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DJ Scott Mad Flip

DJ Scott Mad Flip
December 9, 2011

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.

Sample Play

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.

Loop Recording

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.

 CONTROLLERS UNITED

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.

 

Comments

  1. Scott Lapointe says:

    i would have also mentioned the the new A&H X2 or novation launchpad which is a good contendor for the X1.

    But great artical otherwise.

    1. Great controllers, for sure. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Angel Y. says:

    Hey there! great article! I never really looked into controllers before this. (I’ve mostly stuck with the traditional setup of 2 decks and a mixer). That Midi Fighter Pro looks really sweet though. Thanks for the great insight into the concept of “Fresh”. I’ll keep this article in mind for the future!

    1. Absolutely, thanks for the comment Angel!

  3. Charli Gulley says:

    I grew up with vinyl records. When you mentioned “sampling” I was immediately recalled how the 80s were full of that synthesized sound, so much of it a mix of sounds. I enjoyed the article.

    1. The 80′s certainly were a great time for dance music to really come to be. So many new indie songs are bringing the sound back and I LOVE it. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Kai Street says:

    Great article! I’m always a big fan of controllers. Nowadays, upcoming “DJ’s” are rather controllerists than those who spin vinyl or use CD’s. I’m a huge proponent of the Midi Fighter Series. Customizable and a sleek design!

    I also love the Korg NanoKontrol 1 and 2. They’re great for sampling! Oh and another alternative to CD turntables or vinyl turntables is the Numark V7. Technically, it’s a midi controller, although it has the feel of a turntable.

    I haven’t quite had the time to try out the dicer, but from what I’ve heard from several friends, it’s pretty nice, especially because it doesn’t get in the way. All in all, I really love midi controllers!. It’s really nice for putting on a show. Ableton Live + Midi Controllers = Paradise.

    1. Thanks Kai! I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Cristiano says:

    I never thought that had so many ways to improve a DJ Set. Great article!

    1. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Tyler Linke says:

    The Native Instruments Kontrol is the coolest by far. I was hooked when I watched the Youtube video of DJ Craze using it with the new Traktor Scratch Pro 2.

    1. For sure, he kills it with the X1. Thanks for the comment!

  7. elKarl says:

    I’ve gone a step further and replaced the mixer in my DVS system with a controller, using the internal mixer and EQ in TSP. I originally started doing this with my VCM100 when a channel blew out on my 2 channel mixer, and kept it up. I’ve replaced the VCM100 as my controller of choice with an Akai APC40+20 combo, which gives me all the faders and buttons I could ever want (especially buttons). It also prompted me to get more familiar with controller mapping and how the software I used worked, further developing my skills as a digital DJ. I also recently got a great deal on a Stanton sc3m system, and use the multi-touch control surfaces for decks 3 and 4 (their mixer functions are still controlled on the “APC 80″).

    It works slick, has tons of user feedback – and it still LOOKS like I’m DJing rather than just punching buttons – which is an often overlooked performance element that (in my experience) is crucial for engaging with an audience. Don’t forget to have fun with it, Cheers!

    1. Your set-up sounds excellent! I would love to hear more about your APC “60″mapping and integration with the SC3m system. Thanks for the comment and positive insight! Cheers!

  8. Krytical H!T says:

    Regardless of one’s setup, anyone can bang out an amazing DJ set. Turntablists can do amazing scratch transitions and the feel of vinyl is unbeatable. CDJ users can achieve really cool spinbacks, and have the club standard behind them. Controllers are an unbeatable way of getting into DJ’ing because it’s the cheapest method of mixing. They also provide the most customization due to midi being such an open ended format. I started with an MC6000 and a midi fighter, and will most likely get a pair of Technics in the future to run with DVS because I really crave the feel of vinyl. In the far future I’d like to own enough equipment for all styles – CDJ, turntables, and controllers. More exposure and differentiation can only be a good thing!

    1. I agree completely. It’s good to be versatile on both vinyl and controllers. I personally try and use both as often as possible. There are almost no limits to your creativity as long as you can keep your mind open to technology and continue to hunger for more. Thanks for the comment!

    2. elKarl says:

      Agreed!

    3. djreason says:

      Exactly. For the most part, I’ve found that the audience doesn’t care too much whether you use vinyl, CDJs, or controllers. I started out on vinyl, and now that I’m using a VCI, I can’t see myself really going back. The audience really just wants a good set and likes when the DJ keeps moving, whether it’s banging pads, buttons, scratching, activating effects, or even just loading a track. As long as they see a DJ that’s active and enjoying what they’re doing. And it’s even more exciting as more and more DJs and producers embrace the new technology. I personally can’t wait to see what we come up with next.

  9. Rosemary Breschuk-Chiu says:

    I know someone who would really love this as a gift!