How To Become A Big Name DJ?

Here’s a video tutorial I found that highlights all the key elements required to become a successful, big name DJ. It’s quite advanced and covers some high level stuff, so be prepared to watch it more than once and take some notes…

Native Instruments unveil new Z2 controller

Hot on the heels of Serato’s latest midi-controller friendly software release, Native Instruments have just launched the latest in their arsenal of Traktor controllers; the Kontrol Z2. The device, billed as “the world’s first 2+2 DJ control mixer” has two conventional channels and two ‘remix channels’, allowing for increased mixing creativity and flexibility.

Recent feature additions (Flux Mode; Macro FX) to the latest version of the Traktor Pro software get dedicated controllers; three-band EQs and a filter per channel are also included. The machine is made from aluminium and contains a 24-bit sound card.

Early indications suggested a retail price of around 799 Euros, which is fairly steep, although Traktor Scratch Pro 2 does come bundled with it. Checkout the rather impressive (albeit short) promo video for the device below.

Online DJ tools – Promoting your mixes (Part I)

In the early stages of your DJ career, it’s pretty important to get as much feedback on your mixes as possible. Once you’re confident enough to record a mix, the likelihood is you’ll initially be playing them for friends to see what they think, hoping they beam an uncontrollable smile rather than wince and frown whilst saying “yeah, its… alright, mate”.

Once you’ve exhausted your friendship network to death, a great way to get exposure and feedback for your mixes from your peers is via some of the well-established online communities. There are plenty out there, offering similar but differing promotional DJ tools. Over the course of this mini-series, we’ll look at the main three, namely Soundcloud, Mixcloud and Mix.dj.

First up is Soundcloud, a site predominantly geared towards Producer DJs rather than pure DJs (we’ll look at why and what this means in a minute). It has a very useable interface and has fast become a tour-de-force for producers looking to share their music and mixes, largely because of a simple design and great integration for most social networking and blogging platforms.

Strengths

Soundcloud’s statistical analysis tools can be pretty extensive if you’re willing to spend a bit of money (20 – 60 Euros per years) on one of the higher packages. They’ll give you a breakdown of how many listeners, downloads, comments and favourites (how many users have ‘favourited’ one of your mixes/tracks) you’re getting each day, week, month… whatever you specify. It’ll also show a world map showing hotspots indicating where your listeners are coming from. All very cool.

There are a whole host of groups set up on soundcloud for specific interests, usually by genre. This means you can submit your track or mix to several groups to reach a targeted audience and get plays, downloads and feedback from music fans and fellow DJs.

Weaknesses

A relatively recent development has been the introduction of software which will analyse your mix for copyrighted tracks. If it detects a work from a list of those not cleared for free public distribution, it’ll put your mix on hold pending confirmation that you have the rights to distribute the music. This can limit which of your mixes you can upload and distribute which can be very frustrating, especially if you’re paying for one of the more expensive upload packages.

In practice, it seems the software only detects the very first track of any mix – so it’s pot luck whether your first track is ‘on the list’. Two of my mixes have fallen foul of this and it was pretty frustrating, and the reason I was forced to find an alternative in mixcloud in the first place (more on that in our next article).

Soundcloud works by offering you a maximum of 120 minutes of total track time for free. This is a pretty good starting point if you’re just looking to upload some tracks you’ve produced, or one or two mixes, but before long you’ll be wanting some more space. The cheapest package is around 29 euros (sometimes discounted) per year, and this will double your total time to 240 minutes. A further 50 euros would give you 12 hours of time. There are additional features with each upgrade, too.

Verdict

In terms of reaching and interacting with the widest audience, a Soundcloud account is pretty much an essential tool. There are obviously other benefits to having an account too. Once you get going as a DJ, though, you’ll probably find the need to have at least one or two other DJ promotion tools at your disposal, if only to make sure none of your mixes fall foul of Soundcloud’s copyright detection software.

