Whether you’re a pocket USB guy, laptop-hauler or into mobile, your set stands a better chance of getting the room going if you’re prepared to work fully with all the strengths of software, while also avoiding its downfalls. Here are a few of the most basic tips for a smooth and well-prepared DJ set using Traktor, Serato, Ableton or any of the increasingly popular mobile apps available.
Make sure you’re on the latest version
Or, at least, the latest version that your device supports. For the program manufacturers, it’s not all just about turning a profit by rolling out updates. The forward sprint of technology means that there is simply a limit to how much support can be provided for older versions of the program. This means that from the moment you unbox, the reliability of the software starts to dive over time. This is true for all software on all operating systems. Upgrades are priced to be affordable for professional DJs, and always related to market value. Sacrifice one of your paychecks to stay up to date and minimize the risk of the dreaded 5-minute-to-calltime bug or crash.
Contribute value to the community
Send crash reports. Log your bugs. Take some time to hit the product manufacturer’s forums and offer constructive advice based on your experience. Help solve the problems of less experienced DJs and those not very familiar with software (or English!). Be helpful. And hey, while you do, try to and avoid the sense of self-entitlement that often comes along with a glamorous job in the entertainment industry. Get to know other people, wherever they are. Sign up for an online DJing course and meet your classmates. Sure, people are attracted to your music. But they’re way more attracted to your attitude. The people that get value from what you contribute are the same people that like and follow your music online. True.
Plug and play vs customization
Let’s face it: the audio world is Mac-centric. At least, it has been up until now. Mobile apps for Android are rapidly changing the game, but for now, most DJs are still hauling laptops and controllers (or crates!) Owning a Macbook or an iPad makes music software products generally more accessible, reliable and easy to use. Windows has the benefit of a greater support network and gives your computer far more utility as an all-round tool. But it does require some tinkering in order to run programs as effectively as Apple machines can do out-the-box. That’s all. Just a few performance tweaks and it’s pretty much an even playing field. On the production side, more free software and VSTs are compatible with Windows than mac. Pick a solution that best suits both where you stand on the producer-DJ spectrum and what you’re trying to achieve.
It’s pretty useful knowing a few different controllers, programs and plugins. Some of the most original music has been made using really leftfield programs and hardware, which tend to avoid the standard go-to sounds and really stick out of the crowd. But when you find a combination of hardware and software that you’re happy with, quit flitting around and commit to it. Whatever combination of hardware and software you choose, do your homework and pick something resilient enough to sustain operating system updates, poor tech support efforts. Every minute you spend looking up TSI files is a minute you could have been mixing. Paired with any of the NI controllers, Traktor works pretty seamlessly. Pioneer is pretty much leading the industry in terms of hardware-software combination, but again, mobile apps are constantly nipping at the heels of their WeDJ android app. Vestax went bust in 2014, so steer clear of their stuff. Know your way around a few programs, yes. But remember that to a client, being flexible isn’t as important as being reliable.
The most underrated piece of advice in music is this: close your eyes. Whether you’re producing or DJing, remember how visual it is and spend more time listening. You’re generally the only one who can see the screen, which means you’re having a richer experience interacting with this amazing technology than someone who can’t. So close your eyes more. Or better yet, let the software do the work while you watch the crowd.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.