Sampling From Then To Now

Sampling From Then To Now

Sampling has a checkered history. One that has given birth to new forms of music, lowered the barrier to entry for producers and witnessed the rise and fall of artists in legal battles. Whether or not you follow the idea that ‘information wants to be free’, the decision to use pre-existing tracks in your own production work should be considered carefully. We still live in an age of rights holders. Let’s check out how a career in DJing can both benefit and be derailed by sampling.

What is sampling, again?

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Sampling is the reuse of part of an existing sound recording in another recording. Typical examples of sampling include using snippets of vocals (speech or singing), melodies and, most notably, drum fills and sounds. It might sound like a hip hop thing, but sampling actually started in the 1940s with musique concrète, a form of experimental music. The term was brought to light with the manufacture of the Fairlight CMI sampler in the 1970s, which enjoyed widespread use as a substitute for live drums in 80s pop music.

Hip hop

Hip hop took sampling to the next level in the late 1980s, and still does to this day. Think your favorite producer actually made that beat from scratch? Guess again. Apparently, the rule goes something like this: the amount of sampling you think took place on a record is always less than the actual amount which did. It’s not easy to know. But we do know how sampling took off. The original Akai MPC was an affordable sampler which brought the act of sampling to the masses and formed the basis of most hip hop music. Drum breaks such as the famed ‘Amen Break’ were lifted from funk records and still used as the rhythmic backdrop to everything from gangster rap to corporate advertising. Good article here to debunk some myths around sampling.

Copyright

Here’s where a little footwork is required. Sampling, in almost all cases, is an illegal practice according to US Copyright Law. The most powerful weapon a producer has to combat litigation is to avoid detection. In the early days, hiding your sampled material was as simple as outwitting the human ear by burying it in the mix, or using such short snippets that they were difficult to recognize. Now we have music recognition services like TuneSat (the software behind Shazam) to blow the whistle on impressively opaque usage. But as sophisticated as music recognition AI is already, there still isn’t enough scanning resolution to determine which songs contain exactly which samples. Sampling looks set to live another decade or so, but the jury’s out on what happens thereafter. The alternative to backdoor tactics? Get a copyright clearance for your record. If you can’t do that, don’t sample hit songs or anything by Disney!

Copyright was put in place to promote creativity. Without sampling, music simply wouldn’t be as fun. Sampling an old record and putting a beat to it is the starting point for multitudes of producers. Sure, in an ideal world we’d all be able to hire orchestras to play the string parts in our heads. (Side note: most orchestral music is public domain, meaning there will never be a lawsuit.) But until then, let the music be shared. Sign up for a DJ course today to get familiar with sampling software.

Going Deeper Into DJing

Going Deeper Into DJing

What is a DJ, really? We all know that the term ‘disc jockey’ is about 50 years too old. And that the superstar solo DJ image needs a radical update if the goal is any kind of craftsmanship in our music. Too many blog posts are about how to get your work onto Spotify playlists and get paid and very few about how to create resonant work. But beyond all these surface-level inquiries are a few deeper questions relating to the artform. Including one of the biggest of all: where are you going as a DJ? Let’s ask ourselves a few deep questions about a life behind the decks.

Do I have to act a certain way?

We’re all forced to play the game, regardless of the game. Being a person who belongs in a society means cooperation, conversation and dealing with others. Others who have their own interests and expectations. So how should a DJ behave when confronted with these expectations? The fact is that a paying crowd wants some type of performance from their DJ, be it a fist-pumping festival atmosphere or a subtle, behind-the-scenes cool and confidence. As a DJ, it’s pretty important to recognize these expectations and to decide how much you’re willing to give the audience or clientele. There’s no right answer. You’ll certainly get more jobs by conforming to stereotypes in an age where media (rather than our own personality and integrity) defines who we are. It’s the short game. The long game is teaching others your own unique personality and style by being closer to the ‘real’ you both on and off stage. The choice is yours!

Am I a tech person or a performer?

DJs are different to other types of performers. There is a far lower ceiling for theatrics. It’s actually pretty rare that a DJ intentionally draws attention to themselves through their behavior. It’s more common that gearheads make their way over to the desk to check out the equipment. Or guests come over to make requests. Nobody wants the DJ to be hogging the mic all night. They’re there for the music and the dance floor. So getting to grips with your role as a DJ means choosing where you want to position yourself. The answer is somewhere between an electrical technician, live performer and occasional MC. Are you okay with mediating between the best man and bridezilla? Are you a little scrappy with knowledge of signal flow? Knowing your own DJing strengths and weaknesses allow you a clearer picture of the path you’re really on.

How do I really succeed?

The reason there never seems to be a clear answer to this question is because those who hear the simple truth often don’t believe their ears! There’s no magic to success. There’s no secret recipe to creating a mix that tops charts, stops conversations mid-sentence or causes people to tingle with anticipation. What we can deduce is that it’s not a quick rise. The vast majority of DJs and producers you’ve heard of have released hundreds of tracks or mixes, played hundreds of shows, connected with thousands of industry people. Think about those figures for a minute. Have you reached a point where you can say you’ve done a hundred of anything? It’s not difficult to do. It just means doing it every day, indefinitely. In the absence of more obvious ways to succeed, doing a ton of work seems to be the most common. Every second you spend looking for shortcuts is a second you’ve wasted on looking for something that isn’t there.

Pretty deep, right? Whether you’re hoping for success as a DJ, producer, live performer or something else, the hope is that this advice will enable you to take off the blinkers and get busy doing what you love. This is truly a golden age for creatives. Monetization, self-publishing and artists rights are all on the increase. No more excuses! Check out a selection of DJ courses today and get on the path you came here to walk.


3 Alternatives To Traktor

3 Alternatives To Traktor

Traktor is one of the most popular DJ programs around. All working DJs have at least some knowledge of the engine’s strengths and features. But it’s not the only one. If you’re new to it, check out the online Traktor course here on DJ Courses Online. Otherwise, let’s put aside the industry standard take a look at the features of some alternative DJ programs.

