DUMmIES - KOyakin
by John Steventon
DJing For Dummies®
Published by
John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
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Copyright © 2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, West Sussex, England.
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ISBN-13: 978-0-470-03275-6
ISBN-10: 0-470-03275-8
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Bell & Bain Ltd, Glasgow.
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About the Author
John Steventon, also known as Recess, was transformed from clubber to
wannabe DJ by BBC Radio 1’s 1996 ‘Ibiza Essential Mix’. Fascinated by what
he heard, he bought a second-hand pair of turntables, his best friend’s record
collection, and started to follow the dream of becoming his newest hero,
With no other resource available when he first started DJing, John would take
notes, writing articles to refer to if ever he felt like he needed help. Joining
the Internet revolution meant 15 megabytes of free Web space, and as he’d
already written these notes about learning how to DJ, John thought it would
be good to share that information with the rest of the world wide web. He
created the ‘Recess’ persona, and expanded the site as his knowledge grew.
Originally a small, basic Web site, www.recess.co.uk has grown over the
years both in size and reputation to become one of the foremost online
resources for learning how to DJ – the place where newbie DJs turn to.
Having developed a career as a TV editor at the same time, now heading up
post-production at a TV production company, he has scaled down the time
spent DJing in clubs, but Recess is always online to help the new DJ overcome those first few hurdles, and offer advice to those who need that extra
bit of reassurance.
John is 31, plays way too much squash and poker, is married to Julie, and
they both live together with three cats and a smile on the outskirts of
Glasgow, Scotland.
This book is dedicated to my Dad, Richard Steventon, who I’m sure would
have got a kick out of seeing his son write a book.
And to Julie: my best friend, my wife, my smile; without whom I’d be half a
person. You are my lobster.
Author’s Acknowledgements
My list of acknowledgments is surprisingly long, but these are the people
without whom this book would not have been inspired, created, or nearly as
long as it ended up!
Thanks to Graham Joyce, who sold me his record collection and started me
on this journey, who got me my first break in a roundabout way, and took me
to the place that I eventually met my wonderful wife. My sister, Pamela
Tucker, who claims if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have made friends with
Graham and is therefore responsible for everything good in my life! My mum,
Mary Steventon for being my Mum and for helping with the text accuracy in
this book (even if she had NO idea what it all meant). My uncle, David
Steventon, for sowing the seed that maybe people would find my writing
interesting; my lovely in-laws, Jim (sorry, ‘Sir’), Margaret (the lasagne queen),
and Vikki Fleming for entertaining Julie while I spent months writing this
book; Carol Wilson for making sure I wasn’t signing away the rest of my life;
and Lucky, Ziggy, and Ozzy for being my writing companions.
Ian, Jason, Nichol, Al, Gus, Jonny, Dave, Gary, Tony, Iain, and the other poker
people for letting me blow off steam until 7 in the morning trying to take their
money. All the staff and DJs at what used to be Café Cini in Glasgow where I
got my break as a DJ. Paul Crabb for inspiration and distraction (I know, I still
can’t believe I wrote a book before you!) and Flora Munro for work deflection
and a hell of a cup of coffee.
This book wouldn’t have had half the info in it if it wasn’t for the following
people helping me out and kindly granting me permission to reuse images of
their gear: David Cross at Ableton, Adam Peck at Gemini, Stephanie Lambley
for Vestax images, Sarah Lombard at Stanton, Tara Callahan at Roland, Mike
Lohman at Shure, Sarah O’Brien at PPLUK, Carole Love at Pioneer, Grover
Knight at Numark, David Haughton at Allen & Heath, Wilfrid at Ortofon, Justin
Nelson at NGWave, Ryan Sherr at PCDJ, Laura Johnston at Panasonic, Jeroen
Backx at Freefloat, all at Etymotic, NoiseBrakers, Sony, and Denon, Mark
Davis from Harmonic-mixing.com, Yakov V at Mixedinkey.com for his help
with the Harmonic Mixing info, everybody on all DJing Internet forums for letting me bug them for the past eight months, all the visitors to my Recess Web
site, and everyone else who has touched this book in any way – I can’t mention everyone, but thank you all.
And finally, from Wiley, Wejdan Ismail for keeping me afloat, Jason Dunne for
giving me the chance to write this book, and believing in this project from the
first conversation, and finally Rachael Chilvers, whose support, understanding, and encouragement made it a pleasure to write this book, so that it never
felt like work and never became something I didn’t want to do (and also for
laughing at my poor jokes and stories).
Phew . . . let’s hope I never win an Oscar!!
Publisher’s Acknowledgements
We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration
form located at www.dummies.com/register/.
Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:
Acquisitions, Editorial, and
Media Development
Executive Editor: Jason Dunne
Composition Services
Project Coordinator: Jennifer Theriot
Project Editor: Rachael Chilvers
Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers, Karl Brandt,
Denny Hager, Barbara Moore,
Barry Offringa, Rashell Smith, Ronald Terry
Development Editor: Kelly Ewing
Proofreader: Jessica Kramer
Content Editor: Steve Edwards
Indexer: Techbooks
Executive Project Editor: Martin Tribe
Copy Editor: Juliet Booker
Technical Reviewer: Russell Deeks, Associate
Editor, iDJ magazine
Proofreader: Anne O’Rorke
Special Help: Jennifer Bingham
Cover Photo: © JupiterImages
Cartoons: Rich Tennant,
Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies
Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies
Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies
Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies
Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel
Brice Gosnell, Associate Publisher, Travel
Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel
Publishing for Technology Dummies
Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User
Composition Services
Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services
Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services
Contents at a Glance
Introduction .................................................................1
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox ...............................7
Chapter 1: Catching DJ Fever............................................................................................9
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones ................................................................17
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s ........................31
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment...............................................................................47
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials ......63
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables ..........................................................65
Chapter 6: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles ...........................................85
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution ...................................................97
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers ...........................................................................117
Chapter 9: Ear-Splitting Advice about Not Splitting Your Ears: Headphones.........137
Chapter 10: Letting Your Neighbours Know That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers..............147
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections.................................157
Part III: The Mix .......................................................177
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing .................................................................179
Chapter 13: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure..................................................199
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros..................................................................................211
Chapter 15: Mixing with CDs.........................................................................................227
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical .....................................................................................237
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live .................257
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set ..........................................................................259
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo................................................................................275
Chapter 19: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ.....................................................301
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd ............................................313
Part V: The Part of Tens ............................................331
Chapter 21: Ten Resources for Expanding Your Skills and Fan Base.......................333
Chapter 22: Ten Answers to DJ Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask.......................341
Chapter 23: Ten DJing Mistakes to Avoid ....................................................................349
Chapter 24: Ten Items to Take with You When DJing ................................................355
Chapter 25: Ten Great Influences on Me .....................................................................359
Index .......................................................................365
Table of Contents
About This Book...............................................................................................1
Conventions Used in This Book .....................................................................2
Foolish Assumptions .......................................................................................2
How This Book Is Organised...........................................................................2
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox ....................................................3
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials...........................3
Part III: The Mix ......................................................................................3
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live ..........................................3
Part V: The Part of Tens.........................................................................4
Icons Used in This Book..................................................................................4
Where to Go from Here....................................................................................4
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox................................7
Chapter 1: Catching DJ Fever . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Discovering the Foundations of DJing...........................................................9
Equipping yourself ...............................................................................10
Making friends with your wallet .........................................................10
Knowing your music ............................................................................11
Researching and discovering..............................................................11
Connecting your equipment ...............................................................12
Beatmatching Takes Patience and Practice................................................13
Working as a DJ ..............................................................................................14
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
Making a List, Checking It Twice ..................................................................17
Choosing Your Input Devices .......................................................................18
Thinking about turntables (for vinyl DJs).........................................18
Deciding on CD decks ..........................................................................20
Musing on MP3s and PCs ...................................................................22
Mixing It Up with Mixers ...............................................................................23
Monitoring Your Music with Headphones ..................................................24
Powering Things Up with Amplifiers ...........................................................25
Figuring Out the Furniture ............................................................................26
Considering ergonomics and stability ...............................................26
Selecting store-bought stands ............................................................27
Building bricks and the new vibration killers...................................27
Locating Your DJ Setup .................................................................................28
DJing For Dummies
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs,
and MP3s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Knowing Your Genre’s Format Availability .................................................31
Reflecting on vinyl................................................................................32
Keeping up with CDs............................................................................32
Buying Records and CDs ...............................................................................33
Sizing up vinyl formats ........................................................................33
Sussing out CD options........................................................................34
Researching your tunes .......................................................................36
Listening to the music .........................................................................37
Weighing up the pros and cons of classic anthems
and new music ..................................................................................38
Byting into MP3s ............................................................................................39
Surfing into Online Record Stores................................................................40
Knowing where to go ...........................................................................40
Previewing tracks .................................................................................41
Ordering and delivery..........................................................................41
Using auction sites ...............................................................................42
Protecting Your Records and CDs................................................................42
Storing records .....................................................................................42
Cleaning records, CDs, and the needle ..............................................43
Repairing vinyl......................................................................................44
Fixing warped records and CDs..........................................................45
Repairing CDs .......................................................................................45
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .47
Taking Stock Before You Shop ......................................................................47
Trying before you buy .........................................................................48
Budgeting your money ........................................................................48
Buying Brand New..........................................................................................50
Cruising the high street .......................................................................50
Opting for online shopping .................................................................52
Buying Second-hand ......................................................................................53
Scanning newspapers ..........................................................................53
Dipping into pawn shops.....................................................................54
Bidding on auction Web sites .............................................................54
Making Sure That Your Kit Works ................................................................55
Checking cables....................................................................................56
Testing turntables ................................................................................56
Vetting CD decks...................................................................................58
Monitoring mixers ................................................................................59
Assessing headphones ........................................................................61
Sounding out amplifiers and speakers ..............................................61
Table of Contents
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials .......63
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65
Avoiding Cheap Turntables ..........................................................................65
Motoring in the right direction...........................................................66
Watching out for pitch control design ...............................................67
Identifying Key Turntable Features .............................................................68
Start/Stop ..............................................................................................68
33/45/78 RPM ........................................................................................69
Strobe light ............................................................................................69
Deckplatters ..........................................................................................70
Target light ............................................................................................71
Pitch control .........................................................................................72
Counterweight/height adjust ..............................................................74
Removable headshell/cartridge .........................................................75
45 RPM adaptor ....................................................................................75
Customising Your Sound with Advanced Turntable Features..................76
Pitch range options ..............................................................................76
Pitch bend and joystick control .........................................................77
Tempo reset/Quartz lock.....................................................................78
Master Tempo/Key Lock......................................................................79
Digital display of pitch.........................................................................79
Adjustable brake for Start/Stop..........................................................80
Reverse play..........................................................................................80
Different shaped tonearms..................................................................80
Removable cabling ...............................................................................81
Digital outputs ......................................................................................82
Battle or club design ............................................................................82
Built-in mixer ........................................................................................82
Servicing Your Turntables ............................................................................83
Chapter 6: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles . . . . . . . . . .85
Sliding with Slipmats .....................................................................................85
Choosing an appropriate slipmat.......................................................86
Winning the friction war......................................................................87
Getting Groovy with Needles and Cartridges .............................................88
Choosing the Right Needle for Your DJ Style..............................................93
Feeling the Force with Counterweight Settings .........................................94
Nurturing Your Needles.................................................................................95
DJing For Dummies
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97
Choosing Your Format: Analogue or Digital ...............................................97
My way is the best!...............................................................................98
Looking at the pros and cons ............................................................99
Choosing a CD Deck That Fits Your Style .................................................104
Looking Into the Future of Vinyl.................................................................107
Getting into MiniDisc, MP3s, and PCs .......................................................107
Remembering MiniDisc decks ..........................................................107
Wising up to MP3s ..............................................................................108
Mixing with iPods ...............................................................................110
Mixing on PC ......................................................................................111
Futureproofing with Live and Traktor .......................................................113
Live .......................................................................................................114
Traktor .................................................................................................115
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .117
Getting Familiar with Mixer Controls ........................................................117
Inputs ...................................................................................................117
Outputs ................................................................................................118
Multiple channels ...............................................................................119
Cross-faders ........................................................................................119
Channel-faders ....................................................................................122
Headphone monitoring......................................................................123
EQs and kills........................................................................................124
Input VU monitoring .........................................................................125
Gain controls.......................................................................................125
Balance and pan controls..................................................................126
Hamster switch...................................................................................126
Punch and transform controls..........................................................127
Effects Send and Return ....................................................................127
Built-in effects ....................................................................................127
Built-in samplers.................................................................................129
Built-in beat counters ........................................................................129
Beat light indicators...........................................................................130
Fader starts .........................................................................................130
Choosing the Right Mixer............................................................................131
The seamless mix DJ..........................................................................131
The scratch DJ ....................................................................................132
The effects DJ......................................................................................133
The party/wedding DJ .......................................................................134
Servicing Your Mixer ...................................................................................135
Table of Contents
Chapter 9: Ear-Splitting Advice about Not
Splitting Your Ears: Headphones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .137
Choosing a Good Set of Headphones ........................................................137
Single-sided, coiled cords..................................................................140
Swivelling earpieces...........................................................................140
User-replaceable parts.......................................................................140
Stick it to your ears ............................................................................141
Remembering that the Volume Doesn’t Have to Go Up to 11.................142
Using Earplugs..............................................................................................142
Chapter 10: Letting Your Neighbours Know
That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .147
Choosing Suitable Amplification ................................................................147
Settling on your home stereo............................................................148
Purchasing powered speakers..........................................................149
Opting for an amplifier and separate speakers ..............................149
A power margin for error ..................................................................150
Working with Monitors ................................................................................152
Positioning Your Monitor ............................................................................153
Noise Pollution: Keeping an Ear on Volume Levels .................................154
Protecting your ears ..........................................................................154
Keeping the noise down for the people around you......................155
Realising that you only need one speaker ......................................155
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections . . . . .157
Getting Familiar with Connectors ..............................................................157
RCA/Phono connections....................................................................158
XLRs .....................................................................................................158
Quarter-inch jack ...............................................................................159
Setting Up and Connecting the Turntable.................................................160
Peripherals ..........................................................................................164
Plugging In the Mixer ...................................................................................164
Connecting turntables to a mixer.....................................................164
Connecting CD decks to a mixer ......................................................166
Connecting iPods and MP3s to a mixer ...........................................167
Connecting a computer as an input device ....................................167
Plugging in your headphones ...........................................................168
Connecting effects units to a mixer .................................................169
Connecting mixer outputs ................................................................170
Connecting a mixer to your home hi-fi ............................................171
Connecting a mixer to powered speakers.......................................171
DJing For Dummies
Connecting a mixer to your PC/Mac ................................................172
Connecting your computer to an amplifier.....................................173
Troubleshooting Set-up and Connections ................................................173
Part III: The Mix........................................................177
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .179
Knowing What Beatmatching’s All About .................................................179
Understanding BPMs ...................................................................................180
Calculating BPMs................................................................................181
Discovering How to Beatmatch..................................................................182
Setting up your equipment................................................................182
Locating the first bass beat...............................................................183
Starting your records in time............................................................184
Adjusting for errors............................................................................187
Knowing which record to adjust ......................................................188
Using the Pitch Control ...............................................................................188
Matching the pitch setting ................................................................189
Playing too slow or too fast .............................................................190
Taking your eyes off the pitch control.............................................191
Introducing Your Headphones ...................................................................193
Switching over to headphone control .............................................193
Cueing in your headphones ..............................................................193
Centre your head with stereo image................................................195
Practising with your headphones ....................................................197
Chapter 13: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . .199
Why DJs Need Structure..............................................................................200
Multiplying beats, bars, and phrases...............................................200
Hearing the cymbal as a symbol ......................................................202
Everything changes............................................................................203
Counting on where you are ...............................................................203
Studying Song Structure..............................................................................205
Accepting that Every Tune’s Different ......................................................207
Developing Your Basic Instincts ................................................................208
Listening to a Sample Structure ................................................................208
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .211
Perfecting Placement...................................................................................211
Intros over outros...............................................................................212
Melodic outro......................................................................................213
Melodic intro.......................................................................................214
Mixing Breakdowns......................................................................................215
Table of Contents
Controlling the Sound of the Mix ..............................................................217
Bringing the cross-fader into play....................................................217
Discovering the secret of channel-faders........................................218
Letting you in on a big, curvy secret ...............................................219
Balancing it out with EQs ..................................................................220
Using Mixing Tricks and Gimmicks............................................................221
Spinbacks and dead-stops.................................................................221
Power off..............................................................................................222
A cappella ...........................................................................................223
Cutting in .............................................................................................223
Mixing Different Styles of Music.................................................................224
The wedding/party/rock/pop mix ....................................................224
The R & B mix .....................................................................................225
Drum and bass, and breakbeat.........................................................226
Chapter 15: Mixing with CDs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .227
Navigating the CD.........................................................................................227
Buttons ................................................................................................228
Jog dials ...............................................................................................229
Working with the Cue ..................................................................................231
Locating the cue .................................................................................232
Storing the cue....................................................................................232
Check the cue .....................................................................................233
Starting the tune .................................................................................233
Adjusting the Pitch ......................................................................................233
Taking Advantage of Special Features .......................................................235
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .237
Setting Up the Equipment the Right Way ..................................................238
Weighing up needles ..........................................................................239
Giving slipmats the slip .....................................................................241
Touching up mixers............................................................................241
Making the mixer a hamster .............................................................241
Setting the right height ......................................................................242
Preparing for the Big Push ..........................................................................242
Wearing out your records .................................................................242
Marking samples.................................................................................243
Fixing the hole in the middle ............................................................245
Scratching on CD, MP3, and Computer .....................................................246
Scratching on PC ................................................................................247
Marking CDs and MP3s ......................................................................247
Mastering the Technique ............................................................................248
Getting hands on ................................................................................248
DJing For Dummies
Starting from Scratch and Back Again.......................................................249
Scratching without the cross-fader..................................................250
Introducing cross-fader fever ...........................................................251
Combining scratches .........................................................................254
Juggling the Beats ........................................................................................255
Offsetting .............................................................................................256
Practice, dedication, and patience...................................................256
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live ..................257
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .259
Choosing Tunes to Mix Together ...............................................................259
Beatmatching – the next generation ................................................260
Mixing with care .................................................................................261
Getting in tune with harmonic mixing .............................................262
Keying tunes........................................................................................266
Knowing how much to pitch .............................................................267
Developing a Style........................................................................................268
Easing up on the energy ....................................................................269
Changing the key ................................................................................269
Increasing the tempo .........................................................................270
Avoiding stagnation ...........................................................................272
Respecting the crowd ........................................................................272
Getting your style on tape.................................................................273
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .275
Preparing to Record the Demo...................................................................275
Programming your set .......................................................................276
Picking and arranging the tunes.......................................................276
Bridging the gaps................................................................................278
Practising your set .............................................................................278
Setting up to record ...........................................................................279
Correcting recording levels...............................................................281
Looking After Sound Processing ................................................................284
Keeping an even volume....................................................................284
Setting your EQs .................................................................................286
Performing the Demo...................................................................................289
Stay focused ........................................................................................289
Become a perfectionist......................................................................291
Listen with an open mind..................................................................291
Making a Demo CD on Computer ...............................................................292
Editing your mix .................................................................................292
Burning a CD ......................................................................................295
Sending Off the Mix......................................................................................298
Table of Contents
Chapter 19: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .301
Marketing Yourself .......................................................................................301
Flood the world with your demo......................................................302
Play for free .........................................................................................304
Offer owners what they want to hear ..............................................305
Joining an Agency ........................................................................................305
Research an agency............................................................................307
Meet the criteria to join.....................................................................307
Cut your losses ...................................................................................308
Networking Your Way to Success...............................................................309
Sell yourself.........................................................................................309
Make friends........................................................................................309
Go ‘undercover’ ..................................................................................310
Marketing Yourself on the Internet ............................................................310
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd . . . . . . . . . . .313
Investigating the Venue ...............................................................................314
Scoping the club .................................................................................314
Getting ready to party........................................................................317
Preparing to Perform ...................................................................................318
Selecting the set .................................................................................318
Organising your box...........................................................................319
Knowing What to Expect at the Club.........................................................320
Dealing with nerves............................................................................320
Getting used to your tools.................................................................320
Working in a loud environment ........................................................322
Playing Your Music ......................................................................................322
Reading a crowd .................................................................................323
Handling requests ..............................................................................324
Taking over from someone else........................................................326
Finishing the night..............................................................................328
Part V: The Part of Tens .............................................331
Chapter 21: Ten Resources for Expanding Your Skills
and Fan Base . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .333
Staying Current with Media ........................................................................333
Visiting DJ Advice Web Sites.......................................................................334
Getting Answers through DJ Forums.........................................................334
Reading Other Books ...................................................................................335
Getting Hands-On Advice ............................................................................336
Listening to Other People’s Mixes .............................................................337
Participating in Competitions.....................................................................337
DJing For Dummies
Hosting Your Own Night..............................................................................338
Uploading Podcasts or Hosted Mixes........................................................338
Immerse Yourself in What You Love..........................................................339
Chapter 22: Ten Answers to DJ Questions
You’re Too Afraid to Ask . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .341
Do I Need to Talk? ........................................................................................341
What Should I Wear? ....................................................................................342
How Do I Go to the Toilet? ..........................................................................342
Can I Invite My Friends into the DJ Booth?...............................................343
How Do I Remove the Beat, or Vocals?......................................................344
How Do I Choose My DJ Name?..................................................................345
Do I Get Free Drinks? (And How Do I Get Drinks from the Bar?) ...........346
Who Does the Lighting for the Night? .......................................................346
Should I Re-set the Pitch to Zero After Beatmatching? ...........................347
What Do I Do if the Record or CD Skips or Jumps? .................................348
Chapter 23: Ten DJing Mistakes to Avoid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .349
Forgetting Slipmats/Headphones...............................................................349
Taking the Needle off the Wrong Record...................................................349
Banishing Mixer Setting Problems .............................................................350
Getting Drunk when Playing .......................................................................350
Leaving Records Propped Up .....................................................................351
Leaning Over the Decks ..............................................................................351
Avoiding Wardrobe Malfunction ................................................................352
Spending Too Long Talking to Someone ...................................................352
Leaving Your Last Tune Behind..................................................................352
Not Getting Paid Before You Leave ............................................................352
Chapter 24: Ten Items to Take with You When DJing . . . . . . . . . . . . .355
All the Right Records or CDs ......................................................................355
Make it Personal with Headphones and Slipmats....................................356
You’re a Star! MiniDisc Recorder (or a Blank Tape) ...............................356
Pack Your Tools and Save the Day.............................................................356
Always Be Prepared: Pen and Paper..........................................................357
Keep Fuelled with Food and Drink.............................................................357
Spread the Music with Demo Tapes and CDs ...........................................357
Keep Moving with Car Keys ........................................................................358
Have Wallet, Will Travel ..............................................................................358
Just Chill: Chill Tape for the Ride Home....................................................358
Chapter 25: Ten Great Influences on Me . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .359
Renaissance – Disc 1....................................................................................359
La Luna: ‘To the Beat of the Drum’ ............................................................360
Table of Contents
Ibiza 1996 Radio 1 Weekend........................................................................360
The Tunnel Club, Glasgow ..........................................................................361
Jamiroquai – ‘Space Cowboy’ .....................................................................362
Jeremy Healy.................................................................................................362
Alice Deejay – ‘Better Off Alone’ ................................................................362
Delirium ‘Silence’..........................................................................................363
Sasha and Digweed Miami 2002..................................................................364
DJing For Dummies
eople come to DJing from different places and for different reasons, but
they can be split into those who love the music, those who want to make
money, and those who think that DJing is cool and want to be famous. You
may fall into one, or all three of these categories, but the most important one
is loving the music.
If you’re a good DJ, and get lucky, you may become rich and famous, but
when you’re starting off, if you don’t love the music, you may become easily
bored and impatient with the time and practise you need to invest in your
skills, and quit. Even if you do manage to get good at DJing, if you don’t love
playing and listening to the music, night after night working in clubs will start
to feel too much like work. DJing isn’t work; it’s getting paid to do something
you love.
When I started DJing, I already loved the music, but the first time I experienced the true skill of a DJ working a crowd (Sasha, Ibiza 1996) I fell in love
with DJing, and knew I wanted to be one. The mechanics of it didn’t occur to
me until I first stood in front of two turntables and a mixer, all I wanted to do
was play other people’s music and have control over a crowd.
About This Book
This book is based on my Web site www.recess.co.uk that since 1996 has
given new DJs all over the world the information they need to become great
DJs. I use a very simple technique for starting off as a DJ, which begins with
the basics of starting tunes and matching beats. You can find many other
ways to develop your skills, but as they skip the basics, and involve a lot of
trial and error and confusion, I’ve had much more success coaching DJs with
my process than I have with any other.
This book isn’t only for the club DJ who plays electronic dance music (house/
trance/progressive/drum and bass/breakbeat, and so on); the party DJ (weddings, parties, and also R & B and rock DJs) can find this book just as useful.
The equipment sections and how to use the variety of function options available
to you (found in Part I) are relevant to all DJs. Beatmatching and scratching
(check out Part III) are complicated subjects but I also cover mixing without
beatmatching. Just because different skills are involved doesn’t mean that
DJing For Dummies
club DJs should skip that part of the book, or that party DJs should rip out
the beatmatching and scratching information. Knowledge is skill, and the
more skilful you are as a DJ, the better you’ll become, and the more work
you’ll get.
Conventions Used in This Book
Musical terms like beat structure are usually described using phrases that, to
the uninitiated, can sound like gibberish. So if a boffin has used ten words to
describe something, I’ve tried to put it across in a reader-friendly way.
I call the music you DJ with tunes or tracks. I’ve steered away from calling
each track a song as songs imply vocals, and not all music you play as a DJ
will have vocals.
I group CD/turntables/MP3 players and software as decks unless I’m writing in
specifics. I figured you’d get bored of lines such as ‘Go to your turntable/CD/
PC/iPod and start the tune. Then go to the other turntable/CD/PC/iPod and
put on a different tune’. Repetition is not a good thing. I repeat, repetition is
not a good thing.
Foolish Assumptions
I assume that you find lines like the last one amusing. Don’t worry; I know
that I’m not funny, so I don’t try too often. I won’t distract you from the subject at hand, but every now and then, something takes over, and I try to be
funny and entertaining. I apologise for that now, but after all, a humorous,
entertaining approach is what the For Dummies series of books is famous for.
Apart from that, this book assumes that you want to be a DJ, that you want to
put in the time it takes to get good at it, you love the music, and you won’t
get fed up when it takes longer than 10 minutes to be the next Sasha/Oakenfold/
Tiesto/DJ QBert. I also assume that you don’t have vast experience of music
How This Book Is Organised
All For Dummies books are put together in a reader-friendly, modular way.
You can look at the table of contents, pick a subject, flick to that page, and
find the information you need.
The book still has a structure as a whole, like any other book. It starts at the
beginning, with choices on what equipment to use, moves onto the process
of developing DJ skills, and ends playing live to a crowd of a thousand
people. This structure means that you can read it from cover to cover like
any book, with you as the main character!
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Part I describes the core pieces of equipment that you need in order to be a
DJ, the best ways to build your collection of tunes, and has a chapter dedicated to the art of shopping, with advice on shopping in the high street and
going online to research and buy your tunes and equipment.
Part II: Navigating the Maze:
Equipment Essentials
From a format choice of CD or vinyl or MP3 to how the controls on the mixer
work, Part II is all about using, choosing, connecting, and setting up your
equipment for DJ use. I wouldn’t dare to presume to tell you exactly what to
buy, but I do offer advice on what may be most suitable for you and your
Part III: The Mix
The nitty-gritty of DJing. From the basics of beatmatching to the complicated
moves demanded by the scratch artist, Part III deals with all the information
you need to develop your skills as a DJ. This information is important so
spend lots of time with this part, because the chapters describe key techniques that mould and shape you as a DJ.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
After developing your DJ skills, the next step is to get work and show people
just how good you are. Part IV gives lots of information on how to sell yourself, how to create a great sounding (and looking) demo, and what to do once
you get work. DJing is not simply a case of standing in the DJ booth expecting
everyone to love everything you play!
DJing For Dummies
Part V: The Part of Tens
These chapters squeeze in the last tips, tricks, and common sense reminders
that ease the way toward you becoming a successful, professional DJ.
Icons Used in This Book
Every now and then, a little For Dummies message pops up in the margin of
the book. It’s there to let you know when something’s extra useful, essential
for you to remember, may be dangerous to your equipment or technique, or if
what follows is technical gobbledegook.
This one’s easy: it highlights something you should burn into your memory
to help your progress and keep you on the right path on your journey to
becoming a great DJ.
Tips are little bits of info that you may not need, but they can help speed up
your development, make you sound better, and generally make your life
easier as a DJ.
When you’re starting out as a DJ, you may need to navigate your way through
a number of tricky situations. A few of them end with broken records/needles
and CDs, or a damaged reputation as a DJ. Heed the advice when you see this
icon, and proceed with caution.
They’re unavoidable; words put together by someone else in a small room
that mean absolutely nothing. Where possible, I try to translate technical
DJing terms into English for you.
Where to Go from Here
Go to the kitchen, make yourself a sandwich, pour a nice cold glass of water
or hot pot of coffee, put on some music you love, and jump into Chapter 1 –
or whichever chapter takes your fancy! If you want to know about beatmatching, go to Chapter 12; if you want to know how to connect your equipment, go
to Chapter 11.
When you feel inspired, put down the book and try out some of the techniques
you’ve read about. If you want to spend 20 minutes DJing just so you can
hear the music, but don’t want to concentrate on your skills, do it. Your love
of the music and DJing is just as important as the mechanics of how you do
it, if not more.
You can also jump online and check out the video and audio clips that support this book at www.recess.co.uk. The site that I’ve used to develop DJs
from all over the world is now a resource for this book, just for you. You can
drop me a line there, and ask me anything you want to know.
DJing For Dummies
Part I
Stocking Up Your
DJ Toolbox
In this part . . .
inding the right equipment and music to buy when
you start your DJing journey can be a bit of a minefield. These opening chapters take you through the essentials you need to start DJing, and explore the shopping
options open to you.
Chapter 1
Catching DJ Fever
In This Chapter
Having what it takes to be a DJ
Mechanics and creativity
Reaching the journey’s end – the dance floor
he journey you take as a DJ – from the very first record you play when
you enter the DJ world to the last record of your first set in front of a club
filled with people – is an exciting, creative, and fulfilling one, but you need a
lot of patience and practice to get there.
DJ turntables, CD players, and mixers are selling so quickly now that they’re
in danger of outselling guitars and pianos. Hundreds of DJs over the world
are on a quest to entertain and play great music. Everyone needs an advantage when they compete with hundreds of like-minded people. Your advantage is knowledge. I can help you with that.
Discovering the Foundations of DJing
DJing is first and foremost about music. The clothes, the cars, the money, and
the fame are all very nice, and I’m sure that DJs who get all the attention
aren’t complaining, but playing the right music and how a crowd reacts is
what moulds a DJ. As the DJ, you are in control of everybody’s night. As such,
you need to be professional, skilful, and knowledgeable about what the
crowd wants to hear, and ready to take charge of how much of a good time
they’re having.
What kind of DJ you become lies in how you choose, use, and respect your DJ
tools and skills. Become a student of DJing as well as someone who loves
music and performing to a crowd, and your foundations will be rock solid.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Equipping yourself
The equipment you use as a DJ can define you just as much as the music you
play. The basic components you need are:
Two input devices. You can choose from CD players, MP3 players, a PC
with DJing software, or the more traditional vinyl turntables. (Head to
Chapters 2, 5, 7, and 15 to find out more.)
A mixer. This box of tricks lets you change from one tune to the other.
Different mixers have better control over how you can treat the sound
as you mix from tune to tune. (Chapter 8 tells you everything you need
to know about mixers.)
A pair of headphones. Headphones are essential for listening to your
next record while one is already playing. (See Chapter 9 for some good
Amplification. You have to be heard, and depending on the music you
play, you have to be LOUD! (You can find out more in Chapter 10.)
Records/CDs/MP3s. What’s a DJ without something to play? (Take a look
at Chapter 3.)
Providing that your wallet is big enough, making the choice between CD and
vinyl is no longer a quandary. The functions on a turntable are equally matched
by those on a CD player, so the decision comes down to aesthetics, money,
and what kind of person you are. You may like the retro feel of vinyl and find
that the music you want to play is available on vinyl, or you may like the
modern look of CD players or laptops, and prefer the ready availability of
MP3s and CDs – it’s your choice. Chapters 3, 5, 7, and 15 can help you with
your decision.
Making friends with your wallet
DJing costs money. Whether you shop online, or if you go to the high street,
the first thing to do is look at your finances. If you’ve been saving up money
for long enough, you may have a healthy budget to spend on your equipment.
Just remember, the expense doesn’t stop there. Every month new tunes are
released, you’ll be yearning for music to play and may start to think of buying
other items in terms of how many records can you get, instead. I remember
saying once ‘£50 for a shirt? That’s 10 records!’
Chapter 1: Catching DJ Fever
You don’t get the personal touch, but shopping online can be cheaper for
equipment and music, and if you can’t afford new DJ equipment right now,
use PC software to develop your skills, and buy the real thing when you can.
Flip through to Chapters 4 and 7 for more information.
Knowing your music
Throughout the years I’ve been helping people to become DJs, one of the
most surprising questions I’ve been asked is: ‘I want to be a DJ. Can you tell
me what music I should spin?’ This question seems ridiculous to me. Picking
the genre (or genres) of your music is really important, as you need to love
and feel passionate about playing this music for the rest of your DJ career.
(Head to Chapter 3 for more on genre and music formats.)
After you’ve found your musical elixir, start to listen to as much of it as you
can. Buy records and CDs, listen to the radio, search the Internet for information on this genre, and discover as much as you can. This groundwork is of
help when choosing the records you want to play, when looking for artist’s
remixes, and is an aid to developing your mixing style. Doing a tiny bit of
research before you leap into DJing goes a long way towards helping you
understand the facets and building blocks of the music you love. Become a
student of trance, a scholar of jungle, and a professor of pop – just make sure
that you start treating your music as a tool, and be sure to use that tool like a
real craftsman.
Researching and discovering
You know the music you want to play, you’ve decided on the format that’s
right for you, you’ve been saving up for a while; now you need to wade
through the vast range of equipment that’s available and be sure that you’re
buying the best DJ setup for the job at hand.
With technology advancing faster than I can write this book, you can easily
get lost in the features that are available to you on CD decks, mixers, and
turntables. Take as much time as you can to decide on what you want to buy.
Go online and do some research, ask others in DJ forums for their thoughts
on the equipment you’re thinking about buying, and make sure that you’re
buying something that does what you want it to do, and that any extra features aren’t bumping up the price for something you’ll never use.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Here’s a brief guide to what to look for on each piece of equipment you may
look to buy:
Proper DJ turntables need a strong motor, a pitch control to adjust the
speed the record plays at, a good needle, and sturdy enough construction
to handle the vibrations and abuse that DJing dishes out. A home hi-fi
turntable won’t do, I’m afraid. Check out Chapter 5 for more information.
Mixers ideally have 3-band EQs (equalisers) for each input channel, a
cross-fader, headphone cue controls, and a good display to show you
the level at which the music is sent out of the mixer so you don’t blow
any speakers accidentally. Chapter 8 goes into more detail on this and
other functions on the mixer.
CD decks need to be sturdy enough that they won’t skip every time the
bass drum booms over the speakers. The controls on a CD deck are
more important than on a turntable because you can’t physically speed
up and slow down the CD with your hands. Jog wheels, easy-to-navigate
time and track displays, and a pitch bend along with the pitch control
are all important core features of a CD turntable. Chapter 15 is dedicated
to everything CD-related.
Headphones need to be comfortable, sound clear when played at high
volume, and cut out a lot of external noise so that you don’t have to play
them too loud. Your ears are extremely important, so try not to have
your headphones at maximum all the time. Chapter 9 is the place to go
for guidance on choosing headphones and protecting ears.
Volume and sound control are the watchwords for amplification. You
don’t need a huge amplifier and bass-bins for your bedroom, but similarly, a home hi-fi isn’t going to be much use in a town hall. Chapter 10
helps you find the right balance.
Connecting your equipment
After you have all the pieces of your DJ setup, your final task is to put together
the jigsaw. Knowing how to connect you equipment isn’t just important, it’s
totally vital. If you don’t know what connects to what, and what the ins and
outs of your set-up are, you can’t troubleshoot when things go wrong. And
things do go wrong, at the worst of times.
Eventually, you’ll be showing off your DJ skills and someone will ask you to
play at a party with your equipment; equipment that you connected up a year
ago, with the help of your 4-year-old brother. Think of the soldier who has to
assemble a gun from parts to functional in minutes; that’s how comfortable
you need to be when connecting together the parts of your DJ setup – except
you only need to kill ’em on the dance floor. (Chapter 11 tells you all you
need to know about connections.)
Chapter 1: Catching DJ Fever
Beatmatching Takes Patience
and Practice
DJing is a combination of mechanical and creative skill. Beatmatching (adjusting the speed that two tunes play at so that their bass drum beats constantly
play at the same time) is the mechanical aspect that’s regarded as the core
foundation of the club DJ. Given enough time, patience and practice, anyone
can learn these basics. Look to Chapters 12 and 15 to find out more.
After the core skill of beatmatching, what sets a good DJ apart from an okay
DJ is his or her creativity. You need another set of building blocks to help you
develop your creativity. How you stack up these blocks plays a big part in
determining how skilled a DJ you can become:
Good sound control is the first building block of your skill and creativity.
You need a good ear to gauge if one tune is too loud during a mix, or if
you have too much bass playing to the dance floor. This skill is something that develops, and can be honed through experience, but a DJ with
a good ear for sound quality is already halfway there. Chapter 14 covers
sound control to create a great-sounding mix, and Chapter 19 has information about controlling the overall sound of your mix when playing live
or to tape.
A knowledge of the structure of a tune is the second essential building
block in your quest to becoming a creative DJ. Knowing how many bars
and phrases make up larger sections of tunes is important for creating
exciting mixes. In time, DJs develop a sixth sense about how a tune has
been made, and what happens in it, so they don’t have to rely on pieces
of paper, and notes to aid them with their mixes. Chapter 13 takes you
through this structure step by step.
Although scratching is considered more of a stand-alone skill, you can
harness this technique to add a boost of excitement and unpredictability to the mix and is the third building block to creative DJing. Instead of
letting a CD or record play at normal speed, the scratch DJ stops it with
their hand and plays a short section (called a sample) backwards and
forwards to create a unique sound. This also helps with the foundation
mechanics of DJing. People are taught to be scared of touching their
records, or don’t have the gentle touch needed to work with vinyl or a
CD controller properly. Scratching soon sorts all that out, leaving no
room for excuses. Your dexterity working with your tunes increases tenfold by the time you’ve developed even the most basic of scratch moves
as described in Chapter 16.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
It’s all about style
Style is the true creative avenue, because it’s all
down to the music. The order you play your
tunes in, changing keys, mixing harmonically,
changing genre, increasing the tempo, and creating a roller-coaster ride of power and energy
are the reasons that one DJ is better than the
Your technique may be a little weak, but if you’re
playing the right tunes, that can be forgiven.
(That’s not an excuse to skip the basics though!)
The idea is to create a set that tries to elicit
emotional and physical reactions from the
crowd; in other words, they dance all night, and
smile all night.
Working as a DJ
The hardest bit about performance is actually getting the chance to perform.
Every job in the entertainment industry is fought over by hundreds of people
and you need to come out on top if you want to succeed.
You need to set yourself apart from the competition and make sure that you
have the skills to sell yourself. Convince club owners and promoters that
you’re going to be an asset to their club, and then perform on the night.
Here’s what you need to do:
Demo tapes (or CDs or MiniDiscs) are your window to the world. They
are the first way to let people know what you’re like as a DJ. Whether it’s
your friends, your boss, or someone in the industry, a demo is a reflection of you, and you only. Only release your best work, and don’t make
excuses if it’s not good enough. Chapter 18 has the information you need
about demos.
Market yourself well. Use all avenues described in Chapter 19 to get
even the most basic start in a club or pub.
After you’ve secured any kind of work, your development from beginner to DJ
is only half way through. You’ve spent time creating a good mix in the bedroom,
but now, no matter whether you’re playing Cream in Liverpool, or the Jones’s
wedding at the local town hall, you need to pull off a successful night.
Consider the following (all of which are covered in more detail in Chapters 19
and 20):
Like anything new, preparation is the key to a successful night. Leave
yourself with no surprises, do as much investigation as possible, research
the unknown, settle any money matters, make sure that you and the management (or wedding party) are on the same musical playing field, so that
all you have to worry about on the night is entertaining the crowd.
Chapter 1: Catching DJ Fever
Reading the crowd is the most important skill you can develop and you
may take weeks, months, even years to master the technique properly.
The tells you pick up from the body language on the dance floor rival
any poker player’s. You look at the dance floor and instantly react to
how people dance, and what their expressions are, and then compensate for a down-turn in their enjoyment, or build upon it to make it a
night to remember.
Because you’re the main focal point of the night, you also have to be a
people person. You are the representative of the club, and so need to act
accordingly. One wrong word to the wrong person, one wrong tune played
at the wrong time, or even something as simple as appearing as if you’re
not enjoying yourself, can rub off on the dance floor, and your job as an
entertainer is on thin ice.
Above all, always remember from the bedroom to a bar, from a town hall wedding to the main set at a huge night club in Ibiza, you’re here because you
want to be a DJ. You love the music, you want to put in the time, you want to
entertain people, and you want to be recognised for it.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Chapter 2
Starting Off with the Bare Bones
In This Chapter
Discovering a DJ’s basic equipment
Getting to know the vital controls and functions
Putting an end to feedback and vibrations
Using the right furniture
ou have lots of options when it comes to choosing and buying your first
set of DJ equipment. The amount of money you have to spend is one
factor. Any decision you’ve already come to about using vinyl, CDs, or MP3s
to mix with obviously has a huge impact on what you buy (help with that
decision is given in Chapter 7), and the music and mixing style you want to
adopt also plays a big part in your first DJ setup.
Consider this chapter as a shopping list of equipment you need to be a DJ.
Later chapters help guide you towards the best equipment to use, and the
most suitable equipment for your budget.
Making a List, Checking It Twice
You need to make sure that you get the appropriate gear for the music you
want to play, and like any craftsman, you need to ensure that you get the
right set of tools for the job.
Any DJ setup consists of the following basic elements, each of which I
describe later in this chapter:
At least two input devices. Turntables, CD decks, MP3 players, and even
PCs are the common DJ input devices.
A mixer. This is used to change the music that comes from the speakers
from one input device to the other.
Headphones. These plug into the mixer so you can hear the next tune
you want to play without anyone else hearing it through the speakers.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Amplifier. Without an amplifier (and speakers), the people on the dance
floor won’t hear any of the great music you’ve chosen to play.
Something to put it all on. You could sit on the floor cross-legged, with
everything laid out on the carpet, but it’s probably easier to build, buy,
or borrow some furniture.
Add to that a few meters of cabling, some understanding neighbours, and a
bunch of CDs and records, and your DJ journey can begin.
Choosing Your Input Devices
As a DJ, you can choose from a wide range of current formats:
MP3 (includes using a PC or Mac)
Whatever else comes along in the future.
Although what to use is technically your choice, depending on the genre of
music you want to play, your decision may already have been made for you.
(Check out Chapter 3 for information about how genres affect format choices.)
The following sections describe each format.
The one thing I’d say before going through your options is that though having
only one CD deck and only one turntable may seem like a good idea, it may
lead to a lot of confusion, and force your hand in many mix situations. You’ll
have to mix from vinyl to CD, to vinyl to CD, and so on, losing the option of
mixing from one CD to another, or one vinyl tune to another vinyl tune.
If you think you’ll primarily be a vinyl DJ, you can gamble and just buy one
CD deck (with your two turntables), in hopes that you’ll never want to mix
from CD to CD, but that’s still a risk. Or, if you’re planning on just using CDs,
you may want to have a turntable, which you can incorporate into your DJ
setup, or use it to transfer your vinyl tunes onto CD.
Thinking about turntables (for vinyl DJs)
Turntables are the workhorse of the DJ industry. They’ve been around in one
form or another since the dawn of recorded music, and have been the mainstay in clubs and a vital part of dance music since its conception. A record is
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones
a circular piece of hard, but flexible vinyl with a single spiral groove cut into
each side that starts on the outer edge and eventually ends up in the centre
of the record. This groove contains millions of tiny bumps and variations that
contain the music information.
To turn these bumps back into music, the needle (also called a stylus, with a
diamond tip) sits inside this groove. The record sits on a rotating disc (called
a deckplatter) so that the needle travels from any particular starting point in
the groove and gradually works its way towards the centre. The bumps and
variations in the groove cause the needle to vibrate. These vibrations are
converted to an electrical signal, which is then sent directly to an amplifier,
(or, in a DJ setup, to a mixer), and is then translated into musical sound.
You must use the correct kind of turntable. The one that comes with your
parent’s hi-fi is unlikely to be suitable for DJing (unless your dad is Fatboy
Slim). These record players are meant for playing records in one direction, at
a normal speed, and don’t have to deal with knocks and vibrations like a DJ
turntable must.
The bare minimum requirements for a DJ’s turntable are
A variable pitch control to adjust the speed of the record (typically
through a range of 8–10 per cent faster or slower than normal). Advanced
turntables give the option of up to 100 per cent pitch change, but if this
is your first turntable, that isn’t a vital option right now.
A removable headshell to use different kinds of DJ-suitable needles and
cartridges (see Chapter 6 for more information).
A smooth surface to the deckplatter so it will turn under the slipmat (a
circular piece of felt that sits between the record and the deckplatter
See Chapter 6 for more).
Enough motor power to keep the turntable spinning under the slipmat if
you hold the record stopped with your hand (Chapter 5 has more about
different styles of turntable motor, and how the torque (power) of the
motor can help or hinder your mixing capabilities).
Options such as anti-skate, Stop and Start buttons, target light, dimpled
turntable plate with a strobe light, and a solid outer chassis (which helps to
prevent vibrations), aren’t on the bare essentials list for a turntable to DJ with,
but without them, you may find some techniques really difficult! Fortunately,
almost all DJ decks come with these functions. (If you’re unsure of what any
of these features are and want more information, go to Chapter 5, which
describes them all in full detail.)
Because of their build quality and strength, the Technics 1200 and 1210 series
of turntables have become the industry standard in the DJ booth, although
the top-range Vestax turntables have made a considerable dent in Technics’
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
former monopoly. However, even second-hand Technics and Vestax decks are
an expensive piece of kit, so fortunately for the DJ on a budget, DJ turntables
by other manufacturers emulate this classic design, such as the Gemini TT02
shown in Figure 2-1).
The advantages of this familiar design are the layout of controls, the counterweighted tone-arm, and the position and size of the pitch control. The long
pitch control running down the right-hand side of the turntable enables the DJ
to be a lot more precise when setting the playing speed for the record. Some of
the really cheap turntables on the market have very small pitch sliders or
knobs, making it harder to change the pitch by the minute amounts sometimes
Although features have been added, corners have been rounded, and basic
designs have been improved upon, this basic design in Figure 2-1 is one you
come across most often when choosing a DJ turntable – all around the world.
Figure 2-1:
The Gemini
Deciding on CD decks
Once upon a time you could only play a CD at normal speed, and you had to
place your CD players on cotton wool to prevent vibrations. As for finding the
right place to start the tune and starting it at the right time, those details lay
in the lap of the gods of technology rather than DJ skill.
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones
Fortunately for everyone, the design and technology of CD decks for DJ use
has improved incredibly over the years.
As with turntables (see preceding section), when choosing your CD decks, try
to avoid standard CD players that are used with a hi-fi, or portable ‘Walkman’
style CD players. Even if you’re not worried about changing the speed of the
song, DJ CD decks are a lot easier to control and can take a lot more abuse and
vibration than a typical home CD player.
CD decks for DJs should include the following vital functions:
Pitch control (the same as with turntables, having a range of at least 8
per cent faster or slower than normal).
A set of controls that lets you easily find the song or part of the song
you want to play. These controls are either buttons that skip through
the CD or the tune, or a jog wheel, which is turned clockwise or anticlockwise to skip through the tune with more precision.
A time display that you don’t have to squint at to read (especially in
the dark!).
Chapter 15 has more detailed descriptions of CD deck functions, and how to
use CD decks to mix with instead of vinyl.
Optional basic controls that I strongly suggest include:
Pitch bend (to temporarily speed up or slow down the CD without using
the pitch control).
An anti-skip function built into the CD player (which prevents the CD
from skipping from all the bass vibrations in a loud environment).
Ability to play CD-RW discs (rewritable CDs that can be made and
erased a number of times).
The pitch bend feature isn’t necessarily vital on beginner’s CD decks, but without it, you’ll face a lot of difficulty mixing. And without anti-skip, you have to
be careful not to bump your decks or set the bass in the music too high
because the CD will most likely skip. Something’s ‘retro cool’ about a record
jumping, but when a CD skips, you want to hit the decks with a hammer!
Even though most home CD players can play CD-R (recordable on once only)
and CD-RW (multiple recordings) discs nowadays, basic DJ CD decks may not
have that feature. With the Internet giving access to a lot of rare music, you’ll
want your CD decks to play burnt CDs without skipping.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Musing on MP3s and PCs
MP3s are computer music files that have been compressed (reduced in size)
while still retaining the original sound quality. This makes them easy to
download and send over the Internet, and they take up very little storage
space on computer hard discs and personal MP3 players (similar to a Walkman
or personal CD player, but a lot smaller). To give you an idea of how this compression helps, my iPod (a popular, fashionable MP3 player) is only 60 gigabytes in size, but it contains enough music so that I wouldn’t hear the same
tune play for six weeks! I’d need over 800 CDs to hold the same amount of
music. MP3s are here to stay, and the DJ equipment manufacturers have been
quick to realise it. You can burn MP3s to a CD disc as a traditional CD that
can play on any CD player, or you can create an MP3 disc, which stores more
tunes than a CD, keeping the files in MP3 format. You need a CD deck that can
play these MP3 discs.
Although you can plug iPods and any other personal MP3 player into a mixer
directly, they aren’t used for anything other than the most basic level of DJing.
As with turntables and CD players, it’s the ability to alter the speed your
music plays at that sets apart conventional home equipment from DJ equipment.
(Chapter 7 has more information about mixing with personal MP3 players,
and Chapter 11 covers connecting an MP3 player to your mixer.)
As MP3s start off as computer files, there are a few different ways to utilise
Nowadays, you can find a new wave of DJs who carry only a laptop, headphones, and a couple of cables. Laptop DJing is sweeping through the DJ community (for better or for worse). You may need to modify your PC to turn it
into a DJing system, but it usually means buying only a new sound card.
The advantage of using your PC to mix is that the software normally contains
the entire DJ mixing package. In a series of windows, or one well-designed
window, the software gives the user two input players on screen and a mixer.
So all you need is a lot of music files and your PC’s soundcard connected to
an amplifier, and you’re a DJ!
MP3s aren’t the only file formats that you can play with DJing software. As
long as your hard drive is large enough to hold the files, most programs play
the majority of common audio formats available today.
The range, complexity, and price of software available to the PC (or Mac) DJ
is growing at an extraordinary speed. As processing speed increases and hard
drives become larger and cheaper, more titles come onto the market. Traktor
by Native Instruments is fast becoming the industry standard, but software
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones
such as BPM Studio Pro, PCDJ, Virtual DJ, and MixVibes to mention a few are
all available on the market. The Hitsquad Musician Network’s Web site (www.
hitsquad.com/smm/cat/DJ_MIXING/) holds a lot of shareware versions
of this software, and many other titles. A backlash has emerged against Laptop
DJs, similar to when CD DJing took off, putting a lot of vinyl jocks’ noses out
of joint. The big problem with Laptop DJing is that it lacks performance.
To combat the lack of showmanship when DJing on computer, software companies have designed controllers for the PC and Mac, which help take the
mouse-click out of DJing. In my opinion, the software company Ableton
(www.ableton.com) is leading the way with its Live software. DJing deity
Sasha has stopped using vinyl, preferring to use a Mac with the Live software
and a controller that helps him create unique DJ sets. (Chapter 7 has more
about Live and the other control options when using MP3s on a PC or Mac.)
MP3 DJ decks
MP3 decks can be split into two camps:
CD decks that can play MP3 CDs (a CD that has MP3 files burnt to it in
MP3 format rather than a normal uncompressed CD files).
Players that contain their own internal hard drive, on which you can
store tens of thousands of audio files.
Because MP3 decks’ design and controls are normally identical to those of
CD decks, they have the same basic vital functions as DJ CD decks. However,
because an MP3 CD can hold 1,000 songs and hard-drive systems can hold
over 100,000 songs, you need a comprehensive, but easy-to-use, menu system
to help you navigate through the massive library quickly.
Mixing It Up with Mixers
The mixer is the glue that keeps the night running smoothly, and the dancers
dancing without falling over. The purpose of the mixer is to alter the sound
that you hear from one input to another without any breaks – creating a
seamless transition. Chapter 8 contains detailed information about everything mentioned below and further information about more advanced features on mixers.
The most basic features a mixer must have for DJ use are:
A cross-fader. On most DJ mixers, the important control that helps to
change the sound from one input to another is the cross-fader. As you
move the cross-fader from left to right (or reverse), the sound you hear
through the speakers gradually changes from one deck to the other. If
you leave the cross-fader in the middle, you hear both songs playing at
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
the same time. How you change the music from one song to the other is
a massive part of how you’re regarded as a DJ.
At least two input channels. These should have a switch on each to select
a phono input (to use turntables) or a line input (for everything else).
Headphone monitoring with Pre Fade Listen (PFL). PFL (or cue) lets
you hear the music through the headphones without it playing through
the speakers. This is vital when you want to set the right start point for
the next tune, and when you’re beatmatching.
LED indicators to display the sound level inputting and outputting
through the mixer.
Gain controls. These are used in conjunction with the input LED indicators, and are extremely important for keeping the overall level (volume)
of the mix smooth, creating a professional sound to the mix.
EQs (equalisers) for the bass, mid, and high sound frequencies. These
three simple controls help you add creativity, and improve the sound
quality of the mix, transforming lacklustre transitions from one tune to
another into great-sounding, seamless ones.
Budget mixers (around £50) are likely not to have the gain and EQ controls.
These aren’t 100 per cent necessary if you’re a party DJ that doesn’t create
long, overlapping mixes, but for the sake of around £30 more, you can find a
mixer (such as the Numark DM1050) which has everything I recommend at an
affordable price range.
With these functions, you have a lot of control over your mixes and can go a
long way toward sounding like a pro. A whole range of features and functions
can help you adjust and improve your mixes, but they aren’t as vital as the
six I describe in the preceding list.
Monitoring Your Music with Headphones
Don’t underestimate the importance of a really good set of headphones.
When you’re in the middle of a noisy DJ booth, your headphones are the only
way to ensure that the mix is as smooth as your hairstyle.
Though not a major factor when practising DJing in your the bedroom, in the
live arena having clear headphones that don’t distort when you turn them up
really loud is extremely important. If you can’t easily, and clearly hear the
records you’re playing now and want to play next, your mix has the potential
to go really wrong, really quickly!
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones
When choosing a good starter set of DJ headphones, concentrate on comfort
and sound. Make sure they’re soft and nice to wear, and that when you use
them, you can hear a good bass thump and the high frequencies are clear. If
you get a chance to test them at quite a loud volume, carefully do so (you
don’t want to damage them, or your ears), just to make sure that they don’t
distort or that the mid-range frequencies don’t drown out the bass beats.
If you choose to buy budget headphones so you can afford better turntables,
I have to recommend that you spend your first DJ pay cheque on a good pair
of DJ-specific headphones – you’ll only encounter problems with poor headphones and may not get any more pay cheques! Check out Chapter 9 for
loads more about headphones.
Good headphones are very important, and so are your ears. Remember to get
quality headphones that won’t destroy your ears with a high mid-range, but
also remember they don’t always have to be at full volume!
Powering Things Up with Amplifiers
The sound signal that comes out of the mixer is barely strong enough to
power your headphones, so you need something to increase (amplify) this
signal so that it drives some speakers (makes ’em work). You can amplify
your music in four different ways (Chapter 10 has more on these options):
Buy a separate amplifier and speakers. This choice can be a bit costly,
but it’s a great way of doing it.
Plug the mixer’s output cable into the CD or AUX port in the back of
your home stereo (if you have one). I prefer this method at home
because it cuts down on the amount of equipment you need – and
money you have to spend – and it means that you already have a built-in
tape recorder, or MiniDisc recorder, to record your mixes.
Use powered speakers – speakers that contain a built-in amplifier.
Providing that they’re sufficiently powerful to let you hear the music
loud enough, they will suffice.
A few people I know actually use the powered speakers from their computers. For professional use, my preference is a great monitor by JBL
(which is used in DJ booths a lot). I use a pair of Roland powered speakers at home right now as my decks are in a small room that doesn’t need
a massive amount of amplification. They’ve got big speakers in them and
sound great when turned up loud.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Use the speakers on your Mac or PC. This approach is pretty much the
same as using powered speakers, except that instead of connecting the
speakers directly to the mixer, you connect your mixer to a computer’s
soundcard first. This method has the added bonus of being able to
record to your computer anytime, for easy uploading of your mixes to
the Internet. (Chapter 11 has guidance on connecting your mixer to a
Figuring Out the Furniture
Furniture is probably the most overlooked and least thought about aspect of
your DJ setup. Some people spend weeks researching the best decks and
mixer to buy and completely forget that in the end, they need something to
put them on.
Two items of furniture for you to consider are:
Something to put your decks and mixer on
Somewhere to keep your records and discs
Considering ergonomics and stability
When looking for a DJ desk, you need something that’s solid enough so the
needle doesn’t jump and the CD can’t skip when your cat breathes on it. Even
more important is the height level of your decks and mixer.
If you need to bend down to use your equipment, you’ll end up like the
Hunchback of Notre Dame after all the hours of practice you’ll be putting in.
So make sure that your equipment is at a height that enables you to practise
with your body erect and your shoulders back, in line with your spine. I have
a great friendship with Dr Dan, my chiropractor, due to years of not following
my own advice!
Correct ergonomics for any desk (and that includes a DJ ‘desk’) are that you
need not reach, stretch, or bend to use equipment. Ideally, you want to stand
tall, with your shoulders back, and your elbows at 90 degrees when DJing.
Protect your neck, too, by looking down at the controls, rather than craning
your neck downwards like a goose! Although everybody’s height is different,
these ergonomic principles mean that if you’re using something like a computer desk, you probably need to find some bricks or a couple of breezeblocks
to raise your decks to a comfortable height.
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones
Selecting store-bought stands
A few desk units are specifically designed for DJ use, with an adjustable
height, a flat top for your decks and mixer, and some big cabinets underneath
to keep your records in. My concern with keeping everything in the same unit
is that if you’re flopping all your records around in the cabinet when trying to
find a tune, moving 50 records from left to right creates a hell of a wallop –
and is likely to skip the needle.
Check out any online DJ store, and you find a great range of DJ desks and
stands. Nearly all of them are flat-pack so you need to assemble them yourself –
make sure you pack some patience with your screwdriver!
I’ve found that the king of flat-pack, Ikea, do a great unit (in the ‘Billy’ range)
that your decks can fit on/in – the only problem is that the shelves would
never take the weight of 2,000 tunes. (See www.ikea.co.uk.)
I was lucky enough that a unit that my Dad had built in the 1970s, and which
everything sits on perfectly, was lying around in my house. The records don’t
fit in the unit, but I prefer not to keep the records in the same unit anyway.
For my records, I use a hard plastic shelving stand from a DIY shop. It holds
about 2,000 records, shows no sign of buckling from the weight, and lets me
keep my records standing on their sides. Two reasons why this is important
are: flicking through your records is easy, and records warp if left piled on top
of each other.
If you do keep your records in a similar shelving unit, make sure the unit is
level, and store your records so that the opening is against a wall. I had a terrible accident with Timo Mass’s Ubik when it dropped out of its sleeve because
of a wonky shelving unit – let’s just say it’s half the record it used to be . . .
Building bricks and the
new vibration killers
Another point to consider with your furniture is how to minimise vibrations.
Though there’s a chance your needles may skip if you’re bumped into by a
clumsy dancer, the main concern is with speaker vibrations, and feedback, or
‘howl round’.
Remember that the purpose of the needle is to translate vibrations from the
record groove into sound. Feedback happens when the sound from your speakers reaches the turntable (through sound vibrations), and is re-amplified –
which reaches the turntable, and is re-amplified. This re-amplification creates
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
a snowball effect (a re-re-re-re-re-amplification), creating a ringing noise that
rapidly gets louder and louder, which is known as feedback. It hurts your ears
and your speakers, so try to avoid it.
If possible, avoid putting speakers on the same unit that your decks are on,
but if you can’t avoid that arrangement, try to minimise the vibrations by setting the decks on something that absorbs the vibration. Like in many bedrooms of budding DJs across the world, I used to sit my decks on top of
bricks. If you’re looking for a classier way of doing the same thing, you can
use specially designed ‘feet’ for your turntables. Made out of metal, they
replace the normal rubber feet that are on each corner of the turntable to
absorb vibrations more effectively than a brick can.
Isolator feet can be quite expensive (around £90 for 4). A fantastic alternative
if you can afford £30, is the Freefloat ‘cushion’ that you sit the decks on top of
(Figure 2-2 shows the Freefloat deck stabiliser). This cushion not only stabilises the decks, but has the added advantage of looking a lot better than
some bricks ‘borrowed’ from a building site!
Figure 2-2:
Locating Your DJ Setup
Where you set up your decks in the bedroom has probably already been
decided by the current position of your bed and television, but if you have
loads of space to tinker with and can consider positioning yourself anywhere
in the room then the main factor is to stay near to your speakers. Chapter 10
has a section on positioning your monitors, but as long as you’re within
Chapter 2: Starting Off with the Bare Bones
4 feet of a speaker, you don’t have to worry about audio delay or acoustic
One thing that has always amazed me is why bedroom DJs feel the need to
set up their decks so that they’re facing a wall. Try turning everything around
so that you’re looking out across the room. This positioning not only helps
with visualisation, when you start to imagine yourself playing in a big club,
but looks a lot more impressive when your mates come to see you show off
your skills. You need to keep the cables tidy so they’re not all hanging off the
back of the deck, but this aspect gives you a much better feel of being in the
DJ booth.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Chapter 3
Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying
Records, CDs, and MP3s
In This Chapter
Looking at how genre affects what format you use
Buying your tunes the smart way
Considering the legalities of MP3s
Caring for your CDs and records
f your decks, mixer, and headphones are the tools you use as a DJ, consider your records, CDs, and MP3s as the nails, screws, and glue that you
need in order to perform your best work.
In this chapter, I cover the different formats depending on genre, what to look
for when buying your tunes, and how to make sure that your hard-found
records and CDs stay in great condition, for as long as possible.
Knowing Your Genre’s
Format Availability
Though you may dream of being a vinyl DJ, the genre you want to play may
force you to be a CD DJ, instead. During the ’70s and ’80s, this factor wasn’t
an issue, as music was released across all formats, vinyl, tape, and then CD.
But, as records became less popular, and CD became the main way to buy
music, the choice of what you can play on vinyl has dropped considerably.
So musical genres can be split into two distinct groups:
Music available on vinyl
Everything else
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Reflecting on vinyl
As sales for the home consumer market have fallen over the years, vinyl has
been aimed almost exclusively at the club music market because of its long
associated history. Music genres such as house, trance, drum and bass, hiphop, and techno still release the majority of their tunes on vinyl.
Some rock, classical, folk, and country music is still released on vinyl, and a bit
of a resurgence is going on in the indie/alternative scene in the UK for 7-inch
singles, but when you compare the range of music that’s released across all
the different genres, only a tiny percentage of it is available on vinyl.
Unreleased music is certainly an area that keeps vinyl alive. Record companies sometimes send a promotional recording (promo, in the business) to DJs
in hopes that it will get early exposure and gain popularity at gigs. Promotional
copies of music can be like gold dust in the DJ world, and when you start to
receive promos on vinyl, you know that you’re worth something as a DJ, as
vinyl promos become more and more rare.
CDs and MP3s have become more popular for promos because they’re cheaper
and more convenient to send out than pressing a thousand records. Vinyl is
still handed out to the chosen few, however, and you know that you’re in a
position of reckoning when you’re a working DJ who receives promos on vinyl.
As well as releases from some underground, smaller record labels, many
bootlegs and unsigned records are still only available in stores on vinyl.
These white label records are produced for a number of reasons: If the artist
hasn’t been signed to a proper record label; as a limited pressing released by
an artist or band that wants people to hear and use their music (often with a
view that a major label will notice, and sign them up); or when a record label
wants to release a market taster before committing money and resources to a
tune for a major release.
Keeping up with CDs
Hardly any music is released nowadays that isn’t available on CD. Dance, rock,
folk, classical, country, pop – all waiting for you on a shiny, 12-centimetre disc.
Though promotional and bootleg records aren’t always available on CD, and
some underground record labels don’t release CD versions of their records,
this factor isn’t a huge problem. The easiest way around this hurdle is just to
buy yourself a cheap (but good quality) turntable, buy the tunes you can’t
get on CD as vinyl, record them to PC, and burn them onto a CD. (For more
on buying equipment, see Chapter 4.)
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s
Unfortunately, recording from CD to vinyl doesn’t work out quite as cost
effectively. As a rock DJ, you find that most of the tunes you want to play are
on CD only, so to be a rock DJ that uses vinyl, you need a way to transfer the
CDs you want to play onto vinyl. For example, Vestax make a ‘vinyl burner’
(the VRX-2000), and Vinylium make the Kingston Dub Cutter to add onto a
standard Technics turntable. Both of which etch the music into blank 12-inch
records, but at around £4,500 for the Dub Cutter and £8,500 for the Vestax,
you’d better be making a lot of records to get your money’s worth.
Buying Records and CDs
CDs and records are expensive, so you need to make sure that you’re buying
the right music, by the right people, from the right place. Therefore, you need
to consider all options when you’re about to spend your hard-earned money.
Sizing up vinyl formats
As you may already know, vinyl comes in a number of different sizes, as follows:
7-inch singles: Not as popular as they were a few years ago, 7-inch singles tend to have the main release on the A-side and a different song on
the B-side. The A-side may be a specially edited version of the original
tune for radio (known as a radio-edit), which cuts it down to a minimum
length and content, and may remove parts of the tune that you’d really
want the crowd to hear. You may also find that you don’t like, or don’t
want to play, the B-side to a crowd of clubbers either.
7-inch singles are small so they’re quite fiddly to work with, and the cutdown version of the main tune on the A-side, and lack of remixes of the
tune, mean that they aren’t often used by club DJs. However, many
northern soul, ska, and reggae DJs still find that the 7-inch is king for
releases of their music.
LPs: You’d think that as a vinyl DJ, buying an LP, or an album on vinyl, of
an artist’s music would make good financial sense because all their
tracks are included on it. If you’re only interested in playing the original
recording and aren’t going to scratch, then this option isn’t that bad.
Wedding and party DJs who still like to use vinyl can use LPs because
the tune on the record is more than likely the one most people are familiar with, and they aren’t likely to do any scratching!
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
The downside to using full-length LP albums is that they’re quite hard to
use for club DJing due to the amount of space dedicated to each song.
With only an inch or two’s worth of vinyl available to play the entire
track, you may find that the map of the tune (see Chapter 13), which is
created by the different shading of the black rings, is fairly difficult to
see, and the tightly compacted groove is more prone to picking up
scratches, pops, and crackles.
12-inch singles: These singles are designed and produced with the DJ in
mind. Typically, you get two or three remixes of the same tune on the
one record, offering a lot more choice and versatility with how you play
the tune. Remixes are variations of the same tune, sometimes by the producer who created it, or sometimes by other producers who change the
sound of the original tune entirely (like Tiesto did to Sarah McLachlan’s
‘Silence’). The lay out of the record changes from tune to tune, but often,
the main mix that the record company feels may be most popular sits on
an entire side of a 12-inch single, with the other side left for a couple of
Though you do find a second, different tune on the B-side of some 12-inch
singles, DJs prefer a range of remixes to work with, rather than a second
tune that they may not like, which is considered a waste of space.
Sussing out CD options
CD’s can come in different sizes, but the 3-inch diameter mini-CD didn’t really
take off for music sales, and instead found its place as a CD-Rom business
card and a gimmick promo. Unlike vinyl, no matter how loud the music has
been recorded, the amount you can fit on a CD is restricted to 74 minutes on
a 740-megabyte CD and 80 minutes on an 800-megabyte CD.
CD singles: CD singles are like the middle ground between a 7-inch
single and a 12-inch single. CD singles normally contain the main release
of a tune (which may still be a radio-edit), the full mix of a tune (if appropriate), and the B-side that would be on the 7-inch single, but most
importantly, they usually contain one or two of the remixes that are
found on the 12-inch versions.
Annoyingly, though, they may not contain all the remixes that the 12-inch
single has. Perhaps the record company makes a decision to keep the
best music only for the DJs using vinyl. Who knows – it certainly is frustrating for the CD-only DJ.
CD albums: Albums on CD are similar to LPs in that they give you more
songs from the artist, but they only give you one mix (the original) of the
tune to play. Size and reliability isn’t an issue with CD albums as is the
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s
case with LPs, so if you’re happy using an album from an artist, nothing’s stopping you.
Compilation CDs and LPs: For the party or wedding DJ who just needs a
load of tunes, unmixed compilation albums with 20 or more individual
tunes on them can help build a large music collection.
One compilation CD can contain your entire track list for an evening.
Buy two copies of the same CD so that you can mix from one to the
other, and you have a record collection for £30 – where the individual
tunes together would probably cost you £100!
One point to be careful about when buying compilation CDs is that
although they contain the original-mix tunes, the tracks on them might
actually be the dreaded radio-edited versions, and not the full length
tunes that you want to play.
Mixed CD albums: Whether you’re looking for pop music, commercial
dance music, or happy-hardcore tunes, you may come across a lot of
premixed CD albums that contain a whole load of tunes that you’d like to
get your hands on.
Using premixed CDs has many problems. The first is an etiquette issue.
If a DJ friend has taken the time to hunt down a rare track, and included
it on a mix-CD for you, only for you to use that mix-CD one night when
DJing, your friend is liable to get pretty angry with you. DJs treasure their
music collection, even more so if they spend time hunting down a rare
tune, and because you didn’t spend any time (or money) sourcing that
tune, yet still played it as though you had, you’re likely to lose a friend.
The bigger problem with mixed CDs though, is that lifting only one tune
out of the original DJ’s mix to use in your own set is hard to do because
of the overlapping between the intro and outro. Head to Chapter 15 for
the ins and outs of mixing with CDs.
The party DJ: Sticking with familiarity
The great thing about being a party DJ is that
you only need to play the tunes (and the mixes
of the tunes) that everybody knows. Playing a
deep house remix of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ is probably just going to throw people off the dance
floor – so you don’t need to spend the time looking for rare mixes of tunes that club DJs do.
Go to a record store, buy a few compilation CDs,
bolster your collection up with tunes that aren’t
on a compilation CD, and you’ll have a great set
list for a great night.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Researching your tunes
You can find a lot of music on the market, and most of it is bad so you need a
way to find the good eggs in the batch – and avoid the bad. Start reading DJ
magazines and pay particular attention to the record reviews. You may make
a couple of mistakes and go on wild goose chases, but eventually you’re likely
to find a reviewer with the same taste as you. You can trust what he or she
says about a new record so you can pay particular attention to that tune next
time you go record shopping. You needn’t die by a reviewer’s advice, but
write-ups are a good place to start.
Try listening to specialist radio shows, such as Pete Tong on Radio 1 (www.
bbc.co.uk/radio1, where you can listen again to the show and read the
tracklist), with an open mind. Going back and listening to the show again is a
really good idea because you can easily get distracted the first time around
and miss the little hook in a tune that turns it from okay to wahey! And face
facts, sometimes the DJ says the title or artist a bit too fast to catch so you
need to hear it again. If you throw a tape into the recorder while listening to
the show, or record it to PC, you can always listen to the show again and again.
Eventually, to supplement the advice you get from radio shows, magazines,
and Web sites, you may end up standing in front of a huge rack of records,
reading the blurb the store has written about a tune, trying to decide
whether this tune is one you like or not.
You can supplement what the store writes about a tune by considering the
label and artist. When you’ve bought enough records, listened to enough
radio shows, and read enough magazines, you’ll start to show an affinity
toward certain labels and artists.
If most of the records you like are released on a similar range of labels,
always focus on them first. Even the big labels sign a few turkeys, but going
back to a familiar label is a good way to thin out a lot of rubbish that gets
In addition, artists that you like are obviously a good lead for finding tunes.
If you like the last five or six tunes by an artist, you have a good chance of
liking the newest one on the rack in front of you, too. But as well as your
favourite artists’ own work, check out who’s done the remixes of their tunes.
If you look at other tracks remixed by professional mixers, you may find that
although you’ve never heard of the main artist, you really like the tune,
whether it’s the original, or the remix.
Eventually, your selection of artists, labels, and remix artists all create links
to other labels, re-mixers, and artists that sprawl out like a web of knowledge
helping you pick out tunes that you’d never have normally looked at.
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s
Avoiding musical holes
If you’re relying on a review or recommendation
to pick out a record you’ve not heard, try listening to as much of the track as you can to make
sure that it doesn’t have a ‘musical hole’ in the
What I mean by a musical hole is that a tune can
be beautiful for the first couple of minutes, but
then turns to musical mush in the middle. For
some ungodly reason, the artist decided to kill
everything, and play 20 seconds of a car alarm
going off.
This point has further implications if you’re
buying tunes to play that evening in a club/party.
Unless you really trust the person who’s recommending the record, be sure to listen to it from
start to finish, just so you know that Merry
Christmas isn’t going to suddenly start playing
half way through.
And I’m not kidding; I played a record that did
that. In the middle of summer. I could have
curled up into a ball and cried . . .
The guidance of a knowledgeable guy or gal behind the counter can prove
invaluable for getting hold of the latest, greatest tunes, and when you spend
enough money (and time) in a specialist record store, the staff there can get
to know your tastes, recommend tracks, and start handing over the tunes
that they reserve for their preferred customers.
Listening to the music
If you plan to spend £5 to £15 for a record, even if the hype is huge or your
trusted reviewer loves it, always listen to it first.
All good record stores have a listening post (a spot in the store with a
turntable/CD deck and a pair of headphones for you to listen to records and
CDs before buying them), or they have a deck sitting in the back, which, if
you ask nicely and look as though you’re going to buy something, you can
review your music choices on.
Don’t feel as if you have to rush listening to the record just because a guy’s
standing over you, waiting to listen to his records. You’re about to spend
quite a lot of money so take your time to ensure that you’re spending it
wisely. Listen to as much of the record as you can, and check for scratches
and dirt on the surface of the CD or vinyl – be aware that a lot of people don’t
know how to treat records properly, especially ones they haven’t bought yet
(see the section ‘Following record store etiquette’ later in the chapter).
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Following record store etiquette
Unfortunately, some people don’t treat records
in stores very well. As DJing becomes more
popular and mainstream, larger music chains
are catering for the growing numbers of DJs.
With more people and larger stores, manners,
etiquette, and responsibility suffers.
Here’s my guide to good record store etiquette
(which is not hard to figure, just basic manners),
whether you’re in a large or small store:
Use the dedicated ‘listening post’ record if a
copy’s available in the rack, rather than
opening a shrink-wrapped, unplayed copy.
Replace records and CDs where you got
them from.
Put the tunes back in the same state you
found them (don’t bunch them up in the
inlays, and clean records if you get them
Handle vinyl carefully – remember, you
don’t own it yet. Now is the time to handle
your records like your mum always told you
to, by the edges – no fingerprints please.
Take your time to listen to the tune, but don’t
take a pile of 20 tunes and monopolise the
only listening post in the shop.
If the turntable at the post is a cheap one,
don’t think that breaking it or treating it
badly doesn’t matter.
Be careful with the needles; most stores
would rather remove the listening post than
replace a needle.
Handle headphones with care. Once again,
the store may provide cheap headphones,
but don’t break them just because they’re
cheap. Be careful with the headband –
which can snap if mistreated.
Weighing up the pros and cons of
classic anthems and new music
You’ve grown up with certain tunes, quite possibly the ones that made you
want to be a DJ, so obviously you want to own them for yourself to play and
mix, which is great. As a beginner, owning records that you’re familiar with,
love to hear, and that mean a lot to you is a positive thing. Even if your progress
with beatmatching and mixing isn’t going that well, you still love listening to
the music you’re playing.
However, you do need to think about what happens when you try to get work
as a DJ – how many places are going to be happy for you to play only old
tunes? I was lucky. My first DJing gig was called ‘A Decade of Anthems’, which
meant that I could play whatever I wanted, new, or old. But if your sights are
set on the big clubs, you may end up spending a lot of money on old tunes
that you never play live.
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s
Sure, dropping in a classic tune once in a while during a set in a club is great.
Check out the crowd to gauge their reaction to what you’re playing (see
Chapter 20 for more info on reading the crowd), and ask yourself if they seem
like a knowledgeable bunch that would respond to a classic tune. If the answer’s
yes, try playing a really good, older tune, but be careful, as reading the crowd
wrongly can clear a dance floor faster than a night in a curry house!
Then you have the brand spanking new tunes to think about. If you don’t have
a paying DJ job yet, think hard about the tunes you’re buying; don’t buy anything just because it’s the big tune at the moment, or you’ll play it once or
twice at home, include it in a couple of mix-tapes, and then demote it to the
back of the record box because its initial appeal has now completely worn off.
As a working DJ, you need to buy tracks that get frequently played in the
clubs. However, if you don’t think that you’ll ever play a track, even if you’re
still stuck DJing in the bedroom, don’t buy it simply because it’s popular.
Of course, you can’t know which tunes are going to stand the test of time.
Some tracks may surprise you by lasting a while, but if you feel you are compromising your musical integrity by buying a tune, you can bet that you
won’t be playing it after a month or two. In the end, buy the majority (and I
mean 99 per cent) of tunes for your own enjoyment, not just for the pulsing
masses on the dance floor.
Byting into MP3s
MP3s are a cheap, convenient way to buy your music, but what’s the best
way to get hold of them and what are the legal implications of using them?
Explaining the legal concept of obtaining and using MP3 tunes is very simple.
If you go to somewhere like iTunes to buy and download your MP3s, you’re
doing so legally. If you use peer-to-peer software to share MP3s, and download a few gigabytes’ worth of music without giving any money towards the
artist, you’re doing so illegally.
As a DJ, you’re an artist yourself, and you need to share responsibility with
your fellow artists. Imagine this scenario: What if you make it big as a DJ, and
release a CD of a mix, thinking, ‘Great, now I can afford to feed my wife and
kids’. One copy is sold, which is then shared across the Internet. So everyone
owns a copy of your hard work, but you have only 15p to show for all your
effort. I bet you’d be unhappy.