Test your knowledge

Vinyl quiz

Have a bit of fun and test your knowledge of vinyl with this quiz created by our friends over at Vinyl Searcher.

Select your genre, then answer the questions on the sleeves and labels to see how much you really know about vinyl and dance music.

Let us know what you think about it too, it’s still a beta version right now, so if you notice anything that could do with a bit of work then let us know and we will pass it on.

We’re having a house party!

Actually, we aren’t but Channel 4 are.

If you are in the UK then check out Channel 4′s schedule from 10pm tonight.

How clubbing changed the world

Starting at 10pm, a 2 hour documentary presented by actor and DJ Idris Elba – fans of hit US show The Wire will recognise him instantly but what you may not realise is not only is he from the UK but he’s also a successful DJ in his own right.

From the Channel 4 website:

“Idris Elba explores how clubbing evolved from a counter-cultural movement that defined a generation to a multi-billion-pound business, and reveals how, 25 years on, Britain still rules the underground”

House party

That’s being immediately followed at 00:00 (midnight for those of you who don’t do 24 hour clocks) by their House party show

Billed as 6 hours of live, uninterrupted music and visuals from world-class DJs and artists straight to your living room. It sounds epic.

Unless you are already booked to play a gig tonight, whatever plans you have, cancel them. Tonight staying in is the new going out. Get your mates round and have a mash up.

You can get involved live with house part on twitter: @c4houseparty

If you are going and can’t watch it live, then you can either record it or catch up using the 4oD service.

The story of Richie Hawtin

Any followers of Richie Hawtin’s facebook page or twitter feed will know that he is one of the busiest and most in-demand DJs at the moment. His relentless updates show him living the dream life of varied new locations, huge adoring crowds and champagne pool parties. But how did he end up in this position?

Radio 1 DJ and lifelong friend of Mr Hawtin, Heidi interviewed him recently for Radio 1. It’s pretty fascinating stuff; I particularly like how his alias Plastikman was born!

Hot upcoming house music releases

Here at the How to DJ, we’re always listening out for the latest tracks and releases to cause damage on the dancefloor. Hot on the heels of Mokoia’s recent under-appreciated trio of tracks, here are three new essential house music releases about to hit our stores.

First up is this absolute gem of an EP from Belgium’s finest Kolombo entitled My Own Business. Set for a release early next month on Diynamic’s new 2DIY4 offshoot (set up to focus on bootleg style releases), this is a solid all-round release, but the title track is the one grabbing all the attention, cheekily sampling Warren G’s ‘I want it all’ over a crunked-out beat, to devastating effect.

Next up, a man who usually needs no introduction: crazy Canadian music-maestro Tiga. A short extract from the official Crosstown Rebels release info sums this one up nicely: “…one of electronic music’s great innovators makes his long-awaited comeback as Tiga. The Montreal avant-gardist’s first original work in four years ‘The Picture’ is big, bad and heavy in every sense”. Indeed.

Due for release on the 27th of August.

Last but by no means least, a long-awaited release for the dancefloor smasher ‘Compuphonic’ from Maddslinky (aka Zed Bias). This second release on Julio Bashmore’s imprint Broadwalk follows his own ‘Au Seve’ a few weeks previous and sets an impressive quality benchmark for the label to maintain. The high standard of production will be no surprise to long time Bias fans, but the rave piano loop after the drop proves quite ridiculously addictive and ensures this one will be a big favourite in clubs for months to come. Watch out for this one on Beatport from the 9th of September and elsewhere from the 23rd.

Harmonic mixing – revisited

Digital mixing opens up a whole new world of possibilities to you as a DJ. Recently, I wrote about the principles of harmonic mixing coming from the perspective of someone who’d only really done so ‘by ear’ in the past. The discovery of software which allows you to do it from a more accurate and technical perspective has, frankly, become a bit of an obsession for me since. Once I have an idea or a theme for a mix, I now find myself using this approach as one of the most fundamental parts in putting it together.

