Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dj Software Sounding Harsh? Warm up your Mix!


Getting the best sound you can when playing live could require a little more work than a tweak here and there on your EQ knobs. If you use music from a variety of time periods, genres, and sources, you may experience noticeable disparities in tonality, loudness, and general quality. Luckily, there’s something you can do.
Final stage compression and EQ can totally transform the sound you get from your system, and automatically level out different sounding tracks – and the best news is, you can dip into the basics right now.

THE MISSING LINK

You may be lucky; if you use Ableton Live, Torq, or another piece of software that can host VST/AU plugins, this step isn’t necessary. If you’re using Traktor or another piece of kit that doesn’t, though, then you’ll need to read the rest of this section.
JACK is a simple tool that allows you to send audio between different software, and it’s available for free for Windows, Mac, and Linux. With Jack, we can send the outputs from our DJing software to another software with almost zero latency. There are alternatives of course, but Jack is cross platform and simple to use. This extra link in the chain allows us to colour and shape the sound before it reaches the speakers, and could turn your setup from so-so to sweet.
Setting Jack up is simple – after installing, run JackPilot and confirm your audio device and settings (‘send’ from your host software to your plugin software, and ‘receive’ the other way round) . Once you’ve done that, you’ll notice that Jack will appear in your softwares’ input and output menus. Select it in your DJ software (Traktor pictured) and configure it as normal.

When we get to the input stage in a minute, all you’ll need to do is select the Jack output as the input and voila – a Jack shaped tunnel through your system.

You’re now ready for the next step.

MASTERFUL POTENTIAL

Time to look at what we can actually do with our sound! Here are some basic terms you’ll need to know:
  • Compression is a process in which peaks in loudness are reduced to create a more even volume in an audio signal. Compressors work by reducing any audio that breaks the defined threshold by a ratio of itself. The master gain is then increased, and because the mean volume can now be higher, as the peaks are no longer as pronounced, the signal can be louder and more uniform.
  • Limiting is the logical conclusion to compression, whereby the ratio that the peaks are reduced by is infinite and so essentially the audio is squashed below a maximum loudness. This ensures that no audio can ever reach above a certain level and so is great for matching volume throughout a set, especially if the limiter has an ‘auto gain’ function that ensures the dB level is always pushing against that maximum line.
  • Graphic EQ is probably familiar to anyone who bought a stereo in the 90s (or has ventured into their iPod’s EQ setting, at least). A number of frequency bands at predefined points are available for tweaking and can be used to stamp character onto audio and adjust for how a room affects sound.
  • Parametric EQ is a form of EQ where the bands can be freely set to any frequency, and their bandwidth can be played with to be as wide or narrow as you choose. These are really good for sorting out a room’s acoustics.
  • Amp/Tape/VCA/etc Emulation is a huge buzzword in the digital audio world, because for all the advantages that digital audio brings the thing that’s missed the most is the character that analogue equipment can bring to audio. The above processes can be done absolutely perfectly in digital, but with analogue processing there’s always some kind of colouration. Especially when compressing a signal, saturation occurs. This is when pleasant harmonics are created as the signal overloads and folds back into itself, whereas digital overloading is just a mess.

It takes practice to get good results from mastering tools, but the key is to be subtle. The more extreme your compressor threshold, the more the signal will be affected even as overall volume takes a dip – and the greater the ratio the more squashed things will sound.
Which way round you route your EQ and compressor is up to you and your experimentation. If you EQ first, it will affect how the compressor works and with practice you can use this to your advantage – pushing up the bass in a signal will have the compressor kick in on that bass and can give that ‘pumping’ sound. EQ after compression allows you to be a little more precise and ‘even’ sounding, but you will still have to be mindful of peaks getting too pronounced.
Of course, there are a huge number of ways you can manipulate your sound – as you’ll no doubt discover as you start to dip your toe in the world of audio plugins – but I’d recommend you keep things simple and stick to compression and EQ for this task, with a little warming if that’s the sound you’re after.

STAND ALONE, OR UNDER MY WING?

When it comes to the software required for the actual mastering process, there are two main options: a plugin host or standalone software. If you’ve never run across plugins before, they are a pretty simple concept to grasp; software is often created with a mind to expansion by third party developers, who can harness a bridge that allows them to tap into the main software and augment its capabilities with their own software that – you guessed it – plugs in to the host. Computer music has a long history of plugins, and the two biggest types of plugins are VST (Virtual Studio Technology) and AU (Audio Unit), popular on PC and Mac respectively. Because a plugin can’t run standalone, you will need a host to use one; because a full DAW like Ableton Live, Cubase, or Logic is overkill for our purpose, a specialised plugin host that just hosts plugins is more suited – and as an added bonus we found a free one for Windows, VST Host, and a reasonably priced one with a free demo for Mac, Rax. If you do decide to go for the more fully fledged system, Reaper is always available at a very reasonable price.
There are so many plugins we couldn’t possibly make a definitive list, but a couple I like are PSP Vintage Warmer, which sounds excellent and really warms up and smooths out audio, as well as the VC76 from Native Instruments’ Vintage Compressors collection. EQ wise, the Fabfilter Pro-Q has absolutely excellent zero latency sound.

Most paid for software have demos you can try, but we scoped out some free options for you too – give Blue Cat Triple EQ, a ‘semi parametric’ EQ tool, Voxengo’s GEQ, a graphic EQ that adds colouration to your sound, and Molot, a low latency compressor a look (although your Russian might need brushing up, it does sound good). If you’re prepared to do a little searching of your own, KVR Audio has one of the biggest databases of standalone software and plugins on the net – if you really want to sound individual, it’s worth putting in the ground work (of course, if you’re the caring sharing type, why not let us know your finds in the comments?).
Standalone software is out there, and we’d suggest you take a look at IK Multimedia’s T-Racks and NI Guitar Rig. Each allow you to mix and match various different models of effects processors within their systems (like the aforementioned Vintage Compressors for Guitar Rig), and they both have low latency modes for direct playing as well as add ons and light versions.