One of the arguments made for file sharing is that people who make music
make so much money in the first place that they shouldn’t care about this
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
loss of revenue. If you’re talking about Metallica, maybe it is relevant to your
argument, but music theft is still just as illegal.
Take an example of (imaginary) new producer, ‘DJ Steve’ who’s just released
his first single. Suddenly, the single’s a smash hit, and DJs all over the world
are downloading his track to play in nightclubs, but he doesn’t have a strong
financial foundation to absorb such a loss of revenue. All this time, you’re
getting paid to play his music that you didn’t pay for in a club, while he
starves . . . Okay, maybe I’m being a little heavy handed here, but as a DJ who
gets paid to play, you’ll be treading on very thin ground by playing stolen
music, both legally and morally.
The governing of MP3s for DJ use has been the cause for many discussions in
previous years. In the United Kingdom, a new Digital DJ Licence has been produced by an organisation called PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited,
the UK record industry collecting society) to allow DJs to legally copy sound
recordings onto a computer for use when DJing in clubs. At time of writing
this legislation is yet to be finalised and enforced, but the PPL proposal is
that if you use a laptop, iPod, MP3 player, or other hard-disk based piece of
DJ equipment to DJ with, then you need to take out the Digital DJ Licence (at
a proposed cost of £200 a year). See www.ppluk.com for more.
This extraordinarily complicated subject requires more page space than I
have available to cover fully. Go to Phonographic Performance Limited’s Web
site (www.ppluk.com) or contact their Performer Services Helpdesk on 020
7534 1131 to make sure that you’re legal in the UK.
Surfing into Online Record Stores
The Internet’s a wonderful thing. I’ve found everything from poker chips to a
house online. For the DJ hunting for rare records, the Internet is a treasure
trove. In the years before the Internet, the poor DJ would trudge from store to
store, and hunt through the Yellow Pages trying to track down a few elusive
records. Now, all you have to do is boot up, sign on, and surf for it!
Knowing where to go
Specialist Web sites like Hard to Find Records (www.htfr.com), Juno Records
(www.juno.co.uk), and Replay Records (www.replayrecords.com) carry
huge back catalogues and all the latest tunes. Don’t pass by the commercial
Web sites, such as Tower Records (www.towerrecords.com), HMV (www.
hmv.co.uk), Virgin (www.virginmegastores.com), and the all-encompassing
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s
Amazon (www.amazon.com) if you’re looking for some tunes, especially the
more commercial and popular tracks.
Using the Internet as a store front is an exceptionally convenient way to see
records, and as a result, hundreds of online stores are on the Net. If you
search on the Internet for online record stores in your country, you find a
host of Web sites selling a range of music not that far from where you live. If
you can’t find what you’re looking for, start searching more widely on the
Web. Most online record stores post to anywhere in the world, so you have to
wait only a day or two for your goodies but make sure that you know your
currency conversions!
Prices are usually a little cheaper than the high street store, too, because
online retailers don’t have as high overheads. You may miss out on the personal touch from the people behind the counter when you compare shopping
online with going into your local, specialist record shop, but you can get over
this downside by ensuring that you do your research first.
Previewing tracks
Nearly all specialist online stores let you play MP3s or Real Audio versions of
the tracks they sell, so you can preview the tune before buying. Although the
older tunes in the catalogue may not be available to preview, this way is a lot
easier than standing in line at a record store waiting for your turn at the listening post to hear the latest tunes!
Preview MP3s are encoded with a low setting and are sometimes only 1-minute
(or less) sections taken from the record. The lower quality and brief listeningtime lets you preview the tune well enough, but doesn’t run the risk of you
using the download to DJ with instead of buying the tune. As you don’t get to
hear the entire tune, you may be running the risk of the record going somewhere strange (see the earlier sidebar about musical holes), but you won’t
have a problem if you’ve researched the tune and heard it before on a radio
show or in a club.
Ordering and delivery
With every online store, whether you’re browsing for shoes, garden furniture,
rucksacks, or iPod accessories, getting reliable customer service for buying
and receiving items is the most important aspect of the store. If you find you
have difficulty buying a record because you can’t navigate the site well enough,
you won’t return to it or buy anything. If delivery takes a long time, is too
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
expensive, or heaven forbid, the store sends you the wrong item, you’ll think
twice before returning to that store.
With many online stores, if you order enough, delivery is free. Even when you
do have to pay a postage cost, the overall cost of what you’re buying online
can amount to what you would have paid in the store anyway. And by the
time you add on money for petrol and parking, or a train fare, and consider
the time spent looking for the record in a store, you’re probably happier to
wait a day or two for the record to arrive. Shopping online is a convenient
and relaxing way to buy your records and CDs.
Using auction sites
Sites such as eBay are a great resource to find tunes that you thought were
long gone. As with buying anything online, however, try to make sure that the
records (and CDs) are in proper, playable condition. Be sure that:
You don’t get ripped off by postage
The seller has good feedback
You get some kind of assurance that the guy does actually have the
record (I’ve been stung that way before, unfortunately).
Protecting Your Records and CDs
You may have the best DJ set-up in the world, the best turntables, needles,
amplifier, mixer, effects units, and CD players ever made, but if your records
and CDs are scratched and dirty, they’ll sound just as bad on top-quality
equipment as they would on basic equipment.
Storing records
How you store your records when you’re not playing them is extremely important for keeping them clean and protecting them from getting scratches.
Put your records back in the inner and outer sleeves properly, and if possible
store the record so that the opening doesn’t point upwards. If you do have
the opening pointing up, all the dust and dirt that floats through the air gravitates toward the record (due to static electricity, but mostly gravity) and
your tunes get dirty without your ever taking the vinyl out of its sleeve!
If you have the patience, go one step further by rotating the inner sleeve by
90 degrees inside the main sleeve, so even if dirt and dust did get into the
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s
main sleeve, the opening of the inner sleeve is on the other side, and dust
can’t get in to dirty the record.
Cleaning records, CDs, and the needle
Think of your records and CDs as you do your teeth. If you can prevent
damage occurring by cleaning them before and after use, they’ll last a lot
longer, and you won’t have that feeling of doom when everything starts to go
wrong. (I’m a hypocrite by the way, I hate going to the dentist, and always
wait for toothache . . . )
CDs. CDs are easy to clean. A soft, lint-free cloth, wiped in a straight line
from the center out, removes any dust on the disc. If you’ve spilt orange
juice on the CD, you may want to give it a clean by wiping the CD (in the
same direction) with weak soapy water. Rinse the CD carefully and then
pat it dry with a soft cloth. Water may have entered into the disc sandwich, but if you play it in a CD player for 10 minutes, the moisture gets
spun out (you won’t damage your CD player as long as you’ve patted it
dry first).
Try to stay clear of CD cleaning machines, which clean the CD in a circular motion. Cleaning them in that way is not recommended; always wipe
from the center of the CD outwards in a straight line.
Prevention is the best cure, so always return your CDs to the CD case or
wallet after use. Don’t be lazy and leave your used CDs lying around the
DJ booth, which risks getting beer and cigarette ash dropped on to your
hard-found music.
Records. Various cleaning solutions are available for keeping your
records sparkling, and a few promise that if you clean the record once
with the solution, you’ll never need to clean it again. Some people swear
by using lighter fluid to clean the record, others say that alcohol or
soapy water (rinsed very well afterwards) works wonders.
I find that a wipe with a carbon fibre brush (designed for this purpose)
in a circular motion round the record before and after playing is more
than enough. In truth though, in the middle of a darkened DJ booth, a
quick wipe with your T-shirt is probably the best your record can look
forward to!
Needle. The reason you need to be so careful about keeping your record
clean is because of the friction caused by the needle travelling through
the record groove which creates heat (up to 150 degrees centigrade).
Any dirt in the groove gets welded onto the side of the needle and
gouges its way through the walls of the groove, which has been made
soft by the 150-degree heat. This chain of events (and leaving your
records on your bed) is the major cause of all the pops and crackles that
can appear on your beloved records.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Repairing vinyl
If one of your tunes has a scratch that makes the needle jump, you’re probably better off looking for a new copy. But, if you really want to try to salvage
it, you can try a technique with a sewing needle, before throwing the record
in the bin. I was taught this about 18 years ago by a friend who scratched my
Van Halen album, and it’s stuck with me ever since (though the friend wasn’t
so lucky . . . )
I emphasise that this method is a last resort option. All you need is a sewing
needle, a magnifying glass, and a lot of care and patience to do this without
ruining your record even more. Here’s what you do:
1. Play the record to locate the exact position of the scratch and look
closely at whether the needle jumps forward or backward.
If the needle jumps to a previous part of the record, the scratch runs
from right to left. If it skips to a part you’ve not heard yet, the scratch
goes from left to right across the record.
2. Take the record off the turntable and place it on top of a soft, protective cloth on a flat surface.
In a well-lit room, look through the magnifying glass to see where the
scratch is on the record.
Now pick up the sewing needle – you need a small one. (You may want
to wind some tape around the needle so that you can hold it more
3. Drag the sewing needle along the groove from one or two centimetres
in front of the scratch to one or two centimetres behind it.
Drag in the opposite direction to the scratch. If the needle jumps backward when you’re playing the record, you need to drag the sewing
needle in an anticlockwise direction. (And if it jumps to a point later in
the tune, drag it in a clockwise direction.)
While dragging the needle along the groove, apply a little pressure as
you start, increasing to a moderate pressure as you reach the scratch,
and then releasing the pressure for the next couple of centimetres. Any
reduction in audio quality is less noticeable by a gradual change in pressure. You may have to go through five or six groove lines to cover the
entire scratch.
Note: If you’re at all clumsy, this method isn’t for you.
Instead of carefully dragging through a needle, some DJs simply press
down pretty hard on the turntable’s cartridge while slowly playing the
record through the scratch to achieve a similar effect. If the scratch isn’t
too deep, this technique can repair it. However, if the scratch is too
deep, it can just make things worse, so it’s a bit of a lottery really!
Chapter 3: Retro Chic or PC Geek? Buying Records, CDs, and MP3s
Fixing warped records and CDs
Your records and CDs can become pliable under heat, which can cause them
to warp. Vinyl can also warp just through stress, so your records are likely to
warp when left at a strange angle with weight on them. Some compounds in
vinyl and CDs aren’t affected by heat, making repairs quite difficult, but if
they were unplayable anyway, you may want to try the following method,
which was first adopted for vinyl, but works just as well for CDs that become
pliable under heat.
1. Clean the record.
2. Place the record between two clean sheets of glass.
Make sure that the vinyl and the glass are completely clean before doing
this, or you may fix the warp only to find that you’ve scratched the record!
3. Warm up the record when it’s inside the glass sandwich by using a
hairdryer or leaving it out in the sun.
The hair dryer is better because you can work out how long and how
hot you need to get the glass in order for this technique to work. You
can’t be too sure how much heat the sun gives off (I live in Scotland,
and the sun’s not that hot there!) so you can’t guarantee replicating the
same temperature using the sun when treating other warped records.
4. No matter how you heat it up, after it’s warm, apply an even weight on
the glass over the record and leave it for a few days.
5. Come back to it and see if the record’s flat again.
Another similar method involves putting the record in the oven to generate
the heat. I tried it once. The results weren’t pretty . . . Be careful with how
much heat you apply; too much, and the record will look like Dali made it.
If you want to test out fixing warped vinyl before having a go on your precious records, go to a second-hand record store, and search for (or ask for) a
couple of warped records that you can use as test cases. After you’ve perfected the technique with them, you can fix your own records.
Repairing CDs
Record stores carry many products that you can use to protect your CDs
from scratches in the first place, or repair them if they’ve been scratched.
Just don’t try to be smart like me and use Brasso to clean the CD. That idea
doesn’t work too well . . .
Some people swear by fluids and gizmos which remove part of the protective
surface of the CD to smooth out the scratches. I’d be very careful using this
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
approach though: you don’t want to run the risk of removing too much of the
surface – your CD player may not be too happy playing thin CDs.
If you’ve accidentally cracked one of your CDs, and you don’t want to buy (or
can’t find) a replacement copy, you may still be able to play the CD.
Parts of the CD that are cracked are probably unplayable (and remember, a CD
plays from the inside-out) but the rest of it may still be okay. Be careful though,
if the cracks are too plentiful, when you play the CD, it may disintegrate.
Some audio-ripping software has an advanced error correction built into it,
which may let you archive broken discs before throwing them in the bin – but
in the end, you may find that buying a new copy of the CD is easier.
Chapter 4
Shopping for Equipment
In This Chapter
Trying out the right gear for you, and sticking to your budget
Making the choice between high street and the Internet
Choosing to buy new versus second-hand
Checking that your kit works properly
ou’ve soul searched, and you’ve read ample magazines (and books, I
hope!) and browsed enough Web sites to last you a lifetime on the subject, so now you’re ready to take the plunge into buying equipment.
Buying equipment used to be straightforward. Your choice was limited to one
specialist shop, a bit out of town, that would sell DJ gear. The guy running it
would be a bit shifty, and you’d always leave feeling ripped off and dirty.
The situation has now changed. With so much competition in the DJ equipment market, stores can’t afford to put off the buyer, and with attractive
package deals, free postage, and good support, the days of the prickly, aloof
salesman are long gone.
Taking Stock Before You Shop
People who have a dream don’t want to listen to advice from others telling
them to think carefully before spending their money. And, if you feel as excited
as I did when I got my first DJ setup then I may not be able to convince you
that doing so is important – but I will try. Before you take the padlock off
your piggy bank, simply consider this piece of preparation – you need to be
positive that you know exactly what you’re going to buy with the money
you’ve budgeted.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Trying before you buy
Before you even consider opening your wallet to buy your dream setup, try
to find out whether you can go anywhere to use some DJ equipment first. Some
stores let you demo their kit before buying, but that idea’s not really what
you’re after, because you want to spend a good amount of time trying it out.
Ideally, you want to use the setup of a friend who has a couple of turntables
and CD decks, with loads of records and CD’s ready for you to rifle through
and have fun with. You get an idea of the equipment you need and how it works,
but more importantly, you’ll probably develop an affinity for one medium or
another, which is a lot of help when choosing between CD and vinyl.
Finding someone with a good DJ set-up isn’t as unlikely as you may think,
because if you’re interested in becoming a DJ, you probably know someone
who is one already. But what if you don’t know anyone who is willing, or has
the equipment to let you practise on? You can try looking for a recording
studio with DJ decks, or renting some equipment, but the drawback of that
(apart from needing to spend money) is that you need to bring your own
records/CDs, and you may not have built a huge collection yet!
The friendlier DJ equipment stores let you demo some of their equipment if
you look as if you’re going to buy it, but not many of them have a room in the
back with a full DJ setup for you to try out your skills. By all means ask the
store for a prolonged demo, but don’t hold your breath.
After you’ve taken the opportunity to try out your skills, and you’re still sure
that DJing is right for you, now’s the time to blow the dust off your wallet,
and go shopping.
Budgeting your money
How much money you have and how you spend it vastly alters the choice of
equipment available for you to buy, including whether you opt for new or
second-hand. A wide range of equipment is on the market, and I highlight the
popular manufacturers in this section, but remember, they’re not the only
ones out there!
If you buy cheap turntables or CD decks that don’t play at a constant speed
or skip when there are too many bass vibrations even the best mixer in the
world can’t fix that. A basic mixer may be very basic, but is still sufficient
when you’re developing your initial skills as a DJ. It’s far cheaper to upgrade
your basic mixer to a better one than it is to upgrade two turntables from
basic to professional.
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment
Knowing why to try
The important thing about using someone else’s
setup before you part with your cash is that you
have a chance to find out whether you’re going
to enjoy being a DJ. You won’t become a DJ
within an hour on the decks, but you will know
if you love DJing as much as you thought you
would, and if you find out that it’s not as easy as
you thought, you may want to postpone buying
equipment, and use computer software while
deciding whether you’ve really got the knack
and patience to be a DJ.
In each budget level below, I mention the turntable or CD deck first, and then
tell you to worry about the mixer. You need to be thinking in the same way
when shopping. Spend as much money as you can on the players and then
spend what’s left on a mixer.
£200+. You can buy a very basic mixer and a basic set of turntables or
CD decks within this budget. If you have only £200, I believe that your
best option is to pick up basic Numark, Stanton, or Gemini turntables/
CD decks second-hand. You can discover how to mix on these decks, but
if they are very basic, and have had a lot of use, they may not be the
most reliable decks in the world, meaning that they may eventually hold
back your progress – so you’ll want to start saving now to be able to buy
better ones after a few months.
£400+. For around £400, you can get new, intermediate level turntables
or CD decks by the same manufacturers as above and others such as
Kam, Citronic, and American DJ. If you’re buying CD decks, the ones in
this price bracket come with a better range of functions than the basic
models, and you get a more reliable, strong motor if you buy turntables.
You won’t have much money left after the decks though, so you may still
have to buy a very basic mixer.
£800+. By the time you’ve got £800 to spend on your DJ setup, I hope
that you took my advice about trying out DJing on someone else’s equipment first! Spending a large sum of money on something that you may
never have done before – and you aren’t 100 per cent sure that you’re
going to love DJing – is questionable, even when you do take into account
your equipment’s potential re-sale value. That said, you can get some
intermediate level turntables/CD decks and a good mixer, or you can get
top level decks (my preference is Numark’s high-end range of turntables,
Technics 1210 turntables, or good Pioneer or Vestax CD decks) and a
slightly better than basic mixer – I suggest the ones made by companies
such as Numark, Gemini, and Stanton.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
£1,500+. Budgets that stretch to £1,500+ open up the world to you. I prefer
the top of the range turntables or CD decks from Technics, Vestax, Pioneer,
and Denon, which can cost between £700 and £2,000 for two. And my
choice of mixers are by Pioneer, Rane, and Allen and Heath, which cost
you between £500 and £1,500. If you’re spending that amount of money
on DJ kit, though, I assume that you’re upgrading, or you’ve been using
someone else’s equipment for long enough to know that this isn’t a
gamble, and you have what it takes to be a DJ.
If you’re about to spend six month’s worth of hard-saved money on the equipment, make sure that you’ve got some left to spend on all the records and
CDs you want to play on them. I spent about £40 per month on records when
I first started DJing, but that soon ballooned to hundreds, so consider how
this hobby can affect the rest of your lifestyle.
Buying Brand New
Buying your decks and mixer brand new has many advantages. As well as
having the choice of the latest, greatest gear, your equipment comes to you
untouched and working perfectly. If any problems crop up, the stores should
replace faulty kit, and if your equipment fails after the end of their returns
policy, you have the backup of a manufacturer’s warranty to sort out anything that goes wrong. Not that anything ever goes wrong, of course . . .
The obvious downside to buying your DJ gear new is the price. But, with highstreet stores and online stores competing with each other, driving prices ever
lower, if you hunt long enough, and are patient, you can find some great deals.
Resale value is the other downside to buying new. Consider a pair of Technics
1210 MkII turntables. Brand new, they cost around £700, but second-hand,
you can find them for £400 or less, which is a considerable loss. If you buy a
second-hand pair of 1210’s, you can sell them for the same amount of money
in five year’s time. Other brands don’t always hold their value so well.
Cruising the high street
Fortunately, DJing became a mainstream hobby a couple of years ago. Everyone
wants to be a DJ, so DJ shops have smartened up their stores and selling
styles. Most cities now have at least one place that sells DJ equipment, and
if you’re in a large city, you can find a few of them, all competing for your
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment
Trying before you buy and cry
I learnt a hard lesson regarding not trying
before buying, and being too heavily influenced
by a magazine review. I was trying to choose
between two very popular mixers and had read
that although one of them had better features,
the controls weren’t laid out very well, and were
difficult to use (especially in the dark) because
they were crammed too close together. I stood
in the shop staring at both of the mixers, and
didn’t have the sense (or this book) to think to
ask to try them both (even just to twiddle the
knobs). I bought the more expensive, better featured one of course, and assumed that the guy
in the magazine must have fat hands.
The first time I accidentally hit the wrong switch
the magazine review came crashing back into
my mind! There’s nothing like the silence of
accidentally switching over to the line input to
make you really regret some choices.
A high-street store offers three things you won’t get anywhere else.
The chance to use a range of different equipment
The personal touch of being able ask a sales rep questions
Immediate gratification
A range of different equipment
The ability for you to have even a quick demo on the equipment in the shop
sets local stores apart from online stores, and gives you the chance to compare many different pieces of kit.
You may have read in magazines and books that one style of turntable is
better than another, or that single CD decks are better than twin units, but
until you are able to stand in front of them, touch them, and use them, you
won’t be certain yourself. Second guessing your choice after spending a
whole load of cash on your kit based only on a review is not ideal.
The personal touch
There’s no doubt about it. Getting face-to-face, immediate advice from someone and being able to hold a conversation about what you want and need is
extremely helpful when you’re buying equipment. The guys (or gals) you’re
talking to at your local DJ store have sold a lot of kit in their time and typically really know their stuff.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
You need to be happy that you’ve made the right choice with your purchase,
especially if you’re spending a month’s worth of wages. A salesperson wants
to make a sale, that much is true, but he or she still wants to help you buy the
right equipment so you’ll come back to that shop for more when you need it.
Immediate gratification
I don’t know if having immediate gratification is important to you, but it sure
is for me. If I buy something, I want it now. I want to be able to take it away
with me and use it as soon as I get home.
If the piece of equipment I want is only a small amount extra in a shop, and if
I’m really jazzed about getting it, I’d much rather go into a shop, buy it, and
take it home there and then, than have to sit at home the next day hoping
that every car that drives past the house is the delivery dude.
Opting for online shopping
Whether you use a shop that also sells online or an online reseller that doesn’t
actually hold any stock, you can expect dramatic price drops from online
stores. With so many Web sites trying to get your business, a bit of patience
and comparison can save you money.
Most sites have fantastic customer support and are really good at answering
customers’ questions via e-mail. However, the drawback to online shopping is
that you can’t have a face-to-face conversation and get answers immediately
to your myriad questions. Although some Web sites offer live Web-chat or
telephone assistance to try to get around this hurdle, they can’t compete
with you being able to walk around a store with a salesperson.
Ironically, even though an Internet store can seem faceless and anonymous,
their after-sales customer service is usually as good if not better than highstreet stores. An online shop is only as good as its reputation, and when
shoppers start writing bad things, other people listen. The DJ community is a
tight-knit one, and online stores need to avoid causing ill feelings, word of
which can then spread like wildfire.
In addition to great customer service and attractive prices, Internet stores
enable you to build your own package in an attempt to lure you away from
high-street stores. A package is where the store offers you the turntables (or
CD decks) and a mixer together at a reduced price. High-street shops typically can’t mix-and-match packages quite so freely due to stock limitations.
They can order other equipment in for you, but if you have to wait anyway,
you may as well go online and get it cheaper!
Whether they physically hold the stock or not, Internet stores have access
to every piece of kit available, which opens up the possibility to get any
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment
combination of turntable or CD deck and mixer you can think of. With access
to an equally large range of headphones, amplifiers, cables, needles, and so
on, the choice and price you can get online if you already know what you
want to buy is really attractive.
A number of manufacturers sell their own combinations of decks and mixer and
aim them at beginner DJs. In my opinion, Numark’s DJ in a Box and Gemini’s
Scratch Master package are affordable, convenient ways to buy basic kit on a
small budget. The downside to these packages is that you may outgrow it when
your DJ skills demand more functions to help you work with the music. The
safest option is to arm yourself with research and build your own package.
Many people are going into the high-street DJ store and asking all the right
questions, finding out the best equipment for their use, and then buying it all
online through a cheaper store. There’s no rule against it, just morals, and a
little dent in your karma. (My Karma ran over my Dogma a long time ago
though.) And if your local high-street store goes out of business, who are you
going to talk to then?
Buying Second-hand
The advantage of buying your DJ gear second-hand is that you get a better
standard of equipment for your money. Rather than you having to buy a basic
set of decks and mixer brand new, you can afford a better second-hand set.
The disadvantage is that you don’t know how well the kit has been treated.
You can find some key things to look out for when buying second-hand later
in this chapter because you can never be too sure that the turntables haven’t
spent the last 10 years of their use being drowned in beer and cigarette ash!
You can use three different places to source your second-hand equipment:
Classified adverts in newspapers and shop windows
Pawn shops
Auction Web sites
Scanning newspapers
Newspaper classified sections have been hit pretty hard by auction Web sites
over recent years, with less items being entered for sale. Fortunately, because
not as many people look at newspaper second-hand sections anymore, there’s
less of a chance that someone else spots and buys your dream DJ setup before
you do. Also, because items in newspapers are normally sold at a fixed price
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
or a ‘nearest offer’, you can secure the item immediately, rather than needing
to enter a bidding war!
Items sold in the classified section are probably quite local to you, too. You
can save a little money by picking up what you’re buying rather than having
to pay for postage, and you can take a look at the equipment first, and see it
working before handing over your money.
I’m getting all grown-up on you now, to warn you about the dangers of going
to strangers’ houses – be careful. Always let someone know where you’re
going, and try to take someone with you just in case the seller starts to raise
the price, which can make the situation confrontational, and even aggressive.
Dipping into pawn shops
Take advantage of people (DJs!) who have fallen on hard times and go looking
in a pawn shop. Over the past 10 years, a new wave of second-hand stores
have appeared that have transformed the traditional murky pawn shop into a
modern shop that rivals many high-street stores. They often have better displays, a large selection to choose from, and a few even have expert salespeople who can help you with any questions you have.
Some second-hand shops aren’t really set up for you to check out the equipment before you buy, but I strongly suggest that you request to see as much
of the equipment in working order as possible. I went to buy a mixer from a
pawn shop once, and asked to see it working before I paid for it. They plugged it
in, turned it on, and a nice plume of smoke came out the back. So, I went somewhere else, quickly. (See the later section ‘Making Sure That Your Kit Works’.)
Bidding on auction Web sites
Auction sites are the new way to sell everything in your house that isn’t nailed
to the floor. You find using them is a great way to get a bargain, and the seller/
buyer rating systems give you a relatively safe way to buy (or sell) your equipment. You need a little patience to get the best deal, but as long as you know
what you want before you start looking, you can find some great deals.
Check out these popular auction Web sites as a start:
eBay (www.ebay.co.uk)
uBid (www.ubid.com)
QXL (www.qxl.co.uk)
eBid (www.ebid.co.uk)
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment
Although the feedback/rating systems on auction sites are a great way to tell
how reputable a seller is, use caution when you’re looking to part with your
When buying on an Internet auction site, you need to worry about two basic
The seller won’t send the goods to you after you’ve paid
The seller hasn’t been accurate in the item description
Looking at the rating of a seller gives you an idea of whether you need to
worry about not receiving your goods after payment. Take time to check out
what’s been written about a seller, and if you’re not convinced that they’ve
sold enough to warrant you dealing with them, be extremely wary before
handing over a whole load of cash!
Don’t feel bad about emailing the seller to ask any questions that aren’t covered in the item’s description. Ask him or her to confirm the working order of
the equipment, its general condition, and if they’re prepared to accept
responsibility for items that don’t work correctly upon arrival with you. In
the unlikely event of the seller ‘bending the truth’ with the item description,
email evidence proves invaluable if you need to make an official complaint
about them to the auction site.
The last point you need to consider when ordering anything from online auction sites is the postage and packaging costs. Two decks and a mixer need a
lot of protection to survive being loaded into the back of a van in a cardboard
box. You may think the postage costs are quite high, but the mountains of
bubble wrap and foam required may be inflating the costs of carriage. Some
sellers may try to make extra money by boosting the price of postage, so if
you suspect anyone of attempting this practice on you, send a quick email
asking them to include a receipt for the cost of postage.
Making Sure That Your Kit Works
If you’re given the opportunity to try out the equipment before buying
second-hand, try to be as thorough as possible, testing and checking all
moving parts and any controls known to be vulnerable to malfunction.
Listen to the voice inside your head; your first impressions are nearly always
correct. If you look at the equipment and can see that it’s well kept, in a clean
environment, chances are you’ll find no problems. If it’s dirty, dented, and
scraped, and kept in the damp basement of a messy teenager, give the equipment a thorough test, described in the following sections, before you part
with your cash! (Rubber gloves are optional . . . )
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Checking cables
Wiggle all cables and check all connections. On turntables, mixers, amplifiers,
and headphones, make sure that you move the cables around and listen out
for connection problems. You know if you have a problem because you hear
crackling sounds, or the music cuts out entirely for a moment.
Testing turntables
The first thing to check out on a turntable is the accuracy of the motor.
(Chapter 5 covers everything you need to know about the workings of turntables.) The red light that shines onto the dots on the side of the turntable
platter is a strobe light and helps you to check if the motor fluctuates in
speed when it’s playing (see Figure 4-1). To test this, set the pitch control to
0, and look at how the dots on the side of the turntable move.
At 0 pitch on Technics decks, for example, the row of dots second from the
bottom should appear completely stationary; at +6 per cent, the top row of
dots should appear stationary. If the dots move a little, you may be able to
adjust the motor to fix this. If the dots move erratically, speeding up, then
slowing down, and then going in the opposite direction, and so on, the motor
has a major problem.
Figure 4-1:
The power
switch on a
with the
strobe light
it shining
onto the
dots on the
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment
Assuming that you’re happy with the motor at the four calibration speeds
(shown in Figure 4-1, next to the control: -3.3, 0, +3.3, and +6 per cent), start
to move the pitch control smoothly from 0 pitch into the + (faster) region. As
you increase the pitch, the second row of dots on the side of the turntable
start to turn from right to left, and as you increase the pitch fader even more,
the dots start to move faster and faster. This change in the dots should indicate a smooth increase in speed; if the increase is erratic, you have something wrong with the pitch control or the motor. Repeat this method for the
(slower) pitch region.
As you check how the pitch control affects the speed of the turntable, try to
notice how the fader feels as you move it. If you start to feel that it’s sticking
in places and is hard to move (apart from 0 pitch, when it clicks into place),
the pitch fader is probably really dirty. You can buy degreaser spray that
cleans out dirty faders, but start to ask questions about how well the turntable
was maintained and why the kit is in such a state of disrepair.
The last thing to check on the motor is that the 45 and 33 buttons do their
job. A few people have forgotten to check this, only to get the deck home and
find that the turntable only plays at 45, no matter how hard they hit the 33
button with a hammer.
If you have the time, lift off the deckplatter (the bit that turns around with the
record on it) so you can take a look underneath. If that area is really dirty,
then you may find that the motor is dirty, too. Ask whether you can unscrew
the cover and take a look at the motor if this is the case – although you may
annoy the person who’s selling the turntable with this rather invasive
Take a look at the deckplatter while you’ve got it in your hands, and make
sure that it’s not warped or bent. Place it on a flat surface, and make sure that
the platter makes contact with the surface all the way round. If (heaven
forbid) you’re looking at belt-driven decks, take a look at the belt too, which
is located under the deckplatter. Check carefully for signs of stretching or
damage. Belts are easily replaceable, and don’t cost much, but damage and
wear indicates that the turntable has had a lot of use over time.
Finally, examine the tonearm (the arm that holds the needle over the record).
The biggest problem you may find is a wobbly tonearm assembly. If the seller
is a chatty chappy, you may have already found out how the decks were
used. If he (or she) used them in clubs and took them to the clubs in cases,
be extra vigilant when checking the tonearm. Though a turntable case is a
nice sturdy item, it doesn’t actually offer much protection for the tonearm,
which is the most delicate part of the turntable.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
You have two basic ways to check the tonearm for damage. In both cases, if
the tonearm has a height adjustment control, make sure that it’s locked (see
Chapter 5 if you want to know more about the height adjustment feature):
Wiggle it. Be very gentle, but try moving the assembly. Does it move
while you wiggle it? If it does, it’s likely to be damaged.
Float the tonearm. This method is the more precise way to check for
damage to the bearings in the tonearm assembly. You may want to
remove the needle from the cartridge, just in case you get this bit wrong;
even better, ask whoever you’re buying from to do this check.
With the antiskate control (which is sometimes used to cancel out the
pull of the tone-arm towards the centre of the record) set to 0, turn the
counterweight (the weight on the back of the tonearm) so that the tonearm floats in mid air. (For more information on how to do this check out
Chapter 11.)
Move the tonearm toward the middle of the record, and once there, start
to increase the antiskate control. As the antiskate is increased, the tonearm starts to move back toward its resting place. If it doesn’t move, or if
it jams in one place, you’re tonearm assembly is likely to have serious
and expensive problems.
If the turntable’s tonearm fails either test, run for the hills. The repair job for
this fault is very expensive and troublesome, and not one you should undertake yourself.
While you’re looking at the tonearm, have a quick peek at the needle and cartridge. Needles can be replaced, but you may not want to pay for a new one
so soon, so if it’s bent, or squashed, ask for a little money off the price. On
the cartridge, look at the wires that connect into the headshell. Check for
signs of corrosion or loose connections.
If you’re willing to buy decks that have been quite heavily used, you may
want to think about getting them serviced. A good technician can usually get
everything back to normal again, but that comes at a price, so be warned that
the cost of repair added to the cost of the deck may just cost the same as a
new turntable!!
Vetting CD decks
Checking how the pitch control affects the playback speed on CD decks is
harder than on a turntable, because you don’t have a visual reference like the
strobe light on a turntable. However, CD decks don’t tend to suffer from the
same motor problems as turntables, so you really only need to check that the
pitch control and pitch bend functions work properly and are free of dirt.
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment
Here are a few tips for checking out CD decks:
Make sure that the pitch control increases and decreases the speed of
the tune in a constant, smooth way and that the pitch bend buttons temporarily change the pitch when you press them, and the pitch of the
tune returns quickly to the set pitch when you release the buttons.
Try to use every function on the CD unit. If you researched the CD deck
well enough before choosing to buy it, you probably know what functions to expect. To be on the safe side, bring a checklist for that particular model and make sure that they all work.
Inspect the CD loading system. If the CD deck loads with a tray, make
sure that it’s not bent, that no bits are missing, and that it goes in and
out smoothly. If the CD slots directly into the deck, try inserting a CD a
few times, and make sure that the deck doesn’t spit your CD back at you.
(Although, maybe it just doesn’t like the music you’re playing . . .) If the
CD deck uses a top loading method to accept the CD, make sure that the
deck closes properly, and as with the other loading methods, ensure
that the CD plays properly once it’s in there!
If the CD deck has a good antiskip function (which prevents the CD from
skipping when there’s a lot of vibrations), get a demonstration of that
working properly. Ask the seller to do this demo, rather than thumping it
with your fist a couple of times. Make sure that you’re satisfied with the
anti-skip, and that it does actually prevent the CD from skipping when
faced with vibrations.
Monitoring mixers
Make sure that you get a chance to see the mixer turned on, and in action –
you don’t want to get it home and see smoke pouring out of it! (Turn to
Chapter 8 for more on mixers.)
Before you play anything through the mixer, connect the turntables/CD decks
to the mixer and listen. If you can hear any kind of electrical hum from the
equipment or through the speakers, turn off the decks, so only the mixer is
on, and if you can still hear a loud hum, firstly ask the seller if this noise is
normal, and then check the connections (especially the earth connection) for
any problems. The noise may be a harmless operational hum given off by the
mixer, but if you’re not convinced that this sound’s good, it probably isn’t!
After you’ve listened to the mixer with nothing playing through it, put on a
record/CD and check that all the controls do what they’re supposed to. The
master level, the gain control, the EQs, the channel faders, the cross fader, the
booth controls, and effects section (all of which are mentioned in Chapter 8);
absolutely everything needs to be checked for each channel on the mixer.
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Listen for any signal (sound) dropout or any crackling sounds as you turn
knobs and move faders.
When checking the faders, pay particular attention to the cross fader. The
cross fader should have a smooth fluid motion from one side to the other,
and you need to check for faults in the fader’s control of the audio.
The first thing to listen for is any crackling as you move the fader from one
side to the other, but more importantly, listen for any music ‘bleeding in’ from
the other channel. If you’re playing music into channel 1, and nothing is playing on channel 2, move the cross fader over to channel 2, where you’d expect
it to be silent. If you can still hear channel 1 playing faintly while you should
have silence, you’ve got a problem with the cross fader.
Depending on the mixer you’re looking at, you may still want to buy it, and if
the mixer has a user-replaceable cross fader, ask the seller to knock off some
money so you can buy a new one. A worn cross fader may be a sign of extensive wear and tear to the mixer, but then again, it may just be a worn cross
fader after months of use by a scratch DJ. Go with your instincts.
If you have headphones and a microphone available, try them out with the
mixer. Turn the cables of the headphones and microphone around while
they’re plugged in and listen for any loose connections causing the signal to
cut out.
Use all the headphone cue controls, making sure that you get a good, clear
sound from each channel, and if the headphone section includes a headphone mix or split cue, test them to make sure that you don’t have signal cut
out here either. Plug in the microphone and check that the controls and the
inputs are clear of any crackles, and if the mixer has a talk-over function,
which dips the level (volume) of the music so you can be heard talking over
it, be sure that it works properly.
For mixer outputs, you probably see a Master Out, a Record Out, and if you’re
looking at a good mixer, a Booth Out or Zone Out (these outputs are described
in Chapter 5). Test all three of the outputs through the amplifier, and make
sure that there are no breaks in signal when you wiggle the wires.
The Line/Phono switches are often overlooked when people are checking out
a second-hand mixer. Ensure that the switch from Line to Phono for each
channel works without crackling, and check for silence when you switch to
either Line or Phono when they don’t have an input. For example, if you have
turntables plugged into the mixer, when you switch to LINE; make sure that
you can’t still hear the turntable playing.
If the mixer has any other features mentioned in Chapter 5, such as BPM
counters, cross fader curve adjusts, punch buttons or hamster switches,
check that they all work, too.
Chapter 4: Shopping for Equipment
Assessing headphones
If the gear you’re buying includes headphones, listen carefully to them at
varying volumes. Move the cable around to make sure that you don’t hear
any breaks in the signal, and check the connection of the cable to the mixer
to ensure that it’s securely fitted to the ear pieces, and if you move around a
lot that you don’t lose sound.
Turn the volume up in the headphones for a few seconds. Be careful not to
play the music so loud that you may damage your hearing, but still try to
play the sound at a volume loud enough to check if the music distorts.
Distortion can naturally occur on headphones when played too loud, but
they need to take a lot of volume before starting to sound fuzzy.
Sounding out amplifiers and speakers
Lastly, look at the amplifier and speakers (if provided) in the same way you
did the mixer and headphones (see previous section, and Chapter 10). Check
that you don’t get a loud hum coming through the speakers, check that all
the controls are working properly on the amplifier, and make sure that the
speakers don’t distort at moderate sound levels. As always, give the cables a
little wiggle, and check that the connections don’t crackle or that the signal
cuts out.
If the speakers are in an open cabinet that lets you view the drivers (another
name for the actual speaker), then inspect them for tears, dents, or even
stains. If the cone on the speaker is ripped or badly dented, this damage can
cause the music to start distorting really quickly, and may fail completely if
you play the music too loud, so don’t even consider buying them. If you see
stains, liquid may have got inside the speaker, which as well as weakening the
speaker cone, may be well on its way to corroding cables and circuit boards
Part I: Stocking Up Your DJ Toolbox
Part II
Navigating the
Maze: Equipment
In this part . . .
ou need to make an informed decision about which
equipment is best for you and your DJing style and,
more importantly, how it all works when you get it home!
Part II covers the features and functions of turntables,
mixers, headphones, and amplifiers, as well as explaining
the different designs of needles and cartridges for turntables, and the wonders of slipmats.
To wrap up this part of the book, Chapter 11 is dedicated
to how to set up and connect all of your equipment, and
how to troubleshoot the connections if something goes
Chapter 5
Getting Decked Out
with Turntables
In This Chapter
Finding out about the basic parts of a turntable
Keeping up to date with new innovations
Caring for your turntables
ll turntables are equal in that they play records, but, like most things in
life, some are better than others. In this chapter, I go through the functions you need to look for when purchasing a turntable.
Avoiding Cheap Turntables
Deciding what turntable to buy and use is largely based on your budget.
When you do go shopping, don’t go for the cheapest option so that you can
save a little money. Investing in a better quality turntable puts you straight
on the road to becoming a quality DJ. Actually, maybe reversing the point
makes this clearer; the worse your turntable, the harder it is to become a
good DJ.
The main things to watch out for on cheap turntables are that they tend to
have belt-driven motors rather than direct drive motors (see the following
section), and they often skimp on essential DJ features such as removable
headshells, counterweighted tone arms, and long pitch sliders.
Spend as much money as you can on the turntable – only then think about
purchasing the rest of your equipment. Great decks remain great decks no
matter what mixer and headphones you use, but not even the best mixer or
the clearest headphones can solve the problems inherent with cheap, beltdriven decks.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Motoring in the right direction
Belt-driven decks do seem like an attractive option when you’re looking to
become a DJ because they’re so much cheaper than their direct-drive big
brothers. Of course, some people claim that their belt-drive decks are fine to
mix with, scratch with, and so on, and I’m sure that they think they are. But
the first time these folks use a good direct-drive deck, they change their
minds and (reluctantly) accept that they’ve been thinking only with their wallets and have been fooling themselves. (A few people still stand by their beltdriven decks, but they’re either stubborn as a mule, or have super-human
powers of adaptability.)
Belt-driven turntables
Inside a belt-driven turntable is a small motor with a rubber band linking it to
the underside of the deckplatter (the part you put the record on). This makes
the method of turning a record similar to how turning the front cog with your
bike pedals makes the back wheel turn. This method of powering the turntable
means that there isn’t much torque (power to the turntable), meaning that the
deckplatter often grinds to a halt when you hold the record stopped.
The other downside is that the speed the turntable plays at can fluctuate,
speeding up and slowing down. When you’re trying to match the beats of two
records (beatmatching, described in Chapter 12), the fluctuation of speed
makes keeping the bass beats playing at the same time, for anything over 10
seconds, extremely difficult. You may blame your own beatmatching skills
rather than realising it’s the turntable’s fault.
Direct-drive turntables
Direct-driven turntables are a better option than belt-driven ones. Where
belt-driven turntables have a rubber band transferring power from the motor
to the deckplatter, which then spins around a centre spindle, in direct-drive
turntables the centre spindle is the motor (so it drives the motor directly).
The improved power (torque) of the direct-drive method means start-up
times of well under half a second, and the power from the motor is more than
enough to keep the turntable spinning under the slipmat when you’re preparing to start a tune or doing complicated scratches.
The turntable speed is solid and reliable on a direct-drive turntable. Though
you can get pitch wobbles around the 0 pitch mark (see the sidebar ‘The
Bermuda Pitch Zone exists’), you can be confident that any beatmatching
errors are your errors, not the fault of a weak transfer of power through a
rubber band. You may regard this fact as a double-edged sword – but the
moment you realise you can’t make excuses and blame your performance on
bad turntables, your DJing skills start to improve!
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
Short-term gains, long-term pains
If you’re happy doing things the hard way, you
may find that at least one good thing comes out
of learning to DJ on belt-driven turntables. In
the short term, you’ll become an extremely
accurate, attentive DJ when beatmatching.
I’ve found that beginner DJs who start by using
top of the range turntables from Technics,
Vestax, and Numark can have a really easy
time. The motor is so powerful and reliable that
they don’t need to worry about speed fluctuations throwing off their beatmatching skills.
When these DJs have to use a poorer set of
turntables at a party early on in their DJ development, they may find that their concentration
and levels of attention aren’t as good as those
DJs who were forced to develop on bad decks
and may have difficulty keeping their beats
matched because they’re not used to the bad
deck problems.
I must stress, however, that eventually, the
good DJs develop attention and accuracy just
through time spent practising, developing
their own skills – no matter what turntable they
use – so this isn’t an excuse to buy cheap, beltdriven decks.
One club that I DJ’d at in the past developed a
problem with their turntables due to a ‘customer’ of the club spilling beer over them. While
they were getting repaired, the club owner
decided to hire a pair of belt-driven turntables.
Due to the heat of the club, the belts started to
stretch, causing the decks to be even worse at
holding their pitch, which made beatmatching
extremely difficult.
Fortunately, I was used to decks that played in
this way as one of the pubs that I’d worked at
had decks with motor problems, which felt just
like shoddy belt-driven decks and really used to
annoy me. From using those decks frequently, I
developed the intuition and concentration to
hear beats slipping out of time before they were
noticeable to the dance floor, and wasn’t too
fazed by such a problem when it happened in
the club that night.
The other DJ wasn’t quite so lucky . . .
Watching out for pitch control design
Watch out for cheap turntables that use a small (two-inch/five-centimetre)
pitch fader or rotary knob to adjust the pitch of the record. You won’t often
find either on direct drive decks, but super-cheap belt driven decks sometimes have them. These pitch faders are too small to make the fine adjustments needed to keep the beats of your records playing in time, and makes
beatmatching insanely difficult.
Look at the standard design of a turntable (the Technics 1210 in Figure 5-1)
and notice the large pitch control down the side of the deck that lets you
make minute adjustments to the pitch. Make sure that the turntable you buy
is based on a similar design.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Figure 5-1:
1210 DJ
Identifying Key Turntable Features
A DJ turntable has many key features. Some of them are similar in function
to a home hi-fi’s record player, but added functionality to these controls
and designs is what truly separates a DJ turntable from a hi-fi’s record player.
This section covers what these features do so that you not only buy the
correct turntables, but also know how to make use of them.
Automatic hi-fi record players start turning when you lift the needle onto the
record, and only stop turning when you take the needle off and replace the
arm on the rest, or when the needle gets to the end of the record and automatically returns to the rest.
This isn’t helpful for the DJ – you need manual control of how the motor
starts and stops. You sometimes need to stop the turntable, but still leave the
needle at a specific place on the record. This is usually when you’ve taken
time to find the place to start the record from (the cue point) but don’t want
to start the tune for a couple of minutes. The Start/Stop button gives full control over how and when the turntable starts and stops.
Pressing Stop when the record is playing is a great DJ technique too (see the
end of Chapter 14).
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
The On/Off switch on a DJ turntable is normally on the bottom-left corner of
the deck, next to the Start/Stop button. The switch is raised above the deckplatter, and the strobe light is positioned underneath (see the later sections
in the chapter for information about the deckplatter and strobe light). Though
used mostly for the mundane task of turning the turntable on and off; you can
also use it creatively in the mix (described in Chapter 14).
You may find that the On/Off switch on Technics decks has a tendency to get
very loose after a bit of use and abuse. Loosening can lead to all kinds of accidental power-offs if you brush against it by mistake and turn off the power.
With the release of the MkIII version of the 1210 turntable, Technics recessed
the power switch into the holder to reduce the risk of such an accident.
33/45/78 RPM
There’s nothing particularly special about the RPM (revolutions per minute)
button on your DJ deck; when you press 33 and the pitch control is set to 0,
the record makes 33 revolutions in one minute, and when at 45, the record
revolves 45 times in one minute.
If you don’t know what speed your turntable should be set to, look at the
record label or cover, which tells you whether to play it at 33 or 45 RPM. Or
simply try listening to it. If you’re playing Barry White, and it sounds like the
Chipmunks, you’re playing the record too fast; try pressing the 33 button!
Older record players also have a separate setting for 78 RPM, but most
modern records aren’t pressed at 78 RPM anymore, so it isn’t included as a
standard control. If you do have an antique 78 RPM vinyl you’d like to play,
some turntables have a sneaky hidden setting: When you press the 33 and 45
buttons together, the turntable plays at 78 RPM.
Strobe light
The strobe light is the soft red light at the side of the turntable (normally
bottom left corner, integrated as part of the On/Off switch). It’s not just a
pretty red light, it’s a strobe light that you use to calibrate the motor on the
turntable (expensive home record players also have a strobe light).
Look at the little dots that go around the side of the deckplatter. On Technics
turntables, if you play the turntable with the pitch set to 0, the second row of
dots from the bottom should appear to be still. If these dots move left or
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
right, the motor isn’t playing at exactly 33 or 45 revolutions per minute
(RPM) and the motor may have a problem. Each of the four lines of dots
represents a different pitch range, as Figure 5-2 shows.
You find more information on using the strobe light for checking the
turntable motor in Chapter 4.
The deckplatter is the part of the turntable that spins round and is what the
slipmat and the record sit on. Home hi-fis have a rubber mat firmly glued
onto the platter, which is useless for DJing with, because the deckplatter
needs to be made of smooth metal to let the slipmat slip (see Chapter 6 for
what a slipmat is and how to make it slip better).
When you buy Technics decks, they come with a thick rubber mat sitting on
top of the deckplatter, which fortunately, isn’t glued down. If your decks
came with a similar thick rubber mat on top of the metal deckplatter, simply
lift it off, exposing the deckplatter, and keep the rubber mat somewhere safe.
I find down the back of the wardrobe is a safe enough place.
Figure 5-2:
The strobe
light on a
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
Target light
Like your health, you don’t really think about this little pop-up light called the
target light, or miss it until you don’t have it. Bizarrely, a couple of turntables
on the market don’t have target lights, or offer it only as an add-on option. It
may be a small, simple feature, but it’s also absolutely vital.
The target light (shown in Figure 5-3) sits on the edge of the deckplatter
and shines a light along the grooves of the record where the needle traces,
enabling you to see the grooves more clearly. Why do you want one? Apart
from letting you see where the needle is (or where you’d like to put it), if you
take a look at a record under good light, you can see groups of different
shaded rings on the record. These rings are the map of the tune; the darker
rings are the quieter parts, and the lighter rings are the louder parts.
You may not think that you need a target light much when you’re DJing in the
comfort of your 100-watt bedroom light bulb, but when you’re standing in a
darkened, smoke-filled DJ booth, this tiny light is your beacon for perfect
Figure 5-3:
The target
light on a
1210. A
helpful little
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Pitch control
The pitch control adjusts the rate at which the turntable turns. If you move
the pitch control into the + area (towards you on a standard DJ turntable),
the record plays faster; and if you move the pitch control towards the – area
(away from you), the record plays slower.
Different turntables have different ranges, but you typically find that pitch
ranges are between 8 or 12 per cent in either direction. Technics 1210 MkII
decks only give you + and – 8 (see the later section ‘Customising Your Sound
with Advanced Turntable Features’ for information on turntables with
increased pitch ranges).
Although the record plays faster the more you increase the pitch control, it
is called a pitch control, not a speed control, so the more you increase the
speed, the higher the pitch of the music gets. So you may start to beatmatch
two tunes you think will sound great together, but when you increase the
pitch on one of the tunes, the two tunes may sound out of tune, like your dad
singing in the shower along with the radio. See the section ‘Master Tempo/
Key Lock’ later in the chapter for one way around this issue (and take the
batteries out of the radio to stop your dad singing in the shower).
The numbers
The numbers on the pitch control can be confusing. These numbers do not
refer to BPMs (beats per minute, the usual measurement of tempo) of the
music you’re playing, but rather a percentage difference of the speed of the
turntable. The only time the numbers correlate exactly with the BPM is if the
tune you’re playing has a BPM of 100. If you move the control to 1 per cent,
you increase the pitch by 1 per cent of 100, which is 1; and would be the
same for the other numbers (5 per cent would be 5 BPM and so on).
As you’re unlikely to play a tune with exactly 100 BPM, you need to understand that the pitch control affects the BPM in percentage change. If you’re
playing a 150-BPM tune and decrease the pitch to –1 per cent, then the tune
now plays at 148.5 BPM. A 130-BPM tune with the pitch set to +5.5 per cent
increases by 7.15 BPM – so you can assume that tune now plays ‘around’ 137
BPM, and match other tunes to it accordingly. (The mathematical calculation
for this is on the Cheat Sheet inside the front cover of the book.)
So this percentage reference is useful when you’re beatmatching; trying to
match two tunes that were recorded at different speeds. For instance, you’re
playing a tune at 135 BPM, and you know that the next tune you want to play
in the mix has been recorded at 140 BPM. This 5 BPM difference is around 3.5
per cent of 140 BPM, so to get the 140 BPM tune to play at 135, you have to
move the pitch fader down to -3.5 to get you in a ‘ball-park’ area of the correct pitch (3.5 per cent is actually 4.9 BPM, but it’s close enough). All it takes
after that is a little fine tuning of the pitch, and you’ll have the tune beatmatched really quickly.
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
The Bermuda Pitch Zone exists
The decks that I learnt on used to change the
pitch the wrong way for a 1 per cent region; if I
moved the pitch fader to +1 per cent, the music
slowed down, and the music would speed up if
I moved the pitch fader into the – region.
Fortunately, after the +/–1 per cent area, the
pitch control would go back to normal – otherwise, I’d have gone mad!
Even my Technics 1210s suffer from this problem, but not as pronounced as with the decks I
learnt on. The 1210s just hover around 0 pitch
between +/–0.5 per cent, and then go back to
normal again.
Fortunately, the problem has been noticed, and
rectified by turntable manufacturers. First by
Vestax, and then Technics on their 1210 MkIII,
so the pitch fader is now completely smooth,
with no click point as you pass through 0 pitch
to cause this problem
You can find ways to ‘hack’ your turntables to
disable the quartz lock feature that is the cause
of the problem, but you’ll have to search on
the Internet for these hacks because I don’t
want this book to create an epidemic of broken
However, the pitch control isn’t an exact science. The difference that even 1
millimetre of change can make to the speed of your record is enough to throw
off your beatmatching; even though the fader sits somewhere near the 2 per
cent area, you may actually be playing at 2.2 per cent, and that 0.2 per cent
can make a huge dent in your beatmatching skills, so use your ears, and
listen to what the beat is doing, rather than only relying on the numbers on
the pitch control.
Digital turntables with a little LCD display that give you a readout of what you
set the pitch to let you be more exact with your pitch fader, but the numbers
on an analogue fader should be seen only as a general reference, and not
taken as read.
The other problem with the pitch control is that through time, its accuracy
starts to shift, so when you set the pitch to 4.5 per cent, the turntable is actually only running at 4 per cent. But even worse, is the area around the 0 pitch
mark on the turntable (what I like to call the ‘Bermuda Pitch Zone’, because
it’s easy to get lost in there for days!). On problem decks, when you set the
pitch control to 0 pitch, the control clicks into place, and locks into 0 per
cent pitch. When you move the pitch control away from the 0 pitch click
point, the motor sometimes has trouble knowing which way you’re moving
the pitch fader, and does the opposite of where you’re setting the control, or
sometimes belligerently remaining at 0 pitch for a short distance either side
of the click point.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Counterweight/height adjust
The counterweight is a metal weight that rotates on the back of the tonearm,
which, when turned anticlockwise to add weight, increases the down pressure of the needle on the record, making it less likely to skip when you’re
moving the record back and forth, either to find the start point of a record
(the cue), or when scratching. Chapter 11 has detailed information on calibrating and using the counterweight properly.
The higher you set the tonearm, the steeper the angle at which the needle
points down into the groove, exerting even more down-force, making it even
less likely to skip. A lot of scratch DJs adopt this setting to give increased
needle stability. Be careful though, if you’ve set your tonearm height to the
top, and the counterweight on at full, you’ll wear out your records and your
needles really fast.
You may have read about or heard of DJs who like to put the counterweight
on back to front, to get a little more down pressure onto the needle; this
action is very bad for your needle and your records, damaging and wearing
them out too quickly. For the scratch DJ who accepts accelerated wear as
part of the consequence of scratching, this is fine. But as a beatmatching,
mixing DJ, never put on more weight than is suggested by the needle manufacturer. If you need to add that much weight, chances are your technique is
wrong, your needles are already damaged or dirty, or you’re using the wrong
needle altogether (these issues are covered in Chapter 6).
When a record plays forwards, the needle in the groove is pulled in toward
the centre of the record (a centripetal force). Antiskate cancels out this pull by
adding an equal force that pulls the needle out toward the outer edge of the
record, keeping the needle in the middle of the groove with no sideways force
to wear out the walls of the groove.
Although antiskate helps to keep the home listener’s vinyl copies of Mozart
in pristine condition, it is often redundant for the DJ. As a DJ, you don’t only
play the record forwards; between scratching and back cueing, you also do
your fair share of playing the tune backwards. When you play a record backwards, the force that normally pulls the needle into the centre of the record
when playing forwards is now pulling out toward the edge of the record (it’s
become a centrifugal force). If an antiskate setting is already pulling the record
out to the edge, there’s more force than normal acting on the needle, making
it even more likely to jump out of the groove. For this reason, most DJs tend
to leave antiskate set to 0.
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
Removable headshell/cartridge
This feature is a key step up from the basic, home record players that just
have a moulded headshell. The needle on these record players may still be
replaceable, but because the needle plugs into a moulded mount on the end
of the tonearm, you are stuck using that needle and can’t choose a needle
better suited for DJing.
The needle you use is very important depending on the style of DJing you do.
DJs who want to scratch need to set up their needles for maximum stability,
and beatmatching DJs need to ensure that they get the best sound and versatility from their needles and cartridges. Therefore, being able to change the
needle design and the headshell, for example from a standard Technics design
to an all-in-one headshell, and adjust the angle at which the needle points into
the groove, is an important factor for achieving these requirements. (See
Chapter 6 for more on the different designs of headshells, needles, and
From a practical point of view, removable headshells can be a life-saver if you
damage a needle during a set in a club. If something happens to the needle on
the turntable, and you have a spare headshell to hand, instead of fiddling
around trying to remove the needle from the cartridge to replace it (in a dark,
loud DJ booth, while under pressure to get the next tune ready to mix it in)
you can whip off the headshell containing the damaged needle, and screw on
a new one, all within five seconds.
45 RPM adaptor
In the days before CD and hard-disc jukeboxes, 45 RPM, 7-inch singles were
crammed into a jukebox. These records were produced with an extra large
hole in the middle (25 millimetres in diameter, compared to 5 millimetres on
33 RPM LPs) so that they can be mechanically moved from the rack and sat
securely on the unit that played the record in the jukebox. Because the singles
used in jukeboxes were the same as those on sale to the public, a 25-millimetre
adaptor was placed onto the centre spindle to increase its diameter so the
record could be played properly on home turntables with only a 5-millimetre
centre spindle.
Now relegated to a recess in the top-left corner of the turntable, this shiny
piece of metal has become (virtually) obsolete due to the demise of traditional jukebox records. However, if you play older records (ska/northern soul
stuff especially), or newer reggae/ragga 7-inch singles, you’ll find that you
may still need to use this adaptor on some of those records.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Customising Your Sound with
Advanced Turntable Features
The basic features on a turntable enable you to play a record, and change the
playing speed. For most DJs, that’s more than enough. But for some, gadgets,
buttons, and switches all go hand-in-hand with creativity and individuality, so
they look to turntables with enhanced features to create their own sound and
mix style.
When you look at the gadgets and controls on your turntables, just bear one
thing in mind – where are you going to be DJing? If you only ever intend to
make mix tapes and run your own parties (on your own equipment), then feel
free to sneer and ignore this warning, but if you’re planning on playing in
clubs, have a quick think about how much you use these add-ons, and the
likelihood of them being available on the clubs’ set-up.
This argument is similar to the one about relying on beat counters to develop
your beatmatching skills (see Chapter 8). The advanced functions such as
reverse play, quartz lock, digital displays, and pitch bend/controls with 50
per cent variance are all useful, adding a nice dimension to your mixes when
at home, but as 97 per cent of clubs still use Technics 1210s (with nothing
more than a pitch control that’s a bit wonky around 0 pitch and a rock-steady
motor), ask yourself if your advanced turntable DJ skills will travel well to
these clubs. If you can only mix well on advanced turntables, you’re in for a
tough time when you can’t use any.
I’m not saying don’t get turntables with advanced features on them. I’m not
even going to lie and say that you’ll never work in a club with these features
(some clubs are beginning to replace the older 1210 MkII turntables with
more advanced Vestax decks as they realise technology is advancing, and so
reinvest in better equipment), but in the same vein as beat counters, don’t
rely on these advanced features to make you a good DJ.
Pitch range options
Once upon a time, your choice of pitch range was limited to 8 per cent faster
or slower (unless you opened up, and started screwing around with the
innards of the turntable); that was when Technics 1200/1210s ruled the roost.
But things have moved on. Now 12 per cent pitch variance has become a
standard on many turntables, but advances in pitch control mean that the DJ
can have 50 per cent pitch variance on offer, or more!
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
Simplicity is reliability
I believe that the Technics 1200 and 1210 MkII
turntables have gained popularity over the
years in no small part because they’re
extremely reliable. They’re reliable because
there’s very little in them to go wrong – just a
motor, a few electronics to control the power
and speed of the motor, and the audio output.
However, in my opinion, manufacturers such as
Gemini, Vestax, and Numark have proven that
turntables can be elevated to another level of
functionality by offering the DJ extra creativity
(for a price), while ensuring a long life-span for
the equipment by increasing reliability and build
Adding extra features to turntables can increase
the chance of breakdown and malfunction.
You aren’t likely to play a tune at 50 per cent that often, but you’re certain to
want to play a tune faster than 8 per cent. Some scratch, funk, and drum-andbass DJs like to over-pitch their tunes, making them sound completely different. (Try to steer away from using tunes with vocals when you do this
though, because the vocalist will sound as if they’ve been inhaling helium!)
Sliding the pitch control up or down to 50 per cent at the end of a tune is
a good technique to use (sparingly) to get from one tune to another, but
increased pitch options are more about offering the DJ another level of
creativity than about everyday use.
Pitch bend and joystick control
Pitch bend was first introduced on CD decks. Instead of speeding up or slowing down the turntable by pushing the record, spinning the spindle, or touching the side of the deck, you get two buttons on the turntable, or a joystick,
which control small bursts of speed. When the + or – pitch bend buttons or
controls are used, the turntable speeds up or slows down by a small amount.
When released, the deck returns to your original speed setting.
CD DJs who are used to using buttons instead of their hands to control the
speed bumps on their tunes, welcome these controls when they first use
vinyl. You still need to set the pitch control, and start the record at the right
time, but if you’re more familiar using buttons to correct the speed of CDs,
the concept and the technique of using the turntable’s pitch bend is the
same, making the migration from CD to vinyl all that bit easier for the CD DJ.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Pitch bend controls give you a consistently smooth and predictable increase
and decrease in turntable speed; you can’t say the same about your fingers!
The knack of adjusting the speed of the record with your hands is something
that you pick up after a few hours, but sometimes you come across a record
that feels stiff to move, or flies away too fast, and turns a lot faster than you
thought, almost spinning out of control as you try to speed it up. The constant, definite change that you always have to hand, as you press the pitch
bend buttons, no matter what record you use, means that your mixing is
easier, quicker, and sounds better. See Chapter 12 for how and why you need
these bursts of power to get the bass beats back in time.
Cleaner records
Pitch bend is also a good alternative to pushing or slowing down the tune with
your fingers because it protects your records from excessive finger prints and
grime. As a DJ, you’re actively encouraged to touch your records, but developing a method that keeps your records as clean as possible is still a good thing.
When you’re considering buying turntables with pitch bend, try to see the
feature in action first. Some turntables have a really clumsy control over the
speed boost/lag, and can zip up the speed of your tune by too much too fast,
sometimes rendering the control pointless because you can never make small
enough adjustments to get the bass beats back in time.
Tempo reset/Quartz lock
Earlier in this chapter, I described the ‘Bermuda Pitch Zone’, which is where
the pitch control goes a little wonky through the 0 pitch range on turntables
that click into place when set to 0. To get around this problem, turntable manufacturers started to make turntables with clickless pitch faders that glide
through the 0 pitch area, moving smoothly all the way through the entire pitch
range. The problem with a clickless fader, though, is that you can’t be sure
when you’re at exactly 0 pitch anymore. Some turntables still show a green
light as you pass 0, but a better option is the quartz lock or tempo reset button,
which resets the pitch to 0 pitch, no matter where you set the pitch control.
Some people use this quartz lock almost like a pitch bend when the record is
playing too fast. Hit the button once to slow the tune down temporarily and
then again to bring the tune back to the speed you set it at. This technique is
a bit hit and miss, though, and not as accurate as a pitch bend, or using your
hands. I like to use it if I’ve slowed a record right down by 50 per cent (or more)
to really drag out the last couple of beats of a breakdown to instantly return to 0
pitch rather than an acceleration as the slider is moved. The downside to this is
if you were playing the tune at 5 per cent before the slow down, because the
tune will now be playing at 0 per cent, 5 per cent slower than before.
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
Master Tempo/Key Lock
Master Tempo, first available as an add-on to turntables by a company called
Vinyl Touch, then available on Pioneer CD decks, and now an option on a
number of advanced, digital turntables, enables you to change the speed of a
tune, but not its pitch.
Remember, the pitch control isn’t just a speed control. As you increase or
decrease the pitch control, the pitch of the music gets higher or lower as a
consequence of the tune playing faster or slower. Pressing the Master Tempo
button means that you can affect only the speed, leaving the pitch of the
music as it was recorded.
I like the design of the Key Lock on the Numark TTX1 that takes this technique a step further. You can use the pitch control to select whatever pitch
setting you want the tune to play at, press the Key Lock button, and then
adjust the music tempo while retaining your original pitch setting. Or for
even greater control over this, I recommend the Gemini PDT6000, which has
two faders on the right-hand side of the turntable, one for pitch adjustments
(speed) and another called Key Adjustment, a setup that enables you to
change the pitch of the tune without changing the tempo.
All of these controls can be quite temperamental, though. With the Master
Tempo, or Key Lock turned on, if the pitch of the deck is set to more than 4 or
5 per cent, you can sometimes get digital noise added to the music, making
the track sound as if it’s playing underwater. Tunes with strong vocals tend to
suffer the worst from this problem, whereas simple, musical tracks can withstand quite a large change.
You won’t find any hard and fast rules for using the Master Tempo and Key
Lock features, so you simply need to keep experimenting to work out how far
you can push each of your tunes.
Digital display of pitch
The pitch control is an essential tool on a turntable, but its analogue nature
means that you can’t be 100 per cent sure that when you set the pitch to 3.5
per cent, the pitch has actually changed by 3.5 per cent. Sometimes, the smallest pitch change is all that’s needed to make the beats of two tunes play at the
same time; with a pitch fader that has no display, you have to guess whether
the pitch changes at all when you move the fader by only a millimetre.
A digital display on the turntable shows you exactly where you’ve set the
pitch, and whether you’ve increased or decreased the pitch by a small
enough amount to make the beats play in time. This info helps you mix with
confidence, taking away some of the guesswork that comes with analogue
pitch controls.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Adjustable brake for Start/Stop
Traditionally, when you press Stop on the turntable, the record stops in
about half a second. Some decks enable you to adjust the brake, which
changes the time that the record takes to stop, giving you more control if you
decide to use Stop as a mixing technique (see Chapter 14).
The half-second Stop option is really nice, but even prolonging that to about
1 bar of music (which equals 4 beats) can add another dimension to the mix,
or you can set a really long brake time, and emulate the power-off.
In some instances, you can tighten the brake up so much, that when you
press Stop, the record plays backwards! This tip is a really good trick on
turntables that don’t have a reverse play function but that do enable you to
easily and quickly alter the brake.
On some turntables though, you have to unscrew the turntable to get to the
screw that controls the brake adjustments. Carrying out this manoeuvre obviously isn’t very convenient when you’re in the middle of a mix, so if you think
that your mixing style would benefit from using different brake speeds
through a mix, I suggest that you take a look at something like the Gemini
PT6000, which has the brake control as a knob next to the pitch control.
Reverse play
Instead of adjusting the brake to make the turntable play backwards on basicfeature turntables, advanced turntables sometimes have a handy little button
(sometimes located next to the pitch control) that does exactly the same thing.
Simply press the Reverse button, and the deck plays backwards. You get a
slow-down-to-stop, start-up delay as you do this operation, but if your timing’s
right when pressing this button, it sounds great.
CD decks give you the option of instantly reversing the direction of the
music, rather than needing to account for this delay as the record changes
direction. See Chapter 15 for information on reverse play with CDs and other
CD features.
Different shaped tonearms
For years, the standard shape of the tonearm on a turntable was S shape. The
S-shape creates a variety of different forces upon the needle as it’s pulled into
the centre of the record: A tracking force, an inside force, and a vertical force,
which not only adds to the wear on the record, but due to so many different
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
forces, you can understand why the needle jumps out of the groove when
scratching. In the late 90s, Vestax pioneered the ASTS straight tonearm for
DJs, which only has the tracking force affecting the needle. By cancelling out
some of the lateral forces, the turntable achieves maximum stability, and the
needle is less likely to skip out of the groove when you’re in the middle of a
really complicated, frantic scratch move.
The straight tonearm isn’t aimed at only the scratch DJ, though. The reduction in forces acting on the needle in the groove means that you get a lot less
wear on the vinyl, your records last and sound good for much longer, and the
needle is less likely to pop out of the groove when you’re trying to locate the
start (cue) point in the record.
A lot of turntables come with only an S-shape or only a straight tonearm, but
some decks from companies such as Numark now include both styles, in an
interchangeable format, so you can change the design of tonearm as often as
you change your socks.
Also, you find that modification companies can change the standard S-shape
tonearm on your turntable into a straight tonearm, and can create a fixture
similar to the headshell joint that enables you to easily swap from one design
to the other, depending on your mood (or more likely, style of mixing that day).
Removable cabling
For years, turntables came with the RCA cables (you may know them as
phono cables) hard-wired into the electronic gubbins inside the casing. This
set-up meant that any damage to the cables (normally caused by dropping
something onto the cables, or even worse, the deck itself) involved opening
up the casing and re-soldering the connections (if possible) or sending your
precious turntable off to a repairman.
When equipment manufacturers realised that this procedure was problematic
for DJs, they started to make turntables with RCA plugs on the back, just like
the inputs on the mixer. These turntables now have removable cables that
you plug between the turntable and the mixer, and if anything happens to
damage the cables, they are easy to replace. The new design can also prevent
further damage to your turntable because if something is dropped on the
cable, instead of the tug on the cable pulling the turntable onto the floor, the
RCA plugs may act as a shock release, unplugging themselves through the
force on the cable, saving the turntable from damage.
Chapter 11 has more about preventing these kinds of cable accidents in the
first place and how to connect the RCA cables and the ground wire from the
turntables to the mixer.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Digital outputs
As well as addressing the mechanics of the cabling on the back of the
turntable, manufacturers also looked at the range and quality of output connections that they offer to the technology driven DJ. Not content with the
analogue signal sent through the RCA outputs, digital outputs such as USB
and S/PDIF are now on offer for you to connect to a mixer or PC with a similar
input. I describe these connections in more detail in Chapter 11.
Battle or club design
Look into the history of DJing, and you see that club DJs have the turntables
positioned as per the manufacturers’ expectations, but scratch DJs turn them
around 90 degrees, anticlockwise. The reason that scratch DJs turn their decks
around is so that the needle is clear of their hands as they move like lightning
from deck to mixer to the other deck, and back again, all in the blink of an eye.
Although this position means that the Start/Stop button, the power control,
and the pitch fader have also moved by 90 degrees, this factor hasn’t been a
problem for the scratch DJ because for years, there hasn’t been any alternative, forcing them to adapt. But companies such as Numark and Vestax saw a
gap in the turntable market, and have designed turntables with Start/Stop
switches at both corners, and pitch faders that can be moved from one side
of the deck to the other, all of which give the scratch DJ more control over
the layout and the ease of use of his or her tools.
If you’re a beatmatching DJ with no interest in scratching, turning up to a
club that has the turntables set up with this ‘vertical alignment’ for scratch
DJs can be extremely annoying. It’s not as easy to access the pitch control,
it’s a bit harder to take the needle on and off the record, and simply isn’t as
comfortable to beatmatch with the turntables set up like this. Some time
spent using turntables with this orientation soon gets you over this hurdle,
so when you research a venue you’re due to play in, be sure to look at how
the turntables are aligned, and put in any required practice at home with this
set-up if need be.
Built-in mixer
Okay, I’m going out on a limb here: I believe that the Vestax QFO (Figure 5-4) is
the ultimate in advanced scratch turntables. Suggested, tested, and tweaked
by DJ QBert (a famous scratch DJ), this turntable is a feature-packed single
deck aimed at performance scratch DJs, with a built-in mixer for performing
scratches, reverse play, quartz lock, and a straight tonearm. But best of all,
you can take off two of the feet, put a strap on the remaining two feet, and
wear it like a guitar!
Chapter 5: Getting Decked Out with Turntables
Figure 5-4:
The Vestax
How practical the QFO is as a turntable for everyday use (especially at the
cost of £750) is questionable, but if you’re looking for the ultimate turntable
gadget, then this is it.
Servicing Your Turntables
Make your turntables last as long as possible by showing them a little bit of
care and attention from time to time. You can find information all over the
Internet for fixing various broken parts on your decks, but a little cleaning
and lubrication can keep the gremlins at bay.
As a general rule for all your equipment, when you’re not using it, keep it covered. With turntables, if you have plastic lids for them, put those back on
when you’re not using the decks. If you keep the decks in flight cases, put the
lid back on. If you have neither of these, put a clean bed-sheet (or something
soft, clean, and lintfree) over the decks when they’re not used, to catch any
dust before it gets a chance to settle on your faders, motor, and tonearm.
Motor: If you keep the motor properly lubricated, it can run smoothly
for years. All you need to do is remove the deckplatter and put a small
drop of sewing machine oil on the centre spindle. Use lubricating oil
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
such as sewing machine oil rather than covering the entire insides of
your deck with a silicon coating such as WD-40 spray!
After you’ve lubricated the motor, replace the platter, and spin it round
with your hand. You can use the turntable immediately, as long as you
didn’t pour half a can of oil all over the inner workings of the deck.
Tonearm: You need a can of compressed air, and a can of degreasing
lubricant to thoroughly clean and lubricate the tonearm assembly (the
degreaser dissolves any dirt you can’t clean by hand). Don’t worry if you
think that this method is expensive, you’re going to need it for your
mixer, too (see Chapter 8).
Cover the rest of your equipment with a sheet you don’t mind getting
dusty, and then spray the tonearm assembly with the compressed air to
remove any surface dust (the sheet is so you don’t just move the dust
from one deck to another). Spray the grease dissolver over the bearings
in the tonearm to remove any ground-in dirt and to lubricate the bearings. If you can’t find a degreaser with built-in lubricant, use a needle
dipped in oil to lubricate each of the bearings in turn.
Faders: Similar to the cross-fader on the mixer, use a can of compressed
air to blow any dirt out of the pitch fader. Use a cleaning lubricant to dissolve any dirt residue in the fader if you think that you have a problem,
but using the compressed air is usually adequate to clean the fader.
Headshell: If you ever suffer from signal dropout from the cartridge
(which is when the music starts to break up and cut out), use a pencil,
or a pin to clean any dirt off the contacts. I’ve heard of DJs licking the
contact points on the headshell and the cartridge to try to clean off any
dirt but, as well as being disgusting, your saliva (mixed with the beer
you’ve been drinking) ends up damaging the contacts in the long run.
Check that the screws holding the cartridge are tight, that the needle is
clean of any dirt build-up, and that it sits securely inside the cartridge.
Under the platter: If your turntable comes with a removable deckplatter,
lift it off, and wipe around the underside with a lint-free cloth, and make
sure to pick up any dust or dirt that may get trapped underneath. Using
the spray can of air may be a bad idea because you can blow the dust
further inside the deck chassis. Although a little dirt may not cause a
problem with the electronics, it’s not a good idea to keep forcing more
and more dust than normal inside the turntable.
Chapter 6
Perfecting Your Decks:
Slipmats and Needles
In This Chapter
Understanding what slipmats are for
Making sure that your slipmats slip
Knowing the differences in needle designs
Picking the right needle and cartridge for your DJing style
Prolonging the life of your needles (and records)
hen choosing a turntable to DJ with, Chapter 5 encourages you to look
for one with a good pitch control, adjustable tonearm, strong motor,
and a solid design. These characteristics can set the DJ deck apart from the
home hi-fi record player.
However, you still need to look at two more areas before your turntable is a
true DJ tool: slipmats, and what types of needles and cartridges to use.
Sliding with Slipmats
As well as acting as an antistatic device, the slipmat is a key factor in transforming your new turntables from just a really good pair of record players to
fully functional DJ decks.
The slipmat is the same shape and size of a 12-inch record, and sits between
the record and the deckplatter (the part of the turntable that rotates to make
the record rotate). Slipmats are normally made out of felt, and if you’ve taken
my advice in Chapter 5 about making sure that your turntables have a smooth,
metal deckplatter, you find that the low friction between the felt and the metal
keeps the deckplatter turning underneath the record when you hold it in a
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
stopped position. This simple function of the slipmat is extremely important
when you want to start a record playing at an exact time, and is essential for
successful beatmatching.
If the deckplatter has stopped turning underneath the record, when you let
go of the record to start playing again, it can take almost a second to get up
to full speed again, meaning you’ve started the record later that you’d
planned. With the slipmat helping the deckplatter continue to turn under the
stopped record, the record takes little or no time to get to full speed, and
your records start exactly when you want them to.
This friction-free slip is also essential for the scratch DJ so that he or she can
move the record backwards and forwards easily, without the drag and inertia
of the full weight of the deckplatter moving back and forth with the record.
The setup you want to achieve with the slipmat goes like this:
The deckplatter (the part with the bumps on the side that turns round)
is at the very bottom.
The slipmat goes on top of that
The record is then placed directly onto the slipmat
When you first buy your turntables, they may come with a thick, heavy
rubber mat on the deckplatter with the slipmats placed on top of them.
Please remove this big rubber mat so you have the same setup as previously
described. If you leave the rubber mat on, the slipmat won’t slip over the
thick heavy rubber, and the deckplatter will grind to a halt when you try to
hold it stopped.
Choosing an appropriate slipmat
The two design concepts that affect how well your slipmat slips are its thickness and weight, and what kind of design is printed on it.
The best slipmat is made from a smooth, compacted felt, and is thin and
light. If the slipmat is too thick and heavy, and the felt too rough (or too
fluffy), the extra friction drags on the deckplatter, making it turn a lot slower
under a stopped record, or making it stop completely.
The image you have printed on the slipmat can be a great expression of your
personality. Search any online record store, and you find a whole load of slipmats with different logos, designs, photos, and colours printed on them.
Slipmats like these are great to look at, but try to steer away from cheap versions that are covered in print because, depending on what they use to print
onto the slipmats, it may stick to the record and cause drag problems, or the
design can wear off and look bad, and may actually harm your records.
Chapter 6: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles
My first set of slipmats came second-hand (as did the turntables), and the
print had started to come away and go slightly brittle, which ended up
scratching some of my beloved tunes. I got around this problem by turning
the mat upside-down, so the logo was in contact with the deckplatter, and the
felt touching the record. This method had the added bonus of reducing the
friction even more, and made the slipmat a lot more . . . slippy.
Winning the friction war
When you hold your record still, the power of the motor (known as torque)
directly affects how easily the deckplatter continues to turn underneath. If
you have a weak motor or (gasp), you chose belt-driven turntables (see
Chapter 5 for more on choosing a turntable) the turntable may have a hard
time keeping the deckplatter turning even with the best friction-killing slipmats. Even on the better turntables, such as Technics and Vestax, if the slipmats are too thick and rough, they can drag and pull on the turntable,
slowing it down. I’ve experienced this problem in a few clubs that had old,
big, thick woolly slipmats.