Atomix VirtualDJ Pro

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Despite the audacious claim that VirtualDJ Pro is used by ‘tens of millions of people every day’, the fact is that the program does at the very least rival Traktor in popularity. It’s awesome. Recent developments include a ground-up rebuild of the audio engine and a recent swing towards on-screen visuals. If you’re a social type, you can broadcast your mix directly to social media. ReWire compatibility means that it plays with other programs like Ableton and Reason. Virtual DJ Pro is able to run a massive 99 virtual decks, should a standard crossfade not be good enough for you. It’s a little pricey at $299 in comparison to Traktor’s $99, which is frequently discounted. Atomix, however, have offered a rental option at $19 per month, and free versions are available with the purchase of certain partner controllers. Check out the unusual, animated TED-talk-styled ‘What Is Virtual DJ?’ video.

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Algoriddim was an early adopter on the mobile DJ front. If you’re the frequent target of requests at your events, djayPRO is one of the best tools on both iOS and Android. The winning feature? Ability to load tracks directly from Spotify, iTunes and Windows Explorer. djayPRO is aimed at DJs who value time spent playing music over time spent compiling playlists and being custodians of their own personal collections. Using their Automix AI tool, you can receive intelligent suggestions and easily compile playlists of suggested tracks. Other features include 4-deck mixing, turntable and waveform views, a sampler, effects, onboard support for 50 MIDI controllers and Pioneer device integration (both CDJ and XDJ). If you’re using the streaming function, you’ll obviously need a wifi connection. The pro version comes in at $50 and has a busy support forum with all the power of Microsoft behind it. Android and iOS apps available. Oh, and that burning need you had to DJ from your wristwatch? Sorted.

PCDJ Dex

PCDJ Dex is a sort of all-in-one solution for a mobile DJ, VJ and karaoke event organizer. Wait! Come back! Seriously though, Dex 3 comes in at the top of some lists for its sheer power as a party-starter. It includes the standard mixer, effects and EQs that you’d expect, but also integrates video mixing and support for karaoke files, making it a pretty flexible option for those who travel with their gear. Features include four virtual decks, beat sync and key-match, auto sync, a sample player and looper tool. Native MIDI and digital vinyl compatibility is available for a range of devices. On the visual side, you can expect on-screen text, image and video overlay features and plenty more. Check out the full list of features here. At a currently discounted rate of $119.20, Dex 3 is a flexible alternative for all-in-one event organizers. Download the trial version of Dex 3 from PCDJ.


Yeah, it’s Traktor’s world. We’re just living in it. Native Instruments’ flagship DJ software has long been the upgrade point for many a DJ looking to make a career of their DJing hobby. But things sure change quickly in the world of technology. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with a few alternatives, even if it’s only to talk shop with your gearhead amigos. Check out the other program-specific DJ courses offered by DJ Courses Online.

5 DJs Who Changed The Game

5 DJs Who Changed The Game

Every so often, the room dies down and true greatness is recognized. These moments are few and far between, but being a better DJ means working towards them with all your power. Check out a few of the legendary DJs and what made them household names.

Carl Cox

Before there were superstar DJs, there were (mostly) guys pushing for something more. Carl Cox was the first one to break out into the next level. A solo pioneer who has repeatedly dominated Top 100 DJ lists, his globetrotting antics set the stage for others to follow. Primary claim to fame? Owning it on three decks, leading to the nickname ‘The Three Deck Wizard’.

Cut Chemist

A former member of Jurassic 5, Cut Chemist has prevailed over both the solo DJ and band formats. As with all greats, Cut Chemist helped generate the equations necessary for mixtape culture. Primary claim to fame? Being able to throw out his own preconceived ideas and put together a mix on the fly after doing a few rounds of chatting to members of the audience.

Qbert

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Qbert’s obsession with scratch DJing (and baseball caps) has led to his nickname as ‘The scratch professor’. His role as an educator of the super-niche artform has led to the Qbert Skratch University, which features some great tutorials and intricate knowledge of vinyl. Primary claim to fame? Insane technical skill on a range of equipment.

Mr Scruff

Mr Scruff demonstrates a rare approach in the often pretentious world of DJing - childlike silliness. His taste in music has not suffered for it, however. His breakthrough 1999 hit album ‘Keep It Unreal’ follows in the vein of Kid Koala by featuring samples of children’s songs/ The ‘DJ’s DJ’ has been avoiding bandwagons and keeping his friendly and fun audience clambering for more since the 90s. Primary claim to fame: cartoon illustrations, personality and regular 6-hour mixes.

Jam Master Jay

When Run DMC broke out with their self-titled debut album in 1984, the rules of DJing changed. For the first time, mainstream hip hop was aggressive, up front and featuring the DJ as part performer alongside the MCs. Played trumpet, bass, guitar and drums as a child. Primary claim to fame: the 1986 crossover cover release of Aerosmith’s - ‘Walk This Way’. Also an educator, pushing the knowledge outwards.

Learning to DJ? Make sure you check out some DJ courses for solid advice on how to up your game and become a better DJ than yesterday.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ

The 5 Most Popular DJ Programs

The 5 Most Popular DJ Programs

Your DJ hardware and software is your spaceship. You have to know how to fly it with your eyes closed if your aim is to level up as a DJ. Learning new DJ software isn’t always easy, but thanks to some astoundingly good design, DJing has become accessible to even the functionally challenged. Get to grips with this quick overview of the most universally endorsed DJ software on the market.

Traktor

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Native Instruments has created an absolute beast in Traktor. It’s the household name and first on the list for any aspiring DJ. Well designed interface, easy to use and powerful in its interpretation of digital files. Innovative features include Sample Decks, Remix Decks and Loop Recorder. Built with hardware controllers in mind. It’s hard to praise this software’s contribution to DJing enough.

Ableton Live

Ableton Live is pure innovation. A total shapeshifter, able to perform as both a fully functioning DAW and a DJ tool. It’s all about the vertical Session View, which allows you to selectively launch clips of any length for highly creative sets and clean looping. Unbeatable for collaborations between controllerists and live musicians.