LIMITATIONS

Perhaps the biggest limitation here is that all this relies on you mixing in the box. If you do your mixing in an external mixer then you won’t be able to apply these stages to your final output without running a cable back into your audio interface and then outputting from your audio interface to speakers… and that’s probably going to stretch the acceptable boundaries of latency. You’ll still be able to do it per channel in order to level things out before they get to the mixer though. If your software is like Itch or certain Traktor LE versions that lock the software to the audio interface, unfortunately you’re out of luck for this guide and will have to look into dedicated hardware if you want to give this a try.
Another limitation is with the software itself. A lot of DJ software is closed box because a large amount of R&D goes into creating the lowest possible latency and CPU saving processes to ensure a great user experience, and you might find that the better a plugin sounds, the more latency it introduces into the signal and the more CPU it eats up. This is just an unfortunate reality, and it’ll take some trial and error to find the perfect setup.
Finally, by the very nature of what you’re doing you may lose a little control over the mixer’s EQ, volume, and effects as the compressor works against them and keeps trying to make things smooth. Worse still if you really set things up wrong the sound will be completely flat and lifeless. For this reason it’s best to employ this technique subtly: Practice makes perfect.
Check out this video of Mr Scruff – pay attention to the latter part where he shows off his hardware final mix EQ and gain stages and gives his reasons… impressive!

NI S2 Video Explained – Demo and Tutorial



The response to my recent NI demo video featuring a live Depeche Mode remix was great, but a LOT of people asked for the demo on how it was done. The wait is over and we have an exclusive inside look video from my shoot that day. Check out the explanation above and then dig into the article for a deeper look into the details.


  CORE CONCEPT 1: Jog wheels turn on and control the effects.


I first introduced this concept in 2008 on the VCI-100 SE but took it to another level with the s2′s high resolution HID connection which gave me very precise control over the range. The accuracy is so tight that I was able to get a nice pitch wobble by barely moving the wheel. Listen to the hihats at the start of the video and see if you can spot it.
  • Pressing down on the jog wheel turns on an effect.
  • Turning it in either direction modifies the values of those effects.
Since the down press engages the Beat Masher, it allows you to reliably “grab” a part of the song and work it in or out.

CORE CONCEPT 2: Combining relative values =  random madness!


This was the first time I used this trick on a jog wheel, although it does exist in our Midi Fighter ProBeat Masher mapping. Instead of hard mapping one effect to the jog wheel rotation I used the following technique:
  • Each jog wheel is mapped to control the rates of three effects.
  • Each effect is being controlled in a relative fashion.
  • The rate and acceleration on each effect is different so they “compound” at different speeds.
This means that depending on how fast you spin the wheel or how far it is thrown, many random possibilities can occur. For the drums there is less randomness built in so I can reliably play patterns of 1/4 notes or 1/16ths, but for the vocals I invited random magic to creep in. This was especially amazing in the final chorus where the vocal track gets doubled in this eerie harmony that was totally un-scripted.

CORE CONCEPT 3: Create a rhythm system

In addition to turning on an effect, the jog wheel press sets the effect values to a specific musical value. For example, pressing the beat repeat wheel grabs a 1/4 repeat every time. By doing this and tuning the relative values, I can predictably find other notes and start to learn the “instrument”. With the beat repeat, using a combination of the masher and filter allows you to cut in the kick or snare creating some pretty epic fills, all perfectly in time with the track.
  • Pressing the jog wheel at 8-clock sets a 1/4 note moving back to six switches to 1/2 and up to twelve – 16ths.

CORE CONCEPT 4: One shot loops timed to the master clock.

Loops are too repetitive and don’t have a nice soft ending unless you ride a fader. Lame! So, to give things a little more life I mapped my one shots to also sync to the master tempo and cut each one shot with a little trail after 16 counts. In this manner, I can re-trigger the one shot if I want them to loop or just let them play out and fade nicely to black. This work around gave me the best of both worlds- one shot sounds with loop style syncing.

A LITTLE CHALLENGE


 

Now with a solid insight into the video, watch the performance again and see if you can pick out the techniques with your ears. I will give you a hint – don’t use your eyes, because there are a lot of things happening in the mix that are not shown on camera..

 

Space Age DJ Suitcase?

Last week’s article “The Laptop: Evolution or Revolution” embraced the idea of ditching the laptop completely for performing DJ sets. Another idea which is famous among DIY-enthusiasts is bringing the PC and controllers together into one shell. This can be as easy as just stuffing everything in one case you can carry around.  DJTechTool’s member Chris Blarsky took a slightly more sophisticated approach by integrating multiple controllers, effect devices, synths and a high-end PC into a self-built shell.  He calls the all-in-one DJ solution he created in the last four months  ”DJ Sound Control”. Currently showcased in New York, we took the chance to exclusively interview Chris to get to know more about his ambitious DIY-project.
What was your motivation for building DJ Sound Control?


There were a few things about the typical set-up and tear down that I wanted to improve on. Between power, audio and MIDI cables, I got started thinking there had to be a better way.
All-In-One means you now have everything in one easily movable box so to speak. By bringing everything into one cable, set up goes quick, and you have increased mobility. You are no longer stuck behind a table with all of your gear. One cable gives you much more flexibility.  I am building a stand that will allow me to rotate the DSC and allow that movement to be part of the show and allow the audience a peak at what I’m doing.
Which components/materials did you use to build DJ Sound Control and what are the system’s specs?


