Adding Value To Your DJ Set-Up
There’s an abundance of music available at our fingertips via the internet and literally hundreds of ways to play it all as a DJ. Whether using turntables or CD players and mixer utilizing a laptop as a traditional DJ set-up or having a digital vinyl system, or DJ controller, there are many ways to spin these days. Almost anyone can do a little research online, frequent night clubs, raves, or house parties and decide they would like to start DJing. This is an amazing truth that will remain as long as dancing and dance music exists. But how can you differentiate yourself from the others? What are ways that you can make your sound unique without having to spend thousands of dollars on a super custom rig? Adding a unique sound to your mix can be difficult and expensive, but there are a number of great products out there under $350 that will allow you to create a fresh sound.
WHEN DID “FRESH” BECOME FRESH?
Some of you all might be familiar with the DMC (Disco Mix Club) which has held the world championships of DJing since 1986. It was this epic competition that helped solidify the DJ as an artist and a performer, showcasing the best DJ’s from all over the world in a battle format. It started out amazingly as a “mix-off” format competition that soon developed into a routine oriented, turntablist “battle” with intricate scratching, beat-juggling, and showmanship which is what we are now familiar with today. It re-imagined the scope of conventional DJing and challenged competitors to push their creativity to greater heights much to the satisfaction of fans and enthusiasts of the DJ art form all over the world. Soon after the turntable began out-selling the guitar in the UK and the culture of DJing spread world wide. Arguably Hip Hop culture and EDM (electronic dance music) fueled the DJ movement, and in the 90′s the music industry and media began taking notice.
THE 2ND RENAISSANCE
The standard DJ set-up consisted of two turntables and a mixer and remained as such until around the turn of the century when you started seeing dual-CD players and table-top CDJ’s take the place of the turntables. They were reliable and allowed for use with compact discs instead of vinyl records. This was the beginning of the digital DJ age. Around 2003 and 2004 DVS systems like Stanton Final Scratch, Traktor and Serato Scratch Live were first introduced and allowed DJ’s to use their laptop, an audio interface and time coded vinyl or cds to play MP3′s thus eliminating the need to carry CDs and records to every gig. The DJ software concept placed emphasis on giving the DJ access to more music while still emulating the feel of playing on the traditional set-up. This became popular very quickly especially since downloading music legally was at the time ill-regulated. The culture exploded, but the quality of the performances began to diminish due to the oversaturation of mediocrity and laziness in the DJ market. Innovative DJs demanded more from the software in order to push the envelope of their creativity and more features began to surface. The use of digital effects, looping, cue points, and even video mixing became possible with DVS systems and the standard set-up began to take a new form and expand.
WHAT ARE ALL THOSE BUTTONS FOR?
In order to understand the need for integrating a midi controller or trigger into one’s typical DJ set-up, one has to be familiar with the new creative avenues that exist within the latest DJ software or DVS systems. Here are some of the progressive features found in Serato Scratch Live, Itch, M-Audio Torq, Virtual DJ and Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2.
Looping and Cueing
A portion of your track can be repeated or looped manually by punching “IN” at the start and punching “OUT” at the end. Typically loops can last 1-32 beats or as short as 1/32nd of one beat. Loops can also be set to a predetermined length automatically, in most cases by setting the length and activating one button in the software. This helps in transitioning in and out of tracks. Cue points are used to mark points in your track that might represent the intro, first drop, first verse, chorus, breakdown, or outro. Multiple cue points at designated phrases and builds allow DJs to creatively remix and juggle their tracks to enhance the performance.
Sampling within DJ software adds an element of live production and remixing to the set. Vocals and drum loop samples can be triggered and played over existing tracks to create builds and transitions that become your own. Sure, we all started out on vinyl and it’s just not cool to blah, blah, blah. Using samples is cool. Get on board.
Filters and Effects
Creating EQ sweeps, delays, and even creative panning has almost always been a technique that good DJs use and that beginning DJs attempt. The current range of DJ software now provides some really excellent effects like delay, flange, phaser, reverb and many, many others at the touch of a button. There are also a range of filters available to allow you to sweep from low, high, and band pass to further add creativity to your mix. Those of you who have used Traktor’s legendary “Beatmasher” effect have tasted and quite possibly have learned to abuse this nifty tool. The fact is we should all try and add flavor to our mix and filters and effects help keep our kitchen stocked.
The ability to record loops and audio from sources internal and external AND to be able to play them back on the fly is the pinnacle of DJing, producing, and remixing. Doing it all during a live performance, well that’s just the circle of life. Loop Recording is reliant on having an audio card or controller interface with inputs and/or routing that the software will recognize as a recording source. So far, only Traktor has the Loop Record function, but we can assume that most of the others will soon follow suit.
So what works best for you? Your decision to expand your set-up relies on what you hope to accomplish. You might just need to trigger some cue points or enable loops. Maybe you might need to dig a little deeper if you want to tweak some elaborate effects combos or filter sweeps. Here are some of my favorites to wet your DJ whistle.
Native Instruments Kontrol X1 – $199
The Traktor Kontrol X1 really changed my life. I was very happy using Traktor Scratch Pro with my turntables, occasionally using the keyboard on my laptop to trigger loops, but I never really got into using the incredible effects because I had no way to tweak them. The X1 changed all of that by giving me knobs and rubber pads in a compact package that fit nicely between my decks and mixer. I became faster in preparation which allowed me more time to use cues and effects to elevate my performance. Gotta have it.
Novation Dicers – $79
The Novation Dicers are durable and compact enough to stick on your decks or laptop, and stow away without occupying a lot of space in your gig bag. They accomplish everything you need from a triggering effects and hot cues, to helping you get silky in Serato Scratch Live with loops and loop rolls. Plus they look super sexy.
Midifighter Pro – $349.99
The Midifighter Pro is the perfect compliment to your standard DJ, controller, or remix set-up. Though it’s on the higher side of the pricing spectrum, you can design and customize your very own, and it is assuredly one of the best constructed, open-architecture controllers in the world. Using the Midifighter Pro with Traktor is the perfect combination, and Ean Golden’s design, expertise, and support have made this controller unstoppable.
Faderfox FX3 – €250 (approximately $335)
The Faderfox range of controllers have super sleek design features, high quality components, and are built for use in live performance. The Faderfox FX3 is made of aluminum with a durable plastic casing, and silky rubber knobs. They’re usb powered and are compact enough to fit almost anywhere next to your set-up. They are mostly popular in Europe, but with an undeniable quality and performance, we should expect to see more of these popping up stateside very soon.
Denon DN-HC1000S – (Check our site for a great price)
Denon DN-HC1000S did it first for Serato Scratch Live users. Unlike the Dicers, this provides pushable rotary knobs that you can use to set loops and scroll through folders to load tracks. It also has designated cue buttons, and the ever popular loop roll button. I believe that at the time this came out most Serato users were very anti-controller, never used effects or loops, and just really weren’t down with midi or mapping. It was pretty heavy too, but if you could find a place for it in your set-up you could really do some damage.
Whether you decide to use a controller or not, there is no denying that the evolution of DJing is always about moving forward and adding value to your artform. Who knows, it probably won’t be long until we are DJing without any hardware and just using our motions and thoughts to control our mix. If you have any ideas on where the future of DJing lies, please leave a comment below. Until next time, happy gigs.