Serato DJ Pro

For integration with any kind of vinyl playback or turntablism, Serato DJ Pro leads the way. Serato’s mission has always been to make scratch DJ culture thrive by accommodating playback of digital files using special vinyl platters. The software has gone through a number of iterations, all aimed at making the experience reliable and reducing the inevitable latency ever further. Sampling effects, four-deck mixing, sync and analysis tools are also on the table with Serato

Pioneer Rekordbox DJ

With its origins in music library management, Pioneer Rekordbox DJ is capable of large and simple-to-navigate track collections and an expanded version designed for performance-oriented mixing, effects and sampling. Recordbox has the ability to control light shows and stage effects and hosts compatibility designed for karaoke. Cross-platform compatibility is another win, given that it shares its workflow and track library with the industry-standard CDJs and mixers spearheaded by Pioneer.

Virtual DJ

By paid download, Virtual DJ is the most popular software on the planet. Atomix Productions’ flagship software has kept its place in the industry by remaining up to date with design and usage trends. Notably, their additional subscription service allows you to stream tracks absent from your library directly online. Their functionality includes video as well as the usual sampler and effects. Their ease of use, ubiquitous product support and ‘VDJScript’ language allows you to tweak functions to your preference.

Truth be told, it matters far less which software you use than what tracks you play. But having an all-round knowledge of these products is a quantum leap towards learning to DJ like a pro. Pro tip? Get on top of a few of these programs if you’re serious about your art.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ

Why Streaming Laws Are Being Overhauled

Why Streaming Laws Are Being Overhauled

Which platform do you use to release your original work? Beatport? Spotify? Streaming services and digital stores have brought an awesome amount of exposure to emerging artists in the past. But we’re beginning to see a change in the effectiveness of this strategy for the next generation of undiscovered artists. Releasing your music on Spotify is actually a topic that’s under some pretty serious scrutiny at the time of writing. Learn more about DJing in the age of streaming.

Spray and pray

More people are using streaming services now than ever. But the royalty payment rates are still ridiculously low. Some estimates claim that up to 2.4 million streams is what it takes to earn a minimum wage. Artists distributing their original work to Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and Google Play need to be more aware of the implications of their agreement when they go to the trouble of uploading, rather than simply adopting a ‘spray-and-pray’ approach.

Music Modernization Act

In September 2018, the Music Modernization Act was passed into US law. This bill will have a pretty big impact for copyright holders. It’s main aim is to overhaul royalty payment statutes that were written into law as early as 1909! In short, the music industry has long had a problem: much of the royalty revenue has remained unclaimed by the artists and distributed inefficiently by a long chain of insiders and intermediaries. Another of the proposed outcomes of the bill is to adapt the old-fashioned royalty collection measures for the modern age - namely, the age of streaming. We’re hoping that the new law will be able to fix it and pay artists more fairly in future.

Credit for producers

Even if you don’t create your own original work, this is relevant to you. Being any kind of successful DJ these days requires some kind of production work. Some creativity. According to the Music Modernization Act, credit will being assigned to producers as well as other types of talent. This is a historical first. If you’re a DJ looking to level up, one fast way to do it is to start studying DJ and production techniques that the pros use. Embedding your own work into a mix is a great way to kickstart your career. Placing your own original productions alongside charting singles is the oldest trick in the book for bootstrapping your own exposure.

So get writing. The future looks brighter for copyright holders than it has in decades. The legislation overhaul and emerging music streaming services powered by blockchain seek to augment the effort to empower artists. Tomorrow’s world looks even more musical than yesterday’s.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.

Expanding Your Sound Palette

Expanding Your Sound Palette

Everything that you can hear could be considered to be music. At the heart of it, DJing is about playing back tracks that people want to hear (duh),  but how about learning to DJ by controlling the overall ambient sound in the room, too? Atmosphere is the name of the game, and not every set has to be back-to-back bangers. Break out of the mold by looking for alternative sound sources and expand your DJ sound palette.

Foley

During the leftfield electronica boom, artists like Shigeto started popularizing music that was interleaved with everyday sound recordings. Keys jangling, birdsong and ambient noise often interplay very well with sparse electronic beats. While you’re scrolling around for your next track, stick on a recording of ocean waves in the background for 30 seconds and see what the crowd thinks. Breaks can be so tasteful. Creating real moments allows you to connect with the audience.

Vocal samples

We’ve all heard tracks where a monologue vocal sample plays back over the break. It’s usually someone with something wise or thought-provoking to say. Often the sample originates in the distant past, and the audio quality is clearly lo-fi. Moments like this might allow an audience to stop and take in the message. If you listen to podcasts or talks and something relevant appeals to you, consider including it in the next break between tracks. But do it sparingly and try to keep it targeted at the audience you’re serving. DJing isn’t a platform for you to air your own views on life!

Performance

Playing a live instrument with your set is arguably the best way to create extra energy. People go bananas if a DJ can also play along to the track. But you don’t have to learn an instrument to create moments. You might consider adding some intriguing, easy-to-play percussion to the music. For example, hang some wind chimes alongside the gear and run it through your delay effect. Bring a small radio and scan the dial for different noise sounds. Even a contact microphone can add to the vibe. Extreme as these suggestions may be, they create talking points and the perception of artistry in your work. And they often sound cool, too.

YouTube

Software allows for serious creativity in blending music and all other audio. With a strong idea, you can make a blonde kid sound like a purple demon. And what a joy it is to have a hotline to basically every piece of music ever published and more. YouTube can be thought of in many ways, and one of them is as an audio source for your own creations. This type of open-source DJing is a matter of finding the sound that appeals to you the most and integrating it into the music you like the most. Learning the artform is as simple as that.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ

Compression: Part 2

Compression: Part 2

Compressors used to all be physical rack-mounted devices, but are most commonly used as software plugins like VSTs today. Compressors are super-useful devices for smoothing out volume spikes, giving quieter sounds more punch and presence. You’ll find a compressor on almost every main audio bus in a modern mix. They’re an indispensable part of recorded music. Learn to DJ with compression tricks by checking out some of the parameters you’ll find on your DJ program’s onboard compressor.

Attack

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Attack and release parameters are concerned with the time during which the compressor is active. Changing the attack will change how quickly the compressor kicks in and begins reducing loudness. Both attack and release are measured in milliseconds (ms). An attack value of 0ms means that the compressor begins to work as soon as any incoming audio reaches the threshold. Low attack is good for punch in drum sounds. A higher attack value allows a certain small time interval before starting to work. This is good for vocals and organic sounds, which might sound unnatural if they’re too ‘instant’.