But as someone who has mixed for years without these tools, why are they now so important to me? And what can they really do for your mixing? Well, to answer these points, I’d like to start by revisiting the software packages I mentioned in my first article, namely Mixed in Key and Rapid Evolution 3.

My initial inclination was toward Mixed in key as the slicker, more intuitive of the two programs. Since then I’ve partly been influenced by some negativity I read around the alleged repackaging and selling of something quite fundamental to musical theory, namely the circle of fifths, by the makers of Mixed in key. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really have any problem with this at first.

On reflection, I thought more about the wider notion of digital DJing somehow separating you from the act of DJing itself and I started to think that perhaps the use of the Camelot Wheel was encouraging a further separation, in this case from musical theory.

Now, I appreciate you might read this and think “so what?”. DJing can be already be pretty removed from any real musical theory in the first place. For me though, I believe there are things that can elevate a mix beyond a simple collection of tunes blended into one another, and I think developing a better understanding of musical theory in the context of DJing can help you do that. As the musicality of my mixes is really important to me, I feel learning to use the circle of fifths could on some level help me to do that. So that took me back to Rapid Evolution 3.

At this point, I should probably point out that Mixed in key can be setup to detect keys in the more traditional format. But if you’ve decided you’re happy to use the circle of fifths, why pay $58 for Mixed in key when Rapid Evolution does the job just as well? The same points I made first time around about Rapid Evolution being slower and less intuitive still stand, but having used it more extensively I now know these are niggles rather than real problems.

What took the longest time for me was learning how the shorthand key readings related to the circle of fifths and hence which tracks would work well together. However, given a wide enough variety of tracks to analyse, you can quickly deduce what’s what and get on with the business of making some fantastic sounding mixes.

On that note, first time out I promised a mix which would show how these principles could be put into action. You can check out my first effort here. Again, I think it’s worth reiterating a couple of the points I made first time around here, namely that no matter how much of an obsession harmonic mixing becomes, it is still only a guideline. You might be able to make a whole mix strictly following the principles, but if you have a well-tuned ear and the DJ skills you’ll be better off choosing when to use them and when not to. You need to pay far more attention to the context of the mix – is it the beginning, middle or towards the end of the mix, and what do you therefore want the pace/tone of the mix to be at that time.

Can you tell which mixes are in key and which are more off-piste? Let me know!

DJ glossary

If you’re just starting out DJing or even if you have been at it a while, you might have heard some terms that you don’t understand or aren’t familiar with but you didn’t want to ask for fear of sounding like a noob.

Well never fear, because to answer your questions we proudly present the How to DJ

