Saturday, June 30, 2012

DJTT Interviews: Armin Van Buuren


One of the few DJs in the world who needs nearly no introduction, Armin Van Buuren is one of the most successful, highest praised, and experienced DJs on the planet. In our exclusive interview, he shared his thoughts on what the greatest skills that DJs can have are, and what the most important obstacles they face in playing live are. Take a few minutes to check out the full video after the jump – we think almost every DJ in the world can find some inspiration in what he has to say.  

 
Learn more about Armin on his official website.
To answer a few people asking- Armin’s comments in this video are not a response to Deadmau5 – this interview was actually shot prior to all of that discussion.
Considering the last two weeks of discussion in the media about what DJs “really do”, we’re excited by Armin’s words and ideas about what makes DJing great in the interview above. Find anything especially insightful? Share in the comments below.
 

Cutting Edge MIDI Tech Roundup: Midi Jacket, Beatsurfing App

The past week and a half has been chockfull of artists and critics debating the importance of playing live and the state of dance music, washing out some cool smaller stories that went under the radar. We’re taking a few minutes today to highlight three interesting MIDI-based projects – a Mexican jacket that sends MIDI notes, an incredible controller design app, and an update to a Midi Fighter-like product that we highlighted nearly a year ago.

MIDI JACKET

  Why not wear your MIDI controller on you while you’re walking around? We can think of a few reasons, but it doesn’t make Mexico-based MACHINA‘s Midi Jacket any less of an interesting concept. With three touch strip sensors on the exterior of the jacket, as well as an accelerometer and “flex sensors” in the sleeve, we could easily see this project being complemented with an iOS application that allows the user to jam out while walking around town, manipulating beats and effects while staying warm. Check out the clothing design company’s promotional video for the jacket below, featuring performing musician Moi and a fair amount of anti-Internet censorship messages.

 




MNvsMCHN.01. from MACHINA on Vimeo.
The jacket is “coming soon”, pricing unknown, – and the one featured in the video is supposedly one of five models. After watching the demo, we’re not sure that the accelerometer and bend detection actually offer any level of intuitive control yet- but often it’s hard to tell simply based on a short clip like this.

BEATSURFING: INTUITIVE IPAD CONTROLLER CREATOR

 


Beatsurfing - The Organic MIDI Controller Builder - Official Teaser from Vlek Data on Vimeo.

 We’ve reached out to the IDEEALab team to see if the new video is a sign of things to come, like a potential production run, but at the time of publication they haven’t responded.

Where to Build Your DJ Web Presence in 2012

As a digital DJ or electronic music producer, a well-curated internet presence can seal the deal when booking gigs, getting fans and friends out to your events, or putting your original tracks into headphones around the world. Today, we focus on some of the best tools and practices out there for maximizing your time online in 2012.

WHAT’S YOUR OBJECTIVE?

Most active performing DJs and producers already have a web presence somewhere online. However, before dedicating loads of time and energy into whatever network or site (or combination of multiple) you’ve decided on, take a minute to think what’s really important to you as an artist. Knowing what you want to accomplish with your internet presence will help you determine what tools will best fit your needs.
As we see it, these are the most common objectives for DJs and producers:
  • Reach out to current fans and followers
  • Get discovered by potential new fans
  • Get people to listen to your music
  • Present a unique identity or associate your identity with a larger, important group

MYSPACE: FORMERLY THE GOLDEN IDOL

Seven to ten years ago, the complete package existed, and everyone in the industry knew it was the number one resource for bands and artists to create an online presence. MySpace has been falling out of the limelight since 2007, but when it stood tall in the world of artist communication it accomplished (to a significant degree) every single one of the goals above. Sure, profiles were often buggy and ugly, but users saw it as a place to find and follow new artists. I couldn’t write a better obituary for MySpace than DMC DJ Champion A-Trak did in the Huffington Post last month, so check his out instead.
MySpace Music still exists, but the NewsCorp-owned site has dropped in reputation and traffic steadily for the last two years. (Sources: Alexa, eConsultancy). It is worth noting that for a number of DJs and producers who you search online, their MySpace still show up in the top Google results, but if current trends continue, don’t bother. Instead, you’ve probably made a….

FACEBOOK PAGE

 With the slow agonizing death of MySpace came the rise of Facebook as a social network, including “Like Pages”. I’m pretty confident that everyone reading knows what Like Pages are – but if not, feel free to visit the DJ SCHOOL LEBANON page now

Facebook Pages have been a great platform for artists to connect with their fans, and musicians and DJs have the ability to easily flesh out their pages with photo, audio and video content. Soundcloud and Mixcloud (more on them below) both integrate easily into Facebook pages, posting updates when new tracks/mixes are added. Producers and artists will appreciate that Spotify and Rdio plays show up on Pages, meaning that fans who get to your site have a chance to very quickly play your tracks.