In both these cases, the solution is to reduce the friction between the slipmat
and the deckplatter. You can buy commercial products such as Butter Rugs
and Flying Carpets, which you put between the slipmat and the deckplatter,
but you can first try out a couple of home remedies using wax paper and
cardboard that I discuss shortly.
If you do find that your turntables grind to a halt when you hold the record
stopped, before adding something else to reduce the friction, take a look at
your technique. You don’t need to press down hard on the record to hold it
stopped, just rest one or two fingers towards the outer edge and that should be
enough. Too much pressure adds resistance, stopping the deckplatter turning.
In the end, if you have a good pair of slipmats on a turntable and a good
motor, that’s all you need to keep the turntable turning while you’re mixing or
scratching. In case you were wondering, I use the Technics slipmats that
came with my 1210 turntables, and a light touch.
Wax paper
Wax paper placed between the slipmat and the deckplatter is a great way of
reducing friction and resistance. If you don’t want to go out and buy wax paper
for this purpose, take a look through your records and look at the inner sleeves
that protect them. You may find a sleeve made out of wax paper.
Older records (such as in your parents’ record collection) are most likely to
use wax-paper inner sleeves. Either ask your parents if you can swap one of
their wax sleeves for a paper one from your collection (that you no longer wish
to protect with an inner sleeve), or go to a record fair or second-hand store,
and look for a cheap record that has a wax paper sleeve. All you care about is
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
that the sleeve isn’t creased and is in good condition, it doesn’t matter what
the actual record is, so go for a cheap one. Although, if you choose wisely, you
may be able to give the record to your mum for Mother’s Day!
Here’s how to make a friction-killer:
1. Place the wax paper/inner sleeve on a flat cutting surface.
Carpets, dining room tables, and the hood of your car are all suggestions
of surfaces NOT to use.
2. Using your existing slipmat as a template and a sharp utility knife as a
cutting tool, cut a 12-inch (30-centimetre) circle out of the wax paper.
3. Mark the centre of your cut-out by putting a pen through the centre of
the slipmat, then cut a tiny hole at that point for the centre spindle on
the turntable to go through.
4. Place this wax cut-out between the deckplatter and the slipmat, and
try it out.
You’ll find that the record slips more easily now.
Cardboard cut-out
Another option for fighting friction is to reduce the surface area that slips.
Take a piece of thin cardboard, cut it into a 6-inch (15-centimetre) diameter
circle, poke a hole through the middle, and place that between the slipmat
and the deckplatter.
Be careful with your choice of cardboard because if it’s too thick, the record
may be unstable when you hold the outer edge to stop the record, causing
the needle to jump.
This cardboard circle reduces the surface area of the slipmat that’s in contact
with the deckplatter, and because cardboard creates a lot less friction than
the felt of the slipmat, the records slip more easily. You may even want to try
cutting out a 12-inch (30-centimetre) circle.
Getting Groovy with Needles
and Cartridges
The needle is the part on the turntable that sits in the groove of the record. As
the record plays, the groove causes vibrations in the needle, which the cartridge translates into electrical signals, which are then sent from the turntable
to the mixer, and you hear music. This is how the groove makes you groove.
Chapter 6: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles
You need to know what the different kinds of needle and cartridge are, and
how to pick the correct ones for your DJing style. The needles you use as a
DJ are a lot stronger than the ones you find in home turntables because they
need to take a fair bit of abuse. Back cueing (playing the record backwards
while trying to find the place to start), scratching, the inevitable whoops
when you rip the needle right across the record, and repeatedly taking the
needle off and placing it somewhere else on the record with a thump can all
take a toll on even the most robust of needles.
Along with strength, you also want to demand good sound quality from your
needles and cartridges. You need them to pick up the solid bass melodies
and bass beats and still give you the crisp high frequencies from the records.
The good news is that any needle and cartridge designed for DJs can go on
any turntable. You don’t have to use Stanton needles and cartridges on
Stanton turntables; you don’t have to use the Technics headshell that comes
with Technics turntables. Manufacturers of DJ turntables have been smart
enough to design a universal connection from the cartridge to the tonearm,
so that you can use any cartridge on any turntable. This flexibility stands
assuming that you’ve not just bought a basic, cheap, hi-fi turntable with an
all-in-one, moulded tonearm and cartridge, or gone for a high-end design that
uses different connections. Figure 6-1 shows the back of some cartridges with
the same connection.
Figure 6-1:
The same
on the back
of different
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Your cartridge and needle considerations come in pairs (fitting, because you
usually buy them in pairs). Firstly, there are two main designs for how the
cartridge eventually attaches to the tonearm, and then there are two different
styles of needle that you have to decide on:
Headshells with the cartridge and needle screwed on: This design is
the one that nearly always accompanies your turntables when you buy
them. This doesn’t mean it’s a poor design, it’s just the design that
covers all bases. One of the most popular and enduring scratch DJ
needle setups is a Shure M44-7 needle and cartridge attached to this
headshell, and the Stanton 500AL (see Figure 6-2) is found in clubs and
bedrooms all over the land.
The top of the cartridge is screwed to the headshell, and the needle
plugs into the cartridge (the needle is the front, white part shown in
Figure 6-3). Four coloured cables make the electrical connection from
the cartridge to the headshell, which then plugs into the tonearm to
make the final connection.
Figure 6-2:
A Technics
Chapter 6: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles
Figure 6-3:
A disassembled
needle and
with a
Built-in headshell: This design does away with the separate headshell;
instead, the cartridge, which is the main body of this unit, plugs directly
into the tonearm. The needle is still separate, and easily removed and
replaced, but the sleek all-in-one design makes this cartridge a very
attractive part of your turntable.
Many people mistakenly believe that this all-in-one design isn’t suitable
for scratch DJs, but this isn’t so. To name only two, the Numark CC-1,
pictured in Figure 6-4 below, is the ‘signature model’ of the Scratch
Perverts, and the Ortofon Concorde QBert was developed through DJ
Qbert (both world-class scratch DJs).
However, this style of needle and cartridge does have a strong link in
clubs for the beatmixing DJ. As well as commonly using elliptical-shaped
needles, which produce better sound quality than their spherical
cousins (I go into this in more detail next), this design makes seeing
where the needle is on the record a lot easier.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Figure 6-4:
The Numark
Carl Cox
needle and
After you’ve decided on the design of your needles and cartridges, the next
thing you have to think about is whether to buy elliptical or spherical needles
for your carts. A lot of manufacturers supply both shapes for the same cart,
and you can get them for both the designs mentioned previously, so the
choice is down to your preference rather than availability.
Spherical: A spherical needle has a rounded tip that only makes contact
with the straight sides of the groove, so the contact between the needle
and the groove is extremely small (see Figure 6-5). This means that the
sound quality is reduced because the needle isn’t picking the amount of
bumps and variations from the groove that it could if it were making
contact with a larger area.
Figure 6-5:
The small
range of
contact with
the groove
when using
a spherical
Chapter 6: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles
The small contact area compromises sound quality, but also means that
the tracking force (the force created between the needle and the sides
of the groove) is incredibly strong, so the needle puts up a fight against
jumping out of the groove when scratching or finding a start point on the
record. However, the concentration of the tracking force means that
the record wears down more quickly.
Elliptical: Elliptical needles make more contact with the sides of the
groove because of their cone shape (shown in Figure 6-6); therefore,
producing much better sound quality because they can pick up more
information from the groove. However, the trade-off for this increased
sound quality is that the tracking force is now spread out over a larger
surface area, making the needle a bit more sensitive, and prone to getting knocked out of the groove. What this spread of tracking force means
to a beatmixing DJ is that you can’t be as rough when working with your
records during a mix, making them unsuitable for advanced scratching
by most people (though simple scratching like baby scratching should
be fine).
Figure 6-6:
The larger
range of
contact with
the groove
when using
an elliptical
Choosing the Right Needle
for Your DJ Style
Scratch DJs and beatmixing DJs demand different features from their needles.
A scratch DJ is more concerned that the needle stays glued into the groove
than about sound quality, so a spherical needle that creates a lot of tracking
force is more suitable. Headshell mounted carts such as the Ortofon GT and
the Shure M447 are both popular, but the built-in headshell carts like the
Ortofon Concorde QBert are also popular with scratch DJs.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Beatmixing DJs are more concerned with sound quality, though they do still
demand that the needle stays in the groove. Fortunately, because this kind of
DJ isn’t too rough when working with the vinyl, elliptical needles are a great
choice because they give the sound quality desired while preserving the life
of the DJ’s records.
Ortofon have a vast range of pro carts designed for mixing, and in my experience, Stanton’s Groovemaster, Numark’s CC-1, and Shure’s M35X all offer
great sound quality and long life for your records.
The last thing to say about needles is that if you’re buying new turntables,
find out if they come supplied with needles and cartridges. Most stores
include the basic Stanton 500AL cartridge and needle set with turntables, but
do check – never assume. Imagine this scenario: You’re waiting excitedly for
your decks to be delivered, but then find out that needles and carts haven’t
been included, so you have to wait before you can use them – and all because
you forgot to check when you ordered them.
Feeling the Force with Counterweight
The counterweight affects the tracking force of the needle in the groove. The
heavier the counterweight, the stronger the force, so the more secure the
needle in the groove is – but the quicker your records wear out.
In Chapter 11, I describe how to set up your tonearm properly for DJ use, to
add the correct amount of tracking force with the counterweight. How much
counterweight you add on the tonearm is dictated firstly by the needle manufacturers. The documentation you receive with the needles and cartridges
tells you the suggested tracking force, and suggested tonearm height for the
needles you’ve bought. However, some of these figures aren’t aimed toward
DJ use, and are actually calculated for the greatest longevity of your records.
As a brief guide for you, here are the most popular counterweight settings for
common DJ needles:
Counterweight (in grammes)
Stanton 500AL II, Stanton Discmaster II,
Stanton 605SK
Shure M44-7, Shure Whitelabel
Numark CC-1
Ortofon Concorde DJ S
Ortofon Concorde Night-Club S
Chapter 6: Perfecting Your Decks: Slipmats and Needles
If you find that the needle still skips when you’re scratching or trying to find
the start point of the record, first check your technique. If you’re quite rough
as you move the record with your hands, may be you’re the one making the
needle jump out of the groove. You don’t have to be forceful to move the
record; you can move it back and forth just as quickly with a light, fluid
motion as with a harsh, rough, jerky movement. When you push and pull the
record, follow the curve of the record, rather than pushing and pulling in a
straight line. This ‘straight line’ force is a common cause of the needle popping out of the groove.
If you think that the needle is jumping because not enough weight is on it, try
gradually increasing the counterweight until the needle stops skipping. Take
your time and increase the counterweight by small amounts each time, and
when the needle does stay securely in the groove, try taking a little weight
back off again; you’ll probably find it’s still okay.
Though vinyl is designed to be long-lasting and not wear out too quickly, if
you find you’ve had to use the full counterweight on the needle to keep it
from jumping out the groove, you must understand that the record and the
needle will wear more quickly than usual because of the added tracking force.
Nurturing Your Needles
Knowing when you need to change your needles requires a mix of professional help and general knowledge. The only way to truly know if your needles are worn out and in need of replacement is to look at them through a
microscope. Not many people have a microscope sitting next to their turntables, so you may want to do a bit of research now and get in touch with some
of the specialist stores in your area to see if they can check your needles for
you. A few DJ stores may offer this service, but the high-end audio equipment
stores are the ones that can help you, or guide you toward someone who can.
However, you can look for the following simple things yourself:
Is the needle picking up lots of dirt from the record?
If you play a quiet part in a record, the next time you play it, does it pop
and crackle?
Do the high frequencies (especially the hi-hat cymbal sounds that normally play in between bass drum beats) sound fuzzy?
Have you had your needles longer than a year, and used them nearly
every day for a couple of hours?
Do you simply think that they need replacing?
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If you can answer yes to half of these questions, especially the last one, then
the chances are you need to replace your needles. If you’re using relatively
cheap needles such as Stanton 500ALs, you may simply want to trust your
gut instinct and buy some new needles. But, if you’re using something like the
Ortofon Night-Club E, which cost £45 each, if you answered yes to these questions, get them checked out first by a professional – rather than immediately
going out to spend £90 on a pair of new needles.
Because you plan to DJ with these needles, their lifespan is inevitably somewhat shortened, but you can do a couple of things to extend their usefulness:
Keep your records clean. You’d think that if Mr Diamond and Mr Dust
got into a fight with each other, Mr Diamond would win. Unfortunately,
that’s not the case with your diamond-tipped needle and the dust in the
groove of you record.
If you consider that by the time you play three or four records, the needle
has travelled through over five miles’ worth of record groove, if a piece of
dirt is constantly grinding away on the diamond tip, the needle’s going to
wear down much more quickly than if it were playing on a clean record.
Keep the weight down. The more counterweight you add, the quicker
the needle wears down. It’s as simple as that.
Your needles and your cartridges are literally the first point of contact for
the music you’re playing. Take care of your needles, and make sure that you
replace them when they’re worn. No matter how good the rest of your equipment is, if your needles aren’t picking up all the information they should from
the record, your music won’t sound as good as it can.
There’s a saying in the television business that I keep repeating when I’m
editing: that you can only make poop from poop. It’s exactly the same with
your needles; bad sound in equals bad sound out. Enough said.
Chapter 7
Keeping Up with the
In This Chapter
Looking at the blurry line between analogue and digital formats
Understanding what CD deck styling means for the DJ
Mixing with MiniDisc, MP3s, and iPods
Introducing the big boys on the block of mixing software
ane and Abel, the Capulets and the Montagues, Apple and Microsoft,
Britney and Christina; throughout time, history and literature have told
of the wars between two similar sides. Wars that exist because of what the
two sides have in common, not because of how different they are. When CD
decks first came onto the scene, vinyl purists all over the world cried foul.
CDs were seen as a great threat to the vinyl DJ and DJs started to take sides
between the standard vinyl method of DJing, and the CD upstart (and to a
great extent, CD has won a fair share of battles, if not the war).
With MP3 and laptop DJing becoming more and more popular, CD and vinyl
formats have both come under threat, but with technology evolving at an
incredibly fast rate, the reasons for choosing one format over another
become more and more blurry.
This chapter covers the major differences between CD and vinyl, and what
the MP3 new kid has to offer.
Choosing Your Format:
Analogue or Digital
In brief, digital audio is better than analogue audio – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it sounds better.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Analogue audio (which you encounter as a DJ when you use vinyl) playing
from the right sound system may sound warmer (more pleasant with a feeling
of depth and warmth) than a CD playing through a stereo, but the fragility of
vinyl, which suffers from cracks, pops, skips, and jumps through time is a
flaw that (in my opinion) gives digital audio an edge over analogue audio.
Digital music doesn’t have the same risks attached. The only time a CD sounds
different is when you use a different sound system. A CD never wears out, it
never degrades, and, as long as you take care to prevent deep scratches on the
surface of the disc, you never need to worry about the CD skipping or jumping.
MP3s and MiniDiscs are different again. To keep the digital file sizes small, both
of these formats are heavily compressed, so they lose a lot of audio information in their creation. How good the music sounds relies on the compression
setting. If the music has been too heavily compressed, it can sound as if it’s
been recorded underwater, because too many audio frequencies have been
removed to keep the file size small (see the section ‘Wising up to MP3s’ later in
this chapter for more information on how different amounts of compression
affects sound quality). For some people, with the correct compression setting,
the convenience of the small file sizes (and disc size for MiniDisc) is an acceptable trade off against audio quality when compared to analogue vinyl.
My way is the best!
For the DJ, audio quality isn’t normally the ammunition (or defence) used
when arguing over the best format to use. The arguments that you hear put
across concern:
Versatility and cost are related to each other:
Vinyl DJs say that CDs aren’t good because it costs too much to buy a
CD deck that lets you scratch, and for the beatmatching DJ, you’re just
pressing buttons on CDs, and there’s no showmanship in that.
CD DJs say that turntables aren’t good because you pay a lot of money
for something that just plays the record, with no effects, no loop function, and the needle has a tendency to skip and jump.
MP3 DJs who use computers to DJ with scoff at both of them for wasting
time carrying around records and CDs while they can store an entire
music collection on the hard drive of a laptop or Apple Powerbook.
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
Because each of the formats come up with different ways of doing the same
thing that the others do, the defining line between each of them gets more
and more blurred. Not counting monetary considerations, DJing format decisions all come down to personal choice, the genre of music you play, and
more likely, how cool you think you look using the equipment (the basis of
the aesthetics argument).
Looking at the pros and cons
If you compare a record and a CD (a real CD from a store, not an MP3 burnt to
a CD-R) and you can afford to buy any equipment on the market, you find that
the strengths of the argument advising you to make the choice of one format
over the other are limited. The following sections cover a few of the cases to
be heard when arguing for CD or vinyl.
Vinyl is analogue, and therefore uncompressed,
which makes records better than CDs
Vinyl devotees have a theory that your emotional response to music is
affected by the sound frequencies discarded when converting music to CD
(these are the frequencies that make vinyl sound warmer). I agree that sometimes you can feel a loss of warmth when playing the CD version of a tune at
home when compared to the vinyl version of the same recording, but I think
that this loss stems more from the quality of the CD player, the speakers, and
the turntable than from how the CD was created.
Because you play your music at 100 decibels through a really loud and probably compressed sound system, as a DJ, this argument about losing the emotional audio frequencies doesn’t actually hold up, as they wouldn’t actually
make it through the PA system and onto the dance floor. Good clubs set up the
sound system to give the best possible sound for the format you’re using, but
most clubs you encounter (especially as you climb up the DJ career ladder)
have a preset sound no matter what you play. It’s up to you to adjust the EQs
(equalisers) on the mixer (see Chapter 8) to try to compensate for this.
If you’re lucky, the club you’re working in may let you tweak the amplifier’s
EQ settings to make the dance floor sound how you’d like it. (Check out
Chapter 20 for guidance on tweaking.)
Vinyl uses something called the RIAA equalisation curve (the specification for
the correct playback of vinyl records, established by the Recording Industry
Associate of America) to boost the high frequencies and kill the bass frequency
to fit the audio data on the vinyl. This compression is deciphered by the mixer
(which is why you need to plug into the phono inputs on the mixer – see
Chapter 8 for more), which converts the audio back to the original sound. So
although analogue audio can contain the entire frequency range of the original
sound, it’s not strictly true that vinyl is an uncompressed format.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
You can’t scratch with CDs
The fact that you can’t scratch with CDs used to be true, but if you have the
money for good CD decks it isn’t true any longer. See Chapters 15 and 16 for a
more detailed answer.
Some tunes are only available on vinyl
Some tunes come only on vinyl, but this fact isn’t something that should
force you into using a format you’re unhappy with. For the CD DJ, the simplest way to get around the problem is to buy a turntable, record the tune to
your computer, and burn it to CD.
All you need is a good quality, direct-drive turntable that plays accurately at
0 pitch (refer to Chapter 5), a good set of needles, and a computer with a
soundcard and CD burner (see the later section ‘Mixing on PC’), and you
can convert all your records to CD. You may even want to incorporate the
turntable into your DJ setup for some variation!
If you have lots of vinyl that you’re transferring onto CD and you have a BPM
(beats per minute) counter on your mixer, set the BPM for each different
genre to the same reading (125 for house, 135 for trance, and so on) as you
record them. This way, when you play back tunes with a similar genre from
CD, beatmatching is really easy, because you won’t have to change the speed
of your tunes by much (if at all) in order to match the beats. (Check out
Chapter 12 for more about beatmatching.)
Turntables and records are heavy and cumbersome
Turntables are solid and heavy for a good reason; if they weren’t, the needle
would skip with all the booming bass you’re playing through the club’s sound
Having lugged around a couple of bags and boxes filled with vinyl to clubs, I’ll
concede that a wallet with 100 CDs inside, or an iPod, is a lot lighter than the
equivalent amount of tunes on vinyl, but I could do with losing a few pounds
anyway, and see ‘night club weight training’ as a booster to my gym activities.
On an affectation level, I’m embarrassed to say that I feel really cool walking
into clubs with two big boxes filled with records. Everyone I pass in the crowd
knows I’m the DJ (and if they don’t, I make sure to bash their knees with the
record boxes a couple of times). If you walk into a club with a little wallet filled
with 100 CDs, the crowd may think that you’re just there to read the meter!
I was kidding about the boxes and the knees. I’d never do that . . .
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
Turntables don’t have built-in effects
Until CD players included built-in effects, this point was never an issue. If you
wanted effects, you’d buy a separate effects processor like the Pioneer EFX1000 or you’d get a mixer with built-in effects. Personally, I’d much rather
have the effects on the mixer than on the turntable or CD player, I like to be
able to think of the DJ booth as ‘playback’ (turntables/CD decks and so on)
and ‘control’ (the mixer) areas – and having both playback and control on
one unit can throw my (sometimes limited) concentration.
However, my opinions aside, loop controls, and multiple cue points (places to
start playing from) make CD decks incredibly versatile, and do make them
better than a single turntable, giving the DJ the ability to remix a tune directly
from the CD deck (see Chapter 15 for more on these functions).
You can’t see the music on CD
The great thing about vinyl is that all the different shades of grey and black
rings on the record let you see where you are in the tune. If you look closely
at the changes between the darkness of the rings, you can work out how long
it will be until the breakdown, chorus, and so on, and you’ll know when to
start your mix accordingly.
As a CD (which is just a shiny disc without shading information) just spins
around inside the deck, you have to take the time to discover the structure of
your tunes, and read the time display, remembering when things happen in
the tune to be able to mix properly on CD. Or you did, until recently . . .
Manufacturers realised that this issue was a big flaw for the beatmatching DJ,
and have started to show a representation of the music’s waveform on readouts of CD decks (see Figure 7-1). The waveform is larger for loud parts, and
smaller for quiet parts, so you can tell by the dips and troughs when the tune
is about to change to a quieter or louder part of the tune. You still need to
know the structure of the tune, and the waveform is more of a ball-park reference than a precise guide, but it’s transformed mixing on CD from blind
memory of a tunes structure to a visual trigger of your memory.
Figure 7-1:
The peaks
and troughs
show the
quieter and
louder parts
of the tune.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Turntables are more expensive than CD decks
Whether turntables are more expensive than CD decks is a bit of a grey area.
I’ve found that one of the most expensive vinyl-only turntables is the Technics
SL-1210M5G, which is around £450; and one of the highest models of CD deck
is the Pioneer CDJ-1000MkIII, which costs £760. However, if you look at the
cost in comparison to what features are included, turntables can be a lot more
expensive than CD decks.
A £100 turntable will probably be belt-driven, have a weak motor, won’t hold
the pitch very well, will most likely cause feedback when played too loud due
to the thin plastic body, and you’ll probably get fed up with it in a year or so.
On the other hand, if you spend £100 on a CD deck like the Gemini CDJ-01, in
my opinion, you’ll have got yourself a deck that gives you a reliable pitch
control with pitch bend and a loop function (though the antiskip may not be
great). These basic functions on a basic CD deck give you more control over
your mix than a cheap, belt-driven turntable ever could.
If you have £200 to spend, you find that the features on the CD decks you
look at outclass what’s on a turntable of the same price. Although the
turntable you can afford now has a high torque (power), direct-drive motor
like the Numark TT500, and may offer a pitch bend and large ranges of pitch
variance (sometimes over 50 per cent faster or slower), I still don’t think that
a turntable competes with a CD deck in the same price range.
For £200, you can afford twin CD decks, so you’d only have to pay £200 to get
both of the input devices, instead of paying £400 for two turntables! Or I
would recommend that you get something similar to the Numark AXIS 9, with
loads of built-in effects, multiple cue points, a beat counter, seamless looping,
and the chance to do some scratching on CD, too!
If you compare the £450 Technics SL-1210-Mk5G mentioned previously to a
CD deck in a similar price range, you find that the turntable is still beaten
hands down on features. For £450, you can get the Numark CDX CD player,
and this thing rocks! It’s built like a turntable, with a massive 12-inch (30 centimetre) platter on top so you can work with the CD as if it’s a 12-inch record.
It has built-in effects, MP3 playback and 3,000 programmable cue points
(where the tune starts from).
So, if you want to compare top prices, CD decks are more expensive, but you
get a lot more for your buck. To properly compare CDs and vinyl though you
need to spend those bucks! (Refer to Chapter 4 for more on buying and budgeting for equipment.)
You lack aesthetic performance when using CDs
As the design, control, and versatility of CD decks becomes closer to the
turntable, the argument about the lack of aesthetic performance is now shifting to be aimed at the laptop DJ, but aesthetics are still the big consideration
when choosing to go digital or analogue.
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
Hunting for it, falling in love with it
Sometimes, you find a record that you work with,
bond with, fall in love with, and think of it as your
own, with an odd jealousy raising its head when
you hear another DJ playing your song. This situation happened to me when a tune called
‘Silence’ by Delirium was released (a great trance
tune with Sarah McLachlan’s vocals). I heard the
Tiesto remix of it somewhere, and dedicated
whatever time it took to find this record on vinyl,
even though it was already available as a lowquality illegal MP3 recorded from a radio show.
After a day trawling through the record stores
in Glasgow, I eventually found it at a tiny record
store, and played it as much as I could. It was
great to play it week after week and see the
enthusiasm of the dance floor grow each time I
played it. Eventually, the clubbers saw the same
thing in the tune that I did, people started
requesting it, and I had to play it two or three
times a night.
A month later, the tune really took off, DJs were
happily downloading illegal MP3s of it, the
mainstream charts got hold of it, clubs and the
radio played the tune to death, and I think that I
actually mourned the loss of something I truly
felt I’d discovered and owned. I don’t think any
of that would have happened to me if I’d just
downloaded it from the net and burnt it to CD.
The work and time I put into finding a tune I
loved really paid off.
You’ll be pleased to know that I still play it from
time to time, and it’s one of the only tunes that
has got me dancing and singing in the DJ booth.
You can navigate the tune on CD just as well as you can with vinyl and you
can scratch just as well as the best of them – as long as you’re using top
range CD decks – yet, the sight of a DJ lifting a record out of its sleeve, cleaning it on his or her T-shirt, and placing the needle on the record can still send
out a ‘this is a true DJ’ message to some club owners; one that pressing buttons on a CD deck never could.
Whether that’s right or wrong, you do get the feeling that mixing with vinyl is
more of a skill than mixing with CDs. Strangely, the risk that exists when starting the record by hand, which may cause an error in your mix, or that the
needle may skip, seems to be a selling point to some clubs compared to the
cold, calculated ease of starting a tune on CD.
Personal pride
The best vinyl DJs fall in love with their records, and this love is generated
partly by the work they need to put in to find them, and own them. To have a
vinyl recording of a cherished new tune can mean you’ve worked hard to
track down an elusive copy of the record, or you’re a DJ of a standard that
gets on a DJ promo mailing list. Either way, it takes talent or dogged perseverance to own this new piece of music on vinyl.
A CD or MP3 DJ could boot up their computer, jump online, download the
same tune illegally, and immediately have access to any other music the
heart could desire.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Understanding how technology
has blurred the line
The early CD decks were based on the domestic
CD player, and though they added a pitch control
and a jog wheel to search through the tunes,
they weren’t complicated animals at all. This
fuelled the vinyl DJs reluctance to accept that
CDs may take over one day, and also meant that
CD decks were only used by ‘early adopters’ who
put up with their limitations, and tendency for the
CD to skip when subjected to bass vibration.
Since those offerings, technology has improved
the CD deck not only to compete with vinyl in all
areas, but also lead the way in functionality and
creativity. Pitch bend, master tempo, scratching, seamless looping, hot cues, mixing between
two tunes on the same CD, and holding an entire
collection of MP3s on one CD disc have all
blurred the line between vinyl and CD.
Times have shifted incredibly fast over the past
few years (even over the time it’s taken to write
this book) to generate more of a widespread
acceptance of CD DJing. Judge Jules (one of
the biggest UK DJs) has stated that he no longer
uses vinyl, and will only use CD DJ decks when
playing in clubs. I have always called myself a
‘vinyl dinosaur’ and thought that I’d never use
CD decks, but after a visit to Ibiza (which
included the chance to see Jules play at Eden)
and the research into what CD decks can do in
order to be able to write this chapter, I now have
two Pioneer CDJ1000’s sitting happily next to my
Technics 1210 turntables. (So it doesn’t need to
be an either/or situation.)
This theft of music is a major problem in the music industry as a whole, not
only DJing. Music is stolen through peer-to-peer networks and illegal download sites, and the money needed to keep producing music isn’t being generated. So illegal download DJs are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot,
because soon there won’t be any good music to download. See Chapter 3 for
more on the legalities of downloading MP3s.
The DJ may be the only person in the club who knows how special the fact is
that they’re playing the next big tune on vinyl, but it really is something to
get excited about, and personal pride in your work is what keeps you going
through the ups and downs of DJing.
Choosing a CD Deck That Fits Your Style
Two factors affect what kind of CD decks you use as a DJ, – money (see
Chapter 4), and your DJing style (scratch DJ/beatmatching DJ/wedding DJ,
and so on).
Although a lot of beatmatching DJs like to introduce some scratching into
their sets to add another layer to their skills, having a facility to scratch on
their CD decks isn’t a prerequisite. If you’re starting out as a beatmatching
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
DJ, and you’re buying your first set of CD decks, you probably just want to
get the basics of beatmatching correct before you start to think about adding
in new tricks such as scratching to your mixes.
Still, you need to think about some of the important functions that come on a
CD deck for you to beatmatch properly. A pitch control to at least +/– 8 per
cent is vital, as is a pitch bend adjuster to temporarily affect the speed of the
tune without needing to change where you’ve set the pitch control. Easy to
use controls for finding what track you want to play and where you want to
start it from (called the cue), and a clear time displays are important so you
don’t waste time wondering where you are on the CD. The design of the CD
deck isn’t so important to the beatmatching DJ. Twin CD decks and single CD
decks are both viable options for the beatmatching DJ.
Twin CD
Twin CD decks are split into two halves. The top part is a control panel, with
two sets of time displays, playback and cue controls, a pitch slider and pitch
bend, and a jog wheel for each CD player.
These controls let the beatmatching DJ find the right place in the track, start
it playing, set the pitch controls to match the beats, set any loop options,
return to the cue point, start the tune with a press of a button, and adjust the
speed briefly with the pitch bend if the beats aren’t properly matched. (See
Chapter 15 for more on pitch controls, and more info about mixing on CD.)
The controller is linked by a control cable to the other half of the unit; two
CD players that use a ‘tray’ system (like a home CD player) to take the CDs
in and out.
Twin CD with built-in mixer
You can find a few twin CD decks out there like the Numark CD MIX series
that take this design one step further, and instead of a separate twin CD unit
and a mixer, everything comes together as one piece of equipment. This
design is good on paper, but as the mixer that’s included with this kind of
setup (especially in the case of the CD MIX) is quite basic, you’ll be limiting
yourself in creativity by going down this route.
This design is fantastic for the party/wedding DJ, who only uses the mixer to
set the volumes of both the CD players, and performs a very simple, very
quick mix from one CD to the other. But because the mixer is quite basic,
(especially with the lack of EQ controls) it doesn’t give you full control over
the sound of the mix. Although this style may seem suitable when you start
as a beatmatching DJ, you’ll eventually yearn for a new mixer. The problem is
that although you can send the outputs of the CD decks to another mixer,
you’re still stuck with the entire CD and original mixer lumped together in a
big box of plastic and metal. The mixer will always be part of your set-up,
whether you use it or not.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Single CD
Single CD decks don’t tend to use the tray design that the twin units use.
Older CD decks used a top-loading design, where the top of the deck was
hinged, opening up for you to insert the CD, but the newer CD decks use a
slot on the front of the unit, which automatically takes in and ‘spits out’ the
CD using motors (similar to the CD player you may have on your car stereo).
The controls on offer on single CD decks are similar to the twin units, except
the pitch slider may be a lot longer (which offers you finer control), the
jog wheel is bigger, and you may have a host of other controls to enhance
your mixes such as loops, reverse play, sample banks, and hot-cues (see
Chapter 15).
The ease of use for cueing the track by working with the large jog wheel
instead of pressing search buttons, and the extra functions mentioned above,
all come together to give the beatmatching CD DJ a lot of creativity.
Single CD decks take up a lot more room, and although they can be mounted
and raised above the turntables to save space, they usually sit flat next to the
turntables, increasing the horizontal space needed for your DJ setup.
Scratch DJs and CD decks
Innovations in CD technology have now given the scratch DJ an avenue to
scratch on CD. But if you want to be able to scratch well on a CD, it does
come at a price.
The main thing that affects how well you’re going to be able to scratch on the
CD deck is the size of the jog wheel used to perform the scratch. Scratch DJs
need large jog wheels that they can scratch on as if it’s a normal record. This
means that the jog wheels on twin CD decks, which are sprung, and only turn
90 degrees left and right, aren’t suitable for the scratch DJ.
I’ve found that single CD decks with relatively small jog wheels, although still
used by scratch DJs, make it a lot harder to perform complicated scratches. I
prefer the pro level CD decks that come with a large jog wheel, such as the
affordable Stanton C.304, or the more expensive Pioneer CDJ-1000MKIII and
Denon DN-S3500.
CD decks that use motorised deckplatters instead of jog wheels such as the
Denon just mentioned, the Technics SL-DZ1200, and the Pioneer CDJ-1000MKIII
(which doesn’t have a motorised platter) are becoming the standard for
scratch DJs due to their similarity to vinyl turntables.
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
Looking Into the Future of Vinyl
So where does all this innovation of CD decks leave vinyl? Many say vinyl has
been on its way out since CD decks first appeared, but it still hasn’t curled up
its toes and left us just yet. The reason for that is pretty much the same
reason why club owners may choose a vinyl DJ over a CD DJ: Falling in love
with everything about vinyl is easy.
Vinyl DJs prefer the hands on approach to vinyl rather than pressing buttons;
they get off on the kudos of being the person who knows how to DJ with vinyl,
and as the technology with CDs improves, the only concession these DJs willmake is to add CD decks to their vinyl setup, and become a fuller, more wellrounded DJ that way, but they’d never replace their trusty turntables.
But how much longer vinyl stays mainstream is another question, though. Big
name DJs are swearing off vinyl and going totally CD, some clubs and pubs
only have CD decks now, (so the vinyl jocks can’t get a foot in the door), and
in some sad cases, you find turntables being used only as somewhere to sit a
pile of CDs.
Getting into MiniDisc, MP3s, and PCs
The battle between digital and analogue isn’t a two horse race anymore. CD is
definitely vinyl’s main threat, MiniDiscs may have fallen a few fences back,
but MP3s played on computers are coming up fast in the outside lane!
Remembering MiniDisc decks
MiniDisc DJ decks were pitched against CD decks for a while in the late 1990s,
sharing an almost identical design to the twin CD decks that were available.
They don’t really deserve to be relegated to a place in the DJ history books
just yet though. There was nothing wrong with them; they were actually a lot
more versatile than CD decks, because you could use one of the players as a
recorder and the other as a player, set multiple cue points and edit the tunes
and track lists at will, but as CDs had already won the home playback race by
then, and the cost of burning music to CDs was plummeting, MiniDisc never
became a serious rival.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Hybrid turntables let you have it all
The CD versus vinyl argument has had the wind
blown out of it through the release of hybrid
turntables, which play CDs and vinyl, both from
the same unit.
The turntables do come at a price (between
£500 and £700), but Numark and Gemini have
both brought out hybrid turntables that let you
use the deckplatter like a giant jog wheel to
control CDs as if they were vinyl, and when you
want to play a record, you can do so on the
same piece of equipment. Packed with effects
and features, if the DJ can afford the price that
these and future hybrid turntables demand, the
days of the separate turntable and CD player
may soon be coming to an end.
The future need for MiniDisc, apart from being used at the odd wedding or by
a party DJ, is probably as a recording medium. Take a personal MiniDisc
recorder with you when you’re DJing, plug it into the record out of a mixer,
you have an ideal medium for recording your sets.
Although MiniDisc is still more convenient than taking a CD burner into a DJ
booth to record your set, if you record a fantastic mix to MiniDisc, you still
have to play it into the PC in real time (if you recorded 60 minutes, you have
to play, and wait 60 minutes for the recording to stop) and probably through
an analogue feed, which may affect the sound quality. However, ripping a
60-minute set from a CD or recording to an MP3 recorder are both far quicker,
and sometimes better sound quality than MiniDisc (depending on your compression setting).
In a time of iPods and MP3 players, the lack of connectivity to instantly drag
a recorded mix from MiniDisc to computer to CD will always hold MiniDiscs
back from being a more popular recording format for the DJ and home market.
Wising up to MP3s
As the Internet plays a larger part in our lives, changing the way we receive
our music, our movies, and our television, MP3 has firmly taken hold as the
way to listen to and buy music. Available throughout the Internet on pay sites
(and, unfortunately, illegal sites), MP3s are a quick and cost effective way to
get your music, and with iPods becoming a style icon, MP3 is the fashionable
way to listen to music.
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
On a typical CD, you can fit only 74 minutes of CD quality music. If you burn
your MP3s onto a CD at 192 Kbps (kilobits per second) stereo (the best tradeoff for sound quality versus file size) you can get over 500 minutes worth of
good quality music stored onto CD. If taking a wallet filled with CDs to a club
changes the horizon for vinyl DJs, just think what MP3 CDs could mean! You
can walk into a club with a pair of headphones and two CD discs filled with
over 400 MP3s, and be a DJ!
MP3s are able to cut the file sizes down by compression, throwing away
sound frequencies that don’t make much of an impact on the sound quality of
the music. This method is perfectly acceptable to a lot of people, and with a
good pair of headphones on your iPod (I use the Shure E2c ear buds in case
you were wondering) you soon get used to this drop in audio quality, and
your brain adjusts to accept this level as the standard sound of the music.
In addition, MP3s are a convenient and cheap way to buy your music. iTunes
is a fantastic place to go for music because you can buy single tracks from
albums that you like instead of buying the entire album. Spending 99p on the
only track you want rather than spending £15 on the entire album saves a lot
of money.
For a similar approach aimed more towards the DJ, download sites such as
Audiojelly (www.audiojelly.com) and DJ Download (www.djdownload.
com) work in the same way as iTunes and have a large range of dance tunes
Back in the heydays of vinyl, a great deal of secrecy was behind promotional
music from record companies. Mailing lists were like a secret cult to try to
get your name on; jealousy, pride, mistrust, and lies were all born out of the
desire to try to get your name on one of these record lists so you could
receive the latest club tunes pre-release and get your hands on them before
anyone else did.
Now though, MP3 versions of new tunes, as well as CDs from companies like
PromoOnly (www.promoonly.com), are distributed to DJs for promotional
use. Unfortunately, this has opened the floodgates for people to get access to
new music illegally. Record companies send out MP3 tasters of tunes, leaving
the vinyl pressings to the chosen few, and all it takes is for one person to
grab hold of one of these, encode it to MP3, post it on the Net, and the whole
world can download it, burn it to CD, and play it in a club that night.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
This is literally putting record labels out of business, but unfortunately, the
companies are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they don’t send out
promos, no one knows how good their new tune is. If they do, people steal
the music and the record label doesn’t make any money.
The cons of using MP3s
The major downside to MP3 though is the sound quality. A 1minute, CD quality recording, (a 16-bit stereo wave file, sampled at 44.1 kHz (kilohertz)) is
around 10 Mb (megabytes) in size. A 1-minute, 128 Kbps (kilobits per second)
stereo MP3 is around 1 Mb in size, and that 9 Mb of difference does impact
the sound quality, whether you can hear it or not.
Those missing 9 Mb of information have a huge effect on how the music
sounds in a club. The low, sub-bass frequencies and the high frequencies are
the main casualties of MP3 encoding, and they’re responsible for the clarity
of the music, but more importantly, the sub-bass is what makes your whole
body shake as the bass beats thump.
Sub-woofer amplifiers and careful attention to EQ settings can emulate this
sub-bass information from what frequencies are left, but this emulation is still
nowhere near to the original bass on a record or CD.
The end result of using highly compressed MP3s in a big club is that the
sound can have a muddy, thin sound to it, missing the warmth and depth that
makes music so good to listen to at such high volumes. Highly compressed
MP3s can be harder to EQ (alter the bass, high, and mid frequencies) properly, and the bad sound can enter the crowd’s sub-conscious, so they feel
that you’re not as good as other DJs, even if your skills are just the same.
Mixing with iPods
Until recently, mixing with Apple’s iPod MP3 players used to be a simple case
of plugging the headphone outputs of two iPods into a mixer, using the click
wheel on the iPod to find, cue, and start a tune, and then using the cross-fader
on a mixer to change from iPod to iPod. This was OK if you were just a party
DJ, changing simply from one tune to the other without beat matching, but it
was useless for the club DJ.
Spotting a gap in the market, Numark saw that DJs wanted to use iPods, and
designed the iDJ mixer. With the release of the iDJ2, you can adjust the pitch
(which changes the speed) of the tunes playing from your iPod, and you only
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
need one iPod to play from, saving you money, and the hassle of needing two
iTunes libraries on your computer. With the option to add hard drives (using
the USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection) and memory sticks, the iDJ2
allows DJs to play two tunes from one iPod at the same time, scratch the
music, and see the music as a waveform on a large LCD screen. In my opinion, this shows that Numark excel because they listen to what DJs need, and
release good kit in response.
Mixing on PC
Mixing on your PC and laptop DJing used to be confined to the bedroom and
to some very innovative DJs. Both these types of people were looked upon as
a bit mad, and would sometimes suffer from PC gremlins at inopportune
moments. As software and hardware developments marry into the massive
availability of music on MP3, the biggest problem with laptop DJing in a nightclub right now is convincing the club owner to let you do it.
Due to a handful of disadvantages, such as the fact that performing with a PC
or Mac lacks the excitement of using vinyl (ten times worse than with CD
decks!), problems connecting and fitting equipment into the DJ booth, and
the fear that your laptop may crash halfway through a mix because of the
heat, sweat, and beer, you can find that clubs are reluctant to let the PC DJ
show their skills.
Fortunately, the flipside of this is that the convenience of DJing from a laptop
means that pubs and parties are starting to embrace this new technology, for
better or for worse. Recently, I’ve seen more and more pubs where the only
music setup they have is an Apple PowerBook or a laptop sitting in the
corner of the bar, hooked into the amplifier. Whether they’re simply playing
music out of iTunes with cross-fade turned on, or playing out pre-mixed sets
from the hard drive, replacing the DJ with a computer and reclaiming the
space means that DJs are starting to be measured in gigahertz and version
numbers rather than skill, knowledge, and (importantly) pay cheques.
Fortunately, clubs still recognise the need for someone to adapt and control
the night, and don’t seem to have tried to get away with this particular modus
operandi yet. But already, you can find that a lot of real DJs out there are
losing work due to the boss and his automix laptop at the end of the bar.
Software only
Although most DJ software comes with hardware controllers, the mouse and
the keyboard can be used to control your mix just as well.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Figure 7-2: A
BPM Studio
I’ve found that most programs, such as BPM Studio (see Figure 7-2), Virtual
DJ 3, PCDJ, Pioneer’s new DJS software, and Traktor all contain the three
major areas for DJing; playback control, file library, and the mixer. How each
of these titles lets you control these three areas is what separates one from
the other, but they’re usually laid out in a similar way, only the graphics and
functionality differ:
The controls are laid out in a similar fashion to the controls on a twin CD
player. All the normal playback, cue, and pitch controls are there for you
to adjust using mouse clicks and keyboard strokes.
The library is where you load in the tunes (from CD, or MP3 files on the
hard drive, and so on) to play in the mix.
The mixer is how you change from one tune to the other. Depending on
what software you buy, the mixer may be very simple and simply a
means to change from one tune to the other, or a very complicated one
that gives you full control over the mix, and the sound of the mix.
Other features like BPM (beats per minute) counters, loop controls,
wave displays, effects, and sample banks are all unique in design and
how they’re used to the particular title of software.
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
The actual mix from track to track is almost identical to using CD decks (see
Chapter 15 for more detailed information on mixing with CD). The mixing
process goes like this:
1. Load a track into the onscreen player you wish to use.
2. Find, and set a cue point for the start of the track.
3. Play the track, and set the pitch using the onscreen pitch fader.
4. Return to the cue point, then press ‘Play’ to start the track playing
when you want it to start.
5. Use the pitch bend buttons to get the beats to play in time if they start
to drift apart.
6. When you wish to mix from track to track, press ‘Auto Mix’ if that’s an
option to perform a preset length of mix from track to track or, to control the mix properly, drag the onscreen cross-fader from one side to
the other.
The mixer
The mixer is normally where software is let down. The more complicated and
powerful the software that you buy, the better control you have over the tunes
and the sound of the mix. Effects, beat counters, and Master Tempo are very
useful, but if you don’t have full control over the mix from one tune to the
other, you won’t be able to realise your full creative potential in the first place.
Make sure that you can change the volume of each tune you play independently, and can change the EQ of each track separately.
Hardware controllers
To make controlling the playback of the tunes a lot easier, and also make DJing
with the PC look a lot more like conventional DJing, hardware controllers are
available to control the software. These controllers can be quite expensive
though, and sometimes don’t include hardware to emulate the mixer, so you
still have to use the keyboard/mouse to mix from one track to the other.
Each software title has a range of different controllers that you can use with
their programs, so check out their Web sites before buying the software to
see what’s available to you.
Futureproofing with Live and Traktor
Nearly all software DJ solutions emulate a twin CD set-up like BPM Studio.
This is great for mixing from one tune to the other, but Live by Ableton (for
Mac OS and PC Windows) uses more of a sequencer approach to put together
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
the mix, taking mixing on PC (or Mac) a step further by allowing the DJ to
remix any of the tunes live, during the mix.
Live has been designed to be used through each stage of the musical process;
so you create the music, and then perform that creation to the crowd as a DJ.
The software is so versatile that the DJ using Live can remix the tunes ‘onthe-fly’, live to the crowd and add MIDI (musical instrument digital interface)
controllable instruments to the mix, to create a completely unique remix, and
a DJ set that nobody else has ever heard, or may ever hear again.
You need to do a fair bit of prep-work before you can beatmatch with Live,
which is one argument that some people have against using it to DJ with.
Instead of having a pitch control to affect the speed of your tracks, Live uses
a warp function that helps to change the tempo of the tune. The warped
songs in Live are linked to the program’s internal BPM clock, so changing the
BPM of a tune from 135 BPM to 138 BPM is effortless, and takes no time at all
during a performance. For this technique to be effortless, you need to give
the software reference points to know how to adjust a tune’s BPM quickly,
and in Live, these are called warp markers, which you add to the waveform
display in the Live software.
The set-up process sounds quite complicated, but it’s not. If you ripped your
entire CD collection into Live for a mix, you would need to take a little time to
analyse the tracks, and prepare each of the songs with warp markers in order
for Live to be able to change the BPM when you’re beatmatching.
Many people accuse Live DJs of cheating, lacking the skill to beatmatch, and
say that sets performed on Live are preconceived, and no better than a mix
tape played through the sound system. Sasha, John Digweed, and Gabriel &
Dresden are typical of the DJs that use Live: they’ve all proven that they’re
already masters of their craft, and use Live to expand their creativity, rather
than cheat the DJ skills. Because the beatmatching is essentially done for you
by Live, the DJ is left to focus more on what tunes they want to mix, how the
mixes between tunes are put together, and create the effects and track layering that build up a unique sound to the mix.
A whole host of controllers and options are available for whatever stage of
the music process you use Live for, so you aren’t faced with a DJ staring at an
iMac, clicking a mouse. With audio interfaces and controllers for making
music, and mixer and output interfaces to control Live for DJ performances,
no one can be accused of lacking in aesthetics when using a computer with
Live and a few controllers attached to it.
Chapter 7: Keeping Up with the Techno-Revolution
Sasha has fully embraced Live for DJing, using a custom-designed controller
(which he’s called ‘The Maven’) and (currently) an iMac G5. With other big
name DJs also getting the Live bug, it seems that Ableton’s Live software
looks to become one of the industry standards for computer DJing. Check out
www.ableton.com for more information.
For DJs who still prefer a bit more control over the music they use, Traktor by
Native Instruments is definitely emerging as a leader. The interface is similar to
the other software titles (like BPM Studio and PCDJ), but Traktor takes everything to a new level. By offering four players (instead of two on some other
titles), you can mix four tracks at the same time, or drop in samples (play sections of other tunes or sound clips) over an existing mix and transform an ordinary tune into something spectacular that no one has ever heard before.
Where the mixer has been the letdown on some of the other software titles,
Traktor really has this part of the interface licked. With an initial design
based on the fantastic Allen & Heath Xone:92 mixer, the mixer section of
Traktor already offers you everything you need to control the sound of the
mix. But Traktor takes it a step further by letting you switch individual channels on the mixer so their EQ sections emulate the Pioneer DJM-600 and Ecler
Nuo4! Traktor truly caters for the fussy DJ who prefers a certain sound to the
mix and can be left frustrated by the sound control of other software titles.
With a host of controllers to make the DJing experience a performance as
well as something technically fascinating, Traktor is sure to find a place as
the cream of the DJ emulation systems.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Chapter 8
Stirring It Up with Mixers
In This Chapter
Finding out about the mixer’s most common features
Looking at the advanced options available
Choosing the right mixer for your DJ style
Keeping your mixer in tip-top condition
ixers are a very demanding breed of animal. They come with many
functions and features, and can manipulate the music in many ways,
but in the end, mixers only do what you tell them to do.
This chapter explains how the vital controls on a mixer function and how
they relate to your DJ mixing style. Understanding that much sets you on
your way to buying the right mixer.
Getting Familiar with Mixer Controls
In your journey as a DJ, you’ll come across a vast range of mixers. Some you
may already know about, and some you won’t ever have seen before. If you
understand what the features are on a mixer, and how to use them, you need
never accidentally press the wrong button and cut out the sound.
Well, maybe never is too strong a word . . .
The common DJ mixer accepts three different input methods:
Phono inputs for turntables.
MIC inputs for microphones.
Line inputs for everything else.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Some digital mixers also have USB and Firewire inputs to connect digital
sources (such as CD, MiniDisc, and PC inputs) and keep the music playing at
the best possible quality. For information on how to connect these, and the
standard inputs mentioned above, head to Chapter 11.
Records are recorded in a special way in order to fit all the information onto
the vinyl. The mixer needs to translate the signal it receives from the
turntable in a completely different way to a CD player or any other device,
and it is the phono input that is used for this translation.
All other equipment (CD players, MiniDisc players, MP3 players, the audio
output from your computer and DVD player and so on) sends out a Line
signal to the mixer. When you want to use any of these, you use the Line input
on the mixer.
Both input channels on a two-channel mixer have a line and a phono input
connection. This means that you can connect two turntables and two CD
players to a two-channel mixer, and use the Line/Phono switch that selects
whether to use the CD player or turntable input for either channel.
As well as accepting playback devices like turntables and CD players, most
mixers also have XLR or 1⁄4-inch jack inputs for connecting a microphone.
There’s usually a separate volume and EQ (equaliser) control (to affect the
bass, mid, or high frequencies in your voice) so that you can sound great
speaking to the crowd.
Basic mixers usually have two outputs, with the better ones having at least
three outputs.
Master Out is connected to an amplifier. The LED display on the mixer
relates to how strong a music signal you’re sending to the amplifier. The
stronger the signal, the less you have to turn up the amplifier. Too strong
a signal though, and you may cause the sound to distort because the
amplifier can’t process it properly.
Record Out is for sending music to a recording device. The output LEDs
on the mixer have no bearing on how strong a signal you send to a
recording device (tape recorder, CD recorder, PC, and so on) through this
connection. Only the channel-faders (the vertical faders) and the gain control (which changes how strong a signal comes in from the turntables or
CD players) affect the level of signal you send to a recording device.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
Booth Out is for sending to a separate speaker in the DJ booth so that
you can hear the music too! This is vital in a large club where the main
speakers are far away. The delay in sound between those speakers and
your ears can make beatmatching very difficult.
For more on each of these outputs, and how to connect them to their
intended recipients, check out Chapter 11.
Multiple channels
Although you can have two turntables and two CD players plugged into a two
channel mixer and flick from Line to Phono, having a dedicated channel for
each input is more convenient.
You also need more than two channels on your mixer if you want to use three
CDs or three turntables because you can’t plug a turntable into the Line
input, and you can’t plug a CD deck into the Phono input on a mixer. You can
buy a converter that changes a phono signal into a line signal, so you can
have one turntable in the phono input, and another in the line input of one
channel, but it’s a lot of trouble, expense, and potential confusion.
A mixer with three or four inputs can cater to most DJs’ needs, and if you
need more than four channels to use all your equipment, I’d be more worried
about the electricity bills than where to plug it all in!
The cross-fader (see Figure 8-1) is a simple horizontal slider that enables you
to change the output of the mixer from one input device to another – from
what you’re currently playing to music playing into another channel of the
mixer. The cross-fader is a lot like the control on your shower that lets you
adjust how much hot and cold water comes out. You can have only cold, only
hot, and many, many different combinations in between.
Figure 8-1:
A crossfader on
a mixer.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
After you’ve towelled off thoroughly, go to your DJ setup. Tune A plays into
Channel 1 on a two-channel mixer (and is usually the turntable or CD deck
positioned on the left side of the mixer) and Tune B plays into Channel 2 (on
the right-hand side of the mixer).
With the cross-fader positioned to the far left, you only hear Tune A. When
the cross-fader is all the way to the right, all you hear is Tune B.
However, the cross-fader comes into its own when it’s anywhere in between.
If the cross-fader is in the middle, the output of the mixer is both Tune A and
Tune B, and if the cross-fader is to the left of middle, you can hear more of
Tune A than Tune B (and vice versa).
How much louder Tune A is than Tune B is dictated by something called the
cross-fader curve. The cross-fader curve controls how quickly one tune gets
louder as the other one gets quieter when you move the cross-fader from
side to side. The following figures show some common cross-fader curves
you’ll encounter. Figure 8-2 shows a simple cross-fader curve.
Figure 8-2:
A simple
cross-fader A
At Position 1 marked on the cross-fader, Channel 1 is at full, Channel 2 is
By Position 2, both tunes are playing at around 90 per cent of their loudest volume.
By Position 3, Channel 2 is at its loudest, and Channel 1 is silent.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
The cross-fader curve in Figure 8-3 helps to stop both your tunes blaring out
of the speakers simultaneously at near to full volume.
At Position 1, Channel 1 is full, Channel 2 is off.
At Position A, Channel 1 is still full; Channel 2 is starting to come in
(playing at about 10 per cent of its full volume by this stage).
At Position 2, both tunes are at 80 per cent of their normal volume.
By Position B, Channel 2 is now playing at full volume, and Channel 1 is
playing at 10 per cent volume.
And by Position 3, Channel 2 is playing at full volume, with Channel 1
Figure 8-3:
A faster
cut-in on the
cross-fader A
Although this curve is similar to the first example, the straight line in the
‘curve’ gradually brings in one tune while removing the other one, whereas
the swooping curve in the first example kept the tunes playing together for
longer at a higher volume level.
Figure 8-4 shows the cross-fader curve preferred by many scratch DJs due to
the speed at which the second tune can be cut in (made audible) at full volume.
Position 1 shows Channel 1 playing full, Channel 2 is off.
At Position A, both channels are playing full volume, and it only took a
small amount of cross-fader movement to get there.
This situation stays constant until Position B.
At position 3, Channel 2 is full, and Channel 1 has been removed.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Figure 8-4:
The more
curve for Tune
the cross- A
You can also get a straight X-shape curve, which fades one tune out while
bringing the other tune in at exactly the same ratio throughout the move. If
Tune A is playing at 10 per cent, Tune B is at 90 per cent – if Tune A is at 73
per cent, Tune B plays at 27 per cent, and so on. (That’s likely to be the crossfader curve of your shower control, too.)
A number of mixers come with just one kind of cross-fader curve, but most
mid- to high-range mixers have a way to change the cross-fader curve by
selecting pre-defined curves with a switch, or with a control that enables you
to create any kind of curve you like.
Channel-faders are the up and down faders that control how loud the music
comes out of the mixer when the cross-fader is all the way over to one side,
allowing the full power of a channel to play.
Taking another visit to your bathroom, think of channel-faders like the taps on
the bathroom shower. Even though the water mixer (the cross-fader) is set to
only let out cold water, if you don’t turn on the cold tap, nothing comes out.
So although the cross-fader lets you mix hot and cold water to the perfect
temperature through the showerhead, the channel-faders control how much
hot and how much cold water is available to mix together in the first place.
Getting back into the DJ booth then, the ability to vary the volume of the two
channels, as well as mixing with the cross-fader gives incredibly precise control over the mix. If you use the channel-faders in conjunction with the crossfader to their extremes, you get the kind of curve shown in Figure 8-5.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
Figure 8-5:
The crossfader curves
when the
channelfaders are
used as well
as the
Chapter 15 covers how to use your channel-faders to help your mixes sound
really professional.
Headphone monitoring
The headphone section on the mixer is simple, but extremely important. Plug
your headphones into the quarter-inch jack socket (if you’re using a mini-jack,
which is on the end of your iPod headphones, you need a converter from the
mini jack to quarter-inch jack to do this). Use the headphone volume control
(which doesn’t need to be set to full, please) along with the cue controls to
listen to individual channels on your mixer (or a few of them together at the
same time).
Headphone cue controls can be split into two functions:
Choosing what plays into your headphones.
Controlling how you hear the music in your headphones.
Each channel on the mixer has a Cue or PFL (pre-fade listen) button assigned
to it. When you press it, you can listen to the music in that channel without
having to play it through the main speakers. This function means that you
can listen to any combination of any of the channels on the mixer at any one
time. You can listen to Channel 1 on its own or with Channel 2 playing at the
same time — or have Channels 1, 2, 3, and 4 all playing in the headphones.
That might not sound very good, though.
For beatmatching DJs, headphones are used to find the start point of the
next tune you want to play (called the cue), and they’re also used to make
sure that the beats of both tunes are playing at the same time. This is called
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
beatmatching, and it is the fundamental concept of DJing. Go to Chapter 12 to
discover how the headphones are used to enable the DJ to do this, and how
the following ways of listening to music in the headphones can give you more
control over the beatmatching process:
Headphone Mix enables you to play both tunes in stereo in your headphones, and a mini cross-fader or rotary knob gives you control over
how loud each tune plays over the other (exactly like a cross-fader,
except for your headphones). This function is especially useful because
you can check how the two tunes sound playing together before letting
the dance floor hear, and check that the beats of both tunes really are
playing in time.
Split Cue sends one selected channel into the left earpiece of the headphones, and another one into the right earpiece (as if you are listening
to one tune in the headphones and have one ear to the dance floor).
This feature is a lifesaver when you don’t have a monitor (speaker) in
the DJ booth and the delay in sound from the dance floor speakers
makes it hard to check if the bass beats are playing at the same time.
EQs and kills
The EQ controls on a mixer enable you to increase or decrease three broad
musical frequency bands: high, mid, and low. The amount of change is measured in decibels (abbreviated as dB), and although mixers let you increase
the EQ bands by +12 dB or more, the amount they take out is actually of more
importance to the DJ.
A cut setting on an EQ pot (a professional term for any rotary knob) removes
the EQ frequency band from the tune completely. So when you cut the bass
from a tune, all you hear is the tinny hi-hats (the tchsss tchsss sound made by
the cymbals on a drum kit) and the mid-range (which carries the vocals and
main melody of a tune).
The difference between an EQ pot and a kill switch is that an EQ enables the
DJ to vary the amount of frequency cut out, from just a little to the entire
band, whereas a kill switch instantly removes the bass frequency at the push
of a button, and then puts it back in when pressed again. No grey areas here!
EQs on a mixer serve two purposes. Firstly, they let you make the tune you’re
playing sound great; if the bass is too loud through the speakers, you can
reduce it using the Bass EQ, and if the music sounds a little too shrill, reducing the high and mid controls can fix the problem.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
But apart from sound processing, EQs are essential for the seamless mix
DJ who wants the transition (mix) between tunes to be as unnoticeable as
possible. If you get a chance to study DJs such as Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto,
and Sasha closely, you can see just how much they use the EQs to aid their
mixes. Chapter 14 has a whole section dedicated to using EQs to create
seamless mixes, and Chapter 20 has a section about adjusting the overall
sound from the mixer with EQs.
Input VU monitoring
Your mixer has a VU display to show the strength of the signal going out of the
mixer, and an important enhancement of this feature is the option of checking
the strength of the signal coming in to the mixer.
The normal output display is two lines of LED lights, one showing the
strength of the left hand side of the stereo music, the other showing the right
hand side. Some mixers offer the DJ an option to change this display into the
left line of LEDs showing the input strength of Channel 1, and the right line
displaying Channel 2’s input strength. Or, in the case of mixers like Pioneer’s
DJM-600, a separate line of LEDs next to each channel’s EQ controls shows
the strength of the input signal – leaving the Master Output display to always
show how strong a signal you’re sending out of the mixer.
Gain controls
Gain controls are wrongly seen by many as just another volume control. Don’t
regard them as a way to affect the volume coming out of the mixer, look at
them as a way to affect the music coming in to the mixer.
If the input level LED for Channel 1 is at 0 dB, occasionally flashing into the
red +3 dB area, and Channel 2’s LEDs show that its input signal is well below 0
dB, you use the gain control to increase the input level of Channel 2 to match
Channel 1. If you mix from Channel 1 to Channel 2 without matching the input
levels, you’ll notice a drop in volume even with both channel-faders set to full.
If you can get this level right at the input stage, rather than worrying about it
at the output stage when it’s too late, you’re using the gain control correctly.
Gain control is especially important for scratch DJs, who need to be able to
max out their channel-faders (put them up to full) and have confidence that
the volume of both tracks are identical.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
If your bass EQ is set to cut, or kill when checking the channel’s input level, it
can appear a lot weaker than it really is. When you then bring the bass frequencies back into the music, your speakers won’t be very happy with you, because
you’ll be playing far too loudly, and may damage your equipment (or at the
very least, your reputation!). For a detailed description on how to match the
input levels to create an even volume to the mix, head to Chapter 17.
Balance and pan controls
The balance control alters which speaker the sound comes from. When the
control is to the left, music only comes out of the left speaker, the reverse for
the right-hand side, and when the control is in the middle, music comes out
through both speakers, much like the balance on your home stereo.
However, some mixers have balance controls (sometimes called pan controls)
on each channel rather than having a control that affects the mixer’s Master
Output. Why do you want balance controls on each channel? Sometimes (for
example), if you have one channel panned all the way to the left, and another
all the way to the right, and bring the cross-fader into the middle, the effect of
having one tune playing in one ear, and another in the other ear can sound
really good (if you’ve chosen the right tunes and both bass beats are playing
at the same time). This feature works well with plain beats, especially if you
constantly change the balance settings during the mix.
Hamster switch
Mixers used by scratch DJs often have a hamster switch, which simply
reverses the control of the cross-fader (but the channel-faders remain the
same). So instead of hearing Channel 1 when the cross-fader is all the way to
the left, you now hear Channel 2, and vice versa.
This is useful from a body mechanics point of view. You can perform some of
the scratch moves (such as the crab and the twiddle, described in Chapter 16)
faster if the cross-fader is ‘bounced’ off the thumb (which is a quarter of the
way along the cross-fader slot) and the end of the cross-fader slot to cut the
music in and out very quickly. Some moves are quite uncomfortable for a lot
of DJs because the standard mixer set-up means twisting their wrists, so the
hamster switch sets the mixer to make these moves a lot easier, and more
comfortable to perform.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
In case you’re wondering, it’s not called a hamster switch because a hamster
chewed through the cables to reverse the control (which crossed my mind).
It’s named after The Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters who used to connect the
decks up to the mixer the wrong way round in order to reverse the normal
channel and cross-fader set-up.
Punch and transform controls
If you have the cross-fader completely on Channel 2 (what I call closed off
onto Channel 2), pressing the punch button changes the output to Channel 1
until released. Note, however, that some mixers don’t take account of where
you leave the channel-faders, only where you set the gain controls, so make
sure you set those gain controls properly, otherwise you may experience a
huge drop (or rise) in volume when you punch in the other channel!
Transform controls were designed as an advancement to the technique of cutting a mixer’s channel in and out of the mix (quickly hearing it, then not hearing
it) using the Line/Phono switch. When using turntables, flick this switch over
to Line and the music cuts out (for CD, flick it to Phono). The problem is that
you often hear a clicking or popping sound when you switch, so Transform
controls were designed to do the same thing, but won’t pop or click when you
use them. (If nothing is playing through the other channel, the punch button
punches in silence in much the same way as this transform control.)
Effects Send and Return
The Effects Send and Return enables you to send just one channel from the
mixer to be processed by an external effects processor (like the Pioneer EFX1000, for example), to add whatever groovy effects you want, then it’s returned
in the blink of an eye for you to use it in the mix. All the while, the other channels on the mixer are unaffected. A detailed description of how the Send and
Return inputs and outputs connect to an effects processor is in Chapter 11. I
cover the kinds of effects available in the following section, but check out
www.recess.co.uk for a run down of different effects processors available.
Built-in effects
Although some mixers offer sound effects such as sirens and horns, I don’t
really mean this type of effect. Rather than having to use an external effects
processor, mixers like the Pioneer DJM-600 have built-in effects such as
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
flanger, echo, delay, transform, pitch, loop, and reverb assignable (able to add
the effect) to each channel or the Master Output. These additions are a great
way of making the music sound different to how it was originally recorded.
The most common effects you find on mixers are:
Delay repeats a selected part of the tune while the rest of the tune is still
playing. Especially useful for repeating musical hooks in quieter parts of
tracks or for doubling-up bass beats to play three bass beats where only
two would normally play.
Echo is similar to the Delay feature, except the music fades away when
repeating to create an echo effect. Useful again in quieter parts of the
tune (or that the very end of your DJ set).
Auto Pan automatically changes sounds back and forth between left and
right speakers.
Auto Transformer cuts the entire sound in and out at a speed you set. I
love using this to create a stuttering effect as the music builds up or
during a scratch (see Chapter 16 for how to manually perform a
Filter manipulates the sound frequencies of the music to alter its tonal
quality by removing then replacing a range of frequencies. The filter isn’t
the same as using the EQs on the mixer to kill and replace frequencies
though, because a specific sound is also added to it.
If you’ve ever been to the beach and held a shell to your ear to hear the
sea, you’ll recognise that the sweeping effect added to the music while
the filter removes and replaces the music is much the same as the resonation of ambient sound you hear from the shell – as if the shell had a
tiny DJ crab inside it, playing music . . .
The filter effect doesn’t always sweep in and out. Certain filters enable
you to select a certain range of frequencies, add the resonating filter
effect, then keep the music in that same state until the filter is turned off,
or altered.
Flanger makes a ‘swooshy’ sound like playing music through a jet engine
while it climbs and falls, while retaining the full frequency range (and
usually boosting the bass frequencies) of the music. The most over-used
effect ever (but really cool the first time you use it!).
Reverb adds reverberation to the music so that it sounds as if you’re
playing in a massive hall. Turn it up to full, and the sound is like listening
to music in the toilets at a club.
Pitch Shifter can change the pitch of the music. Useful to try to match
the pitch of another tune, but mixers vary in their ability to do this.
You may encounter other built-in effects, as well, of course. This list of effects
is taken from the Pioneer DJM-600 that I use.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
Built-in samplers
Samplers are available as external machines (often in combination with an
effects processor), but a built-in sampler is great because it enables you to
take a short vocal sample or a few bars of beats from a tune and extend or
introduce a mix by playing these samples.
An example of where this feature has been used is in the 1990s song
‘Nighttrain’ by Kadoc. At the very beginning of the record, the guy says
‘All aboard, the Nighttrain’. By recording that vocal sample into the sampler,
and playing it way before you start the mix, you create anticipation of what’s
yet to come. I used to do this as a scratch (see Chapter 16 for how), but the
sampler made this a lot easier and simpler to do.
The better samplers have loop controls on them, where the sample you take is
looped seamlessly over and over again, meaning you can really extend the mix.
A good use of this technique is to record four bars of beats into the sampler
and loop them to extend the outro of a tune, or to add beats over a breakdown
to keep the energy of the dance floor going.
Built-in beat counters
Beat counters give you a visual display of how many beats in a minute there
are in the tune you’re playing. Two channel mixers with built-in beat counters
have a counter for each channel. Multiple channel mixers can have a counter
for each channel, or two counters that you can assign (choose to use) to any
channel you like. By comparing the BPMs (beats per minute) of two tunes
using the beat counter, you know how much to speed up or slow down the
next tune to match the BPM of the one currently playing, which is the basis
of beatmatching. (See Figure 8-6 for an example of a built-in beat counter.)
A beat counter that displays the BPM to one decimal point (for example,
132.7 BPM) is more accurate than one that only shows whole numbers. If one
tune is playing at 131.6 BPM and another is playing at 132.4, and the counter
simply rounds up and down those figures to show them both as 132 BPM, it’s
actually wrong by 0.8 BPM, which is a huge difference when beatmatching.
Beat counters can be a real help to the beginner to let them understand
what’s happening with the beats, and tune their ear to gauge when a tune is
running too fast or too slow, but they can also be a real hindrance. If you’re
going to refer to a beat counter as you develop your beatmatching skills,
you need the discipline not to rely on it. Otherwise, the first time you stand
behind a mixer that doesn’t have a beat counter (which is going to be quite
often in clubs), and are expected to beatmatch using just your ears, you’ll
find it very hard and possibly get into a lot of trouble!
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Figure 8-6: A
built-in beat
counter on
the Pioneer
Beat light indicators
Similar to beat counters, in that they help beatmatching by giving you a
visual representation of the bass beat, beat light indicators are little LED lights
that flash in time with the beat of the tune. By looking at the lights of two
tunes flashing together (or not together), you can tell if the beats are playing
at the same time.
Beat light indicators are very nice to watch in the dark, but personally, I think
that they’re next to useless when compared to your ears.
Fader starts
Found mostly when you use a Pioneer mixer in conjunction with Pioneer CDJ
decks, the fader start control enables you to start a CD playing simply by
moving the cross-fader, rather than having to go to all the trouble of pressing
Play. Sarcasm aside, the fader start is a fantastic feature for doing some basic
forward scratches with.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
For normal mixing though, I’d still rather press Play on the CD deck and then
move the fader for the smooth fade, or move the fader into the middle and
then press Play for the instant start. But the fader start can be useful if both
of your hands are taken up using the EQs to make the mix sound as smooth
as possible, and (like me) the CD decks are the furthest away on your DJ setup, meaning you have to move and reach to start the CD.
Choosing the Right Mixer
Different mixers suit different kinds of DJs. If you’re looking to spend a lot of
money on your mixer, make sure that you’re buying one with the right functions on it depending on your mixing style:
The seamless mix DJ needs a mixer that helps every mix sound perfect
by controlling the sound levels and the sound frequencies of each tune
during the mix.
The scratch DJ needs to chop and change from track to track using a
slick cross-fader on the mixer.
The effects DJ isn’t content with the sound of the tunes as the original
producers intended, and wants the option to add a series of different
sounds and effects to the music, making a new sound unique to that performance.
The wedding DJ uses a mixer as a means to change between a wide
range of different styles of music.
The seamless mix DJ
The club or house mixer is used by house DJs, trance DJs, drum-and-bass DJs,
anyone who wants full control of how the music sounds when they’re mixing,
to create the best transition from one tune to another. So another name for
this type of DJ is a seamless mix DJ.
If you’re a seamless mix DJ, the important extra features you need on your
mixer are:
EQs to fully control the sound of each tune, with the ability to cut or kill
the frequencies to help tidy up the mix.
Multiple channels so that you can use more than two CD decks, MP3
players, or turntables at the same time.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Headphone monitoring, which needs to be as comprehensive as possible, with headphone mix, and ideally split cue for when no DJ booth
monitor is available.
Easy-to-use (and see) metering that shows the input level strength as
well as the mixer’s output level.
Beat counters and built-in effects, though not essential, are a great tool
for the seamless DJ.
The house mixer can be quite large, and has the controls spread out to
remove the risk of accidentally pressing something if the mixer controls were
crammed together.
The scratch DJ
Although the mixers used by the seamless mix DJ can be used by scratch
DJs, battle mixers are mixers designed specifically for scratching. With only
two channels, they make good use of space to allow the DJ unobstructed
control of the channel-faders, and of a robust, fluid cross-fader.
Although by no means essential, extra controls such as punch and transform
buttons, along with hamster switches and cross-fader curve controls, are
becoming standard tools for the scratch DJ. You can find built-in effects and
BPM counters on a lot of scratch mixers, though I think that I’d fall over if I
had to use all that lot, and scratch at the same time!
The design of the battle mixer is as important as the features it offers (see
Figure 8-7). Because the most important controls on a scratch mixer are the
cross-fader and the channel-faders, these three controls take up a lot of space
and are kept clear of any obstructions. To this end, the headphone input is
located on the front of the mixer (often along with the cross-fader curve
adjust) so it’s not poking up from the mixer, where you’re going to smack it
with your hands one day! Screws are handily recessed into the face plate, too;
if you’ve ever caught your hand on a ragged screw when moving quickly from
deck to mixer, the blood all over the mixer has shown you exactly why!
The most important part of any battle mixer is the cross-fader and how it performs. Because you make a lot of fast movements with the fader when
scratching, any resistance on the cross-fader is not a good thing, so you need
to have as slick and fluid a cross-fader as possible, and a few mixers, such as
the DJM-909, take this feature to a new level by offering a control to adjust
the feel (how stiff it is) of the fader while you’re scratching.
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
Figure 8-7:
The Vestax
Note the
input on the
Scratching is incredibly taxing on a cross-fader, so it needs to be durable and
replaceable (or at least cleanable until you can afford a new cross-fader). New
designs of non-contact, optical, and magnetic cross-faders from manufacturers such as Rane and Stanton are increasing the lifespan, durability, and ease
of use of the cross-fader. But don’t worry, the standard cross-fader on a battle
mixer is good enough for developing the basic skills.
The effects DJ
The EQs and design of the club mixer mentioned for the seamless DJ are perfect for the effects DJ, although frequently, the effects DJ demands more than
the built-in effects available on the club mixer.
In this case, the send and return function on the mixer (see the section
‘Effects Send and Return’ earlier in this chapter on this function), is especially important. This function enables you to send individual channels to
an effects processor and add whatever effects you want, without having to
effect the entire output of the mixer.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Manufacturers like Pioneer design their top range equipment to work
together in harmony to make life easier for the effects DJ, as is the case
with the CDJ-1000 CD decks, the EFX-1000 effects processor, and the DJM-800
mixer. By connecting together these items, the effects DJ can create effects,
set start and loop points on CDs, and control how they’re started, mixed,
and effected solely from the mixer, rather than needing to work all the
different controls on three different pieces of equipment during an important mix.
For the gadget-driven effects DJ with a hundred things happening at the same
time, this alternative is a real advantage (until the day Pioneer release a
Human-Third-Arm gadget that you plug into your belly button . . .).
The party/wedding DJ
As a party and wedding DJ, it’s more about the music you play rather than the
way you mix it together, and as such, you don’t need an expensive, featureladen mixer. If you have more than two CD players or turntables, then multiple channels can be useful, but you normally have a simple set-up.
EQ controls on the microphone are important to help to sharpen your voice
as you talk over the music, enabling you to control the evening with clarity. It
goes without saying, that the microphone you use should be a good quality
one in the first place. One of the workhorse microphones that (in my opinion)
you’ll never go wrong buying is the Shure SM58; it sounds great, is simple to
connect, and it’s almost indestructible (though please don’t try to prove me
Controlling the sound using EQs when mixing from tune to tune to make it
seamless isn’t such an important feature for the party DJ compared to the
seamless DJ. However, EQs can help remove some bass or add some high
frequencies when you’re trying to overcome bad sound in different sizes of
hall. A global EQ on the amp, which just affects the entire sound output, is
probably enough, but you can also consider the option to change the sound
for each tune played.
Built-in beat counters are all but redundant, because the party set list has
wide-ranging BPMs. From Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ at 64 BPM to Ricky Martin’s
‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ at 178 BPM, the BPM variance is so large, that there’s
no way you can try to beatmatch them!
Chapter 8: Stirring It Up with Mixers
As to built-in effects, apart from using the reverb effect on your voice when
speaking to the people on the dance floor, they won’t be of much use at a
party. Although I’d love to hear a flanger effect running through ‘Build me
up Buttercup’. . .
Servicing Your Mixer
Although your turntable or CD player is the piece of equipment with the most
moving mechanical parts, the piece that’s most likely to suffer from problems
first – if you don’t keep it clean and treat it well – is your mixer.
You need to look at two things in order to keep your mixer in proper working
condition. Clean all the dust away from the rotary controls, and clean and
lubricate the faders.
You need the following tools to clean your mixer properly:
A can of compressed air
A screwdriver
Follow these steps to clean your mixer:
1. If you can pull the knobs off the rotary controls on the mixer, take
them all off at the same time, place them next to the mixer, and lay
them out in the order that they’ve come off, so that you can replace
each knob on its respective control.
2. After you remove all the knobs, spray around each of the controls
with the compressed air to blow away any dust that may be lodged in
them. You may also want to wipe the mixer carefully with a lint-free
cloth to remove any stubborn dust particles after spraying.
3. If you have a mixer that enables you remove the channel-faders as
well as the cross-fader, use a screwdriver to take out the faders one at
a time (so you don’t mix up where they should be replaced). After you
have the faders out of the mixer, blow the compressed air into every
crevice in the fader to get out any dirt and dust. Then spray the fader
with a lubricant, and replace it back into the mixer.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Some lubricants also clean the faders by dissolving any dirt that may
have worked its way deep into the fader, which causes crackles and
sound bleeding (hearing the music quietly when it should be silent).
However, sometimes your faders still make crackle noises, are too stiff,
and start to malfunction, in which case you can buy replacement faders
from your preferred DJ store.
4. If your mixer doesn’t have removable channel-faders, and they sound
crackly, try spraying first compressed air and then cleaning lubricant
into slot in the mixer where the channel-fader pokes through. However,
you may be too late, and may not be able to reverse the damage yourself,
meaning you’ll have to send the mixer off to get repaired – or more likely,
buy a new mixer.
Keep your mixer covered when not in use, and remove any dirt build-up
before it gets the chance to find its way into sensitive areas. Keep your mixer
clean and free of dirt, and give the faders a quick lubrication every couple of
months so that your mixer lasts for years.
Chapter 9
Ear-Splitting Advice about
Not Splitting Your Ears:
In This Chapter
Knowing what makes a good set of headphones
Stopping to think about headphone and amplifier volumes
Protecting your ears when faced with excessive volumes
he funny thing about headphones is that they’re probably the most
important part of your DJ setup because you can’t mix properly without
them, but, strangely, many DJs treat them as an afterthought.
The only time I’ve ever really panicked in the DJ booth was when I couldn’t
hear clearly through the cheap headphones I was using. I couldn’t hear any
bass, couldn’t hear how the beats were playing together, and was effectively
mixing ‘blind’ (or should that be ‘deaf’?). If you’ve followed the same cheap
path that I did, when you do start to demand more from your headphones,
put some thought into what you need, and don’t just get caught up in current
fashion trends.
