Archive for the 'DJing' Category



Deadmau5 says: “We all hit play”

Whether you are a fan of Deadmau5 or not, his success and high profile mean that people to tend to take notice when he says something, particularly if that something may be seen as courting a bit of controversy.

Deadmau5’s recent comment in his united we fail blog post regarding big name EDM djs and producers not really doing much more than hitting play for their live sets led to a flurry of opinions on Twitter, followed up with plenty of articles and blog posts. Here’s mine.

First and foremost, as I’ve said in a couple of previous blog posts (here and here) all I care about is the music; if all you do is press play, I’m not really going to complain, just keep the good tunes coming. As a solo EDM producer, my live sets in the past have been based on triggering pre-programmed clips in Ableton Live using a Livid Block controller, bringing pre-made kick loops, basslines etc. in and out. I did start to get a bit more sophisticated when I got my Machinedrum and then my Monomachine, but, for me at least, trying to program sounds in real-time just slowed the development of the set right down. I’d rather have more pre-made sounds and loops, and keep things moving along.

A lot of the comments on Deadmau5’s blog posts seem to be mixing up live sets and dj sets; I don’t think Deadmau5 was suggesting that djs turn up with a prerecorded 4 hour mix and hit play. However, I do disagree with his comment about beatmatching not being a skill. There is more to it than ‘counting to 4’, although it is a skill that most people can learn quite quickly with practice; take a look at this episode of Faking It (may be geographically restricted).

That being said, I have no problem with people just hitting the ‘sync’ button. I learned on vinyl, but those sync lights are always glowing on my X1. All the modern developments in technology simply change what the digital dj can do with their time; they can remix tracks on the fly and start to blur the line between a live performance and a dj set.

All in all then, what difference does Deadmou5’s blog post make to the world of music? Probably none. While a bunch of people were arguing and debating his comments, they were mostly djs, producers, music magazines or blogs. Will his comments stop people going to his gigs or end the continuing penetrance of David Guetta into the pop charts? I doubt it.

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Going Live- PA and performance sound for the DJ

Now, given that this site is predominantly about house music, I don’t want to head into ‘mobile disco’ territory here. If you’re playing music out, then chances are that you are plugging into an existing system in your venue. If you’re playing big clubs, there will already be an installation waiting to go, and all you need to do is get set up with your tunes in the booth.

What I want to talk about here, are some of the situations in which the deep house dj might find themselves, where you are playing in small bars, really providing a background soundtrack for the night, rather than taking over the entire room. And it is these situations that can often require a bit more thought and preparation.

First of all, make sure what is expected of you and be clear on what your role is for the night. Talk to the manager and try and get a feel for what sort of atmosphere they want for the venue. If it is a bar, with people sitting talking, think about your volume carefully. I have heard a lot more people complain that the music is too loud than complain about it being too quiet.

Find out (ideally several days in advance) what the venue’s music setup is and work through a checklist of questions:

Do they have a built-in set up with an amp you can plug into direct from your mixer?

What type of connections?

How far from the amp will your setup be?

How long do your cables need to be?

How is the in-house system set up? Is it summed to mono or does one part of the bar get the left while another gets the right? (This actually seems to happen quite a lot…)

In some venues that are basically bars, there may be a small space suitable as a dancefloor, but without additional sound reinforcement there. One solution I have used in the past is to use a single powered PA speaker on its side, much like a monitor wedge for a foldback mix on stage. Many modern PA speakers are designed so that they can be turned on their sides like this and angled up.

In the case of deep house music, you can’t really skimp on your low frequency extension, so look for speakers that extend down to 50 Hz or below. In a lot of cases, this means looking at 15″ woofers supplemented with a high-frequency horn. Normally, this would cause problems as, once woofers get to above 10″ or 12″, the cross0ver frequency ends up in the middle of the vocal range, reducing intelligibility. However, for most styles of EDM, this shouldn’t cause too many problems, as the rest of the venue system should cover this range well, and the point of this speaker is purely to supplement the bass frequencies in one specific area.

You will also need to consider how to add this additional speaker to your setup. If your mixer has an additional set of outputs, you can sum the L+R pair using appropriate cables to your powered speaker. If not, using splitter cables is perhaps not the best option. If you use one pair of outputs to feed multiple destinations, you will change the impedance load seen be that output, this will attenuate the output, with the amount of attenuation varying by frequency. If your situation requires splitting the signal, consider using an inexpensive small-format mixer, most of which will offer multiple outputs in the form of main, control room, tape outputs and auxilliary sends. An additional useful purchase is a stereo graphic equalizer, allowing you to tailor the sound to the characteristics of the room. Remember that if you soundcheck early, the sound of the room will change as it fills up with people.

Perhaps the most useful tips are the basics: do your homework and find out about the venue system; take many more cables than you need, as well as a box full of adapters; ‘Greal’ your setup, using different colours of electrical tape to label your cables so you can quickly find your way around what can quickly become a complicated nest of wires; buy the best cables you can, the quality of the wire isn’t as important as the connectors and good ones will survive a lot more plugging and unplugging; always carry duct tape and a good few electrical extension cords and multiways.