Release

Release uses the same principle, but applies to the end of the incoming audio rather than the start. A release value of 0ms means that the compressor will stop working very suddenly. In fact, it will stop as soon as the audio dips below the threshold, and not a millisecond later. You might hear a noticeable dip in the sound level. This is useful as a way of cutting off drum and percussive sounds that do not need to linger in the mix after they’re done playing back. But at higher release values, the sound fades away more gently. Again, this is better for vocal and natural sounding instruments.

So, while threshold and ratio are concerned with volume (amplitude), attack and release are concerned with time. At 0ms, the signal would sound like a mute knob has been pushed. At higher values, it would sound like a volume knob has been turned down. How quickly depends on the value in milliseconds.

Knee

A knee is also a time control. It controls the suddenness with which the sound is compressed as it approaches the threshold. Like the attack value, it changes the start point of the audio by making it smoother or more sudden. But unlike attack, it actually anticipates the incoming audio, beginning to smooth it out even before the threshold is reached. A softer knee means a smoother sound while a harsher knee means more abrupt changes in volume as the sound dips and jumps around the threshold value. Make sense?

There’s plenty more to learn about DJing and using compression in your productions and performances. Make sure you get the right info from the pros by signing up for a DJ course online today.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


Compression: Part 1

Compression: Part 1

Let’s start with the basics. A compressor is an audio device which condenses the dynamic range of a signal. Using a compressor, loud sounds get reduced in volume while softer sounds get raised. Most music heard today contains compression, particularly on vocals. Learn how to use compression and take your DJ career to the next level.

How does a compressor work?

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We use compressors to make changes to the sound’s amplitude (volume). Usually to make it more punchy and louder in the mix. Compressors allow you to fine tune a few key settings in order to control changes to both the amplitude and time of the signal as it passes through. All of those knobs on a compressor have different duties. Let’s look at what some of these knobs do.

Threshold

The threshold knob is a gatekeeper. When it’s set to 0dB, the full signal is allowed through unchanged. But as you turn it down (towards negative infinity), more of the audio gets processed. So the threshold is just a way of determining the volume level at which the audio begins to be processed. The lower the threshold, the more of the audio will be compressed.

Ratio

So, let’s say our threshold ‘gatekeeper’ allows everything under -12dB through to the next stage. What happens next? Well, any audio above -12dB is then due to be compressed. How compressed? That depends on the ratio. Ratio is the strength of the compression. A gentle ratio might be 2:1. This means that for every 2dB of audio above our -12dB threshold, only 1dB will make it through. The rest gets squashed! So if we the ratio is 2:1, 2db of signal louder than the threshold is only ‘worth’ 1dB. What’s the point of this function? Remember, a compressor is great at making loud peaks and spikes softer and more pleasing to the ear.

Make-Up Gain

Like most audio devices in a chain, compressors have an option to raise and lower the gain once its job has been done. Gain is the most simple and common parameter in audio processing. Remember, a compressor typically makes loud sounds quieter and more consistent. It reduces spikes in the mix. As a result, the overall sound is usually quieter after passing through a compressor. Make-up gain simply allows you to turn it back up to match the levels in the mix.

Most DJ software includes the ability to add compression to a mix. It’s tempting to crank it all the way up, but do be aware that too much compression makes a mix sound lifeless and flat. Find the balance by learning how to DJ with care and confidence that your mix is sounding good. Sign up for a DJ course online today and kickstart your DJ career!

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


4 Myths About A Life In DJing

4 Myths About A Life In DJing

There are about as many myths about audio engineering as there are people with a copy of Traktor. One definition of audio engineering is the art of taking a finished track or composition and preparing it for commercial release. This means paying serious attention to the mix and the room in which it’s mixed. So let’s take a look at a few popular falsehoods that have been around for too long.

Myth #1: Macs are better than PCs

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It doesn’t really matter whether you use a Mac or PC when DJing. Macs tend to make DJs look more expensive and cooler. But let’s put that unwelcome level of superficiality aside. Event bookers and audience members aren’t that easily swayed by your image. It’s got far more to do with what you play, how much you enjoy it and how in tune you are with the crowd. That said, there are time-worn differences between the two. Macs do tend to be more reliable in a live setting, while PCs have the advantage of customizability and software accessibility. Most of the hardware components in both camps are manufactured by the same companies. This means that you’re often only paying for a different casing and operating system, not speed or hard drive space. Whatever you choose, get the most out of it. While you’re learning the art of DJing, don’t let your current machine get in the way of your current workload.

Myth #2: Egg cartons absorb sound

Let’s get something clear: egg cartons on the wall do very little to dampen internal sound reflections. The fact that they look like corrugated acoustic foam is where the myth starts and ends. There is very little absorptive property in the empty spaces they create. Only very dense material has the effect of stopping waves from bouncing around a room. Curtains or blankets do a better job than a bare wall. But the ideal for a DIY approach would be proper corner-mounted convoluted traps. The quality of your mix is directly related to the quality of the acoustic treatment in your room.

Myth #3: Proper mixing is expensive

Not any more. As software has become more affordable and accessible over the past 20 years, home recording has blown up. Around the world, there are audio production spaces that rival the studios run by the golden era major labels in terms of production output quality. Sure, there is a reason film scores and big productions aren’t mixed on a pair of Rokit 5s. But the general state of the art is that the top 10% of studios (measured by expense of equipment) aren’t exactly providing audio production value that dwarfs the competition. The status associated with procuring their services might explain inflated budgets. Bottom line? Unless you’re buddies with Armin and Tiesto, don’t part with your hard-earned cash too quickly. There are plenty of freelancers out there with the gear and expertise you need. Form relationships with them.

Myth #4:  Popularity is the only way

Don’t be fooled by the hype. The hype claims that the only way for you to create a career as a DJ is to write a banger, top the charts and hire someone to field the daily overload of lucrative inquiries from around the world. It’s mostly untrue, and a powerful myth used to sell unnecessary equipment. Instead of competing with hordes of impressionable others, start looking for gaps in the system. Where do people require music that aren’t receiving it? Get good at writing business proposals. Don’t be afraid to approach local live music joints, bars, restaurants and event organizers. They’ll want to see videos of you in action. Make sure that every time you have a crowd, you get a video of it. This sells you like nothing else. Popularity doesn’t always win you the business. But a positive work ethic, reliable reputation and a solid selection of music might.

