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20 posts tagged

DJing and performance

My Ableton setup explained

Vlog pilot episode

Many people find my humble advice blog useful and I’m happy to hear that. However, the number one request that I get asked all the time is to make videos, not just articles in the written form. I find myself watching more and more YouTube channels lately, so I totally get that.

Well, you asked — you get it. In fact, I’m thinking to make this whole vlog thing on a regular basis, although I’m not entirely sure yet. Think about this video as a pilot episode.

I know some people prefer to watch a video on Facebook, so I’ll put that link here as well.

Three fun facts. I had to cut almost half of the content from this video, otherwise it would be 40 minutes long. This video took me about 20 hours to make, not including time spent on a couple of failed attempts. Since it was the first montage I made in Final Cut Pro X ever, I’ve watched 70 video lessons alongside with making it.

Aug 17   Ableton   Behind the scenes   DJing and performance   Vlog

What’s in your DJ bag

Hi Daniel, I’m curious what do you put in your DJ bag for gigs? How to be sure you don’t forget anything? The reason I ask this is that I’ve got lucky to get my first international gig, don’t have much experience yet. Any tips on this?

Jared

Hey Jared, congrats on your first gig :-)

The things DJs put in their bags vary depending on their setup, event type, travel destination, and habits. I’ll show what I typically put in my bag, but before I’d like to give some tips that might help.

Essentials first

First things first, put whatever is essential for your performance. Whether you are a laptop DJ or playing on CDs, USBs or vinyl, put this first.

For USB sticks, be sure it’s not formatted as NTFS because Pioneer players won’t read flash drives with that file system.

For a laptop, be sure it runs your DJ software nice and smooth. Clean it from unnecessary apps that might be running in the background and slow down the performance. Don’t forget the charger with an appropriate plug and the cables.

Always have a plan B

Shit happens. I think none will argue with this. A software can crash, CDs can get scratched, USB stick can get lost. With that in mind, I highly suggest having a plan B and get some alternative source of music.

Let’s say, you perform on CDJ2000s with a USB stick, but entering the DJ booth you see CDJ1000 which doesn’t have a USB port. As being said, shit happens. You can start yelling to the organiser that he didn’t fulfil your tech rider but it probably won’t help. What would help, however, is a CD wallet that you’ve prepared in advance.

Hopefully none of these will happen, but for those rare case when it actually does happen, this might save your performance. I don’t DJ with the CDs anymore but still keep several discs in my bag.

Spare pairs

Continuing the previous point, I also suggest having extra pairs of some basic things. Get a spare USB cable, get an extra charging adapter, get another USB stick. Just in case.

Again, you’ll probably (and hopefully) won’t need any of those things, but it’s better safe than sorry. And it doesn’t occupy much space either.

Travel

Once you packed everything needed for your performance, time to get ready for the travel. Take your international passport and be sure it has at least six months before expiring date and at least one page for the stamp. Don’t forget your visa if you need it.

If you’re planning to have a carry-on bag only, be sure its weight and measurements fit the airline’s terms. Otherwise, you’ll be asked to put your bag in the baggage, which might end up not quite well for the equipment.

If you’re an iOS user, I would also advise adding your boarding passes to the built-in Wallet app. It works offline and shows your passes in a very convenient way. Just make sure to have a nice and easy access to your flight info, especially when you have multiple flights.

As for the question what’s in my bag, I though it would be boring to simply list all the things, so here is a picture I took for you:

Stuff that I typically put in my DJ bag. Cloth not included since it’s depend on the destination point weather and travel time

Fellow DJs, what you guys put in your bags? More cables? A travel pillow? I’m not a very frequent flyer either, so would love to hear some tips from more experienced colleagues too.

Jul 19   Advice   DJing and performance

What do you need to play a live set

I have a couple of questions about playing a live act because I’m quite confused now about this topic. What do you need to do if you finished a few tracks and want to play them as a live act?

I watched some videos but I only saw people launching a few clips in ableton but I don’t understand how to play for example an hour long live act with many of your tracks. How to prepare your tracks? Chopping into kick, bass, leads etc? What about the arrangement? Sorry for the loads of question but I got lost in this.

Thanks for your help and also for this amazing advice blog I think it helps a lot for us!

Viktor

Viktor, I cannot answer your question in details saying like “chop it here” or “map this to that” because there are a plenty of things I don’t know, giving any specific advice without knowing your music or setup as least would be unprofessional.

First of all, the question is what do you want to achieve. Why do you want to play live sets in the first place? How exactly do you want to make your tracks played live different from playing a record? How would you like to build up the set, both musically and energy-wise?

The next big question is the musical genre you playing because there are some differences too. For example, is it a Techno or Progressive that slowly builds up over time? Or it’s a fast-paced Psytrance with several melodic layers played simultaneously? Compare these two snippets:

I would say, the more intense, complex, and fast-paced your music is, the less freedom you have on the stage. Well, no surprise: supposedly you have only two hands, so the numbers of things you can manipulate in a given time are pretty limited. And it’s important to understand your limitation because it allows to think of possibilities.

The next is equipment. Various gear allows to play and map things differently, hence your Ableton setup would be different as well. Let’s say, do you have a drum machine, sequencer, sampler, synthesiser, effects rack? Or you have just a MIDI-controller with 8 rotary knobs and that’s it? I’m not saying that having a MIDI-controller isn’t enough to play a live set, but again it’s a limitation that you have to be aware of to prepare the set accordingly.