A-Z of DJing

  • 12” – The most popular format for vinyl records produced for DJing. 12 inches across, often with only a single tune on a side
  • 1200s – The legendary Technics SL1200 direct drive turntable.
  • 1210s – As with the 1200s but in black, not silver.
  • Acetate – (see also dubplate). A very limited pressing of a tune, on acetate (a type of plastic). These are not as durable as normal vinyl and wear out quickly with repeated use.
  • Back to back – Two (or more) DJ’s alternating during a set, often playing one or two tunes each before alternating (hence back to back)
  • Bar – A good place to go for a drink, somewhere you might end up DJing. Also a piece of time divided up by a number of musical beats (usually 4 in house music). Aka a measure.
  • Beat – To the beat of the drum, bang. The beat is the basic unit of time in music.
  • BPM – Beats per minute (see also tempo). Also an annual Dance music convention in the UK and a night club in Mallorca known as BCM Dance Planet.
  • Beat matching/Syncing – The process of matching the tempo of one track to another to aid a mix. This is done manually on vinyl/analogue CDJs but can be performed automatically by modern DJ software.
  • Carts – The part of a turntable at the head of the tone arm. Holds the needle.
  • CDJ – Pioneer brand CD decks and the industry standard. Often simply used to refer to a CD deck of any description.
  • Channel – Mixers and controllers will usually have at least two of these, a left and a right. Mixing involves going between the channels. The more channels you have, the more tunes you can mix at the same time.
  • Controller/MIDI controller – Any device used in conjunction with a laptop to control and manipulate DJ and/or sequencing software. These devices often incorporate mixers.
  • Cueing – Lining up a tune or record at the point where you want it to start playing from.
  • Cue points – Denotes different points within a track from which you can play.
  • Cutting – Moving between channels very quickly often used alongside scratching as part of turntablism.
  • Decks – Device on which tunes are played – can refer to vinyl or CD.
  • Dubplate/Dub – Literally refers to a one-off or limited run acetate pressing – often used after a track name to denote an unreleased track.
  • EQing – Adjusting the levels (treble, mid-range and bass) on the different channels.
  • Fade – The process of reducing the volume of a track, usually whilst increasing the volume of another to enact a mix. Gradually moving between channels.
  • Fader/Crossfader – The part of a mixer/midi controller which enables a DJ to “mix” one track into another. For mixing, they usually function by gradually reducing the volume of one channel whilst simultaneously increasing the volume of another (as distinct from when using a crossfader for scratching).
  • Four to the floor – The most common ‘house music style’ of 4 beats in a bar.
  • FX/Effects – Additional sounds and filters that can be used whilst mixing to add to the mix. Some common ones are flange, echo and reverb.
  • Harmonic mixing aka mixing in key – Using musical theory to select tracks for mixing that “fit” together and are pleasing to the ear.
  • Looping – Repeating the beat, bar (or several thereof) of a track, often used to create distinct sounds from the original tunes whilst mixing.
  • MIDI – Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A specification used to allow different musical instruments to connect to each other and computers.
  • Mixer – A vital piece of equipment that sits between two decks or CDJs and allows the transition or mix between one tune and another. These days they have often been replaced by midi controllers that incorporate mixers and also connect to laptops.
  • Monitoring/Auditioning – Listening to a different track (usually through headphones) from the one playing through the main channel for the purpose of assessing its suitability for a mix (hence auditioning) or matching the pitch (see beatmatching).
  • Ones & Twos – Slang for turntables (see also decks, wheels of steel).
  • Pitch Control – The function on Decks or a Midi Controller which enables the user to alter the tempo of a track.
  • Phrase – A group of beats or bars. Dance music will often change after every phrase, these are usually 4 bars.
  • Set – A number of tracks or tunes mixed together or played together form a DJ’s set.
  • Scratching – A technique used by DJ’s whilst mixing, predominantly during turntablism, to create new sounds from one or more vinyl records by moving back and forth around the tune. Originally used by hip hop and battle DJ’s. This guy demonstrates it way better than I could ever explain in words:
  • Technics – (see 1200s, 1210s).
  • Tempo – The speed at which a track is playing (see also BPM).
  • Tone arm – The part of a turntable the holds the needle and comes out onto the vinyl.
  • Trainwreck – When a mix goes so badly wrong that it’s painful to listen to. If you can’t spot these yet when listening to other DJ’s (or when you’re mixing) then you need more practice.
  • Tune – A track or piece of music played as part of a set. Sometimes used as a term of appreciation e.g. “Tune!”
  • Turntable – (see also decks) The name often used to describe record players used for DJing
  • Turntablism – The art of scratching.
  • Vinyl – Commonly used term for records, derived from the plastic material that they are made out of.
  • Warp – A legendary record label. Also what happens to your vinyl if you don’t take proper care of it.
  • Wheels of Steel – A slang name for DJing turntables, possibly coined by Grandmaster Flash.
  • White Label – Usually a limited pressing promo release on vinyl. Often with a completely white sleeve and label. Sometimes only pressed on one side.

A few banging tunes

You might call this post slightly light of content, as all I’m doing is sharing a few youtube videos with you. But these tunes are awesome and I think they deserve more love than they are currently getting. But more importantly, any DJ dropping these will always get love from the crowd. So here they are..

Make sure you listen to them using speakers that will do the bass justice or you’re doing yourself and your whole family a disservice.