A good chunk of making a name for yourself as a DJ is learning how to get around these types of entry-level distortions and do what works. If you’re serious about learning to DJ and produce audio, sign up for a course today.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


Getting An Edge With Vocal Tracks

Getting An Edge With Vocal Tracks

Let’s face it. Tracks with vocals perform better in the charts and on the dance floor. Lyrical vocal tracks encourage people who aren’t into dance music to join the groove by providing them with a hook, a feeling or a phrase to latch on to. Signing up for the DJ game means using the methods that work. Techno heads might be there for the sound system itself, sure. But if it’s numbers you’re after, getting a vocal into your production is a good idea.

Make it female

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Regardless of where you fall in the gender spectrum, female vocal tracks are more popular and in demand than their male counterparts. We won’t get into the reasons for that here! So find your local upcoming singer and start offering her a part to play in the production of your next track. You might have to hunt a few different options. Sometimes collaboration is like that. You don’t always hit a good working relationship right up front. But collaborate anyway. But be persistent and keep the intention to create a hot vocal track alive. Something will come of it.

Make it trained

There’s a difference between someone who can sing and someone who is trained. The difference is not so much in the quality of the vocal delivery. Trained singers have higher expectations. They are generally more professional, arriving on time and prepared. And, most importantly, they’re less in need of coaching and reassurance in the studio. Nobody wants to work with an inexperienced artist or someone subject to the dreaded ‘red light syndrome’.

Make it yours

Making a name for yourself. It’s what we’re all after, isn’t it? But for DJs, it’s especially difficult. We need our own stuff. We need to have tracks that others don’t have. We need to be in the know. So create a sound around your work. Start by recording your own vocal samples. Tune them, layer them, pitch them and compress them until they sound fat. Then invite a singer around to collaborate. Write out parts. Don’t expect gold to just land in your lap. Listen to music that isn’t dance music for inspiration. How about the passion of a tango track to inspire your next techno track? Either way, the recipe is simple: make your own stuff. Copy only as much as you need to. It’s the only guarantee that nobody else has what you have.

Make it good

Production quality and the controversy around the loudness war is a fierce debate. Pop and dance music producers are particularly obsessed with the ability to make a track sound loud and good across a range of systems. But within this art, the art of meaningful composition can be a little lost. So focus on writing good melodies and lyrics above production quality. Especially when you’re starting out, and you’ll probably only hear your music on mobile phones and the occasional, run-of-the-mill PA system anyway. Make people want a song because of its memorable content, not it’s polished packaging. It is more likely that you’ll get requests for a good but poorly produced song than you will for an excellent production with no spirit or soul to it. Do the best you can with what (and who) you’ve got. And when you’re done, write another one.

Making your tracks stand out starts with good songwriting. Not a songwriter? Doesn’t really matter. Collaborations with songwriters, musicians and especially singers is a great way to leverage your skills into great tracks. Sign up for DJ classes today and pick up more tips from the pros.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


Practical Advice For Students Of DJing

Practical Advice For Students Of DJing

Like a crowded bazaar, the marketplace for DJing is saturated. There simply isn’t enough space for everyone to gain opportunities to raise their profile by performing to the ‘right’ people. Yet time after time, new DJs emerge with a ‘started from the bottom’ approach, expecting that both financial and creative success is simply a matter of time. But there’s one question every new student of DJing should be asking themselves: what is it about me that makes the people care? If you haven’t answered that one yet, here are some alternative approaches to the cookie-cutter approach.

Get the gig

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How have the world’s best DJs made their name? Regardless of how you decide what ‘the best’ means, it was probably through a combination of good taste, charm and luck. But one thing is certain: all of us are a dirty MP3 rip or a speaker fail away from losing the gig. There are armies of others pushing up to take your place at the table. You need to be unique and indispensable to your community. Even when they’re offering lower pay or a kids birthday party, you want to be the first person they call. The gigs you don’t want to do are the ones that enable you to do what they want. Let your surrounding marketplace subsidize your passion. It’s still better than a day job.

Do the admin

Nobody really wants to act on the following piece of advice, but those who do want to learn DJing for real and follow it have an advantage. Here it is: for every hour you sit on YouTube getting ‘inspired’, you’ve lost an hour of practice. The idea that you’re going to make a name for yourself as a DJ without doing a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work is a little bit poisonous. DJing is as much about curating databases and libraries of files and clients and social media schedules as it is about playing music. The music is the fun part, which fuels the excitement for everything else. Without it, there’s no career. Remain inspired by it, but get your business set up as early as possible, if a career is what you’re really after.

Gear up

Unlike most other art forms, mastery of DJing is about mastery of technology. No matter how outstanding your taste in music, there’s nothing stopping someone else from playing the same exact setlist besides you getting the tracks first. Get to know the gear inside out. If you’re a laptop DJ, practice on turntables. If you’re decks, practice on controllers. Find new ways of making your set interesting. Nicholas Jaar plays a ghetto blaster at his events. It doesn’t have to be that offbeat, but certainly expand your range. Always remember, though: the gear doesn’t make the DJ. The music makes the DJ.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.


Alternative Approaches To DJing

Alternative Approaches To DJing

Some DJs make a name by their music selection alone. Some are outstanding producers. Some employ stage gimmicks in combination to the above. Some don’t stop at playback, and create mashups, remixes and live performances on the fly. Some employ whole instrumental ensembles. Whatever approach you take towards learning how to DJ, you’ll want to stand out. Check out a few examples of non-traditional DJ methods that have put selectors on the map.

Be discerning

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In this pretty cool interview, Lena Willikens describes how even the smell and temperature of the room can influence her track selection. It’s a great example of following your own judgment to create an identity out of your track choice. As you develop a sophisticated taste, communicate it clearly. You are the one that the people look to for advice on what’s hot and worth listening to on a week-by-week basis. Keep an eye on the charts, but spend as much time as possible crate digging and finding the music that fits your personality.

Technology selection

Technology plays a huge part in the arsenal of the more alternative DJ. Your choice of weaponry says as much about you as your music choice. And with the options available to DJs today, even a little technical understanding will take you a long way. From the technical overkill of Daft Punk to the simplest laptop setup, the level and character of technology you harness will say as much about you as your track choice. You’ll probably find yourself lumped in to one of a few camps. But labels like hip hop, techno, house, EDM don’t really matter. Becoming a DJ is about how you use the gear.