And no, your iPod headphones won’t do. . .
Choosing a Good Set of Headphones
As you advance your DJ skills, you start to become aware of all the things
that are holding you back from progressing. Cheap decks and a basic mixer
are nearly always the first things to be upgraded, but consider what your current headphones sound like. Can you hear a good, solid bass thump? Or are
the mid-range frequencies drowning out the rest of the music? Better headphones will improve your beatmatching a lot faster than a new mixer can.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
The following six factors can help you when deciding what to buy:
Weight/Comfort. Ideally, you’re looking for headphones that are lightweight so they don’t hurt your ears when they’ve been sat on your head
for a couple of hours. That’s not to say that lightest is best, though. If
the headphones are too light, they may fall off when you lean forward to
look down at the mixer, or they may be so light that they don’t sit tightly
over your ears, letting in a lot of external noise as a consequence.
Because you may be wearing them for four hours at a time, the ear cups
need to be soft and sit comfortably on your ears. The headphone band
that joins the two ear pieces needs to be comfortable when worn on
your head in a normal position, but still be just as comfortable when you
twist the band backward to free one of your ears to hear the monitor
(speaker) in the DJ booth.
Closed-back. Closed-back headphones like those shown in Figure 9-1 have
the outer parts of the ear cups sealed, so they don’t let as much external
sound through to your ears. This enables you to clearly hear the next
tune you want to play in the headphones while in the DJ booth, where
you get a lot of background noise coming from the dance floor.
The best style of headphones are closed back and sit nice and tight on
your ears, a bit like ear mufflers, but with speakers inside!
Figure 9-1:
with the
closed back
design to
the earcups.
Chapter 9: Ear-Splitting Advice about Not Splitting Your Ears: Headphones
Wide frequency response. At school, you were probably taught your
hearing ranged from 20 Hz (the deep, deep bass sounds) to 20,000 Hz
(really high, hissy sounds). In reality, your hearing is probably closer to
20 Hz to 16,000Hz, although children and dogs can hear up to 20,000 Hz.
Quality DJ headphones can typically cover the frequencies from 5 Hz to
30,000 Hz so they cover the bass and sub-bass ranges all the way
through to the stuff only really dogs and sound engineers can hear!
Low impedance. If you don’t know anything about impedance, it’s okay,
you don’t need to, but it’s all about electrical resistance. You only need to
know to try to match the impedance of your headphones as closely as possible to the impedance of the mixer you use. A large mismatch can lead to
distortion, unwanted noise, and sometimes a drop in the maximum volume
your headphones can play at (all things you really don’t need when DJing).
Fortunately, most DJ equipment manufacturers are well aware of this
issue and design their equipment within the same impedance range. This
isn’t something to lose a night’s sleep about, but impedance can play a
big part in the quality of the sound you hear if you hugely mismatch it.
High sound pressure level. Sound pressure level is just a way to
describe how loud your headphones (and speakers in general) can play
at. You want your headphones to be able to play loud to let you cope
with noisy DJ booths, but as always, please remember you don’t have to
turn up your headphones too loud (see ‘Remembering that the Volume
Doesn’t Have to Go Up to 11’ later in this chapter).
Have a realistic budget when upgrading your headphones. If your current pair
only cost £10, you won’t benefit much by getting another pair for £30. Save up
some more money and start looking to spend around £100 on a set of Sony,
Sennheiser, Technics, or Pioneer headphones, which I think are the market
leaders. Don’t be fooled by fashion. Few people care that you have the latest,
best- looking headphones. And to be honest, no one (apart from fellow DJs) is
going to care about your headphones anyway, they only care about the music!
Realising no one cares about headphones
I remember one night when Alex P did a guest
spot at a club I had a residency at, and the other
DJ (Dave Armstrong) and I were left wandering
through the club, feeling a bit bored whilst waiting for him to finish (because remember, DJs
don’t dance). At this time, the new Sony MDRV700 DJ headphones had just come out, and
they were the fashionable choice of the discerning DJ – including the two of us.
Thinking we were being really cool and funny,
we both put on our headphones, and wandered
around the club, talking to people we passed,
and had a bit of a laugh. I look back at the image
now of two guys with matching headphones on
their heads in the middle of a nightclub, with
Dave trying to chat up all the girls, and I cringe.
I think that Dave pulled in the end though.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
These considerations play a major role in deciding what headphones you
eventually buy, but other features are available that may yet swing your decision from one pair to another.
Single-sided, coiled cords
Coiled cords are the curly ones that you sometimes see guitarists use (Brian
May from Queen uses a coiled guitar lead). By coiling the cable, manufacturers are able to offer a lot more length to the DJ without the danger of a dangling, long, straight cable that can bunch up on the floor and trip you up.
Single-sided cables are attached to only one earpiece, and the cable travels
from one ear-cup to the other through the headband.
Only after spending an evening in the DJ booth with a pair of headphones
that don’t have single-sided cabling, do you realise why this simple design is
so important. By the end of the night’s mixing, after repeatedly putting on
and taking off your headphones, putting them down, picking them up, dropping them under the decks, and so on – you’ll have spun the cable round
enough to almost strangle yourself as the two cables twist around your neck.
A single-sided cord has nothing to wrap around, and stays out of the way,
keeping you breathing happily for the rest of the evening.
A single-sided, coiled cord, such as the one on the Technics RPDJ1210 headphones that I use, is perfect for giving you a long, coiled cable, which allows
you to move around in the DJ booth, and the single-sided cord means that
you don’t end up garrotting yourself by the end of the night!
Swivelling earpieces
Sometimes the headband on the headphones can feel slightly uncomfortable
when you pull one of the ear cups back behind your ear to listen to the live
sound. Swivelling ear cups mean that you can pull the ear cup behind your
ear, but the headband stays across the middle of your head.
This setup is advantageous not only because of comfort, but because it also
reduces the stress on the headband. Cheap, plastic headphones (like the cheap
ones I started with) can snap after being twisted backwards too many times.
User-replaceable parts
Sennheiser’s HD25 and HD25SP headphones are designed to be completely
modular, with each piece user-replaceable. This design means that you need
Chapter 9: Ear-Splitting Advice about Not Splitting Your Ears: Headphones
never stress about these headphones breaking or malfunctioning. Provided
you have the spare parts in your DJ bag, all you have to do is replace the
broken part, and keep on mixing.
Having been in the position where someone wrenched the cable out of my
headphones one evening when they stood on them (my fault for leaving them
on the floor) the opportunity to instantly replace the cable would have been
fantastic. (I had to mix with only one ear working for the rest of the night).
Stick it to your ears
Figure 9-2 shows an example of a ‘stick’ headphone that has only one ear-cup.
By wedging the cup between your shoulder and your ear, you can cut out
more external sound, and hear the music a bit clearer through the one earpiece. However, I still prefer traditional headphones, which let you do exactly
the same thing, and still give you the choice of hearing the music in stereo –
and you won’t end up with a strained neck from craning it to one side. DJs
such as Fatboy Slim and David Morales have used this style of headphone
with great success, and their heads don’t loll to one side, so absolutely nothing is wrong with this design.
Figure 9-2:
The Stanton
DJ Pro 3000
STK ‘Stick’
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Remembering that the Volume
Doesn’t Have to Go Up to 11
Please forgive the Spinal Tap reference (watch This is Spinal Tap if you don’t
understand the ‘Up to 11’ reference!), but the only person that knows you’re
playing the headphones at full volume is you – you can’t show off to anyone,
as no one else can hear. Playing your headphones at full volume harms you
and your mixing more than it’ll make you look cool. You don’t need music to
be loud to enjoy it, and you certainly don’t need to look forward to wearing
hearing aids in your future.
As a drummer from age 10 who also used to go to loud rock concerts, a clubber who used to go to clubs at least four times a week (and dance right next
to the speaker, because it was somewhere to keep the drinks!), and a DJ from
age 21 through to the current day, I’ve always surrounded myself with loud
music. I pay the price for that now by having a constant ringing in my ears
(something called tinnitus). Although it doesn’t affect what I hear, you don’t
want to wake up in the middle of the night and just hear a ringing in your
ears, believe me. Do everything you can to protect your ears. You are not
In addition to causing irreversible ear damage, if you play the music in your
headphones too loud, you’ll find mixing a lot harder. Beatmatching (see
Chapter 12) is easier when you find the perfect level to listen to the headphones, while the amp is still blaring out at 130 dB.
When beatmatching, you need to listen to two tunes at the same time to work
out if their bass beats are playing at the same time. The most common technique (single ear monitoring) involves listening to one tune in one ear
through the headphones and the other tune in the other ear from the speakers or monitor in the DJ booth. Playing one tune so that it plays louder than
the other makes it harder to concentrate on the bass drums from both tunes.
For more information on the single ear monitoring technique, and guidance
on how to check that you’ve set the levels (volumes) of both the amplifier
and the headphones correctly, go to Chapter 12.
Using Earplugs
Earplugs can make a world of difference to your future hearing, and the quality of your mixing. I encourage you to use earplugs when practising in the
Chapter 9: Ear-Splitting Advice about Not Splitting Your Ears: Headphones
bedroom so you’ll be used to using them when it comes to DJing in a club. I
only wear one earplug during a mix, protecting the ear that listens to the
music from the monitor, but I always keep another on hand to pop in my
other ear when not in the mix.
Remember, the decibel level in a club can be upwards of 100 decibels (decibels, abbreviated as dB, are a way of calculating how loud sound is) and as a
DJ who gets work four or five times a week (if you’re lucky) you’re exposed to
this level more often than any clubber. So, although I recommend using one
ear plug in your ear open to the monitor when you’re mixing, I strongly suggest that you plug the other one in when you’re not.
Even though during a mix, I don’t have an earplug in my headphone monitoring ear, that ear benefits from the protection given to the other ear. Because
the earplug reduces the loudness of the music that enters the ear that’s open
to the monitor, you can reduce the volume at which the headphones are playing. If you didn’t lower the volume of the headphones, it would be harder to
concentrate on the music from the monitor, making it harder to beatmatch.
Even though you’re standing next to a really good quality monitor, the noise
levels and acoustic sound inside a club still make hearing specific parts of a
tune quite difficult. Maybe you want to hear a subtle change in the melody, or
you want to hear the hi-hat cymbals as they change, or you just want to hear
the bass drum beats stand out from the rest of the tune. You can sometimes
have difficulty picking out these parts with the combination of sound from
the dance floor and the monitor, and you may (wrongly) consider turning up
the monitor in the DJ booth to try to hear the music better.
You experience this difficulty because the sound waves from the dance floor
and from your monitor in the booth mix together, making it harder for you to
pick out and concentrate on the parts of the song you need to. Using an
earplug means that the sound waves have to travel through the foam before
they get into your ear, so the music sounds a lot clearer. Wearing an earplug
is like running a brush through tangled hair. It’s much easier to separate the
hair if it’s been brushed (or filtered in the earplug case), and pick only the
parts you’d like to concentrate on. (Just make sure that the person whose
hair you’re stroking is happy with this!)
The basic foam earplugs that you get from the chemist cost about £1 for
three pairs and aren’t designed specifically for listening to music. They’re
designed more for getting to sleep when the person sleeping next to you is
doing an impression of a sawmill. They do a very good job at cutting out high
volume levels but aren’t good at retaining the quality of the music (they don’t
really let through the high frequencies so they’re like sending the person with
tangled hair to get it all cut off to fix the problem).
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
If you think that the cheap foam earplugs still aren’t letting you hear what
you need to hear in the music, you have two options – buy more expensive
ear plugs off the shelf or get some professionally made for you:
Off the shelf: You can find lots of great designs for earplugs that try to
maintain the quality of the sound that enters your ears. To mention only
one, Hocks Noisebrakers (shown in Figure 9-3) embrace the laws of
physics to bounce the sound coming into the earplug back out again,
which has the effect of not letting anything over 80 dB into your ears,
without sacrificing the quality of what you’re listening to. They cost
about £15, so are a step up in price from the basic foam ones, but they
do work well, and save your ears while still making it easier to mix.
Figure 9-3:
Custom made: Custom-made ear plugs from companies such as
Etymotic and Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS) are costly
(around £165 for the ACS ER-15s), but they have a superior ability to
maintain sound quality while reducing the volume level. An impression
is made of your ear cavity in order to make an earplug that fits snugly
into your ears, and your ears only (see Figure 9-4).
For more information about earplugs, check out www.earplugstore.com.
Chapter 9: Ear-Splitting Advice about Not Splitting Your Ears: Headphones
Figure 9-4:
custommade ER-15
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Chapter 10
Letting Your Neighbours Know
That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers
In This Chapter
Choosing the right amplification for your wallet and environment
Getting to grips with connecting it all up
Keeping the sound down to save your hearing, and your neighbours’ sanity
ach stage of the DJ equipment chain is vital. Without the amplifier and
speakers, you’d be the only person to hear how good a DJ you are. In this
chapter, I cover the various methods of amplification, the best way to connect and place your speakers, and how to play at a volume that won’t get you
ejected from the neighbourhood.
Choosing Suitable Amplification
Not only do you need to choose a method of amplification that’s suitable to
the size of room you’re playing in, but also for the size of your wallet – which
are both important factors. The key word here is suitable. If you’re just in
your bedroom practising at a moderate volume, you won’t have much need
of a £3,000, 1,000-watt amplifier and set of speakers, so save your money!
The different ways you can amplify the signal from the mixer so you can hear
it through speakers are via:
Your home stereo. For the bedroom DJ who has a good-sounding stereo
with a spare input to plug the mixer into. This is the method I use in my
practice room.
Powered speakers (each speaker has a built-in amplifier). If you don’t
have a home stereo, or the one you have doesn’t have a spare input,
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
powered speakers are perfect as an all-in-one solution.
A separate amplifier and speakers. This combination is the best choice
if you have a large room/hall/club that you need to fill with music.
Settling on your home stereo
Your home stereo (or hi-fi) is probably the easiest and cheapest route to go
down when you’re just playing in the bedroom for practise because you probably already own one. As long as you have a spare input channel on your hi-fi,
and you can position the speakers somewhere near to your DJ setup to get a
good sound from them, your home stereo is a very good option. Though a hifi may not be as loud as a separate amplifier, if you’re playing in a modestsized bedroom, it should be more than loud enough.
Don’t sneer at the idea of using a hi-fi. They can have great sound quality,
produce very loud volumes, and probably have a built-in tape or MiniDisc
recorder to record your mix sessions.
If you get the chance to buy a new hi-fi for this use, search for one that has a
manual graphic equaliser on it, rather than relying on some pre-set nonsense
about ‘Hall’, ‘Big Hall’, ‘Stadium’, and ‘Bread Bin,’ to approximate the different
sounds that those areas would make. If you plan to use the hi-fi as a tape
recorder, full control of the sound on your stereo is especially important (see
Chapter 18 for guidance on making great sounding tapes), and a manual
equaliser lets you adjust the sound to your taste, by controlling a range of different sound frequencies individually. Even if that means another £20, you
won’t regret your choice. Hi-fis with pre-set EQs (equalisers) are great for
domestic, easy listening at home. You’re a DJ – you’re far from domesticated.
The hi-fi also needs a spare input on the back of it to plug in your mixer. If
you only have CD and Phono inputs on the back, and you already have a CD
player plugged into the hi-fi, you’ll need to unplug the CD player, and plug in
your mixer each time you want to use your decks. (If you don’t know why the
Phono input is off-limits, refer to Chapter 8.) Try to pick a hi-fi with a separate
AUX (auxiliary) input to plug your mixer into.
The length of the cable between the hi-fi unit and the speakers can also affect
your choice of purchase. For example, I have a Sony hi-fi with less than a
metre’s worth of speaker cable between the base unit and each of the speakers. I have no plans to use it with my decks, but the length of cable provided
is useless for DJ use because I can’t get the speakers either side of the decks
without needing to sit the base unit on top of my mixer!
Chapter 10: Letting Your Neighbours Know That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers
Purchasing powered speakers
If you don’t have an amplifier or don’t want to tie up an input on your hi-fi
with your mixer, powered speakers (also knows as active monitors) are a good
alternative. Powered speakers are the same as normal speakers, except that
they don’t use a separate amplifier; each speaker has its own, built-in amplifier so you can connect the output from your mixer directly to the speakers.
Each speaker needs to be connected to a power supply, so make sure that
wherever you intend to sit them, you have a power point close by. If at all
possible, to maintain audio quality, don’t cross the power cable over any of
the audio cables, as this may cause electrical interference. You probably
won’t have any problems if you do, but if you can get into the habit of properly laying the cables between two pieces of equipment now, you’ll know to
keep the speaker cable away from power leads if you’re ever connecting a lot
of speakers and amplifiers for a party or club night because the volumes
involved may reveal electrical interference.
Powered monitors are very popular in the DJ booth, especially if the mixer
doesn’t have a booth control. The volume control for this monitor is usually
situated somewhere accessible on the side or back of the cabinet, which is
perfect for the DJ to turn it up or down whenever needed. Powered monitors
in the DJ booth also don’t tie up an entire amplifier for the sake of one
speaker, making good financial sense.
For bedroom use, powered speakers can range in quality (and price) from
budget monitors, such as those by Ion and Numark that cost about £40 a pair
and have an acceptable sound (though to my mind they’re lacking a bit in
bass thump), to great-sounding powered speakers such as those made by
Behringer, Alesis, and JBL, which can cost £300–600 a pair or even £6,000 for
a pair of RCF 4PRO7001 concert-quality active speakers. You may need a
friendly bank manager for those ones though!
Good quality, surround-sound powered speakers used with computers can
sometimes be an option too.
Opting for an amplifier and
separate speakers
An amplifier powering separate speakers can be overkill in the bedroom. 500
watts of music is more than you may need even in a large hall, so if you buy a
high-rated amplifier and speakers, and turn up the volume to full, don’t be
surprised if your neighbours come knocking on the door!
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Both the amplifier and the speaker have a power rating, which is measured in
watts (abbreviated as W). The higher the number of watts, the louder you can
play the music. Generally speaking, the rating on the back of your amp (short
for amplifier) tells you the maximum sustained output that the amp can produce. On speakers, however, you may see two ratings, the average and the
peak rating. The average rating (also known as RMS) refers to the maximum
sustained output that your speakers can handle. The peak rating refers to
how much power they can handle momentarily without risk of damage.
In non-tekky talk, think about a trampoline. How low the membrane on a
trampoline is to the ground when you’re standing still on it would be the
average rating, it’s happy at this level, and nothing’s really going to go wrong
with it. When you start jumping on the trampoline, as you land, the membrane gets a lot closer to the ground momentarily. How close it can get to the
ground before suffering damage is the peak rating of your trampoline . . .
The peak value is always higher than the average value, and is why manufacturers like to print the peak in their documentation – it makes the speaker
look more powerful.
When matching up an amplifier for use with your speakers, make sure that
the power of the amplifier is less than the average rating of the speakers,
which is much safer. No matter how loud the amp goes, it shouldn’t be able
to blow the speaker this way. If you do want to choose an amp that’s more
powerful than the average output of the speaker, make sure not to buy an
amp that’s more powerful than the peak rating of the speaker. Even if you
make a promise to yourself that you’ll never turn the amp up to 10, you can’t
say the same for your friends, or cat.
A power margin for error
Choosing the rating of the amps and speakers, especially when considering a
lot of power for a hall, or club setup, takes a little forethought and margin for
If you are looking to buy a setup that would give you 200 watts of power, the
best option isn’t actually to go out and buy a 200-watt amplifier, and speakers
with an average rating of 200 watts. Even buying two 100-watt amplifiers to
make up a total of 200 watts of sound so that if one of the amps blew you’d
still have 100 watts of sound available, isn’t the ideal way to set up your
sound system.
The preferred way to set up this amount of power is to buy three amplifiers,
and three sets of speakers, and run them all at two-thirds of their output
Chapter 10: Letting Your Neighbours Know That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers
level. Running two amplifiers at full volume all the time isn’t the best way to
keep them working for a long time. Three amps at two-thirds of their power
run happily for a long time. And even if one of them did blow, you’d still only
lose one-third of the power, instead of all, or half of the power in the other
two examples.
Although 2 x 100 W amplifiers give around the same power as a single 200 W
amplifier, a 200 W unit is not twice as powerful as the 100W unit – it’s just
more powerful. To double the amount of power you have to increase the
power of the amplifier tenfold. Table 10-1 is a general guide to the room size,
occupancy, and power rating you may need for different situations. This
guide isn’t a set-in-stone rule, and you may want more than suggested to give
you a little ‘headroom’ of power, in case you want to go louder.
Table 10-1
Amplifier Power Needed for Different Room Sizes
Room and Occupancy
Power Needed
Empty(ish) bedroom (you, your bed,
your decks, and the cat)
20–40 watts
Full(ish) bedroom (a few friends
came for a visit)
40–60 watts
Big room or small, half-full hall
(back room in a pub)
80–150 watts
Large hall, half full (local Scout
hall, and so on)
150–300 watts
Large hall, lots of people
(phew, they came!)
500–800 watts
You may have noticed from the selection suggested that the number of
people in the room affects the amount of power you need. People are very
greedy. Not only do they raid your fridge for beer and food, but their bodies
also absorb a lot of the audio frequencies, robbing some of the volume from
the room. The more people that turn up, the louder you have to play the
music to be heard at the same volume! The good thing is that even though
you have to turn up the sound a bit, the soaking of the stray sound waves by
the crowd actually improves the sound on the dance floor.
But as well as counting the people on the dance floor, when you’re choosing
the amount of amplification for an event, take a look at what’s around you;
the décor and the floor are just as important as the size and capacity of the
room. A room with wooden floors and wooden walls reflects the audio waves
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
around the room, making the music sound a lot louder than it’s actually
coming out of the speakers. Inversely, a room with carpet flooring that has
big, thick curtains in it, is going to absorb a lot of the sound waves, so you
may need a touch more power.
If you want to know how to connect multiple sets of speakers into your amplifiers (which is essential knowledge for club systems and some mobile DJs),
check out www.recess.co.uk.
Working with Monitors
Good monitors are an important part of the DJ booth. Whether you have a
dedicated speaker that you can control independently without affecting what
is playing to the dance floor, or if your monitor is another speaker attached
to the main amplifier, the booth monitor can make the difference to your
night going well, or going to you-know-where.
Your booth monitor is your link to what’s really happening on the dance floor.
Without hearing the exact audio that’s coming from the mixer and the
moment it comes from the mixer, you’ll have a really hard time beatmatching.
In the bedroom, the ‘dance floor’ sound and the music you hear in the monitor are the same thing (usually because they are the same thing), but in a
club, the two sounds are a bit different.
The booth monitor is like your health. You don’t miss it until you don’t have
it anymore. It not only lets you gauge how the music sounds playing to the
dance floor, but also helps with the accuracy of your beatmatching.
The speakers on the dance floor are probably only 10–20 metres away from
the DJ booth, and they’re sure to be loud enough for you to hear them. But
volume doesn’t have much to do with how long the sound takes to get from
the mixer to the speakers and then to your ears. The speed of sound is 330
metres per second. If the speakers are 20 metres away, the sound takes
around 1⁄16th of a second to get to you. In music, this fraction of a second is an
extraordinarily long piece of time, and though it seems like a tiny delay, the
delay is enough to throw your beatmatching out of time and make you sound
like a complete amateur.
This is where the DJ booth monitor comes in. The monitor is often a pair of
speakers either side of the DJ, but in some cases, is just a single speaker positioned to the left or right of the DJ. The monitor right next to your ears cuts
the audio delay from 1⁄16th of a second to 1⁄256th of a second (if it’s a metre
away), which is more than acceptable.
Chapter 10: Letting Your Neighbours Know That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers
Positioning Your Monitor
Unless you live in a mansion, you’re unlikely to have to deal with any delay
from your speakers in the bedroom to where you have your decks set up. If
you do live in an oversized room that’s causing delay similar to working in a
club, ask butler to bring one of the speakers closer to you. Sarcasm aside, if
bringing a speaker closer to you isn’t an option, then you can hook up a separate booth monitor (maybe a powered speaker) to play right next to your DJ
set-up, or you can add another pair of speakers to your existing set-up, and
place them next to your homemade DJ booth.
The key to positioning the monitor is to put it in the right place that helps
you to mix as well as you can. You need to make sure that you can hear the
music clearly, with as much clarity as possible, and also position it in the
best place to counteract any audio delay, and audio spillage from the dance
The perfect position for a monitor in the DJ booth is 1–2 metres from the
mixer, slightly in front of you, at head height, and with the speaker turned in
to point directly at you. Assuming that your speaker has the bass driver (the
big speaker) at the bottom, and the tweeter (which plays the high frequencies) at the top, this position is perfect for getting the best sound quality
from your monitor.
If the monitor is too high, the bass driver dominates the tweeter, drowning
out a lot of the high frequencies from the music. If the monitor is too low,
aimed at your waist, the bass may sound unclear, compounded by the dominating high-frequency tweeter that would be at head height. Turning the monitor on its side so both the tweeter and bass driver are at the same height
helps to prevent either eventuality.
The monitor needs to be close enough to counteract any delay from the
dance floor, and also overpower any music from the dance floor that may still
be heard in the DJ booth. If the speaker can be kept close, and facing you, it
gives you the best clarity. Too far away, and you may find it harder to pick out
a solid bass thump or the crisp hi-hats and snare drum that are used as reference when beatmatching (see Chapter 12).
For your bedroom setup, you may not have as much room, or control over
where you can put the speakers. The two things to keep the same as in the
club DJ booth are that the speakers are in front of you, and pointing toward
your ears, and that you try not to set the speakers on the same piece of furniture that your decks are on. If the vibrations from the speaker cause the
turntable to vibrate, you generate feedback. If you’re using CDs, you may
cause the CD player to skip with the bass vibrations.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Noise Pollution: Keeping an
Ear on Volume Levels
Many reasons come to mind as to why you shouldn’t play your music loud all
the time, but hearing damage (which is covered in Chapter 9), neighbour relations, and the quality of your mixes are paramount.
Protecting your ears
Keeping the volume of your monitor at the lowest functional level protects
your ears, and reduces any risk of distortion from the headphones or the
monitor when you aren’t playing everything at full power (which causes the
sound to lose quality and makes it hard to concentrate on).
One of the most popular ways to match the bass beats of two records is to
use a technique called single-ear monitoring. This technique is when you have
one ear open to the music from the monitor, playing the live sound from the
amplifier, and the other ear has one of the headphone cups on, listening to
the cued song that you wish to play next. (For more information on this,
check out Chapter 12.)
Getting spooked into turning down the bass
When I still lived at home with my mum, I had a
huge setup in my bedroom, with six 100-watt
speakers dotted around the room, which was
on the ground floor of the house (no wonder
with all that noise!). I used to spend hours playing my tunes, working out new mixes, having
fun, and improving my skills. I didn’t always play
the music really loud, and I hardly ever played it
at full volume, but I had a huge subwoofer that
made a hell of a thump every time the bass drum
pounded away.
Eventually, my next-door neighbour got fed up
with feeling the vibrations of the beats through
the floor in his house – 30 feet away! Because
a dual-car garage linked the houses, the vibrations travelled through the foundations of my
house and into his house. All this disturbance
led to him banging on the window of my room
for 10 minutes, getting increasingly frustrated at
waiting for me to turn around and notice him.
When I eventually did turn round, and saw a
(less than happy) face staring in through the
window, it scared the heck out of me! I thought
it was a ghost against the window. I turned the
bass down after that fright.
Chapter 10: Letting Your Neighbours Know That You’re a DJ: Amplifiers
The volume of the music that comes into your head from the monitor needs
to match the volume at which the headphones are playing into your other
ear. Due to the proximity of the headphone to your ear, this is about perceived volume rather than trying to match the actual decibel level coming
from that amp – because to do so would make you go deaf.
You only have to play the monitor loud enough to drown out the music from
the dance floor, which helps the accuracy of your beatmatching. You may be
surprised at how little it takes. After you’ve reached that level, try not to
increase the volume, even if you’re really digging the music!
Keeping the noise down for
the people around you
Keeping the music at a sensible level so that you don’t go deaf or harm your
mixing skills is important, but you also have your sense of social responsibility to think of. Not only may the rest of the people in your flat, house, or building start to get a little irked with you when you play the pounding bass beats
at full volume for hours at a time, but the people in the surrounding houses
may soon get fed up with the dull thudding noise coming from your house.
Realising that you only need one speaker
When you’re DJing at home, you really only need the one speaker, and that’s
the one you use for the ‘live ear’ when using single ear monitoring to beatmatch, (your equivalent of a DJ booth monitor).
When I realised the bass of my subwoofer was deeply annoying to the neighbours, I put switches onto all of my speakers, so I was able to leave only the
monitor speaker running. This meant that I could play the music just as loud
as before, but because only one speaker was playing, the volume that other
people could hear (and the bass thump, because I’d turned off the subwoofer) was a lot lower.
Light switches aren’t meant to be used as controls for sound outputs, so do
some research to see if the switch you’re thinking of using would add too
much resistance to the signal from the amplifier to the speaker, even when
it’s just passing through the circuit. This resistance may only cause a drop in
sound quality or volume, but in the worst case it may break your amplifier.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Chapter 11
Plugging In, Turning On:
Set-up and Connections
In This Chapter
Setting up and connecting your turntables properly for DJ use
Connecting everything to your mixer, and your mixer to everything
Troubleshooting why you’re not hearing what you should be hearing
ou’ve spent a heap of cash on your new turntables, CD decks, and a mixer,
bought an amplifier loud enough to deafen the back row in a stadium,
and everything’s turned on, ready to go – except you can’t hear anything.
You simply have to check that everything has been set up correctly and
follow the chain of inputs and outputs to see that all your equipment is
plugged into the right place.
Getting Familiar with Connectors
Before you connect your equipment together, getting familiar with the connections you’re using is a good idea. The most common connection types
you come across are RCA (also called Phono), XLR, and 1⁄4-inch jacks (also
known as TRS). In order for music to play in stereo, you mostly encounter
two of each of these for connecting your equipment. One cable and connector carries what you hear out of the left speaker; the other carries what you
hear out of the right speaker. Quarter-inch jack plugs are also available as a
single, stereo connector (as seen at the end of your headphones).
Some turntables, CD decks, and mixers have started using digital connections
to keep audio quality at maximum. USB (universal serial bus) and Firewire are
connections you’ll have seen before on computers, and along with S/PDIF
(Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) these digital connections send both
sides of the stereo sound through one cable, which is then interpreted and
separated back into stereo music by whatever you’re plugging into.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
It’s not always the clubber’s fault
Blaming an accident on the customers of the
clubs that you play in is quite easy, but as a DJ,
you have to be careful of doing things that can
break connections yourself. I remember one
evening playing at a bar and I had the lid of the
record box neatly balanced on the DJ booth. I
knocked it with my hand, it fell down the back,
bounced onto the cables coming out of the
mixer, pulled out the Master Output cable, and
plunged the place into silence for about three
minutes while I tried to work out what I’d done.
Thank goodness I worked there as a barman;
otherwise they’d have thrown me out on my ear
for being so careless!
RCA/Phono connections
RCA connections are also known as Phono connections, but I call them RCA
to stop any confusion with the Phono/Line terminology for inputs on the
back of the mixer.
RCAs are the most common connections you’ll use as inputs and outputs to
your DJ mixer. They come in pairs, one for each side of the stereo signal and
each of them is a different colour. The left signal cable is usually white,
though it can be yellow or black, but the right-hand side of the audio signal is
always red. This makes remembering which cable plugs into where easy.
Simply remember that Red = Right.
Used for amplifier connections and microphones, XLRs are the preferred connection for professional audio equipment because they’re capable of reducing interference when using long cables, and because they lock into place so
they can’t accidentally pop out if a drunken clubber falls on them.
XLR connections (see Figure 11-1) come in two different flavours:
Balanced XLRs are used in professional audio equipment. When the connectors from the mixer and to the input of the amplifier are wired up (the
individual wires are attached to the connector) so that they’re balanced,
this cancels out any unwanted electrical interference.
Unbalanced XLRs are more common as a pro-sumer (a mixture of professional and consumer) connection. An unbalanced XLR simply passes the
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
audio signal through the cable, and any unwanted electrical or radio
interference that’s picked up by a long cable remains, playing through
the speakers or to your recording device.
XLR microphone (mic) inputs and master outputs on DJ mixers are often compatible with cables and connectors that are both balanced and unbalanced,
but it’s best to check the specifications of the equipment you use if you’re
unsure of the connections when buying a new microphone, amplifier, or
Quarter-inch jack
A 1⁄4-inch jack (also known as a TRS jack), is what you find at the end of your
DJ headphones (though not the one on the end of your iPod headphones,
that is a 3.5-millimetre jack). Quarter-inch jacks also come in balanced and
unbalanced varieties. Balanced connectors are mono, so you need two of
them, but an unbalanced connector can carry a stereo signal, so only needs
one cable and jack plug. If you need to know whether the jack you’re holding
in your hand is mono or stereo, look at the black bands on the tip; one band
means it’s mono, two bands mean it’s a stereo jack, as shown in Figure 11-2.
Figure 11-1:
one for the
left, the
other for
the right.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Figure 11-2:
Left: A mono
jack (TRS)
A stereo
quarterinch jack
Setting Up and Connecting the Turntable
CD decks, MiniDisc decks, and MP3 players aren’t particularly complicated to
set up. Plug them in using RCA cables (see the relevant sections later in this
chapter) and turn them on. Turntables are slightly more complicated creatures, with three different elements to be set up:
The deckplatter (the part of the turntable that rotates) is an easy part of the
turntable to deal with. If you’re using direct-drive turntables, all you have to
do is make sure that you’ve removed the thick rubber mat that may have
come with the turntable, then place the slipmat directly on top of the deckplatter and the record sits on top of the slipmat.
If you’ve just bought brand new belt-driven turntables, you may find that the
belt hasn’t been linked between the motor and the deckplatter. Carefully lift
off the deckplatter, and look underneath; if the belt isn’t linked to the motor,
it is probably taped to the underside of the deckplatter. Stretch the belt
between the motor’s capstan (the bit of the motor that turns) and the underside of the deckplatter. If in doubt, check the manual for instructions!
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
The tonearm holds the needle. If the tonearm is poorly set up, the needle can
jump out of the groove when you’re trying to find the cue point (discussed in
Chapter 12). Worse than that though, a poorly set up tonearm can permanently damage the needle and your records.
The tonearm may require adjustment in three different ways:
The counterweight controls how much down-force is applied to the needle to
keep it in the groove. The amount to add is suggested by the manufacturer of
the needles and cartridges that you’re using (Chapter 6 tells you more about
needles and cartridges, and has a table of common counterweight settings).
Because the counterweight can add lots of weight when fully screwed on, or
make the tonearm point to the sky when it’s almost hanging off the back, the
key to achieving your desired setting begins with a technique known as floating the tonearm (Figure 11-3 shows the correct, floating position, notice how
it is completely parallel to the deckplatter, pointing neither up, nor down). To
float your tonearm, follow these steps:
1. Remove any records from the turntable, and the needle protector
from the needle if it has one.
2. Starting on one of the turntables, carefully lift the tonearm off its rest
towards the middle of the deckplatter.
3. Gently hold onto the finger-lift on the headshell with your left hand
(so the needle doesn’t crash down onto the slip-mat), and turn the
counterweight clockwise so that it starts to move towards the back
end of the tone arm.
4. As you move the weight backwards, frequently check to see if there
has been a shift in weight from the tonearm pointing downward, to
pointing upward.
5. Find the setting for the counterweight where the needle floats in mid
air, not pointing up, nor dropping down to the slipmat, as shown in
Figure 11-3.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Figure 11-3:
with the
from the
to avoid
6. After you’ve found the floating point, return the tonearm to its rest
and use the tonearm clamp to lock it into place.
7. Now hold the silver part of the counterweight, and use two fingers to
grip the black ring on the front of the weight. The ring, which has
numbers on it, turns independently to the rest of the counterweight.
8. Turn the black ring until the line pointing down from the number 0
lines up with the line on the tone arm beneath it.
Take a look at Figure 11-4, which shows you how to control the black ring.
The tonearm is now set to the floating position and has been zeroed. If your
needle manufacturer suggests that you add three grams of counterweight
onto the tonearm, turn the entire counterweight anticlockwise (so the black
ring also turns) until the number 3 on the black ring lines up with the mark
below it on the tonearm.
There are two reasons why you may need to alter the height of the tonearm.
The technical reason is that the tonearm must always be perfectly parallel to
the deckplatter, and because some cartridges are bigger than others, you use
the height adjustment to compensate for this. The other reason is if you’re a
scratch DJ. Scratch DJs use the raised tonearm height to add even more downforce to the needle, reducing the chances of it jumping out of the groove.
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
Figure 11-4:
One hand
supports the
back of the
while the
only the
The height adjustment on most decks is a ring at the bottom of the tonearm
assembly, which raises or lowers the tonearm as it turns clockwise or anticlockwise. A small mark on the assembly shows you how much height you’ve
added, and unless you’re a scratch DJ, your best bet is to follow the height
suggested by the makers of the needle and cartridge you’re using.
When you’re altering the height of the tonearm, set the tonearm in the tonearm
rest with the clamp on to hold it in place, or remove the needle from the cartridge. Otherwise, one wrong move, and the needle can bounce across the
record/slipmat/deckplatter, and get damaged.
Look out for the lock switch on the tonearm – without releasing this lock, you
can’t change the height, and if you try to force the ring, thinking it’s stuck,
you may do permanent damage to the tonearm assembly. Also be aware that
when left in an unlocked position, the tonearm moves slightly, and may fool
you into thinking that you’ve damaged the tonearm.
Antiskate prevents wear on records by adding a force pulling the needle
towards the outer edge of the record to counteract an inward force when a
record is playing forwards.
As a DJ, though, you won’t simply play records forwards. When you’re trying
to find a starting point (called the cue) you play the record backwards and
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
forwards, and if you’re a scratch DJ, you play the record backwards just as
much as you play it forwards. Because an outward force is exerted on the
needle when a record is played backwards, the outward pull of antiskate is
exaggerated and can cause the needle to jump, so it’s best to leave the antiskate set to 0. (Chapter 5 has more about antiskate.)
The last items to attend to when setting up your turntables are the feet and
the lids. Keeping the lids attached to the turntables when you’re mixing is a
bad idea; they get in the way and you may knock them, causing the needle to
jump. Don’t be lazy, take them on and off each time you use your decks.
The rubber feet on your turntables don’t act as mere vibration dampeners.
Because the feet screw in, adjusting how tightly they’re attached to the
turntable affects the height of each of the four corners of the turntable, which
is ideal when compensating for the badly built DIY furniture that your decks
sit on. Grab a spirit level if you want to be precise, and adjust the feet to make
sure that your decks are level. If they’re not level, the needles could skip.
Plugging In the Mixer
The first time you take a look at the back of a mixer, it can look quite daunting with all the different inputs and outputs, but after you’ve plugged in a
couple of pieces of equipment, you find out just how simple it is back there.
For more information on mixers and any functions you may be unsure of that
are mentioned in this section, refer to Chapter 8.
Connecting turntables to a mixer
Turntables are unique in their connection, as they’re the only item of DJ
equipment that plugs into the Phono input on the mixer, and they have a thin
ground wire (also called an earth) connection that needs to be connected to
prevent electrical hum and static from the turntables.
Connection is simple:
1. Take the two RCA cables that come out the back of the turntable and
plug them into the Phono input on the mixer.
The RCA outputs of the turntable and the inputs on the back of the mixer
are coloured, and are nearly always red and white. Remember, the red
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
RCA is the right-hand side of the music signal, and white is the left-hand
side (see the earlier section ‘RCA/Phono connections’).
If your turntable uses detachable cables, make sure you connect the
RCA cables to the correct colours on the turntable outputs as well as the
mixer inputs.
2. After you’ve connected the cables properly, set the switch for the
channel you’ve just plugged into to Phono (not Line).
3. Connect the ground (earth) wire. Take a good look at the back of your
deck. If you bought a DJ turntable and you can’t see a ground wire there,
don’t assume that the deck doesn’t need one. If you bought your decks
second-hand, the last person who used the decks may not have realised
how important it was, and cut it off!
Fortunately, you don’t have the same hunt for where to plug the ground
wire. All but the cheapest, nastiest mixers have a ground point on the
back of the mixer, normally a thumb screw that you use to cinch the
ground wires from both turntables between a washer on the screw and
the body of the mixer (as shown in Figure 11-5).
Be sure that you have a secure connection for both turntables to this
ground point by checking that the metal ends of the wires make connection with the ground point’s metal washer or screw. You’ll know if your
turntables haven’t been properly grounded, because you’ll hear static or
a really nasty, loud hum playing through the speakers.
Figure 11-5:
Two ground
screwed to
the back of
the mixer.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Some turntables include digital outputs (mentioned in the ‘Getting familiar
with connectors’ section earlier in the chapter) as well as the traditional analogue RCA outputs. When these digital connections are used in conjunction
with a digital mixer (like the Pioneer DJM-800) the audio quality is pristine
and suffers very little noise or interference.
Connecting CD decks to a mixer
CD decks, along with anything else that uses a Line signal to connect to the
mixer, usually use RCA outputs that connect to the mixer’s Line RCA inputs. If
you only use two CD decks, plug them into the Line inputs on the mixer.
If however, you’re combining CD decks and turntables, it’s a good idea to connect them in the same way they’re arranged in front of you. Suppose that you
arrange your equipment in this order:
Turntable 1 – CD 1 – Mixer – CD 2 – Turntable 2
The easiest set-up is to connect turntable 1 to channel 1, CD 1 to channel 2,
CD 2 to channel 3, and turntable 2 to channel 4 on the mixer. Connecting to
the channels on the mixer in the same order as the equipment causes less
confusion about what channel controls what equipment. Just make sure that
you switch the Line/Phono switch to Line for the CD decks and Phono for
You can have this same set-up with only two channels on the mixer. Plug
turntable 1 into the phono input on channel 1, and CD 1 into the line input on
channel 1. Then plug turntable 2 into phono on channel 2, and CD2 into line
on channel 2. The only danger here is that you need to remember to switch
the appropriate channel from phono to line (or vice versa) to use the right
piece of equipment. Also, you won’t be able to mix from turntable 1 to CD 1
or turntable 2 to CD 2 because even though they’re different machines,
they’re both playing into the same channel.
Before deciding on an arrangement and what channel to use for what equipment, take a look at what the mixer suggests you connect to what channel.
On the Pioneer DJM-600 that I use, Channel 1 and Channel 2 are suggested for
CD decks that have the player control feature, which starts the CD playing
when the cross-fader is moved (so you don’t need to press play on the CD). I
prefer using Channels 1 and 4 for CD decks though, and as I don’t take advantage of the player control for my CDJ1000’s, that’s okay by me.
CD decks can also make use of digital connections mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. As the CD music is digital (rather than analogue vinyl),
maintaining the music signal as digital with digital inputs on a mixer keeps
sound quality at maximum.
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
Connecting iPods and MP3s to a mixer
Unless you’re using one of the Numark iDJ mixers specifically designed for
mixing with iPods, you need to use a cable that converts the output of your
iPod (or any other MP3 player) to two RCA plugs. You can get a cable that’s
based on the dock connector of the iPod that splits into two RCA plugs (this
is how a lot of people play their iPods through a home hi-fi) but without that,
and for most of the other MP3 players, you need a cable that splits the headphone output into two RCA plugs.
You can buy these cables from most electronic spares stores, or simply type
‘3.5 mm stereo jack to RCA’ into any search engine, or eBay (www.ebay.co.uk),
and you’ll find one for about £5. Just make sure that the jack on the end of
the cable you go for is stereo (it’ll have two black bands on the tip), and is 3.5
millimetre, otherwise, it won’t fit into the MP3 player’s headphone output.
As with the CD decks, simply plug the RCAs from this cable into the Line
input on the back of the mixer, making sure that the channel you use for this
input on the mixer is switched over to Line.
Because headphone outputs are normally weaker than a typical Line output,
you may have to set your MP3 player to a high volume, or increase the gain
on the mixer by more than normal in order to keep the volume of the MP3
music similar to the rest of your inputs (CDs, turntables, and so on).
Connecting a computer as an input device
Laptops and PCs are becoming a bigger part of DJing. Computers used to be
simple recording and editing devices used to add effects and edit out any bad
parts of the mix, but now they’re used as input devices. The software you use
should detail any special connection instructions in order to properly set up
the computer to enable it for DJ use – always refer to the manual first.
To connect the outputs of the computer to the mixer so that you can mix the
computer music with another source (CD players, turntables, and so on) you
use the soundcard on the computer. The soundcard processes the digital
music data, and converts it to a Line signal to be sent to the mixer (the reverse
also happens, see ‘Connecting a Mixer to the PC/Mac’ later in the chapter).
If you have a soundcard with RCA outputs, this connection is simple. Using
a cable with two RCA connectors on each end, connect the RCA outputs of
the computer’s soundcard to the RCA Line inputs on the mixer. If there is a
3.5-millimetre jack output on the soundcard, you’ll need the RCA to stereo
3.5-millimetre lead mentioned in the previous section ‘Connecting iPods and
MP3s to a mixer’.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
If you’re using a laptop or have a computer with a very basic soundcard, you
may notice that the only audio connections you have are a headphone output
and a microphone input. You can use the headphone output as long as you have
the RCA to 3.5-millimetre jack cable, but you may want to be able to record in to
the computer. In which case, you need to look at a new soundcard.
Fortunately, a wide range of analogue to digital USB and Firewire converters
(common computer input connections) are available to buy. Edirol (shown in
Figure 11-6), Alesis, Behringer, and a whole host of other makes have products at varying prices (and quality) which let you solve the problem of not
having a soundcard, or a good enough soundcard on your computer.
Plugging in your headphones
Plugging in your headphones is as simple as finding the hole marked ‘headphone’ on your mixer, and plugging them in, but I want to mention it here so
that I can bring up the use of 3.5-millimetre adaptors. These adaptors let you
convert headphones with a small jack (like your iPod headphones, but please,
not your iPod headphones, they’re not suitable for DJing) into the big, 6.35millimetre (1⁄4 inch) size that your mixer needs.
Figure 11-6:
The Edirol
audio to
USB by
Roland with
inputs and
to a USB
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
Your headphone jack isn’t a headphone rest
Please don’t get into the habit of hooking your
headphones over the headphone jack when
you’re not using them. A club I worked in had
the mixer at an angle, and also had very little
room in the DJ booth, allowing hardly any room
to put anything down. So, when I wasn’t using
my headphones, I’d hook them over the headphone jack; which seemed sensible to me. That
was until I aimed a bit high, and hit the power
switch with the head band from the headphones, plummeting the club into silence, and I
almost blew a speaker when I turned the mixer
on without turning the volume down . . . oops.
Hooking headphones over the jack connection
can cause damage to both the mixer and the
headphones, which may lead to sound problems
(the headphones may ‘cut out’ and go silent).
Some mixers have the headphone input on top of the mixer; others have it on
the closest side to you, or even both. Choose your input and plug in. Simple.
Connecting effects units to a mixer
You can connect effects units to the mixer in two ways:
Between the mixer and the amplifier: Direct connection is the most
basic, and easiest way to connect your effects unit. Take the Master
Output of your mixer (two RCAs) and plug them into the Line input on
the effects unit. Then, take the output of the effects unit (still two RCAs)
and plug them into the input of the amplifier.
The drawback to this method of connection is that the entire audio
signal will be effected by the effects unit; you won’t be able to play one
channel from the mixer clean (without effects) while the other one gets a
whole load of crazy effects applied to it.
With Send and Return connections: You can send music from an individual channel on the mixer to an effects unit using the Send and Return
option. Using this means that you can apply an effect to only one channel, leaving other channels to play unaffected through the speakers.
The signal from the mixer can be sent to (and returned from) the effects
processor in two different ways:
• If the effects processor can accept multiple inputs, you can use a
mixer with a separate Send and Return for each of the channels.
Controls on the effects processor (and sometimes on the mixer) let
you choose what channel on the mixer to apply the effect to. With
the correct controls, any number of channels can be ‘effected’
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
while any number of channels can be ‘un-effected’. This method is
by far the most versatile approach to using an effects processor,
but does tend to require a large mixing desk instead of a compact
DJ mixer.
• Some DJ-specific mixers with multiple channels may have only one
pair of Send and Return connections but have a control on the
mixer that assigns what channels are sent. The DJM-600 that I use
lets you send any one of the four channels, or the entire Master
Output to an effects unit, so though it’s not quite as versatile as the
option to include or exclude any number of channels, it can still
give you clean audio from one channel while ‘effecting’ another,
which is good enough for me.
The connections for send and return vary, but on the DJM600, it’s a pair
of mono 1⁄4-inch jacks for each direction. One pair connects from send on
the mixer to the input of the effects unit, then another pair connects
from the effects unit to return on the mixer. You may find some units use
RCAs for this purpose or stereo 1⁄4-inch jacks, so take a close look at your
mixer and the effects unit so that you know what cables you need.
Connecting mixer outputs
After you have all the inputs connected to the mixer you need to look at how
to connect your mixer to an amplifier in order to hear the music, and maybe
also connect to a recording device (tape, MiniDisc, CD, PC, and so on) so that
you can capture the moments of greatness you’ll achieve in the mix.
Your mixer has two (or sometimes three) outputs:
Master Out is the connection to use when connecting to an amplifier.
Using a stereo RCA cable, connect one end to the Master Out on the
mixer, and the other end to an input on the amplifier. If the amp has
more than one input channel, and you’re also sending items like a TV,
PlayStation, or another CD player to it, you may want to add sticky
labels to change the normal ‘Input 1, Input 2’ labels that’ll be on the
amp, to help you remember what channel lets you hear what.
More expensive, professional mixers may use a second Master Output
that uses XLR connections rather than RCA connections.
The Master Out is affected by the Master Level Control on the mixer, so if
you turn that down, the volume of the music from the mixer reduces.
Record Out is reserved for recording devices (tape, MiniDisc, CD, PC, or
any other recording format you’re using). The reasons you use this
output rather than the Master Out, are because:
• The Master Out is probably going to an amp anyway
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
• You get a slight reduction in output level for the Record Output, in
order to avoid distortion or clipping of the sound when recording
• The Record Out bypasses the Master Level Control, so if you turn
the Master Output down (maybe to take a phone call), the music
level you send to the recording device won’t change.
Like the Master Output, connect the Record Outputs to the recorder’s
inputs using a stereo RCA cable, making sure to continue to plug the red
RCA output to the red RCA input, and the white output to the white
input. (For information on how to set the record levels on your tape
recorder, see Chapter 18.)
Booth Output on the mixer is fed into a separate amplifier and speaker
in the DJ booth (known as the Booth Monitor). (Chapter 9 has important
information about setting the volume of the Booth Monitor and the
headphones to allow you to mix properly.)
The connection is the same as Record Out and Master Out; connect one
end of a stereo RCA cable to the Booth Output on the mixer, and the
other end to the Booth Monitor’s input.
Connecting a mixer to your home hi-fi
Connecting to your home stereo (hi-fi) is similar to connecting to an amplifier. The connection is made using a stereo RCA cable from the Master Output
on the mixer to the hi-fi – but you need to pay attention to the input you
choose to use on the hi-fi. On the back of a hi-fi, you probably see some of
these inputs: Line, CD, TV, DVD, Aux, and if you have an old (or really good)
hi-fi, a Phono input too.
If your CD deck is already connected to the hi-fi, you connect your TV
through the TV input, and the DVD input is used too, you’ll be left with Aux
or Phono. Use the Aux input for the mixer. Even though the music you’re playing may be coming from turntables as a Phono signal, by the time that signal
plays through a mixer the signal has been transformed into a Line level signal.
Of course, if you don’t have a CD player or TV plugged into the hi-fi, you can
use the TV and CD channels, too, as long as you stay away from the Phono
input (which is meant for direction connection from a record player).
Remember to set the switches on the front of the hi-fi to the correct input.
Connecting a mixer to powered speakers
Sometimes, powered speakers only have a jack input (like the headphone
input on your mixer), so check if you need to buy an RCA (the output from
your mixer) to jack cable for each of the speakers (left and right).
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
You can find more information on using amplifiers, powered speakers, and
home hi-fis to play your music in Chapter 10.
Connecting a mixer to your PC/Mac
Whether you’re using the computer as an amplifier, or if you plan to record
the mix to edit it or upload it to the Internet, the connection between your
computer and your mixer is similar to all the other equipment you’ll connect.
Connect the output from the mixer to the input on the computer’s soundcard
(see ‘Connecting a computer as an input device’ earlier in the chapter for
detailed information on the connections and what a soundcard is used for).
Use the Record Output if you’re only using the computer for recording, and
the Master Output if using the computer as an amplifier (this frees up the
Record Output for a recording device).
If your soundcard came with instructions and software for setting up the
computer to be able to accept a Line input, please refer to the manual carefully. If it’s a Windows controlled soundcard, you can use the Volume Control
Properties to activate the Line input. Follow these steps to active it:
1. Double click on the volume icon in the taskbar to open the Volume
Control window.
2. On the Volume Control window, choose Options (top left) then
Properties from the drop down menu.
3. In the Properties window that opens, check the ‘Adjust Volume for
Recording’ option.
4. Scroll down the list of devices under ‘Show the following volume controls’ and make sure that LINE IN is selected, then click OK.
After clicking ‘ok’, you’ll see that the Record Control window replaces
the Volume Control window.
5. Check the box marked ‘Select’ underneath LINE IN, ensure the balance is set to the middle, and set the volume fader to about 3⁄4 of the
way up.
6. Open up the software you plan to use to record the output from the
mixer, and play some music to check if you’re receiving music from
the mixer.
You may want to turn off any other recording inputs (de-select them in the
Record Control) or mute other playback devices in the Volume Control
Window (by selecting Mute) to make sure that Windows system sounds or
sounds from other programs aren’t accidentally combined with the sound
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
from your mixer. Nothing’s worse than being halfway through a great mix
only to have Homer Simpson say ‘D’oh!’ over the mix when you get an e-mail.
Come to think of it, that might be quite cool . . .
Connecting your computer to an amplifier
Fortunately, connecting your computer to an amplifier (if you’re using software to mix MP3s for example) is a lot simpler. Follow these steps to connect
up your computer to your amplifier:
1. Look back at the preceding section for connecting a mixer to the computer. Open the Volume Control window, and locate the Volume and
Wave controls. Make sure that both of the faders are at least at 75 per
cent, that neither of the mute check boxes are selected, and the balance controls are both in the middle.
2. Connect the output on the soundcard to the input channel on your
amp you wish to use. Again, if your amplifier has a Phono input, please
steer clear of this. You are sending a Line signal from the PC to the amp,
so you need to use one of the Line inputs.
3. If your soundcard is controlled by a different piece of software than
the Windows Volume Control, check that all settings are correct for
outputting from the soundcard.
Troubleshooting Set-up and Connections
Sometimes, you’re sure that you have everything plugged into the right place,
you’ve turned everything on, everything’s playing, but you just can’t hear
anything. Take a look through the following list of troubleshooting issues, and
see whether one of these solutions can answer your connection and
turntable set-up problems.
Why do my needles keep jumping when cueing?
If you’re having a problem with your needles jumping around, try working
through these possible solutions:
Refer to your manufacturers guidelines on where to set the height and
counterweight of your tonearm. If you’re given a range of numbers to set
the counterweight to (between 3 and 5 grams for example), set the counterweight to the lowest number first, then gradually increase the weight
until the needle stops skipping.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Check the settings provided with the needle and cart for the height of
the tonearm, and make sure that it’s completely parallel to the record. If
you need to set the weight or height to more than the recommended
amount, your technique or needles could be at fault:
• Make sure that you’re cueing the record back and forth in the
curved direction of the record. If you push and pull horizontally,
rather than in a curve, this action may make the needle jump.
• Old, worn needles are more prone to skipping.
One of the turntables sounds really bad, it’s distorting, and the high frequencies sound fuzzy.
The first thing to do is to look at your needles. Are the needles caked in dirt?
(Carefully remove the dirt from around them.) Are they really old? (Replace
them.) Are they inserted into the cartridge properly? (Check, and re-insert
If you think it’s a malfunction, try swapping the headshell from one turntable
to another or try swapping the needle from one headshell to the other. In
case you have a connection problem rather than a needle or headshell problem, try swapping round the turntable connections to the mixer.
I hear a really strange humming noise coming from my turntables.
The ground wire may not be connected. Make sure that it’s securely attached
to the earth/ground connector on the back of the mixer.
Everything’s connected, a record (or CD) is playing, but I can’t hear any
music through the amplifier.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Are the LEDs on the mixer flashing up and down to show that the mixer
is receiving some music? If not, there’s currently no signal.
Have you used the correct inputs on the mixer for your CD players or
turntables and set the Line/Phono switches accordingly? (Line for CD,
Phono for turntables.)
If you’re currently playing one channel of music, have you made sure
that the cross-fader is on that side, and the channel-fader it up at least to
75 per cent, and if the cross-fader has an assign function to control any
of the channels, is it switched to control the correct channel?
If the mixer LEDs are flashing, have you made sure that you’ve connected the mixer’s Master Output to a Line input on the amplifier?
If the amplifier has the capability for multiple inputs, have you made
sure that you’ve set the input switch or button to the correct input?
Chapter 11: Plugging In, Turning On: Set-up and Connections
Are Master Level and the Input Level on the amplifier set at a point
where you should hear music?
Are the speakers connected?
Have you tried connecting something else to the amplifier to check that
it isn’t a problem with the amplifier, or the input channel you’re using?
I can hear the music from the amp now, but I can’t hear anything through
the headphones.
Try the following steps:
Firstly, check that you have your headphones plugged in, turned up, and
switched to monitor the correct channel.
Try turning all the headphone cue switches on. If you can hear music
now, you were pressing the wrong cue button, or you’ve connected your
equipment to a channel you didn’t intend.
Plug your headphones into another piece of equipment with a headphone socket (such as the amplifier) to make sure that this problem
isn’t a malfunction with your headphones.
Why is everything distorting badly when I play a CD?
Check if you’ve inserted the outputs of your CD decks into the Phono inputs
of the mixer by accident. This causes distortion. Plug into the Line input.
Why is everything really quiet when using my turntables, even when
everything is turned up to maximum?
Make sure that you’ve plugged your turntables into the Phono input. If you’ve
put them into the Line input, they’ll be very quiet.
Everything sounds nice through the mixer, but distorts through the amp.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Have you turned up the input level on the amp too high? Turn it down a
bit; see if that helps.
How strong a level are you sending out of the mixer? Take a look at
where the LEDs on the mixer are flashing; try not to play the music
above + 5 dB on the scale, as it may cause some nasty distortion.
Have you plugged into the Phono inputs of the amplifier by accident?
Change the connections to plug into the Line inputs.
Music is happily playing through the mixer, but I can’t get any music into
the PC.
Part II: Navigating the Maze: Equipment Essentials
Try the following steps:
Make sure that the speakers on your computer are turned on and all
volume controls (including the computer’s) are turned up.
Check the connections and ensure that you’ve plugged the output from
the mixer to the Line input of the soundcard. You may find a Mic input
right next to the Line input, so double check that you didn’t plug into
the wrong place when you were fumbling behind the PC.
Check the meters on the recording software. They will be bouncing up
and down if they’re receiving a signal or will sit at 0 if not.
Check the Record Control (which you can access through the volume
control icon on the taskbar). Double check that Line input has been
selected, and that the input level is set to at least 75 per cent?
Have a quick read of the manual that came with the software and the
soundcard to see if you need to do something special.
The meters are flashing like mad in the software, I’m able to record what’s
going in, but nothing is coming back out of the PC.
Check that you’ve connected the Line Out from the soundcard and not
plugged into the Mic or Line In by accident.
Check the Volume Control found in the task bar. Make sure that you haven’t
accidentally checked the mute box thinking it was the select box from the
Record Control (I do this all the time).
Why doesn’t my recording device seem to record anything when connected directly to the mixer?
Have a look at your connection. There’s a good chance that you didn’t connect the Record Output to the Line In on the recorder.
If that isn’t the case, ask yourself three questions:
Did you accidentally use the Booth Output to send to the recording
device, but turned the Booth Output volume off? If so, switch the cables
over to Record Out, which is preferable to turning up the booth output.
Is the input level control on the recording device switched to accept the
Line input, and turned up to an appropriate level?
Does your recording device need to be in Record mode in order to register any input? This isn’t a common case on home tape and MiniDisc
recorders, but on a lot of professional equipment, if a CD/DAT/MiniDisc
is in the machine, you need to press the Record button on its own to get
the device into record mode (the machine only starts recording when
Record and Play are pressed together), which tells the electronics to
accept a signal in rather than just play a signal out.
Part III
The Mix
In this part . . .
J skills are two-fold. Beatmatching is the core skill of
the electronic dance music DJ – all DJs who play this
genre of music need this skill. Chapter 12 in this part tells
you all you need to know about beatmatching.
The second part of your DJ skills are the most important,
and apply to all genres of music – choosing the tunes to
play, the order to play them, and how and when to mix
between them.
If you want to add another layer of creativity and performance to the mix, scratching is covered in Chapter 16,
with guidance on how to start your journey as a creative
DJ or a dedicated scratch turntablist.
Chapter 12
Grasping the Basics of Mixing
In This Chapter
Discovering the essence of club DJing
Working out the tempo of your records – beats per minute
Finding the first beat of the record with confidence
Starting your records so the beats play in time
Using the pitch setting to match tempos of records
Getting to grips with headphone cueing techniques
Js play music. They play music that people want to dance to, and play
music that keeps them on the dance floor. As a DJ, if you can’t do that
simple thing, you’re not going to be a big hit with the crowd.
Club DJs employ a technique called beatmatching, which makes the bass
drum beats of two different records play at the same time. That way, when
they change from one record to another, the people on the dance floor don’t
have to adjust their dancing rhythm.
In this chapter, you discover all the tools and skills you need to beatmatch.
The secret of successful beatmatching is simple: good concentration and lots
of practise – no special tricks required. The great news is that once you’ve
made the investment of devoting your time and concentration to mastering
beatmatching, the skill sticks to you like glue.
Knowing What Beatmatching’s All About
Matching beats is a very simple concept, but it’s the core skill of every club DJ.
Although certain kinds of music don’t lend themselves to beatmatching (rock
music, for example) if you want to play in a club where the DJ is expected to
beatmatch records to mix them together, you’d better develop the skill!!
Part III: The Mix
Practice makes perfect
Practice makes a huge difference when developing your beatmatching skills. If you practise
for two hours a night, you should be 75 per cent
as good as anyone else at beatmatching by the
end of one week – it’s the last 25 per cent, perfecting it, that takes time to develop.
As you become more comfortable with your
records and turntables, you’ll probably take a
month or so before you get the beats matched
quickly without having to rush it or ‘guess’ in
order to start the mix before the other record
runs out.
You may take months, maybe even years to
achieve perfect beatmatching and be confident
that 99 per cent of the time, you have the beats
matched accurately and that they stay locked
together for the duration of the mix. Just
remember that during all that time spent practising, you get to listen to the music you love and
the music you want to hear.
Through the course of a night, a DJ gradually makes the music play faster and
faster until it reaches what I call the sweet spot. This sweet spot occurs when
the bass beat from the music matches the speed of the heart beats of the
people dancing. This speed can be anything between 130 and 145 beats per
minute for most club music, but can be more depending on the music genre.
When the speeds of the pounding bass beats and the thumping heartbeats
get closer and closer, the combination of pulsating rhythms begins to do
strange things to the body and emotions of the people on the dance floor.
This euphoric moment is commonly signified by a hands in the air moment on
the dance floor. It makes me sweat a bit, but that’s just me . . .
Importantly, even if you consider this phenomenon as some kind of voodoo
mind control, you need to understand that you have to play at a tempo where
people are comfortable dancing, are really enjoying themselves, and the night
has a great energy to it.
Understanding BPMs
Beats per minute (BPMs) are a way to describe how fast (known as the tempo)
your records are. The name gives it away; the BPM is the number of beats
that occur in one minute.
As a very broad generality, house music has a BPM between 110 and 130 BPM,
trance music ranges mostly between 130 and 145, and hard-house and happy
hardcore can be well in excess of that.
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
Calculating BPMs
When you try to beatmatch two different records, knowing the BPM of each
tune helps you make an educated guess about how much to adjust the pitch
control (which is what you use to change the speed of your tunes).
You can adopt two main approaches for counting BPMs:
Use a beat counter. A beat counter is a useful DJ backup tool that automatically calculates and displays the BPM of the tune for you. Standalone counters that calculate the BPM of what you’re listening to in the
headphones, or that you plug the individual channels into, cost between
£70 and £200. If you’re thinking about BPM counters, and you haven’t
chosen your mixer yet, it makes good financial sense to look at a mixer
with built-in BPM counters. Instead of buying a basic mixer and an
expensive BPM counter, the combined money lets you afford a really
good mixer with built-in BPM counters.
Calculate the BPM yourself. The free approach. It doesn’t take long, and
is easy to do. Set the tune to 0 pitch and get a stopwatch ready. Hit start,
and count how many bass beats you hear for 30 seconds. If you counted
a beat as you started the watch, subtract one and double the figure –
that calculates the beats per minute for that track.
For example, if you counted 67 beats in 30 seconds and counted a beat
as you hit start, the BPM would be 66 x 2 = 132. If you counted 60.5 beats
in 30 seconds, and started counting after you started the stop watch, the
BPM would be 60.5 x 2 = 121 BPM.
You can count the beats for an entire minute of course, but you’ll probably find that the difference between the 30 second and 60 second count
isn’t noticeable enough to warrant doing it for longer.
If you can get into a routine of calculating the BPMs of your records as you
buy them, you’ll always be on top of your calculations.
Don’t count your life away
I used to spend a full minute calculating the
BPM because I wanted to be sure that I was
really accurate. Eventually, I figured that by the
time I’d counted 120 records, an extra hour of
my life was used up for no real reason! I’d
rather have spent that hour mixing.
Part III: The Mix
After you’ve been DJing for a few months, you find you don’t have to worry
about knowing exact BPMs any more. After a while, you’ll not only develop
the skill to tell instantly if a tune is faster or slower than the one playing, but
you’ll also develop a memory of the general tempo of your records before
you play them and won’t need to refer to calculations.
Discovering How to Beatmatch
Your choice of format doesn’t matter – CD, vinyl, MP3, or anything else –
the mechanics of beatmatching are the same. It’s just the controls that are
Vinyl DJing is the skill that’s most easily transferable to other formats, so as I
take you through how to match beats, I reference using turntables. Chapter
15 covers the mechanics of using CD equipment, and most DJ computer programs emulate the controls on CD equipment, so Chapter 15 is also relevant
to computer DJs.
Setting up your equipment
A few basic settings and requirements can help you master the fundamentals
of mixing comfortably:
Make sure that your DJ setup is switched on and hooked into an amplifier (check out Chapter 11 for more on connecting up). Don’t worry
about headphones for now; you get to them later.
Use two copies of the same record (preferably something that has a
simple, constant beat from the very beginning). The reason for using
two copies of the same record is that when both pitch controls on the
turntables are at 0 (known as the green light area), they both play at
exactly the same BPM. This fact means that you don’t have to worry
about one tune playing faster than the other, and makes getting to grips
with starting your records and keeping them in time a lot easier.
Set your mixer so that you can hear both records at the same time and
at the same volume. (Typically, this requirement means moving the
cross fader into the middle, and setting both of the vertical channel
faders to maximum, with the gain and EQ (equaliser) controls set the
same on both channels). The reason you set the mixer to hear both
records at the same time is so that you only have to worry about working with the tunes – you don’t waste time and concentration trying to
adjust the controls on the mixer. This method may sound messy while
you’re starting out, and your dog may leave the room, but don’t worry –
you’ll move on to proper mixing soon, and the dog needs some exercise.
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
Locating the first bass beat
Every journey begins with a step, and every beatmatch begins with a beat. To
start with, find a tune with a solid, clear bass beat right from the beginning.
(In a perfect world, all records would start with a constant bass beat, making
beatmatching a lot easier.)
Whether you’ve chosen a record with the beat at the beginning, or if you’ve
picked a record that has its first beat 45 seconds in, the following points can
help you locate the first bass beat so that the needle is cued up (ready to
play) at the very instant the first beat is about to play:
Listening for the beat: The first option is to simply start the record from
the beginning and wait until you hear the first beat. Place your finger on
the record to stop it playing when you hear the first beat, and play it
backwards by hand. As you play the record backwards, you hear the
part of the record you’ve just heard playing in reverse. (Don’t be overly
concerned about revealing any Satanic messages when doing this; dance
music doesn’t tend to contain any.) If you use a tune that starts with a
beat from the very beginning, the last thing you hear playing backwards
is the first beat. The instant that beat goes silent is where you want to
leave the needle.
Winding to the beat: If you’re impatient or in a rush, you can turn the
record around really fast with your finger until your hear the
‘brrrrrrrrrrrp’ noise of beats playing really fast, then play the record
backwards until you find the very first of those beats.
Looking for the beat: Take a close look at a record, and you can see a lot
of different shades of grey and black rings (the target light on your deck
shows up this shading). The darker parts of the record means that it
doesn’t have as much information cut into the groove and is likely to
not contain a beat. Look at the beginning of the record where the rings
change from dark to light – the lighter shaded area contains more sound
information, and is probably where the beat starts. Place the needle
where the dark and light rings join. If you can hear the beat, spin the
record backwards until the beats stop, if you still hear the introduction,
play the record forwards until you find the first beat.
If you have a wave display on your CD decks, which has a series of peaks
and troughs to show the louder and quieter parts of the tune, refer to
your wave display to find where the big peaks begin – that’s likely to be
where the beats start. (For more on CD deck functions, check out
Chapter 15.)
No matter how you choose to locate it, make sure that the needle is waiting
patiently at the very beginning of that first beat, press stop, and get ready to
start your tunes!
Part III: The Mix
‘For an Angel’ – for a new DJ
For years, I’ve used the same record when helping people develop their DJ skills: Paul Van Dyk’s
‘For an Angel’. It’s quite an old tune now and, to
be honest, my two copies of it are getting
extremely worn (especially at the beginning). The
reason I love to use this track is that it has really
clear, solid-sounding bass drums throughout,
and the bass beats start at the very beginning.
Starting your records in time
When you’re happy with finding the first beat on the record, go to the other
turntable and get ready to start. (I’m left handed so I seem to always
start on the left.)
1. Place your finger on the outer inch of the vinyl.
Notice I didn’t say press – just place your finger, you only need a little
2. Press the Start button.
Due to the wonder of slipmats, the turntable turns underneath the
record while you’re still holding it (if it doesn’t, shame on you for
buying cheap equipment).
Now the easy part.
3. Take your finger off the record.
Glorious music should now flood through your speakers.
4. While the record is playing, listen to it. Don’t simply hear it – take a
moment to really listen to what’s happening (this is called listening with
an active ear). Really concentrate on listening to the bass drums.
You should pick up that the bass drum has two different sounds. One of
them is just a bass drum on its own, and the other one is normally the
bass drum combined with another sound (sometimes a clap – or a snap
sounding drum called a snare drum). Listen – notice the difference in
emphasis between the first beat of the bass drum (represented by X in
my DJ beat notation that follows) and the second beat of the bass drum
(represented by XO to show that’s X combined with another sound):
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
5. When you’re comfortable with the sounds of the beat, move over to
the other turntable, check that the pitch control is at 0, press Start on
the turntable, and hold the record still while the deckplatter turns
underneath it.
The first beat that you’ve located on your tune and are ready to start
from is normally the bass drum on its own. What you’re about to try is
starting this first beat at the same time as the tune that’s currently playing through speakers also plays a bass beat on its own.
Have a listen again. Make sure that you know what bass beat sound
you want to start on. At this early stage, you may find that counting the
beats in your head is helpful: ‘1 – 2, 1 – 2, 1 – 2,’ or ‘bass – snare, bass –
snare, bass – snare’
The record is poised, ready to go; the deckplatter is still spinning underneath; you’re now sure that you know the sound of the beat you want to
start on.
6. So let go.
Chances are, one of three things happen.
You get it right first time – both beats are playing at the same time.
Well done! Give it a few more goes to make sure that you’ve really got
the knack.
In your haste, you let go too early and the two bass beats sound like a
galloping horse when they play together. Don’t worry, it’s easily done.
Take the needle off, find that first beat again, and have another go.
You’re over-cautious, wait too long, start the tune too late, and the
beats sound like a trainwreck together. Again, very easily done. Just go
back to the first beat and try it again.
Deciphering drum patterns
Although most house/club music follows a
pounding bass beat, not all dance music has
this simple and basic rhythm. Drum patterns are
as varied as the music they accompany, ranging from a simple bass/snare beat to the complicated patterns of drum and bass and jungle.
Different music genres are often distinguished
as much by their drum pattern as by the music.
The drum pattern alone is enough to be able to
recognise breakbeat, R&B, or 2-step garage.
If you’re interested in finding out more about
drumming and drum patterns, I heartily recommend Drumming For Dummies (Wiley) by Jeff
Part III: The Mix
The good news is that a small timing error may not be all your fault. Before
you get too frustrated at not getting your records to start in time, check out
a couple of external factors:
Give a little push. You may find that waiting too long happens more
often than not, which is common and happens to the best DJs. The good
news is that the delay may be nothing to do with when you let go of the
record but more to do with the motor in the turntable.
In your attempt to start the beats in time, even though the slipmat was
doing its job, and the deckplatter was still turning underneath the record,
if you just lifted your finger off the record to start it playing, the motor
can still take a fraction of a second to get the turntable up to full speed.
The more powerful the turntable’s motor, the quicker it gets up to
speed, but even the best of decks can introduce a tiny delay. (All you CD
DJs are allowed a smug smile at this point.)
To get around motor lag, don’t just let go of the record, give it a gentle
push, too. How much of a push you have to give the record is just as
much a knack as starting it at the right time, but like everything else
with beatmatching, you’ll get the knack with practice.
Make sure that you’ve really got that beat! The other common cause of
not starting the beat in time is not having the needle at the very beginning of the first beat.
To get used to finding exactly where the beat is, play a couple of inches
duration of the record backwards and forwards through the needle, as if
you were scratching slowly. The record will make a Boom – woomp –
boom – woomp noise as you rock it back and forth.
If you perform this rocking (scratching) motion at the same time as
the other tune plays its bass beats, you’ll find your timing for when you
eventually release the record improves. Scratch forward when the other
tune only plays a bass beat, and backwards as the other tune plays the
bass and snare beat. Then, when you eventually start the tune, all you
have to do is let go (rather than pull the record back again).
This rocking motion can also help if you’ve chosen a record which has a
first bass beat that isn’t a solid thump playing on its own with no other
music. With all the noise around you in a DJ booth, you can have difficulty hearing that first beat if it isn’t a solid Thump. By rocking the beat
back and forth through the needle, you’re giving your brain more information to help it pick out the bass sound from all the other noise.
Try this rocking technique a few times as you practise starting the record
in time. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you get used to working the vinyl
(a fancy-pants way of saying using and touching the record). Your parents
may have told you never to touch records and to treat them with care,
which is right for their Beethoven LPs, but not for DJing. Moving the needle
off and on the record, finding the first beat and starting it playing at the
right time all go toward making you more comfortable with your DJ tools.
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
Adjusting for errors
When you make a timing error starting the beats, starting over again is perfect when you’re developing your skills, but it isn’t how experienced DJs deal
with errors. Try starting the beat again – but from now on, if you make a
timing error, use the following methods to bring the records back in time
(make the bass beats play at the same time):
Starting too soon: If you started the new record too early and its bass
beats are playing before the bass beats on the tune that you’re trying to
match the beats to, you need to temporarily slow the new record down a
little to get it in time. Lightly place your finger on the dimpled ring running around the side of the spinning turntable to add a little friction.
This added friction slows the speed at which the turntable turns and
eventually slows the record down enough so that the beats play at the
same time. When the beats now play in time, take your finger off the
dimples to return the record to normal speed. The amount of pressure
to add to the dimples takes a little getting used to, and if you’re ticklish,
try not to giggle – it doesn’t look professional!
Starting too late: When you start the record too late, and the beats on
the new tune play after the one you’re trying to match, you can try a
couple of methods to speed up the record. One of them is to tightly grab
the turntable’s center spindle that pokes through the record with your
thumb and middle finger and turn that around to make the turntable
turn faster than normal.
Another (my preferred method) is to place your finger lightly on the
label at around the 6 o’clock position, and push that round to help the
record play faster.
Do try to be gentle when making these timing adjustments. If you press down
too hard on the side of the turntable, it will grind to a halt! Or if you push the
label around too hastily, you may knock the needle out of the groove, or zip
forward through the tune by 20 seconds!
Nerves and carelessness don’t mix
I remember my first night playing live in front of
real people (eek!). I was so nervous that when
I tried to speed up the record by pushing the
label, my hand slipped and I ripped the needle
right across the record (which is why I now
start at the six o’clock position, nowhere near
the needle!).
Fortunately, you tend to only do this kind of thing
once . . . it’s incredible how quickly you learn
from a mistake like that!
Part III: The Mix
You can use another method to fix a starting error, which involves temporarily increasing or decreasing the pitch control to alter the speed of the tune,
then, when the beats are back in time, returning the pitch control to where it
was originally set. However, if you don’t return the pitch control to exactly
where you moved it from, the beats start to drift apart and play out of time.
The only time you’re guaranteed to return the pitch back to the correct place
is if it was originally set to 0 pitch, because the pitch control clicks into place
or lights up green when at 0 pitch. However, 99 per cent of the time, you
won’t have set the tunes anywhere near 0 pitch originally.
Experiment with all the methods and find the one that you’re most comfortable with. Importantly, you need to find the error adjustment method that
suits you the best, giving you consistent, positive results.
Knowing which record to adjust
When you need to alter the speed of a tune to make the beats go back in time,
you almost always adjust the tune that isn’t playing through the speakers yet –
the cued track, which you normally listen to in your headphones. If you were to
speed up or slow down the live track that people can hear, they’ll start shouting ‘Sack the DJ!’ (a phrase that strikes fear into the heart of any DJ). If both
tunes are playing through the speakers when you’re in the middle of mixing
one tune into the other, adjust the quieter of the two tunes.
There are cases (usually a tune with a constant note playing) where speeding
up or slowing down the quieter tune sounds terrible because of the pitch
‘speed-bump’ to the notes playing, but practice will give you the experience
to know which one to change.
Using the Pitch Control
After you’re comfortable starting your records in time (see the previous
section ‘Starting your records in time’), the next step in beatmatching is to
follow the same process, using the same records, but this time, one of the
records starts off playing at a different speed to the other one so you can get
used to working with the pitch control.
At this stage of getting to grips with beatmatching, the advantage of using
the same two records as in the first exercise is that you can compare the
pitch controls to help you match the turntable speeds. The downside is that
you still play the same tune over and over. Don’t worry, you’ll move on to
other tunes soon.