MAKING FACEBOOK PAGES MORE EFFECTIVE

A lot of readers have asked us how they can use Facebook as a better promotion tool for their DJ career, and we recommend immediately taking two actions to make your Facebook DJ pages more effective:

First, check out Bandpage by RootMusic and FanRX. We’ve written about Bandpage in the past, but in a nutshell, it makes the default view for new visitors to your page a display that shows a picture, your next upcoming show, and your most recent tracks. This ensures that new visitors will immediately get access to the most relavant information about you as an artist. FanRX does the same – but the free version has a bit more customizability in terms of offering features such as advanced sharing behaviors, and additional modules for contests, email list signups, and more. They’re both powerful customizers that are worth exploring.



Our second Facebook Page tip for DJs is to upload and tag photos to increase the reach of your page. I learned this from a friend who threw an awesome weekly DJ night at a bar. He would bring a camera to every night, take loads of pictures of people having an awesome time, and then would upload the photos to his page and tag the people in the photos. These photos showed up in the news feeds of friends of the tagged fan, and linked directly back to his artist page when anyone clicked into the photo or album.
Facebook also seems to often assign a higher value to posts with content beyond text (like photos or videos), as they’re more likely to attract a click and increase pageviews. Use this to your advantage and post links, photos, and videos that have relevance to yourself as a DJ or to your fans!

THE CASE AGAINST FACEBOOK PAGES

 Despite its awesome potential, we need to point out a recent development with Facebook Pages that could be devastating for smaller artists and pages. It’s been known for a while that Facebook filters a user’s homepage newsfeed based on who they actually engage and interact with, including the Pages that they interact with. This potentially means that even though a follower might want to know about a post you just made, if they rarely or never interact with your page, it’s unlikely it will show on their newsfeed. Instead, Facebook now has monetized that reach – charging page owners cash money to engage with those individuals. It’s not realistic for many smaller DJs to be posting up $5.00 – $20.00 everytime they want to remind their entire fanbase about a show. Read some more commentary about this change here, on Always Upward.

Additionally, as a DJ looking to get noticed and easily found, you should consider a few other factors in your web presence – don’t limit yourself to just one outlet, but instead connect multiple outlets. This is especially important when building links and getting great natural search results on Google – more on that later.

TOOLS TO TRACK YOUR WEB PRESENCE

There are a few tools that are designed specifically so that you can make a solid assessment of your own digital power, reach, and overall importance. Klout, which is attempting to create a standard metric for digital influence, allows users to connect all of their social networks to the system and provides a regular grade based on the reach of your activity. While I’m not convinced that promoters are going to be booking DJs based on their Klout scores (yet!), it’s a great way to directly see how your actions correspond to gains and losses in influence and visibility. Best of all, it’s free.

If you’re taking off and are building a larger fanbase, we recommend considering signing up for Next Big Sound, which for a significant ($79) monthly fee provides extremely detailed analytics on Facebook likes, Wikipedia pageviews, Twitter fans, Youtube/MySpace/Last.fm plays, and more. It’s a hefty fee, so we’d mostly recommend it for DJs and producers who are actively touring and devoting a full-time schedule towards their craft.

DJ-SPECIFIC SOCIAL NETWORKS AND LISTS

 In addition to normal social networks, a lot of DJs find it important to maintain their identity across places online where other DJs maintain a profile – especially those who plan to or dream of becoming a major artist. Doing so will also secure your identity and stop others from taking your super clever DJ name, and it will make sure your Google natural results are chock-full of hits that all are actually connected to you. Here are the three sites we recommend ensuring that you start with when spreading your name around the web.

  • Beatport DJs: Beatport has billed this as the ultimate DJ profile site on the internet, and although it’s in beta, you can see why. Its clean design, simple feature set, active current feature development cycle, and powerful simple URL (ex: http://dj.beatport.com/bassnectar) means that it’s a no-brainer and will have longterm value.
  • Resident Advisor: In addition to being one of the most informative electronic music communities on the web, RA is a great homebase for a number of DJs. They’ve got a great event listing feature that’s especially active in Europe, and maintaining a profile on here is highly recommended for DJs who play a lot of club/underground gigs.
  • DJ List: This is an older, clunkier site in terms of functionality and design, but Google still assigns a fairly high value to profiles coming off of this site. Take two minutes and claim your name here, but don’t be too concerned about making it look nice.
Editor’s note: In the comments, Rolfski notes that he finds that the Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter combination is the most important trifecta of internet presences for DJs. We agree that Twitter is powerful, but it’s an inherently temporary, fast-moving method of communicating to your fans – so make sure that you have a fanbase who is ready to listen and that you balance frequent posts with interesting insights. Duplicating the same content across all of your communication networks is not the best practice, as it doesn’t reward people for being more engaged with you. 