Live performance

Having a pair of bongo drums or a guitar on stage with you is a great idea. If you’re able to enlist a friend or even play it yourself, you should seriously consider it. There are still enough solo, non-instrumental DJs in the world to make a bit of live action a massively intriguing part of your set. You don’t have to be this guy and play twenty instruments (you are a DJ, after all), but get some percussion in there and watch the difference it makes to the crowd.

Advancing your DJing skills and reputation means learning the DJ trade by going the way that the others aren’t going. It’s not rocket science. Pretty soon, whatever is trending becomes boring. Start looking for alternatives to the norm and position yourself as someone original as early as possible. You’ll feel the difference in the satisfaction with your work.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

Playing The DJ Long Game

Playing The DJ Long Game

Most DJs wouldn’t consider themselves students. Maybe it’s because people always treat DJs as really cool people. DJs generally appear to be people in touch with the party scene who have interesting friends and stories from backstage. So many DJs ride the wave of popularity for doing something that’s in vogue with the a minimum amount of effort. But they’re not the names that you remember five years from now. Here’s how to stay in the DJing game long after the others have given up.

The big picture

How do you financially succeed as an artist in the 21st century? First, you make sure that what you’re offering is required by the community you aim to serve. Whether it’s local weddings in your city, club nights all over your country (or even the world), do what people want. Not only what you want. Also make sure you’re steadily building up a body of work around what you do. You need to be releasing mixes regularly, yes. But also capturing cool video from your events and editing it in a unique style that says something about what you do.

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Don’t act cool. Be cool.

Talk to people at your events. You might not like to consider yourself staff, but if you’re being paid to do any job in entertainment, the host of the event will always prioritize his or her guests over you. Here’s the truth: you’re there to serve an audience, not to gain new fans. Spin the right numbers and express your own personal taste. But you’ll need to put the needs of the audience first if you’d like to continue working with that booking agent.

Say please and thank you

The band leader for Beyonce isn’t a DJ. But she’s at the top of the game. Her advice is to be humble and have a good attitude when dealing with event promoters and industry people. She reminds us that being really talented is only one facet of an entertainer’s appeal. Many very talented artists have lost out on work to less talented people who are more of a pleasure to work with. Keep in mind that having a huge following makes you a hot item, but also that word gets around.

Level up

Getting good takes time. ‘Fake it till you make it’ is a useful way of bluffing your way into higher profile gigs. You are almost expected to promise the clients the most banging party every before you’re totally confident that you can deliver it. Thas bidness! But lucky breaks aside, it’s the experience that high-profile clients are after. The knowledge of how to handle difficult guests, tech trouble and other unexpected meltdowns. See your career as a DJ as just that - a career. A direction. Make sure you’re slowly improving over time.

Finally, remember that learning to DJ requires staying on top of trends and being realistic about what the industry demands of you. Don’t try too hard. Just take your time. There will always be people around you who appear to be doing less work and receiving more rewards for it. They are the ones that are not always around five years from now. Stay humble and keep working to improve your art. Sooner or later, it becomes evident where the good stuff is.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.


Riding DJ Trends

Riding DJ Trends

Keeping up with what’s hip is a big part of being a DJ. The crowd wants to hear what they know. While there is room for experimentation at some types of events, DJing is primarily about combining music that’s in vogue with music that you think should be. Tricks like harmonizing your tracks, EQ sculpting and creative crossfading are the icing on the cake, but you really should be thinking more about what music you’re playing than anything else. Here’s how to get the crowd going by changing your vibe from wannabe to ‘with it’.

Keep an eye on the charts

Make regular visits to your music providers of choice. Generally speaking, by the time the music has hit the charts, its time is up. In the past, songs stayed in the charts longer. These days, a hit song’s shelf-life is a week or two. An upcoming DJ helps songs to become popular by hearing what’s being played at hip events and by choosing their next track with ultimate discernment. If you’re in a pinch and need a crowd-pleasing set, head over to Beatport and download the Top 20. If you’re out to make a name as someone with a bit of a refined taste, dig deeper.

Stay in comms

You’ll definitely want to be on a few of your favorite labels’ mailing lists. Labels survive by the power of their reputation alone. That means that when they send out an email, the tracks they choose to push have to be the hottest and most newly available stuff they can find. Trust in this process by finding and following labels which reflect your tastes. The smaller the label, the higher the risk and rewards can be if you stumble on a real hit. The bigger the label, the more you’ll hear everyone else playing the song. Sign up to the artists’ mailing lists too. You’ll want to know when your favorite artist puts out something new. Often it’s under the radar.

Look elsewhere

There are plenty of DJs in the industry looking for a shortcut to success. If that means playing whatever comes up when you Google ‘best dance music this year’, it shall unfortunately be done. But as someone learning the art of DJing, you’ll need to find your own style. That means finding your own music. Enter the sub-culture of crate digging. This doesn’t mean you have to be a vinyl DJ and literally source old records from small retailers. It means looking for music where you might not typically find it. Your parents friends’ houses. Public domain music websites like Archive.org. The private Soundcloud of someone you know. And remember: just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad. Follow your own taste, and treat everyone else’s as a guideline only.

Listen more

Think you listen to a lot of music? Listen to more. While you do, think critically. Learn to analyze what it is about the music that you enjoy. Is it the way the groove isn’t exactly on the beat? Is is the complex quality of the vocal warping? Finding these personal preferences for music makes discovery easier. You’ll stop searching for generic stuff like ‘dance music female vocal’ and start searching for ‘marimba drum n bass’ or ‘vintage rock n roll sample house music’. Getting really specific means knowing what you’re looking for in the first place, and is the only way to discover the true gems.

Becoming a pro DJ is all about making a name for yourself and using that name to serve the needs of your music-loving community. Becoming an artist necessarily means going a little further and being a little more original than those simply in it for the ride. Be inspired!

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.


Short Glossary Of DJ Slang

Short Glossary Of DJ Slang

DJ slang is a language of its own. With roots firmly in the hip hop turntablism of the 1980s, DJ jargon is based on the technical novelties and subculture of the artform. You want to play the part while learning to DJ like a pro? In this fun list, we take a look at a few things you might hear inside the booth.