  • Lenovo A700 All-In-One computer (Core i7 with 8GB of RAM and 1.5TB HD running Windows 7 Ultimate)
  • Numark Mixtrack
  • Midifighter
  • NI Audio Kontrol 1
  • Alesis NanoVerb
  • M-Audio EKeys
  • Meeblip Digital Synth
  • USB LCD (to watch the CPU levels in realtime)
I used .125 5061 Aluminum sheet and angle.  I also used half inch Lexan for the body panels and .020 Lexan for the screen printed graphic membranes that covers it. Both materials are light and Lexan is bullet proof, literally!
The DSC is 33lbs. The A700 is 22lbs by itself. The I/O BOX is 30lbs. I mainly use Traktor Pro, Virtual DJ, and Reaktor on it. Cubase 5 is also installed on it.
Why did you choose these components?
First I like the layout of the Mixtrack controller. Second I am hard on my equipment, so I need the ability to change out parts if I break something. (especially on the road!) I could produce a printed circuit board just for this box, but I figured I could start with a Mixtrack and add to it as I needed. I have two more brand new Mixtrack’s sitting on the shelf that I can immediately rip the main boards out and replace the one in the DSC in about twenty minutes and be up and running. Also I could replace the buttons if I needed as well. And at $100 a piece for the hardware, the total cost to replace it including my time is minimal. Plus most Guitar Centers and audio outlets along the way sell the least expensive gear and all of these components are relatively cheap. If I had to replace my own printed circuit board and all of the custom boards and pots and switches on the boards it might take me a week or more. That is too costly and not efficient for down time on the road. The ABS plastic case for instance, the Mixtrack is installed in is very weak, so I replaced it with half inch Lexan (polycarbonate). It will not crack like acrylic and will not break at all and can be easily backlit.
One thing often overlooked is that bad power-setups can possibly damage your precious equipment. You got that covered as well with the dedicated power pack. What else does it do?


Some bars and nightclubs have the crapiest power and the last thing I would want is a blown system from a huge power spike or short. It will  also run for a full hour without being plugged in. It has 4 lead acid batteries. Of course all services are run through it. One cable contains 110V AC 12V DC 5V DC and sound I/O.
What was the most difficult part about building it?


I was consistently designing and redesigning this.  When it is collapsed the DCS measures 7 inches tall.  This was challenging.  I know some want a half inch thick set up, but if you read DJ Shortee’s response to her laptop flying off the table accidentally [note: this was mentioned in the interview with her recently] , you soon realize there is a benefit to more weight and tougher materials.  Ok, maybe this is not ‘carry on’ luggage, but I am confident you will not hurt it with a large party balloon, no matter what size!
How are you going to handle upgrades?


The Lenovo system is more than I need as far as CPU muscle.  The slide out will allow me to slide almost any type of current controller inside giving me flexibility in the future as new controllers come out. Like the new controllers that DJTT just put out.  But whether it’s a mini usb Nanokeys or a Launchpad or a super modified Midifighter, you have plenty of space to work with. The sound card would be a little trickier, but I could do it, no problem. There are plenty of USB ports under the deck.
Please describe how you incorporate all the features of the DJ Sound Control into your DJ sets! Did you see your workflow improving with it?


There were two things I noticed immediately. First was that by having the arcade buttons on the sides available for both hands I was able to use them better in a timing sort of way. Plus having them identical made sure no matter what hand I had free I had buttons I could easily get to. The second was how useful the separate output effects are.  By adding the optional Alesis NanoVerb to the output of the overall sound, that gave me even more effects at my fingertips. Putting those effects dead center also made it much easier to access and use.
What do you use all those arcade buttons for anyways?
Both sides are identical. They are clear and backlit. So if you press the bottom button, both sides will light. Why not have two Midifighters?  I actually might do that down the road, but for now I like having the access no matter what hand I have free and I know I can easily control my effects. Plus I use them to control Reaktor’s Razor for a smooth dubstep routine.
Touch-interfaces are a hot topic right now. Do you actually make use of the A700′s touch capabilities?
This is the biggest improvement I noticed.  Super easy to drag and drop into decks (if you want). Easily and instantly drop into anywhere in your currently played track by touching the wave.  I also use it as a backup controller.  During construction I had a problem with the first USB hub and it would short out my mixtrack.  No problem, I just used the touchscreen to finish the set, cross fader and all!
What do you recommend users who want to build their own AIO DJ solution?


Since you’re going big, don’t get a wimpy processor! Get the fastest you can possibly afford! Same with the RAM, get as much as you possibly can!  You can bet the newer sound software will demand it going forward. Really study the structure of how the components are laid out!  Figure you will not just be able to transplant it into another shell.  It will take some real thought on how to lay it out.  Be careful not to over engineer it.  You can quickly add too much weight. Make sure to add ventilation, especially if you have lights!  They may be low heat LED’s, but they will build heat in a hurry in a closed space over time.
Do you have any last words to say?
I know the first comment I have seen is that people say they don’t have the skill to build something like this. Don’t sell yourself short. Give yourself plenty of time and recruit as many people as you need. Don’t expect miracles to just simply happen. I spent 4 months building this. Not just over the weekend or when I got out of work. Everyday for 8 hours a day (or more) including weekends. Keep at it until it’s done!  Check out the modding forums frequently! Chances are good that someone has started or finished an idea that is similar and will be able to give you tips. Two or two thousand heads are better than one sore frustrated one :)

There is more data about the DCS on Chris’s homepage. He gives a detailed overview about how he created the DCS in the flash animation (which takes a long time to load).
You can also see the DCS in action in this video.

