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Today, Apple officially launched iTunes Radio.  This launch coincides with the release of iOS7, Apple’s revamped mobile operating system.  iTunes Radio will be Apple’s official venture into the word of streaming radio alongside established giants such as Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, and Rdio.

What sets iTunes Radio apart from its competitors is its integration with the user’s existing iTunes library and generating genre-based playlists based on their preferences.  Presumably, since many people are already using iTunes, the level of personalization with iTunes Radio should outshine its competitors and should adapt more quickly.

iTunes Radio is free and ad-supported, unless you subscribe to iTunes Match.  In that case, your iTunes Radio will be personalized AND ad-free.

 

DJ News
Ableton 9.1 beta was just released and is the first major update since its release in March.  The public beta has a few major updates, the first of which is dual monitor support.  This new dual monitor option will allow users to fully exploit Live’s two interfaces (session and arrangement view) simultaneously.  You could also use it to open a full mix window or a full monitor MIDI editor.

In addition to the dual monitor support, Live will also have an improved rendering engine.  This includes improved sample-rate conversion as well using multiple-cores to improve rendering speed.

For Push owners, Live 9.1 will have a brand new melodic step sequencer.  This feature will also extend to editing automation with step-by-step automation.

 

New Gear
Traktor announced the release of its updated S4 and S2 controllers last week.  Updates include adding eight color-coded RGB buttons for triggering FX and samples, jog wheels with higher resolution, and dedicated Flux Mode and Remix Decks controls.  The biggest update, however, is that the new S4 and S2 will work with all laptop/desktop Traktor software as well as the Traktor apps for iPhone and iPad.  This hardware extension is poised to take Native Instruments‘ mobile DJ offering to the next level.  With storage capacity and processing power of mobile devices ever-increasing, it seems logical that a line up of robust hands-on professional controllers would follow.  It will be interesting to see how many DJs adopt the mobile gear as their primary setup as more hardware of this nature is released.

Check out the video demo from Mad Zach…

 

Best Mix
The best mix is not really a mix, but a free preview album stream from Prison Garde.  A resident of Montreal and currently playing some shows out west (including Victoria’s Rifflandia), Prison Garde always brings the heat.  Check out the 909 and Moog-laden dance vibes of his latest studio effort, Fortresses.

 

Free Download
Australia’s Wave Racer has hit one out of the park with his remix of DCUP’s “Don’t Be Shy”.  Crisp snares, rolling arpeggios, and pitched vocal work all shine through the glimmering feel-good chord progressions on this track.  If this doesn’t leave a smile on your face, I don’t know what will.

Grab a free download at XLR8R.

 

 

 

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

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.

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.

For many DJs, playing a set is largely a solitary endeavor.  Most of us scour the internet or local record stores isolated in our headphones in search of new music.  This new music is then processed through the many different methods we use to filter, tag, and arrange all incoming tracks.  The few tracks that make it through the selection process are then played in our bedrooms and studios until ready to be played live in a set at a club.

What do you do if you have to deviate from your set list?  What if there is an MC or instrumentalist that wants to play with you?  Do you have any material that you can whip out for such an occasion?

There is a difference between playing solo and playing with others.  When solo your only interaction is with the crowd, but when there are others on stage you have to learn to interact with them also.  Anyone who has played in a band before might already understand this, but with a bit of practice anyone can play with other musicians.

One key concept to understand is that unless the performance has been pre-planned and rehearsed you will be relying on your improvisation skills to get you through the set.  It is hard to improv with a planned set list, so you will need to prepare some other sound material to keep on top.

There are two main elements you can use in your live improv; loop material and playable instruments.  The ways that you can use both of these will depend largely on what kind of setup you are playing on.  Real vinyl users have limited options (mostly scratching and beat juggling), while digital DJs have more options available to them.  Traktor and Serato users can use the loop banks to load up various loops and one shots, while Ableton users have almost limitless possibilities in this area.  One easy way to prepare for this is to simply get a bunch of basic drum loops in a variety of styles.  Simplicity is often the key when playing with others for the first time, so basic drum and percussion loops create a good foundation for others to build on.  Another thing to do is have some drum one-shots prepared (i.e. kick, snare, clap, etc.) that you can load into your sampler for finger drumming.  If you don’t have a good sampler/loop function in your software you can simply load up a drum loop and put cue points at each of the sounds to play as you wish.

Ableton users can also load up instruments to play with a MIDI controller, which gives the user a huge range of sonic possibilities.  Also, if you are proficient at an instrument you can always bring it along with you to gigs in case you have the opportunity to play.

Regardless of the system you are using, two of your best friends when playing with others will be the tap tempo and nudge buttons.  These are absolutely crucial when playing with non-computer music sources because real musicians always have variations in tempo.  One way to avoid having to rely heavily on these functions is to become the ‘drummer’ for the group.  If you are playing all of the main rhythmic content everyone will most likely follow your lead.  If you are playing other parts you will have to listen to everything else that is going on and try to keep in time.