SOCIAL NETWORKS VERSUS INDEPENDENT WEBSITES

 

So far, we’ve been focusing purely on social networks – but what about building your own webpage from a template or from scratch as your primary web presence? This has been often perceived as the best way to achieve one of the core goals of presenting a unique identity that will attract promoters and listeners. That being said, a lot of promoters and listeners expect to interact with artists and DJs through a familiar framework of a social network that allows them to quickly glean information about you (I’d even argue that this structural predictability was what made Facebook shine in comparison to MySpace).
Another very important concept to understand in this debate is that Facebook and other social networks are built around the concept of sharing – for instance, that incredible photo of you DJing is very easily commented on and shared in a potentially viral process on Facebook. This wouldn’t ever happen on a photo gallery on a small DJ website.
That being said, you have much more freedom on your own site, so don’t let us stop you from building it. We’d recommend keeping any site that you design simple and understandable – your identity shouldn’t ever get in the way of communicating the most important information to the people trying to find it.

 A site that we’ve reviewed previously that quickly allows you to make a professional artist website is Onesheet. The service is out of beta now, and actually incorporated some great feedback from DJ TechTools readers! Great job, all.
Also worth mentioning are two (very similar) services that have cropped up around the same time, About.me and Flavors.me - they’re all essentially the same, but personally I think Onesheet has the best interface and results in terms of simple design and customization.
What About Just A Blog or Self-Designed Webpage?
The biggest thing to consider here is that you’ll then need to take significant time to make sure the design of your site is clean, professional, and functional – and that means time and/or money. Remember that spending time developing or designing a site might ultimately not be the best use of your resources, depending on where you are in your DJ career.

CHOOSING A GREAT URL

 If you can get your DJ name and then “.com”, do it now. Many of the services we’ve mentioned can take your URL and forward it to the page you’ve created. Additionally, we’ve all seen web startups in the last five years come up with creative names that use a custom url ending, which can be a great way to make a shorter url that looks clean.

Finally, just as a public service announcement, Djibouti does allow non-citizens to register .dj domain names – go ahead and register “yourname.dj” today for 40 Euro/~$50 per year!
What awesome tools do you use to build, maintain, and track your DJ web presence? We want to know how you accomplish your online DJ goals, so let us know below.

Your First Controllerism Routine With Ean Golden “In the Studio”


In today’s tutorial video I go deep into the basics of building a basic controllerism technique through cue point juggling that anyone can learn. With a few key timing and setup principles under your belt, it becomes very easy to build expressive live remixes that will work in a real DJ set.



Here’s the acapella and the instrumental track bundled together – these files are for educational purposes only!
Enjoying Ean’s “In The Studio” tutorial session? Let us know in the comments below! 

Richie Hawtin and Livid’s CNTRL_R : Review


The result of a unique collaboration between Livid Instruments and Richie Hawtin, the brand new Livid CNTRL_R is a fully mappable, open-source boutique MIDI controller. With a slew of programmable knobs, endless rotary encoders, faders, and buttons, there’s certainly a ton of tangibles to keep controllerists busy, whether you’re a DJ playing cuts from Traktor or remixing and creating tracks on the fly with Livid’s step-sequencer apps for Ableton Live! Read on for our review of the unit.

Manufacturer: Livid Instruments
Price: $699
Availability: Now (purchase here on Amazon)
Communication
: MIDI over USB (USB powered), MIDI, Expansion Jacks for Livid add-ons
Ships with: Single piece of paper, USB Cable
Weight: 5 lbs
Dimensions: 14.5″ x 9.75″ x 1.75″ (WDH)
System Requirements: USB/MIDI connection


The Good: Lots of controls and deep step-sequencer integration with Ableton Live in a small footprint. High quality aluminum construction feels rock-solid, yet light and small enough to fit in your backpack for a gig. Can be used with just about anything that supports MIDI. Expandable with Livid’s line of XPC controllers. Pretty multi-color LEDs make girls at the bar think it’s cute.
The Bad: Ableton Live remote script can be confusing at first, since you’re launching clips on a 4×4 (albeit scalable) grid. Not as flexible as the Livid OHM in terms of larger button layout and cross-fader features. Expensive, given that it doesn’t come with its own soundcard/interface. Buttons aren’t stiff, so not as ideal for finger drumming ala MPC/Maschine (they’re not drumpads).
The Bottom Line: For the price of around 2 1/2 APC 40’s, you get this suite of fully programmable controls: 8 faders, 48 multi-color LED buttons, 24 knobs, and 12 pushbutton encoders with LED ring indicators. For Ableton Live users, you’ll undoubtedly want to get it for the step-sequencer devices that Livid and Richie Hawtin developed, not to mention the deepening well of Max for Live devices and Remote Scripts created by its online community. This unit does not have a built-in sound card, so you’re going to have to pair it up with one still.