Monday, September 5, 2011

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Pioneer DJ Art Mix Tour

While we were down in Atlantic City for the DJ Expo earlier this month, we were able to catch a glimpse of the Pioneer Art-Mix Series CDJ-2000's that saw DJ's and artists from around the world come together to produce some stunning Digital DJ Artwork. This all-star crew of individuals used a new Pioneer CDJ-2000 as a blank canvas to decorate and express themselves however they saw fit. The was on display across the county at various venues over the summer and we were lucky enough to see them at the DJ Expo. We have a full exhibit video that shows all of the Art-Mix CDJ-2000's in detail for your viewing pleasure. The one-of-a-kind CDJ-2000's will be auctioned off online to benefit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation to restore music education in public schools. Check out the complete Video, Press Release, and other information below.




Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. Professional Sound and Visual Division today launched the Pioneer DJ Art Mix Tour, a unique fundraising program that brings together many of the world’s best DJs, urban artists and designers to create original works of art using Pioneer’s renowned industry standard CDJ-2000 digital music player. The one-of-a-kind celebrity designed art pieces will be exhibited in key markets across the country this summer, culminating in an online auction to benefit the VH1 Save The Music Foundation to restore music education programs in public schools.
“Pioneer is honored to work with an awesome cast of urban artists and DJs for a great cause like the VH1 Save The Music Foundation,” said David Arevalo, senior marketing manager, Professional Sound and Visual Division for Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. “There is an inherent synergy in the working dynamics of the DJ culture and urban artists. To be able to bring these two groups together in one exhibit, while also communicating the importance of music education and appreciation with our youth, is incredibly gratifying.”
Each participant in the Pioneer DJ Art Mix Tour will receive one CDJ-2000 to serve as a blank canvas on which to paint, design or otherwise decorate as customized works of art. Pioneer will unveil the completed art pieces in June at a hosted gallery showing in Los Angeles and New York, and from there, the collection will travel to several locations in top markets across the country. In August, following the final showing, the pieces from the Art Mix Tour will be put into a public online auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation.
“We are very excited to partner with Pioneer and are grateful for their help in reaching more of today’s children,” said Paul Cothran, executive director of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. “Having a company of their caliber lend their time and efforts to supporting our cause is an honor and we look forward to continuing to raise awareness about the importance of a musical education in a child’s life, ensuring that additional children have access to the benefits of music study.”
For more information about the Pioneer DJ Art Mix Tour, visit www.PioneerDJusa.com/artmix

Scratch Live VS Traktor Scratch: The 2011 Update

The last time we did a comparison between the two juggernauts of the DVS world feels like a lifetime ago. Considering that each side is sporting both new hardware and new software, it seems apt for us to revisit the debate and update the situation…
On one hand, we’re not going to reinvent the wheel today – many things from our mid 2010 piece hold true so there’s little need to restate them. That said, since our last article Traktor’s undergone a major release and now boasts a new look, sample decks, and yet more effects. Scratch Live remains at version 2, but a couple of point releases have tightened up performance, added effects and further extended the super knob concept with ultra knobs and advanced macro mapping. Let’s dive in!

CLASH OF THE BOXES

One of the biggest updates is the audio interfaces on offer, with both sides getting a refresh. In this generation, Native Instruments offer a choice between two audio interfaces with the Audio 6 and 10 superceding the 4 and 8, Rane between three with the discontinuation of the SL1 and the introduction of the SL2 and SL4.
Rane’s interfaces feel like they’re built to withstand a beating, and their matt black industrial design means you won’t shed a tear if they take a couple of lumps. Native Instruments’ offerings don’t feel any less sturdy and the SL2 and Audio 6 and SL4 and Audio 10 are roughly the same weight, but the lightly brushed steel and high gloss black plastic fascia are liable to tempt you into carrying a cleaning cloth in your DJ bag. Of course, which style you prefer is an entirely personal decision – but a design aspect that I think really works is Rane’s decision to put ins and outs on opposite sides of the box rather than right next to each other, which is really handy in stressful changeover situations.
Something slightly more involved, however, is the feature comparison between the NI and Rane Serato products. Because Scratch Live just comes in one flavour, it doesn’t matter which box you get when it comes to software features (except for physical number of decks supported) – unlike NI, who have Traktor Scratch Duo for people who buy the Audio 6 and Traktor Scratch Pro for those who opt for the Audio 10. Of course you can upgrade Duo to Pro, but that then impacts the buy in price.
Traktor Scratch Duo with the Audio 6 is the lowest price of the pile, closely followed by the Rane SL2. Both have two DVS enabled phono/line ins and outs, but the Audio 6 also has an aux in/out to complement them. To get the same number of connections from Rane you need to jump up to the SL3, but that sits at the same price point as the Traktor Pro enabled Audio 10, which gives the SL3 a sound thrashing when it comes to features: four DVS enabled ins/outs plus a fifth aux channel with optional ¼” mic input and 5 pin MIDI I/O. Rane’s cream of the crop, the SL4, features five inputs and two USB sockets which allows two computers to share the inputs or hot swap between them – considerate clubs could install one of these for the ultimate in Scratch Live convenience, and the colossal price tag indicates this might be Rane’s target market.