Hopefully, in most situations when you dj out you won’t have to worry too much about the setup, and any additional equipment you add won’t be nearly as complicated as if you were engineering a live band performance and having to worry about monitor mixes, stage boxes, phase issues etc. However, reading about large concert live sound engineering is never a bad way to spend your time, and it’s always better to know a little too much than not quite enough!

Tell Me (Instrumental)- Andre Crom

The instrumental version was my pick of the three tracks on this release from Andre Crom, which dropped on the 28th May 2012 on Freerange Records. At a head-noddingly reassuring 120 bpm, it was never going to be a late-night dance floor stomper, but I can’t think of another tune I’ve heard recently that sent me away to another place in my head, a place I would much rather have been…

For some reason, the original vocal mix didn’t quite work for me in the same way. I think perhaps that extra addition to the track just tipped it towards being too prominent and attention-grabbing, whereas the instrumental just gets on and does its job quietly in the background.

Equally suited for late night play in a bar as you escape Britain’s rain-infused summers for the warmth of a drink and a leather sofa or for a nice spot next to a Balearic beach, this one will definitely be getting a lot of play and will be appearing in my next mix…

Take a listen at Beatport.

The DJ Collector

I am a big fan of 7” singles. For me, they represent the perfect meeting of form and function and are the greatest ever format for singles. I have too many of the things cluttering up the place in an assortment of random boxes; most of them from bands of whom I’d never heard, picked up on a whim from indie websites, car boot sales and charity shops. I’ve discovered a lot of great bands this way, and some that probably shouldn’t give up the day job.

The one thing I would say about the 7” format though, is that I’m not overly ‘precious’ about it: it, like many other media, is simply a device for transporting music. If I’m out somewhere and hear a great early 70s funk tune, I’m not going to go up and check that the dj is playing an original pressing, it’s the song that counts.

My first residency was playing soul and funk at a Northern night. I was, comfortably, the youngest dj there: being born many years after the Wigan Casino earned its reputation. The combination of my age, my fondness for many genres and my limited student income meant that I wanted access to the most tunes possible, for the smallest outlay, and it seems I committed a terrible sin: I bought compilations.

It didn’t matter that the compilations were on vinyl themselves, it didn’t matter that the compilers had tracked down rarities that were virtually impossible to afford, or even find, on 7” that the other djs hadn’t heard of. All that mattered was that I wasn’t playing original pressings, so I was second-rate.

All I know is that I loved the music, and so it seemed did the people who’d paid their money to get in and skate on talcum powder around their handbags. For the record, I do have a reasonable collection of 45s: original pressings, limited coloured vinyl etc, but they don’t leave the house. They certainly don’t get played on club 1210s set up with so much down-pressure on the stylus that each play eats halfway through the disc.

I’ve said this in previous articles, but for me it’s all about the music, it can be CD, mp3, vinyl, if you play good music I’ll hang around. And if you can find some of those rarities on a compilation that the hard-core collectors don’t have, more power to you. The irony of the situation for me is that it seems I bought some good compilations that, given what they’re going for used these days, seems like they’re becoming collectable themselves…

Good Ol’ Days (Frank Sebastian Remix)- Alex Deep & Alistair Gillespie

Released at the end of last month on Gooseneck Records, I’ve spent a good amount of time listening to this over the last few weeks, as I wasn’t quite sure whether I was a fan of it or not, or if it would languish at the back of the virtual record box. However, I now have a decision, it’s a grower, and I love it.

At first, I wasn’t sure about that extra kick drum hit at the seventh eighth note in each bar that kicks in (please excuse the pun) from the first bar. I’ve never been a fan of mixing that, it always sounds, to my ears, a bit less than smooth. The acoustic bass elements add an edge of uneasiness as well when in isolation, and uneasiness isn’t something I usually want from my deep house.

Everything changes when the filtered EP chords and vocals come in though, and we’re back in familiar deep house territory. The EP chords are the big switch for this track: when they’re there, you have classic, smooth house music; when they go, you’re back to that harder-edged uneasiness.

All the time though, my foot kept tapping and my head kept nodding, and I suppose you can’t ask for much more than that…

Find it here on Beatport.

Chris Minus- Finding Spaces (Marc Cotterell’s Late Night Mix)

Released at the end of last month on UM Records, this is my choice track from the Finding Spaces EP from Danish producer Chris Minus.

This track, for me, is what deep house is all about. A simple and elegant selection of sounds, a straightforward arrangement, lacking even any real breakdown, and then you have those two filtered chords that are the substance of the track.

With those elements in place, it’s deep house business as usual. The main synth is complemented by a simple humming-like vocal line, which provides just enough interest without becoming obtrusive and dominating the mix.

I really do like this track, it is the perfect example of how, if you pick the right sounds, you don’t need to have overly complicated arrangements and complicated effects trickery to make a track interesting; although there is enough ear candy here to keep things moving along. This should be a staple of bar sets everywhere.

