardboard box.
The Boring Part of Learning to DJ Full Time
DJing full time is a total dream job, right? I mean what’s better than playing music every day?
The bad news is, if you think DJing is all about playing music, then you don’t have much chance of making it as a professional DJ. Of course you need to master the music side of things in order to make DJing your real job, but the essence of making it your real job also means that you’ll have to do a lot of other things that you may not enjoy as much as spinning your favourite records.
If you’ve never thought of yourself as an entrepreneur, than maybe trying to DJ full time isn’t for you. Unless you happen to be the one in a million artists who gets signed to a major label deal, you’ll have to learn to run your DJ career like a business. In today’s music industry, the artist has to fill the role of producer, manager, promoter, agent, marketing director, and a million other jobs that help turn your music into a full time career.
Thinking Outside the Box
In addition to learning other roles in the music industry, you’ll also have to come up with other ways to diversify yourself if you want to build a sustainable career. Armin van Buuren, for example, runs several radio shows and podcasts in addition to DJing. Many other DJs earn money by writing for music blogs, managing other artists, or even partnering with corporations and using their music to promote products.
Are you willing to consider other ways of making money besides DJing in order to build your career? If not, then maybe you’re not ready to DJ full time.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to put in the work and stretch yourself every single day, then it is possible to turn a few regular DJ gigs into a full time career. Just don’t expect it to look like a dream job right away.
If a full time career is what you’re after, a great way to ensure success is to make sure you know your stuff. At Spin Academy, our lessons cover everything from how to get started to celebrity interviews on how to make it in the industry.
Along the road in your journey to become a DJ, you’re bound to run into people who say you’re not a “real” DJ, or that DJ’s aren’t “real” musicians. This will happen regardless of what style of DJ you are and what type of equipment you use. At the same time, you may be able to think of lots of people who call themselves DJs, but in your opinion, aren’t really DJing. So what sets apart the artists from the poseurs? What does it really take to become a DJ worthy of the title “real DJ.”
Are You Performing?
The biggest debate over “real” DJing is usually the issue of performance. We’ve all seen the photos of celebrities pretending to DJ and then felt better about ourselves because we actually know how to use the tools they’re pretending to use. But is understanding the tools really all it takes to become a DJ who puts on good performances?
Deadmau5, who is known for his wild live shows, has called out many of his peers in recent years for “button-pushing” on stage, saying that relying on pre-recorded tracks is ruining their live performances. On the other hand, some of the most famous DJs in the world use Ableton and other software in their live sets, and the people who are going to their sold-out shows don’t seem to be complaining.
So is it the software vs. hardware issue that separates the real DJs from the poseurs? Or is it really just the issue of performance that audiences care about? There are many ways to put on an engaging show using a laptop and two speakers, just as there are many ways to put on a bad show with two turntables and a bunch of outboard gear.
(Want some tips on performing? We’ve got lessons on setting up for and playing live gigs right here at Spin Academy.)
Are You Taking Risks?
Last year, A-Trak ignited a debate over DJing styles when he posted on his Instagram about what it means to be a real DJ. But A-Trak wasn’t just calling out “button-pushers.” In fact, he had no issue with what type of gear people were using:
“I remember seeing Mehdi, Boys Noize, Feadz playing on CDJs and thinking: these guys are turntablists too. Surkin was the first guy I saw DJ on Ableton in a way that felt like true DJing too. Now there’s a whole new cast in electronic music, and it’s still exciting to me.” – A-Trak
The real difference between real DJs and fake DJs, according to A-Trak, is not what king of gear they use, but whether or not they’re risk takers.
“When you come to my show you know you’ll see me cut. And take risks. DJing is about taking risks. I represent #RealDJing #YouKnowTheDifference” – A-Trak
So think about the way you DJ. Are you taking risks, or are you just going through the motions?
Are You Providing Something Different?
What’s the role of a DJ in today’s digital world? Is it to make a great playlist? No – there are plenty of web radio stations and bloggers who can take care of that for you. Is it to provide music for live events? No – an iPod could do the same job. So what is it that you do as a DJ that’s really different? What do you do that creates value?
Putting on a performance creates value. Taking risks creates value. Approaching a song in a new way creates value. Making a great remix or mashup creates value.
So in your journey to become a DJ, think about what you do that creates value and makes you different – that’s what makes you a “real” DJ. In the end, what matters is not the type of gear you use or the style of music you play or even whether or not other people think you’re a “real” DJ; what matters is if you’re approaching DJing as an art form and trying to take people to another place by playing great music for them for a few hours.