AUDIO QUALITY AND LATENCY

When it comes to sound quality, it’s a dead heat. Pushing the same track out of the Audio 10 and the SL4 into a mixer, I couldn’t tell a difference. The SNR of the NI cards is marginally higher, so to get the Rane interfaces to equal volume requires a miniscule gain tweak on the mixer, but clarity and sound reproduction differences aren’t so much subjective as they are conjecture: I consistently failed to identify which was which in a gain adjusted blind test, even when pitting the NI card’s 96kHz mode against the Rane’s 44.1kHz (although the SL4 also supports 96kHz). There’s a subtle difference in sound that I could probably train myself to identify, but the important part is that objectively the two manufacturers’ interfaces don’t sound better or worse than each other. Arguments for higher resampling rates are better placed when it comes to internal mixing and playback effects, and the jury’s still out on whether it makes a perceptible difference in the real world.
Input quality is the same.  There’s nothing really in it, and although NI’s Audio 10 features a nice sounding mic input and its MIDI I/O make it a better fit for part timing as a production interface, at a pinch I’d be happy to use either and any to record audio.
As you might expect, there’s not a hair between the two camps when it comes to latency. We’ve gotten to the point where modern computers have the grunt to drive tiny buffer sizes and interface manufacturers are squeezing the last drop of leeway out of internal efficicency, so differences are so miniscule that for real world application they’re not there. It should be suffice to say that whether you go for Traktor or Scratch Live, you’re getting excellent, responsive performance.

INTEGRATION

Both pieces of software have a constantly expanding list of devices that plug and play with native mappings, and although we’ve been over the difference in the styles between Traktor and Scratch Live’s mapping systems, something we didn’t touch on before that counts in Traktor’s favour is the Native Instruments developed NHL, a proprietary interface for NI controllers and Traktor that allows for around four times the resolution of MIDI. It’s currently put to use by NI’s Kontrol range, and Scratch Live doesn’t really have an answer right now.
We’ve also seen a clash in the certified mixer world, principally between Rane’s Sixty Eight and the Pioneer DJM900 nexus. If anything, the DJM900 is the more likely candidate for club installs due to Pioneer’s existing stronghold on big club DJ booths, but they’re both very impressive beasts that our separate reviews (Pioneer here and Rane here) go into extensive detail on. The Rane TTM57SL finally sees some competition in the form of the Pioneer DJM-T1, too…

SAMPLE WARS

Traktor’s sample decks are very different to Scratch Live’s SP-6 sampler, and each methodology has its pros and cons. Scratch Live excels in number of available samples (four banks of six are available) and benefits from a separation from the decks, whereas Traktor’s integration of sample decks into the actual mixing paradigm makes it easier to send loops into sample decks for a continuous mixing experience. We love being able to save a battery of samples in Scratch Live, enabling us to load up a drum kit for some live beatmaking, but at the same time Traktor’s loop recorder is a mean feature for live remixing. Which you prefer will depend largely on your mixing style; I find Serato’s approach to fit in better with a hip hop mentality, whereas NI’s is very smooth and suits electronica perfectly.

EFFECTS

Traktor 2 added some more effects to NI’s massive list, and Scratch Live refined the Super Knob principle even further with Ultra Knobs. Ultra knobs are essentially single knobs that control three super knobs, giving huge power to a single dial. For all this power though, and indeed even Traktor’s new effects, the big differentiator between the Scratch Live and Traktor effect is the Traktor mapping system’s modifiers. The capabilities of the Traktor mapping system enable the weird and the wonderful customisations that DJ TechTools has been developing over the years, and honestly speaking even though Scratch Live is making excellent progress, Traktor’s effects are where the real power is.

THE BOTTOM LINE

One place that NI definitely takes a victory is in the audio interface standoff. The Audio 10 is a great card with a plethora of ins and outs that Rane just can’t match. That said, the two USB inputs on the SL4 is a great idea that NI hasn’t got an answer for.
NI have also given Traktor a real boost with the sample deck concept, but like so many differences between Traktor and Scratch Live, it’s play style that will really decide whose methods you prefer – and that includes the controller and effects implementation. Like we’ve said before, it’s likely that one or the other will just seem to make more sense. One thing we will say is that whilst NHL counts in Traktor’s favour, we think a standard that hardware and software manufacturers can agree on is, in the end, better for the consumer…
Bottom line? I’m just going to copy Ean’s sentiment from last time: “At the end of the day, we don’t care what you use to play music- as long as the dance floor is rocking.” Simple.

Interview with DJ Shortee


Picture by OH DAG YO Photography
Everyone has an opinion on what it takes to make it as a professional DJ. To some, the genre you play will dictate whether you have a future or not. To others, you are defined simply by the tools that you use. You may even stumble across the occasional lunatic who’s convinced it’s just hard work and giving people a good time that matters. I caught up with DJ Shortee to help answer some of these questions and get her perspective on everything from laptops to running record labels.

