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5 Things You Need to See and Hear This Week

Posted By — July 25, 2013

Music News

Grooveshark has been in a entangled in legal battles over their service for the past few years.  Google has now apparently taken a stance on the issue by blacklisting the streaming service from their search engine.  Read more here

DJ News

The DJ Mag Top 100 DJs voting has now opened, but not everyone is jumping on board.  With news of certain DJs spending big cash to campaign for votes as well as other rumors of general corruption throughout the competition, is the list an accurate representation of the worlds best DJs?

Gareth Emery has already spoken out against the awards, basically telling everyone not to vote for him.  Will other DJs follow suit in a boycott?

Funny or Die has made a great video that shares this viewpoint…

 

New Gear

Serato unveiled their new iPad app, Serato Remote.  For $19.99 in the iTunes app store it could be worth a look if you are a Serato user.  They are a bit behind the curve, as Traktor has already released it’s iPad app as well as it’s FREE iPhone app, but it’s good to see them join the party.  The big difference between them is Serato Remote looks like it is meant to be integrated into your DJ rig, while the Traktor app can function as a standalone all-in-one DJ rig.  What do you think?

Go here

Top Mix

Fact Magazine brings a great summer mix from Gerd that starts out a little bit disco and morphs into something bordering on tech-house.  Definitely worth a listen while out in the sun.

Go here

Top Download

Boeboe is a new producer coming out of Amsterdam that just dropped his El Dorado EP.  XLR8R has a stream and download of the track “Amazon Basin”, which is a great listen for hazy summer days.  Check it out below and pick up the EP at his Bandcamp page.

Go here

 

 

 

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

5 Essential Tips for Preparing Your DJ Set

Posted By — July 10, 2013

1. Genre and BPM Range
The type of show you are playing will provide the framework of your genre and BPM choices for the night. Some shows leave you to decide on your own what to play, some might need a wide variety of genres and BPMs (i.e. Top 40 clubs), while others might have a very specific genre and style that you need to play (i.e. opening for a well-known producer). You should do a little research into the club you are playing and the other DJs you are playing with to get a general idea of what kind of music will go over best with the crowd.

2. Key Analysis
There are a few different software options for key analyzing your songs. One of the favorites among DJs is a program called Mixed in Key. Programs like this analyze the audio waveform of each track and determine what key they are in as well as their tempo. Results can be displayed in their traditional key form (i.e. A Major) or in a custom system called the ‘Camelot System’ that shows the key as a number and letter combination that is easy for DJs to use (i.e. 1a, 5b, etc.). Mixed in Key gives you the option to write this new info into the metadata of the digital file so that music programs like iTunes, Traktor, Serato, etc. can display it. This information can be very useful when creating playlists and also when you need to quickly throw on a track in a mix without being able to fully preview because you know that it will sonically fit with the rest.

3. Playlist Organization
In a previous article, I discussed creating “smart playlists” in iTunes and how you can integrate them into your DJ workflow. A huge part of learning to how DJ is this type of song preparation that takes place well before you get to the club. You can’t (and some would argue shouldn’t) always play out a set as a rigid playlist. Vibes on the dancefloor can change quickly and you need to be able to adapt to these changes equally as fast. Having all of your music categorized into sub folders of genre, BPM, ratings, color, etc. will help you tremendously in these situations.  If you think that you suddenly need to switch from a dubstep song in A minor to a trap song that will fit in key, a little playlist organization can make the search a lot easier.

4. Improvised and Transition Material
One topic that sometimes gets passed over is the issue of having song material that you can use to improvise with and/or transition out of an area that isn’t working. This can take many different forms depending on your personal style. Here are a couple of examples;
- A big melodic wash out without any drums or percussion to give the crowd a break.
- Playable drum kits, synths, or other hardware to break down the flow and give the crowd something tailor-made from your brain.
- A capellas (either from songs or spoken word) to transition between genres and/or BPM ranges.

5. Practice
This cannot be stressed enough; PRACTICE. Practice as much as possible. All of this preparation might not seem like it’s needed on a night where you’re running smooth and everyone is dancing, but nights like these are not common occurrences. Very rarely will you be able to play through a set exactly as you laid it in your iTunes playlist or in the mixtape that you made. Maybe the DJ before you played 3 songs that you were going to play. Maybe there was a fight on the dancefloor and the vibe of the room changed. There will always be unexpected twists and turns, and you have to be ready to deal with them. The best way to prepare for unexpected events is to have a complete handle on all of your equipment and songs so that you can react as quickly as possible.

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

Introduction to Waveforms for DJs – Part 2

Posted By — June 28, 2013

In a previous article I explained some of the waveform basics that every DJ should know. In this article, I’m going to go a bit more in-depth with how you can integrate your knowledge of waveforms into your mixing style.

One thing that might become immediately apparent after spending some time with waveforms is that they are not all created equally. The phenomenon know as the ‘loudness wars’ has resulted in a lot of heavy compression and limiting being used in the mastering phase of track production. This process reduces the dynamic range of the song, resulting in a track that on the surface appears to have more ‘power’ and will stay at a consistent volume throughout.

In the waveform terms we previously discussed, this process results in less variation in the height of the crests and troughs. In addition, the peaks of these crests and troughs will be close to their maximum height (without distorting). You can see examples of a heavily compressed/limited track as well as an ‘average’ track below. Clearly, there are some differences…

Note that when you hear a heavily compressed/limited track it might appear to have more power simply because the ‘loud’ parts are more consistent throughout the track. In reality, this reduction of dynamics actually makes the track less powerful because there is less separation of the musical elements, resulting in a dynamic ‘blurring’ of sorts. This ‘blurring’ works well for radio, streaming, and listening on earbuds, but when played on a properly set up club system it will seem less ‘punchy’.