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
Matching the pitch setting
The pitch slider on a turntable (and CD and MiniDisc decks) is numbered to
show the percentage increase/decrease of the turntable rotation, and therefore
the percentage change of the original BPM of the tune. On Technics 1210 MkII
turntables, the pitch slider is 0 when in the middle, + 8 when moved closest
to you, and -8 when moved away from you to the furthest point (this assumes
you don’t have your turntables sideways for scratching – see Chapter 16).
The numbers on the pitch control are not how many BPMs you may add or
subtract. If you play a 130 BPM tune and set the pitch control to +4, you’re
not adding 4BPM, you’re adding four per cent to the original BPM. Four per
cent of 130 is 5.2, which means the 130 BPM tune now plays at 135.2 BPM.
Here’s an example of how to calculate where to set the pitch control on the
cued track (the track you’ve lined up to play next) in order for it to match the
live track that’s currently playing through the speakers to the crowd:
The live track is a 130 BPM track with its pitch set to +2 per cent. This
data means that the record is running at around 132.5 BPM (2 per cent of
130 BPM is 2.6, which I round down to 2.5 BPM).
The cued track is 138 BPM. You therefore need to take around 5.5 BPM
off this record to make it close in BPM to the live track. Because it’s best
to deal in rough estimates with the first adjustment to the pitch control
(see ‘Taking your eyes off the pitch control’ later in this chapter), this
BPM drop means taking the pitch control down to around -4 per cent to
slow it down enough.
Following that simple piece of maths, you’re very close to matching the beats
of both tunes, and only have to fine-tune the pitch setting to get the bass
beats to play perfectly in time.
Rather than read theory on how to use the pitch control, go back to your
turntables, and try to following method with the same identical tunes:
Slide the pitch control on your live track to about +3 per cent. (The
numbers on Technics turntables go up in twos, so set the pitch slider
between 2 and 4 if you have one of these.)
Start the cued track (remember, this is still set to 0 pitch and is an
identical tune to the one you’ve just set to +3 per cent) on the bass
beat and you’ll notice that the beats start to drift apart and play out
of time very quickly.
Part III: The Mix
Fortunately, you can cheat by looking at the other pitch control.
Because you can see that the other tune is set to +3 per cent, you know
that you need to set the pitch on this identical tune to the +3 per cent
mark in order to get the records running at the same speed. After you
change the pitch, have another shot at starting the beats in time.
This is all just for practise – when you use different tunes, you won’t have
the visual guide of looking at the pitch control on the other turntable to know
whether you need to speed up or slow down the new tune. You may get lucky
and set the pitch exactly the first time, but you’ll probably find that the beats
start to drift apart after 10 seconds or so, because even though you’ve moved
the pitch control to the +3 per cent mark, the pitch control may not be totally
At this point, things start to get a little tricky. You need to be able to tell
whether the cued track is running too fast or too slow in order to make the
beats play in time again. You work this status out by listening to the sound
that the bass drums make together.
Playing too slow or too fast
Knowing when a tune is playing too fast or too slow is by far the hardest part
of DJing. This question is the one that I most commonly get asked, and the
hardest thing for a lot of new DJs to figure out. If you can hear that a record is
slipping out of time before anyone else can and if you can react to it and fix it
before anyone hears it, you’ll be as good at beatmatching as any top-class DJ.
The reason people new to DJing have difficulty making this judgement is that
they haven’t spent the time to train their ears to listen out for the audio clues
that provide the answer. These audio clues are B’loom and l’Boom. Spend
time practising the following method, and listen to, and concentrate on the
sound that plays when a tune is running too fast or running too slow.
In order to be able to tell whether your cued track is playing too slow or too
fast, you need to change your mixer setting so that the live track’s channel
fader is set to about three-quarters of the volume of the cued track’s channel.
You’ve made this change because you need to identify when the cued track’s
bass beat hits. If both tracks played at full volume, you wouldn’t know what
beat was playing first (especially because at the moment they’re currently
both the same tune!). Having one louder than the other helps you distinguish
one from the other.
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
I’ve discovered that the best way to describe what to listen for is by using
onomatopoeic words (words that you can associate with sounds): l’Boom
and B’loom. (Please bear with me here . . . I haven’t gone mad.)
Simply, when the cross fader is in the middle, the cued tune is beating away
at full volume: Boom Boom Boom Boom . . .
The live tune is playing quieter than the cued track; instead of sounding like a
loud Boom, it’s a softer loom sound: loom loom loom loom. (Honestly, bear
with me, it does makes sense when you put this into practice.)
So the two sounds you hear that let you know whether to speed up or slow
down the cued track are:
B’loom: When the louder tune (in this case, the cued tune) runs too fast,
you hear its beat first – and the sound you hear is: B’loom, B’loom,
B’loom, B’loom.
l’Boom: When the cued tune is too slow and plays after the live track, it
sounds like: l’Boom, l’Boom, l’Boom, l’Boom.
Being able to hear the sounds of both bass drum beats with all the rest of the
music playing takes a fair bit of concentration, but spend a little time practising and you’ll realise that I’m not as mad as I sound.
Go back to your decks and start trying to match the pitch settings. Listen
carefully to the sound that the bass drums are making. Listen especially for
l’Boom or B’loom, and try to work out whether your cued track is running
too slow or too fast.
If you got it wrong and have slowed down a track that was already running
too slow, that’s okay! Just remember the sound that you heard that made you
think that it was running too fast and re-associate that with running too slow.
This technique takes practice, and you may want to adopt a trial-and-error
approach for a while. Go back to 0 pitch on both of the records, slow one of
them down, and listen to the sound the bass beats make – then speed one up,
listen to that sound, and take note of the difference.
Taking your eyes off the pitch control
When you’re used to hearing the different sounds that a record makes when
it’s running too fast or too slow, the next step is to adjust the pitch control
without looking at where the other turntable’s pitch control is set, using only
your ears as your guide.
Part III: The Mix
Using the same identical records, increase the pitch control on the live
record but this time with something covering the reading, so you know that
it’s increased, but you can’t cheat by looking at where the pitch control is set
to. A bit childish I know, but you’re cheating days are done.
To match the pitch control on the cued turntable to this new setting, I
consider four different ranges of adjustment:
Large, rough adjustments to get somewhere close
Medium adjustments (about 1 – 2 per cent on the pitch slider) to
get closer
Small adjustments (about 1⁄4 of 1 per cent) to finalise it
Minute adjustments (millimetres) for fine tuning during the mix
For example:
If the cued record starts to run too slow immediately, speed it up by
about 4 per cent.
If it then runs a little too fast, but not as fast as before, reduce the pitch
by about 1 per cent.
If it’s now taking about 10 seconds to run noticeably too slow, increase
the pitch by about 1⁄4 of 1 per cent.
If you’re almost there, but after 20 seconds you start to hear ‘B’loom’
(the louder, cued record is running too fast) – slow down the record by
the tiniest amount. Nudging the pitch control to move by only a millimetre
is sometimes all that it takes.
Practising happy
Always think about the fact that you’re spending the time practising because you want to be
a DJ – and you want to be a DJ because, as well
as a lot of other things, DJing really is a heck of
a lot of fun.
If you start to get a little frustrated as you try to
develop any of your beatmatching skills, take a
step back, get a glass of water (anything
stronger may inflame matters!), and come back
to your set-up with one thought in mind – to
have fun. Don’t tape yourself, don’t try to be
something you’re not, don’t sweat it. Just play
some music and smile like you mean it!
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
Introducing Your Headphones
When you start the record and set the pitch control (see the preceding section), you can play both records through the amplifier at the same time and
listen to the live sound to find out whether you managed to get the beats in
time. Sadly, you don’t get that option when mixing to tape, or to an audience,
so I think that it’s time to take the stabilisers off and start to work out if the
beats are in sync (play at the same time) through your headphones from now
on. Your neighbours and dog will thank you for this.
Switching over to headphone control
In order to start making best use of the headphones, your mixer needs to be
set up so that no matter what you do with the cued track, you only hear the
live track playing through the amplifier’s speakers, and you only start to hear
the cued track playing through the speakers when you move the cross fader
toward the cued track’s channel.
Set your mixer to these settings:
Cross fader all the way over to the live track’s side.
Headphone cue switched to the cued track.
Gain controls and EQ settings on both channels set identically (so both
records play at the same volume, with the same amount of bass/mid/
high frequencies playing).
Both channel faders at maximum.
The last setting is for ease of use while you’re developing your skills, as this,
along with the EQ and Gain settings, maintains an identical playout volume
for both identical records. As you get better as a DJ, you’ll find that setting
the channel faders to maximum can cause volume problems. (See Chapter 14
for more information.)
If you are unsure of how any of these settings affect the sound through your
mixer, or for detailed explanations of the different cueing options, refer to
Chapter 8.
Cueing in your headphones
Making the pitch adjustments to the cued track in the headphones while listening to the live track through the speakers is not an easy thing to do at
first. Cueing in your headphones (finding where you want to start in a track
Part III: The Mix
and also setting the pitch control during the beatmatching process) is
another key skill of beatmatching that once gained, stays with you forever.
Think of the following techniques as a bit like patting your head and rubbing
your tummy, or juggling four chainsaws. Though not quite as dangerous.
Cueing with single ear monitoring
The most popular way to cue in the headphones is called single-ear monitoring. Quite simply, one ear is covered by the headphones playing the cued
track, and the other ear is left clear to listen to the live track through the
main speakers. This way, you can hear both tracks and compare them in
your head.
Cueing with headphone mix
A headphone mix can be used as an extension to single-ear monitoring, or it
can be used with both ears of the headphones on to check that the beats are
playing in time.
When single-ear monitoring with the cued track playing at a good volume in
your headphones, the headphone mix lets you play the live track quietly over
it (what I call bleeding in) so you can hear the B’loom, l’Boom bass beat clues
(see the earlier section ‘Playing too slow or too fast’) in the ear with your
headphones on.
With the cued track playing louder, if you hear B’loom, the cued track is running too fast, if you hear l’Boom, your cued track is running too slow. When
you get half way through the mix, and the cued track is now the louder tune
through the speakers too, you may wish to swap the headphone cue controls
so that the cued track becomes the live track and is now the quieter one, and
the old live track now plays louder in the headphones (and becomes the
cued track). This now means that when you hear B’loom, the tune you are
mixing out of (which is now the cued track) is running too fast, and when you
hear l’Boom, it’s running too slow – which is the opposite of when you
started the mix.
Apart from helping to spot the l’Boom and B’loom indicators, the other
advantage of a headphone mix is that you can do a trial mix with both ears of
your headphones on before letting anyone hear it. Some records just don’t
play well with others, and listening to a mix first in your headphones can be a
great safety net for preventing a poor choice of tunes to mix together.
You may even find that you’re happier with both ears of the headphones on
when checking the beats are in line. The B’loom and l’Boom indicators may
be easier to hear through both ears, rather than single ear monitoring.
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
If you are going to check the beats and maybe even perform the mix with
both of your ears inside the headphones, periodically take them off, just so
you can hear the music playing to the dance floor. You may think that you’re
performing the best mix in the world, when in reality, the people on the
dance floor can only hear distortion and noise.
Headphone mix isn’t a vital option on the mixer, but every little bit helps –
especially when beginning!
Cueing with split cue
Another headphone monitoring option is split cue where one ear of the
headphones plays the cued signal and the other ear plays the live signal.
This technique is almost identical to single ear monitoring (see the earlier
section), where one ear is in headphones and one ear open to the live sound,
except that the live sound is a lot clearer through headphones than from the
speakers on the dance floor.
Centre your head with stereo image
Listening to two tunes at the same time, and comparing if their bass beats are
playing together takes a lot of concentration. Your brain isn’t normally in situations where it needs to listen and react to two things at the same time, and it
tries to shut one of them out, so listening to two tunes at the same time may
take some getting used to. The trick to getting this method right is how you
set the volume in your headphones.
Loss of hearing aside, the main reason to keep your headphones set to a
sensible volume is that you need to match the volume to what’s playing in
your other ear.
When you put your headphones on both ears to listen to music, you notice
that the music seems to be playing in the middle of your head. This sensation
is known as the stereo image and is the voodoo magic of stereo sound (see
Figure 12-1).
If you monitor the live and cued track using single ear monitoring, the perfect
volume to set your headphones to is when you’ve created a similar stereo
image in your head between the live speakers and the headphone. (Or if you
use split cue, match the volume in one ear of the headphones to the other ear –
the same principle applies here.)
Part III: The Mix
Figure 12-1:
The joy of
If the headphone or the loudspeaker is louder than the other, it becomes the
more dominant sound, throwing off the balance of the stereo image so that
your brain finds concentrating on both records much harder to do. Figure
12-2 gives you an idea of this imbalance.
Figure 12-2:
When the
is louder,
the music
ends up off
When the
is too loud,
the stereo
image is off
centre in
the other
The stereo
image is
when both
volumes are
the same.
Chapter 12: Grasping the Basics of Mixing
This technique can be adopted in reverse and is why you turn up the TV
volume when you’re being nagged at home – when the TV is louder, it’s
harder to hear the nagger!
When listening to two copies of the same record, you really get the chance to
feel what I’m on about in regards to stereo image. Set both records to 0 pitch,
start them playing at the same time (you’re great at that now I trust) and
adjust the headphone volume louder and quieter. Close your eyes and listen
where the sound appears in your head. When you have a balance of volume
between the live speaker and the headphone, the music creates a near perfect stereo image in the middle of your head.
You won’t often have the need to mix the same tune into itself (check out
Chapter 14 for examples of good reasons why you might though) and when
you play different tunes, they won’t create a perfect stereo sound in your
head. However, the bass beat is the key. Even though the rest of the tune is
different, all you need in order to create a stereo image in your head to concentrate on is the bass beat.
If you’re having difficulty concentrating on the bass beats, or if the tune
you’re playing doesn’t have a solid ‘BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM’ bass beat,
listen to the snare beat instead (the clapping/snapping sound that normally
follows the bass drum). The snare drum is a sharper, clearer sound that some
people find they can more easily pick out from the rest of the tune.
Practising with your headphones
There’s no right or wrong method for cueing in your headphones. The headphone cueing section on your home mixer can have an enormous effect on
your cueing style, as does the room or club you’re playing in. I suggest that
you practise how to beatmatch with single ear monitoring first as it’s the
most common technique, but choose the method you prefer and make sure
that you’re 100 per cent happy with it.
Knowing how to use all three kinds of headphone cueing makes you a wellrounded DJ. If you can only mix using single ear monitoring for example, the
first time you play in a club that doesn’t have a monitor in the DJ booth, and
you get a delay that’s caused by the distance between the main speakers and
the DJ booth, you’re going to struggle. If you’re faced with that occasion and
if the mixer has the option, if you know how to mix with a split cue in the
headphones, you’re prepared for such a problem.
Part III: The Mix
To get used to using your headphones to monitor your tunes, go back to your
DJ setup and if you haven’t already, set the mixer so you can hear the live
track through the speakers and the cued track through your headphones.
Go back to the basics of starting the record (as the section ‘Locating the first
bass beat’, earlier in the chapter, describes), and match the pitch settings of
the two identical records, all the time listening to the cued track in your
headphones and the live track through the speakers.
When you’re confident with cueing in the headphones and can comfortably
tell if the beats are in time this way, you can start creating long mixes without
the beats of the tunes drifting apart, and can spend more time creating
impressive, professional-sounding mixes.
Chapter 13
Picking Up on the Beat:
Song Structure
In This Chapter
Understanding how songs are constructed
Introducing beats, bars, and phrases – and a certain sheep
Working out where you are in a tune
Relying on your memory and instincts
Trying it out on a sample structure
eing a good DJ means getting yourself a split personality. So one half
of you plays great tunes, in the perfect order; and the other half of you
creates the perfect mix from tune to tune.
You need more than straightforward beatmatching to create the perfect mix.
How you adjust the EQs (equalisers) and overall sound level changes the
dynamics of a mix, but the most important factor is choosing which parts
of your tunes to mix over each other.
Your knowledge of beat structures kicks in at this stage. Starting from the
simple bar, which grows into a phrase, which blossoms into a verse; songs
are mapped out in an extraordinarily ordinary fashion.
When you crack the code of how a tune is constructed, your instincts take
over, you don’t need to think, and you can effortlessly create smooth transitions through your set that gets you praise for your skills.
For further guidance and information on understanding beat structures listen
to the audio files on my Web site (www.recess.co.uk) that accompanies
this book.
Part III: The Mix
Why DJs Need Structure
The simplest of mixes involves playing the introduction of a new tune over
the last part (the outro) of the tune you wish to mix out of. In order to start
this mix in time, the DJ needs to know when the outro is about to start. By
analysing how beats and bars are put together to make up verses, choruses,
introductions and outros (all of which are described in detail in the section
‘Studying Song Structure’ later in the chapter) you won’t miss a beat.
Knowledge of beat structure is vital for all kinds of DJs. Whether your style is
to create minute-long, seamless transitions from tune to tune, or you simply
start one tune as another ends, an understanding of how a tune is put
together enables you to mix without any risk of gaps in bass drum beats,
drops in the fun and energy of the night, or even worse – silence.
For more information on how different parts of tunes overlap to alter the
sound and energy of the mix, check out Chapter 14.
Multiplying beats, bars, and phrases
Just as a wall is constructed from hundreds of bricks layered on top of each
other, and then added to other walls to make a house, the beats in a tune are
grouped together, and added to further groups, and these groups are joined
together to make larger structures, all of which are part of a bigger whole –
the song. But before you start looking at how walls make a house (or how
verse and choruses make a tune) you need to know how a wall is built – or a
chorus is created – out of beats and bars. If you can count to four, you can
easily deal with beat structure, because the building blocks of nearly all
tunes you’ll encounter are grouped into fours:
Four beats to a bar
Four bars to a phrase
Four phrases to a verse (normally)
Although typically made up of four phrases, the length of a verse can change
depending on the decision of the songwriter.
The easiest way to explain how four beats become a bar, and four bars
become a phrase is with song lyrics. Unfortunately, I’d have to pay a lot of
money if I wanted to use the lyrics to a recent, famous song, so I use the nursery rhyme ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ to show how the magic number 4 multiplies
beats into bars and phrases.
Chapter 13: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure
To demonstrate the principle that you get four beats to a bar, look at the first
line of the nursery rhyme, which is ‘Baa, baa, black sheep’, and lasts one baa
(sorry, Bar) in length. Each one of these words is sung on a different beat of
the bar, and the first word has more emphasis than the next three.
The drum beat that accompanies this bar follows a basic pattern of ‘Bass’ –
‘Bass/Snare’ (check out Chapter 12 for more), as you can see in the following:
Beat 1 – Baa (bass drum)
Beat 2 – baa (bass drum and snare)
Beat 3 – black (bass drum)
Beat 4 – sheep (bass drum and snare)
Moving further into the nursery rhyme, this first bar is the first of the four
bars that make up the first phrase:
Bar 1 – Baa, baa, black sheep,
Bar 2 – Have you any wool?
Bar 3 – Yes sir, yes sir,
Bar 4 – Three bags full.
This first phrase is grouped together with three others to create 16 lines (and
therefore 16 bars) and create a full section.
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full. (End of Phrase 1 – 4 lines/bars in length)
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane. (End of Phrase 2 – rhyme is 8 bars to here)
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full. (End of Phrase 3 – rhyme is 12 bars to here)
One to mend the jerseys
One to mend the socks
And one to mend the holes in
the little girls’ frocks. (End of Phrase 4 – total rhyme duration is 16 bars)
Part III: The Mix
Take another look at the 16 lines in the nursery rhyme. Although four different phrases make up the entire rhyme, the first two and the second two
phrases can be grouped together as two different parts of the rhyme. Both
halves start with the identical ‘Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool, yes
sir, yes sir, three bags full’ phrase, but the next phrase is different.
You find the same principle in music; the second half of a verse may sound
very similar to the first half, but in the final, fourth phrase, the sounds,
drums, and energy of any vocals or instruments increases to let you know
that you’re approaching the end of the entire verse rather than the end of
the first half.
Hearing the cymbal as a symbol
Not all songs have lyrics to follow that let you know where you are in
the tune. Even though music without lyrics sometimes has a change of
the melody through the different phrases, you may need a little more guidance to help you pinpoint your position. If you’ve just dropped the needle,
or started the CD at a random point in a record with a view to starting a
mix, you need to know how to work out where you are in a 4-phrase (16-bar)
Luckily for DJs, record producers are very kind people, and tend to leave endof-phrase markers (commonly cymbal crashes) at or after the end of phrases.
The four phrases given in the ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ example have three key,
different types of endings:
The end of the first and third phrase (probably identical)
The end of the second phrase (the halfway point)
The end of the fourth phrase (the most powerful)
The end of the first and third phrase is likely to have a cymbal crash as a
simple punctuation point to the end (often on the fourth beat of the fourth
bar), but nothing too special.
The end of the second phrase, the halfway point, has a little more to it,
because that first half exists as a discreet part of the story. This ending probably has a small change to the drums, such as a mini drum roll, and end with
a cymbal crash on the fourth beat, or the first beat of the next (ninth) bar.
Chapter 13: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure
The end of the fourth phrase is the important one. This end-of-phrase
marker lets you know that the tune is about to move on to a new section,
from a verse to a chorus, a chorus to a breakdown, or a breakdown to a
verse, and so on. It is similar to the halfway marker, but more pronounced
and powerful. The drum roll is longer, the vocals have more depth, and the
energy is a lot higher.
Everything changes
Markers at the end of each phrase are common in some genres of music, but
don’t rely on this fact; markers at the end of Phrases 1 and 3 aren’t always
provided. Knowing your tunes inside out really helps you at this stage.
If the tune has lyrics, then recognising the lyric cues for the end of phrases –
when you’ve listened to the tune enough times – is relatively easy.
For a tune without lyrics, listen to how it changes from phrase to phrase,
even without these end-of-phrase marker points. The main hook may start
over, the melody may have a key change, another instrument may be introduced, another drum sound or synthesised sound may be added, or you may
pick up on a general shift in the volume or power of the music made by the
addition of filters/compressors, a feeling to the music rather than something
that you can actually hear and define.
Clever producers try to bend the rules, and play with what we expect to hear,
but in most tunes out there, something changes, or is added every four bars.
Counting on where you are
Start one of your tunes playing, listen to it, and try to hear how the beats
build into bars, bars build into phrases, phrases into halves of verses like
the nursery rhyme, and then how the verse moves into the next part.
To help you get to grips with this, start from the very first bass beat, and
as the music plays, count along with the beats, as shown in Figure 13-1:
Figure 13-1:
Counting BAR
along with BEAT
the beats. SAY
ONE two three four TWO two three four THREE two three four
FOUR two three four
Part III: The Mix
Count the bar number as the first beat of the bar. The point of counting this
way is simply so that you know which bar you’re on.
Remember that the first beat of the bar has more emphasis to it, so when
you’re counting the beats, put more energy into saying the first number ‘ONE
two three four – TWO two three four’, and so on. At the end of the first phrase
(four bars) of the tune that you’re playing, listen to what happens. On beat 4
of the fourth bar, or beat 1 of the next bar, you’re likely to hear a cymbal
crash, or some kind of sound that acts as the end of the phrase. The marker
sound for this first phrase is likely to be the same for all the first phrases of a
section throughout the rest of the tune.
Carry on counting and listening to how each phrase ends, and take special
care to compare how each of the phrases end, and how this indicates where
you are in the 16 bars.
Keep listening to the entire tune because the opening section (the intro) may
only be eight bars long. As you listen to the rest of the tune, use your knowledge of phrase lengths, and remember the different end-of-phrase marker
styles to help you decide what makes up the intro, verse, and the chorus,
all of which I describe in detail in the following section ‘Studying Song
Don’t forget to be an active listener, (really listen to what’s playing, rather
than sitting back and enjoying the music) and concentrate on the sounds that
you’re hearing: drums, vocal samples (an ‘Oh yeah’ at the end of a bar is a
good indicator!), changes in melodies or the bass line, any strange whoosh
or other electronic noises – any of these sounds can be the markers that the
songwriter has left, to let you know where you are in the tune.
When you’ve cracked the beats/bars/phrases formula of how a tune is put
together, when you can identify the different end-of-phrase markers, and when
you’ve developed these instincts to be able to tell when the music is about to
change, you find that you no longer need to count out beats and bars.
I can’t stress strongly enough that you should try to move away from counting beats as quickly as possible. Developing a reliance on beat counting in
order to mix well can stifle your creativity and may end in disaster. Not only
do you risk looking like ‘Rain Man’ when you count the beats and bars as
they roll by, but if something happens to throw your concentration, and you
don’t know where you are in the tune, the potential to create a nightmare mix
is too big. Dedicate the time and concentration to develop the memory and
the skill that enable you to listen to a track halfway through and know where
you are within one or two phrases.
Chapter 13: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure
Studying Song Structure
The people on the dance floor aren’t really interested in how songs are made,
although they do anticipate and respond to the different parts of the music –
just as you need to, too. As a DJ, you have to know when the tune is playing a
verse, a chorus, or a breakdown – even if there aren’t any lyrics. Combined
with knowledge about how beats and bars are grouped together to make verses
and choruses, you’ll have all the information you need to create seamless,
error-free, professional-sounding mixes.
Introductions, verses, choruses, breakdowns, and outros (the end of the
tune) are the different groups of bars and phrases that go together to create
an entire tune:
Introduction (or intro): The part at the very beginning of the tune
before the main tune starts. It can be as long, or as short as a piece
of string but usually consists of a multiple of 8 bars in length, with normally a change or addition of instrument or sound every 4 bars. At the
end of the intro, and audio clue (build up, drum roll or cymbal crash
sound) is included letting you know that it’s about to end.
The most DJ-friendly intro lasts for at least 16 bars, and is made up of
just drum beats for the first 8 of them. The second set of 8 bars may
start to introduce music such as the bass line to the tune. This type of
intro is extremely useful for the seamless, beatmatching DJ – Chapter 14
tells you why, and how to deal with different types of intros.
Verse: In tunes with lyrics, each verse usually has different lyrics. If the
tune has no lyrics, it’s harder to discern, and though it may contain the
main musical hook (the part of the tune that you hum in the shower), it
won’t be too powerful and energetic. In most cases, the verse lasts for 16
bars, and is split into two sets of 8 bars where the melody repeats itself,
but builds up through to the end of the 16th bar.
Chorus: The part in the tune that normally has the same lyrics each
time its heard. In tunes without lyrics, this is the most energetic, catchy,
and powerful part of the tune. The chorus is usually based around the
melodic hook of the tune. It’s shorter and more powerful than the verse
at only 8 bars (two phrases), and lifts the energy of the track (and the
dance floor). You may find that a marker cymbal is included to crash
between the two phrases, and it has a build-up out of the second phrase.
Even music without lyrics still has a verse and chorus. What you find
is that the main hook (the catchy part) that runs through the tune is
quite subdued in one part, and then powerful, energetic, and obvious
in another part. The subdued section is the verse of the tune, and the
more powerful full-on section is the chorus.
Part III: The Mix
Breakdown: The part where you can have a little rest. It’s a transition/
bridge from the end of the chorus to the beginning of the next part.
If a breakdown is included very early on in the track, it’s likely to be
quite short, and is known as a mini-breakdown. It can be 8 bars long or
as short as 4 bars.
To create a nice bridge out of the chorus and back into the next verse,
breakdowns tend to be less powerful. The bass drums drop out, and the
bass melodies and a reduced version of the hook to the tune (the catchy
melody that repeats a lot) plays. The last bar has a build-up, like the end
of a chorus or verse, and you may hear an indicator on the last beat of
the bar, or the first beat of the next bar, to let you know that it’s changed
to a new part.
The main breakdown probably lasts twice the duration of any minibreakdown already in the tune, but is typically 16 bars in length. It
follows the same sound design as the mini-breakdown, but has longer
to get in and out, probably has less sounds and instruments to begin
with, and includes a crescendo (a build-up, like a drum roll with the
instruments getting louder and faster) for the last 2 bars or entire
last phrase.
Outro: The part you listen to before the next song starts. Chances are
that the last major element before the outro is a chorus. This chorus
either repeats until the end (which is a DJ-unfriendly fade out) or you
have a DJ-friendly outro.
The best kind of outro is actually a reverse of the intro. The intro
starts with just beats, introduces the bass line, and then starts the
tune. If, after the last chorus, the music distils into just the drums,
the bass melody, and a cut-down version of the main melody for 8
bars, and then the next 8 bars are the drums and maybe the bass
melody, you have 16 bars on hand that make mixing into the next
tune easy (head to Chapter 14).
Outros can last for a long time, though. Every 8 bars, another element
may be stripped off, until all you have is the hi-hat and the snare drum.
Rather than a waste of vinyl (or bytes), this type of outro is extremely
useful if you like to create long, over-lapped mixes.
These main blocks of the song are linked together by repetition, and yet
even more repetition. The next verse and chorus tend to be much the same
as the first two. If lyrics are used in the song, different verses have different
sets of lyrics, but the chorus probably won’t change. Although the structure,
melody, and patterns remain the same, the music may introduce new sounds
Chapter 13: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure
or effect processing to the original verse/chorus to create a new depth to the
tune (changing the sound slightly gives the listener a feeling of progression
through the tune).
As the breakdown drops the energy of the tune to its lowest point, a lot of
songwriters like to follow it with a chorus – the most energetic part of the
tune. Once again, more instruments and sounds may be introduced to give
the chorus a slightly newer feel.
Depending on how long the tune is, the main breakdown may be followed by
more verses, choruses, and mini-breakdowns.
Accepting that Every Tune’s Different
We’d soon get bored listening to tunes that were designed to the same
structure, even if the music was all different.
In music production, altering the length of an intro, adding extra verses or
choruses or changing their length, adding breakdowns and mini-breakdowns,
and extending outros are all part of what makes a tune unique when still following the basic four beats to a bar, four bars to a phrase structure.
The brain is an incredible organ. When you listen to a track with an active
ear, after three or four run throughs, your brain remembers the basic structure of the tune, and then relies on triggers (such as the markers, vocals, or
even just looking at the different shades of rings on the record) that help you
remember the structure of that track along with the 1,000 other tracks in
your collection.
The trick to getting your brain to work for you is to listen to your music a lot.
You can’t expect to know the structure of a tune immediately; you need to
listen to it a few times. Practising your mixing skills gives you the opportunity
to get to know your tunes, but I recommend copying your tracks to an
iPod/tape/MiniDisc/CD so that you can listen to your music at any time.
Always listen with an active ear to the structure, the melody, the hook, and
the lyrics. Your brain stores all this information in your subconscious, calling
upon these memories and your knowledge of how a tune is constructed from
bars and phrases, ensuring that you never get confused during the mix.
Part III: The Mix
Developing Your Basic Instincts
Your memory and instincts for your music develop in the same way as they
do when you drive a car. When driving, you don’t have to think ‘Accelerate . . .
foot off a little . . . steer . . . straighten up . . . brake . . . clutch . . . check mirror . . .
change to third . . . clutch . . . change to second . . . accelerate’, and so on, you
just do it. You develop your instincts as a driver through practice and experience. It’s exactly the same with DJing.
You know that the first beat of the bar is emphasised, you know that the
melody or line of a lyric is likely to start on the first beat of a bar, and from
listening to the tune, you know the kind of end-of-phrase markers that a certain tune uses at the end of a phrase, at the end of half a phrase, and when
it’s about to change to another element like a verse or chorus.
In the Baa, Baa, Black Sheep example given in the earlier section ‘Multiplying
beats, bars, and phrases’, when you hear ‘Have you any wool?’, your instincts
tell you that you’re in the second bar of either Phrase 1 or Phrase 3, because
you know the lyrics so well.
The lyrics in the phrase that follows tells you what half of the verse you’re
in, so if the next phrase begins ‘One for the master’, you know that you’re
only in Phrase 2 – but if you hear ‘One to mend the jerseys’, you know that
it’s Phrase 4.
However, try to listen for the different end-of-phrase marker that can tell
you if you’re just halfway through the verse, or about to enter a new part
of the tune so you don’t have to rely on remembering a vast range of lyrics.
Songs without lyrics are exactly the same, except you have to listen for the
changes in music and instruments, rather than the changes of lyrics.
Listening to a Sample Structure
After you know how beats become bars, and bars multiply like rabbits (or
sheep for that matter!) to become verses and choruses, the best thing you
can do is to go through the structure of an entire tune, and then describe
each part in a bit more detail.
Chapter 13: Picking Up on the Beat: Song Structure
In my Web site to accompany this book (www.recess.co.uk), you find a
section that contains some audio examples. When you finish reading this
chapter, I recommend that you download one of the tunes. Listen to it, and
try to hear not only what happens to mark the change from the larger parts
of the tune, but also what happens every four and eight bars. The following
structure may help you discern the structure of the sample tune:
Intro: 16 bars
Verse 1: 16 bars (4 phrases)
Chorus 1: 8 bars (2 phrases)
Mini breakdown: 8 bars
Verse 2: 16 bars (4 phrases)
Chorus 2: 8 bars (2 phrases)
Breakdown: 16 bars
Chorus 3: 8 bars (2 phrases)
Verse 3: 16 bars (4 phrases)
Chorus 4: 8 bars (2 phrases)
Chorus 5: 8 bars (2 phrases)
Outro: 16 bars
Part III: The Mix
Chapter 14
Mixing Like the Pros
In This Chapter
Selecting the best placement points in your tunes
Using your mixer’s controls to their full potential
Reaching the next level of beatmatching
Mixing tips for different genres
n this chapter, you build on your beatmatching skills (refer to Chapter 12)
so that you can mix the tunes at the correct point, and use the controls on
the mixer to make the transition from tune to tune as smooth and skilful as
possible. The mixing techniques in this chapter take time, experimentation,
and practice to get right before you can use them creatively. Understand the
core concepts, but don’t be bound by them, and discover the moments when
breaking the rules is a good thing.
Recording your practice sessions when experimenting with the following
techniques can be useful. In the heat of the moment, you may think that
something didn’t work, but when you listen back, it actually turned out
great! Try anything, and if it sounds good to you – others may like it, too.
Check out my Web site (www.recess.co.uk) that accompanies this book
for examples of the techniques mentioned throughout the chapter.
Perfecting Placement
From Van Halen to Van Morrison, Silicon Soul to Soul to Soul, most tunes that
you play follow the basic building blocks described in Chapter 13; four beats
to a bar, four bars to a phrase, and multiples of eight bars to a section (a section is an entire intro, verse, chorus, and so on, and typically lasts for eight
or sixteen bars). One tune may have more choruses than another, or a longer
intro, monster length breakdowns or extended outros, but this structure
knowledge makes creating the perfect mix easier for you.
Part III: The Mix
The perfect mix begins with perfect placement. Placement is simply the choice
of what parts of the tunes you mix over each other. Perfect placement occurs
when both tunes start or end a section at the same time – not only are the
beats of both tunes matched, but their structural changes match too. If the
tune you want to mix out of (Tune A) is about to change from a chorus to its
outro, perfect placement would be to start the new tune (Tune B) so that its
change from intro to verse happens on the exact beat that Tune A changed.
Intros over outros
If Tune A has a 16-bar outro, and Tune B has a 16-bar intro, simply overlapping the intro and outro is an option, but often intros and outros have no
melody and are just a simple bass drum and hi-hats (the ‘tchsss’ sounding
cymbal sound). Sixteen bars of that though can sound dull, unprofessional,
and boring. Figure 14-1 shows an example of a better sounding transition,
where Tune A has two 8-bar choruses before the outro. You can create an
overlap with the 16-bar intro of Tune B playing over the two choruses
(marked Chorus 1 and Chorus 2) of Tune A. Then the outro of Tune A plays
over the verse of Tune B.
In all the figures in this chapter, numbers in italics mean that the tune is at a
lower volume, and numbers change size as the music fades in or out (gets
gradually louder or quieter). Bold numbers mean playing at normal volume.
Figure 14-1:
16-bar intro
of Tune B
playing over
the last two
choruses of
Tune A.
Tune A:
Tune B:
Chorus 1 ⎢ Chorus 2 ⎢
16-bar outro
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
16-bar intro
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
If both tunes had vocals in the chorus and verse, ending the vocal on Tune A,
then Tune B’s vocals starting instantly may seem a little too quick. In this
case, create a little rest, or an anticipation of what’s to come. To introduce
this pause, start Tune B at the end of Chorus 1, at the start of Chorus 2. This
later starting point creates an 8-bar rest while the outro of Tune A mixes with
the intro of Tune B, and then the verse of Tune B begins (see Figure 14-2).
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros
Figure 14-2:
The outro
of Tune A
mixes with
the intro of
Tune B.
Tune A:
Tune B:
Chorus 1 ⎢ Chorus 2 ⎢
16-bar outro
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢
16-bar intro
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ⎢
Ideally, the outro of Tune A or the intro of Tune B is more than just plain
drum beats. A bass melody or subtle background noise is enough to keep
interest going in this mix for 8 bars. A 4-bar rest is better if there are only
drum beats.
Melodic outro
Not all tunes have pounding bass beats from start to finish. Some have moody,
beatless, melodic outros that sound great over an intro with a strong beat.
In Figure 14-2, the intro was slowly faded up to sneak into the mix. However,
if you want to keep a constant beat going by mixing 16 bars of beat intro over
16 bars of beatless melodic outro, you have to start Tune B so that it instantly
plays at full volume.
If Tune B has a good build-up out of the intro, and into the verse, you can
keep Tune A’s outro playing at near to full volume until the end, then fade it
out on the very last beat before Tune B’s verse starts (check out Figure 14-3).
Figure 14-3:
Tune B’s
beat intro
mixes over
Tune A’s
Tune A:
Tune B:
Chorus 2
16-bar melodic outro
(Tune A has now ended)
12345678 12345678 12345678
16-bar bass beat intro
12345678 12345678 12345678 12345678
Part III: The Mix
Mixing beat intros over beatless melodic outros means you can’t afford to
make a starting error – you have to start the beat precisely in time. Spend
lots of time practising starting records so they’re instantly heard to develop
the confidence to start the beats on time, every time, without needing any
error correction. (If you need to go back to the basics of starting tunes, check
out Chapter 12). Waiting one or two beats to check that you’re in time, and
then quickly moving the cross-fader to the middle (or worse, fading in the
beats) makes the mix sound terrible, unprofessional, and usually ruins it
(and your reputation). This technique is a lot easier for CD DJs who only
need to press a button.
If you’re not confident with the instant start or don’t want to mix the full 16
bars of intro over outro, start the beats of Tune B at the beginning of Chorus
2 (8 bars before the outro of Tune A begins) to make sure that your timing is
immaculate. Then move the cross-fader to the middle after 8 bars, as Tune A
hits the outro (see Figure 14-4). You can also slowly mix in the beats using the
EQs (equalisers) through Chorus 2 to smooth the transition (see ‘Balancing it
out with EQs’ later in the chapter).
Figure 14-4:
Using the
to fade out
Tune A’s
outro over
the verse
of Tune B.
Tune A:
Tune B:
Chorus 2
16-bar outro
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 (very quiet, if not out completely)
16-bar intro
12345678 12345678 12345678 12345678
Melodic intro
The reverse of melodic outros is a bit tougher, because mixing an intro with
no beats means that with no drums to keep time, when the beats in Tune B
eventually start, you risk them playing at a completely different time to the
beats from Tune A.
If the intro has a melody or a very soft rhythm, concentrate on that. Tapping
your feet with this rhythm can help to keep your concentration. Practise this
mix as much as you can, as when you do it live, all the noise and distraction
in the DJ booth can mean that you end up with a train wreck of a mix!
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros
Mixing Breakdowns
You don’t have to play a tune from the very beginning to the very end. Mixing
two breakdowns over each other, or an intro over a breakdown can sound
great, and lets you shorten a really long tune. (Chapter 13 has more on breakdowns and mini-breakdowns.) Here are a few combinations to try:
Breakdown over breakdown: No matter whether your breakdowns are
8-bars or 16-bars long, if both are the same length, start Tune B’s breakdown as Tune A’s breakdown starts, then gradually fade and EQ out Tune
A so all that’s left is Tune B’s breakdown that’s about to build up into the
beats again. (See Figure 14-5.)
Mini-breakdowns: As breakdowns are normally at least halfway through
a tune, you may not want to start Tune B at that point, as it’ll cut out
so much of the tune. Have a listen through the track, an 8-bar minibreakdown may be in the first half of Tune B, probably after the first
chorus, or it may be right after the intro, used as a way to emphasise
the start of the main tune. In which case, try this (See Figure 14-6):
Figure 14-5:
mix over
each other
to skilfully
the new
Tune A:
Tune B:
12345678 1234
12345678 12345678 12345678 12345678
Figure 14-6:
A minibreakdown
a new tune
early on
rather than
Tune A:
Tune B:
12345678 12345678
12345678 12345678 12345678
Part III: The Mix
If you start Tune B 8 bars earlier so that you mix out halfway through
Tune A’s breakdown, you add a feel of urgency and pace to the mix
(See Figure 14-7):
Beat Intro over breakdown: This method, shown in Figure 14-8, is identical to starting a beat intro over a melodic outro (see Figure 14-3). You
need the confidence to start Tune B with the cross-fader open to carry
the beats through the breakdown. However, because this is a natural
breakdown in Tune A, you can fade in Tune B’s beats if you use the EQs
to kill the bass before starting the fade (see ‘Controlling the Sound of the
Mix’ later in the chapter for information on EQs). The hi-hats from Tune
A keep a rhythm going and you can quickly bring the bass in halfway
through the breakdown. How well this method works and how good it
sounds greatly depend on the tunes that you’re using.
In that example, if you’re still not confident starting the beats with an
open cross-fader, start Tune B in the same place, wait until the end of
the eighth bar, then quickly move the cross-fader to the middle. A
sudden introduction of beats can sometimes sound a bit jarring however, so you can try killing the bass and gradually fading Tune B in over
the first 8 bars of Tune A’s breakdown.
Figure 14-7:
By not
letting Tune
A finish its
mixing fully
into Tune B,
you achieve
a great
sense of
Tune A:
Tune B:
Figure 14-8:
Beats from
Tune B start
as Tune A
enters its
Tune A:
Tune B:
16-bar Breakdown
12345678 12345678
12345678 12345678
16-bar intro
12345678 12345678 12345678 12345678
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros
These examples are the simplest, most basic placement principles to take
into consideration when mixing your tunes. You can mix your tunes in thousands of different ways depending on where you start Tune B from, and
where in Tune A you start the mix. Change where you start Tune B backward
or forward by 8 or 16 bars, experiment with how soon or late to mix out of
the Tune A.
Listen to your tunes with an active ear for all the audio clues and markers
(refer to Chapter 13) that let you work out the best places to mix in and out
of your tunes.
Controlling the Sound of the Mix
After you’ve mastered the mechanics of beatmatching and know the best
places to mix in and out of your tunes, your true creativity comes from controlling the sound of the mix. The cross-fader, the channel-faders, and the EQ
controls on your mixer are the salt and lemon to your tequila, the candlelight
to your dinner, and the chocolate to your chilli; they all add extra zest and
finesse to the mix. (I’m not kidding – add a little chocolate to your chilli –
it’s lovely.)
Bringing the cross-fader into play
How fast you move the cross-fader from one tune to another can dramatically
alter the power of a mix. Smoothly moving from one tune to the other over
the course of 16 bars can be very subtle. Chopping back and forth from tune
to tune adds a sense of immediacy, which can be really powerful at the right
moment. These methods work with the right tunes, but if all you do is whip
the fader across quickly for each mix, you’ll come across as a DJ who can’t
hold the beats matched for a long time and needs to mix out quickly.
Don’t forget that every mix has two halves. You’re not only bringing in a new
tune, the old tune still needs to be taken out. Apply the same care and attention when moving the cross-fader to fully mix out of a track, as you do when
mixing in the new track.
A cross-fader move that lasts four beats or less is hard to get wrong, just
time the move from one side to the other to last four beats (you’ll be at the
halfway point by the second beat). Moves that last longer than four beats
need a bit more of a pattern and control to them.
Part III: The Mix
The way to approach longer mixes is to move the cross-fader so that the
increases occur on the hi-hat tchsss sound in between the bass drums. This
method helps to hide the increase in volume from the new track, and makes
taking out the old tune less noticeable. The cymbal crashes and build-ups are
great places to hide larger moves of the cross-fader. When something from
either tune adds impact, move the cross-fader a further distance than the
move before. If you suddenly hear the mix starting to sound messy, move the
cross-fader back a bit, and let the music play for a bar without any increase
(provided you have time in the tunes to do so).
You can also use crescendos and temporary bass beat drop-outs to disguise
your cross-fader moves. A crescendo is a fancy way of saying build-up. A fourbeat crescendo is over quite quickly, so you may want to have the two tunes
mixed together for a couple of phrases beforehand with the cross-fader still
favouring Tune A (the outgoing tune). Then during the four beats of the
crescendo, move the cross-fader over so that the new tune is dominant, and
the old tune is playing in the background. When to finish the mix is up to you.
The opposite is just as appropriate. Instead of a build-up, the last four beats
of a phrase may have no bass drum beat. Instead of playing the new tune
lightly in the background, keep it silent, then just as the last beat of Tune A’s
anti-build-up plays (at the end of the phrase), quickly move the cross-fader
over to the new tune. Moving the cross-fader all the way over in one beat can
be an incredibly powerful mix, or you can move the cross-fader so that it
favours the new tune (about three-quarters of the way across) and kill the
bass on the outgoing tune to keep it subtly playing in the background (see
the section ‘Balancing it out with EQs’ for info on EQ control).
Discovering the secret of channel-faders
Channel-faders are lonely little fellows. Lots of DJs put them up to full and
leave them there forever. But these vertical faders have a secret, undercover
role that many DJs don’t tap in to.
The primary role of the channel-fader is to work in conjunction with the gain
control to control how loud the music from a channel plays out of the mixer.
(If you’re unsure of how to make this adjustment, check out Chapter 8.) With
the input levels matched for both channels, you need to decide where to set
the channel-faders when you want the tunes to play at their loudest.
DJs quite commonly set up their mixer so that the channel-fader needs to be
set to its highest point (sometimes marked 10) for this optimum play out
volume. For scratch DJs, this setting is correct, and very important so that
they can just flick up the fader to be at full volume, but for beatmatching DJs
who try to keep the volume of the mix a smooth constant from start to finish,
this isn’t the best way to set up the mixer.
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros
The best way to set up your mixer is so that your channel-faders are set at
three-quarters of the way to maximum (around 7 if your fader is marked from
0–10). Using this technique means that when you mix in the next tune, if the
tune is a bit too quiet even though the levels looked correct, you can quickly
raise the channel-fader to compensate for the lack of volume.
Letting you in on a big, curvy secret
Cross-fader curves affect how much one tune gets louder and the other one
gets quieter as the cross-fader is moved from side to side (you can find examples of cross-fader curves in Chapter 8). However, sometimes the curve isn’t
subtle enough for a smooth, seamless mix and can cause the two tunes to
play too loudly over each other, sounding messy and unprofessional. So you
need to find a way to gain more control over the output of each tune during
the mix. The channel-faders release you from the strict constraints of the
cross-fader curve.
For a simple mix that gives you precise control over each tune’s volume try
the following:
1. Set the channel-fader on the new tune (Tune B) to one-quarter of its
loudest point.
2. When you’re ready to start mixing in the new tune, move the crossfader into the middle, following the techniques described in the section ‘Bringing the cross-fader into play’ earlier in this chapter.
3. Start to raise Tune B’s channel-fader, continuing to increase it in time
with the hi-hats.
4. Keep an eye on the output meters, and an ear on the sound of the mix,
and as the Tune B gets louder, slowly lower the channel-fader of the
outgoing tune (Tune A) until the Tune B is dominant, and Tune A is
playing at a volume that is best for that moment in the mix (likely to
be similar to where the channel-fader was when you started Tune B).
5. When you want to fully mix out Tune A, move the cross-fader all the
way over to Tune B’s side.
How you change the positions of the channel-faders, and the time you take to
do so, is up to you. You can simply raise one fader while lowering the other, or
wait for the Tune B’s channel-fader to be halfway up before you start lowering
Tune A’s fader. Make the adjustments depending on your own personal style,
the output levels and what sounds best with the two tunes you’re using.
Part III: The Mix
If you prefer, you can leave the cross-fader in the middle (or turn it off if
you have that function) to bypass the cross-fader function all together. This
option gives you ultimate control over the individual volumes of your tunes
during the mix. The only difference to the previous method is that you start
with the channel-fader at 0 for the incoming tune (Tune B), and end with the
channel-fader at 0 for the outgoing tune (Tune A).
Balancing it out with EQs
As with channel-faders, EQs have multiple roles. The first role is sound control; affecting how the music sounds on tape or to the dance floor. You can
also use EQs to add some variation and spice to a tune. Check out the section
‘Cutting in’ later in this chapter. But their most useful role is in smoothing the
sound of the mix. Good EQ control can’t do anything about a poor choice of
tunes to mix together, but great EQ control can turn a passable mix into an
incredible one.
Smoothing a transition with the bass EQ
The bass EQ is the one that you use most to create an even sound through
the mix. When both tunes play with their bass at full, even if one tune is quieter than the other, the bass drums are too powerful and the bass melodies
combine to sound messy.
The simplest but most effective technique is to kill the bass (reduce it to or
near to, its lowest point) on the incoming tune when you start to mix it in,
and when you want to make this tune the dominant one, increase the bass EQ
at the same time as decreasing the bass EQ on the tune that you are mixing
out of. This manoeuvre means that the amount of bass you hear through the
speakers stays the same; the bass is simply coming from a different tune.
With the right tunes, taking your time over this swap can create a subtle,
unnoticeable mix. Or, swapping the EQs in one beat can cause a hands in the
air moment to emphasise a change in key (see Chapter 17), a change in the
power of the mix, a change in genre, or to introduce the bass line from a tune
that you know the crowd will love.
Taking the edge off with the mid-range and high-end
Despite the fact that the high frequencies aren’t as loud and obvious as the
bass frequencies, they’re just as important in controlling the sound of the
mix. Two sets of loud hi-hats playing over each other can sound just as bad
as two sets of bass drums and bass melodies. The technique is exactly the
same as the bass EQ, except you don’t need to cut the high EQ nearly as
much. For example, on my Pioneer DJM-600 mixer, I find that the twelve
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros
o’clock position is normally the best place to leave the EQ for normal playout. When I want to cut out the high EQ to help the sound of the mix, I only
need to move the knob to around the ten o’clock position (rather than the
seven o’clock position for the bass EQ).
As the mid EQ covers a larger range of frequencies, how much you use this
technique depends on the tunes you’re playing. You may not need to swap
over the mid EQs if there isn’t a noticeable clash of sounds, or you may even
find that rather than cutting the mid EQ, you want to boost it. Sometimes,
when the outgoing tune is playing quieter, I boost the mid-range to play just
those frequencies louder than normal. If you have a melody or sound repeating in the background of the tune, this emphasis can lengthen and strengthen
the mix.
Always keep an eye on the meters and an ear on the sound of the mix while
you’re swapping any EQs. Strive to keep an even sound as the two tunes play
over each other. If one tune is too loud, or both tunes have too much bass or
high frequency, you may create a cacophony of noise.
Using Mixing Tricks and Gimmicks
Tricks and gimmicks are great to use once in a while as they add surprise,
and a little pizzazz to your mix. Avoid over using them, however, because
the listener may think that you only use them because you can’t mix between
tunes properly. They’re best used as transitions in to a new chapter of the
mix, an increase in energy, a change in genre, a key change, or even just a
change in tempo.
With each technique, experiment with how long you take to move the
cross-fader and where the cross-fader is positioned when you start the
trick. Start by setting the cross-fader so that you can’t hear the next tune
until the start of the move, then find out what it sounds like if you have the
cross-fader in the middle when you start the move. Give thought to volume
control as well because some of these tricks really don’t like to be performed
with the channel-fader at maximum – you may deafen the dance floor, and
can blow a speaker!
Spinbacks and dead-stops
Try out a technique called a spinback – abbreviated SB in Figure 14-9.
Beatmatch and start a mix between two tunes with perfect placement (see
‘Perfecting Placement’ at the beginning of the chapter) so that the tune you
Part III: The Mix
want to mix out of (Tune A) ends a section as Tune B (the new tune) begins
the first phrase of a section. On the very last beat before this change, place
your finger on Tune A and spin the record back, sharply. As the tune spins
backwards, close the cross-fader over to Tune B within one beat, as shown in
Figure 14-9:
Figure 14-9:
spinback is
on the
fourth beat Tune A:
of the fourth Tune B:
bar, then
mixes into
Tune B.
Bar 1 Bar 2 Bar 3 Bar 4
Bar 1
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 SB SILENT
1234 1234 1234 1234
To perform a dead-stop, instead of spinning the record back in the example
above, press the Start/Stop button on Tune A (the one you’re mixing out of).
This action makes the tune stop playing in about one beat (unless your decks
have a function to change the ‘brake speed’ and you’ve set it to last longer).
As with the spinback, move the cross-fader over to Tune B by the time it
plays the first beat of the new section (so the move only lasts one beat).
Power off
A power off is when you turn off the power to the turntable (normally located
bottom left with the red strobe light underneath it). When you turn off the
turntable, it gradually gets slower and slower, until it stops.
Power off is a great trick in the DJ booth if you have good lights, and someone who knows how to use them. Ask your partner-in-mayhem to kill the
lights at the same time as you do the power off. Chances are, everyone will
think ‘Power Cut!!’. After a few seconds, slam in the next tune at the most
powerful point, at full volume, as the lighting jock floods the dance floor with
as much light as possible. This trick takes the dance floor by surprise, and –
you hope – really jazzes them up. It’s very clichéd, but at the right time,
works a treat.
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros
A cappella
If you have an instrumental track that you think would sound better with
something else over the top of it, look for an a cappella, a separate vocal
track without any instruments behind it.
The problem with using vocals is that you need the vocal to be sung in the
same key as the instrumental you want to play it over, otherwise it sounds
out of tune. This makes speeches and other spoken words a great alternative.
I have a copy of JFK’s inaugural speech that I love to mix over long instrumental tracks. The line ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’ is an
incredible introduction into the most powerful parts of a tune.
Don’t get so involved in your new creation that you forget to mix in the next
track. Your blend of a ‘Learn Italian’ lesson over a great instrumental may be
going down really well, but if you run out of time to beatmatch and mix in the
next tune, you’ve wasted your time.
A third input device (CD/turntable/laptop) in your set-up lets you play the a
cappella over the instrumental, beatmatch the next tune, and start the mix
with the a cappella playing the whole time. You can also use an audio program to pre-mix the creation on computer, burning it CD to play later.
However, the spontaneous performance side of the live new mix is often
what makes it special.
Cutting in
Cutting in beats from another tune gets its roots from beatjuggling (see Chapter
16). The idea is to beat match two tunes, and move the cross-fader between
them to temporarily cut in beats from one tune over the other. In the right
hands, this method can be incredibly fast and complicated. Figure 14-10
shows a basic, slow pattern (underlined numbers are the beats you can hear):
Figure 14-10:
beats from
Tune B are
‘cut in’ to
Tune A to Tune A:
add power Tune B:
and a new
feel to
the tune.
Bar 1 Bar 2 Bar 3 Bar 4 Bar 1
1234 1234 1234 1234 1234
1234 1234 1234 1234 1234
Part III: The Mix
You don’t have to move the cross-fader all the way over when cutting in
beats, you can go three-quarters of the way across so that you can still hear
the original tune. I find placing a finger at the three-quarter point helps this,
because you can just bounce the cross-fader off your finger – it stops the
cross-fader getting any further than three-quarters of the way across, no
matter how fast or hard you cut in the other tune.
A variation on cutting in beats is cutting out frequencies of the tune. Dropping
the power out of the bass for the last bar of a phrase before it changes to
a new element can be extremely effective, and using it when the crowd is
extremely excitable and energetic can blow the roof off the club. Which is
no mean feat if you’re in the basement!
Mixing Different Styles of Music
Some genres of music don’t rely on rules like beatmatching and perfect placement in order to get from tune to tune. The music is more important than the
mix, but making the transition from one tune to another does take a special
skill. You still need these techniques as a beatmatching DJ; you may need
these skills to change genres, take over from someone else, or change the
feel of the mix.
The wedding/party/rock/pop mix
In many ways, the transition between tunes is a lot harder for the wedding/
party/rock/pop DJ. A beatmatching DJ has the safety net of simply matching
the beats, and then fading between tunes, with no fade out, no sudden start,
no change in tempo, and no drastic genre change. The wedding/party DJ
needs to work with all these issues.
The important part of this mix is where in the new tune you start. Tunes like
‘Brown Eyed Girl’ by Van Morrison (a wedding favourite) that have a powerful, instant start are great to work with. As the outgoing tune is fading out,
start the opening bass melody of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ at full volume, then
quickly fade out the outgoing tune within one or two beats. You can wait for
a natural fade at the end of a track, or if you don’t want to wait that long, fade
the outgoing song down to about 50 per cent of its current volume, then start
the new track at full volume.
If you want to mix a house tune with pounding bass beats into a track you can’t
beatmatch out of, the technique is still the same. Because house tracks tend to
have long, beat-only intros, start them later, when the main tune kicks in.
Chapter 14: Mixing Like the Pros
Looking deeper at the technique, you have to work out how much you need
to fade out a tune before starting the next one, and when to start the next
tune. Some tunes sound fine when you start them at the beginning of the outgoing tune’s bar – some sound better on the third or fourth beat of the bar.
Practice and experience in listening to, and playing, your tunes lets you
develop the skill, and an instinct for how best to mix your tunes.
Of course, not all records have a powerful point in the tune that you’d like to
start from. For instance, maybe you want to play a slow track, so people can
smooch and dance closer (and you can run to the bathroom or the bar). The
mix out of the last track is the same as with the ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ track, but
instead of an immediate, full-volume start on the new track, it may sound
better if you took a full bar (four beats) to go from quiet to full volume, and
create a smooth, swelling fade-up of ‘Wonderful Tonight’, for example.
Another option is to talk during the mix. Your tales of the buffet, drink
promos, and comments about the mother-of-the bride’s inappropriate
dancing can all be used to cover a mix.
The trick is to control the volume of the music as you speak into the microphone; keep the music low enough so that you can be heard, but loud enough
so that it doesn’t sound like a monologue from you. Listen to how radio DJs
talk over the beginning of songs that they play. They know when the tune
changes from intro to the main song and time their chatter to coincide; get to
know your tunes so you can do the same thing. Perform a simple cross-fade
between the two tunes, speaking over the mix to hide the transition, and stop
waffling just as the main tune starts. Chapter 22 has more information about
talking into a microphone.
The R & B mix
R & B doesn’t tend to have the long, luxurious intros that house and trance
music has, so the tunes often have a very good opening bar that you can use
to mix over the last tune much like the party DJ mix. In addition, R & B often
kills bass beats for the last bar of a phrase, making this point perfect for
mixing in the new tune, because otherwise the complicated, bass-heavy
drums fight with each other.
R & B does have scope for beatmatching if you have tunes with similar beat
patterns, but R & B works best when the beatmatch mix is as short as possible. Using the new tune, a short baby scratch (see Chapter 16) in time with
the beats on the outgoing tune, then starting the new tune playing from a
powerful point is an excellent way to mix when you can’t match beats.
Part III: The Mix
Drum and bass, and breakbeat
Drum and bass, and breakbeat are both genres that tend to follow the four
beats to a bar structure that house/trance follows, so you’re normally able
to follow the basic principles of placement mentioned in the earlier section
‘Perfecting Placement’. However, the beats in the bars are a lot more complicated, so if you’re trying to beatmatch breakbeat or drum and bass, it can
help to focus on the snare sounds instead of the bass drums.
A huge phenomenon in drum and bass circles over the past few years has
been the double drop, an extension of breakdown mixing. All genres can
benefit from this technique. Beatmatch and start a mix so that two tunes are
about to hit a breakdown (also called a drop) at the same time – the drop on
either tune may be the main breakdown, or a shorter one earlier or later in
the tune. The key is to mix them together so they both come out of their
drops at the same time, after which you keep both tunes audible, playing
through the speakers. So if you’re mixing an 8-bar drop into a 16-bar drop,
be sure to start the 8-bar drop halfway through the longer one.
Tune selection is vital for creating a good sounding double-drop. Don’t
perform it with just any two tunes – they need to have a complementary
rhythm and key, and you need to pay special attention to volume and
EQ control on both tunes to avoid a messy sound. Experiment with the
tunes you use, and the drops in the tune you use for the double-drop.
Performed well, this live re-mix when playing two tunes over each other
sounds really powerful.
Chapter 15
Mixing with CDs
In This Chapter
Locating the right tune and cue point using different CD deck controls
Starting the CD and making pitch corrections
Trying out additional CD deck features
he great thing about mixing with CDs is that the only way the beats of two
tunes can drift out of time is if you haven’t correctly set the pitch. When
the pitch is right and the beats are in sync, all you have to worry about is the
mix, not dodgy motors on cheap turntables.
Chapter 12 is written with the vinyl DJ in mind. This chapter discusses the
controls on CD decks and how CD DJs use them to do the same thing as the
vinyl DJ, then take mixing to another level of creativity.
Navigating the CD
No matter what format you use to DJ with – CD, MP3, vinyl, and so on – the
basic concepts of beatmatching remain the same: find a precise starting point
(the cue), set the pitch control so that the beats of your tunes play at the
same speed, and start the new tune so that the beats play at the same time
as the other tune. The choice you make about what format to use only affects
the mechanics of how you go about each stage.
Vinyl is an easy format to use to find the cue – simply pick the right side of
the record, look at the groove, place the needle near to where you want to
start, then play the record backwards and forwards to find the precise cue
point. The hardest part of vinyl DJing is starting the record so the beats play
in time with the beats on the other tune.
Part III: The Mix
CD DJing is completely opposite to vinyl DJing. After you’ve found the correct
cue point, it’s extremely easy to start the tune in time; all you need to do is
press the start button in time with the other beats. Locating the precise cue
however, is a bit more difficult. Finding the cue on a CD means locating the
right track on the CD, scanning (fast-forward or rewinding) through the track
to find the general area you want to start from, then fine tuning the cue by
playing the CD forwards or backwards by the smallest of amounts.
Although this doesn’t sound particularly difficult, remember that you don’t
have a visual reference other than the time display to know where (or when)
you’re in the tune in order to set the cue. Wave displays, which have a series
of peaks and troughs to show the louder and quieter parts of the tune, can
help with this problem, but you only find them on the more expensive CD
decks such as the Pioneer CDJ1000MkIII (check out Chapter 7 for more information, and a picture).
Keep the inlay covers or written tracklists with your CDs (don’t just print on
the CD itself though – reading when the CD’s spinning inside the CD player is
rather hard!) If you put all your CDs together in a case, this makes it easier to
read the track names and numbers, and saves you time and frustration when
trying to find the track you want to play next in the mix.
Different CD decks have slightly different sets of controls to find the cue,
using one, or (more commonly) a mixture of the following designs:
Jog dials
CD decks with very basic controls use only buttons to navigate the CD, as
shown in Figure 15-1. One pair of + and – buttons are used to go through the
track numbers on the CD to locate the correct tune to play. A second pair is
used for searching through the CD, and for fine tuning the cue point.
Figure 15-1:
panel on
the Gemini
Chapter 15: Mixing with CDs
The longer you hold down search buttons, the faster the CD plays in either
direction. If you just tap the search button, the CD plays frame by frame (a
frame is the smallest time change that the CD deck can give you), which
enables you to locate the exact cue.
Repeatedly tapping the search button makes the music play in slow-mo, but
because the CD deck repeats each frame you stop on over and over again
until you move on, the sound you hear is like a broken CD. This digital noise
can initially lead to difficulty in hearing where you are in the tune, making it
hard to set a precise cue. Listen out for a change in the sound that’s playing;
when the sound has more bass to it, you’re likely to be on the bass drum.
(Your cue is likely to be one of the bass drums in the tune – see Chapter 12.)
Using buttons to find the cue is quite laborious and takes patience and a
good memory of the tune to do quickly. However, developing the knack for
finding the cue this way doesn’t take long, and although the cheaper, budget
CD decks tend to use only buttons, as long as you can find the precise cue
when you need to, nothing’s wrong with this basic design.
Jog dials
The Jog dial on a twin CD deck is between 3–5 inches in diameter, and is normally made of two parts, an outer ring and an inner disc (see Figure 15-2).
Figure 15-2:
The jog dial
on a twin CD
Part III: The Mix
CD decks with jog dials still usually use buttons to find the track you want to
play on the CD, but a sprung outer ring on the dial replaces the search button
on the cheaper decks to find the general area in the tune you want to start
from. How far you turn the ring left or right changes how fast the tune searches
backwards or forwards. When released, the ring returns to the centre position, playing the music at the speed you set with the pitch control.
An inner disc inside the outer, sprung ring makes fine-tuning the cue a lot
easier. Most CD decks are designed so that their inner disc gives a little click
as it turns, with each click representing a frame in the music. By spinning this
disc backwards and forwards quickly, you can play the music in slow-mo,
then turn the disc slower to play the music slower to find the exact frame.
When scanning through the track frame by frame, you do still hear a digital
repetition of the frame you are on, so this still takes concentration, a knack,
and a good ear to hear properly.
The jog dial on a twin CD deck is small and quite fiddly to use, but the ease of
use of the centre disc makes finding a precise cue a lot easier than just pressing buttons. Single CD decks that use a sprung jog dial tend to have much
larger dials because the top of the deck has more room – and this increased
workspace makes fine-tuning the cue easier.
Digital turntables, which act and have controls almost identical to vinyl
turntables, have revolutionised CD DJing. CD decks used to try to keep up
with, and emulate turntables, but the introduction of platters now means CD
decks have matched, and surpassed, the functionality of the vinyl turntable.
You have a choice of motorised, rotating platters (as found on the Technics
SLDZ1200 and Denon DN-S3500 – see Figure 15-3) and manual platters (as
with the Pioneer CDJ1000MkIII that I use), which only turn and affect the
music when you touch the platter. You can find the cue in the same way as a
vinyl DJ, by controlling the CD just like a record on a turntable, spinning the
platter back and forth to find the general area of the tune. But more importantly, when locating the cue, these decks emulate the exact sound you’d
hear if you were using vinyl rather than the stuttering, digital, broken CD
sound on other CD decks.
You can still use track Skip and Search buttons to locate the general area in a
specific tune, but you then use the platter to fine-tune the cue point like you
would with a record on a turntable, playing it backwards and forwards until
you find the exact place.
Chapter 15: Mixing with CDs
Figure 15-3:
The Denon
Working with the Cue
Finding the cue, storing it to the CD deck, being able to immediately and accurately return to it time and time again, edit it, and reset it, are not only all vital
functions, but also make the CD deck more advanced than vinyl turntables.
After you locate and store a cue, you never have any doubt that when you
return to the cue and press Play on the CD deck, you’ll start at the exact same
place time and time again (until you change the set cue point of course).
The four steps to properly work with the cue are:
1. Locate the cue.
2. Store the cue.
3. Check the cue
4. Start the tune from the cue.
Part III: The Mix
Locating the cue
No matter what controls your CD deck has, you need to locate the precise
cue. If you often start from similar parts of the track, take a note of what the
time display reads and write that info next to the track title on the inlay
Some CD decks (like the CDJ1000s) have memory cards that can save the cue
points that you set on your CDs. This means that you can return to a previously stored cue almost immediately after you pop the CD into the deck.
If you haven’t written down the cue time, or your CD deck doesn’t save cue
points, you need to search for a desired cue. Here’s how to use the controls
to find the cue:
1. Use the Search controls to get close to where you want to set the cue,
and if the tune doesn’t automatically start playing when you release
the search control, press Play so that you can hear the music playing
as normal.
2. When you’re near to the cue point, press Play again to pause the
music, then use the Jog controls (buttons, dials, or platters) to slowly
go through the tune to find the exact start point of a the first bass
drum of a bar or phrase, or whatever piece of music you want to start
When fine-tuning the cue, if you want to start on a bass drum, you’ll hear the
sound change to have more bass frequencies as the drum hits. Experiment
with setting the cue before, or on this sound, to see how this affects your
timing when you press play. It may only be 100th of a second difference, but it
can make all the difference between starting beats in time, or slightly out of
Storing the cue
After you’ve found your cue point, you need to store that position to the CD
deck. On some CD decks, when the CD is in Pause mode and you’ve located
the exact cue, you simply need to press Play to set the cue point and if you
ever need to return to it, just press the cue button again. Pioneer CD decks
are different in that you press the Cue button to store the cue when you’ve
found it. Interestingly, the Denon DNS3500 CD decks have a button that lets
you choose between either of those methods, so you can set the cue in the
way that’s most familiar to you. Read the manual that comes with your CD
decks so you know what method you should use to store the cue.
Chapter 15: Mixing with CDs
Check the cue
Press Play, and if you find that you haven’t set the cue accurately enough,
press the Cue button to return to the cue. Use the jog controls to find the correct cue, and then set the a new cue by pressing Play or Cue when in Pause
mode (depending on your CD decks).
After you’ve found and successfully stored the cue, you need to return the CD
to that cue, ready to start the tune in the mix. This usually means pressing
the Cue button. If you paused the CD as you pressed Cue, the CD may return
and pause. If the CD was playing at the time you pressed Cue, it’ll return to
cue and continue playing.
If you’re in Pause mode on a Pioneer CD deck, pressing Cue resets the cue to
the point where you paused the CD instead of returning to the set cue, so it
needs to be in Play mode to return to the cue. You won’t make this mistake
too often, but it may take a little time to get used to.
Starting the tune
Starting tracks for beatmatching on CD is a lot easier than on vinyl. Listen to
the bass beat from the other tune, try to block out the rest of the music and
focus on the boom from the bass; almost like meditation. When you are at
one with the beat, and are at the best part of the tune to start, press the Play
button, and you should start the bass beats in sync with the other tune.
Pressing the button exactly on the beat takes practice, but it’s nowhere near
as hard as starting tunes on a turntable.
If you prefer starting tunes like vinyl, CD decks with motorised platters let
you do this. You simply find the cue point, hold the platter still, then let go,
or give a little push to start the tune.
Adjusting the Pitch
As with vinyl DJing, locating the cue and starting the tune in time is only part
of beatmatching. The other important part is using the pitch control to adjust
the speed to make the bass beats of the new tune in the mix play at the same
time as the one currently playing through the speakers.
The good news is that the pitch slider on CD decks acts in exactly the same
way as on a turntable (refer to Chapter 5). They may have improvements,
such as adjusting the range from 4 per cent to 100 per cent or more, but the
Part III: The Mix
principle is the same: moving it towards you (into the + area) makes the tune
play faster; away from you (the – area) makes the tune play slower. (Check
out Chapter 12 for more on the basics of using pitch control when mixing.)
If the pitch control is set slightly too fast or too slow and the beats start to
drift, you can’t push the CD like a piece of vinyl (even if you could, the CD
would skip). So pitch bend controls are on hand to get the tracks back in time.
These controls may be different depending on the CD decks you’re using:
Buttons: Normally found on twin CD decks rather than single decks, two
buttons, one marked ‘+’ and one marked ‘–’ temporarily speed up or
slow down the tune when you press them. The longer (and sometimes
harder) you press the button, the greater the pitch bend you achieve.
When you let go of the button, the CD returns to the speed you originally
set with the pitch control.
Small jog ring: Found on a number of twin CD decks, there’s usually a
button or switch that changes the function of the sprung outer ring from
‘search’ to ‘pitch-bend’. You turn the jog ring to the right to go slightly
faster, and to the left to go slower. How far left or right you turn the ring
affects how large a pitch bend you get. When you return the ring to the
centre position, the CD plays at the set pitch again
Large jog wheel: Depending on your CD deck, the large jog wheel may
work in exactly the same way as the small jog ring above. In the case of
the expensive CD decks with platters, you can temporarily adjust the
speed that the tune plays at as if it was a piece of vinyl.
With vinyl, if you need the record to run faster you can make the record
turn faster, or if you need to slow it down, you add some resistance to
the side of the deck. It’s exactly the same with the DNS3500 and the
SLDZ1200, push the platter to play it faster, or run your finger along the
side to slow it.
The Pioneer CDJ1000 uses a ring around the edge of the platter as a pitch
bend. Turn it clockwise to speed up the tune, or anticlockwise to slow it
down. Importantly, it’s only when the ring moves that any change happens
to the CD and the speed the ring is moved at directly affects the amount of
pitch bend. So quickly spinning the ring forward or back by a couple of
inches is normally all it takes to get the beats back in sync.
No matter what method you use to adjust the pitch error, remember to
change the pitch control to reflect your adjustment. If you needed to briefly
slow down the tune, make sure that you reduce the pitch control slightly, and
increase it if you needed to speed up. Otherwise, because you haven’t set the
speed of the tunes exactly in time, you’ll need to keep using the pitch bend to
get the beats back in time.
Chapter 15: Mixing with CDs
Taking Advantage of Special Features
Given that scratching on CD seemed impossible a few years ago, yet now
most professional CD decks offer this function, guessing what future possibilities may be in store for the CD deck is exciting. For the present though, CD
decks have more creative control than a regular, vinyl turntable, offering features such as the following:
Master tempo: Master tempo on a CD deck is the same as on a turntable
(refer to Chapter 5). This function allows you to speed up or slow down
a tune without changing the key that the music was recorded in. So if
you play Barry White and pitch him up (speed up the tune) by 16 per
cent, he still sounds like Barry, whereas decks without Master Tempo
make him sound like a chipmunk.
Hot Cues: Normally labeled 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C, these are extra cue points
that can be set on-the-fly, which means that you don’t have to stop or
pause the CD in order to set them. Doing so takes a little hand/ear coordination, but setting and then returning to these cue points is very
You can use hot-cues to jump around the CD, instantly playing different
parts of a tune, or even jump to a cue set in another track on the CD!
Repeatedly pressing the same Cue button lets you play the same part
over and over, returning to that cue point each time you press the
Loop: The loop function plays a discreet part of a tune from an in point
(that you can set anywhere in the tune) to an out point (that you also
need to set). When you hit the Loop button, the music plays from in to
out, then in to out over and over again, until you stop the loop. You can
use this creatively to keep a good part of a track repeating, or you can
use it as a safety net. If you haven’t had time to set up the next track in
the mix yet and you’re approaching the end of a tune, you can repeat a
section of the end of the tune, giving you the time to set up and mix in a
new tune. (This shouldn’t ever happen, but sometimes, you spend too
long talking to the wrong person, and run out of record.)
Looping intros and outros, or sections of a tune can extend the mix, and
subtly remix the tune to make something different, or looping part of a
buildup to extend it adds variety to the mix. If the build-up is a drumroll, edit the length of the loop so it gets shorter and shorter; the shorter
the loop gets, the more frantic the breakdown sounds and you can work
the crowd into a frenzy before finally ending the loop or hitting a hot-cue
button and crashing back into the powerful beats of the tune.
Part III: The Mix
Sample banks: Similar to the loop function, instead of setting in and out
points to play, you can record a section of the music into sample banks
(memory contained on the CD deck) to play back as and when you like.
You can use the stored samples in as many ways as you can think of.
They can be looped, played on their own, and, on some CD decks, they
can also play over the CD that the sample was taken from, letting you
remix a track or mix into another tune on the same CD! The creative possibilities are endless.
Reverse: Reverse play is possible, and a nice gimmick with vinyl, but CD
decks give you a lot more control. For starters, you can choose whether
you want the CD to go into reverse just like a turntable or instantly. If a
record is at 0 pitch at 33 revs per minute (rpm), the record needs to
slow down from 33 rpm to 0, and then accelerate from 0 to 33 rpm in
reverse. Some CD decks offer the same de-acceleration and acceleration
sound, but also the choice to instantly reverse the tune without any
delay. The Denon DNS3500 gives an incredible level of control over
reverse playback.
The extras available on CD decks mount up with each release. Built-in effects,
scratching, MP3 playback, advanced reverse play, visual displays for the
track’s waveform, and more – to go through each feature and their best uses
would take up the rest of this book!
If you’re unsure about what your CD deck can do, or the best way to utilise
the functions, read the manual, go to clubs to see them used in action, and
look at the manufacturers’ Web sites; they may have video clips of their gear
in action.
Or just toss the manual under the bed and experiment for a while. Then after
you’re thoroughly confused, try to find that manual again . . .
Chapter 16
Scratching Lyrical
In This Chapter
Ensuring your gear is up to scratch
Marking your records properly
Scratching on vinyl, CD, MP3, and computer
Lending you a helping hand with basic scratching
cratching is a specialised skill that takes a lot of practice and patience to
master. When you’ve taken the time to develop the skill, half the people
you know will drop their jaws in amazement at what you’re doing, while the
other half will open their mouths just as wide – and yawn.
Whether you go on to develop the crab, the flare, or the twiddle is up to you,
but if you can master the baby scratch, the forward scratch, and the cut,
even if you consider yourself only a beatmatching, mixing DJ, you’ll be adding
another weapon to your arsenal of knowledge.
Scratching techniques get you used to working with vinyl. When you’ve
grasped the basics you develop a feel for how much pressure you need to
apply (very little) in order to hold the record still while the deckplatter is
turning, you’re able to wind the record back and forth without the needle
flying off, and you develop solid, stable hands when holding the record
stopped, ready to start it.
The Web site that accompanies this book has audio and video clips to support the information contained in this chapter, because most of the techniques are better shown rather than described. Be sure to logon to check
that you’re happy with what you’re doing (see www.recess.co.uk).
Part III: The Mix
Setting Up the Equipment the Right Way
Anyone who has used equipment that was poorly configured or wasn’t suitable for scratching will show the emotional scars as proof that you can’t
afford to get the set-up wrong.
If you’re using CDs to scratch with, you don’t need to set up much on the CD
decks, apart from maybe the resistance of the platter (see Chapters 7 and 15)
and switching the CD deck to vinyl mode in order to create the right ‘scratch’
For traditional, turntable scratch DJs, I mention a few of the basic, but vital
requirements that your turntables need to be suitable for DJing in Chapter 5.
Turntables built for mixing share many of the same characteristics as those
used for scratching. Powerful, direct-drive motors are essential, and an
adjustable tonearm, removable headshells, and sturdy design are also crucial.
However, how you set up the needles, the orientation of the turntable, and
how you plug in to your mixer are just as important as the make and model
of turntable that you’re using.
A big factor for scratching DJs is the positioning of the decks. Instead of setting them up as the manufacturer intended (tonearm and pitch fader on the
right-hand side), scratch DJs rotate the entire turntable, 90 degrees anticlockwise, so that the tonearm and pitch control are farthest away from the DJ.
The traditional set-up only gives the DJ around 100 degrees of the record’s
circumference to work with (shown in Figure 16-1, top), so the DJ can only
pull the record back so far before hitting the needle, which would knock it
out of the groove. Rotating the turntable by 90 degrees gives the DJ 250
degrees of vinyl to work with (shown in Figure 16-1, bottom), making scratching that much easier.
Weighing up needles
The most popular needle for scratching over the years has been the Shure
M44-7, shown in Figure 16-2, though the DMC Championships (where scratch
DJs compete to be the best) recently insisted that all contestants used carts
and needles from the Ortofon range, to create fairness among all contestants.
Check out Chapter 6 for information on what makes a needle good for
scratch use.