Let me introduce you to Shortee; DJ, Producer and Teacher. As one half of LA based Faust and Shortee, Shortee is also the co-founder of 5 Star Records, Heavy Artillery Recordings and production duo, Urban Assault. On the road the “Queen of the Scratch World” has toured alongside KRS One, Supernatural, Method Man, Craze, Q-bert, Z-Trip and The Roots and is the only female ever to produce a solo turntablist album and the first to produce a battle record. Shortee also appears with partner, Faust in Doug Pray’s documentary ‘Scratch’”. Having spent four years as a head professor at The Scratch DJ Academy co-founded by RUN DMC’s Jam Master Jay, Shortee now teaches DJ/Remix courses for the Grammy Foundation. From the crowd’s perspective, Shortee’s Dubstep, Drumstep, D & B and Electro House sets are renowned for destroying dance floors like a super-sized bag of belligerent anvils crashing through the ceiling at a sub-bass convention.
The following interview was conducted over a couple weeks as Shortee bounced around with gigs on both coasts, a video shoot for Whiskey Pete’s ‘Cut Throat’ and multiple label releases. The first lady of scratch appears to make all of this happen on approximately 27 minutes of sleep a night.
Back in the day the DJ setup was pretty static, a pair of Technics and a mixer. Today setups are becoming more diverse, so what’s your core setup today?
My core setup has stayed true to my roots of two turntables and a mixer, although the actual gear has evolved over time and I have added a laptop and some effects into the mix. I currently use two Technics 1200s or 1210s and a 2 channel Rane TTM-57SL which has a built in DSP and the Serato hardware inside the mixer. My laptop is a custom-built, tricked-out and extremely reliable PC built by PC Audio Labs and runs Serato Scratch Live software. Yes, you heard right… I said it’s a PC!
Shortee’s Weapons of Choice
  • Technics 1200s/1210s
  • Shure M44-7 needles and ‘Faust & Shortee’ Custom Slipmats by Glowtronics
  • Rane TTM 57SL for Serato Scratch Live
  • Mixing Platform: Serato Scratch Live
  • Native Instruments X1
  • Pioneer EFX-1000 Professional DJ Effector
  • PC Audiolabs Intel Core 2 Duo | T9300 @ 2.50 GHz| 4.00 GB RAM | 750 GB Hard drive (now three years old)
  • Sennheiser HD-25 headphones
PCs have been given an awfully bad rap in this industry so what has made you stick with Windows?
My first computer was custom built PC as I was majoring in graphics and computer animation and the program I was using (3d Studio Max) only ran on Windows. Since then I’ve owned both Macs and PC computers but it has been the Macs that have given me the problems. I also need to be able to “get under the hood”  and customize my machines which is something I never felt like I could do properly with a Mac due to all the name-brand limitations.
PCs work well for me because they support the applications I use where as some aren’t even available for the Mac.  I know people who split their hard drives using Boot Camp, however that setup doesn’t appeal to me as the software can be difficult to use efficiently when it’s split across two platforms. I like PCs but if you like Macs, use them. Whatever works best for you is what you should use. Just don’t tell someone else what they should be using or imply that what you use is “the best” because it may not be “the best” option for someone else and you will just come off like a snob.
How do you handle issues that crop up with your gear when you’re on the road?

Picture by Patrick PhatPix Perry (c) 2011
I’ve had problems with fires starting due to faulty power strips shorting out or the turntables not working correctly due to faulty wires. There have also been times when I have had to deal with beer drenched DJ mixers courtesy of the previous DJ. However, I have never had any issues with my laptop (knock on wood!). My machine’s built like a tank and that construction has saved my ass in multiple sketchy performance situations. I recently played a warehouse show where the crowd was bouncing huge inflatable balls in the air.  One of the balls slammed into my laptop, ripped the power and USB cables out and shot it across stage. The music stopped, my heart stopped but I just picked it up and to my amazement, nothing was damaged on the outer shell. There wasn’t even so much as a scratch on it! I just plugged it back in, rebooted and got the show running again. Less than a minute later and it was like it never happened and the crowd was going insane. The Macs I have owned in the past would have never survived that fall because their outer shell wasn’t nearly as durable.
You said, “Don’t tell someone else what they should be using as you will just come off like a snob” A lot of new DJs are trying to break into the scene and some have run into exactly that kind snobbery because they are using controllers or platforms like Ableton. What  do you think constitutes a “real” DJ?
Now that’s a controversial subject for sure. Whether it’s Turntable vs. CDJ vs. Controller, Ableton vs. Logic vs. FL Studio , Mac vs. PC – there really isn’t one way that’s “right.” It’s all about what’s right for you and what will enable you to  be the creative and successful in your productions and most comfortable in your live performances.
With respect to DJing specifically as a form of performance, if you want to get technical, D.J. stands for Disc Jockey who is traditionally someone who rocks vinyl records. Many vinyl purists feel that those are the true tools of the craft. But vinyl and turntables wouldn’t even exist if not for what came before them, so really they are just an integral part in the timeline of the craft’s evolution.
In my personal opinion, I feel a DJ is a performer that mixes and blends music live, by hand, adapting to the crowd’s needs while taking them on a musical journey from point A to point B.
If your entire set is pre-mixed or pre-recorded in any way (i.e recorded before the event and simply played as one long pre-made composition) whether it be a premixed on a CD or Ableton live or Serato etc, I don’t feel that’s really DJing. It may rock the party but it’s not live so I feel it’s not DJing. I’ve seen a ton of big name “DJs” pop one CD in a CDJ and jump up and down for an hour pretending like they are DJing. I’ve also seen people who have premixed sets playing in Ableton and pretend like the are turning knobs and clicking buttons but not actually affecting the mix live in any way. It’s like someone lip syncing to a pre-recorded track. It’s not real, its fake. Therefore it’s not “real” DJing.
Has the level of available automation in DJing taken something away from the crowd’s experience?