Bite: To blatantly copy another DJ’s techniques. Big no-no in DJing (example of use)

Break: Part of a song where only the drums play, usually for 4-8 bars. Can be looped or sampled as a springboard for a new track or for an MC to rap over. Sampling the drum breaks from gospel and jazz records formed the basis of early hip hop.

Cans: Headphones

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Crab: A scratch technique named after the shape of the hand as it controls the crossfader or fader. Crab scratching involves using the thumb and fingers to alternately raise and lower the fader, tapping quickly to create a rapid gating effect.

Coffin: massive flight case containing DJing equipment, typically two turntables and a mixer.

Cut:

  1. To lower the volume or EQ gain.

  2. To transition instantly between two tracks without cross-fading.

Downbeat: The first beat of the bar.

Hamster switch: A switch which reverses the crossfader channels temporarily. Using a hamster switch is a common scratch technique to create clear cuts between the tracks.

Hard swap: Quickly trading part of one track for another using EQ. For example, cutting the bass on A while simultaneously raising it on B.

Hot: Loud

“If you aint redlining you aint headlining”: Common yet controversial phrase describing how loudness (rather than selection or technical skill) is the most valuable weapon in a DJ’s arsenal.

Juggle: Turntablism technique wherein musical samples are rearranged to sound like something new. Two copies of the same songs are required. Favorite technique of Kid Koala and many others.

Scribbling: Simple scratching technique where the record is moved back and forward around a chosen sound.

Spinback: finishing a song by giving the disc a backwards finish.

Throwing: Giving a disc a small push to reduce lag time as it speeds up. Critical technique for beatmatching with any skill.

Tip: Speaking in the context of something. For example, “On a breakbeat tip” means “in the context of breakbeat.”

Tag: Two or more DJs performing a set by playing alternate records.

Trainspotting: Annoying practice by wannabe DJs who crowd the booth in an effort to see what track is playing. Trainspotters often interfere with the DJ.

Trainwreck: Failing to match beats, resulting in two kicks playing slightly out of sync. Sounds horrible, but happen to the all DJs at some point.

Hanging out with other DJs is pretty normal when you share a bill, and there’s often a lot of time between soundcheck and show. So while you’re actually learning to DJ, do some reading on the history of DJing and its subcultures and then head out and pick up some cool lines.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

 

4 Ways To Get Good At DJing

4 Ways To Get Good At DJing

Production quality is the difference between a track that sounds hot and a track that ‘has potential’. There are so many ways a mix can sound flat and lifeless, poorly recorded or badly mixed. But if you’re someone who is failing to release your music and mixes because you’re worried they’re ‘only MP3s’ rather than WAVs, here’s some advice: get out of your own way. Here’s how you raise the quality of your productions while avoiding creative blocks.

Dive in

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Stagefright is a common cause of poor performance when playing live. But have you heard of studiofright? It’s when you admire your beautiful decks sitting in the corner of your room but are afraid that if you touch them, your transitions and selections won’t immediately make you sound like Richie Hawtin. Of course they wont! You probably haven’t done the 20 years of hard work required to truly own a sound yet. So if you truly want to learn to DJ well, you’d better get practicing. There’s no other way to get good than to be a beginner. Make friends with unfamiliar functions. Learn keyboard shortcuts. Listen to loads of good music. Keep your drive for DJing alive. That’s really all it takes in the long run.

Keep at it

Everyone who has succeeded has gone through the process of making loads of bad work. Sure, learning to DJ is about gathering mad hype from your promotional efforts. But in the long term, you really want to be making work that shares itself. That means being good, not just appearing to be good. So resist the urge to download the Beatport Top 20 for your next gig and start creating a unique name by creating and releasing music that you (and people like you) might want to hear.

Release lots of music

Become a music release machine. Get good at the admin side of releasing tunes. Automate as many processes as you can. Track your stats and analyze who is liking your stuff. Keep a spreadsheet and make notes of where your most reliable source of music is coming from. Use platforms like LANDR to centralize your work. Something that nobody really tells upcoming artists is that making a career in DJing is mostly about boring, behind-the-scenes work. You have to earn the right to appoint someone else to do your admin. Until you do, it’s up to you. Get good at it!

Break your rules

Artists break rules all the time. The rule that says you shouldn’t layer 50 kicks. The rule that says you need a pair of Adam A7 monitors to make techno or an MPC to make hip hop. Remember, your mind is swimming with products and images of success which have been noisily advertised in order to influence your purchasing decisions. It’s way more important to spend a few hours a day doing the task than owning all the gear. An entire era of sound was created from sampling low quality YouTube rips. Listen to Stimming or Bonobo and hear how lo-fi and basic their sound is at times. Then go and break some rules.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

 

6 Types Of DJs

6 Types Of DJs

Career success is one way to measure DJing, but not the only way. Truth be told, there’s plenty hype around how to create a big name for yourself already. You have to choose your own level of involvement. So whether you’re only starting out learning to DJ or want to raise your profile to the next level, here’s a roadmap spanning the career of a successful DJ.

Bedroom DJ

Leaving the house and performing out and about isn’t top priority for bedroom DJs. At this stage of a career in DJing, the priority is refining technical and track selection skills rather than sharing them with others. Bedroom DJs who want to progress their career should be live streaming and uploading their mixes to Mixcloud and sharing them for increased exposure. Joining forums is also a good idea to spread the word. Focus on positive feedback and ignore trolls. Having a DJ hobby is a great way to keep your creative spirit alive.

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Mobile DJ

The early days of DJing involves getting to know people in the area. But you’re likely going to be playing Top 40 material and stuff with really broad appeal. This is because you have to earn a reputation in order to play exactly what you want to play. A good idea during this phase is to upgrade your equipment. If you’re planning on taking it further, you need to begin looking and sounding pro. That means having all the necessary accessories (adapters, cables, microphone) to be able to problem-solve on the fly. And stay humble. You’re basically there because as an alternative to the house music system. Mobile DJs are still closer to an accessory than a feature until they begin crafting their own sound.