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
Range of motion
Tone arm
Range of motion
Tone arm
Figure 16-1:
Rotating the
gives you
250 degrees
of vinyl to
work with.
Part III: The Mix
Figure 16-2:
The Shure
needle and
No matter what you use, how you set up the needle and the counterweight
can drastically affect the stability of the needle. You don’t want the needle
jumping out of the groove when you’re performing a tough scratch.
The two ways to control the stability of your needle are through the downforce acting on the needle, and the angle that it ‘digs’ into the groove. Simply
set the needle so that it angles into the groove by 10 degrees and it’ll stick to
the groove like glue. The downside, though, is that the needle wears out the
groove like a hot knife through butter.
If you’re adjusting the downforce on the needle to control stability, don’t
automatically add the heaviest counterweight available. Try to take the
needle manufacturer’s guidance first and then add weight gradually if the
needle still skips. Although you may only end up a couple of milligrams off
maximum, those milligrams can add months to the lifespan of your needle
and records.
If the worst comes to the worst, and the needle still flies when you’re trying
to scratch, even with the counterweight set to maximum, you can try a
couple of more drastic options:
Put the counterweight on backwards so the black ring (with numbers on
it) points away from the tonearm. As the back end of the counterweight
isn’t tapered, it has more bulk, which adds more weight.
Raise the height of the tonearm so the sharper angle makes the needle
point down into the groove, creating more downforce. Don’t put it too
high though, otherwise the front of the cartridge rubs against the record.
The last, and most destructive option is to create extra downforce to the
cartridge by adding a weight, such as a coin or Blutack, stuck onto the
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
headshell. Doing this may help keep the needle in the groove, but you’ll
wear out your records and needles quicker than your wallet can buy
them! Having to put extra force on the needle probably means that your
technique is at fault rather than the set-up of your needle. See section
‘Mastering the Technique’ later in this chapter for a word on proper
hand technique.
As a final note, keep your needles and records clean at all times to reduce the
possibility of foreign objects gouging holes in the record or making the
needle less stable. Chapter 6 covers methods for cleaning and caring for your
needles and records.
Giving slipmats the slip
As a scratch DJ, your slipmats should be slippery enough so that they don’t
resist or drag when you’re scratching, yet still have enough grip so they
won’t skid during a scratch, or when you let go of the record to play it.
(Check out Chapter 6 for everything you need to know about slipmats.)
Touching up mixers
Chapter 8 covers the vital functions needed for a scratch mixer, but you can
make a couple of further improvements yourself. Firstly, take a look at your
cross-fader. Make sure that you keep it lubricated so that it moves smoothly,
without unwanted resistance.
Secondly, secure the faders and cross-faders. The parts that you touch to
move the faders do have a tendency to fly off if you’re a bit rough with them.
Pull them off, and put a piece of paper over the metal protrusion that sticks
out to make it thicker, and then put the knob back on. The knob will now be
wedged and harder to knock off, solving any flying knob problems!
Making the mixer a hamster
When the mixer is connected hamster style (the normal set-up is reversed, so
channel 1 plugs into channel 2, and channel 2 plugs into channel 1) or a hamster switch is activated, this set-up reverses the normal cross-fader function
so that the opposite channel plays to the side that the cross-fader points to.
If you normally move to the left to hear channel 1 and right for channel 2,
you’ll now move to the right for channel 1 and the left for channel 2. Many
DJs prefer this because it’s a more natural and comfortable way to work.
Part III: The Mix
Setting the right height
The height level of your decks and mixer can affect how well you scratch.
Adjust the height of your set-up so that your elbow is higher than your hand,
which is a commonly adopted position for scratching, but experiment with
what height is best for you.
Preparing for the Big Push
You can’t scratch if you don’t have anything to scratch with. You need to find
a section of a tune (called a sample), which you’ll use when scratching. For
most scratches, this sample is not very long, a few seconds at most, and normally around a second in duration. There’s no rule on what to use as your
sample, but vocal samples, drums, beeps, and brass stabs can all sound great
in the right hands.
There’s no limit to what record you can use to take your sample from either.
Seven-inch and 12-inch LPs have grooves that are a bit too compact to scratch
with properly, so 12-inch singles are more common, but if you can find a
sample, can mark the record correctly, and have the technique to scratch
well with it, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong.
You don’t even need to pick dance records. Classical tunes, spoken word
records, rock, folk, and country – they all have the potential to have that two
second sample that sounds great as a scratch. I had a ‘Teach Yourself
Spanish’ record that I used a couple of times for its strange vocal sounds.
The best records for scratching are specifically designed battle breaks with
scratch-friendly samples. Although these records may only have ten short
samples on an entire side, each sample is repeated at the same point on the
circumference of the vinyl. This configuration means that if the needle skips
out of the groove into the groove next to it, you’ll be at the exact same point
in the sample, and no one will know any different (unless the needle jumped
by an inch into another sample).
Wearing out your records
Between the increased downforce into the groove and the repetition of the
needle passing back and forth over the same part of the record, the record
inevitably suffers wear and tear.
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
However, as audio fidelity isn’t essential with scratching, unlike straight mixing,
wear only becomes a problem if the record is damaged and starts to skip, or
if the sample starts to sound too fuzzy. Keep your needles and records clean,
and don’t use more weight than you need, and your tunes will still last a long
Marking samples
Scratch DJs need to locate the sample on a record quickly, and be able to
return to it accurately over and over again. With a combination of markers on
the vinyl locating the exact groove where the sample starts, and marks on the
label to easily return to the beginning of that sample, hunting for the sample
is easy.
The first thing you need to do is locate the specific point in a specific groove
on a record that contains the sample you’re going to scratch and mark it so
you can return to it quickly.
One of the most popular ways to mark the start of the sample is to use a
small sticker on the vinyl. I use the little numbered stickers that you get with
video tapes, as they’re small and the numbers come in useful for remembering what sample to use next (check out Figure 16-3). Every DJ has a different
kind of sticker they like using, so find one that you like, and stick with it.
Figure 16-3:
A record
with various
Part III: The Mix
Mark the groove to the left of the sample so that it’s not in the way when
you’re performing the scratch. Here’s how:
1. Find the sample on the record and press Stop on the turntable with
the needle at the very beginning of the sample.
2. Place a sticker very lightly (so it’s not stuck) right in front of the
needle. Then slowly turn the record with your hand so it plays in the
forwards direction.
Turning the record pushes the sticker out of the way, into the groove to
the left of the sample (if it goes to the right, try again, but when you
place the sticker in front of the needle, offset it to the left slightly).
3. Check that you’re in the right place by gently rocking the record back
and forth, then press down on the sticker to make it stick to the
groove next to the start of the sample.
The drawback to marking the record in this manner is that if you want to play
the entire track, a great big sticker is in the way!
If you think that you’ll want to play the record in full, try using a chinagraph
pencil (a white, wax-based pencil) to lightly draw a line (or an arrow, whatever you want) directly onto the vinyl. Be sure not to press down too heavily,
or the wax from the pencil gets in the grooves and is just as troublesome as
the sticker. Ultraviolet pens (you need to remember a UV light though so you
can read it later!) are good alternatives to the chinagraph, as are silver pens
(but you still need to watch that the pen doesn’t fill up the groove).
Eventually, the pen marks do wear off, but as long as you catch the wear in
time, and reapply your marker, you shouldn’t need to worry.
If you’re using a battle-breaks record with multiple versions of the same samples through the record, you don’t need to mark the record itself – you can
just draw a big fat line on the label of the record (see Figure 16-4). This line
refers to the start of every sample (because they all start at the point on the
record’s circumference).
Think of the record as a clock face. The idea is to draw a line on the label so
that when it’s pointing in a particular direction (twelve o’clock and nine
o’clock are best) you know that you’re at the beginning of the sample. Use
something small and straight (a cassette box is perfect), draw a line from the
centre spindle to the outer edge of the record’s label to point to whatever
clock number you’d like. Then make the line more noticeable by using a thick
marker, or adding a sticker that protrudes over the blank grooves at the end
of the record (the smooth, silent part of the record, next to the label).
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
Figure 16-4:
Drawing a
line on a
record label.
If you prefer to have a sticker on the outer edge of the record instead of a line
from the centre of the record, follow the same principle, placing the sticker at
the nine or twelve o’clock position to point out the start of all the samples.
You can use this technique along with a sticker marking the specific groove
to make sure that you can find the sample quickly, and return to it easily.
Fixing the hole in the middle
You can easily blame a jumpy needle on having too little counterweight, but
sometimes the jumping is due to the record having too large a hole in the
middle. A wide hole can be so loose that the centre spindle bangs off the
edges of the hole, and bounces the needle out of the groove. The easiest way
to fix this problem is to pass an inch-long (2.5 centimetre) piece of tape
through the hole, sticking equal halves of it to either side of the label. When
you’ve stuck enough pieces of tape at different positions through the hole,
the diameter reduces, solving the problem.
Sometimes the hole is too small so that the record won’t fit over the centre
spindle properly (either not at all, or it’s way too tight, causing the turntable
to slow down when you try to hold the record still). When I am unfortunate
Part III: The Mix
to get a record that’s too tight, all I do is get a small piece of sandpaper, roll it
up into a cylinder, put it through the hole in the record, then holding the
sandpaper, spin the record round it. Do this action a couple of times, and the
hole opens up a bit.
The sandpaper method can be dangerous. If you spin the record too long,
you will make the hole too big, and have to tape it up. Or, if you’re really
unlucky, and are a bit heavy handed, you may cause small cracks in the
Scratching on CD, MP3, and Computer
The fact that you can’t scratch with CDs used to be true, scratch artists
simply weren’t able to perform on this format. Sure, the manuals with some
CD decks said that if you ‘play around’ with the jog wheel, you can create
interesting ‘scratch effects’. But they weren’t kidding anyone; scratching as
we know it, wasn’t available to the CD DJ until recently.
Now, CD decks including the (quite expensive) Denon DN-S3500, Pioneer
CDJ-1000, and Technics SL-DZ1200, as well as more affordable CD decks from
Numark, Gemini, and Stanton, all let you scratch just as much as you can with
All these ‘scratch’ CD decks have large jog wheels, or deckplatters similar to
turntables that are motorised to spin round like a record, or a static control
that affects the music only when you move it to perform a scratch. (See
Chapter 15 for a more detailed description of CD jog wheels and deckplatters.)
Different decks have different styles, feel, and design to their scratching
controls, along with how well they are able to emulate the sound of a record
scratching when moving very fast. The Technics CD deck has a large,
motorised rotating deckplatter, which has grooves cut into it to make the giant
deckplatter feel even more like vinyl, whereas the Pioneer CDJ1000s that I use
have a smaller control that only turns when you move it. These are all major
factors when you come to make your choice of CD deck for scratching.
You’re not just limited to the platter and ability to sound just like a vinyl
turntable during the scratch, as these decks have other attributes that allow
them to compete with vinyl for scratching: multiple sample banks and cue
point controls, built-in effects, instant reverse play, and more, all make the CD
deck incredibly versatile to scratch with compared to traditional vinyl.
These effects and controls have removed some of the art and skill from
scratching that we associate with vinyl, but they have evolved the creative
process of scratching to a completely new, technology driven level. Even
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
though the fundamental basics of scratching are the same on a vinyl turntable or a CD deck, the skills are slightly different for either format (you can
be rougher on CD decks for a start, as you don’t need to worry about a
needle jumping out of the groove) making direct comparison and competition
between the two less and less relevant.
Scratching on PC
In my view, the leading software titles that let you scratch with your PC files
are Final Scratch, DigiScratch, and Serato.
With these titles, the hardware controller has been taken to a new level.
Instead of using a custom-built control unit like the Hercules with Virtual DJ 3,
or something like the DAC3 controller for PCDJ, you just use your existing
turntable that hooks into a box of tricks (hardware that is essentially just a
soundcard in a box), which then plugs into the PC to control the files through
software on the computer.
The key though, is the special vinyl that comes with the package that you use
to scratch with. Instead of using ordinary records, the vinyl provided contains a control code (which in the case of DigiScratch, they refer to as timecode, a series of blips that refer to time). As you move the vinyl back and
forth, the control code is interpreted by the hardware box, which then sends
the control information to the computer. This means that when you move the
record backwards, the computer file plays backwards; when you play forwards, really fast, the file plays forwards, really fast. The computer contains
the files for you to load up, and set cue point for, but it’s still your hands,
your turntable, and your skill that controls the scratching.
The different software and hardware titles available to scratch with offer you
slightly different control options, as well as different lengths of ‘lag-time’ spent
to interpret the control code. Try to get a demo on the scratch software you’d
like to use before going out and buying it to make sure that you’re happy.
Marking CDs and MP3s
When scratching on MP3 using time-coded vinyl, marking your sample is
relatively easy. The software interface takes care of a lot of the cueing of the
sample, and as you’re using vinyl, you can mark the label with a line to return
to the start of a sample (see the earlier section ‘Marking samples’).
As marking the actual CD isn’t possible, the jog dial or display on scratch CD
decks have markers that you use to point to the start of the sample. It seems
as if they’ve thought of everything . . .
Part III: The Mix
Mastering the Technique
Technique is everything. If you develop a smooth, flowing – yet still ultra fast –
control over the vinyl, you’re more likely to keep the needle glued into the
groove. With CD decks, you still need a fluid motion to create a great scratch,
but you don’t need to worry about popping the needle out of the groove.
If you spend the time to develop the dexterity and the coordination needed to
scratch with either hand on either of your decks and move the cross-fader
independently, you’re well on your way to becoming a world-class DJ.
Getting hands on
Vinyl is really sensitive, and even with the extra counterweight pressure, the
new needles, the proper hole size, and the slippy mats, if you have a hand
like a baby elephant, you’re going to make that needle fly!
You need to develop the correct hand technique. Things to bear in mind are
that although you’re dealing with a lot of quick direction changes, try to be
smooth; don’t jerk the record back and forth. When performed in succession,
too many rough jerky movements will pop the needle out the groove.
When you scratch the record, try to move it back and forth following the
curve of the record. If you try to pull the record back and forth in a straight
line, you’re adding a lot of sideways pulling and pushing pressure, which
when released, may be enough to jump the needle out of the groove.
As well as hand technique, you need to develop a knowledge of what changes
the sound of the scratch, (not including external effects processors). The five
key ways to make a sample sound different when scratching are:
Location. You may have found a nice sample on a record, but you still
have full control over what part of the sample you play. Just because the
sample has someone saying scratch, doesn’t mean that you have to play
that full word. You may choose only to scratch with the sc part of the
word, or maybe trying a scribble scratch on the tch part sounds unique,
and matches what you want to do perfectly.
Changing where in the sample you scratch by just a couple of millimetres (or a tenth of a second) can make the difference between a good
sound and a great sound.
Direction. Nearly all samples sound incredibly different when played
backwards as opposed to forwards, and if you’re not too sure about the
sound of your scratch, you may find that scratching the record in the
other direction improves the sound immensely.
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
Speed. The speed that any sample moves can alter your scratch from
a low, rumbling, guttural sound to a high-pitched, shrill, chirpy sound.
So don’t fall into the trap of scratching at the same speed all the time.
Change it up mid-scratch from a fast-forward motion to a slow backwards move, mix up the speed during a move (see ‘The tear’ scratch
section later) and listen out for how the speed you scratch the record at
can alter the power of your scratch.
Audibility. How loud you can hear the sample playing, or if you can
hear it at all, is important. Although the cross-fader is the main control
for whether you can hear the sample or not, don’t forget about the
You can scratch using the channel-fader instead of the cross-fader, and
you can use the channel-fader to set how loud you hear the scratch,
which adds an extra dimension to the scratch. Gradually fading out the
scratch using only the cross-fader is difficult, but when used on its own
or in conjunction with the cross-fader, the channel-fader can give you
that extra level of audio control.
EQ. Using the EQ (equaliser) to adjust the amount of bass, mid, or treble
present can change a shrill sounding scratch into a muddy, dark sounding one; in the middle of a scratch if you like.
Unless you have four hands, scratching, using the cross-fader, the
channel-fader, and the EQ control all at the same time is hard, but with
practice and patience, you’ll be amazed at how fast you can move from
control to control.
Starting from Scratch and Back Again
Try the following scratches on their own first, without playing anything on
the other deck (CD/vinyl/MP3 and so on). Then when you’re happy, choose a
tune with a slow beat to play on the other deck, and scratch over that beat.
You don’t have to use a beat-only tune, but scratching over melodies and
vocals may sound messy and confusing.
Check my Web site at www.recess.co.uk for audio files and movie clips of
the scratch if you’re unsure of what it should sound or look like.
For all these scratches, I give guidance on what direction you should scratch
in, and what cross-fader action you may need, but as you get used to each
scratch, adjust how quickly you do the scratch, what part of the sample
you’re scratching from, and how much of it you play.
Part III: The Mix
Scratching without the cross-fader
The three scratches I discuss in this section help you develop the hand control to work with the vinyl (or CD deckplatter control) properly. Plus they’re
the building blocks of all the scratches that follow in the section ‘Introducing
cross-fader fever.’ Even though they’re simple moves, mastering them is very
important. You don’t need to use the cross-fader for these three scratches so
leave it in the middle position, with the channel-fader at full.
The baby scratch
The baby scratch is the first scratch for you to try out as it is by far the
simplest, easiest scratch to attempt. This one is for anyone who comes to
your house, and says ‘can I have a go?’ It may also be how you broke the
needle on your dad’s turntable when you were 9 years old . . .
The baby scratch is just a forward movement followed immediately by a
backward movement. Both directions are audible throughout the scratch
(which is why you don’t need the cross-fader on this scratch). If the sample
you’re using is someone singing ‘Hey!’, then the sound would be like:
Hey (forwards) – yeH (backwards) – Hey . . . yeH . . . Hey . . . yeH . . .
To start scratching to the beat of another tune, perform the forward motion
on the first beat of the bar and the backward motion on the second beat:
Scratch: Hey yeH Hey
yeH Hey yeH Hey yeH
When you’re comfortable matching the 1, 2, 3, 4 beats of the bar with ‘Hey,
yeH, Hey, yeH’, (two full baby scratches), speed up the scratch so that you’re
going forwards and backwards on each beat (which make a four full baby
Hey-yeH Hey-yeH Hey-yeH Hey-yeH Hey-yeH Hey-yeH Hey-yeH Hey-yeH
The scribble scratch
The scribble scratch is similar to the baby scratch, except the amount that the
record moves backwards and forwards is tiny, and there’s a lot more scratches
to the beat, let alone the bar!
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
By tensing the wrist and forearm, while pressing down on the record with one
finger, the muscles leading to your finger vibrate, causing the record to move
backwards and forwards really quickly. If you think that you can generate
enough speed without needing to tense your muscles, just move the record
back and forth as fast as you can.
No matter what your technique is, you want to make the amount of vinyl
passing under the needle as small as possible (less than a centimetre is best).
The tear
The tear is also similar to the baby scratch, except that instead of two sounds,
the scratch is split into three. The cross-fader is still left open (you can hear
the sound) for the duration of the scratch, but introducing a change in the
backward speed creates the third part of the scratch.
The forward stroke (move) is the same as the baby scratch, but the first half
of the backstroke is fast and the second half of the stroke is half that pace.
Practise changing the speed of the backstroke first to help you get used to the
change in tempo, and then try adding the forward stroke to the two-part
backward stroke.
Introducing cross-fader fever
The scratches described in this section involve using the cross-fader. Before
you go any further, find where the cut-in point on the cross-fader is. The cut in
point is how far you have to move the cross-fader before the appropriate
channel can be heard. Depending on the cross-fader curve , this point can be
a few millimetres of movement, or you may need to get the cross-fader into
the middle before hearing the scratch at full volume. (Chapter 8 has more
information on cross-fader curves and cut-in points.)
The forward scratch
The forward scratch gives you the perfect start to using the cross-fader. Using
exactly the same movement as in the baby scratch, start with the cross-fader
past the cut-in point, so that you can hear the forward movement, then just
before you move the record back, close the cross-fader so that the back
stroke can’t be heard.
When you’re used to cutting off the back stroke of the baby scratch, start to
scratch to the beat. With the ‘Hey!’ example, you match the 1, 2, 3, 4 beat of
the bar with Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey:
Part III: The Mix
Scratch: Hey Hey Hey
Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey
The backward scratch
As you may have guessed, the backward scratch is exactly the same as the forward scratch, except that this time you hear only the back stroke of the baby
scratch. So, you hear ‘yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh’ as you scratch to the four beats of
the bar:
Scratch: yeh
yeh yeh
yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh
Or you can use it in the off-beat, which is where it would be naturally if you
were performing a baby scratch:
yeh yeh
yeh yeh yeh yeh
The cut
The cut is when you play the sample at normal speed and direction, but only
play parts of it. I used to love doing this scratch with the James Brown ‘All
Aboard’ sample at the beginning of Kadoc’s ‘Nightrain’. It would sound something like ‘All, (pause) All All A All-Aboard’:
Scratch: All (rest) All
All A All Aboard (rest) (rest)
After I had scratched with it for a while over another tune, I would just let the
sample play, the tune would kick in, and the mix was done. Which shows that
scratching and mixing aren’t mutually exclusive.
To perform this scratch, position the sample so that it’s right behind the
needle. On a particular point in the other tune, (at the start of a bar in my
Kadoc example) move the cross-fader in and let the record run. When you
want the sample to stop, close the cross-fader, wind the record back to the
beginning of the sample, and let it run again.
The trick is to make sure that you get the sample wound back to the correct
place in time. This is the perfect time to mark a line on the record label, so
that when it’s pointing at twelve o’clock, you know that you’re at the start of
the sample (see the earlier section ‘Marking samples’).
The chop
The chop is very similar to the cut, except that instead of playing the record
at normal pace, you control how fast the sample plays. By varying how fast
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
Your thumb isn’t only for hitch-hiking
Opening and closing the cross-fader fast
becomes more and more difficult the faster you
try to move it. When you do feel limited, use your
thumb as a spring to return the cross-fader to
the closed position.
If you have a small distance to travel to the cutin point on the cross-fader, rest your thumb at
that point, but angle your thumb so that it leans
toward the closed position. Using your middle
(or ring) finger, tap the cross-fader so it bounces
off your thumb, and returns to the closed position, which is a lot quicker. This is a lot easier to
do if your mixer is set up hamster style (see the
section ‘Making the mixer a hamster’).
you play parts of the sample, you can create some strange melodies to
accompany what you’re scratching over.
And of course, the reverse chop (and reverse cut) is when the fader is open for
the back stroke rather than the forward stroke.
The chirp
The chirp is where hand co-ordination starts to become essential. Start the
scratch with the cross-fader open, but just as you hear the sample play,
smoothly (though quickly) close off the cross-fader. For the back stroke, do
the exact opposite; as you move the record backwards, open the cross-fader.
With the right sample, the right speed of scratch, and movement of the crossfader, this technique creates a bird-like whistling, or chirp noise.
The transformer
The transformer is another simple scratch that helps you with the timing of
your cross-fader moves, and also develops co-ordination between your hands.
To get used to the transformer, play the sample forwards so that it lasts one
bar’s length (a couple of seconds), then backwards for one bar. You can play
for longer or shorter if you wish, but keeping the move to one bar gives you
limits to work for now that you can expand on when you get good at the
As you play the sample, open and close the cross-fader on each of the beats
of the bar. As you do so, you hear the sample split into four parts playing forwards, and four parts of the sample playing backwards. When you’re happy,
double the speed that you cut the music in and out with, then if you think
Part III: The Mix
that you can move the cross-fader fast enough, double it again, so that you’re
opening and closing the cross-fader 16 times for a bar.
The flare scratch takes the sample, and cuts it into two by quickly closing and
re-opening the cross-fader. The scratch starts with the cross-fader open, which
closes halfway through the sample, and then opens again. If the sample you’re
scratching is just someone saying scratch, then you would hear scr tch.
When the cross-fader is closed off quickly, it makes a clicking sound. In the
preceding scr tch example, chopping the sample into two takes one movement, one click, and is called a one click forward flare.
Crab scratch
To get used to the cross-fader action for a crab scratch, click your fingers. Now
instead of just your middle finger clicking off your thumb, click all four of your
fingers across your thumb, starting off with the pinkie. This is the crab action,
except with the cross-fader knob between your fingers and thumb.
Place your thumb as a spring to the cross-fader in the same way that you
used it for the transformer scratch. As your fingers bounce the cross-fader off
your thumb, the sample is cut into four, really quickly.
You may find this move easier to perform with your mixer set-up in a hamster
style because you’ll be bouncing the fader off the side of the fader slot and
your thumb, but with practise, the move can be performed both ways.
Twiddle scratch
The twiddle scratch is the precursor to the crab scratch. Instead of using all
four fingers to perform the crab scratch, only two are used to twiddle the
cross-fader, which produces a slightly more constant rhythm to the scratch
than the crab.
Combining scratches
When you’re familiar with these fundamentals, start combining them to
create strings of different scratches over the beat.
Start off simply, by switching from one scratch to another. Try changing a
baby scratch to a forward scratch, or a forward scratch to a reverse scratch.
Here are a few more ideas:
Chapter 16: Scratching Lyrical
Transforming with transformers: Adding transforms to any of your
scratches is a great way to change up the sound of some of the basic
moves. Add a transform to a forward scratch, so that you transform the
forward movement, but still don’t hear any of the back stroke. Or add a
transform to a tear to really test you coordination!
Adding flare: Add a flare, or a crab to my All Aboard example for the cut
scratch, which adds a stutter effect to part of it.
There are many combinations of how to move the record, how to move the
cross-fader, and the speed to do it all in. Check out my Web site (www.recess.
co.uk) for a few more ideas on how to mix up the fundamentals.
Juggling the Beats
Beatjuggling is a great skill and one that when mastered, earns you a lot of
respect from your peers.
Using two records (they don’t have to be identical, but it helps) with just a
drum beat, a new beat is created using a combination of all the scratch fundamentals from tune to tune, while also winding back the sample to the beginning of the beat.
Properly marking your records is incredibly important here, as you won’t
have the time to listen in headphones to how you’re cueing up the tune to
start it again. You need to rely on spotting the line at twelve o’clock, and have
faith that you’re at the start of the sample.
Much as you would if you were juggling with balls, start off simply:
1. With two identical records, cue them so that they both play from the
exact same point.
2. Play one bar of the drum beat on one record, then move the crossfader over to the other record, and play a bar on that record.
3. While that bar is playing, wind the first record back to the start of the
bar, and when the second record has finished its first bar, start the
first record again.
This method means that you play the same bar of drums over and over again,
which may sound easy, but believe me, it isn’t. You can get easily flustered,
get the timing wrong for the start of the bar, and make a pig’s ear of something so simple-sounding.
Part III: The Mix
When you’re happy with a using the whole bar, halve the time that one record
plays before switching over. Then when you’re really confident, start to play
the beat so that the first beat plays from the first record, the second beat
from the second record, but wind back the beats, so you only hear the first
two beats of the bar play.
By the time you can swap from beat to beat comfortably, you’ll want to create
more complicated drum beats. Offsetting one of the records is a great and
simple way to start. Begin by starting one of the tunes half a beat later, so
instead of a simple Bass Snare Bass Snare for the four beats of the bar, you
now have BassBass SnareSnare BassBass SnareSnare in the exact same
amount of time. The first bass is from the first tune, and the second one is
from the second tune.
Leaving the cross-fader in the middle creates that run of beats, but closing
the cross-fader off to one of the beats temporarily starts to chop it up a lot
B1 B2
S1 S2
S1 S2 B2
S1 S2 B1 B2 S1
(Where the B is Bass, S is Snare, Bold is Deck 1 and normal is Deck 2.)
This method is only the tip of the iceberg for cutting up the beat. The faster
you cut between tracks, the different offset beats, and the different lengths
of the beats you have to work with can all come together to make a really
complicated beat. And that’s not even thinking about cymbals, hi-hats, and
drum rolls!
Practice, dedication, and patience
Practice, dedication, and patience should make up your personal mantra for
beatjuggling (and scratching as a whole). Record knowledge and manual dexterity are extremely important, but you need to be fluent and tight with the
beats. You need to keep your scratch moves fluid and in keeping with the
rhythm of what you’re scratching over, and if you’re beatjuggling, the beat
you make needs to flow as though a drummer were playing it – that way,
you’ll earn respect for your skills.
Part IV
Getting Noticed
and Playing Live
In this part . . .
ne morning you’ll wake up and realise that you’re
meant for more in this world than DJing in front of
your cat (and annoying the neighbours). You may sound
great when played through a home stereo or iPod, but the
time when you play to a packed hall or a club filled with
like-minded people is when you really spread your wings
as a DJ.
This part of the book leads you through making the perfect demo mix, trying to secure work, and then what to do
when you’re standing in the DJ booth with a thousand
people in front of you wanting you to give them the best
night of their lives.
This is DJing.
Chapter 17
Building a Foolproof Set
In This Chapter
Driving the rhythm
Selecting the right key for harmonic mixing
Developing a style all of your own
fter you’ve taken a look at the different ways you can mix your tunes
together (refer to Chapters 12, 14, and 16), you need to start examining
the tunes you’re using in the mix.
As well as looking a bit closer at why a tune can mix well with one tune but
not another, this chapter covers developing your own style when DJing,
rather than simply replicating all those who have come before you. No one’s
saying that following the same fundamentals as other DJs is wrong, but if you
can think about what you’re trying to do with the order of the tunes in your
mix, you’ll be a lot better DJ than the one who mixes Tune A with Tune B just
because they sound good together.
Choosing Tunes to Mix Together
The tunes you select, and the order you play them in are just as important as
the method you use to get from tune to tune. The best technical mix in the
world can sound terrible if the tunes don’t play well together and boredom
can set in if you stick to the same sound, genre, and the same energy level
(pace and the power of the music) all night.
In order to get a feel for what kind of tunes mix well with each other, you
need to consider the core differences that make tunes different from one
another (other than the melody and vocals and so on). The main differences
are the driving rhythm, the key the tunes are recorded in, and the tempo a
tune was originally recorded at.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Beatmatching – the next generation
Matching the pounding bass beats of your tunes is one thing, and after you
get the knack, playing bass drums together is relatively simple and sounds
good. However, the core driving rhythm is another rhythm that you need to
consider and listen out for in the tunes.
A track is made up of the backing track (the drums, bass line, and any rhythmic, electronic sounds), and the main melody and/or vocals. The backing
track is the driving force to the tune, and has a rhythm of its own that is separate to the pounding bass beats. A great example of this is the ‘duggadugga
duggadugga duggadugga duggadugga’ driving rhythm in Donna Summer’s ‘I
Feel Love’.
If what follows sounds a little childish, that’s because it is. I remember it from
school, so thanks to Mr Galbraith for making this concept stick!
When beatmatching bass drum beats, you only have to worry about the solid
‘thump thump thump’ of the tunes playing over each other. Now you need to
listen out for the four driving rhythms: Ta, Ta-te, Ta-te-ta, and Ta-fe-te-te. These
can be added to each other to make more complicated rhythms, but when
two of them mix with other (from two different tunes) you need to be aware
of how they may sound, and when considering what tunes to use in the mix,
give thought to how well one core rhythm will play over another.
You get four beats to the bar. Each of the driving rhythm fundamentals occur
on the beat (so you get four of each to a bar):
Ta – (sounds like ‘Baa’ in the line ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’):
Ta is just a single sound on each beat of the bar.
Ta-te – (sounds like ‘Have you’ in the line ‘Have you any wool’):
Have you
Have you
Have you
Have you
Have you
Have you
Have you
Have you
Ta-te is two sounds of equal length to each beat (though often one can be
emphasised, making it more powerful than the other).
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set
Sometimes, you don’t hear the ta part of the beat, and just hear the second,
te portion; known as an offbeat. This simple offbeat is a favourite bass rhythm
for a lot of producers who want a powerful, stripped down sound to the tune.
Ta-te ta (it’s like saying ‘Lemonade’ on each beat):
Ta-te ta Ta-te ta Ta-te ta Ta-te ta Ta-te ta Ta-te ta Ta-te ta Ta-te ta
Ta-te ta is very similar to ta-te, except that instead of two equal sounds, you
get two quick sounds (which take up the same time as ta in the ta-te rhythm)
followed by one sound that lasts as long as the te half of ta-te. Splitting the tate ta rhythm into two, the halves are ta-te and ta (Lemon and ade). ‘Lemon’ is
said very quickly, and it lasts the same duration as ‘ade’.
The ta-te-ta rhythm is one of my favourites, it sounds great repeated on its
own or when used to break up any of the other driving rhythms.
Ta-fe-te-te (like saying ‘Mississippi’ on each beat of the bar):
Ta-fe-te-te Ta-fe-te-te Ta-fe-te-te Ta-fe-te-te Ta-fe-te-te Ta-fe-te-te Ta-fe-te-te
Mississippi Mississippi
Mississippi Mississippi
Four equal sounds to each beat give a powerful, hypnotic rhythm to the tune.
This sound is the ‘duggadugga’ rhythm I mentioned earlier for ‘I Feel Love’. It
adds a lot of energy to a bass melody, and if a filter or a flanger effect is
added to this rhythm (see Chapter 8), it leaves the dance floor in a trance.
Mixing with care
Mixing between similar driving rhythms can be a bit tricky. Ta-fe-te-te mixes in
beautifully to another Ta-fe-te-te in the right hands, but if you don’t have the
tunes precisely beatmatched, the four sounds fall in between each other,
giving eight very messy sounds. The same goes for Ta-te ta, you need good
beatmatching skills to mix two of these sounds together (or mix Ta-te ta into
Though ta and ta-te are simpler and easier to beatmatch, they tend to be
strong bass lines, and because they’re so strong, they don’t always mix well.
If the rhythm of one tune is ta, and the other is the offbeat te (that is, you
don’t hear the ta from ta-te), unless the ta note from one tune and the te from
the other tune are very similar, the mix can sound strange, and out of tune.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Mixing ta or ta-te rhythms (including the offbeat part of ta-te) with either of
the more complicated rhythms (ta-te ta and ta-fe-te-te) is a solution to this
problem. However, this method will eventually stifle your creativity. If you
need to go from a complicated driving rhythm to a simple one, then back
again to a complicated one in order to progress through a mix, you will break
up the flow of the set. That’s why spending time to refine your beatmatching
skills is important, so that you’re happy mixing complicated driving rhythms.
Mixing from one driving rhythm to another can add a change in the power of
the set. Going from a ta core rhythm to ta-te ta can make the mix sound faster
and more intense, even if the beats per minute (BPMs) are still the same.
Changing from ta-fe-te-te to the offbeat version of ta-te (only the te part) is an
incredibly effective way of making the mix sound darker by simplifying and
concentrating the sound from a frantic, four sound rhythm to a single sounding, simple, basic rhythm. When coupled with a key change (see the later in
this chapter ‘Changing the key’), the effect can lift the roof off!
The same driving rhythm principles apply to the hi-hat pattern (the tchssssounding cymbals). Though most tunes tend to use an open hi-hat sound
played in between each bass drum beat (the offbeat te), be careful when the
patterns get more complicated. If you try to mix two ta-fe-te-te hi-hat patterns
together, and get the beatmatching wrong, it’ll sound dreadful.
Getting in tune with harmonic mixing
Your beatmatching may be perfect (see Chapter 12), your volume control
may be spot on (see Chapter 14), and you’ve chosen two tunes with complimentary driving rhythms, but sometimes two tunes sound out of tune with
each other. Harmonic mixing comes in at this point, and is the final step for
creating truly seamless mixes. Harmonic mixing isn’t an essential step of the
mixing ladder by any means, it’s something you may think about only one out
of every five mixes, but if you want to create long, flowing, seamless mixes,
harmonic mixing certainly plays a very important part.
Every song with a melody has a musical key, and instruments and vocals
play and sing their notes based around this musical key (and is why you hear
people say ‘I’ll sing this in C Minor’). This kind of key may not unlock any real
doors, but it does unlock vast chasms of creativity for you. DJs like Sasha,
Oakenfold, John Digweed, and many others have all harnessed harmonic
mixing to create smooth, controlled mixes that add an extra level of depth
and skill to their styles.
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set
Most DJs first approach harmonic mixing by accident, and then try to improve
through trial and error. Trial and error is extremely important. Blindly following
the musical rules that follow in this section of what key mixes into what is a
bad idea. Like counting beats in Chapter 13, knowing how the key affects how
well tunes mix together is important. More important is developing an ear for
what sounds good when mixed together, rather than referring to a piece of
paper, or rule that you read in an incredibly informative book.
However, we all need a little backup, and somewhere to turn to if we’re
unsure what to do next. Which is where the principle of key notations comes
in, and you have the choice of two systems to help you understand.
Brace yourself here, the terminology surrounding key notations may seem
like a foreign language, but don’t worry, it’s not something to be scared of.
Traditional key notation
In the Western world, music has 24 different keys; 12 major, and 12 minor
(whether they’re major or minor depends on the notes that are used to
create that key), which is known as the traditional key notation system. Each
key mixes perfectly with four keys, and mixes to an acceptable level with two
other keys, as shown in Table 17-1.
Table 17-1
Harmonic Song Key Combinations
Key of Song
Perfect Fourth
Perfect Fifth
Relative Minor
C Major
C Major
F Major
G Major
A Minor
Db Major
Db Major
Gb Major
Ab Major
Bb Minor
D Major
D Major
G Major
A Major
B Minor
Eb Major
Eb Major
Ab Major
Bb Major
C Minor
E Major
E Major
A Major
B Major
Db Minor
F Major
F Major
Bb Major
C Major
D Minor
Gb Major
Gb Major
B Major
Db Major
Eb Minor
G Major
G Major
C Major
D Major
E Minor
Ab Major
Ab Major
Db Major
Eb Major
F Minor
A Major
A Major
D Major
E Major
Gb Minor
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Table 17-1 (continued)
Key of Song
Perfect Fourth
Perfect Fifth
Relative Minor
Bb Major
Bb Major
Eb Major
F Major
G Minor
B Major
B Major
E Major
Gb Major
Ab Minor
C Minor
C Minor
F Minor
G Minor
Eb Major
Db Minor
Db Minor
Gb Minor
Ab Minor
E Major
D Minor
D Minor
G Minor
A Minor
F Major
Eb Minor
Eb Minor
Ab Minor
Bb Minor
Gb Major
E Minor
E Minor
A Minor
B Minor
G Major
F Minor
F Minor
Bb Minor
C Minor
Ab Major
Gb Minor
Gb Minor
B Minor
Db Minor
A Major
G Minor
G Minor
C Minor
D Minor
Bb Major
Ab Minor
Ab Minor
Db Minor
Eb Minor
B Major
A Minor
A Minor
D Minor
E Minor
C Major
Bb Minor
Bb Minor
Eb Minor
F Minor
Db Major
B Minor
B Minor
E Minor
Gb Minor
D Major
It’s okay, no need to start worrying; calculating which keys combine best with
each other is actually very simple. In Table 17-1, look at C Major, then look at
the keys written next to it. It obviously mixes with a tune with the same key
as its own (known as the tonic), but it also mixes beautifully with the three
keys next to it, F Major, G Major, and A Minor. However, as C Major works
really well with A Minor, you can also incorporate the keys that A Minor works
well with. These key combinations from A Minor are acceptable rather than
perfect, you have to judge for yourself whether they match well enough for
what you’re trying to do (which is why it’s important to use your ears).
This chart is kind of mind blowing though, and is not easy to read. The minor/
major thing is a bit confusing if you don’t have any musical experience, and
working out what mixes into what can take a while. Fortunately, Mark Davis
at www.harmonic-mixing.com developed the Camelot Sound Easymix
System, which takes the confusion out of working out what key mixes with
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set
The Camelot Sound Easymix System
The Camelot Sound Easymix System is an alternative approach that addresses
the confusing layout and label names of the traditional key notation system
(see Table 17-1). With the Camelot system each key is given a keycode; a
number from 1 to 12 and a letter (A for Minor, and B for Major). Then all the
keys are arranged as a tidy clock face, as shown on the Cheat Sheet at the
front of the book.
The keys that mix harmonically are identical to the traditional notation, but
rather than looking at a confusing table, you only need to look at the keycode
for the key of the tune that you’re playing, then look to the left and right and
directly above or below, depending on whether the key you’re referring to is
on the inner or outer ring of the diagram.
So if your tune is 12B (E Major), you can mix it with a tune with the same key,
with 11B, 1B from the same major family, but you can also mix it perfectly
with 12A from the minor ring, and you can get a nice result mixing into 11A
and 1A tunes.
Mixing tunes with compatible keys works perfectly if you play all your tunes
at 0 pitch, and never change their speed, or if you have CD decks or turntables with a Master Tempo control that doesn’t change the pitch as you
change the speed. But when you change the speed on normal CD decks and
turntables, the pitch of the tune changes too, and the original key starts to
change into a new one. When using the Camelot Sound Easymix System, for
every 6 per cent you change the pitch, you need to change the keycode by 7
numbers according to their system (see the Cheat Sheet).
So if you have a 3B tune, and pitch it up to 6 per cent, it’s no longer a 3B tune,
it’s now a 10B tune. Or if you pitch down by 6 per cent, it becomes an 8B
tune. Move round the circle by 7 segments to see for yourself. A 6 per cent
pitch change means that the 3B tune is no longer suited to 4B, 2B, 3A, 4A, and
2A. For a good harmonic mix, you need to choose tunes with a keycode of
11B, 9B, 10A, 11A, or 9A (when they are playing at a similar speed too).
How accurate the eventual keycode ends up for these adjustments depends
entirely on how accurate your turntables are. Use the calibration dots on
the side of the turntable to see if it truly is running at 6 per cent. (Refer to
Chapter 5.)
Harmonic mixing is a vast concept that can be bent/twisted/broken or ignored
at will, and the extreme concepts of which could take up ten of these books. If
you want to delve deeper into the theory of harmonic mixing, I strongly suggest taking a visit to DJ Prince’s Web site, which is dedicated purely to harmonic mixing, so visit www.djprince.no when the mood strikes.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Keying tunes
Both the traditional and Camelot notation systems may sound helpful, and
believe it or not, are very simple and easy to understand, but one thing is still
missing: How do you determine the key of the tune you’re currently playing?
The three different ways to work out the key of a tune are:
Review online databases: DJ forums and Web sites across the Internet
offer huge databases of song keys. The people who created the Camelot
Easymix system have a subscription-based database at www.harmonicmixing.com, and forums like www.tranceaddict.com/forums have
huge posts dedicated to the keys of tunes old and new.
Use your ears: Figuring out the key by ear is by far the hardest amount
of work, taking patience, a good ear for music, and a fair bit of musical
theory knowledge.
1. Play the tune at 0 pitch on the turntable/CD player.
2. Then use a piano/keyboard or a computer-generated tone, to go
through all 12 notes on the scale, as shown in Figure 17-1.
3. The note that sounds the best, and melts into the music is the ‘root
key’ (the C in C Major, and so on).
Finding whether the key is minor or major takes the whole thing to
another level of complication, and if you want to go into that in detail,
you need to start looking at musical theory books. Check out books like
Guitar For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Mark Phillips and John Chappell
and Piano For Dummies by Blake Neely (both published by Wiley), as
they explain this theory in a way that’s easy to understand.
I’m a drummer at heart, and have zero musical theory knowledge so the
way I was taught how to gauge minor/major by ear is that if the music
sounds striking, bold, and solid, it’s likely to be a major key. If the music
evokes emotion, and tugs at your heart strings, it’s likely (though not
guaranteed) to be minor.
If you don’t want to delve too deeply into musical theory, you can work
out the root of the key and be happy with that knowledge, then simply
use trial and error to find the best tunes to mix with. This isn’t much
better than trial and error without knowledge of the root key, but it’s a
step closer to harmonic mixing – and sometimes, a step is all it takes to
be great.
Though it’s hard work, and takes a lot of musical knowledge, working
out the key (or just the root key) yourself is good because as you listen
to the tunes, and find out the key, you develop an appreciation for what
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set
to listen to, and will eventually develop an ear to judge which tunes
match together without the need to refer to a list of suitable tunes, or a
notation like the Camelot Easymix system.
Software: Computer programs are available that do all the work for you
to work out the key. One of these programs, ‘Mixed in Key’, analyses
each of your wave and MP3 files and calculates what key they’re
recorded in according to the Camelot system (see the earlier section
‘The Camelot Sound Easymix System’). The program is surprisingly
accurate, extremely effective, and a free version is available from
Figure 17-1:
The 12 notes
on a piano
When you’ve worked out what key your tune is in, write a little note on the
record sleeve or next to the track name on the CD case. That way, finding a
tune that mixes harmonically is made easy.
Knowing how much to pitch
Your turntables or CD decks may offer you an 8 per cent pitch range, or may
let you go faster or slower by 100 per cent, but unless you have a special use
for going really fast or slow, if you go much over 5 per cent pitch, the majority of music may start to sound strange to the ears of the people on the dance
floor. If you have a Master Tempo control on your decks, you can play the
music as fast or slow as you like, and the pitch won’t change, just the speed,
so if you activate that control, you’ll never need to worry about taking things
too far.
The ear and the brain can account for 5 per cent pitch difference to the original and still consider the music as normal sounding, but as you get past that
guide number, the more you risk the listener thinking that something’s not
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
How far you can push the pitch of a tune (without Master Tempo) depends
entirely on the tune itself, and the genre of music you’re playing. I’ve got
loads of instrumental tunes that I happily pitch up to 12 per cent and no one
notices, but I’d never go past 5 per cent with most vocal tracks. Many genres
can be transformed into something new by cranking up the pitch. A DJ I know
used to play a 33 RPM house record at 45 RPM because it changed it into a
great sounding drum and bass tune (though I don’t think that there were any
vocals on that track).
Like everything else in DJing, no hard and fast rule exists, but if you find
yourself straying too far past 5 per cent, it’s important to stop, and ask yourself whether the tune still sounds okay. The reason you need to increase (or
decrease) the pitch by so much may be because you may be crossing genres,
trying to mix a smooth house track into a trance track for example. Although
the structure, the key, the driving rhythm, and the pitch of the tune may all
sound fine, from a genre point of view, ask yourself if these tunes really play
well next to each other. Like the bully and the weird kid at school, just because
two tunes fit together like jigsaw pieces, it doesn’t mean that they’re meant to
go together. They may be from different jigsaw puzzles!
Developing a Style
The tunes you pick to play and the way you mix them come together to
define your DJ style. Your style can, and should be, pliable depending on
what club you’re playing in and what kind of music is expected of you.
If like me, you came to DJing because you were inspired by another DJ or a
music genre as a whole, you’ll already have a basic style before you even
start to think about one. However, try not to simply be a copycat of your
favourite DJ. Listen to as many DJs as you can for inspiration, then put everything you’ve picked up from other DJs into a big pot, give it a stir, add in your
own creative ideas that have been spawned from listening to these DJs, and
hopefully, you have that little twist to your style that makes you different
from other DJs.
Your style may also change from what you play in the bedroom and hand out
on tapes, to what you play in a club. You may be a trance fiend in the bedroom, but the club you work at demands commercial dance music, so you
have to tone down the music you play. This fact doesn’t pigeonhole you as a
commercial dance DJ, it’s quite the opposite. You’re actually a well-rounded
DJ; you can play top trance in the biggest clubs in the land, or play commercial tunes and tailor your set list to a mainstream crowd.
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set
If you’re at 100 per cent where do you go?
I always think back to a guy called Martin
Woods, my old squash coach. One thing I learnt
from him (apart from some terrible language on
court) was that if I hit everything as hard as possible all the time, I’d never have a way to
change my game apart from slowing it down,
which would make me predictable and boring.
So, he advised me to hit the ball at about 90 per
cent of power for most of the rallies, so I could
inject pace and energy when I knew it was time
to add pressure, or slow it down and change my
game to keep my opponent guessing.
The genre of music you play doesn’t define how you put it together though.
Between key changes, tempo changes, energy changes, and genre changes,
you can put together your own unique style, but which is still aimed at the
people you’re playing for – the crowd in front of you.
Easing up on the energy
If all you do is play music at full pace, full power all the time, the only thing
you can do is slow down, or reduce the energy. But if you’re almost at full
energy, waiting to give something else when the time’s right, even if that’s for
long periods, you’ll be a DJ in control of the crowd or listener.
You’ll want to be at 100 per cent power often through your set, but don’t stagnate at that level and become stale. At least look to undulate the power of
your tunes from start to finish, if not the tempo. Changing the driving rhythm
(see the section ‘Beatmatching – the next generation’ earlier in the chapter)
is a great way to alter the power.
When playing live, try to take the crowd through different levels of emotions.
Take them from cheering and smiling, to a little more intense, eyes closed
and hands in the air, and then back to cheering and bouncing up and down
on the dance floor. If you can put together a musical experience instead of
choosing 20 tunes just because they mix well with each other, you’ll be more
creative, be able to work the crowd, and hopefully be regarded as a great DJ.
Changing the key
Looking at the notation system discussed in the earlier section ‘The Camelot
Sound Easymix System’, when you’re mixing in key, you have the choice to
change key by working your way around the circle provided by this system,
and by moving from the inner ring to the outer ring.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Getting a backhanded compliment
I once lost out on getting the big, main-set
Saturday night slot in a club because ‘You’d only
try to take the crowd somewhere special, we
just want a DJ who plays random tunes and lets
the crowd decide how happy they are’. I was
annoyed at the time, missing out on the bigger
slot, but looking back on it, it was one hell of a
compliment. It meant everything I was striving
to do was noticed by the management. Even if
they did lack the sense to use that for the good
of the club.
But harmonic mixing isn’t just a way to let you mix in the next tune seamlessly, you can use key changes to step up the power of the night, or take the
set into a more intense, dramatic level.
If you’re trying to get a bit more moody and serious with the mix, lowering
the key of the mix using a simple offbeat bass melody, or a rugged sounding
Ta-fe-te-te driving rhythm (see the earlier section ‘Beatmatching – the next
generation’ for an explanation) can really take the mix into a deep, intense
place that’s like saying to the crowd ‘Come with me . . . I’m going to take you
somewhere for the next twenty minutes’.
When you want to come up for air from a deep place, I find that changing up
in key so that the notes are higher in pitch makes the mix sound brighter,
happier, and full of renewed energy. If you’ve spent a long time in the set playing dark, complicated trance or hard house tunes, a simple offbeat driving
rhythm that changes the mix up in key can be like a strong espresso in the
morning – it gives the mix, and the crowd a burst of energy, and leads you
into a new part of your mix.
Increasing the tempo
If the first tune you used in a mix was set to play at 130 BPM (beats per minute)
and you beatmatched all the tunes that followed precisely, the entire set
would play at 130 BPM and bore the pants off the dance floor.
The normal progression of a set is to have an upward trend in BPM from start
to finish, with little speed bumps to slow the pace down by one or two BPM
for a couple of tunes but then rev it all up again, which can work really well.
Slowing down the set slightly can add energy, rather than kill it.
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set
If you have a BPM counter on your mixer (refer to Chapter 12), play a premixed
CD by one of you favourite DJs through it, and watch the counter gradually
move up through the set, and look for these little tempo-speed-bumps, too.
The easiest way to increase the pace is to gradually increase the pitch fader
through a series of tunes. If you have the patience (and length of tune to
allow it), at the end of every two bars, move the pitch fader by a small amount
(about 2 or 3 millimetres). Spread out through enough tunes, you can get to
the perfect BPM you want to play at.
Be careful when moving the pitch control because if you do it too quickly, the
people on the floor will hear the music get higher in pitch (remember, it’s not
just a speed control, it also changes the pitch of the music). Those of you
who have decks with a Master Tempo need not worry about this problem.
When you change the pitch control with Master Tempo turned on, the tempo
of the music increases (or decreases), but the pitch stays the same, and as
long as you still take some time over the change (about 15 seconds per BPM),
no one consciously registers the speed increase.
If you don’t have the patience to stand over the tune and move the pitch control in small amounts, you can use the breakdowns and other changes in the
tune to boost, or jump, the pitch by around half a per cent. Use the first beat
of the bar on the new phrase to jump up the pitch control. How much you
can increase it, and whether you can spread this move over a couple of bars
rather than the entire track, depends on the tune that you’re playing.
Using your brain
A few years ago, I heard a great breakbeat tune
called ‘Symmetry C’ by Brainchild that Oakenfold
used as a way to step up energy, if not tempo. So,
I wondered how well it would work as a tempo
change tool, too. One night, I’d increased the
BPM to about 133 by the gradual method, at
which point the floor was packed and happy as
I’d been playing lots of music they knew and
liked. But I wanted to take the mix up a gear.
Instead of playing faster and heavier music from
the same genre, which would eventually lead to
boredom, I used ‘Symmetry C’ as a bridge. As it
had a swelling, beatless intro, I didn’t even need
to beatmatch it in; I just faded up over the outro
of the last tune. I didn’t play it for long, but it
meant that I was able to jump from 133 to about
138 in one step. Over the course of the next two
or three tunes, everyone went nuts without
knowing why!
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Or if you’re planning to instantly jump the pitch as the tune hits the breakdown, do it between the last beat of the phrase and the first beat of the
breakdown. You’re best doing this with tunes that don’t have a strong melody
to the breakdown and it takes practice and experimentation to get it right.
Genre changes
If the beat structure of a new, faster tune is different from the one that’s currently playing, telling whether the tempo has changed can be hard, but you
can use this to your advantage. Switching from house to R & B or from trance
to breakbeat (and eventually back again) can be an extremely effective, and
unnoticeable way of speeding up the mix
Avoiding stagnation
When you think enough about the music you play and the order and style
you play it in, you start to fall in love with a few mixes. I’ve fallen into this
trap a few times, repeating the same series of mixes week after week, or night
after night. (This is especially common in warm-up sets, when you can
wrongly assume that people don’t care about what, or how you mix).
The downsides to repeating mixes are
A mix that works in one club to one set of people won’t automatically
work the next night, to a different set of people
Regulars to the club recognise the mix, and you appear uncreative
You’re going through the motions, the fun and excitement has gone
Because of the amount of time you’ve spent practising, you should have a
sixth sense about the range of mixes that are available to you. For the sake of
your development, the people on the dance floor, and the tunes in your box
that never get to see the light of day, don’t stick to the same transitions.
Respecting the crowd
Developing your own style is extremely important, but you still need to
respect the crowd you’re playing to especially when trying to get work. It’s
one of those Catch 22 situations that you can’t avoid; how do you get experience if you need experience to get a job that gives you the experience? If
you’re a famous DJ, your style can be anything you want. Almost like the
emperor’s new clothes, some folks will love what you’re doing no matter
what you do or what you play.
Chapter 17: Building a Foolproof Set
But, when you’re trying to build up your reputation, or just starting off, you
need to be careful about pushing the crowd past their comfort level. If you’re
playing in a club where they’re used to loads of scratching, samples dropped
in all the time, and some pretty freaky choices of tunes, then you’re okay, the
crowd will like what you’re doing, and if you’re any good, you’ll earn their
respect. Hopefully, someone will notice you, and you’ll get on the next rung
of the ladder.
If you’re working in a more commercial club though, and you try to do exactly
the same strange, odd-sounding moves from the DJ booth, you may look up
and find 200 people staring blankly at you, only to pause to let the tumbleweed roll past them. In this instance, tone your style down to what the audience probably expects; a smooth, constant beat for them to dance to, with
not many challenging tunes or mix techniques.
This action may sound like selling out, and for many it is, but ask yourself if
you’d rather be a poor artist or a paid DJ who can afford the time and money
to develop in the right places at the right time, and has the ambition to do so!
Getting your style on tape
When you make a demo to show off your skills, your style is entirely up to
you (head to Chapter 18 to find out more about making a demo). Your demo
is a reflection of who you are, and what you want to do. Let it rip, show off
how good you are at scratching, use your six turntables past their potential,
and create the most awe inspiring mix anyone has ever heard.
You need to have a goal when you make a demo like this, though. Have a
game plan when you show off this taster as your DJ style. If you’re sending it
to clubs, and the feedback you get is that it’s too full on, send another one
back to them that’s been toned down a bit. But carry on handing out demos
to your friends that are mixed in the way you want to mix them.
Adapt to get work, and then start to incorporate your own style, but never
give up on what truly makes you want to DJ in your own time. If you compromise too far in one direction, you may never come back!
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Chapter 18
Making a Great Demo
In This Chapter
Putting together a list of tunes to be proud of
Making sure that there’s a point to the mix
Setting the levels and EQs for perfect sound
Staying focused and being a perfectionist
Recording to computer and burning CDs
Getting noticed
ou’ve spent a long time developing your skills as a DJ. Now you have to
let people out there know how good you are by making a demo of your
best mix.
Your demo reflects you in every way. You won’t have the benefit of standing
next to the club owner to explain that at 15 minutes and 20 seconds into your
mix the cat jumped onto the decks, which caused the needle to jump, threw
your concentration, and that’s why the mix sounds awful.
You can’t send in a sloppy looking (and sounding) CD and expect them to
think that you’re a professional, and you must let this taster be your best
work. Your demo tape or CD marks you as a good DJ, or a bad DJ. So you’d
better make it sound great.
Preparing to Record the Demo
The most important aspects of your demo are that the sound is well recorded,
the music is mixed together well, and it doesn’t seem as if you’ve just thrown
together 20 tunes to make up 90 minutes of tape (or 74 minutes of CD) with
no real thought. Your demo must show that you have a vision of how to
progress a mix from start to finish.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Your first demo will probably be made in your bedroom, but in time, you can
become comfortable enough with your skills as a DJ to tape a live set, and
hand that out to people.
Programming your set
Which tunes to put on a demo tape and how to progress from start to finish
is up to you and your DJing style. Some DJs like to make their demos emulate
the pro-mixed CDs that they own; start off with a sample from a movie, or
some ambient sound effects, mix into the first tune that also has a quiet introduction, then build up the mix for the next 90 minutes. Others prefer just to
put on the first tune with a pounding beat, hit start, and take it from there, no
need for a gentle introduction for these guys!
Progressive and trance DJs are more likely to be the ones who use the gradual introduction into a mix, as it does set up a mood for the next 90 minutes,
and is probably what they’ve heard other DJs do. House DJs are about the
rhythm and the musicality of what they play, so starting off with the bass
beat and bass melody or a strong vocal with the beats coming in 16 bars later
(see Chapter 13) is a really powerful way to start for this style of DJ.
The quality and style of your demo is a reflection of you as a DJ. If you make a
demo that copies DJ Tiesto from start to finish, but when left to create your
own DJ set, it’s not as controlled and flowing as his, what are you going to be
like when you first stand in the DJ booth? If someone hires you because you
faithfully copied Tiesto’s latest mix as your demo, you’ll soon be found out
that you can’t mix without the benefit of plagiarism after the fifth week in a
row of playing the same set!
The last thing to think about before rifling through your record box is showing what sort of music you can play. If you plan to send in a demo to a drum
and bass club, adding some epic trance to the mix isn’t very relevant. And if
you want to send a mix to a house, or commercial club with a view to be the
DJ from start to finish, you’ll probably want to create your set so that you
start off with some relaxed house music, move up in tempo and energy, and
finish off with tunes that you know will make the crowd lose their minds on
the dance floor.
Picking and arranging the tunes
In the months (or weeks if you’re a natural) you’ve spent getting to grips with
DJing, you should have developed a few mixes from tune to tune that you’re
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
really happy with, and give you goose bumps when you perform them.
(There’s no shame in taking pride in what you do. If you do a mix that makes
you smile, there’s a fair chance everyone else will smile, too!) If you have six
or seven of these individual mixes between two tunes, that gives you 12–14
tunes to work with for your demo. Assuming that each track lasts about 4
minutes, you have just under an hour’s worth of music to play.
Depending on the range of music in your DJ box, no doubt some of these
tracks differ slightly in style, and others won’t mix into any of the other 14
tracks in your current playlist. However, you still have a record box (or CD
wallet) brimming with records that you love to play, so start considering
some of these as the glue tunes that hold your mix together.
From the 14 tunes you know you want to use in your demo, you can create
a map of the mix by arranging them in order in front of you. If for example,
your current playlist contains two gentle house tracks, two light, chart dance
tracks, four vocal house tracks, two uplifting American house tracks, and
four trance tracks, you may want to play them in the following order:
Gentle house
Vocal house
Uplifting American house
Chart (popular, mainstream) club tunes
The order gives the mix a progression of power from beginning to end. This
playlist is very simple and basic in structure, and certainly isn’t right for a lot
of music styles, DJs, and clubs you may apply for, but the idea of progressing
through a mix, rather than throwing songs into the mix because you think
that they may mix well, is crucial to showing your overall DJ skills, rather
than just your beatmatching skills.
Chapter 17 has more information on creating an undulating set list and
details how you dip the energy of the night by playing a slightly less powerful
tune in between two energetic ones and how to change tempo and so on. But
before you make your first tape, try to develop a solid understanding of progressing the mix – then you can start experimenting with the order that you
play your tunes in, varying the amount of energy in the mix just like a rollercoaster going up and down.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Bridging the gaps
Take a look in your record box and hunt for the glue tunes that’ll help you
progress from one level of energy or genre to the next. Sometimes, you find a
glue tune that mixes perfectly, is the perfect genre, and perfectly increases
the energy enough to be a great transition into next track. Sometimes, the
two tunes you’re trying to bridge between are actually poorly thought out,
and have such a large divide in pace and style between them that you’d be
unwise to keep forcing that mix (what I call crowbarring in a tune).
Be careful if you plan to use mix techniques like spinbacks, dead stops, or
even fade outs (refer to Chapter 14) to get around any problems of tunes
mixing together. They can be used incredibly effectively, and can add a level
of excitement (and energy) to the mix, but if performed poorly, or at the
wrong time (or too many times), they can sound as if you’ve used them
because you couldn’t mix from one tune to the other. Your skills as a DJ are
on show in your demo, so these techniques may actually work against you.
Don’t simply include tunes to bridge the gap between your original tracks
because they’re musical glue. You want to use them because you really like
playing them, and really want to include these tunes in the mix. Don’t ever
add a tune into the mix only with the purpose of bridging from one tune to
another. Whether it’s a vocal sample, a movie clip, or just another tune from
the box, you need to be happy that this tune reflects on you as a DJ – because
you chose it, and you put it in the mix.
With these bridge tunes added to the tracks you originally picked, you should
end up with a full mix close to the length of tape (90 minutes or 60 minutes)
or CD (74 minutes) that you plan to send out.
Practising your set
After you’ve chosen all your tunes, and you’ve decided on the order that you
think they play best in, the time has come for you to practise your set in
stages before trying to perform it all in one go.
Throwing a tape into the recorder so that you can listen back to your test
mixes is a sensible idea. It’s funny how a lot of mixes can sound good when
you do them, but when you listen back to the tape, the mix can sound really
rushed, and amateurish, or alternatively may even sound better than you
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
Feel free to experiment at this stage with how you mix your tunes together. If
you think that a mix between two particular tunes can be slightly better, trust
your instincts and look at ways to improve what you’re currently trying to
do. Ask yourself the following questions about your mix:
If you change the mix transition between tunes by 4, 8, or 16 bars, does
that make a difference?
If you start the new tune 16 bars later, does everything fall into place?
Are you using the EQ (equaliser) controls with enough subtlety through
the mix to create the seamless mix you’re looking for?
One last time, are you sure that the order of your tunes in the mix is the
best ?
Address each possibility and create a mix that is the best you can do.
If you take a long time to put together and play a good 70–90 minute mix,
that’s not an issue. When you started putting the mix together, you were
unlikely to be able to play it perfectly in front of an audience. Therefore, a
perfect mix probably wasn’t an accurate reflection of your abilities at that
point, and practising your set does have several major benefits:
When you practise your set to perfection, you put out your best work
for people to listen to.
Playing the set over and over again and analysing how to make it better
is the best way to develop the skills needed to spot a bad mix, and know
how to improve or fix it.
Each time you practise the set, your beatmatching and knowledge of
beat structure through repetition increases incredibly.
Creating a set you’re excited about, that has a purpose other than general practice, and uses tunes you love listening to, removes any boredom factor, and your skills develop without you realising it!
Practise your set until you’re completely comfortable playing it. Reaching the
stage where you know the mix points and starting cue points like the back of
your hand is important, as is being happy with all the EQ settings and strange
volume anomalies that may occur (see the later section ‘Looking After Sound
Setting up to record
Before you can start to record your demo, you need to set up your equipment to ensure the best possible sound quality. Two factors can affect your
sound quality:
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
You need a good quality tape (or CD/PC) recorder that you know how to
work, which can faithfully record your mix without failing on you, chewing up the tape, or cutting out halfway through.
You need to be familiar with your mixer and know how to control the
sound output on it.
Avoiding poor quality recordings
The only thing less appealing than a tape with train wreck mixing and a poor
choice of music, is one that’s badly recorded. Always keep in mind that no
matter who you send your tape to, whether it’s your best friend, your mother,
or Paul Oakenfold, this tape demonstrates your skills as a DJ. If it’s badly
recorded, you instantly lose points, and will be dubbed as unprofessional!
Tape versus CD for demos
From a functional point of view, these days you should really make a demo
CD of your mix rather than a tape. The sound quality is far better for starters,
but the ability to skip tracks to the next mix instantly on CD, rather than
messing around with the fast-forward button makes CD the preferred format.
To cover all eventualities, if you have the time (and the money for the
increased cost) I’d advise creating tapes and CDs. Why would you want to
reduce the options of how someone can listen to your mix? When you send
both formats, you show that you have an understanding for what people
want, and you show consideration and thought toward those you’re trying to
get work from, because they may not have a tape player or CD player where
they’ll be listening to the demo (a car for instance).
Don’t hand out tapes you know are bad
Years ago, I had a stereo that had a problem
with the recording heads that would temporarily drop the high frequencies from the music. I
was so excited at being a DJ, and I really
wanted to make sure that all my friends had
tapes of me DJing. Everybody would politely
take these tapes from me, but one day I went to
a friend’s house, and saw my ‘Recession’ mix
tape sitting next to the stereo with Sellotape
over the record-prevent tabs. When I asked him
about it, he said that although he liked the mix,
after listening to it once, he’d got fed up with the
sound problems, and figured that he’d rather
have a recording of Pete Tong from the radio
instead. That really hurt, but it taught me a valuable lesson.
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
Cassette tapes need to be recorded properly in order to sound good. Different
makes of tapes have different tolerances to the amount of signal they can
handle (how loud you play the music from the mixer to the tape recorder).
The packaging on the tape tells you the perfect range (in decibels).
Always be sure to work within the tolerance that the tape can accept. If you
play too loud, the sound distorts; too quiet a signal, and you get a lot of tape
hiss, which loses the clarity and brightness of the sound of the music.
Although a CD plays at a quiet volume on a stereo if under-recorded, you
shouldn’t have any problems with the recording quality from these low level
recordings. Set the levels on your CD (or computer) recorder too loud though,
and you suffer from digital clipping, which isn’t a nice noise at all. The music
just cuts out and pops when recorded too loud. A little bit of clipping on CD
sounds a lot worse than a little bit of distortion on a cassette tape.
MiniDisc and DAT for demos
MiniDisc is a great digital format to record to. With MP3 players becoming
more popular as playback devices, in my opinion the future for MiniDisc lies
more in its recording performance than the playback of pre-recorded or
downloaded music.
The audio quality of MiniDisc is good enough for you to make multiple, great
sounding copies of your mix. If you only record to audio tape, you have to
make copies of the tape (called making another generation, which vastly
reduces the sound quality of the new tape), or keep performing your mix
each time you want to send your tape somewhere new – and as much as you
love the music, that will eventually feel like a drag, and you won’t enjoy performing that mix as much anymore.
DAT (digital audio tape) is the professional format used to record music, and
can often be used as a final master of a recording made in the recording
studio. As it’s seen as specialised, professional equipment, very few people
own DAT players, so you’ll be wasting your time (and money, DAT tapes are
expensive) sending DATs to clubs and bars. As with MiniDisc, if you have
access to DAT recorders, use a DAT as a master recording of your mix, and
make your duplications from it.
Correcting recording levels
In order to make sure that the CDs and tapes you record hit the proper
balance between enough volume to prevent tape hiss with no risk of sound
distortion – your recorder needs to have some kind of record level indicator.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
This indicator is usually very similar to the output VU meter on your mixer; a
set of two lines of LEDs that are different colours (green, yellow, and then red)
depending on how strong the signal is. The meter should be laid out so that
any music you play over a certain level (sometimes when it hits +3 decibels)
makes the red LEDs start to flash. If your tape can accept up to +8 decibels as
an input strength, and you set the record level to a normal maximum of +3 decibels, if the music spikes by 2 decibels because of an unexpected loud part of
the record, you’re still within the recording limits of your equipment (as the
signal is only +5 decibels, which is still 3 decibels under the recording limits).
If you set the record level so that it’s almost hitting the +8 decibel mark for
the normal playback of your records, when this musical spike occurs, the
level is now +10 decibels, and you will distort the recording.
Limiters are used to clamp down on any peaks in level, helping to prevent
distortion. If you do have a limiter on your home recorder, it will probably
have a very harsh attack, so if the music does peak, the limiter immediately
reduces the overall level of the music by 2 or 3 decibels. This dip can be very
noticeable on the recording, and sounds as though you’ve crashed down on
the output level on the mixer by accident.
Some professional limiters are really good, and can be used as a great safety
net for unexpected peaks in the music signal, but I still recommend that you
concentrate on setting the record levels correctly in the first place, so you
don’t lose some quality and clarity when the limiter kicks in.
Matching the levels
The best way to control the audio levels being recorded is to make sure that
when the music is playing at its loudest point, the mixer’s output level meter
is set to display the same as the tape (or CD recorder) input level meter. This
way, you can look at the output LEDs on the mixer showing +3 decibels, and
be happy that the tape recorder is recording the music at +3 decibels, too.
Lining up your equipment
Setting your equipment so that everything you look at shows the same value
is known as lining up your equipment. This alignment is all done by playing a
reference tone through the mixer. A reference tone is a constant sine wave
playing at 1 kilohertz.
A constant tone is preferable because you can be exact about metering the
precise signal level. When you play music to line up the equipment, the LEDs
are erratic, and flash up and down to show the different changes in the signal
level. A constant tone is just that; constant. The level (and the LEDs) change
only if you move the faders on the mixer, or the input control on the recorder.
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
The process of lining up equipment using tone is as follows:
1. If you haven’t got your own reference tone, download one from my
Web site (www.recess.co.uk), and transfer it to CD or MP3.
2. Even if you use turntables, find a CD or MP3 player to plug into your
mixer, and play this tone into one of the channels.
3. If you need to press a switch or button to see the input level coming
into the mixer, do so now (see Chapter 8 for information on input
4. Use the gain controls on the mixer to adjust the gain so that the input
level of the tone shows +3 decibels on the input level LEDs.
This adjustment may mean increasing, or reducing the gain control. If
you’re playing the reference tone out of the headphones of an MP3
player, the signal may be weaker than normal; if so, turn the volume up
on the MP3 player as well as the gain control to make sure that the input
level is at +3 decibels.
5. Set the channel-fader for this channel to the maximum position you
would set it when playing a tune normally.
For scratch DJs, this setting is normally right up to the top. For beatmixing DJs, I always recommend setting your maximum point to threequarters of the way up (refer to Chapter 14 for why).
6. If you need to switch the display LEDs back to display the Master
Output level, do so now.
7. Use the Master Level control-fader to make the LEDs for the output of
the mixer display +3 decibels.
After you’ve made this adjustment, any changes you make to the gain
control on the input channel are mirrored by the readout of the mixer. If
you reduce the gain on the reference tone to only 0 decibels, you will
notice that the Master Level output LEDs also drop down to 0 decibels.
8. If you’ve just tried adjusting the gain to a 0 decibel setting as suggested in Step 7, return the gain (and therefore the Master Level) to
+3 decibels.
9. Set the recording level on the tape recorder.
Setting this level is simply a case of increasing (or decreasing) the input
control so the LEDs display +3 decibels on the recorder.
The +3dB level is used only to line up your equipment and make the LED displays show the same thing. If you want a +6dB output to the recording device,
increase the gain control on the channel input to +6dB, and you’ll see the
Master Level Output display and the display on the recording equipment now
show +6dB.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
The Master Output Level control doesn’t affect the strength of the signal sent
out of the Record Outputs. If you reduce the Master Level Control so the
meters only show +3dB in the preceding example, you’re still sending +6dB
out of the mixer to the recording device. As long as you make sure that the
input levels of your different input channels match +6 decibels, and the
Master Output level is used as a visual reference to be sure that the signal
level doesn’t exceed or fall too far from +6 decibels, you’re then able to prevent any noticeable volume changes from one track to the next.
Unfortunately, this precise guide on how to line up your equipment only
works properly if your recording equipment has a record level control. If you
send the music into a home-style hi-fi with a preset record level, you may
have to spend a lot of time trying to find the proper output level from your
mixer through trial and error in order to create good quality recordings.
Looking After Sound Processing
When you come to look after the sound of your mix, you have two major considerations; keeping an even volume between tunes, and the EQs.
Keeping an even volume
Keeping a smooth volume to your mix is almost as important as keeping the
bass beats in time. A drop in volume from tune to tune when they’re both
playing their loudest parts sounds very amateurish, and must be avoided at
all cost.
As you have lined up the equipment (see the preceding section) properly,
volume control is a simple process. You need to use the gain controls and the
input level meters on your mixer to match the input levels of your tunes.
If you don’t have input level meters on your mixer, you’ll find keeping the
volume of your tunes in the mix the same is a lot harder. What you can do is
put both ears of the headphones on, and quickly switch from hearing each
tune through them, if you hear a drop in volume from one tune to the next,
use the gain controls to increase or decrease the level of the incoming tune
(the tune you’re about to mix in) until they both sound about the same.
If you don’t have gain controls on your mixer, I recommend saving up to buy
a new one, quickly! In Chapter 14, I mention the importance of setting the
channel-faders to three-quarters of the way up rather than all the way up.
This is of extreme benefit to the people without gain controls, because if a
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
tune you’ve just mixed in doesn’t sound as loud as the one you’re mixing out
of, you still have some headroom (the other quarter of the way up on the
channel-fader) to increase how loud the new tune plays. With practice, and
patience, you’ll eventually develop the knack to catch these changes before
anyone else can hear them.
Assuming that you have a mixer with gain controls and input level meters,
making sure that all your tunes play out at a similar volume through the duration of the mix is very simple. Here’s how:
1. Before you press record, with the EQs for bass, mid, and high frequencies set to the position for perfect sound to come out from the
mixer (see the next section ‘Setting your EQs), start a tune and look at
the input level LED display on the mixer (you may need to press a
button or switch to do this).
2. Use the gain control to set the input level to your preferred point.
(I usually suggest that the meter should light up the first red LEDs
(sometimes at the +3 decibel point), and maybe make the next set light
up from time to time, but not constantly. Your settings depend on the
mixer you use and what you’re recording to).
3. After you have pressed record and started the first tune playing, pick
out the next tune, and play it through the headphones with the EQs
set to the optimum play out position.
4. Use the gain control to set the input level LEDs on the new tune so
that they’re as close as possible to the current tune you’re playing
through the speakers.
When the channel-faders are both set to the same level, both tunes should
play out of the mixer at the same volume. Unless:
You forget to set the EQs to the optimum play out level before checking the input level LEDs, which gives an artificial reading. If the bass
has been killed (when mixing out of the last tune for instance) and you
don’t reset it to neutral (which is hopefully 0), when you check the new
tune’s input level, the reduced bass will cause it to have a lot less signal
strength than it should. So if, for example, you’d set the gain control to
make the input LED’s match the +3 decibels of the other tune, when you
finally realise the bass has been cut, and put it back in, the tune may
now play with a +8 decibel signal strength. Get into the routine of resetting the EQs after every mix so you don’t fall into this trap.
Your tunes have a bass beat and rhythm, which, although sounding
fine, over-powers the rest of the tune, showing a false ‘high’ reading.
So although the LEDs show an input strength of +3 decibels, the tune
actually sounds weak (reduced volume and power) compared to the
other tunes in the mix.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
The only way to get around this problem is to get to know your tunes. If
this problem happens once in practice, take a note (or make a note on
the record sleeve) to remind you that that tune needs the gain to be set
a little higher, or the bass level killed slightly to allow you to raise the
gain in order to match the volume with the rest of the mix.
Cross-fader curves also have a part to play in the volume of a mix. Check out
Chapter 8 for information about how the cross-fader curve affects the volume
during a mix between two tunes, but if the curve allows both tunes to play
at full volume at the same time, the overall output level increases, and may
cause the sound to distort on tape or clip on CD (see Figure 18-1). The two
ways around this problem are to use a cross-fader curve that has a slight
dip in the middle to compensate for the boost of two tunes playing together
at full volume (see the section in Chapter 8 about cross fader curves –
especially Figure 8-2 and 8-3), or use the channel-faders to dip the tunes
slightly through the mix, then return them to full when the mix is almost
over. More information on using channel-faders to enhance the mix is in
Chapter 14.
Figure 18-1:
Two tunes
playing at a
similar level
combine to
make the
output from
the mixer a
lot louder
Resulting volume
Tune 1
Tune 2
Setting your EQs
Different recorders (and tapes) react in different ways to how you set the EQs
(equalisers) on your mixer. Some have a tendency to record too much bass,
others can record too much mid-range or high frequencies of the tunes.
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
As well as any problems caused by your recording equipment, you also have
to consider how you have setup the EQs on your amplifier. If you have the
bass set very high on your amp (or stereo) you probably have the bass EQs
on the mixer set lower than normal. With this setting, the recordings you
make sound a bit thin (a description of a sound that’s lacking in bass).
The best way of making sure that you select the best EQ settings for your
recording is to start off with a blank sheet. The first thing to do is set all the
EQs on the mixer to their neutral point. This point is normally marked with a
0, or is the halfway point on the control (for rotary knobs, this means setting
the EQ so that it’s pointing to the twelve o’clock position on a clock face.) In
this way, the music that you’re sending out of the mixer isn’t being affected
by the EQ controls, and each of the three frequency bands (bass, mid, and
high) remains exactly as the artist intended.
However, different mixers process sound slightly differently. Some cheap
mixers need to have the bass and high frequencies increased slightly, with
the mid-range reduced in order to make the tune sound right. If you have a
good pair of headphones, use them to gauge the audio quality from the mixer
and use the EQs to set the sound of the music so it sounds good to you.
Obviously, different tunes need their EQs tweaked in order to make the bass,
or high frequencies stand out a little more in the mix. Different tunes also
have different sounding bass drums, and you may want to use the mid and
bass EQs to try to match the strength of the bass beat as you go through the
mix. You may need to try a couple of different tunes to find a general setting
for the EQs to make the music sound best.
Testing, testing
To check the frequency settings of the music coming out of the mixer and
on to tape, simply make a test recording. Listen to the recording on a tape
recorder (or CD player) other than the one you’ve used to record it with. I
find that car stereos play music back very faithfully (although, not the bass
thumping, body shaking one that Darren has in his pimped-out ride). If the
music sounds fine in the car (especially when compared to pre-recorded
tapes and CDs that you normally play in the car) then you can be 95 per cent
sure that you’ve set up the EQs and levels on your mixer (and recorder) to
allow the mix to be recorded properly.