Picture by James Coletta & Josh Diaz (c) 2011
Watching someone rock turntables or CDJs (whether they use vinyl, CDs alone or with Serato/Traktor etc) is way more artistic & visually entertaining to watch rather than someone simply pressing buttons on a midi controller because there is more of a visual art to it. Especially when the DJ incorporates cutting and scratching to create rhythms and soundscapes on the fly using these ‘audio players’ as true instruments. Having said that, DJs rocking Ableton and controllers to perform original music, or remixes goes way beyond DJing and delves into the realm of live remixing and original performance.  These artists are recreating songs live and this is definitely an art I respect.
There are bedroom DJs based all over the planet today and many are in remote locations armed with great skills but little more than basic equipment and a net connection.  How do they differentiate themselves enough to rise above everyone else and get a real crack at the Pro scene?
As far as getting heard, it doesn’t matter where you live, the reach of the internet today gives you worldwide exposure. Make a TON of mixes, offer them for free online and promote them like crazy! Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do, you aren’t going to get anywhere if nobody knows about it. Use Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, your blog and wherever else people go looking for music. If your mixes are that good people will eventually take notice.
Finally, we all need to accept that DJing only goes so far today and the days of making it on the pro scene solely as a DJ are long gone. The only way to cross the line is to also produce your own original music and release it worldwide, even if it’s just in the digital market. Believe me; I know first-hand how frustrating it can be for skilled DJs to see popular producers without any real mixing skills draw massive audiences and get paid huge amounts based solely on their production reputation. Many of them aren’t very good DJs and put very little effort into learning the craft.That means the only way to compete is to learn to both DJ and produce music and do both well. This will give you the best chance to achieve respect & longevity in your career.
You must get a lot of up and coming DJs giving you mixtapes and demos. What are some of the more original ways DJ have used to get your attention?
There have been a few up and coming DJs who have picked me up at the airport after landing in their city for a gig with their mix already playing in the car. The best is when they don’t say it’s them and I’m like, “This mix is really dope, who it this?!?” I do get a ton of DJ mix download links in my inbox or on facebook or whatever and I rarely have time to listen to them. We also get hundreds of original track demo submissions each week for the label so those take precedence cause we have to listen to all of them which takes up most of our listening time. I will occasionally take the time to download someone’s mix if they actually include our music in it because I’m very interested in seeing how creatively people can incorporate these tunes into their own DJ sets and how our tunes sound with the rest of the music in their set. It’s super cool cause I get to hear our music in a totally different way, through their ears.  Not to mention, it’s the ultimate compliment to hear your track being played by another DJ.
Do you ever have to deal with overly eager DJs overstepping their bounds?
The single most annoying thing is when someone posts a mix download link on our Soundcloud disguised as a “comment” on a track.  This is absolutely not the way to get noticed. It is very disrespectful to the work originally posted and really frustrates record labels, producers and even other DJs.
Drum & Bass or Dubstep?

Additional artwork by Brandon Andrews
Both! They are like children to me and I love them equally for vastly different reasons. Today I have a lot of hardcore Drum and Bass fans who have gotten pissed at me for playing or producing other genres.  That’s hurtful to me as an artist and I feel that it’s really closed minded, selfish and ignorant. They assume I started off as a Drum and Bass DJ.  It was actually seven years into my career that I started playing Drum and Bass. The reality is that throughout my career I have played everything; House (Latin, funky, swing, tech, electro, hard etc.), Techno, Drum and Bass, Dubstep, Drumstep, Funk, Soul, Jazz, Breaks, Hip Hop (current, old school, dirty south, hyphie, instrumental etc.), Top40, Pop, Rock,  70s, 80s, 90s etc. As I said, I love Drum and Bass and will continue to play and produce it as long as I’m inspired by it,  but I feel the same about all the genres I play. I would be bored out of my skull if I just had to choose one style.
In my opinion artists need to explore, experiment and be inspired.  It’s the only way for them to grow on their artistic journey. We aren’t robots put on this planet solely to produce and play music to order, and it makes us feel like shit when people expect us to blindly comply with their specific taste. Instead of tearing down artistic choices, people should use that energy to do something creative and productive of their own. If we all spent time doing that it would make the music better and everyone’s collective world a better place.
So yeah, Drum and Bass or Dubstep? Why choose when you can have them both, and anything else that inspires you?!?! Okay, sorry for the rant, thanks for letting me get that out there. I’m stepping off my soapbox now. [note: We have no photographic proof that she actually stepped off the soapbox – for all we know she’s on it right now]
Being a successful DJ is hard enough. Being a successful DJ, Producer and Label Boss must add countless layers of complexity. How do you keep all three roles in check without sacrificing any one of them?

Picture by James Coletta Photography
It’s definitely a huge challenge to keep everything in check and I usually sacrifice sleep to create more time in my day [most of Shortee’s e-mails seem to come in when it’s 4am where she is - SmiTTTen]. Regardless, it’s inevitable that one role eventually has to take the back seat from time to time. It’s just a matter of rotating that back seat fairly so that they all get equal attention within the larger picture without experiencing a total burnout in the energy department.
Our own careers have definitely been taking the back seat for the past few months as we focus on the label. When we first started the label, we released our own music for two years and got it to a point where the brand was recognizable, however we knew that in order to reach the next level we’d have to open up the forum. By signing on additional artists it creates a sense of community so the label grows much faster, reaching a wider audience. This is because everyone is working together to promote the label to grow into its own successful entity. As a result, when the time comes to release our own albums again, we will have a considerably bigger platform to work with.
As far as label management goes, the most challenging part of it all is learning how to delegate responsibility and give up a certain amount of control in various areas to get more accomplished overall. DJ Faust and I are both control freaks and we have been DYI warriors for so long that trusting others to do the same quality of work doesn’t come easy to us. However this is exactly what we’ve had to start doing because there just isn’t enough time in the day for the two of us to do it all and still give attention to our own artistic careers. We have learned firsthand that intelligent, hardworking, trustworthy, dependable, dedicated people that are truly passionate about our business are extremely difficult to find. We have been fortunate enough to finally find a couple of these rarities in the last few months and bringing them on board has definitely helped the label grow in other areas we couldn’t do on our own. More importantly, it has given us the priceless opportunity to delegate our time a bit better in order to nurture all the roles a bit more equally.
Any last words before we let you go?
Too much to say and too little time! I do want people to know that they can keep in touch with me on Facebook & Twitter as well as my websites:
www.facebook.com/djshorteemusic
www.twitter.com/djshortee
www.djshortee.com
www.heavyartilleryrecordings.com
www.soundcloud.com/faustandshortee
www.urbanassaultmusic.com

Controllerism Essentials – Basic Beat Juggling





While I was in LA shooting a new super secret video to be released next week, the guys in the Dj TT Labs decided to have some fun and see if they could kill a Midi Fighter Pro. What better test than dropping the controller off a three story building onto concrete? Even I was surprised to see that it fully survived with only a few scratches to boot. At your suggestion – we are giving away the controller to a lucky reader. The Pros are back in stock, so if you are down with the program and want to support this site, check them out here. There are also some brand new clear/black glowing arcade buttons that look wicked! More photos of the buttons after the drop.