CONSTRUCTION

Building on Livid’s reputation for quality, the CNTRL_R presents itself as the modern controllerist’s rugged toolbox: an all black, aluminum casing that exudes minimalist cool coupled with an intuitive layout made of quality tactile material. There are two sets of 4 faders and 12 knobs on either side of the unit bridged together by a 4×4 matrix of buttons and 12 rotary push-button encoders.
The rubber on all the knobs and encoders make for satisfyingly accurate tweaks, while the buttons have a slightly-matte finish that feel like they tug lightly at your fingers as you gently glide over them. Livid asked us to note that these are not drumpad buttons – and if you’re looking to make use of the buttons for finger drumming like you would do on an MPC, you’d be quite disappointed as the buttons are a bit squishy (like in those old Denon CD Players).


 Each 60mm fader has a delightful resistance that feels just right, provided you aren’t using it for scratching or turntablism. Every tactile detail screams quality, and just spending a minute twiddling around with the controls brings comfort to the fact that you just spent quite a bit of cash on a piece of kit.
The two rows of 16 buttons at the bottom of the unit are what set this controller apart from the rest of the pack: when used in conjunction with the free DrumStepp:R and SynthStepp:R devices in Ableton Live, the unit transforms into a step sequencer that is a joy to use onstage and in the studio. The multi-color LED’s ensure that you get enough visual feedback and information on the CNTRL_R without having to squint at your laptop.
The CNTRL_R houses MIDI connectivity and a USB port at the back for maximum compatibility with your existing setup. There are also a pair of jacks for MIDI devices, as well as Livid’s proprietary expansion port for their XPC line of products should you wish to expand your palette of controls.

MAPPINGS

 As previously mentioned, Livid maintains an expanding repository of mappings for all of its controllers: Already on the site are Remote Scripts for Ableton Live (including the DrumStepp:R and SynthStepp:R apps), as well as a mapping for Traktor 2 that allows control of up to 4 decks (2 main, 2 sample). Needless to say, this is a great alternative for EDM DJ’s that require 4-channel operation of Traktor and want everything in front of them in a simple fashion.

The Livid community has also come up with a handful of apps for VJ’s and Lighting, but currently doesn’t support CNTRL_R out of the box as of this writing, so if you’re planning to use it for those purposes you’re in for a bit of mapping!
Of course the best part about the CNTRL_R is that it’s entirely reprogrammable: using the free CNTRL_R editor program lets you reassign any function of your software to the controller, allowing you to customize it depending on what app you’re using. It stores up to four banks of mappings in its flash memory, so you could use one CNTRL_R to practically control and switch among all your devices, apps and plugins within your DAW!

WHAT’S MISSING?

You obviously can’t have it all when it comes to a fully customizable, hardware MIDI controller (unless we’re talking about a touchscreen tabletop), but what I really wanted to see in the CNTRL_R was what they intentionally left out: a crossfader. I know Livid is marketing this as a step sequencer and not a successor to their OHM RGB, but after trying out their Traktor mapping at a gig, I wasn’t too sure about using an endless rotary encoder to switch between two decks, but that’s just me. The expansion port for their XPC devices is a welcome addition if you’re looking for extra controls, however a crossfader isn’t in any of their add-ons.

On the software side, I would’ve loved the SynthStepp:R and DrumStepp:R to have a sequence function within its internal pattern storage, just like Ableton’s “Follow Action” feature so you could leave it running without having to switch between patterns manually.

THE NEXT STEP IN LIVE PERFORMANCE CONTROL?

In essence, the CNTRL_R is yet another customizable MIDI device, and there already are many to choose from! With all the controllers crowding the marketplace, it’s easy to pass on the CNTRL_R if you already own a grid-based controller like the Launchpad or a 4-channel all-in-one like the Traktor S4.
It’s also worth including a brief comment from Livid themselves on the cost of the unit in comparison to the cheaper alternatives that exist:
“It’s hard to compare a Made in the USA product manufactured directly by us, to a mass produced product in China. We can’t win on price, but you can at least know who’s making your gear, and that our manufacturing process is transparent. So it’s not a totally fair price comparison.”
However, Livid is able to position itself as a provider of a very specific electronic musician’s niche by making its step sequencer feature layout the highlight of what to some might seem an otherwise “redundant” piece of gear. Granted, there are other step sequencers out there (you can even turn the Maschine into one with its Step mode), but there’s something quite special about having it all laid out for you right before your very eyes while you consider every fraction of a second’s musical possibilities.