If the recording doesn’t sound right, and you need to add a little more bass,
look to the recording unit first before adjusting the mixer. If your tape
recorder has recording EQs that you can adjust, increase the bass slightly,
and do another test recording. If your recorder doesn’t have EQ controls, you
need to adjust the EQs on the mixer in order to make the music sound as
good as possible on tape.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
The reason you change the EQs on the recorder first is because as a DJ, you
use the EQs more as a mixing tool than as a sound processing tool. See Chapter 14 for more information on how to use the EQs to enhance your mixes,
but the key here is that if you have to boost the bass by 6 decibels (most controls go to about 12 decibels) in order to make the music sound good on tape,
when you mix in another tune with elevated bass frequencies, you risk the
danger of your mixer not being able to process that combined, high-bass
signal well enough, and the sound quality of your mix suffers.
Sound engineers take the time to EQ instruments and vocals precisely, but
hardly move the EQs away from those settings after they’ve been set. As a DJ,
you’ll be constantly changing the EQs as you mix, so knowing that each control just needs to be returned to 0 to make the tune sound normal, greatly
benefits the sound processing and speed of your mixes.
Setting EQs on the recorder or the mixer may take a little time to get right,
but helps the music you put on tape sound the best it can.
Adjusting the amplifier
You change the EQ settings on your amplifier depending on your circumstances. You may be recording the music through your home hi-fi, which also
acts as your amplifier, so the EQ settings you make to improve the recording
also affect the sound from the hi-fi (amplifier).
If you’re using a separate recorder from the amplifier though, concentrating
on the sound that goes from the mixer into the recorder is more important
than adjusting the amp. After you’ve set up the sound to make the perfect
recording to tape or CD, you can then go to your amplifier and tweak the frequencies to give you the best sound you’d like to hear from the speakers.
Changing the EQs for the amp first is a waste of time and makes concentrating on generating the best EQs for the tape recording a lot harder. If you set
the EQs for the amp first and then find that you have to increase the bass EQ
on the mixer to get a perfect recording, the bass through the amp is now
going to be too high, and you have to re-adjust it, and probably the mid and
high frequencies, too. You may also feel reluctant to alter the beautiful sound
you’ve created through the amplifier and sacrifice the sound quality of your
Only you know how you like to hear the music through the amp, but the
basic guideline is for the sound to have a clear, solid bass beat, (but not so
much that the bass frequencies take over the rest of the tune, which may
make it sound muddy), the mid range shouldn’t be so high that it dominates
the bass frequencies, and the high frequencies should be set so that you can
hear the hi-hat cymbals playing crisply over the bass and mid frequencies.
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
Performing the Demo
You’ve chosen a good order for your tunes that make up the demo, you’ve set
all the recording controls to get the best sound possible, and you’ve practised
the set so that you actually dream about how the tunes are put together. Now
take the final step and record your demo.
Press the record button on the CD/tape/MiniDisc/DAT/computer, (let tapes
run for about five seconds to make sure that you’re past the blank leader
tape at the very beginning) then take a deep breath – it’s for real this time –
and start the mix. An hour and a half later, you’ll either have gold dust or
fertiliser sitting in the recording device.
If it’s the latter, make a cup of coffee, compose yourself, and do it again, and
again, and again – until you get it right. You don’t need to get too annoyed
with yourself if you mess the demo up (though messing up right at the end of
your mix is especially frustrating). Remember that the professional DJs who
actually mix on their CDs (rather than using computer software to do it for
them) have been doing this DJing lark a lot longer than you have, and are (for
the time being) just plain better than you.
The pros also have the option to stop when they make an error, then start
again from where they left off, and piece everything together in the recording
studio. If you record directly to audio tape, or even CD and MiniDisc, you
need to perform the entire set from start to finish without getting anything
wrong. If you record your mix to a computer, you can edit out the bad parts,
and repair your errors by stopping and starting.
You’re cheating yourself out of an invaluable process of improving your DJing
if you use a computer to tidy up your mixes when you’re starting out. Each
time you go through your set, whether you complete it or not, you’re expanding your skills, and getting one step closer to how good your idols are. If you
just stop and restart the mix between two tunes after an error when recording to computer, it amounts to nothing more than shortcutting.
If you do like taking shortcuts though, head to the section ‘Making a Demo CD
on Computer’ later in this chapter to find out more about re-editing your mix
on computer.
Stay focused
If you have to run through your set three or four times (or more) before you
create a recording that you’re happy with, maintain your composure, stay
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
focused on what you’re trying to do, and try not to get frustrated and angry
by any mistakes you make.
You can do a few simple things to help keep your head in the game.
Arrange your records in the order you plan to play them in, so you don’t
have to hunt through the record box to find the next tune, run out of
time, and mess up the mix.
Wipe off any dust from the records, and check for any build-up of grime
on the needles. You don’t want to be halfway through the mix and see a
fluff ball tracking in front of one of your needles; the sound quality suffers, and the needle may skip.
Have something to eat before you start recording. Low blood sugar is
the number one cause of snapped records in my DJ room. I get really
grumpy and easily frustrated when I’m hungry, and (reluctantly) admit
to throwing one or two records into a wall after a bad mix on an empty
Keep some water on hand. Hunger can sometimes be thirst in disguise.
Keep yourself properly hydrated so you don’t start to feel tired and
worn out.
If you mess up a mix after getting one hour through it, take a ten-minute
break, go for a walk, clear your head, and come back to the mix ready to
have another go. This break not only takes out any boredom factor that
may lead to impatience, but also gives your ears a rest from the music
playing out from the amp.
Go to the toilet before you start. Needing to pee during a set not only
makes you rush a mix so you can run off to the smallest room, but you
may be in there a while, and miss the next mix. Be sensible and go
before you start the mix. Just remember to wash your hands, please.
DJing made me put on weight
I thought I’d be smart about not getting hungry
when I recorded. I used to keep a bag of Jelly
Babies with me when DJing at home, or in
clubs, just in case I got a drop in my sugar
levels, and needed a quick jolt. A bag of Jelly
Babies per night makes your waistline grow
incredibly fast. Couple that with more time spent
DJing than on the squash court, and it’s no
wonder my waistline grew! (It’s all better now,
getting married made me care about fitting back
into my kilt.)
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
Become a perfectionist
No matter how long you take to get the mix right, get the mix right. Keep in
mind that your demo can be passed to anybody. You never know who may
hear your work, and have an influence on your career.
Therefore, the demo has got to be perfect in your eyes. Never, ever utter the
words ‘That’ll do’. If you want to be a bedroom DJ for the rest of your life,
then fine, it probably will do. But if you have even a pinch of ambition in you,
start again. Even if you miss out one beat, or have a picky problem with the
levels, re-do the mix. To make an error is acceptable; not to improve because
of your errors, or fix them, should be completely unacceptable to you. Get to
a stage that when you hear demos by DJs who don’t care as much as you do,
you can take pride in being more of a professional than them.
If the demo is for submission to a competition or a job, remember that you’re
up against tens of thousands of budding DJs. Decks are almost outselling guitars; everyone wants to be a DJ. Now do you get how important it is to be perfect? (On tape at least.)
Listen with an open mind
When you listen back to your mix to gauge how your performance sounds,
judge it with an open mind. Things to look out for are any noticeable drops
in volume through the tune transitions, distortion on the tape, any galloping
horse bass drum beats when beatmatching, noticeable pitch bends when you
speed up (or slow down) a tune to get it back in time, poor EQ control, and
choosing the wrong time to mix from one tune to another.
However, don’t fall into the trap of over-criticism when you listen to the mix.
Knowing exactly when a mix happens and exactly what to listen to can make
you develop blindness to the overall sound of the mix, and because you hear
the transition, automatically assume that it’s a bad mix. I actively encourage
you to listen to the mix with a critic’s ear, but also listen to it with a passive
listener’s ear. If the mix was performed well, and still sounds great, is it really
that bad, and is there really a way to make the transition seamless?
Come back to that same mix in a couple of months’ time, when you don’t
have every second of it fresh in your mind, and I’m sure that you’ll like it
more than you do now. The chance that your opinion may change with the
passage of time is not an excuse to let poorly beatmatched or poorly conceived mixes enter into your demo, but also don’t beat yourself up trying to
create a seamless mix that isn’t possible.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Making a Demo CD on Computer
Recording your demo to computer can make your demo a lot more versatile.
You can add CD track marks precisely where you would like them to be, you
can edit a ‘best of’ taster mix to go before or after the main mix, and (although
not encouraged) by recording to computer, you can edit out your fluffs
Once you have successfully connected your mixer to the computer (refer to
Chapter 11), and have set up the software to process the incoming music at
the correct recording level (refer to the manual that comes with your software) you need to set the quality of your recording.
CD quality sound is 44.1 kilohertz (or 44100 hertz) 16 bit (binary notation),
stereo (multiple sound) and you can change the audio recording quality to
this setting using your recording software (even with the basic Windows
Sound Recorder system). If you record the mix at a lower sample or bit rate,
you can still transfer the mix onto CD, but the quality of the recording won’t
be as good and the computer may need to re-process the audio first in order
for the music to be playable on CD.
CD audio quality takes up about 100 megabytes for every ten minutes you
record, so make sure that your hard drive has at least twice the space you
require. Some software records to a virtual cache first, taking up space on the
hard drive, but needs the same amount of space again to save the file.
With the record levels set correctly (see the manual for your software) and
sample rates all set, all you need to do is press Record on the software, start
your mix, press Stop when you’ve finished it and save it to the hard drive.
Editing your mix
Using a computer to edit out any poor performance for your demo isn’t conducive to improving your mixing skills. Don’t get into the cheating habit.
For re-editing your mix you need software that’s a bit more sophisticated
than the Windows Sound Recorder. For PC, I use Adobe Audition, NGWave,
or Pro Tools. On the Mac, I use Apple Soundtrack, Pro Tools, and Audacity to
edit, effect, and save the mixes to different formats. There are hundreds of
different software audio editors available. You may even have one installed
with your CD burner software. Have a look through your program folder on
your PC/Mac before spending any money on some expensive software.
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
Here’s how to fix a mix if you make errors while performing it:
1. When you record your mix to computer and make an error, press
Stop on the software, and save the file.
2. Call this file something recognisable like ‘Mix Part 1’ and save it to a
new folder, keeping your work organised and tidy.
3. Assuming that you got the mix between two tunes wrong, work out if
this happened because you set the pitch of the incoming tune incorrectly, and if so, adjust the pitch on that tune. (Only change the pitch
on the incoming tune, not the one that was already playing through the
speakers, because if you change the pitch on the playing tune, the beats
(and pitch of the tune) won’t match the saved file, where you left off.)
4. With the file saved, and any pitch setting errors corrected, move the
needle or skip the CD about 30 seconds before you’re due to start the
mix. Press Record on the PC, press Start on the CD/turntable, and continue with the mix as though you’d never stopped.
If you make any more errors, save the file each time you stop as a sequential
number (Mix Part 2, Mix Part 3, and so on). If you mess up the same mix
again between the two tunes, you don’t need to save that file, just stop, and
start again, and save that part of the mix when it’s finally right.
After you’ve completed the mix, albeit split into three or four different files,
you need to start putting the mix back together again.
The software or even computer you use may be different from what I’m about
to describe, but the principle remains the same:
1. Open up the Mix Part 1 file (the first file) and play it.
A visual representation of the music (a symmetrical group of peaks and
troughs called the waveform – see Figure 18-2) appears on screen to help
you navigate the file. Usually there’s a time indicator bar that moves
along the waveform as the music plays to let you know where in the
music is currently playing.
2. Find an appropriate point on Mix Part 1 to stop.
This point would probably be before you started mixing into the next
tune and it’s best to stop playback at the beginning of a phrase (see
Chapter 13 if you’re unsure what a phrase is). Zoom in to the waveform
tight enough to see the different peaks as each bass beat hits. When
you’ve zoomed in close enough, you should easily be able to position
the time indicator at the exact point the first bass beat of the first bar
of a phrase hits.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Figure 18-2:
displayed on
3. Open up the Mix Part 2 file in another window.
4. Because you’ve started Mix Part 2 before the error in Mix Part 1, this
overlap means you can find the identical point in Mix Part 2 that you
stopped Mix Part 1 at.
If you know the tunes well, and stopped Mix Part 1 at the beginning of a
phrase, this operation doesn’t take too long. You need to zoom in to the
waveform again to be able to get the time indicator to exactly the same
position in the music that Mix Part 1 has been left at.
5. Select Mix Part 2’s waveform from where you set the time indictor, to
the end of the waveform (in Adobe Audition, you just click and drag
from the indicator all the way to the right-hand side of the waveform).
6. Copy this selection of the waveform to the clipboard (normally just
by pressing Ctrl+C, (or CMD+C on a Mac) or choosing Edit then Copy
from the menu bar).
7. Change the window back to the Mix Part 1 waveform and write down
the time that the time indicator is currently sitting at, so you can
easily check your edit point.
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
8. Without moving the time indicator on Mix Part 1, paste the file from
the clipboard onto the waveform (choose Edit then Paste, or press
Ctrl+V (or CMD+V)).
This stage may vary according to the software you’re using, but the
essence is that you’re pasting Mix Part 2 over Mix Part 1 from the point
where you left the time indicator, so you shouldn’t have any noticeable
repetition, or cut in music, and the music should continue as though
nothing has ever happened.
9. Set the time indicator to the time you wrote down, and listen to the
join between the two parts of the mix.
The join should sound completely normal. If it doesn’t, undo the paste of
Mix Part 2 (Ctrl Z, CMD+Z or Edit, Undo), check where you set your time
indicators and have another go.
10. Repeat this process for all the mix parts you had to make in order
to get the end of the mix without any errors, and save this file as
‘Master Mix’.
You now have one file made up of all your changes that sounds as
though you’ve never done anything wrong.
If you made beatmatching errors, volume or EQ control mistakes, or anything else went wrong in the mix, you can patch it all up by using this editing
When saving the file, save it as a Wave file (WAV) (or as an AIFF for Mac) and
be sure to check that the save settings are the same as the record settings
(44.1 KHz, 16 bit, Stereo). You may also want to save the file as an MP3 or any
other audio format you’d like. Saving as an MP3 at 192 Kbps (kilobits per
second) gives you great quality at a massively reduced file size compared to
the CD quality WAV or AIFF files, and is perfect for uploading to the Internet
for others to listen to.
Burning a CD
After you save your final mix as a WAV or AIFF file, you can burn the mix
to CD. Depending on your operating system, you can probably just insert a
blank CD into your CD recorder, drag the WAV or AIFF file onto the CD icon
on your computer, and follow the prompts to burn an audio CD (rather than
a data CD, which won’t play in a normal CD player).
Or, if you have designated software to control your CD burner (like Toast for
a Mac, or Nero for a PC) you can customise the information that’s burnt with
the CD. It’s normally this software that enables you to split the one large file
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
up so that instead of one long track burnt to CD, you have a different track on
the CD for each tune you used in your mix, without any audio gap between
these tracks.
Creating a track-split CD
If you want to increase your professionalism stakes by a point or two, make
sure to create a mix CD that’s split into individual tracks. Not only does this
method make your mix seem a lot more professional, but this presentation
means that the people you send the CD out to can easily scan through the CD
to listen to just the transitions between tunes to gauge how good you are as a
DJ, rather than listening to the entire CD or trying to scan through one long,
74-minute track on CD to find your mix points.
You can split a CD in two ways:
The hardest way: You can create a CD with multiple tracks by using
your audio editing software (see the section ‘Editing your mix’). The
software gives you a time code for the music, and this code is essential
to doing this method properly. The time code is a precise measurement for working out where you are in the tune. The measurement is
normally shown as hours, minutes, seconds, and thousands of a second
(HH:MM:SS:DDD). Here’s how to do it the hard way:
1. If your first tune (out of 15) starts at 0:00:00:000 and you want the
second track on the CD to start at 0:04:15:150, then save the mix
from 00:00:00:000 to 00:04:15:150 as an individual file.
2. If track two ends at 0:09:35:223, save the mix from 0:04:15:151
(notice that it’s one thousandth of a second ahead of the last cut
point) to 0:09:35:223 as another separate file.
3. Go through this process for the whole mix so that you now have 15
individual WAV files to that make up your mix. Give the files numbers when saving them not titles, which makes life easier when you
come to keeping them in the correct order.
4. With each file saved in sequence (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on)
use your CD burning software to add each of the files to the list of
files to be burnt to the CD (in numerical order).
5. Set the gap between each track to 0 seconds. You may have to
refer to the manual for how to make this setting. If you don’t set
the gap to 0 seconds, and it remains at the default setting (normally 2 seconds), you will get a two second gap between each of
your tracks, which won’t sound like a proper DJ mix and will end
up being filed – in the trash can!
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
6. After you’ve added all the tracks and set the gap in between each
track, simply burn the disc to CD and listen back to it to make sure
that you’ve split all the individual tracks up properly, without gaps
or blips in sound caused by getting the time-codes wrong.
The simplest way: Create a track split CD by using the built-in track
splitting functions on software such as Nero Burning Rom, Dart Pro, and
Sonic Foundry. Each piece of software has a way of marking where you’d
like to add track split points, without having to physically split up the
wave file itself.
As long as you remember to set the gap between each of the tracks to 0
seconds, the finished CD is neatly split into all your chosen tracks, without the danger of missing 1,000th of a second that may cause a blip in
the sound.
The process is almost the same as splitting the file into 15 (or however
many tracks you used) separate files. The software normally shows a
waveform of the music (see Figure 18-2), which you play through from
start to finish, adding markers to the waveform as you review it. You
don’t need to play the track in real time from start to finish, you can skip
ahead, back, play slowly, and so on, all in aid of finding the exact point
you’d like to add the track split marker.
Check the manual that came with your software for more detailed
instructions on how to make CDs with individual split tracks.
Mix CDs you find in shops tend to put track splits at the end, or halfway
through a mix, but when the club owner hits Next on the CD player, he’ll skip
past your DJing skills. So for a demo, you may want to put them before each
of the mixes start, so that the club owner can just skip forward to hear how
you perform each of the transitions.
Creating a transition only mix
If you’ve recorded your mix to computer, and you have enough space left at
the end of your CD, you may want to include a transition only version of your
demo. As some club promoters may only care about how you mix from tune
to tune, and can get enough of a sense of how you’ve programmed your set
by only listening to the highlights, or maybe just don’t care, you can help
your cause by including a series of audio tracks that just contain the 30 seconds (approximately) of time spent mixing from one tune to another.
Before you begin, you need to work out if you have enough space on the CD
to include a highlights mix. On a 14-track mix, the highlights probably take up
to 7–10 minutes of CD space. So if your mix is longer than 65 minutes, you
may have to edit this taster down to a bare minimum.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Open up your Master WAV or AIFF file, and for each mix, select the start of a
phrase before the mix starts, until the very end of a phrase after you’ve completed the mix. Save each of these ranges of the mix to an individual WAV file,
from phrase start to phrase finish for each transition of the mix. You should
end up with twelve different files to cover the 14-track mix.
If you’ve accurately selected each of the transitions at the exact beginning
and end of a phrase, you should be able to copy and paste them all into one
long file in your audio editor. This instantly creates a highlight mix, which
shouldn’t jump from track to track (unless you increased (or decreased) the
pitch of a tune in the middle of it, so the end is faster than the beginning. In
which case, you’ll just have to make do with a ‘jump-cut’ in which the transition version suddenly gets faster).
This taster mix may sound a bit quick, and if you have the space on the CD,
you may want to extend the length of time given to some (or all) of the highlights. However, if the manager only cares about the transition, and you can
still keep the beats pounding and uninterrupted, brevity may actually be
Sending Off the Mix
After you’ve created your demo tape/CD/MiniDisc, the final stage is to create
a package that sells you properly, and make sure that whoever receives it
knows where it came from, even it the demo gets separated from the rest of
the package items you send in the padded envelope. (See Chapter 19 for
more info on where to send your demo.)
To create a selling package, you may wish to include a brief CV along with the
demo, covering your experience as a DJ, the styles of music you mix, whether
you drive, how old you are, where you live, whether you DJ with vinyl, CD, or
MP3s on a laptop, if you are comfortable speaking through a microphone,
and a quick paragraph explaining why you’ve applied to them for work, and
why it would be mutually beneficial for you to be their DJ.
If you don’t look like a monster, popping in a photograph to include in the
package is a good idea, too. If you can show how presentable you are, they’re
more likely to consider you, and if you’re good looking, they may not even
listen to the mix, and just hire you based on how the ladies (or guys) will
fawn over you!
Decide whether you want to send in multiple formats of the mix. Obviously, a
tape, a CD, and a MiniDisc version of your mix covers nearly all the bases,
Chapter 18: Making a Great Demo
and you won’t be faced with the excuse of ‘I didn’t have a MiniDisc player to
listen to your demo, sorry’ – but this can get costly when you’re sending out
loads of demos. So if you can, send a CD and a tape. If not, just send a CD.
Include a track list of your mix, and indicate key moments in the demo if it’s
not split into separate tracks. If you’ve added a highlights mix at the end of
the CD, be sure to make that plainly obvious. If the people listening to the mix
don’t know that it’s been specially edited for their convenience, they may
wonder what it is (and be amazed at how fast you can mix from tune to tune).
I can’t stress enough the importance of following this piece of advice: Clearly
write your name, your phone number, and your e-mail address on every piece
of paper or plastic, every cover, CD, tape, MiniDisc, photograph, inlay sleeve,
and covering letter that you send out with your demo.
If you can print the label on your CD, make it a nice design, but make sure
your details show up clearly. Add stickers to your tapes, make sure that you
type up your CV, and include your contact details on everything – keep it
clear, keep it neat, and remember, the devil’s in the detail, get your phone
number and email address right!
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Chapter 19
Getting Busy With It:
Working as a DJ
In This Chapter
Marketing yourself the smart way
Dealing with DJ agencies
Schmoozing your way into the DJ booth
hen you start off as a DJ, the hardest thing you do is mastering how to
beatmatch. Now that you’re a great DJ, the next hurdle to overcome is
getting yourself that first DJing job.
You’ve put together a demo CD or tape; you love it, your cat loves it, your
mum loves it, and even your best friend can’t pick any holes in it. So now’s
the time to put it to good use – selling yourself as a DJ.
This chapter provides you with advice and guidance on how to approach
bars and clubs for work, gives you a pep talk about persistence, and though I
can’t guarantee that you’ll get any work, this chapter should fill you up with
ideas and enthusiasm for the task at hand.
You have three main ways to get ahead, and get work:
Market yourself
Join an agency
Marketing Yourself
Self-promotion is the key to success. No one else does the work for you. Sure,
when you make it as a big DJ, you can farm the hassle onto other people, but
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
when you’re starting off, you need to promote yourself diligently and singlemindedly. The same unfaltering perseverance and determination that kept
you going through any difficulties you had when developing your DJing skills
are exactly what you need to effectively sell yourself.
Flood the world with your demo
You should have a pile of tapes or CDs that are properly labelled with your
name on them and a tracklist together with an accompanying CV (and photo),
packaged up ready to be delivered to the clubs and pubs you want to work
at. If you’ve not got that far yet, check out Chapter 18 for advice on making a
good demo.
Include a covering note in each of your demo packages, specifically tailored
to the bar or club you’re trying to get work from. Do your research; if it’s a
club that plays different genres of music each night, mention which night you
think you’d be best for. Or, if your taste and music collection is suitable for a
range of their nights, let them know that you’re a versatile DJ. Be as specific
as you can; nothing’s worse than being on the receiving end of a vague letter
that simply says, ‘I want to be DJ, here’s my CD, I hope you can help’.
Show them that you know their establishment, tell them what you can add if
they hire you, promoting the fact that you’re a focused, professional DJ with a
goal of working at their club.
Handing over your demo
By far the best approach when submitting your demo is to hand it in personally. Bars are easy as they’re open for most of the day and night, so ask to
speak to the manager or bar manager and hand over your demo. Ask them if
they’d mind listening to your demo, and tell them you’ll be back in a week to
see if they like it. Be polite and friendly when speaking with them, no matter
how long the conversation lasts, and whether or not they’re polite and
friendly in return.
If no management is available, don’t be tempted to just leave it with the bar
staff, come back another day when you may have a chance of meeting someone who can help.
Clubs can be a little harder when trying to get hold of someone of responsibility, as when they’re open, these people are either preparing for the night
ahead, or dealing with all the nuances of running a club. Even if you have to
return to a club a few times, striking up conversations with the bar staff or
Chapter 19: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ
stewards to find what’s the best time to come back with your demo is well
worth the effort. And as long as you’re polite, and don’t take up too much of
their time, your demo shouldn’t end up in the bin.
Knowing where to send your demo
Do some research in the areas you’re going to spread around your demo so
you know all the best places to apply to. Don’t just stick to the places you go
to on a Friday night, have a look around the entire city, and make a list of all
the appropriate pubs and clubs that may be interested in your skills.
Choose clubs and pubs that play the music you’re playing. If you’re a drum
and bass DJ, don’t bother sending a tape into a commercial dance club, and if
you’re an R & B DJ, you’re wasting your time by sending a demo tape into an
underground jungle club.
If you’re in a city with enough variety of bars, no doubt they’ll demand the
same qualities in a DJ as a club would. This news is good for you though, as
by now you’re a professional sounding, club-ready DJ.
If you live in a small town with no bars or clubs that play your kind of music,
you’ll need to develop some wanderlust. Look to the nearest city or large
town to where you live for clubs that play the music you want to play. Don’t
try to force your music on people who don’t want to listen. But at the same
time, don’t give up. Don’t feel that a brick wall has been placed in front of you
that you can’t get around. You just need to go to neighbouring towns and
cities and dedicate yourself to spending a lot of time there instead.
Geography of a club: How far is too far?
You may want to try for global or national domination, but if you can’t get to the club, what’s the
point? If you do live 500 miles from a club you’re
sending your demo to, have a think about how
you’re going to get there, and if it’s financially
viable to travel that distance. If you’re only going
to get £100 for a night’s work, consider how
much you’re willing to pay to play by catching a
train/plane to get there, then staying overnight
in a hotel as you can’t get back.
Or, it may be you’ve booked a two-week holiday
to Ibiza in the hope that you can get a spot in a
pub or club out there for one or two nights. Send
out a whole load of tapes to places you think
might let you play a few weeks in advance (or
months) before you travel, take some tunes with
you, and follow up your submission personally.
If you’re spending the money to go there anyway,
why not give it a bash?
At this early stage in your career, the problem of
getting a gig 500 miles away is unlikely to occur,
but try to think about every eventuality now, so
that you’re not surprised when it happens.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Following up
When you’re sure that the bars and clubs have your demo, follow up with a
friendly phone call about a week after you sent it. If someone is kind enough
to take your call, ask politely if they’ve received your demo. If they have, ask
them what they thought of it, and hang on every word they say as they criticise your performance. Thank them for their time, and their honesty, and if
they don’t want to use you, ask if you can send in another demo that reflects
their comments.
If they haven’t received your demo, tell them that you’ll send in another one
by the next post. Amend your cover letter to include the name of the person
you spoke to, and include a line about chatting to them on the phone.
If you suffer from phone phobia, get over it. Don’t be scared of phoning clubs
and bars. You’ve nothing to lose in a phone call, and everything to gain.
Handling rejection
You can’t afford to have a fear of rejection. You need to put yourself out
there, and hope people like you. Different club owners and promoters reject
you in different ways; some take the time out to say no, some just don’t get
back in touch.
If they don’t respond, keep sending demos until they do get back in touch –
remember, persistence is key. If they do respond, but don’t want to hire you,
then hopefully they told you the reason why they didn’t like the demo. If they
comment on something you didn’t realise, and you agree with it, fix the problem and send off a new demo. They may say ‘I was actually just being polite
before’, but perhaps the time you’ve taken to make another demo reflecting
their comments may show them how serious you are about working for them.
The knack is to keep trying until they either take you on, or tell you to stop
sending in demos because they don’t like you! You have to be very strong
minded because the rejection letters will come flooding in, and a lot of them
won’t be polite, but if you have the skills, you’ll find someone, somewhere,
sometime, who’ll give you a chance.
Every time you start to wonder if this way truly is an effective form of selling
yourself, think of John Digweed. He got his big break when he sent a demo to
Renaissance, and he’s now one of the most well-known DJs in the world.
Play for free
Play for free are three little words that can get you very far. Ask yourself this
question, would you rather play for free, or not play at all? As you try to get
work, getting your foot in the door is more important than getting paid.
Chapter 19: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ
When you send off or hand in your demo, offer the bar/club one or two free
nights of your services to let them see how good you are. You’re more than
likely to get the chance of a warm-up slot from one or two places if you offer
to play for free, prove you have the skills to be a good DJ, and agree to play
music suitable for a warm-up set (see Chapter 20 for tips on what to play in a
warm-up set).
Offer owners what they want to hear
If you’ve been to a club, for research or a night out, you should already have
an idea of what rocks the night, and what kills the night.
In your covering letter that accompanies your demo, mention all the things
that make the club strong, and give an indication of what you can do to make
it even better. I’d stop short of criticising the club and telling them what
they’re bad at though, use positive language, and make them feel that choosing you is a good thing.
And tell them you’ll make them lots of money. Club owners like that . . .
Joining an Agency
Joining a DJ agency can be a good way of spreading the word about your
skills. What role they play depends largely on how good and how famous you
are as a DJ.
You have your choice of several different types of agencies:
Artist management: Catering for famous, established, pro DJs that are in
high demand rather than newbies trying to get a break, or even the regular DJ at a small club, these agencies are less about hand holding and
advice, and are more about making sure nights go smoothly, money is
paid on time, and that the high profile DJs on their books are well publicised, and booked solidly. As managers, these agencies deal with the
publicity, bookings, travel, accommodation, and so on, the only thing
that the DJ needs to worry about is the music and maintaining a good
reputation, which is the promotion that keeps the bookings coming in.
Any booking fees payable to the DJ are paid to the management, who
take a percentage cut (usually between 10 and 15 per cent) before passing the rest onto the DJ. The less bookings the DJ has, the less money
the agency makes, so making sure that the DJs on their roster are reliable, booked solidly, and getting paid is in their best interest.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Local agencies: Large towns and cities have DJ agencies that cater for
the clubs, bars, function rooms, wedding parties, and any reason someone may want a DJ. Although fame won’t be as large an issue, a strong
track record of playing a lot of gigs is a necessity for these agencies to
sign you up.
A DJ agency has a pool of DJs that go to bars and clubs requesting a DJ.
Local agencies take a similar percentage cut of the booking fee as the
artist management agencies. As the DJs on their books don’t have fame
to sell themselves, these agencies work hard for their cut.
Internet agencies: A new wave of Internet DJ agencies help you with
promoting yourself, rather than finding work for you. They don’t actively
seek out work on your behalf, but clubs and bars come to them requesting a DJ, and the agency passes on your details to the club. Reputable
Internet agencies have a large dossier of clubs who request DJs on their
roster, and are able to prove a large hit-rate for their DJs working at
In many cases, you pay a yearly subscription to the Internet agency,
rather than handing over a percentage of what you earn. This is an
extremely controversial concept, and opinions are very strong on both
sides as to whether you should pay upfront to try to find work.
Paying upfront: For and against
Whether you should pay upfront before an
agency gets you work is cause for a lot of
heated discussion. One side of the argument is
that you should only need to pay if the agency
gets you work, and the agency should take a cut
from the booking. That approach is used by
most bricks and mortar agencies, which have a
staff of representatives visiting clubs. The club
promoter pays the agency directly, who then
pass the money (minus a cut) onto you.
Because most Internet agencies are actually
just middlemen that let you promote yourself to
their contacts, they have no way of telling if you
have been hired, or if you’ve been paid. Relying
on you to declare all the nights you’ve worked
through agency contacts becomes an unworkable proposition, hence the request to pay for
their services upfront.
The obvious risk with paying up front is that you
pay the money to the agency, and they don’t get
you any work. Until Internet agencies get a
stronger track record, my suggestion is to
exhaust every possibility under the sun and
work as hard as you can to get work under your
own steam before approaching an Internet
agency. If you’re still finding it hard to get work,
and you’re sure your skills aren’t letting you
down, do a lot of background research into
Internet agencies and what they do, and tread
very carefully before parting with any money.
Chapter 19: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ
Research an agency
Before joining any agency, take a look at any testimonials that may be on
their Web site, and if you get the chance, get in touch with the DJs and clubs
to check that the agency is genuine. Some unscrupulous people out there
do make up information to try to seem more professional, so do as much
research as you can and post questions on DJ forums (communities where
DJs go to chat about their work – Chapter 21 has a list of forums).
Alarm bells should ring if the agency’s Web site has no recent testimonials
from DJs, if DJs mentioned don’t respond to your e-mails, if the agency forces
you into a contract longer than a year, or if you discover any hidden charges.
Contact the people in charge of running the agency. Even though they may
sound fierce in their literature when they mention trying to contact them,
they have to show you due care and attention. You need to be sure that you’ll
get a service for the money that you’re looking to invest in their help. If they
aren’t polite, helpful, and professional at the beginning of your relationship
with them, run like the wind!
The cut of your booking fee that an agency demands varies. If the cut is larger
than 10–15 per cent, find out if you get an extra service for that extra money,
and if you don’t, think hard about whether you want to hand over that extra
money for nothing.
Finally, when you’re happy to sign on the dotted line with an agency, show
the contract to a lawyer first, just in case you missed something.
Meet the criteria to join
DJ agencies have a reputation to uphold, and as such, they do have some
strict criteria that you must meet before they sign you up. Pro agencies for
the famous DJ tend to headhunt the DJ. When someone gains a reputation for
drawing a crowd, and has become a well-known DJ, these agencies swoop in
and offer to add the DJ to their roster.
Although local and Internet agencies may have restrictions on age limits and
where you live, the one constant you find is that you need to have had experience before these agencies will take you onto their books. If you’ve gained
experience under your own steam, made your own contacts, and developed
them to gain you work then you show the talent needed to secure work,
and the determination and mindset needed to be a professional in the DJing
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Many agencies won’t add you to their DJ roster based purely on a demo CD.
They can’t take the risk that the DJ may have taken months to perfect that
one mix, or that they’ve used a computer program to touch up a sloppy performance. But apart from this, the difference between playing in the bedroom
without any pressure and playing in a club in front of a thousand clubbers in
a room with a bad sound system is huge. Nerves and comfort aren’t an issue
in the bedroom, but the first time you play live in a club, you’ll be nervous
and in alien surroundings as a DJ. If you make a mistake because you’re wet
behind the ears, it won’t reflect well on you, or the agency promoting you.
The music you play as a DJ may change the kind of agencies that you
approach. Some agencies only work with wedding/party DJs, while others
only represent club DJs, and won’t accept a wedding DJ onto their books.
When you approach an agency that represents a vast range of DJ styles, let
them know at the outset what kind of music you play best. Even if you have
a wide range from R & B to hard house, you need to let the agency know
whether you have the music (or desire) to spend an evening playing Frank
Sinatra and Neil Diamond tracks at a retirement party.
If you do have the patience to be a workhorse DJ who plays anything just to
get ahead, let them know that you’ll play anything, anywhere; and in time,
hope that you’ve earned their trust so they start putting you in clubs where
you can play the music you want. The downside to the workhorse approach
is the amount of bowling alleys that you may have to play Britney Spears’
tunes in.
Cut your losses
It’s hard work trying to get on an agency’s roster. Be persistent, but also be
aware of when you’re making the wrong move. I spent a long time trying to
get involved with an agency in my area. When I finally tracked down the guy
who ran it, we just didn’t click, and when he found out that I already had
work and I wasn’t willing to drop it to join his agency, it ended as a very short
phone call.
Depending on the contacts you build up through networking (see the next
section), and the kind of places and size of clubs you want to play at, you
may never need the services of an agency. I have never been on an agency
roster. That’s not because I don’t want to (or from a lack of trying), but is
simply because the contacts I’ve made through networking have been helpful
in getting me work.
Chapter 19: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ
Networking Your Way to Success
Get used to the phrase: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ Everyone
you talk to about your quest to find work eventually says it.
Networking can range from a simple meet and greet with a club or bar owner
when you hand over your demo, to meeting people who introduce you to
more people, and eventually getting work from those connections.
Sell yourself
Attitude and presentation can go a long way in this industry. If you can convince a club or bar owner that you’d actually be good to have around, either
because you seem like a reliable kind of person or because you’re well dressed
and attractive enough to be eye candy for the public, then you’ve already
given yourself a step up the ladder.
Some genres of music promote and thrive on the aloof too cool for you style of
DJ, but it’s not something I’d recommend you do, or want to adopt myself.
Make friends
Going straight to a club owner and asking for work is a ballsy move. If they
say no, you may have blown your chances of working for them. If you
befriend the bar staff and the DJ, who may then recommend you for a small
DJing spot, you may get a lot more luck.
How you develop your relationship with people is down to your personality.
If you think you’re the type who can strike up a friendship with a DJ in a pub,
and use that friendship to get somewhere, by all means go for it. Just realise
that the DJ will peg you for a DJ wannabe from the moment you even glance
at his/her records and the turntables. Don’t pretend that’s not why you’re
there, but unless you think it’s worthwhile pushing it, play it cool, and hold
off the hard sell for a while, making friends with the DJ.
Getting to know bar staff, particularly senior bar staff can be another good
avenue to get into the club, even as a warm-up DJ. Again, you need to take
some time, become a regular, get to know them and the club well, and when
you’re happy that you can start to push your luck, hand over a tape, and see
what becomes of it.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Beginning my journey
My journey began when I was a barman in a
pub in Glasgow called Café Cini. Before the DJs
arrived, a tape would play at low level through
the sound system. After a couple of months of
working behind the bar, I slipped one of my
tapes into the machine.
Luckily Pauline, the manageress, liked the tape
and asked who did it. When she found out it was
me, she offered me a 1-hour warm up before the
DJ arrived (paid in Irn Bru). This spot led to an
hour during the main part of the night (more Irn
Bru), and then became a night of my own for
money (which I spent on Irn Bru), and expanded
on from there (as did my waistline due to all that
Irn Bru!).
One of the other DJs who had just opened up
his own club offered me a warm-up spot, giving
me my first piece of club experience. From
there, I met another DJ who was giving up his
Friday night residency at a club, and suggested,
with his recommendation, that I should get in
touch with the owners to take over.
So from a basic bar job, my DJ career began. It
can be that easy for you too.
Go ‘undercover’
Getting a foot in the door when you’re already inside is easy! Insider knowledge is the best advantage you can have. A bar job in a club or pub you want
to work in is an excellent way of selling yourself surreptitiously. You can
subtly spread word of your skills, and repeatedly let people hear your demo
until they realise that they like you, and want to put you in the booth. By the
time they grasp your true agenda, it’s too late, they’re already happy to have
hired you as the DJ!
Marketing Yourself on the Internet
Creating the best Web site in the world won’t get you any work on its own,
but a Web site that backs you up as a professional DJ goes a long way to
impressing those who choose to check it out.
As well as hosting your latest mix and a DJ CV for future employers, your site
can also promote the nights you work to other people. If you establish a good
following that you can keep up to date through your Web site, and almost
guarantee a club that a certain number of people will turn up, your case for
working at the club is sweetened by the guaranteed door money they will
Chapter 19: Getting Busy With It: Working as a DJ
With the creation of Web sites like www.myspace.com, you don’t even need
to have your own Web site anymore, and can instantly get in touch with all
your friends to let them know where and when you’re playing next. You can
use WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) layout editors to spruce up your
profile, but with some HTML knowledge and creativity, you can create a
vibrant, well-laid out and informative profile that sells you just as well as a
personal Web site.
The only downside to a MySpace profile page compared to your own site is
simply the professionalism of the Web URL. I think that as a Web URL, www.
recess.co.uk looks more professional than www.myspace.com/dj_recess.
For a more dedicated DJ approach to the Web sites your profile is viewed
on, check out sites like www.djpassion.co.uk, www.djpromoter.com,
www.mydjspace.net and www.myclubbingspace.com.
Some DJ profile sites are linked to venues that use the DJs who submit profiles, others on the Internet are enhanced forums and Internet radio stations.
But as long as they’re free, sign up and promote yourself as much as you can
through all possible avenues.
Internet forums are a great way to promote yourself and find out what’s going
on in the music world. Chapter 21 has a list of the best forums on the Internet.
The discussion forum for this book is located at www.djrecess.co.uk/php.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Chapter 20
Facing the Music:
Playing to a Live Crowd
In This Chapter
Knowing what to expect from the venue
Being prepared for all eventualities
Reading a crowd, and reacting to their reactions
Dealing with requests, with tact
Ending the night just right
ou’re ready. You’ve practised for months, your friends know how good
you are, you’ve sent your demo to bars and clubs to let them know how
good you are, and now’s your chance to show hundreds of people on the
dance floor just how good you are. Stepping out of the bedroom and into a
club’s DJ booth is a big leap, so you have a few things to consider.
I’ve always said that this leap is like driving a car. You spend ages with a driving instructor who teaches you how to pass your test, and then once you’re
on your own in the real world, making decisions for yourself, you learn how
to drive. As a new DJ, you spend a year or more in your bedroom perfecting
your technique and building knowledge about your music, and only when
you get out into the real world and find work do you develop the skills to
become a true DJ.
The difference between DJing in the bedroom and in a club is crowd control,
knowing what people want to hear and being able to adapt to how they’re
reacting to the music you’re playing. Knowing when to move up from one
genre to another, or when to increase the energy of the mix is something that
comes with experience and practice, but the most important skill you develop
is the ability to lose yourself and love what you’re doing while simultaneously
reading the crowd’s reaction to the music you’re playing.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Investigating the Venue
Nothing’s scarier than the unknown. Investigate the club or hall you’re
booked to play well in advance. If you’re putting on your own night in a club,
you only have to worry about getting people to turn up! If you’ve been asked
to play a party or wedding in the local town hall, you need to find out what
you’re expected to play, what equipment you need to take, and start memorising the bride and groom’s names!
Scoping the club
No matter whether this is your first ever set in a club, or if you’re an established DJ, do your homework. Set up a meeting with the club owner, manager,
or promoter to discuss a few things. If you can’t set up a meeting, try to go to
the club on a similar night to the one you’ve been booked for (the same night
a week before is perfect), listen to the music that’s being played, and watch
the crowd’s reaction. (See ‘Reading a crowd’ later in the chapter.)
When you’re doing some investigation at the club, try to strike up a conversation with the bar staff and the toilet attendants (if the club has them). As they
hear everything that’s said, and everything that’s played through a night,
they can sometimes be a better wealth of knowledge than the club promoter
for the music that works best, the kind of people who go there, and the general mood and patterns of the people who frequent the club.
When you’re the warm-up DJ
If you’ve been asked to do the warm-up set before the main DJ comes on, ask
the promoter/manager if they have any limitations to what kind of music you
can play. If you’re working in a house/trance club, the promoter may want
you to play lighter, well-known musical tunes to warm up the crowd, so the
main DJ can progress from soft to hard when they arrive.
The warm-up set is extremely important to the club, and your career. If you
treat this gig as a throwaway hour and a half where what you mix doesn’t
matter, the customers at the club won’t get warmed up, and you won’t be
asked to return. Although the music may be softer than you normally play
at home, suppress your musical snobbery and realise that playing whatever
you’ve been asked to is really important, so you can keep your foot in the
door and hope that they’ll eventually let you play the main set where you
can show them what you’re capable of.
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
When you’re playing the main set
As the main set DJ, you have fewer constraints, but you still need to find out
whether the club has a music policy. They may have a limit as to how fast you
can play and limit you to playing certain genres (perhaps they’d rather you
didn’t play the harder stuff in trance clubs, or death metal in rock clubs).
You may think that you’re there to play the latest, greatest underground
tunes, but maybe the guy you’re replacing just played hard, loud music all
the time, and the club is looking for a change. When a club goes through a
tough period, they tend to opt for a change in music policy, and that normally
involves following whatever is the most popular, fashionable music at the
time. So if you’ve been brought into a club that used to play hard dance
music and is now trying to move away from that, you may find that the club
asks you to throw in some R & B through the first part of the set, then some
really commercial, popular dance music in the main part of the set.
Every set may be your big break. So swallow your pride, and realise that for
every five commercial tunes you play, you’ll be able to play one or two that
people haven’t heard yet, but which you know will be massive. But don’t
push your luck! Research the music scene, read magazines, listen to other DJ
mixes, and listen to suitable radio shows, and you’ll develop an ear to pick
tunes that eventually become popular. You won’t have to gamble with what
you play, you’ll know that you’re playing the next big thing.
Provided this doesn’t annoy the management, when you pick the right tunes
that launch from underground to mainstream, the club owner and promoter
will recognise that you know your stuff, and will hopefully start to respect
your musical knowledge and give you a little more musical wriggle room.
When you’re replacing a DJ
If you’re replacing a DJ, finding out why is important. When you’ve been
asked to fill the role, you don’t want to end up making the same kind of mistakes as the last guy. Ask the promoter what led to their dismissal and if they
were doing something wrong.
I was lucky enough to be invited to watch a DJ that I was replacing play the
week before he was fired, so I was able to hear for myself what was going
wrong. I had to tell the promoter what I thought he was doing wrong though,
and how I’d do it better as a test of my DJ skills, but fortunately, I passed
his test!
You may find that the DJ has been doing everything perfectly, but that a personality clash has led to their dismissal or resignation, in which case, put on
a smile and remember what the DJ was doing that worked.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Minding the other details
Discuss money terms well before you turn up to play your set. Different
clubs, nights, and locations change how much you can charge. You’re DJing
for the love of music and the opportunity, not the financial gain, but it doesn’t
hurt to get something in writing that states how much you’ll get, and when
you’re going to get paid!
While you’re investigating the club, try to get a sneaky peak inside the DJ
booth. If you’ve managed to secure a meeting when the club is closed, take
your time to look around the booth and take a note of the equipment that’s in
it, and where everything is located.
The main things to check are which mixer, turntables, and CD decks they use;
whether a booth monitor is provided inside the DJ booth; where you put your
records/CDs; and where the amplifiers are.
If a monitor isn’t supplied, you can ask about getting one, but unless you’re a
famous DJ that the club can make loads of money out of, they probably won’t
agree to your request. If you don’t have a monitor, you need to work out the
best way to get around the audio delay.
If you’re unsure of how to use any of the controls in the club’s DJ booth, do
some research before you turn up on the night for your set. If the mixer has
functions that you’d like to use, but don’t know how, finding out how is very
important. The first time I used a DJ-M500 mixer, I had no idea how to work
the effects on it, and was banging the yellow button with no result. I didn’t
find out how to use it properly until I got home and read about it.
If you use bottom-of-the-range twin CD decks at home, and you’re faced with
top-of-the-range single CD decks at the club, go online or ask someone you
know who has those decks, to make sure that you’re happy using them on
the night.
Most clubs still cater for the vinyl DJ and tend to use the industry standard
Technics 1210s, but if they’re innovative, and use turntables with extra features like the Vestax, Gemini, and Numark range, a quick read over an online
manual gives you all the knowledge you need to properly use them.
As much as we’d all love to use our own turntables, mixers, and CD decks,
there aren’t many clubs that let you take your own kit. In the right club, with
a friendly manager, you may be able to take along your own mixer if you’re
working the entire night. CD decks and turntables are normally off-limits to
change, but you can always ask. You may want to wait until you’ve developed
a good relationship with the club, and have proven yourself before asking
about tearing apart the DJ booth!
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
Blowing speakers by proxy
I know from experience that you need to be very
careful when swapping over equipment. I used
to take my own mixer to a club, as theirs was
quite basic. Unfortunately, the cables weren’t
marked well, and when I plugged them back
into their mixer at the end of the night, I didn’t do
it right. The next night, the unknowing DJ turned
on all the amps, and almost blew out most of the
speakers due to the electrical pop my incorrect
connections created.
Getting ready to party
Houses and town halls aren’t designed to be makeshift clubs, so you need to
do a little more investigation to make sure that you’re well prepared for playing at these venues.
If you decide to have a party in your house so that you can impress your
friends with your skills, the only things you have to worry about are the
neighbours, keeping enough ice in the fridge, and where to set up.
If you hire a hall to play at, you need to think about suitable amplification (refer
to Chapter 10), lights, and something more substantial than the kitchen table
to set up on. If you’re inviting 200 people to the town hall, think about security;
you may need a few big fellas there, just in case things get out of hand.
Whether the party’s at your house or in a hired hall, music policy isn’t an issue,
as you decide what to play. You still need to react to how the people at the
party respond to what you’re playing, though. Don’t be bullheaded and persevere with music that they aren’t enjoying just because you want to play it.
If you’re booked to play at someone else’s party, be it a birthday party, leaving night, or wedding, they can give you an indication of what they expect
you to play. If it’s someone who knows that you’re a DJ, but doesn’t know that
you specialise in drum and bass, you may want to let them know, so they
don’t expect Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child, but actually get old Roni Size
and Goldie tracks, instead.
Unless you’re told otherwise, don’t expect them to provide any equipment.
You’ll be lucky if there’s even a table for you to set your equipment up on. So
arranging suitable amplification and lighting is down to you, and you’ll need
to use your own DJ set-up. Visit the venue you’ve been booked to play at well
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
in advance. Someone who works there should be able to tell you the most
popular place to set up your make shift DJ booth, and when you see the hall,
you can work out how much amplification you need.
Preparing to Perform
Baden Powell wasn’t wrong about the value of preparation. When your set
looms only hours away, try to think of everything before you play, so you’re
not faced with any big surprises.
Selecting the set
From your music policy discussions with the club owner or organiser of the
party, you should know what music you’re able to play for your set. With this
in mind, you can flick through your collection and pick out the tunes you’re
most likely to play that night.
Now go back into your collection and pick out the same amount again. There’s
nothing wrong with taking loads of records with you. If you have the space,
use it. Longing for a record that you haven’t put in is a bad thing, but reaching for that tune – the one that you’d otherwise have left at home – and using
it to win over a tough crowd can only be a good thing.
Predetermined set lists
Trying to work out the entire set from start to finish before you get to a club
isn’t a good idea. Even if the club owner has given you a music policy to stay
within, you still need to tailor the music for the people on the dance floor.
If you decide before your set to play light house music for the first two hours
but the club is packed after an hour, demanding more energetic music, you
have the choice of playing the other hour of house music (which may bore
the people out of the club) or skipping directly to the music that they want to
hear – only to worry about the extra hour of music you have to fill up at the
end of the night.
Some forethought about your tunes can help if you’re taking over from
another DJ. Think about your opening tunes so that you can settle in easily,
but don’t get tunnel vision and think of only one or two openers. Have
enough tunes with you to cover many eventualities; one tune if it’s a bit low
key, another if the dance floor is going wild, and another if it’s in between, in
the bizarre transitional phase.
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
Checkpoint tunes
If you don’t like the idea of a completely off-the-cuff set but don’t want to
create a start to finish set list, use key tunes for your set, like checkpoints
that you pass as you increase the energy and the tempo of the night. If the
checkpoints are tunes that people love to hear, you can use them as markers
to help you map out your set from start to finish.
Providing you practise enough with your collection, you should be able to
choose from a lot of tunes that you can mix in and out of the checkpoint
tunes, all of which in turn mix in to another large number of good tunes. Keep
your eye on the dance floor, and try to estimate when you think that you’re
going to change the pace or energy again, and work towards putting in the
next key tune to move the mix to another level.
But remember, on every journey, you sometimes need to take a detour. Even
with a skeleton framework of tunes to link your mix, you still need to be flexible and react to the crowd (see the section ‘Reading the crowd’ later in this
Organising your box
You don’t have to organise your tunes alphabetically or by genre if you don’t
want to, but if by having an order to the chaos of your record box or CD
wallet, you make finding that elusive track when you need it most much
easier. You have a couple or organisational options:
By genre: If you’re doing a set that requires you to play multiple genres,
or multiple subgenres of music, grouping each genre together in the
record box or CD wallet makes good sense. Especially as most of these
genres relate to a specific point in the night (for instance R & B at the
beginning, then vocal house, then commercial dance, then trance, then
progressive house), grouping these genres together makes navigating
your way through the set more manageable.
Multiple boxes/bags: If you have a few boxes and bags that you take
with you, have one for each genre or power level in the night, splitting
your boxes so that all the beginning of the night tunes are in one box,
and all the main set tunes are in another box. This way, you won’t have
to wade through two boxes crammed with 120 records (or CD wallets
with thousands of tunes) to find a specific track.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Laziness has its value . . . at last!
I’m quite lazy as a DJ when it comes to arranging tunes. I pick them out from anywhere, but
always replace them at the front of the box. But
this method means that the tunes I play most
often are always at the front of the box. Before
I set off for a night though, when I look through
the tunes that I think that I might play, I put the
ones I’m 90 per cent sure to include at the front
of the box, the ones I’d play only if I thought the
crowd was the type to respond are next, and
then ones I’d only play in an emergency, or if the
night was going so well that I can play anything,
go right at the back.
Knowing What to Expect at the Club
Getting to a club early lets you plan your evening properly, gives you time to
get used to the equipment, chat to the bar staff and promoter about what
kind of night they think that it’s going to be, and steady any nerves that may
have developed.
Dealing with nerves
Unless you’re a rock, you will get nervous on the first night you play. If you’re
lucky, your nerves will subside with time, to be replaced by nervous excitement. I believe that the moment you stop getting that excited feeling in your
stomach before playing a set, you should take stock, and ask yourself if you
still love what you’re doing, or just going through the motions.
You may be tempted, but try not to turn to alcohol as a way to get over your
nerves, even if it is free. You want to be as clear headed as possible when
you’re playing. Dutch courage is not courage, it’s a mask. Your nervousness
reduces after a few good mixes anyway, but be aware of this feeling, and use
it as a reminder that what you’re doing is important, and your fear of messing
up is borne of your desire to be a great DJ.
Getting used to your tools
If you get the chance to visit the club before playing the set, as a customer or
when meeting the promoter, take my advice and look at the equipment in the
DJ booth to give you the chance of reading up on any items that you’ve never
used before (see the earlier section ‘Minding the other details’).
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
Take the opportunity of turning up at the club early and throwing on a couple
of tunes to get used to the equipment. If you’ve only read how to use something new in a manual, this time is great for working through anything you’re
unsure of.
Setting the levels and EQ
As well as getting used to the equipment, you can figure out how the sound
comes across in the club, and hopefully change it to your liking. There’s a
long night ahead of you. If you don’t like the sound, it’ll be even longer!
Put on a record you know really well, with all the EQs set to twelve o’clock
(this is the flat position on your mixer, where no frequency has been added or
cut by any amount). Turn the music up loud and stand at various parts of the
dance floor. Don’t only stand in front of the massive bass speakers, where
you’ll be shaken to pieces by the vibrations, move around, from the outskirts
of the dance floor to the centre, and in front of the booth.
During your journey around the dance floor, listen to the sound in each position. If the different areas of the club are covered by multiple amps and EQs,
ask if you can change them to suit the sound that you prefer. If only one amp
and EQ is available for the entire dance floor, you have to stand in the middle
and set the best sound for that position. There’s nothing more you can do.
If the club won’t let you touch the sound system’s EQs, you need to use the
EQs on the mixer instead, which isn’t the best option, but is still better than
leaving the club sounding shrill, with no bass in it. The tune that you use to
check the sound should be your benchmark tune. Use this tune to set the
EQs, and then match everything that follows to your benchmark.
Don’t forget that people suck up sound vibrations. Our clothes, our skin, and
our big gangly bones all absorb sound frequencies. This fact means that you
have to set the mixer to play louder as the club gets busier and you’ll also
find a lot of the bass frequencies disappear into the crowd’s greedy bellies.
Every once in a while (probably when you need a pee), jump onto the dance
floor and have a quick listen to how the music sounds. If you can hear too
much conversation rather than music, of if your ears start shimmering with
the amount of mid range, cross your legs and adjust the EQs so it sounds
better – then go to the bathroom during the next track.
Setting the monitor
Not only do you need a monitor in the DJ booth, but you also need to set the
level to create a virtual stereo image between the music in your headphones,
and the music playing from the monitor. (If you have no idea what I’m on
about, see Chapter 12.)
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Pop in an ear plug (honestly, I strongly recommend that you use an ear plug
in your live ear – refer to Chapter 9) and set the level so that you can hear
everything clearly, but the music isn’t so loud that you’re eardrums are
quivering. I’ve heard people talk about tiring the ear – who knows what that
means – but if you play music too loud, for too long, you do find that concentrating on the music blaring out at you is hard and you’ll end up with permanent hearing damage.
If the club doesn’t have a monitor, I hope you found that out when you went
for a visit to the club, and have spent the past week practising like a mad DJ
to get around the problem.
Working in a loud environment
This job may be the first time that you play in a volume level louder than
your home stereo, so use the opportunity of turning up early to get used to
all the differences that a club’s volume may throw at you.
Nothing prepares you for the feeling of the beat thumping through your body
when DJing. When you’re in a club as a clubber it’s a cool feeling, but as a DJ,
if the beat is slightly delayed to what you’re hearing through the monitor or
the headphones, you can find the timing a little disconcerting at first.
It’s not all bad live though. A club’s sound system can be very forgiving for
small beatmatching errors. The heavy sub bass can be so thick sounding,
that a slight l’Boom or B’loom (see Chapter 12 if you’ve no idea at all what I’m
on about) is easily hidden. With good headphones, you can hear this small
timing error before anyone can tell on the dance floor.
The music sounds different, too. The sound system in a club doesn’t have the
full fidelity of your headphones, with the sub-bass sometimes overpowering
the bass and mid-range melodies, so you find that some mixes that don’t
work quite as well on tape work fine played live with the right EQ controls
(using kills to minimise any key or melody mismatches).
Playing Your Music
You’ve investigated, discovered, and prepared until you’re blue in the face.
You’ve been a polite DJ and turned up as early as possible (even if it is just to
give you the chance to sit in the bathroom). Your night’s about to begin.
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
Reading a crowd
If this night is your first time playing to a crowd of people you don’t know, the
main difference you notice is how much thought you start to put into your
tunes in order to keep people on the dance floor.
In time, you will become a body language expert, looking at the reactions of
the people on the floor as they throw their hands in the air and dance like
there’s no tomorrow – or throw their hands up in the air in disgust.
First, think about how you react when you’re at a club. When you’re enjoying
yourself, what do you do? If you’re the type of clubber who grins from ear to
ear, and throws your hands in the air, and you’re playing the kind of music
that makes you want to do that, look for this kind of response from the people
on the dance floor. When you’re bored, and listless, how do you react? Look
into people’s eyes. If they’re staring into the distance, or at the floor, or if
they’re dancing with no real thought or energy, they’ve gone to a happy
place, waiting for something to change. It’s up to you to make that change.
Don’t base your readings on just the people in front of you. Look through the
crowd. If you get a chance to go for a wander, walk around and look at how
people are responding to the music. A glum face isn’t a good thing to see.
Fifteen glum faces are a kick up the backside that should make you play
something better.
Just ask . . . if you dare
The relationship you’ve developed with the toilet attendant and bar staff can
really help you out. They’re a great source of information on how well you’re
doing, and how the night is going.
In one club that I worked at, the toilet attendant knew everything that was
going on. If the people who came in to use the facilities were having a good
night, he’d be quick to feed that info back to me, and if he heard tales that
something’s not quite right with the music, I’d know before it was too late.
Never before or since has a visit to the bathroom been so enlightening.
If you want, you can just ask someone how they’re enjoying their night, either
personally or collectively, over the microphone. If you get a collective groan,
or even worse, silence, change it, quickly. If you get cheers, whoops, and
hands in the air, keep it going, you’re doing well.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Progress the set
DJing is not a race. You won’t win anything for playing all the newest, best, and
biggest tunes in the first 30 minutes, you’ll lose everyone on the dance floor.
You’ll wear them out, they’ll become bored with the same sound, and as you
won’t have any big tunes left, the people on the floor will get bored with the
rest of the set. If you resort to repeating tunes, they’ve already heard them, so
they aren’t as excited. Your light shone brightly, but not for long enough.
Use the checkpoint tunes (see the earlier section ‘Checkpoint tunes’) as a
way to pepper the set with good tunes, and to move the set on in energy and
tempo. But don’t just arbitrarily decide to change things. Always keep an eye
on how the people on the dance floor are reacting to what you’re playing. If
the dance floor isn’t busy enough, if the wrong kinds of people are dancing,
or if the alcohol level hasn’t kicked in yet, playing slightly heavier music may
empty the dance floor. Or if you don’t change the pace soon, your set will
start to sound dull and monotonous, and people will start to haemorrhage off
the dance floor.
Test the waters. If you can’t obviously tell by the reaction of the people on
the dance floor, take things a little harder bit by bit (maybe lessen it from
time to time) to see what kind of stuff they’re responding to, then stick with
that level until your crowd reading reveals that the time has come to move
up (or down) a gear.
Handling requests
I deal with requests with the following considerations:
Was I going to play the tune they’ve asked for anyway? If so, I’m happy
to say yes when they ask, and let them know when it’ll be on.
How polite were they about it? Manners go a long way. I’m not saying I’d
play anything if someone was polite enough, but bad manners make me
less likely to play something. Please and thank you don’t take any time or
effort to say, and they can get you so far in this world.
No matter what you consider when someone asks for a record (this includes
how good looking they are) remember that they’ve paid money to get into the
club and are expecting to be entertained, so at least let them down gently.
If you don’t want to play the tune they’ve asked for, either because you don’t
have it, or it’s not the right time to play that tune, say the following, depending on how hopeful you want to leave them:
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
‘I’ve left it at home, sorry.’
‘I’ll take a look, but I think that I’ve left it at home . . . sorry.’
Requests as a warm-up DJ
The warm-up set can be difficult for requests. The owner/promoter has told
you to play lighter tunes that everyone knows, not too hard and not the
latest, biggest tracks. Halfway through the set, a couple of people ask you to
play the big tunes of the moment, or as I once got ‘asked’, ‘Play some heavy
stuff I can dance to, this stuff sucks.’
Herein lies a couple of problems. The place isn’t near full, the promoter has
strongly said no to playing those tunes, but they’re the customer, and they’ve
paid to be entertained. This situation is why I stress the importance of talking
to the owner/promoter when you get offered the job, to iron out these possible problems (see the earlier section ‘When you’re the warm-up DJ’). Maybe
this is exactly why they have a music policy; to weed out the kind of people
that just want to dance at full speed on an empty dance floor.
Requests as the main DJ
Playing the main set in a club removes a lot of restrictions to what you can
play. The main problem with requests is when someone asks for a tune that
you don’t like, don’t have, or isn’t appropriate for that point in the night.
This situation can arise if someone doesn’t realise the kind of club they’ve
gone to. The amount of times I’ve asked to play an R & B track in a trance
club amazes me, but usually this request is prefaced by ‘I was dragged here
by my friends and don’t like this music, so . . . ‘
Friendly lighting jocks and bouncers can sometimes step in and take the role
of a mediator in passing on requests. This option saves you from entering
into a three-minute argument with someone over a tune that you’re not willing to play and then end up missing the next mix.
Requests as a party DJ
As a club DJ, you have some licence to say no to people when they ask for
tunes, as you got the job because you have a superior knowledge about the
music, but as a party DJ, you have to appear at the mercy of the people
you’re playing for, whether you follow through with their request or not.
However, a few occasions can crop up when you’d say no to a request, if you
don’t have that particular song, or if it wouldn’t go down well at all.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Don’t beat yourself up
You’re in control of everybody’s night as the DJ,
and with that, comes quite a lot of pressure. This
pressure can make you flustered, and can lead
to panic if things start to go wrong. In the bedroom, if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter,
as you can start the mix again and no one will
know any different. In a club, if you make a mistake, it means a lot more.
If your last mix was a disaster, be hard on yourself by all means as you’re a perfectionist, and
should have done better, but don’t let one mistake spoil the rest of your set. Not everyone
hears errors, no matter how bad they are. A lot
of people aren’t as tuned in to the music as you
are, or they’re having too good a time to care.
Watch for reactions, if the people on the floor
start chanting ‘Sack the DJ, you know that
you’ve made a boo-boo, but if they’re still smiling and dancing, don’t beat yourself up over
something that didn’t matter.
If you’re working at a wedding, and the dance floor has all the grandparents
on it, dropping the latest gangsta rap or nu metal tune may be a bit of a mistake. Or if you’re a rock DJ, and everyone’s going nuts for the 1980s Bon
Jovi/Van Halen set you’re currently playing, agreeing to play one request for
White Zombie may not prove to be the best decision you made all night.
Taking over from someone else
The warm-up DJs have a hard life; they turn up, play for an hour and a half to
get the crowd in the mood, then someone pushes them out of the way and finishes the job they started. When you’re the person doing the pushing, pause
and pay attention to what was happening before you entered the DJ booth.
Aim to get into the club at least 15 minutes before you start so that you can
listen to the end of the warm-up DJs set. This time gives you a chance to
gauge how the crowd is responding to the music, and also avoids you repeating a tune that has only just been played. Ask the warm-up DJ as many questions about the crowd’s reaction to the music already played, and how he or
she feels the night is going to continue based on their experience so far.
Check the set-up
Checking the set-up is extremely important. Look at what the DJ is using. If he
or she is only using CDs, and you’re about to use the turntables, quickly check
the turntables and the settings on the mixer to make sure that the previous
DJ hasn’t disconnected, broken, or switched off something that will end up
causing you problems.
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
Look at how the DJ is mixing, too. If they’re only using the channel-faders,
look at the cross-fader. If the mixer has assignable switches, the DJ may have
switched off the cross-fader, so it has no control over the mix.
Gauge the mood
Use your body language skills to judge what mood the crowd is in before
deciding how to start your set. If the club is busy, with pent-up energy, and
the warm-up DJ has been getting loads of requests for more upbeat tunes,
use that to your advantage by instantly changing up from light, warm-up
music to something a lot newer, faster, and harder. That change adds an
instant boost to the crowd. Bear in mind though, not to blow your entire set
trying to take the crowd even higher, only to run out of tunes to play.
If the people are still tentatively moving onto the dance floor, be a bit more
gradual about the change in music. Do start to move on from what has been
played before, but do it gradually to keep the people on the dance floor.
Play with momentum
If you’re taking over from someone who’s already playing fast, powerful tunes,
you have a choice; you can mix out of their last tune in a smooth, seamless,
unnoticeable mix, announce your arrival with a change in tempo/genre/key/
volume or try something like a dead stop, spinback, or power off if you really
want to let people know that you’re taking over. (Check out Chapters 14 and 16
for more on these techniques.)
A cacophony of sound
The very first time I played live, the warm-up guy
before me had turned off the cross-fader and
used the channel-faders on their own. The
problem was, I forgot to turn the cross-fader
back on, and as I needed to mix with the headphones on both ears because the DJ booth
didn’t have a monitor, it ended in disaster. I put
on the headphones, set the input level for both
channels, pressed the cue switches so both
tunes played in my headphones, then raised the
channel-fader to full, and slowly moved the
cross-fader from left to right.
As the headphones were over both ears, I didn’t
hear that when I raised the channel-fader, the
new tune crashed in at full volume over the
other tune, and when I moved the cross-fader
from left to right, nothing happened; both tunes
continued to play over each other at full volume.
I’d let the mix go on for so long that the beats
had started to drift apart, but I didn’t think that
mattered as the outgoing tune was quiet, then
silent. Or so I thought. I took my headphones off,
and only after a brief moment of panic at the terrible noise coming from the speakers was it
obvious what had happened. I slammed the
channel-fader on the outgoing tune to zero and
hung my head in shame. But, the lesson here is
that no one else noticed! I couldn’t believe it.
The only thing I can think is that because it was
in a pub, not everyone was there for the music.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Playing too much, too soon
Although not always a mistake, slamming in a
really heavy tune when only 20 people are on
the dance floor is a dangerous gamble. I heard
a DJ make a terrible mistake when the warm-up
was still playing light vocal house as the dance
floor was only just beginning to fill up. Instead
of gently coaxing more people onto the dance
floor with a steady increase in pace and energy,
the new DJ tried an instant, dramatic change
using an older, classic tune ‘Born Slippy’ by
Underworld. It’s a great tune at the right time,
but straight on the back of light, musical house
music, the change was way too much, and the
20 people who had made it to the dance floor
quickly left, leaving an empty, desolate dance
floor for him to panic about.
My preference is to use a basic, simple sounding tune. Something that’s just
drums and a powerful, offbeat bass melody coming out of a quite frantic tune
is a good way to change the power without changing the tempo (described in
Chapter 16 as an offbeat only ta-te into a ta fe te te). I can then build the set
back up to a fuller feel in my own time, rather than carrying on with the same
sound as the other DJ, which the crowd will soon tire of.
Change the music
One of the most interesting things I’ve ever had to do was take over from a
heavy metal DJ. Changing from Iron Maiden to David Morales is not a natural
thing to do! I used a simple fade out with an instant start of the next tune,
which isn’t a particularly hard mix, but choosing the right tune to start with
is important. The tune I used, ‘Needin’ U’ by David Morales, was a simple,
recognisable tune with the offbeat simple bass line I mentioned above, and it
worked very well.
Finishing the night
After a successful night in the DJ booth, putting on the last tune and letting it
run out can be hard – you just want to keep playing all night long. Have a
think about how you want to finish your set about an hour before you finish.
How busy the club is determines how you end the set. If the club is still
packed, keep playing great tunes until the end, then try to finish with the best
tune you can think of. I love finishing with BT’s ‘Believer’ because it’s an energetic, musical track that finishes with ‘I’m a believer . . ..’ echoing into silence.
This ending is so much better than simply fading out the last record.
Chapter 20: Facing the Music: Playing to a Live Crowd
Some clubs request that you tone down the energy and pace of the music
towards the end of the night or when the dance floor starts to get quieter, so
people aren’t hyper as they leave the club. I think that sells the club and the
clubbers short a bit – you need to play the most suitable music for the
people who are there from start to finish.
Respect the licensing laws for the club you’re playing in; you don’t want them
to lose their licence just because you wanted to squeeze in one more track.
Even if people are screaming for another track, don’t take the law into your
own hands and play another one. That’s a sure route to not being asked back
next week! The owner/promoter will probably hang over you towards the end
of the night to make sure that you stop anyway, so don’t push your luck.
The last things to do as you finish your night are to pack up all your records,
disconnect any tape or mini disc recorders you’ve used to record your set,
put everything in a safe place, then find the person with your money!
If you’re working through an agency, your payment gets sorted through them,
so you only need to say your goodbyes, and leave with the knowledge that
you’ve had another successful night. Otherwise, you have to play what I call
hunt the money-man. You may have to look in some strange places, but you’ll
eventually find the person who pays you. Unless you’ve something better to
do, don’t leave their sight until you get paid. In full.
While you’re still in the club, have a last word with the bar staff and the toilet
attendant to find out how they felt the night went. Always listen to feedback.
If they say something you don’t agree with, that’s fine, but remember it, and
look out for it next time, in the unlikely event that they know better than you.
Part IV: Getting Noticed and Playing Live
Part V
The Part of Tens
In this part . . .
he Part of Tens is a regular feature in all For Dummies
books. Short and snappy, these chapters are the really
fun ones!
From how to go to the toilet in the middle of a DJ set, to
where to go to find out more information on DJing, the
nuggets of information in the final chapters of this book
aren’t as much the icing on the cake – more the knife to
cut the cake!
Chapter 21
Ten Resources for Expanding
Your Skills and Fan Base
In This Chapter
Knowing where to go for more information
Discovering tuition that may be available to you
Exposing yourself (musically)
he skills you’re developing are the strong foundations that lead you to
become a good DJ. Unfortunately, you can’t rest on your laurels. Your
skills and reputation need constant bolstering, and the following ten
resources keep you ahead of the scene and boost your reputation so that
people know who you are when you’re playing, and will seek you out.
Your thirst for knowledge should never end. The moment you think that you
know it all, you start going backwards. Keep up with new equipment, keep an
eye on the scene so you can start to read drifting music tastes, and share as
much information as you can with other DJs.
Staying Current with Media
TV, radio, DVD, magazines, and the Internet are all incredible resources for
your development as a DJ.
Magazines (and their supporting Web sites) dedicated to DJ culture, equipment, and music always keep you up to date. Music reviews and DJ charts in
magazines can be invaluable as long as you trust the DJ or reviewer’s opinions and they keep you ahead of DJs who think that going to a club once a
month is enough.
Part V: The Part of Tens
I’m on the mailing list for Night magazine that’s dedicated to news about new
clubs opening, new sound installations, and all the juicy information that you
usually only hear about a couple of months after decisions have been made.
If you can find out about a new club development in your area before the
other DJs, you can get a head start and send off a demo to the developers
before the other DJs know about it.
Radio shows are great ways of hearing new music. Most of them announce
what tracks they’re playing regularly (or have a Web site that updates with a
track list). BBC Radio 1 is an unbelievable resource for new music. If you’re
outside the UK, check out (www.bbc.co.uk/radio1) and look for Pete Tong
and Judge Jules’ shows.
TV programmes that interview DJs who play music you love, have features
on equipment and culture, and reviews about the clubs that play your style of
music can give you insight into how you need to develop in order to progress
in an ultra-competitive market.
DVDs and videos that show you how to DJ can be a great help. Sometimes
you need to see a technique to fully understand it (which is why my Web site
www.recess.co.uk has video clips of most techniques). Inspirational
footage or video clips of your favourite DJ hosted online (do a search through
www.youtube.com) can light a fire under you to make you more determined
to become a DJ as well as show you a whole host of new skills.
Visiting DJ Advice Web Sites
Ten years ago, the Internet had a dearth of information about DJing, with only
a couple of Web sites trying to shed light on how to be a DJ.
Since then, many sites have sprung up with different ways of explaining how to
DJ. Apart from my own Web site (www.recess.co.uk), the best Web sites on
the Internet for club mixing are www.djmandrick.com (a great site about how
to beatmatch), www.djprince.no for incredibly detailed information about
harmonic mixing, and www.i-dj.co.uk, the Web site for International DJ
magazine, which keeps you up to date on the music scene and new equipment.
Getting Answers through DJ Forums
DJ forums are a great place to post any questions that are troubling you, and
are also a fantastic way to get involved with a good community that listens to
your mixes and gives you brutally honest feedback to help you with your
Chapter 21: Ten Resources for Expanding Your Skills and Fan Base
development. Create a screen name (go for an anonymous one, so that you
can post those embarrassing questions without fear of personal ridicule),
and visit forums like:
www.djforums.com/forums A huge community with advice on technique, a classified section, mix submissions, advice for mobile DJs, and a
lot more.
www.i-dj.co.uk/messageboard This is the forum for I-DJ magazine,
which has loads of subsections and a lot of members on hand to help
you out. Nearly all magazines have their own forum, so check out the
homepage of your favourite magazine to see if it has a community you’d
like to join.
www.tranceaddict.com/forums Though the name suggests the site
is only for trance DJs, it’s actually for all kinds of electronic dance music.
A friendly, fun community with a great thread for DJs to post pictures of
their own DJ equipment set-up. Humour, advice, and guidance are all on
hand here.
www.djchat.com/boards The forums mentioned above are primarily
for the club/electronic dance music DJ. DJChat.com has over 21,000
members, but more importantly, deals with all different types of DJing,
from country, to Christian, to karaoke, to Latin music.
Most users on forums are polite and helpful but to minimise any flaming
(abuse), try to post into the correct section, check your spelling, and be
polite – also, do a quick search to check that someone hasn’t already posted
your question.
You’ll find me on any of the preceding forums or on the forum on my own
Web site (www.djrecess.co.uk/php) as Recess or DJ Recess.
Reading Other Books
I’m hurt that you’d think of reading another book after this one.
On a serious note, of the other books out there on the market on DJing, by far
the best one to buy, in my opinion, is How to be a DJ by Chuck Fresh (Premier
Press). The book covers every aspect of becoming a DJ, and is aimed at every
kind of DJ, from wedding to radio to club DJing. But the best thing is how it’s
written: he’s very friendly, he doesn’t patronise you, and doesn’t spend the
whole time swearing and trying to be cool.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Beware of some of the e-books and guides available in the back of DJ magazines or online. Although many of them are genuine and very helpful, others
are a complete waste of time and money or, as I’ve found, are rip-offs of my
Web site! Post a request on a DJ forum (see the previous section for ideas on
where to go) for a review of a particular guide, just to be sure.
Getting Hands-On Advice
If you have the money, and want hands-on advice on all aspects of DJing, then
academies like DJ Academy (www.djacademy.org.uk) SubBass DJ Academy
(www.subbassdj.com), and Point Blank Music College (www.pointblank
london.com) in the UK, or Norcal DJMPA (www.norcaldjmpa.com) and
Scratch DJ (www.scratch-dj.com) in the US are the most popular. As
courses cost money (out of your own pocket), do some research into a
course before signing up for it, to ensure that any money you spend will be
money well spent, rather than thrown away.
Universities and colleges have also realised that there’s an avenue for teaching DJs, with the formation in the UK of the National Certificate in Music
Technology, DJ & Mixing course. Covering beatmatching, scratching, studio
production, computer technology, sound creation and more, these courses,
like the private DJ Academies, can teach you a lot about DJing and related
industries, but have the added advantage of keeping your mum off your back,
because you can tell her you’re at college, learning a skill.
The benefit of formal training is that you have the continuity of someone
who’s there to correct you when you’re doing something wrong, who makes
you practise (rather than you drifting off to play your PlayStation), and most
importantly, someone who you can ask questions when you’re unsure what
to do.
Courses can show you the mechanics of how to mix, and they provide information on the other aspects of DJing (sound production, accountancy, promotion, and so on) but what they can’t teach you is how to be a DJ in a more
esoteric sense. What do I mean by esoteric? That DJing is partly developed
and absorbed into your knowledge not by the process of someone telling you
what to do, but through time spent practising, through experience, confidence, failure, trial and error, and simply by listening to your tunes. If you do
a course, you still need the same amount of time practising and developing to
grow into your talent and truly become a great DJ.
Chapter 21: Ten Resources for Expanding Your Skills and Fan Base
Listening to Other People’s Mixes
When you listen to different genres and different DJs on the radio, the Internet,
or in a club, you open your eyes to different techniques. No matter how good
or bad the performance, you always gain something from listening to any kind
of mix, including music you haven’t heard before.
Listening to a bad mix is just as helpful as hearing a good one. If you can
recognise what makes a bad mix bad, you can listen out for those same
things in your own mixes (such as bad tune selection, poor beatmatching,
and sloppy volume or EQ control) and work on making your mixes top notch.
Participating in Competitions
You can hand out as many demos as you like, but sometimes you need a few
more strings to your bow so that you can spread the word about your DJ
prowess. Take a look at magazines, the Internet, and what’s on in your local
area to see if any DJ battles or competitions are on the horizon that provide
the perfect opportunity for you to show off your skills.
Due to its very nature, club DJing is quite hard to put into a proper competition format without becoming a competition for how many tunes you can
play in your 15-minute slot. However, Bedroom DJ competitions invite
unknown DJs to send in a full-length mix on CD or tape and are a strong
avenue to propel DJs careers. James Zabiela and Yousef both got noticed
because of wins in Muzik magazine.