So how can you use this information when you’re mixing?

When you are loading a new track into one of your decks (Serato, Traktor) or getting ready to trigger a new clip (Live) you will immediately be able to visually compare it’s waveform with the waveform of the playing track. If there are obvious differences in the waveform you should be able to make some preliminary adjustments to your settings (i.e. the volume). This could apply to either a full section of a track that has been mastered differently than your playing track, but also for various elemental sections of a track. For example, if you are going to mix into a verse or chorus of a track that has been heavily compressed/limited you might want to turn down the initial volume to make a smoother transition because it will appear to be very loud. Conversely, if you want to mix into a less busy hi-hat only section you might have to turn up the initial volume for it to cut through the mix.

Normally, you would be doing this in your headphones and by looking at the VU meter on your mixer, but you can use the visual technique to help you when you need it. Also, instead of using the volume faders to mix in/out, you could use your basic EQ controls. In the example of a highly compressed track, you could kill the lows, mids, or highs to make some room for the mix. Killing the low end is usually a good way to cut through because when you have two sings playing the full spectrum, the result can often be quite muddy.

One thing that I find to be helpful is to set your track volume faders at about -6 dB. Depending on the hardware setup, the effects and plugins you are using, and the PA system, you might have several different gain stages that will affect the overall output. If you are running a heavily compressed/limited song through a mixer track set at 0 db, then have various effects on it, which then gets sent to a PA system with limiter safeguards, the resulting sound will probably sound very squashed. By running your mixer tracks at a lower volume you allow room for various gain stages to work on the song without it constantly hitting the limiter ceiling. This is especially true for Ableton Live users that create effects racks for all of their tracks.

One part of the debate between vinyl and digital is the issue of dynamic range. Songs on vinyl records often sound cleaner and more ‘punchy’ because they have not been heavily compressed/limited in the mastering phase. In the two images above, you could think of the ‘average’ track as an average waveform that a vinyl record would produce and compare it to the same track heavily mastered as a digital release.

The issue of digital file size and the audio quality also comes into play as part of this discussion. Lower quality audio files have less audio information in them, so when they are heavily compressed/limited the results sound significantly worse than a more dynamic song of the same quality. You should always use the highest quality audio files available. 320 kbps + or bust!

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

Introduction to Waveforms for DJs

Posted By — June 12, 2013

Art and science collide! If you use any digital DJ software or DAW you have probably worked with waveforms. But what are they exactly?

We’ll start at the beginning…

Sound is a sequence of waves of pressure that travel through a compressible medium (like air and water). These pressure waves can be created from almost anything, from the vibrations of human vocal chords to the in-and-out movement of a speaker cone. There are a few different ways that sound can be visually represented, but one of the most common is the linear waveform.

As we can see from the picture above, there are several distinct parts of a waveform, but two of the most important for DJs are the amplitude and wavelength. The amplitude is basically the height of the waveform and represents how loud the sound is. The wavelength is the distance between two crests (or troughs) of the wave and represents the pitch of the sound. Longer wavelengths represent low frequencies and short wavelengths represent high frequencies.

The photo above is a representation of one single basic sinusoidal wave, but almost all sounds we hear are made up of many different waves. A complete song can be thought of as an intricate mosaic of waves, covering most of the audible spectrum (about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz).

If you want to learn more details about the science of sound waves, you can check out the Wikipedia article on sound here.

The picture above is a waveform of a complete song. While you won’t be able to separate out the individual waveforms from this picture, you can still see a lot of information (if you know what to look for).

The spectrum in this section above is fairly narrow without any large transients (a high amplitude, short duration sound at the beginning of waveform events). This low-amplitude, consistent waveform is a representation of a medium-loud harmonic sound.

This next spectrum still has the narrow waveform in the middle, but is dotted with larger transients. These large amplitude sections are louder than the middle section and represent drum kick and snare sounds. Since low frequencies have longer wavelengths, you can actually see which of these hits are the kicks and which are the snares (given that kicks have lower pitch than snares). In the kick waveforms you can actually see most of the crests and troughs (like the first in the sequence), while wavelength of the snare waveforms is much smaller so you cannot differentiate between individual crests and troughs (like in the third hit of the sequence). If you were to zoom in to the waveform more you would be able to see more detail, but as a DJ you probably won’t be looking at waveforms at much more of smaller scale than this.

In this picture, you can see that the kick and snare hits are still present, but the space in between them has filled out more. This means that there is more sonic content, which (in our context) means that there is a drum line and harmonic line occurring simultaneously (like a verse or chorus).

The information above is really just a primer on some of the basics that you will need to know as a DJ. The more you work with waveforms and the more you read about them, the better you will understand them. Every piece of digital DJ software handles and displays waveforms in a different way, but the basics will remain the same. In Traktor, the display is fairly basic, but you do have some options to customize what yo see. The Serato waveform display is slightly more complex, separating the low, mid, and high frequencies into red, green, and blue colors. Some people find this visual separation of the frequency spectrum very useful, while others find it distracting (it’s really a matter of personal preference). In Ableton Live (which I used for the examples above), you have quite a bit of waveform detail and an in-depth adaptable grid system. You may have noticed the green squares above the waveform at certain points; these are warp markers. Live analyzes each waveform and places these ‘pins‘ in the waveform at certain points (like the downbeats) so that you can change the tempo and pitch independently.

Regardless of how you DJ, you should try to learn as much about waveforms and how to interact with them in your software of choice. You shouldn’t rely on the visuals in your software to mix, but it can be a great aid when you’re in a bind or trying something new.

 

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

Playing a hip hop show as a DJ

Posted By — May 30, 2013

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.

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