GIVE AWAY


At the great suggestion of a commenter below, we are giving away the Midi Fighter Pro we dropped off the building. Yes, it still works perfectly! The controller has also been signed by everyone in the office. How can you win it?
  • Create a Facebook video of your own (it can be of anything, be creative!)
  • Post it on our Facebook wall
  • In the video you should tell us why you want a Midi Fighter Pro
  • The most compelling video wins! (video cut off is at the end of August)

NEW BUTTONS!

Dj TT had some custom arcade buttons made up by Sanwa, a Japanese company that makes the best performance buttons in the world! These exclusive black and clear buttons pick up the LED lighting creating a modern twist on the arcade classic.
The popular Midi Fighter Pro’s are back in stock and are available for purchase with the brand new clear buttons. Click here to customize your own Midi Fighter Pro.
Along with the Pro’s, our classic Midi Fighters have been out of stock due to high demand for quite some time. The are now back on shelves and shipping out with the fancy new buttons.  Click here to customize your own Midi Fighter.
Legal Disclosure conveniently translated into Brogramming Language for the legally challenged.
“Yes, this article is basically a promotion for our products – which we think are pretty rad actually. I mean who drops their gear off a building?  So, back to the point, why the hell are we promoting our product in a post on a blog that we own? (rhetorical question right)  Because it’s through the sale of those products that we pay our staff of kick-ass writers who work their butt’s off  for next to nothing to bring you great new content every day.  I think it’s a fair trade off. You- our awesome readers, get free content and we occasionally give a shout out to some cool gear. Plus, who doesn’t like glowing arcade buttons? Rabid trolls – that’s who.”

Create a Great DJ Website, in Minutes


In the landscape of promotion, there are now unlimited sites on which you can place material on about your work as a DJ. So when someone asks “what do you do?”, which link do you send them? Many DJs have signatures that look like library cards with 5 different links to Twitter, Soundcloud, Facebook, Myspace and if they are lucky a custom homepage. Since you can’t possible expect people to visit all of your content sites,  why not aggregate all of those sources into one single page that is easy to set up and changes as your DJ world grows? Well, fortunately, someone invented a service that does just that. It’s called: “One Sheet” . Check out mine here, I created it within a few hours, and in the following article we will cover how to create your own.

THE BIG IDEA


One sheet does not really host much content except for a big splashy photo and a bio. All of the “assets” that you would want to share like photos, mixes, tour dates come from other internet services that specialize in managing those services. One sheet simply aggregates all of them into a single web presense that you can link to with a single URL. Upload a new mix or tour date and your “homepage” stays updated without a single shred of effort.

KEY ELEMENTS



If you only were to set up a few services that would provide the core information about your work they should be:
MIXES


One Sheet takes your Soundcloud account and sticks a widget on the front page. Easily resize and move it around the page to suit your taste. I went through and updated my Soundcloud with some new music and old mixes just for the occassion.  Now, rather than putting new remixes on my server, its just a simple matter of putting them on Soundcloud.
FACEBOOK


If you have an artist page on Facebook, one page will automatically pull in your photos and wall posts. in this manner, you can use your Facebook page to write updates and post new photos. This info then gets updated in all the places you would like without a lot of fuss.
GIGS
One Sheet syncs with “Bands in town” among other calender apps. This is a nice little app used by Tiesto among others to publish your dates and have people get notifications when you are in town.
VIDEOS




Logically, we are in a video world so you can nice connect one specific YouTube profile and connect it to your one page. This does present one problem however, which I cover in the complaints section below.

COMPLAINTS

After trying to set up one sheet as a viable replacement for my standard “DJ site”, there were two small issues that annoyed me but didnt reach the level of deal breakers:
  • The Youtube page aggregates all videos from a single YouTube channel, meaning that you may not be able to group the videos of your DJ work that are truly relevant. I would like, for example, to put a single playlist there that is pulling videos from a broad range of channels.
  • The bio section does not support HTML, so no YouTube embeds or fancy code.
  • The site does a great job of automatically finding all of your services and syncing them up so connecting things like Facebook only takes a few moments. However, when that “auto” detection breaks you are kind of screwed. For example, my tour dates are managed by “Bands in Town” which is connected to my artist profile but One sheet is looking for it on my personal facebook account and not pulling any dates.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?

If you are just starting out and creating a DJ profile, this seems like a great way to go, but we are interested in hearing your perspective. Does it appear professional enough and would it be taken seriously as a single page recourse about your work? This post was in no way an attempt to promote myself as a DJ (I rarely accept gigs due to Dj TT responsibilities) but instead I used my own “online presence” (which has been pitiful lately) as an experiment to see how viable this service is. It’s amazing that I was able to revitalize my online promotion and presence by enabling a few new tools and then combining them all into one page after only a few hours of work.
create your own one sheet for free during their beta at http://www.onesheet.com/