If you are playing with other digital DJs, another option is to MIDI sync your computers.  This works well if you are both using the same software, but you can sometimes sync between different software if you know how.  It can be very beneficial to the live performance if the master tempo and transport controls are synced between the computers.  However, while the sync process is fairly simple it can also be plagued by errors.  If you have someone join you onstage while playing and they want to sync up, I would be cautious.  If at all possible try to sync up offstage and check to make sure that the connection works.

The final link in the live performance chain is the master audio output.  If you are at a venue with a dedicated sound tech then you probably won’t have to worry about everyone’s sound levels.  If not, you’ll have to take care of this yourself.  How this works out will be completely dependent on the individual setup of the performers and the stage, but there are a couple general rules that you can apply.

If it possible try to run everyone through the main stage mixer.  If there is a vocalist, have him plug into the main mic input.  If there is another computer source, try to run it through an open line-level input or the aux input.  This way, you have control over their mixes in relation to your main mix and the overall mix won’t exceed the levels set from the main mixer output.

If you have extra instruments or microphones that can’t run through the main mixer you can try to run them directly into the P.A. (perhaps through a D.I. box) or you can run them through your audio interface.  If you are using Ableton Live and have an audio interface interface with multiple inputs you could create new audio tracks for each instrument and control them through Live.  The goal here is to create even sound levels that let everyone shine through the mix.

The tips above are basic points to help you prepare for playing with others.  The best way to prepare is to find someone else to play with and practice with them in your bedroom or studio.  Apart from all of the prep and technical aspects of playing with others, everyone has their own style and method of playing that suits them.  The only way to find this out is to jam with a variety of musicians and see what feels best.  Have fun with it!

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

Auto-sync; friend to new DJs, source of much disdain to veterans.  Most DJ software has it as a feature, but when is it appropriate to use?  There are a lot of strong opinions regarding the ease with which the inexperienced can get on stage with nothing more than an iTunes playlist and some DJ software and call themselves a DJ.

The first thing to consider when debating whether or not to sync is the software and hardware that you are using.  Obviously, if you are using nothing but vinyl there is no sync option, so you better practice your mixing chops.  For better or worse, this seems to be a dying trend among young DJs (at least in North America) and the subtle skills required to effectively spin an entire night in this fashion might soon become a thing of the past.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Ableton Live DJ.  One of the main features that draws people to use Live is its unique ‘warping’ function.  Warping is essentially mapping all of your audio to a beat grid so that you can play anything in your set at any tempo and it will all stay in sync and in key.  Since syncing is an inherent feature of Live, those who use it must find creative ways to perform live beyond the standard two deck mixing style.

In between these two lie the many different ways that DJs spin with Serato, Traktor and the like.  Whether using virtual vinyl or CDs, many DJs are using this style of digital/analog setup.  So, the question remains; when and where do you use auto-sync?

1.    New DJs
While it may seem like a no brainer to learn how to properly mix before you ever get on a stage, this is not always the case.  For all of you young DJs who might jump into the deep end in front of a crowd a bit too early there are certain times when it is acceptable to use auto-sync to get you out of a bind.  If everything is happening too fast and you need that next track RIGHT NOW, but it’s not quite ready, a little help in this area can go a long way.

2. You’re too drunk
Let’s get something straight, most professional DJs take their job seriously and they act accordingly.  That being said, everyone has a few too many now and then and auto-sync can be a lifeline in these situations.  No one in the crowd can see exactly what you’re doing on stage and most would rather not hear the dreaded ‘shoes-in-a-dryer’ disaster of an out-of-sync mix, so in these cases it might be best to accept a little help.

3. You’re using multiple tracks and/or loops
If you’ve gone beyond the basic two-deck style of mixing and are now incorporating a third or fourth deck into the mix, most would say it is acceptable to use some measure of auto-sync.  If you are only using two pieces of hardware (i.e. turntables) you will most likely be running the extra tracks straight from the software, so they will have to be synced since you have no physical control over them.

4. Other crazy things
If you are using external synths or effects, playing along with live musicians, or improvising original music on stage you might also want to use a sync function.  How you do this will be completely dependent on your particular setup.

A good rule of thumb for using auto-sync is this; only use it if it helps bring your performance to another level.  If you have to use it to cover up sloppy mixes or rely on it as a crutch for basic two-deck mixing, then you might want to go back to the drawing board.

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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Spin Academy is an online DJ and music producing school. At Spin Academy our goal is to give you the necessary skills to unleash your true musical creativity, and carrier potential. We have a huge library of high quality up to date video tutorials featuring some of the most successful DJ’s and music producers in the world.

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