More about the music…

I think, up until now, I’ve been guilty of trying to make each post a wonderful technical resource, as such, I’ve mostly completely overlooked the most important aspect: the music. So from now on, I will post regular, short reviews and opinions on the deep house tracks I like. Or don’t.

Let’s start straight away with Juan Lombardo‘s Deep Track (Original Mix). Released on Deep Nota Records -a label on which I always keep an eye- this, as I’m sure you can tell from the title, is a deep track. Some of the synth sound design comes from the more techy end of the spectrum, but the arrangement and the production mean that this is rooted firmly in deep house territory.

A percussion-led intro builds as the synth opens up, before the bass kicks in just after a minute. This, for me, is where the track sounds it’s weakest, with the bass not quite sitting happily and gelling with the drums and percussion for me. All changes though at 2.03 where, after a breakdown, the track drops and really kicks things off: the additional elements really tying everything together.

After that, the rest of the track rolls along, with several more brief breakdowns keeping everything moving. If anything, I would love an extended version, with a few more bars between the breakdowns, such is my love for this groove as it rolls along. Straight into my set list and definitely worth a listen.

For the Price of Cheap Monitors

When it comes to choosing a first pair of monitors, today’s producer is spoiled for choice. The number options around the £250-£350 mark is almost overwhelming. When I was getting into production again a couple of years ago, I thought that a pair of monitors was one of the first things I had to have, so rushed out for a pair of KRK Rokits.

They did the job I suppose. The bright yellow cones certainly gave my ‘studio’ as it was then some gravitas; but now, with hindsight, I’m not certain that was the best way to spend the money… While I’m well aware that all of this advice is subjective, and that five people may well give you five different answers, I’m tempted to say this: If your budget is under about £300/$500, don’t buy monitors, buy headphones.

Now, as with all rules, there are exceptions. If your room is already acoustically treated, or it’s full of soft furniture, irregularly stacked book cases and heavy curtains, you might be fine to go and spend your whole budget on monitors, but, with my room at least, coupled with the fact I needed to know how far down the low end of that kick drum went, I wouldn’t have gone with small monitors, I’d have bought a pair of Sennheiser HD650s from the outset.

Yes, headphones have their shortcomings: they exaggerate the stereo field for example, you might pan more conservatively than you would on speakers, and reverb decisions might be different as you won’t get the benefit of your room reflections. Plugins like 112 dB’s Redline Monitor can help, as can a headphone amp like SPL’s Phonitor or 2Control, which can feed some of the left signal to the right, to simulate the ‘crosstalk’ you would get from speakers. Although, with the amount the SPL units cost, you could invest in some good monitors and acoustic treatment! Still on my wishlist for late night production though.

A set of monitors will make your studio look more like a studio, but you need to be aware of the limitations of cheap monitors in untreated rooms: limited bass extension, problems with flutter echoes and reflections, peaks and troughs in the level of various frequencies across the room. All those things can be compromising your mixing decisions. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t get around some of these limitations by spending a lot of time listening to commercial mixes and learning how your room sounds. In my, albeit humble, opinion, however, at low budgets headphones have fewer cons than monitors. Try out a pair of HD650s or Beyer-Dynamic DT-880s one day and see how you get on…

This post was first published as a news item for NowThenRecords.

The Dilemma of the Digital DJ

I am a music lover, and I like to say I’m one of a diverse range of styles. If I were to close my eyes and pick a few CDs at random I could end up with David Bowie, Portishead, John Mayall, Fiona Apple, Martha Reeves, Flying Lotus, My Bloody Valentine, John Coltrane, Public Enemy, Fred Everything, Pearl Jam… the list goes on; and that’s just the CD albums, then you add in all the nu-jazz, soul and funk that sits on the vinyl shelves, and the deep house and techno that now lives on the hard drive- although I’ll admit that am a fan of an actual physical thing which I can hold: I find it adds to the music listening experience, the building anticipation of the CD tray sliding back home, or the stylus making its way towards the first cut track…

While I love the aesthetic of vinyl, it’s not how I buy my house and techno anymore: I’ve become a convert to the digital download. While some of the purists may not approve, I am quite happy that my record boxes are now folders on a hard drive. I can choose the particular mix I want to buy, so my wallet is happier, and I don’t have to carry the weight of too many 180g pressings around in bags and boxes, so my spine is happier.

I will admit that learning to beatmatch oldskool takes a lot more practice than hitting the sync button in Traktor, but, to be honest, that doesn’t really bother me. You can make two arguments: the first is that technology has freed up djs to be more creative with their mixing allowing them to remix on the fly; the second, and the one to which I subscribe, is that as long as the tunes being played are good, do you really mind? I would rather listen to two great songs simply mixed back to back than three tracks that don’t fit the mood of the crowd perfectly remixed into some new song.

I suppose it depends on your point of view and what you want out of a dj set, do you want to be awed by inspirational mixing techniques and mash-ups, or do you just want to hear unadulterated versions of great songs back to back…?

This post first appeared as an article on the NowThenRecords website.


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