Wedding DJ

Wedding DJs differ in one main respect: they’ve learned how to talk the crowd. Being able to hype up guests is the next skill in being a bookable asset. Rather than being in the background, the DJ booth serves as a focal point during the event. This is where you start getting hit by requests, so you’ll need to be prepared for that. Requests are generally pretty typical, so leave your rare Uzbek folk recordings out of the crate. The money is fairly good and the general expectation is that you’re kept fed and watered.

Bar DJ

The most important thing when DJing at a bar is to have fun. This is not the type of gig where you’re head down in the laptop or decks. You need to connect with people and keep the music choice varied. You’ll definitely be a little more free with the song selection, and the whole evening doesn’t have to revolve around hits, although it will likely end that way. Depending on the length of the gig, you might have time to experiment a little bit early in the evening. Just keep the selection fairly simple. The crowd probably cares a lot less about your taste than their own.

Club DJ

Becoming a club DJ is the holy grail for most aspiring selectors. You have a trusted name and a loyal fanbase, and often have total freedom with song choice. The audience is there for the music and your role has shifted from behind-the-scenes to focal point. This coveted position is worth defending by continuing to refine your skills and taste. The more you play once-off gigs, the stronger your chance of being selected for a residency at some point. From there, it’s a matter of scaling up your appeal and supporting big DJs when they’re in your area. In other words, making it.

Radio DJ

Getting on the radio is a massive shift for the breed of technical selectors known as DJs. It might mean a major timeslot shift, starting with the graveyard. But you get to select what you want to play, and the position comes with some serious respect. Once you’ve done your time in the trenches, it’s a good move to end up with a weekly show on daytime radio. You’ll be able to greatly influence people’s listening choices and will start to get loyal listeners. But if your mission is lights, crowds and nightlife, pick a different path. Keep your music passion alive by signing up for an online course.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ

How To Live Stream Your DJ Sets

How To Live Stream Your DJ Sets

Streaming your sets is a good way to get a few more fans into your taste in music. But the real benefit is that by putting a bit of pressure on yourself to get it right, you simulate real world gigs. So get good by opening your work up to the world and learning valuable DJ skills from your fans’ feedback. Here’s how to live stream your DJ sets to fans.

Keep your setup ready

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It’s important to remove any barriers to your live stream. You shouldn’t have to hunt for cables or download apps every time you want to broadcast your set. Make sure a corner of your room is set up, that there’s a tripod for your camera or phone ready and in position. Make sure the audio routing into your computer, audio interface or phone is prepared. In other words, do a little maintenance so that when you’re in the zone, doing admin doesn’t kill it.

Pick a platform

Chew.TV is built for DJ live streaming. Their about page describes them as “the live streaming platform that connects a community of over 350,000 amateur, up-and-coming and professional DJs, producers and personalities from over 130 countries around the world with an audience in over 190 countries.” You’re able to search by genre and easily create an account to start streaming your own stuff.

Twitch.TV is also an option, but more geared towards gamers and live musicians. YouTube is the most ‘TV’-like streaming service, with audiences generally expecting higher production standard than other platforms. It’s also impossible to get found on YouTube unless you’re paying to promote yourself, and they’re increasingly strict about mature content. Facebook Live is a good place to start. Live streaming (of anything) generally ranks more prominently in your friends’ feeds, and many people are active in the evening.

The technical stuff

To stream a DJ set from your your computer, you’ll need a webcam, a broadcasting app like OBS and an audio connection from your decks or laptop to the computer. This is just a basic overview, so if you’re using a computer then check out other resources that can help you with this setup. You’re also able to use your phone to stream your sets using Periscope and other services.

Grow your audience

The cool thing about live streaming your set is that DJing gives you loads of time to chat to your viewers in between mixes. Unlike playing an instrument, you can perform while engaging your audience by typing. It’s a perfect match! Treat everyone as a potential fan by being friendly and open. Even the one guy who rocks up at 3.30am their time with nothing to say but ‘I’m so high right now’. Besides, more comments means a higher news feed ranking. Growing an audience takes time, so keep your sets regular, post setlists and links after the show, connect with the artists and keep the music fresh! Get better at DJing by signing up for one of our online DJ courses.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ

3 Things That Make DJ Mixers Awesome

3 Things That Make DJ Mixers Awesome

New DJ mixers are released almost on a monthly basis. Making a decision about where to buy can be tricky, especially with such competitive value for money on all fronts. We take a look at what makes a mixer worth getting by checking out a few features that you might want to consider when shopping for an industry-standard DJ mixer.

Sound sculpting EQ

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As pro audio’s love affair with hardware continues, more operators are opting to move away from GUIs and towards parametric EQ. Given that professional DJs’ careers rely on close listening and tweaking live sound, it seems to make sense to stick more EQ curve and amplitude control in their hands. It might hike the budget, but mixers like Allen & Heath’s Xone:96 have included a sculpting EQ function alongside the standard Hi-Mid-Lo filters that will allow for unparalleled control as well as the ability to get creative with filter sweeps. Super-selective boosting and cutting? Check.

Software compatibility

We’re seeing more and more talk about ‘unlocking’ software in 2018. DJ mixer software is no exception. A must-have feature for end user ease-of-use should be the ability to use any audio interface with any bundled mixer software without needing to apply for certification through the manufacturer. This prevents the need to purchase all components from one retailer and promotes competition among brands, allowing you to get the best deal. Other than closed-door inter-profitability which locks out end users (and those studying DJing), there’s no reason this shouldn’t be the case for your equipment.

Kill switch

They’ve been out of fashion for a while now, but kill switches were once the rage of battle mixers. The ability to instantly cut (rather than slowly turn down) the highs, mids or lows makes musical sense in genres like rap, hip hop and drum and bass especially. Like scratching, using a kill switch rhythmically and creatively is a pretty impressive art! Mixers have evolved to suit the needs of more mainstream genres, but having the ability to throw down old-school techniques over old-school sounds will probably make a comeback at some point. But is it worth the surface space? We think so, especially for the abrupt tonal changes in newer genres like minimal tech.

Manufacturing a good DJ mixer is clearly a not something you achieve over the course of a weekend. The most important factor to consider is the needs of the DJ community and balance out cost and functionality to create good value. Start learning DJ tips and tricks today and join the growing and evolving league of global music selectors.