For scratch DJs, you don’t get a better opportunity than the DMC Scratching
Championships to show off your mad skillz. You’ll be up against really tough
competition, but hopefully the experience and the chance to meet top level
DJs will improve your career prospects.
If you can’t face any competitions or the rejection of not making the final of a
magazine competition, look for clubs and bars that have an open booth night,
where DJs take half-hour slots to play music and impress the people on the
floor. If you’re good, you’ll be noticed.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Hosting Your Own Night
If you can’t find anyone to let you work on a Friday night in their club, the
solution’s simple. Put on your own night. You may have to settle for a town
hall somewhere, or a Tuesday night in a dingy club, but if you can get enough
people to turn up to a night you run, if you organise it well, and if you make it
a complete success (which means no one gets hurt!), word will spread and
you may get headhunted (in the good way). Even if the night doesn’t generate
any direct interest from a club owner or promoter, you’ll have a very strong
section on your DJing CV to show people you’re driven and serious about
becoming a DJ.
Promotion is the key. Get as many friends, and friends of friends along as you
can. If you can run the night with another DJ, all the better; that’s two sets of
friends you can get into the club. Hand out flyers (without littering or getting
arrested), wander around a few pubs to get more people to come along, run
an Internet site promoting the event, and do everything you can to try to get
as many people to come as possible.
Make sure that everyone knows what music to expect, try to get a group of
ringers (people specifically invited for the task) who’ll dance on the floor no
matter what you play, and don’t forget to read the crowd and play music that
they want to hear. If you only play your set all night, and don’t try to entertain
the people that have come to see you, you’ll find a dramatic drop in numbers
the next time you play.
Under-eighteen discos and running a night in scout halls and town halls are a
good idea, but can be fraught with logistical problems. Most often, the problems involve alcohol and security, so be careful if you’re trying to run a night
without professional help – be sure that you’re on the right side of the law.
Uploading Podcasts or Hosted Mixes
As disc space and bandwidth gets cheaper and cheaper, more Web sites
(such as www.djpassion.co.uk, www.djmixtape.net, and www.
mydjspace.net to mention only three of the hundreds available) give you
the choice to upload and promote your set for anyone across the world to
download (and sometimes cast judgement on).
Chapter 21: Ten Resources for Expanding Your Skills and Fan Base
You find many different podcasting directories out there, from iTunes to
www.blogging.com and www.podcast.com. Each one has a slightly different requirement on how to upload and set up the podcast, so I recommend
that you visit the Web site of the directory you wish to use, and follow their
tutorials to get your podcast . . . cast.
Immerse Yourself in What You Love
The most obvious resource for your development is visiting the clubs that
you love. In the same way that listening to as many mixes as possible can
help your development, so can going to as many clubs as possible. Clubs
with music other than the genre you play can teach you a lot, but your best
development comes from going to clubs that play the music you love.
Split yourself in two. Be the DJ who absorbs what’s happening, recognising
how the DJ is working (or alienating) the crowd, and take everything you can
from a good DJ and absorb the good things into your own skills. But also,
spend time on the dance floor as a normal clubber. Dance like a mad person,
feel the music, let the bass flood through your body, and don’t stop smiling
the whole time.
This is what you want to make other people do – experience and recognise a
good night when you’re on the dance floor, and then look for yourself in the
crowd next time you play live.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Chapter 22
Ten Answers to DJ Questions
You’re Too Afraid to Ask
In This Chapter
Leaving your post and keeping your cool
Modifying the mood by customising the music and lighting
Making a good impression – picking your DJ name, and dressing for success
his chapter covers miscellaneous FAQs. The following ten questions are
the most popular sheepish questions I’ve been asked over the past decade,
and although I answer many questions in this book, these two handfuls don’t
really fit in anywhere else, and are perfect as a Part of Tens chapter.
What kind of DJ you are, and where you’re playing at, can generate a different
answer to a lot of the following questions. Where applicable, I split the answer
into Club DJ and Party DJ (which covers weddings, parties, bowling alleys,
anywhere that’s all about fun and entertainment).
Do I Need to Talk?
Whether you need to address your audience when you’re DJing is a really
good question. A lot of people become DJs because they love the music, and
love mixing it together, but many of them don’t figure that they’ll ever have to
use a microphone and speak to the audience. In short, yes, you need to talk.
The mechanics of using a microphone are simple enough. Put the microphone
very close to your mouth, and as you speak, reduce the channel-fader of the
music that’s currently playing, so you can be heard over it. When you’re not
talking, move the microphone away from your mouth (so you’re not heard
breathing at 100 decibels), and raise the channel-fader back to normal. You
could be raising and lowering the fader many times in one sentence, but as
long as you do it quickly, and with confidence, it’s okay.
Part V: The Part of Tens
You may have a talk-over button on your mixer that does the same thing. The
drop in volume of the music can be a bit sudden though, so if the sound isn’t
right, forget about it, and use the channel-faders instead.
If you want to run a party or wedding night well, you need to get used to talking to people on the dance floor. You may be asked to introduce the bride and
groom or announce that the buffet is open, so you need to be comfortable,
clear, and confident when you speak through the microphone. If you’re a shy
type, just become an actor, and put on your DJ voice. If you think that your
voice is a bit dull, add a little radio DJ inflection to your voice while you’re
talking to the party goers. This may sound a bit forced to you, but they won’t
know any better (and, let’s be honest, probably won’t be listening). No one
wants to hear the DJ announce the buffet with nerves in their voice; they may
wonder what you did to the potato salad!
What Should I Wear?
If you’re a club DJ, the question of what to wear is easily answered by taking
your lead from the dress code of the club you’re playing and picking a comfortable version of that. I tend to wear a black T-shirt, fawn coloured jeans,
and Timberlands when I’m DJing. The T-shirt keeps me cool and comfortable
in a hot DJ booth, and the colour of the jeans tends to fit in with most clubs’
dress code. If you’re doing the whole set on your feet for six hours, choose
comfortable shoes.
Famous DJs can wear what they want. As they become icons though, their
fashion sense can be held to scrutiny, so expect their black T-shirts to be
made by a top fashion label.
If you’re a wedding DJ, remember that everyone else at the wedding has
made an effort. I’m not saying to turn up in a frock, tux, or a kilt (though it
would probably be appreciated), but turn up smart, with a pressed shirt and
You’re probably charging a lot of money for your service, and the reason you
can charge this amount is because you’re a professional DJ. Be professional
and turn up smart and smiling.
How Do I Go to the Toilet?
Now for that certain unmentionable matter of going to the toilet. Let’s just
say – quickly.
Chapter 22: Ten Answers to DJ Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask
If you can, try to go before you go. If you’re nervous, you may be hopping
on and off of the lavatory anyway, but try to make sure that any visits to the
toilet are quick, and won’t involve a long time sitting down (if you get what I
If you’re a club DJ and the pressure mounts, put on a long record, ask a trusted
friend or a bouncer to stand by the decks then get in and out as fast as you
can. By trusted, I mean someone who won’t think that he or she can take
over while you’re gone.
As a wedding DJ, however, you may be on your own. If the pressure mounts
so to speak, first try to hold it in until the buffet break (if you get one). If you
can’t, quickly make friends with a waiter or girl/guy who you think that you
can trust to look after your decks, or just make a break for it – and get back
as quick as you can. Just remember to wash your hands, please.
No matter what type of DJ you are, the tune you put on to cover your comfort
break is quite important. It has to be long enough to cover your absence,
have little chance of skipping or jumping while you’re gone, and not be too
repetitive (so the crowd doesn’t get bored with it).
Worst case scenario for blokes involves you peeing into a beer bottle. It’s
not nice.
Can I Invite My Friends
into the DJ Booth?
Whether you invite your friends into the DJ booth very much depends on
what kind of place you’re working at. If you take your girlfriend/boyfriend
with you to a party as your DJ Assistant to make your life easier by getting
drinks and taking requests, it’s probably welcomed. If you’re in a club, however, and your other half sits grumpily behind you in the DJ booth, takes up
space, and gets in everybody’s way, the club manager may eventually ask her
or him to leave the booth.
Your friends will just want to have a laugh in the DJ booth and will probably
end up ripping the needle off the record, or pressing Stop on the CD decks for
a lark. If you got your friends into the club for free, make them pay their way
by spending most of their time on the dance floor, having the time of their
lives, keeping the night looking like a huge success.
Part V: The Part of Tens
How Do I Remove the Beat, or Vocals?
How you go about removing the beat or vocals from a track is a tricky one.
For an entire tune, you can’t. Sometimes, you can remove enough of the frequencies from a sample (a small section) of music so that it sounds clean
enough for you to play over something else.
A friend of mine, in a band called Pacifica, did this with a sample from Blondie’s
‘Heart of Glass’. He used that guitar riff as the hook to a tune he’d released
(‘Lost in Translation’), and halfway through, he wanted to use the ‘Ooo ooo –
aa aa’ vocal sample. Unfortunately, even the cleanest sounding part of Heart
of Glass still has drums and a bass melody over it. Eventually, with patience
and a good engineer using compressors, expanders, filters, EQs (equalisers),
and a little voodoo magic, the sample was cleaned up for use in the song.
The danger with EQing out the music from a sample is that by removing the
frequencies that make the drum sounds and music, you also remove the frequencies that make up the vocal sample. So when you cut the high frequencies to remove the high-hats cymbals, you also remove all the sibilance (the
ssssss sounds like a snake makes) from the vocal. The same applies to the
bass and mid frequencies.
As a result of sharing frequencies between the vocal and the music track, it’s
impossible to remove all music from an entire song, leaving only the vocal.
If you hear a vocal version of a tune, it’s an a cappella (vocals with no accompanying music) released by the artist, or maybe someone has recorded a
very good imitation of the vocals, and used that, hoping no one could tell
the difference.
You can, however, remove only the vocals. This method is by no means perfect, but it may work for you. When music is recorded, the standard procedure
is that the instruments are panned left and right into a stereo signal, but the
vocals remain centered in the middle. With computer software (in my opinion
Cool Edit is really good for this process) you can remove everything that’s in
the centre pan (the vocals), leaving only the stereo music information.
This doesn’t give you perfect results (you certainly won’t have a clean,
CD-quality audio track that you can play on its own), but you may end up
with something that you can add your own sounds to, using this stripped
tune as a foundation for a new creation. Some tunes work better than others
with this method, and like everything else in DJing, it takes a lot of time and
practice to get right.
Chapter 22: Ten Answers to DJ Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask
How Do I Choose My DJ Name?
When you come to choose your DJ name, the first thing to ask yourself is
whether your real name is good enough or if you want to be DJ ‘Something’.
Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyk, Erik Morillo, David Morales, John
Digweed – they’ve all got real names instead of ‘DJ Tong’ or ‘J to the D’ and
so on.
However, you may decide that your name isn’t powerful enough to be displayed on a billboard (here’s hoping), or perhaps you’re looking for anonymity.
In which case you can create a full name pseudonym (such as Bob Sinclar –
real name Christophe LeFriant) or come up with a DJ name, in DJ ‘Something’
format, or just one name. That’s why I came up with Recess, because I figured
John Steventon wouldn’t look that good on the back of a bus.
When trying to pick a name, think of what you do, who you are, what you
play, how you play, what your other interests are, what your real name is –
and see how you can mutate that to a good DJ name.
Or, if you’re lazy, or looking for inspiration, check out the Web site called Quiz
Meme (www.quizmeme.com) where you type your name, and it spits out a
DJ name for you. I typed in John Steventon, and got DJ Flowing Cranny. I
typed in Recess – and got DJ Vinyl Artist; so it must be right!
Another way to come up with a name is to mutate words. Think of ten words
that you’d use to describe yourself or your music, and consider if they (or
any derivations of them) would be good. For example, if you’re a deep house
DJ who likes to fish you might come up with DJ Deep Lure, which could then
be mutated into DJ D’Allure. Or not . . .
However, how you’re commonly known is still one of the most personal ways
to create your DJ name. Nicknames are a great start, but if, like in my case,
you were called something stupid like ‘butter’ at school, you may want to
explore other avenues. Alexander Coe had the easiest name change in the
world, and is now one of the most famous DJs on the planet – he could’ve
chosen Xander, Zander, Alex Coe, or anything else as his DJ name, but instead,
he chose Sasha (which is the Russian derivation of the similar Aleksandr),
and that worked out very well for him!
In my case, Recess is bit of both. My initials are J.R.C.S. and I dropped the J to
leave RCS, which I mutated to Recess. (JRCS reads too much like jerks . . .)
Part V: The Part of Tens
Do I Get Free Drinks? (And How
Do I Get Drinks from the Bar?)
If you’re a club DJ, try to negotiate whether you get free drinks when you first
speak to the owner/promoter about working at their club. The worst they can
say is no, and it saves any future embarrassment.
If you’re well enough known as a DJ, you can submit a rider (a condition of
the job) before you get to the club, demanding a case of Bud and a bag of
green Jelly Babies to be in the booth for when you start, but for local clubs,
and lesser known DJs, you probably find that you only get a free drink when
the bar manager comes into the booth for a chat.
If you’re a party DJ and you’re lucky, the father of the bride, or birthday girl
or boy, may offer you a drink halfway through the night when they’re having
a really good time, and at their happiest point – but don’t count on it.
At clubs, leaving the DJ booth to head to the bar for a drink is usually a big
no-no. If you don’t get free drinks at a club, and no one’s available to go to
the bar for you, you’ll probably have to go thirsty until a glass collector or
bar staff come along that you can ask to get a drink for you. But take a bottle
of water (or whatever you think is better for you) just in case no one’s kind
enough to offer.
At pubs, parties, and weddings, popping to the bar to buy a drink is normally
okay, and if the staff know that you’re the DJ (believe me, some don’t) you’ll
probably get served really quickly.
Who Does the Lighting for the Night?
Regarding the question of who does the lighting for the night, wedding and
party DJs tend to bring their own lights, as well as amps and DJing equipment
and they control the lights. When choosing lights, you may want to go for
ones that have sensors in them to make them move and flash based on the
sound of music (no, not the film). With these, all you need to do is set everything up, and the lights take care of themselves. The other option is to get a
compact control unit with different preset patterns to make the lights move
and flash in different orders (though usually still in time with the music).
As far as clubs are concerned, I’ve worked in a few that had a similar pre-set
lighting arrangement, except that they tend to have more lights than the wedding or party setup. However, most of the places I’ve worked in (and been to
as a clubber) had a separate lighting jock to control the lights.
Chapter 22: Ten Answers to DJ Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask
The difference that a good or bad lighting jock can make is almost as important as the music you play. Creative use of strobe lights, gobos (the rotating
flashing lights), and intricate laser shows along with the new wave of VJs
(video jockeys) who use machines like the Pioneer DVJ-X1 to create incredible displays with video images, can really enhance the clubbing experience
for the crowd.
If you strike up a good relationship with the lighting jock, and let them know
anything peculiar about the tunes you’re playing that may help them work in
harmony with your mix, the two of you can eventually build an incredible
show together that feels like an orchestrated event. Or you can just ask him
or her to get your drinks for you . . . it’s your choice.
Should I Re-set the Pitch to
Zero After Beatmatching?
Do you reset the pitch to 0 after beatmatching one tune with another? No.
The two main reasons why you beatmatch tunes when mixing are
To keep a constant, pounding bass beat for the clubbers to dance to.
To play the music at a pace that matches the speed of the clubbers’
beating hearts.
If you decide that 135 BPM (beats per minute) is the perfect pace at which to
play your music, and you put on a tune that plays at 130 BPM when set at 0
pitch, you need to raise the pitch control to about 4 per cent in order to get it
to play at 135 BPM.
Setting the pitch control back to 0 after you’ve beatmatched and mixed the
two tunes together will not only sound terrible as the pitch of the music
lowers (unless you’re using decks with master tempo, which keeps the pitch
the same no matter how fast you play the tune) but now the tune will be playing at a speed that’s way below the pace of the clubbers’ heartbeats. They’ll
have to dance slower, and you will kill the energy of the night.
The result is even worse the other way round. Imagine that you’ve had to
reduce the tempo of a 140 BPM tune to –4 per cent. When you speed the
track up by resetting the pitch to 0, you’ll tire everyone out by the end of the
tune, as it’s now playing at 140 BPM to a dance floor that’s used to grooving
at only 135 BPM!
Part V: The Part of Tens
Fluctuations in BPM as you progress through a two-hour set can be useful
(refer to Chapter 17), but when you’re beatmatching, you’ll probably find that
the only time you’ll ever play a tune at 0 per cent pitch is at the very beginning of the night when you play your first tune.
What Do I Do if the Record
or CD Skips or Jumps?
You’re a professional DJ. Be professional about getting around what to do if
the record or CD skips or jumps. A jump on a record isn’t too bad, as at least
it’s just a repeat of 1 or 2 seconds of music that plays through the PA, but if a
CD skips, it’s a nasty sound, and you need to do something, instantly.
If you can’t just skip to the next track on the CD, hit the Search button on the
CD deck to advance 5 or 10 seconds past the part that’s skipping (lower the
channel-fader at the same time to hide what you’re doing).
With a record, the best thing to do is to lower the channel-fader to about 25
per cent of normal playout volume and knock the needle forward through the
record by half a centimetre or so. Yes, this method won’t sound too good,
and yes, you may damage your record, but your record’s already damaged if
it’s skipping, and it already doesn’t sound good because it’s repeating itself!
Prevent this sort of occurrence happening by cleaning your records or CDs
before playing them (head to Chapters 5 and 7 for more on caring for your
music collection).
I like to cue up the next track almost instantly after mixing into a track for
this very reason, as then I have the next tune sitting there, ready to mix in
quickly if something goes wrong. If you wait until the end of a track to cue up
the next one, you’ll have nothing to do an emergency mix with if needs be.
Sure, the mix won’t sound great, but how does that compare to how the
music currently sounds?
Everything you ever do, DJing or otherwise, involves skill and knowledge, but
also how you cope under pressure. If you can fix a catastrophe like a damaged
CD with composure and professionalism, you show all those around you that
you’re in control, and meant to be where you are – in the DJ booth, as a professional DJ.
Chapter 23
Ten DJing Mistakes to Avoid
In This Chapter
Avoiding mistakes that make you look and sound unprofessional
Leaving for the night with all your tunes, and all your money
he ten common mistakes described in this chapter are exactly that:
common. A couple of them may never happen to you, but, unfortunately,
some may happen too often. I haven’t made all the mistakes in this chapter.
Most of them, yes. But not all.
What’s important about the mistakes you make (in DJing or just life in
general) is that you learn from them. Make sure that you don’t do them
again, or at the very least, make sure that you know how to cope with the
consequences . . . such as the sound of silence in a club.
Forgetting Slipmats/Headphones
Forgetting your slipmats (which is an easy thing to do) is not too much of a
big deal as most clubs have their own set, but if you fail to bring your headphones, the club is unlikely to have a spare pair of quality headphones lying
around for forgetful DJs to use.
Check out Chapter 24 and the Cheat Sheet at the front of the book for a
checklist of ten things that you need to take with you when DJing.
Taking the Needle off the Wrong Record
Taking the needle off the wrong record is exactly the same as pressing Stop
or Eject on the wrong CD player. I guarantee that at some stage in your DJ
Part V: The Part of Tens
career, you’ll make the same mistake. Hopefully, you’ll be in the sanctuary of
your own bedroom, where only the cat can judge you on your error.
If you’re unfortunate enough to make this mistake when DJing live in a club,
put the needle back on (carefully, don’t throw it back on the record in a mad
panic), or quickly press Play on the CD deck. If you ejected the CD, press Play
on the other deck, and quickly move the cross-fader over to that channel.
Next, allocate blame. It’s probably easier to blame the sound system. You
never know, someone in the crowd may be gullible enough to believe you!
Then squat down to hide in the DJ booth for a couple of minutes, and wait for
the abuse to die down.
Banishing Mixer Setting Problems
Mixers are now available with an increasing number of functions, which
unfortunately means that the chance of you forgetting to change these settings increases, too.
Leaving assign controls set to the wrong channel is easily done, so when you
move the cross-fader, you’re fading into silence (or the wrong tune). Bass kills
are often unwittingly left on during a mix, only dawning on you halfway
through the tune that the bass is missing. And effects like flanger or echo can
easily be left on because you’re focusing your attention on the next tune (or
the girl/boy on the dance floor). A lapse of concentration is all it takes to ruin
a good mix (and sometimes your night) – so concentrate!
Getting Drunk when Playing
You need to be fully in control of your equipment but you won’t be able to do
that if you’ve had too many beers or tequilas back there in the DJ booth.
Having a couple of alcoholic drinks for Dutch courage is all very well but
being so plied with booze that you can’t even see the mixer in front of you
and can’t mix properly is not going to be considered very professional.
I’ve heard tales of DJs guzzling a case of Bud before going behind the decks,
but unless you have a liver the size of a small house, if you must drink, just
make it a couple, then stick to water.
Chapter 23: Ten DJing Mistakes to Avoid
Leaving Records Propped Up
If you have to leave your records poking out at an angle from your record
box to know where the next few tunes you’d like to play are that’s okay, but
removing a record from its sleeve, and propping it up against a speaker (or
similar) is a bad idea. Eventually, you or someone else will bump into the
speaker/desk, and the record will drop to the floor, snapping in half (which is
an extremely effective way of getting you out of this habit, though!)
Cutting corners in this way breeds laziness and disrespect for your records.
As a DJ, your records (and CDs) are the most important things in the world to
you – don’t risk damaging them by being lazy.
Leaning Over the Decks
As the DJ, you’re the host of the evening, and you’re allowed to show or
receive some appreciation (handshakes and kisses on the cheeks being the
best way). Just make sure you’re appreciated a little to the left of the decks
so that you don’t bump into the decks or hit something on the mixer.
Copy-cat rip
I saw a great photo in DJ magazine a few years
ago of Sasha leaning across the decks so that
someone from the dance floor could light his
cigarette. Back in the days when I did smoke
(it’s not big, it’s not clever, and it will kill you) I
thought this look was so cool, I’d try to do the
Not only did I receive some friendly abuse from
the lighting guy while I waited for someone to
oblige with a match, when I did lean over the
decks, my T-shirt got caught on the needle on
the record, ripping it right off. (The needle that
is, not the T-shirt.) Fortunately, it was the cued
record rather than the one playing to the dance
floor, but it was further compounded by me
dropping the lit cigarette onto the turntable
because I was so flustered by what I’d just
Part V: The Part of Tens
Avoiding Wardrobe Malfunction
Avoiding a wardrobe malfunction is harder than you think. From jeans that are
cut too low (so when you bend over to pick up a record, everyone can see your
butt-cleavage) to ladies wearing a white bra under a black top so the UV lights
show off their glowing chests, you’d be surprised what can go wrong.
Hats, scarves, ponchos, and false beards will all eventually get tangled up in
your equipment, or fall onto the decks. Wearing costumes (think Elvis costumes, gorilla outfits, or Tarzan wraps) seem like a good idea in principle, but
try to have a quick practice wearing them before you start mixing; your furry
paws or rhinestone cuffs may turn your mixing into a nightmare.
Spending Too Long Talking to Someone
Stay professional: don’t spend so long talking to a friend, potential employer
or member of the opposite sex that you don’t have enough time to properly
cue up and mix in the next track. Even if you do have enough time to cue up
the tune, don’t rush the mix just so that you can go back to talking to them.
And whatever you do, don’t spend so long talking to someone that the record
runs out completely. Unless of course you want to get fired.
Leaving Your Last Tune Behind
If you’re just doing part of the night, and someone is taking over from you,
chances are, you finished your set on a really good tune, so you don’t want to
leave it behind. Wait until the next DJ has mixed out of your last tune, then
pick up your record/CD, pack your bags, and leave the booth. If you’re pulled
away by someone, ask the DJ to put your tune to one side, and say that you’ll
pick it up later – at least that way he or she won’t walk off with it by accident.
Not Getting Paid Before You Leave
After a night rocking the crowd, don’t leave the club before you’ve been paid
in full. Don’t fall for excuses such as ‘I don’t have my cheque book’, or ‘I don’t
have it all here, can I give you half now, and the rest next time?’ I’ve fallen for
this in the past (both times with club promoters who I thought I could trust).
Chapter 23: Ten DJing Mistakes to Avoid
Every case is different, and you should know how much you can push and
stand your ground with the club promoter/owner/bride and groom to
demand payment. The safest thing to do is to agree on the amount before you
set foot into the DJ booth (preferably on paper, signed by both of you).
That way, you can be very persistent about making sure that you get all the
money you’re due.
If you don’t agree on an amount before playing though, good luck to you . . .
Part V: The Part of Tens
Chapter 24
Ten Items to Take
with You When DJing
In This Chapter
Tooling up for the job of DJing
Remembering things to keep you going through the night
Getting home and calming yourself down
rom the obvious items like your records and headphones, to the less
obvious matter of taking a drink and something to make a recording of
your mix, the ten items described in this chapter are everything you need for
a successful night on the decks.
You may want to tear out the Cheat Sheet at the front of the book and keep
this list taped to the back of your door, or next to your car keys, so that you
can check it over before you leave the house. (And take the list with you, so
you know to bring everything back with you!)
All the Right Records or CDs
You may have thousands of records or CDs in your collection. Make sure that
you’re taking the right ones with you. Checking for one last time that you’ve
picked up the right box or CD wallet won’t hurt! Also take a carbon brush to
clean your records, and a soft cloth for CDs.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Make it Personal with Headphones
and Slipmats
Have a last check to make sure that your headphones still work, and that you
take any adaptors needed to make them work. If you use headphones that
you can repair with spare parts (like the Sennheiser HD25s), take your bag of
tools and spares.
Put your slipmats between some records in the record box so they stay flat
and undamaged. Just remember to take them back at the end of the night!
Using your own slipmats prevents any problems with fluffy, thick, dirty slipmats that a club may use. You’ll have become accustomed to how slippy your
own slipmats are on a set of Technics 1210s. Basic slipmats on a club’s set of
decks may create a lot of drag, and even worse, may damage your records
due to dirt and crusted beer spillages.
You’re a Star! MiniDisc Recorder
(or a Blank Tape)
Make the most of every opportunity by recording yourself in the mix, which
is especially helpful at the start of your career. You’ll benefit dramatically as
you can study your performance and improve on it. If a club doesn’t have any
means to record the mix (check beforehand), take along a MiniDisc recorder
(or similar) so you can take away evidence that you rocked the crowd!
Pack Your Tools and Save the Day
Any real man knows that the only tools you need are WD-40 and duct tape.
But, if you want to get fancy, throw some differing size and shaped screwdrivers into a bag too, as you never know when you may need a Phillips head
screwdriver to save the day.
Chapter 24: Ten Items to Take with You When DJing
Always Be Prepared: Pen and Paper
Not just for taking phone numbers of good-looking clientele, you need a pen
and paper for taking requests, sending drinks orders to the bar, and swapping
phone numbers with people who want to book you.
Keep Fuelled with Food and Drink
Unfortunately, you’re not there to have a picnic, you’ve got a job to do. But,
take some sustenance to keep you going in case your body needs fuel.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to put vodka into your Red Bull or
Irn-Bru 32. Keep one or two cans of your chosen energy drink with you, and if
you start to flag halfway through the night, drink one for the caffeine fix.
Be warned though, that some people don’t react well to the sudden hit of caffeine. So trying one in the middle of a set, in front of a 1,000 people is not the
best time to see if your body likes caffeine and guarana!
In addition to an energy drink, you also need to take something to eat in case
you get hungry. Hunger leads to bad moods, and bad moods can make you
lose your concentration, and you won’t be as attentive to the crowd’s needs.
Popping wine gums and jelly babies gives you a quick sugar fix, and they contain almost no fat.
Eating an energy bar gives you a better range of nutrients (though a larger
fat content) and fills you up for longer, but does run the risk of tasting like
Spread the Music with
Demo Tapes and CDs
Nothing beats someone asking for a mix tape/CD of your work after hearing
you play in a club. Nothing’s worse than not having one with you. Take a few
copies of your most recent mix (check out Chapter 17 for tips on how to
create the best sounding, and best looking CD or tape) and hand them out
with a big smile on your face.
Part V: The Part of Tens
A few examples of your best work are also really handy if someone wants to
book you for a night somewhere. If you give them a great mix to take away,
they won’t forget about you – just remember to include your phone number!
Keep Moving with Car Keys
You’re not going to get far without your car keys. I’ve spent many an evening
standing at the boot of the car, head in hands in disbelief that I left my keys
behind again! Okay if you’re just leaving your house, but not okay if they’re in
your jacket pocket, in the locked-up club that you’ve just played at.
Have Wallet, Will Travel
You never know when you’ll need a little cash, either for taxis home as you
left your car keys behind, or just to go grab some chow after your set.
If you have a few business cards, keep them in your wallet, on hand to give
out when you need to do some self promotion.
Just Chill: Chill Tape for the Ride Home
Sometimes, I finish my set at four o’clock in the morning, and am in no mood
to keep the buzz going by listening to more pumping tunes on the way home.
So, I keep a copy of the soundtrack to the film ‘The Big Blue’ in my car for
such occasions.
It contains some of the most fantastic pieces of music I’ve heard in a long
time. My wife Julie worries about it sending me to sleep on the drive home,
but all it does is take the edge off the natural high I’ve got from an evening of
energy and musical rapture (but it doesn’t do much about the caffeine rush I
have due to one too many of those energy drinks!).
I recommend the film too . . .
Chapter 25
Ten Great Influences on Me
In This Chapter
Recognising what’s influenced me over the years
Losing faith, then gaining it back again
our influences are very personal: look at the music you listen to, the
people you meet, and the places you go as key points in your career.
With these influences, you should be able to make a map of how you developed as a DJ. This chapter describes my journey.
Renaissance – Disc 1
As a key point in my DJ life, Renaissance – Disc 1 was my first introduction to
real dance music. Until I heard this mix by Sasha and Digweed, I thought that
dance music was the acid scene, and pop acts such as Snap releasing repetitive, obvious music. Up until I heard this disc, all I listened to was Van Halen,
Mr Big, Bon Jovi, and Peter Gabriel. (I think that I’ve just come out musically.)
Since I first heard it, I’ve always had a copy of this mix to hand. I had it on
tape on my Walkman while mowing lawns, a CD in the car when driving to college, a MiniDisc in my pocket looking for a job, and an iPod strapped to my
arm as I go to the gym before work.
Individually, the tunes on the mix are powerful, well-made pieces of work, but
the way they were mixed to create a 74-minute journey has always affected
me, and I think that the skill it involves is the reason I’ve always strived to
create a seamless mix that has a start, a middle, and an end – rather than just
20 tunes thrown together because they sound nice.
Part V: The Part of Tens
You may consider tonsillitis an odd choice as an influence, but as I lay in bed,
ill for a week, falling in and out of consciousness, with only the radio to keep
me from delirium, I was able to hear music that I’d never heard before.
I’d never heard of a guy called Pete Tong, and at six o’clock on a Friday night,
his show started, and my eyes were opened to so many different genres of
dance music. From trance, to drum and bass, to American house, I lay in bed,
struggling to stay awake. I’d never listened to Radio 1 other than during the
day and never listened during weekends, so the Essential Selection, Trevor
Nelson, Dave Pearce, and the Essential Mix all opened my eyes to more than
just the same Renaissance CD I’d been listening to over and over again.
What started off as an accident because I was too ill to stand up and change
the station on the radio (or turn on the TV) ended up as a Friday night ritual;
me, Pete Tong, a piece of paper, and a tape recorder.
La Luna: ‘To the Beat of the Drum’
I couldn’t dance, I had long hair, and I wasn’t dressed very well. I spent most
of the night a bit lost, standing on the stairs while everyone had fun, but what
I do remember is that the very first piece of music I heard as I walked in to
my first dance club was La Luna’s ‘To the Beat of the Drum’.
The piece of music was really simple, but seeing the reaction of the people in
the club, feeling the bass drum vibrating through my body, and hearing dance
music at this volume, in this atmosphere, for the first time unlocked something in me that left the Van Halen and Bon Jovi CDs unplayed for the next
seven or eight years!
(A haircut and better clothes followed almost immediately.)
Ibiza 1996 Radio 1 Weekend
Every summer since 1995, BBC Radio 1 has gone to Ibiza to broadcast from
the best clubs on the White Isle. This event has become a solid part of Radio
1’s programming, but for me, they’ve never done better than the 2:00–4:00
Chapter 25: Ten Great Influences on Me
a.m. slot at Amnesia in July 1996. I can honestly say that the reason I became
a DJ was because of the 90 minutes I could fit on tape of Sasha in the mix. So
if you want anyone to blame, give him a call!
As far as a DJ set is concerned, Sasha’s set was a step forward from the
Renaissance mix I’d heard over and over again. As it was in a live situation,
there was an obvious gearing of the set list to working the crowd rather than
appealing to a home listener on CD, and it showed me the magic of DJing –
that DJing was about more than just playing other people’s records.
What sold this mix to me, and still gives me goose bumps when I listen to it
(which I am right now in case you’re wondering) was at around the halfway
point, after playing some really strong, energetic, pounding tunes, he played
‘Inner City Life’ by Goldie. While still keeping the energy and the tempo of the
mix at a similar level, Sasha was able to completely change the dynamic of
the mix with just this one tune. It was like having a rest – without having a
rest! The mix of ‘Inner City Life’ that he played was like a roller coaster of
power itself. Frantic beats followed by a long breakdown with a gorgeous
voice singing over it and a simple, melodic piano hook, and then an energy
dipping outro, which ended as beats and electric noises.
Bringing the power back into the mix using the snare beats of a tune called
‘Yummy’ by Agh was the turning point for the real power of the mix, the
crowd went wild, and I can’t say I’ve heard a mix since that’s affected me as
The Tunnel Club, Glasgow
The Tunnel Club in Glasgow was like my home for six or seven years. It still
exists now, in a slightly tamer version of its past, and became an R & B club,
but it still holds incredible memories for me.
The three things I’ll take away from that club are the smell of dry ice and Red
Bull that blasted into your face as you entered the club, the constant quality
level of DJs and music that they played every weekend, and that I met my
wife Julie there – dancing with friends on the other side of the floor.
Julie’s support, advice, and ability to smile politely when I’m boring her with
new music, and new ways to mix from tune to tune has kept me going for the
past ten years. As it was due to the Tunnel that we met, I can hold the club
responsible for my current happiness, and position to write this book.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Jamiroquai – ‘Space Cowboy’
Jamiroquai’s ‘Space Cowboy’ was the first time I’d ever heard an original
tune remixed to be something better in my eyes. I didn’t know much about
Jamiroquai, but did know ‘Space Cowboy’ when they released it as a single.
I thought it was okay, but at the time, didn’t like the change in sound and
style from verse to chorus. Then David Morales gave the tune an overhaul.
His remix of ‘Space Cowboy’ is always in my record box (mostly unplayed
unfortunately), and is always in my top ten favourite tune list.
Listening to this track was the first time I’d been able to compare the original
to a remix and understand the elements needed to change a song from a good
original recording to a dance remix, and have the structure and sounds that
would work perfectly on the dance floor.
Jeremy Healy
Jeremy Healy was the first DJ I heard that put a lot more performance into
the mix than just playing the records. I first heard him do a hot mix on the
Essential Selection, where he was using his tune ‘Stamp’ to scratch with, and
then saw him at the Tunnel, where he spent the entire time scratching, dropping samples of other records in, and making the most of the time, space, and
records he had available.
DJing is still seen by many as just playing other people’s records and the only
skill that’s needed is the 20 seconds you take to mix from one track to
another. Healy proved that a lot more can be done during the tune to make
the mix and the performance unique to that DJ.
Alice Deejay – ‘Better Off Alone’
Not all my influences have been positive ones.
I found this tune, ‘Better Off Alone’ by Alice Deejay, when it was just an
instrumental by DJ Jurgen. It has a lovely little hook in it, and sounds great. I
played it a lot, and got a good response in the pubs and clubs whenever I
played it.
Chapter 25: Ten Great Influences on Me
The problem was, someone got hold of it, and put a vocal over it, changing
the dynamic and sound of the track from something that was an interesting
musical piece to commercial cheese. Unfortunately, everyone liked it, and
as I preferred the original tune, I automatically disliked this vocal version,
because it managed to turn a good track that I liked to play, to a bad track I
hated playing.
But that issue was the key. I still had to play it. The places I worked at
demanded a high amount of commercial tracks on the playlist to offset any
unknown, more underground sounding tracks (ironically, the track was
classed as underground before getting the vocal).
This track, and several others to come, taught me that sometimes you have
to play what the club and the clubbers want. Until you become a DJ with the
renown and power of Tiesto, Sasha, or Oakenfold, you have to follow the
club’s guidelines. At the beginning, DJing is all about keeping people happy,
and making enough money to eat. If I’d refused to play that track, I’d have
been asked not to return as the DJ, and I knew that the right thing to do was
just keep playing the tune until the appeal wore off.
Delirium ‘Silence’
In Chapter 7, I write about falling in love with the tune ‘Silence’ by Delirium,
playing it as often as I could, and how it still means a lot to me to listen to.
But I see this tune as a double-edged sword. I see this tune as the turning
point in my DJing career, when it all went a bit sour. This tune wasn’t directly
responsible, but after ‘Silence’ was such a success, the market was flooded
with records that were very simple, obvious, bland melodies with some
woman singing over them.
Obviously, records of this sort had been released for years before ‘Silence’,
but the success of ‘Silence’ opened the gates for money-grabbers who figured
they could release a weak record with vocals and make some money. Which
they did. Not all of them were bad; some really good vocal tracks came out of
this wave. But many producers missed the point that ‘Silence’ was such a big
success because the music was really good, and stood well on its own, but
more importantly, Sarah McLachlan’s voice was haunting, unique, and perfectly matched to the music, and a club atmosphere.
Ultimately, this crossover commercialisation of the dance scene drove the
good music away. The people who were buying these records started to go to
the clubs that would normally play less commercial music, and they started
to demand to hear what they knew. Club owners, reacting to a new voice,
Part V: The Part of Tens
seeing the rise in profits with the new batch of clubbers, happily agreed. This
move drove the music I loved playing deeper and deeper underground to a
point that it was hard to get work playing it.
The problem with commercial trends is that by their very nature they move
from fad to fad. Eventually, as each new track sounded more like the old one,
the novelty of this music wore off, and the clubbers moved away to R & B and
nu metal. This meant that the clubs who’d abandoned their old music policy
needed to readjust.
Some clubs started to play heavier and heavier music, would let people into
the clubs that they wouldn’t have in the past, or changed their music scene
completely (like The Tunnel’s move to R & B). This left music (and the club
scene as a whole as I saw it) in a state of flux, leaving me a bit concerned for
my future as a DJ, and for the music I loved to play.
Sasha and Digweed Miami 2002
My last key influential music moment in this chapter is the Radio 1 Essential
Mix that Sasha and Digweed did in April 2002 at the Winter Music Conference
in Miami, USA.
Though I’d drifted away from the scene for over a year by the time I heard
this mix in late 2003, I did still have a soft spot in my heart for this pairing –
I still thanked them for the reason I started to listen to dance music in the
first place. A friend had this mix on his iPod, and I asked if I could have a
copy, just to hear what was going on.
Two hours later, I realised that my assumptions and prejudices about music
and how the dance scene had ended up after its hyper-commercialisation
were wrong in a global view. I felt as if I was being musically reborn.
The mix was incredibly well thought out, some of the tunes in the mix were
amazing (the mix from Adam Dived ‘Headfirst’ to Solid Session ‘Janeiro’
almost blew the speakers in my car I played it so loud!) and this mix was the
key that marked my return to this music, and to DJing – and is the reason
why I’m here, writing this book.
Thanks for reading it.
Good luck.
• Symbols and Numerics •
3.5-millimetre adaptor, 168
3.5-millimetre jack, 159, 167
7-inch singles, 33
12-inch singles, 34
a cappella (mixing technique), 223
Ableton (Live software), 23, 113–115
academies, DJ, 336
active monitor, 149
adaptor, 3.5-millimetre, 168
Adobe Audition (software), 292, 294
Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS)
earplugs, 144, 145
artist management, 305
booking fee, 305, 306, 307
criteria to join, 307–308
Internet, 306
local, 306
paying upfront, 306
researching, 307
Agh (Yummy), 361
AIFF file, 295, 298
air, compressed, 84, 135
albums, 33–35
Alcatech (BPM Studio), 23, 112
connectors, 168
speakers, 149
Allen and Heath mixers, 50, 115
Amazon (Web site), 41
American DJ (equipment manufacturer), 49
choosing, 147–152
computer connection to, 173
connecting mixer to, 170
description, 25–26
EQ settings, 288
home stereo, 147, 148
power rating, 150–151
powered speakers, 147–148, 149
room size, power needed by, 151
testing, 61
troubleshooting, 174–175
antiskate function, turntable, 19, 58, 74,
antiskip function, CD decks, 21, 59
Apple Soundtrack (software), 292
Armstrong, Dave (DJ), 139
artist management, 305
auction sites, 42, 54–55
Audacity (software), 292
reading a crowd, 323–324
requests, 324–326
talking to, 341–342
audio delay, 152, 153
audio formats, 22
Audiojelly (Web site), 109
audio-ripping software, 46
Auto Pan (mixer effect), 128
Auto Transformer (mixer effect), 128
Aux input, home stereo, 171
baby scratch, 250
back cueing, 89
backing track, 260
backward scratch, 252
backwards play, in beatmatching, 183
balance control, mixer, 126
counting, 203–204
number in phrase, 200–201
number of beats in, 200–201
bass beat, locating, 183
bass driver, 153
bass, killing, 220
bathroom breaks, 342–343
DJing For Dummies
battle breaks, 242, 244
battle mixer, 132–133
BBC Radio 1, 334, 360, 364
counting, 203–204
cut in, 223–224
locating first bass, 183
number in bar, 200–201
removing from track, 344
rocking back and forth, 186
structure, 199–209
beat counter
mixer, 129–130, 181
stand-alone, 181
beat light indicators, mixer, 130
cutting in beats, 223
description, 255–256
offsetting, 256
practice, 256
audio cues (B’loom and l’Boom), 190–191,
beats per minute calculation, 181–182
with belt-driven turntable, 66, 67
booth monitor, 152
on CD, 233
description, 13, 179–180, 260–261
with direct-drive turntable, 66
equipment setup, 182
errors, adjusting for, 187–188
headphone use with, 123–124, 193–197
with Live software, 114
locating first bass beat, 183
mixer settings, 193
motor lag, 186
pitch control, 191–192, 347–348
pitch setting, matching, 189–191
practice, 180, 192
rocking beat back and forth, 186
single-ear monitoring, 142, 154–155
slipmats for, 86
starting records in time, 184–186
sweet spot, 180
beatmatching DJs
CD decks for, 104–105
channel-fader setup, 218–219
needle choice, 91, 93, 94
scratching by, 104–105
beats per minute (BPMs), 100, 180–182
Bedroom DJ competitions, 337
connectors, 168
speakers, 149
Bermuda Pitch Zone, 73
Better Off Alone (Deejay), 362–363
bleeding, 60, 136, 194
blogging.com (Web site), 339
booking fees, 305, 306, 307
books, as resources, 335–336
Booth Out, mixer output, 60, 119, 171
bootlegs, 32
BPM Studio (Alcatech), 23, 112
BPMs (beats per minute), 100, 180–182
Brainchild (Symmetry C), 271
brake, for Start/Stop, 80
brake speed, 222
breakbeat, mixing, 226
description, 206
double-drop mixing, 226
end-of-phrase marker, 203
mixing, 215–216
Brown Eyed Girl (Morrison), 224
brush, carbon fibre, 43, 355
budgeting, 48–50
build-ups, 218
Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters, 127
burning a CD, 295–298
checking, 56
control, 105
Master Output, 158
RCA, 81
RCA to 3.5-millimetre jack, 168
removable, 81
speaker, 148
cache, virtual, 292
Camelot Sound Easymix System, 265
capstan, 160
carbon fibre brush, 43, 355
cardboard cut-out, to reduce friction, 88
cartridge, 75, 89–94
cassette tapes, demo, 281
burning, 295–298
cleaning, 43
cue checking, 233
cue location, 227–229, 232
cue storage, 232
demo, 280–281
demo on computer, 292–298
formats, 34–35
music available on, 32
pros and cons of format, 99–104
quality of sound, 292
repairing, 45–46
scanning, 228
scratching, 238
skips/jumps, 348
track-split, 296–297
warped, fixing, 45
CD deck. See also CD deck features
controls, 21
cost, 49–50, 102
improvements in, 20–21, 104
MP3 CDs, 23
for scratch DJ, 106
scratching on, 246–247
single, 106
slot-loading, 106
testing, 58–59
top-loading, 106
tray system, 105
twin, 105
CD deck features. See also CD deck
antiskip function, 21, 59
built-in effects, 101
buttons, 228–229, 234
hot cues, 235
jog dial, 229–230, 234
loop, 235
Master Tempo, 235
pitch blend, 234
pitch control, 234
pitch slider, 233–234
platters, 230–231
player control, 166
reverse play, 236
sample banks, 236
wave display, 101, 228
CD-R/CD-RW discs, 21
cleaning, 135–136
mixer, 122–123, 218–219
settings for beatmatching, 193
Chappell, John (Guitar For Dummies), 266
chinagraph pencil, 244
chirp (scratching technique), 253
chop (scratching technique), 252
chorus, 203, 205
Citronic (equipment manufacturer), 49
classified sections, newspaper, 53–54
cleaning machine, CD, 43
clothing, 342, 352
equipment, 316, 320–322
giving demo to, 302–304
investigating the venue, 314–316
location of, 303
visiting, 339
club DJ, iPod mixing, 110
club music, bass beat, 185
competition, 238, 337
compilations, 35
compressed air, 84, 135
compression, 22, 109
amplifier connection, 173
CD demo on, 292–298
hardware controllers, 113, 247
keying tunes with, 267
laptop DJing, 22–23, 111–113
mix editing, 292–295
mixer connection, 167–168, 172–173
mixing on PC, 111–113
scratching on, 247
software, 111–113
sound files, 295
soundcard, 167–168, 172, 176
troubleshooting set-up and connections,
CD deck to mixer, 166
computer as input device, 167–168
DJing For Dummies
connections (continued)
computer to amplifier, 173
digital, 157
effects units to mixer, 169–170
Firewire, 157, 168
headphones, 168–169
iPods and MP3s to mixer, 167
mixer outputs, 170–171
mixer to home hi-fi, 171
mixer to PC/Mac, 172–173
pro-sumer, 158
quarter-inch jack, 159–160
RCA/Phono, 158
Send and Return, 169–170
S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface
Format), 157
tonearm, 161–164
troubleshooting, 173–176
turntable, 160–164
turntable to mixer, 164–166
USB (universal serial bus), 157, 168
XLR, 118, 158–159
constant tone, 282
control cable, 105
control code, 247
cords, headphone, 140
description, 74
for scratching, 240
settings, 94–95, 161–162, 173
crab scratch, 254
creativity, developing, 13
crescendo, 218
cleaning, 135–136
curves, 120–122, 219, 286
cutting in, 224
hamster switch, 126
mixer, 23–24, 59, 60, 119–122
mixing, use in, 217–218
offsetting, 256
scratching, use in, 133, 251–254
securing, 241
settings for beatmatching, 193
crowbarring, 278
crowd, reading, 15
checking, 233
hot, 235
locating on CD, 227–229, 232
on-the-fly setting, 235
storing, 232
Cue button
CD deck, 232, 233, 235
mixer, 123
cue points, multiple, 101
cut (scratching technique), 252
cut setting, 124
cutting in, 223–224
cutting out, 224
cymbal crash, 202, 204, 205, 218
DAC3 controller, 247
Dart Pro (software), 297
DAT (digital audiotape), demo on, 281
dead-stop, 222
decibels, 143
deckplatter, 19, 66, 70, 84, 160
Deejay, Alice (Better Off Alone), 362–363
degreaser, 84
Delay (mixer effect), 128
Delirium (Silence), 103, 363
CD, 280–281, 292–298
DAT (digital audiotape), 281
editing mix, 292–295
EQ settings, 286–288
gaps, bridging, 278
handing over, 302–303
MiniDisc, 281
perfect, 291
performance, 289–291
picking and arranging tunes, 276–277
practising your set, 278–279
preparing to record, 275–284
programming your set, 276
recording levels, correcting, 281–284
sending off, 298–299
setting up to record, 279–281
sound processing, 284–288
style, showing off, 273
taking with you when DJing, 357–358
tapes, 14, 281
track-split, 296–297
transition only, 297–298
volume, 284–286
where to send, 303
DN-S3500 (CD deck), 106, 230–232,
236, 246
turntable, 50
desk, DJ, 26–27
DigiScratch (software), 247
digital audiotape (DAT), demo on, 281
digital DJ Licence, 40
Digweed, John (DJ), 114, 262, 359, 364
distortion, 175
Dived, Adam (Headfirst), 364
DJ Academy, 336
DJ Danger icon, 4
DJ Download (Web site), 109
DJ in a Box (Numark), 53
DJ Prince (Web site), 265
DJ Speak icon, 4
djchat.com (Web site), 335
djforums.com (Web site), 335
djmandrick.com (Web site), 334
djmixtape.net (Web site), 338
djpassion.co.uk (Web site), 311, 338
djprince.no (Web site), 334
djpromoter.com (Web site), 311
djrecess.co.uk (Web site), 152, 311, 335
DJS software (Pioneer), 112
DMC Championships, 238, 337
double drop (mixing technique), 226
downloading MP3s, 104
drinks, 346
drivers, 61
drop, 226
drop in samples, 115
bass, 184, 197
pattern, 185
snare, 184, 197
drum and bass, mixing, 226
drum-and-bass DJ, 131
Drumming For Dummies (Strong), 185
earpieces, headphone, 140
earplugs, 142–145, 322
earplugstore.com (Web site), 144
eBay (Web site), 42, 54, 167
eBid (Web site), 54
Echo (mixer effect), 128
Ecler Nuo4!, 115
Edirol connectors, 168
effects DJ, mixer for, 133–134
Effects Send and Return, 127
effects unit, connecting to mixer, 169–170
electrical interference, 149
end-of-phrase markers, 202–203, 208
energy, 269
EQ (equaliser)
amplifier, 288
balancing with, 220–221
global, 134
high, 220–221
home stereo, 148
mid, 221
mixer, 24, 118, 124–125, 286–288
recorder, 288
settings at club venue, 321
settings for beatmatching, 193
smoothing transition with bass, 220
test recording, 287–288
use in scratching, 249
EQ pot, 124
equipment. See also specific items
amplifiers, 25–26
basic components, 10, 17–18
CD decks, 20–21
club, 316, 320–322
connecting, 12
furniture, 26–28
headphones, 24–25
input devices, 18–23
location, 28–29
mixers, 18–23, 23–24
MP3 players, 22–23
research on, 11
speakers, 25–26
to take when DJing, 355–358
turntables, 18–20
what to look for, 12
equipment, shopping for
auction Web sites, 54–55
budgeting, 48–50
from high-street store, 50–52
new, 50–53
newspaper classified sections, 53–54
online, 52–53
DJing For Dummies
equipment, shopping for (continued)
packages, 52
pawn shops, 54
second-hand, 53–55
testing equipment, 55–61
trying before buying, 48, 49, 51, 55
ergonomics, 26
error correction, in audio-ripping software, 46
etiquette, record store, 38
Etymotic (earplug maker), 144
fader start control, mixer, 130–131
mixer, 59–60
securing, 241
servicing, 84
Fatboy Slim (DJ), 141
feedback, 27–28
file sharing, 39–40
Filter (mixer effect), 128
Final Scratch (software), 247
Firewire connection, 118, 157, 168
Flanger (mixer effect), 128
flare scratch, 254
floating, tonearm, 161–162
focus, maintaining, 289–290
For an Angel (Van Dyk), 184
format, analogue versus digital, 97–104
forums, DJ, 266, 307
forward scratch, 251
Freefloat deck stabiliser, 28
frequency response, 139
Fresh, Chuck (How to be a DJ), 335
adding to adjust for timing error, 187
reduction with cardboard cut-out, 88
reduction with wax paper, 87–88
slipmats and, 87
in DJ booth, 343
networking with, 309
full-on section, 205
desk, 26–27
ergonomics, 26
stability, 26
vibrations, minimising, 27–28
Gabriel & Dresden (DJs), 114
gain controls
mixer, 24, 125–126, 284–285
settings for beatmatching, 193
Gemini CDJ-01 (CD deck), 102
Gemini Scratch Master package, 53
Gemini turntable
cost, 49
hybrid, 108
Key Adjustment feature, 79
PT6000, 80
reliability of, 77
TT02, 20
genre, format availability, 31–33
glue tunes, 277, 278
Goldie (Inner City Life), 361
graphic equaliser, home stereo, 148
green light area, 182
ground wire, 164, 174
Guitar For Dummies (Phillips and
Chappell), 266
hamster style, 241, 253
hamster switch, mixer, 126–127
hands in the air moment, 180, 220
Hard to Find Records (Web site), 40
hardware controllers, 113, 247
harmonic mixing, 262–265
harmonic-mixing.com (Web site), 264, 266
Headfirst (Dived), 364
headphone monitoring
headphone mix, 124, 194–195
practicing, 197–198
single ear, 194
split cue, 195
beatmatching, use in, 193–197
choosing, 25, 137–141
closed-back, 138
comfort, 138
connecting to mixer, 168–169
cords, 140
cost, 139
cue controls, 60, 123–124
cueing in, 193–195
earpieces, swiveling, 140
forgetting, 349
frequency response, 139
impedance, 139
importance of, 24, 25
iPod, 123, 159
mixer, 123–124
monitoring mixer with Pre Fade Listen
(PFL), 24
practicing with, 197–198
replaceable parts, 140–141
resting on headphone jack, 169
sound pressure level, 139
stereo image, 195–197
stick, 141
taking personal when DJing, 356
testing, 61
troubleshooting, 175
upgrading, 139
volume, 142
weight, 138
headshell, 19, 75, 84, 90
Healy, Jeremy (DJ), 362
hearing damage, 142, 322
Hercules, 247
hi-fi, 148, 171
hi-hats, 124, 212, 218, 220
Hitsquad Musician Network (Web site), 23
HMV (Web site), 40
Hocks Noisebrakers (earplugs), 144
home stereo, 25, 147, 148, 171
hook, 205
hosting your own night, 338
house DJ, 131
house mixer, 131–132
house music
bass beat, 185
beats per minute (BPMs), 180
How to be a DJ (Fresh), 335
humming noise, from turntable, 174
I Feel Love (Summer), 260, 261
Ibiza, 360–361
icons, used in text, 4
iDJ mixer (Numark), 110–111
i-dj.co.uk (Web site), 334, 335
Ikea (Web site), 27
impedance, 139
Inner City Life (Goldie), 361
input channels, mixer, 24
input devices
CD decks, 20–21
formats, 18
MP3 players, 22–23
turntables, 18–20
input level meter, mixer, 282, 284–285
instincts, developing, 208
interference, electrical, 149
auction sites, 54–55
DJ agencies, 306
marketing yourself on, 310–311
online record stores, 40
stores, 52–53
description, 205
looping, 235
melodic, 214
mixing beat intro over breakdown, 216
over outros, 212–213
Ion powered speaker, 149
connection to mixer, 167
headphones, 109, 123
mixing with, 110–111
iTunes, 39, 109, 111
Jamiroquai (Space Cowboy), 362
Janeiro (Solid Session), 364
JBL speakers, 149
jog dial/wheel, CD deck, 21, 106, 229–230,
DJing For Dummies
Jules, Judge (DJ), 104, 334
jump, 271–272
Juno Records (Web site), 40
Kam (equipment manufacturer), 49
Key Adjustment, 79
key change, 269–270
Key Lock (turntable feature), 79
key notation, 263–264
keycode, 265
kill switch, 124
La Luna (To the Beat of the Drum), 360
laptop DJing, 22–23, 111–113
leader tape, 289
lighting, 346–347
limiters, 282
line input, mixer, 24, 117–118
Line RCA input, 166
Line switch, mixer, 60
Line/Phono switch, mixer, 166
with an active ear, 184
with open mind, 291
to other people’s mixes, 337
listening post, record store, 37, 38
Live software (Ableton), 23, 113–115
loop function, CD deck, 235
LPs, 33–34, 35
lubrication, 83–84, 136
magazines, 333–334
mix, 277
tune, 34
marker, end-of-phrase, 202–203, 208
agencies, joining, 305–308
demo, 302–303
following up, 304
Internet, 310–311
networking, 309–310
playing for free, 304–305
rejection, handling, 304
self-promotion, 301–302
CDs, 247
MP3s, 247
samples, 243–245
Master Level, mixer control, 170, 171, 283
Master Out, mixer output, 60, 118, 169, 170
Master Output Level control, 283, 284
Master Tempo
CD deck, 235, 267, 271
turntable feature, 79
maximum sustained output, speaker, 150
May, Brian (guitarist), 140
McLachlan, Sarah (recording artist), 103
melodic intros, 214
melodic outros, 213–214
MIC input, mixer, 117–118
microphone, mixer, 60
MIDI (musical instrument digital interface),
mid-range, 124
mini-breakdown, 206, 215
MiniDisc, 107–108, 281, 356
mini-jack, 123
mistakes, DJing, 349–353
MixedInKey.com (Web site), 267
mixer. See also mixer connections; mixer
battle, 132–133
choosing correct, 131–135
cost, 24, 49–50
for effects DJ, 133–134
EQ settings, 286–288
hamster style, 241, 253
height, 241
house, 131–132
mistakes, avoiding, 350
outputs, 170–171
for party/wedding DJ, 134–135
for scratching, 132–133, 241
for seamless mix DJ, 131–132
servicing, 135–136
settings for beatmatching, 193
setup for beatmatching, 182
software, 112, 113
testing, 59–60
troubleshooting, 174
in turntable, 82–83
in twin CD deck, 105
mixer connections. See also mixer
CD deck to mixer, 166
computer to mixer, 167–168
effects units to mixer, 169–170
headphones, 168–169
iPods and MP3s to mixer, 167
mixer to home hi-fi, 171
mixer to PC/Mac, 172–173
mixer to powered speakers, 171–172
Send and Return, 169–170
turntable to mixer, 164–166
mixer features. See also mixer
balance control, 126
beat counter, 129–130, 181
beat light indicators, 130
channel-faders, 122–123
channels, multiple, 119
cross-faders, 119–122
description, 23–24
effects, built-in, 127–128
Effects Send and Return, 127, 133
EQ (equaliser), 124–125
fader start, 130–131
gain controls, 125–126, 284–285
hamster switch, 126–127
headphone, 123–124
input level meters, 284–285
inputs, 117–118
outputs, 118–119
pan control, 126
punch button, 127
samplers, built-in, 129
talk-over button, 342
transform controls, 127
VU display, 125
beat intro over breakdown, 216
breakbeat, 226
breakdown over breakdown, 215
with CDs, 227–236
channel-fader use, 218–219
cross-fader use, 217–218
drum and bass, 226
EQ control, 220–221
harmonic, 262–265
intros over outros, 212–213
melodic intro, 214
melodic outro, 213–214
mini-breakdowns, 215
R&B mix, 225
speeches/spoken words, 223, 225
volume control, 219–220
wedding/party/rock/pop mix, 224–225
mixing tricks and gimmicks
a cappella, 223
cutting in, 223–224
dead stop, 222
experimenting with, 221
power off, 222
spinback, 221–222
MixVibes, 23
active, 149
audio delay and, 152, 153
booth, 171, 321–322
importance of, 152
positioning, 153
powered, 149
Morales, David (DJ), 141
Morrison, Van (Brown Eyed Girl), 224
motor, turntable
choosing, 66–67
friction, 87
servicing, 83–84
testing, 56–57
availability, 108
compression, 109
cons of using, 110
DJ decks, 23
DJ use of, 39–40
download sites, 109
files, 22, 109
from online record stores, 40–42
player, 22, 167
previewing, 41
promos, 109–110
scratching on, 247
software, 22–23
sound quality, 110
buying, 33–42
CD formats/options, 34–35
classic anthems and new tracks, 38–39
listening to, 37
MP3, 39–40
DJing For Dummies
music (continued)
previewing, 41
researching, 36–37
vinyl formats, 33–34
musical hole, 37
musical instrument digital interface (MIDI),
Muzik magazine, 337
myclubbingspace.com (Web site), 311
mydjspace.net (Web site), 311, 338
myspace.com (Web site), 311
name, choosing DJ, 345
National Certificate in Music Technology, DJ
& Mixing (course), 336
Native Instruments (Traktor), 22, 115
abuse, 89
for beatmixing DJ, 91, 93, 94
cleaning, 43
connection, 89–91
counterweight, 240
counterweight settings, 94–95
downforce adjustment, 240
elliptical, 93
extending lifespan of, 96
function of, 88
headshell cartridge, 75
jump, 44
with new turntable, 94
for scratching, 90, 91, 93, 238, 240–241
sewing, 44
skipping, 95, 173, 174
spherical, 92–93
tracking force, 93, 94
troubleshooting, 174
turntable, 58
when to replace, 95–96
Neely, Blake (Piano For Dummies), 266
Nero (software), 295, 297
nerves, dealing with, 320
networking, 309–310
newspaper classified sections, 53–54
NGWave (software), 292, 294
Night (magazine), 334
noise pollution, 154–155
Norcal DJMPA (academy), 336
notation, traditional key, 263–264
CC-1 needle, 91, 92, 94
CD deck, 102, 105
DM1050 mixer, 24
iDJ mixer, 110–111
powered speaker, 149
Numark turntable
for beatmatching, 67
cost, 49
hybrid, 108
Key Lock feature, 79
reliability of, 77
for scratch DJ, 82
tonearm style, 81
TT500, 102
Oakenfold (DJ), 262, 271
offbeat, 261–262
offsetting, 256
oil, lubricating, 83–84
online shopping, 40–42, 52–53
On/Off switch, turntable, 69
onomatopoeic words, 191
open booth night, 337
Ortofon needles, 91, 93–94, 96, 238
output level meter, mixer, 282
description, 206
intros over, 212–213
looping, 235
melodic, 213–214
package, equipment, 52
pan controls, mixer, 126
party/wedding DJ
CD deck for, 105
compilation CD, 35
mixing, 134–135, 224–225
requests, handling, 325–326
pawn shops, 54
payment, 316, 329, 352–353
PCDJ (software), 23, 112, 247
peak rating, speaker, 150
peer-to-peer networks, 39, 104
pencil, chinagraph, 244
pens, ultraviolet, 244
clothing, 342
on club equipment, 318, 320–322
demo, 289–291
finishing the night, 328–329
items to take when DJing, 355–358
in loud environment, 322
main set, 315
momentum, 327–328
nerves, dealing with, 320
preparation, 318–320
reading a crowd, 323–324
as replacement DJ, 315
requests, handling, 324–326
talking to audience, 341–342
venue, investigating, 314–318
as warm-up DJ, 314, 325, 326
Performer Services Helpdesk, 40
PFL (Pre Fade Listen) button, 24, 123
Phillips, Mark (Guitar For Dummies), 266
phono cables, 81
Phono connection, 158
Phono input, mixer, 24, 117–118, 164–165
Phono switch, mixer, 60
Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), 40
end-of-phrase marker, 202–203, 205
number in verse, 200–202
number of bars in, 200–201
Piano For Dummies (Neely), 266
Pioneer CD decks, 102, 106, 228, 230, 246
Pioneer DJS software, 112
Pioneer EFX-1000 (processor), 101, 134
Pioneer mixers
cost, 50
DJM-600, 115, 128, 130, 220
DJM-800, 134, 166, 170
Pioneer turntables, 49–50
pitch, 267–268
pitch bend
CD deck, 21, 77–78, 105, 234
computer software, 113
pitch control
adjusting for timing error, 188
adjusting without looking, 191–192
CD decks, 21, 58–59, 105, 234
digital display, 79
jump, 271–272
resetting after beatmatching, 347–348
settings, matching, 189–191
pitch control, turntable
accuracy, 73
description, 19–20
design, 67
numbers, 72–73
setup, 182
testing, 56–57
pitch fader
computer software, 113
turntable, 57, 73, 78
pitch range options, turntable, 76–77
Pitch Shifter (mixer effect), 128
pitch slider
CD deck, 106, 233–234
turntable, 189
beat intro over breakdown, 216
breakdown over breakdown, 215
bridging gaps, 278
intros over outros, 212–213
melodic intro, 214
melodic outro, 213–214
mini-breakdowns, 215
perfecting, 211–214
picking and arranging tunes, 276–277
platters, CD deck, 230–231
player control feature, CD deck, 166
podcast.com (Web site), 339
podcasts, 338–339
Point Blank Music College, 336
power off (mixing technique), 222
power rating, 150
PowerBook, Apple, 111
PPL (Phonographic Performance
Limited), 40
practice, 180, 192, 256, 278–279
Pre Fade Listen (PFL) button, 24, 123
preparation, as key to success, 14
Pro Tools (software), 292
programming your set, for demo, 276
PromoOnly (Web site), 109
promos, 32, 109
pro-sumer connection, 158
punch button, 127
DJing For Dummies
QBert (DJ), 91
quarter-inch jack, 159–160
quartz lock, 78
quizmeme.com (Web site), 345
QXL (Web site), 54
radio shows, 334
radio-edit, 33
Rane mixer, 50
R&B mix, 225
RCA cables, 81
RCA connection
computer soundcard, 167–168
computer to mixer, 167–168
general, 158
iPod and MP3 player to mixer, 167
mixer outputs, 170–171
turntable to mixer, 164–166
RCA plugs, 81
Real Audio, 41
re-amplification, 27–28
Recess (DJ), 345
recess.co.uk (Web site), 1, 5
record level indicator, 281–282
Record Out, mixer output, 60, 118, 170–171
record store
etiquette, 38
listening post, 37, 38
online, 40–42
EQ settings, 288
MiniDisc, 108, 356
quality, 280
record level, 281–282
troubleshooting, 176
Recording Industry Association of America
(RIAA), 99
recording, test, 287–288
blank grooves, 244
cleaning, 43
fixing the hole in the middle, 245–246
formats, 33–34
listening to, 37
marking samples, 243–245
mistakes with, 351
physical description, 18–19
repairing vinyl, 44
shading on, 183
storing, 27, 42–43
warped, fixing, 45
wear, 95, 240, 241, 242–243
white label, 32
reference tone, 282, 283
rejection, handling, 304
Remember icon, 4
remix, 34
Renaissance–Disc 1 (mix), 359
Replay Records (Web site), 40
requests, 324–326
resources for skill expansion
books, 335–336
club visiting, 339
competition participation, 337
DJ forums, 334–335
hands-on advice, 336
hosting your own night, 338
listening to mixes, 337
media, 333–334
uploading podcasts or hosted mixes,
Web sites, advice, 334
Reverb (mixer effect), 128
reverse chop, 253
reverse cut, 253
reverse play
CD deck, 236
turntable feature, 80
rhythm, driving, 260–262
RIAA (Recording Industry Association of
America), 99
room size, power needs for, 151
RPM (revolutions per minute) button, 69
sample, 242
sample banks, CD deck, 236
sampler, built-in, 129
sandpaper, 246
Sasha (DJ), 114–115, 262, 345, 359, 364
scratch DJ
CD deck, 106
channel-fader setup, 218
gain control use by, 125
mixer for, 132+133
needle set-up, 90, 91, 93
slipmats for, 86
tonearm height, 162–163
turntables for, 82, 238
Scratch DJ (academy), 336
Scratch Master package (Gemini), 53
Scratch Perverts (DJ), 91
battle break use, 242, 244
on CD, 246–247
on computer, 247
description, 13, 237
equipment setup, 238–242
mastering, 248–249
mixer, 241
MP3, 247
needles for, 238, 240–241
record wear, 240, 241, 242–243
sample, finding, 242
sample, marking, 243–245
slipmats for, 241
scratching technique
baby scratch, 250
backward scratch, 252
chirp, 253
chop, 252
combining scratches, 254–255
crab scratch, 254
cut, 252
flare scratch, 254
forward scratch, 251
hand technique, 248
mastering, 248–249
reverse chop, 253
reverse cut, 253
scribble scratch, 250–251
tear, 251
transformer, 253
twiddle scratch, 254
scribble scratch, 250–251
seamless mix, 125
seamless mix DJ, 131–132
search buttons, CD deck, 106, 230
section, 211
Send and Return connections, 169–170
send and return function, mixer, 127, 133
Sennheiser headphones, 140–141, 356
Serato (software), 247
set. See also set building
bridging gaps, 278
checkpoint tunes, 319
demo, 276–279
lists, predetermined, 318
picking and arranging tunes, 276–277
practising, 278–279
programming, 276
set building. See also set
beatmatching, 260–261
energy, 269
genre changes, 272
harmonic mixing, 262–265
jumps, 271–272
key changing, 269–270
keying tunes, 266–267
mixing, 261–262
pitch, 267–268
stagnation, avoiding, 272
style, developing, 268–273
tempo, increasing, 270–272
tune choice, 259–268
set-up. See also connections
deckplatter, 160
tonearm, 161–164, 173–174
troubleshooting, 173–176
turntable, 160–164
E2c ear buds, 109
needles, 90, 93–94, 238, 240
Silence (Delirium), 103, 363
sine wave, 282
single-ear monitoring, 142,
154–155, 194
singles, 33–34
Skip button, CD deck, 230
skipping, needle, 95, 173, 174
cardboard cut-out to reduce friction, 88
choosing appropriate, 86–87
description, 19, 85–86
forgetting, 349
DJing For Dummies
slipmat (continued)
friction and, 87–88
for scratching, 241
taking personal when DJing, 356
wax paper to reduce friction, 87–88
Adobe Audition, 292, 294
Apple Soundtrack, 292
Audacity, 292
audio-ripping, 46
Dart Pro, 297
DigiScratch, 247
DJ, 22–23, 111–113
DJS, 112
Final Scratch, 247
Live, 23, 113–115
mixer, 112, 113
MP3, 22–23
Nero, 295, 297
NGWave, 292, 294
PCDJ, 23, 112, 247
peer-to-peer sharing, 39
Pro Tools, 292
Serato, 247
Sonic Foundry, 297
Toast, 295
Virtual DJ 3, 23, 112, 247
Solid Session (Janeiro), 364
song structure
bars, 200–201
beats, 200–201
breakdown, 203, 206
chorus, 203, 205
counting beats, 203–204
cymbal crash, 202, 204, 205
differences in, 207
importance for DJs, 200
introduction, 205
listening to sample, 208–209
marker, end-of-phrase, 202–203, 208
outro, 206
phrases, 200–202
section, 211
studying, 205–207
verse, 200–202, 205
Sonic Foundry (software), 297
Sony MDR-V700 DJ headphones, 139
Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format
(S/PDIF), 157
control, importance of, 13
distortion, 175
noise pollution, 154–155
speed of, 152
warmth, 99
sound pressure level, 139
soundcard, computer, 22, 172, 176
Space Cowboy (Jamiroquai), 362
S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface
Format), 157
bass driver, 153
booth monitor, 152–153
cable, 148
computer, 26
cost, 149
drivers, 61
home stereo, 25, 148
mixer connection to, 171–172
positioning, 28–29
power rating, 150–151
powered, 25, 147–148, 149, 171–172
room size, power needed by, 151
testing, 61
tweeter, 153
speeches/spoken words, mixing in, 223,
spinback, 221–222
split cue (headphone monitoring), 195
Split Cue (mixer function), 124
stagnation, avoiding, 272
stands, 27
C.304 (CD deck), 106
Discmaster II (needle), 94
DJ Pro 3000 STK ‘Stick’ headphones, 141
500AL II (needle), 94
500AL (needle), 90, 94, 96
Groovemaster (needle), 94
605SK (needle), 94
turntable, 49
starting error, in beatmatching, 187–188
Start/Stop button, turntable, 68, 80
stereo, home, 25, 147, 148, 171
stereo image, 195–197
stick headphone, 141
stickers, for marking samples, 244–245
storage, of records, 42–43
strobe light, turntable, 56, 69–70
Strong, Jeff (Drumming For Dummies), 185
crowd, respect for, 272–273
developing, 268–273
energy, 269
importance of, 14
jumps, 271–272
key changing, 269–270
stagnation, avoiding, 272
on tape, 273
tempo, increasing, 270–272
stylus, 19
SubBass DJ Academy, 336
subwoofer, 154
Summer, Donna (I Feel Love), 260, 261
sweet spot, 180
Symmetry C (Brainchild), 271
talk-over function, mixer, 60
target light, turntable, 19, 71
tear, 251
Technics RPDJ1210 headphones, 138, 140
Technics SL-DZ1200 (CD deck), 106, 230,
Technics turntable
for beatmatching, 67
cost, 20, 49–50
deckplatter, 70
Kingston Dub Cutter, 33
pitch control, 72
quality of, 19–20
reliability of, 77
SL-1210M5G, 102
slipmats, 87
strobe light, 69–70
1210 models, 19, 50, 68–71, 76–77, 189
tells, 15
beats per minute (BPMs), 180–182
feel for, 182
increasing, 270–272
reset, 78
test recording, 287–288
testing equipment
amplifiers, 61
before buying, 48, 49, 51, 55
cables, 56
CD decks, 58–59
headphones, 61
mixers, 59–60
speakers, 61
turntables, 56–58
theft of music, 104
Tiesto (DJ), 276
time code, 247
time display, CD deck, 21, 105
time indicator, recording software,
timing error, adjusting for, 187
tinnitus, 142
Tip icon, 4
To the Beat of the Drum (La Luna), 360
Toast (software), 295
tonal quality, 128
tone, lining up equipment using,
antiskate setting, 163–164
cartridge connection to, 89
counterweight, 74, 94–95, 161–162, 173
floating, 161–162
height, 58, 74, 162–163, 174
servicing, 84
set-up and connection, 161–164
shapes, 80–81
testing, 57–58
troubleshooting, 173–174
Tong, Pete (radio show host), 36, 334, 360
tonsillitis, of author, 360
tools, 356
torque, turntable, 66, 87, 102
Tower Records (Web site), 40
track split marker, 297
tracking force, 93, 94
Traktor (Native Instruments), 22, 112, 115
trance DJ, 131
trance music, 180
tranceaddict.com (Web site), 266, 335
transform controls, 127
transformer (scratching technique), 253
transition only mix, 297–298
triggers, 207
troubleshooting, set-up and connections,
TRS jack, 159–160
DJing For Dummies
bridge, 278
checkpoint, 319
choosing for mix, 259–268
glue, 277, 278
keying, 266–267
organising, 319
picking and arranging, 276–277
pitch, 267–268
set lists, predetermined, 318
structure of, 13
Tunnel Club, Glasgow, 361
turntable. See also turntable features
belt-driven, 66–67, 160
brands, 19–20
cheap, avoiding, 65–67
connection to mixer, 164–166
cost, 49–50, 102
description, 18–19
digital, 230
direct-driven, 66
feet for, 28
humming noise from, 174
hybrid, 108
motor, 56–57, 66, 67, 83
peripherals, 164
reliability of, 77
requirements for, 19
rotating 90 degrees, 238, 239
for scratch DJs, 238
servicing, 83–84
stylus, 19
testing, 56–58
torque, 66
troubleshooting, 173–174
weight, 100
turntable features. See also turntable
adaptor, 45 rpm, 75
antiskate, 19, 58, 74, 163–164
brake, 80
cabling, removable, 81
cartridge, 75
counterweight, 74
deckplatter, 70, 160
description, 19, 20
digital outputs, 82
headshell, 75
height adjust, 74
Key Lock, 79
Master Tempo, 79
mixer, built-in, 82
needles, 88–96
On/Off switch, 69
outputs, 82
pitch bend, 77–78
pitch control, 19–20, 56–57, 67, 72–73, 79
pitch range, 76
quartz lock, 78
reverse play, 80
RPM button, 69
rubber mat, 86
for scratch DJs, 82
slipmats, 85–88
Start/Stop button, 68, 80
strobe light, 69–70
target light, 71
tempo reset, 78
tonearm, 57–58, 80–81, 161–164,
tweeter, 153
twiddle scratch, 254
uBid (Web site), 54
ultraviolet pens, 244
underground record labels, 32
USB input, mixer, 118
USB (universal serial bus) connection, 157,
Van Dyk, Paul (For an Angel), 184
hook, 205
lyrics of, 205
phrases in, 200–202
mixer, 133
vinyl burner, 33
Vestax turntable
for beatmatching, 67
in clubs, 76
cost, 19–20, 49–50
mixer, built-in, 82–83
pitch fader, 73
reliability of, 77
for scratch DJ, 82
tonearm style, 81
vibrations, minimising, 27–28
formats, 33–34
future of, 107
music available on, 32
personal pride in, 103–104
promos on, 32, 109
pros and cons of format, 99–104
recording from CD to, 33
repairing, 44
RIAA equalisation curve, 99
tune availability on, 100
turntables for, 18–20
wear on, 95
Vinyl Touch turntable, 79
Vinylium (Kingston Dub Cutter), 33
Virgin (Web site), 40
Virtual DJ 3 (software), 23, 112, 247
vocals, removing from track, 344
control, 219–220
headphone, 142
keeping even, 284–286
Volume Control, Windows, 172–173, 176
VU display, mixer, 125, 282
warp function, Live software, 114
warped records, fixing, 45
watts, 150
WAV files, 295, 296, 298
wave display, CD deck, 183, 228
waveform, 101, 293–295
wax paper, to reduce friction, 87–88
WD-40 spray, 84
Web site
Ableton, 23, 115
Amazon, 41
auction, 54–55
Audiojelly, 109
BBC, 334
blogging.com, 339
DJ Academy, 336
DJ advice, 334
DJ Download, 109
DJ Prince, 265
djchat.com, 335
djforums.com, 335
djmandrick.com, 334
djmixtape.net, 338
djpassion.co.uk, 311, 338
djprince.no, 334
djpromoter.com, 311
djrecess.co.uk, 152, 311, 335
earplugstore.com, 144
eBay, 42, 54, 167
eBid, 54
Hard to Find Records, 40
harmonic-mixing.com, 264, 266
Hitsquad Musician Network, 23
HMV, 40
i-dj.co.uk, 334, 335
Ikea, 27
Juno Records, 40
MixedInKey.com, 267
myclubbingspace.com, 311
mydjspace.net, 311, 338
myspace.com, 311
Norcal DJMPA, 336
online shopping, 52–53
podcast.com, 339
PPL, 40
PromoOnly, 109
quizmeme.com, 345
QXL, 54
Radio 1, 36
recess.co.uk, 1, 5
Replay Records, 40
Scratch DJ, 336
SubBass DJ Academy, 336
Tower Records, 40
tranceaddict.com, 266, 335
uBid, 54
Virgin, 40
youtube.com, 334
wedding/party DJ
CD deck for, 105
compilation CD, 35
mixing, 134–135, 224–225
requests, handling, 325–326
white label records, 32
whoops, 89
Windows Sound Recorder system, 292
Woods, Martin (squash coach), 269
DJing For Dummies
XLR connections, 118, 158–159
Zabiela, James (DJ), 337
Zone Out, mixer output, 60
Yousef (DJ), 337
youtube.com (Web site), 334
Yummy (Agh), 361
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