At last but not least, where are you going to play a live set is another thing to consider because live sets require a certain type of event and audience. Most clubs don’t give artists time for changeover and sometimes there are simply no space in the booth for any extra piece of equipment. You have to negotiate and discuss it with promoters first, these are the real things you have to deal with if you are going to play live, it’s even more important that thinking of what button you should map on a controller to launch a clip.

I’m sorry that this blog gave you more questions that answers. We can theorycraft about preparing tracks for a potential live set of course, but I’d advise answering these questions to yourself first to get a bit of real-life sense.

P.S. Watch this amazing video by Minilogue playing a live jam studio session. They also have another video explaining this setup: what each piece of equipment does, how the signal flows is set, what’s going on in Ableton of each of their computer, etc. I find it inspiring. Perhaps, it’ll answer some of your questions.

2017   Advice   DJing and performance   Music production

Time traveller’s archive — 14

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Aleksey aka Sonic Elysium on sound design
  1. Ultimate Kick and Bass Tutorial by Sonic Elysium. Kick and bass are probably two of the most frequently asked topics, people asking how to synthesise it, how to EQ, how to fit them together. And I’ve written pretty much all about it, see “Kick and bass” tag. However, if you prefer to watch rather than read, I highly recommend watching this tutorial by Sonic Elysium, he nailed it.
  2. TechMuze Academy podcast with Budi Voogt. Interesting talk about marketing, promo campaigns, and automations. “Do you see a benefit in paid ad campaigns for producers? I’m actually inclined to say no to Facebook and Instagram [...] Revenue streams in music are very indirect. ”
  3. Is DJing just about beat matching? Great blog, as always from John 00 Fleming. I’ve also written about it before, see Vinyl vs. Sync button.
  4. A Beginner’s Guide To Audio Cables. If you don’t know what is balanced or unbalanced cable or what the difference between RCA and XLR — this article on DJ TechTools is right for you.
2017   DJing and performance   Marketing   Music industry   Music production   Time traveller's archive

Backstory series. Part 2

First local gigs as a DJ

Previously in the backstory series I wrote about the Psychedelic community I created, and today I’ll tell how it affected my career.

Let’s get back in 2006. Psyplanet became a quite large website and our team grew up to twelve members. As a community founder, I had to do a lot of coordination, negotiation, and all in all it gave me a huge experience.

Psyplanet helped me to know the scene inside-out: I knew pretty much every professional and enthusiast involved, such DJs, artists, promoters, agents, deco designers, flyer designers, photographers, street teams. And to be fair, the Psytrance scene in Moscow was quite big at the time.

But it wasn’t just that. It also helped to build a trust. I didn’t have ambitions of being a professional DJ back then, but due to relationship with the party promoters, I played as a DJ too.

Flyers of the Psytrance party series in Rotonda Club, organized by Syntex Lab. The big flyer on the right is one of the first parties where I played as a DJ. It was July 6, 2006. See also Psytrance flyers 2005—2007

Here some are of the tunes I played at that time just for you to feel the mood:

For various reasons — mostly, financial — I had to shut the website down. Psyplanet didn’t make me rich, but it doesn’t matter because it gave much more than that — a priceless experience, networking, and industry insights from which I learnt a lot from.

Advice: playing local gigs is a good way to start a career, but don’t just come to promoters saying “Hey, I’m a DJ, do you want me to play at your party?” because the answer is most certainly will be no. Go to their parties a few times first, find out who is the main person in charge for artists, have a little chat. Ask if they need some help, perhaps volunteers or a street team to promote an upcoming event. Slowly but surely, you build a trust. And now compare it to that random guy who came up and said “Hey, I’m a DJ”, — who do you think have more chances to be a warm-up DJ at the next event? The answer is clear.

2017   Backstory series   Behind the scenes   Career   DJing and performance

Beat Repeat MIDI-mapping

Hi Daniel, as far as I’m aware you are using Xone K2 controller. How did you control Beat Repeat when played a set at PDJ TV (at 0:37 sec)? It seems that you turning on and controlling the repeat value by a single rotary knob, but I can’t figure out how to map it that way.

Neil Paterson

Well spotted, Neil! Yes, I use Allen & Heath Xone:K2 in my current setup, and I trigger Beat Repeat and controlling its value with a single knob.

Effects like reverb or delay typically have a Dry/Wet parameter, so it’s easy to adjust the desired amount of parameter and the rotary knobs of Xone K2 are perfect for this. But Beat Repeat is different, and basically you have to map two separate parameters: turning the device “on” and “off” and the repeat value. And this is very clumsy when playing a set.

Beat Repeat default parameters

The trick is to make some starting point where nothing happens whilst the device is “on”. It can be achieved in few different ways, you can just set the same parameters as I do:

  • Interval to 1/4
  • Grid to 1/6
  • Gate to 4/16
  • Turn on “No Trpl” button

You see, since we turned on the “no triplets” button and set the initial grid position to 1/6, nothing really happens. it means we can map this as a maximum left position of the knob to emulate the “off” state.

Beat Repeat trick

Half work is done, now we have to make a proper mapping. By default, when you map the Grid parameter, it sets 1/256 as a minimum value (left position of the knob) and 1 Bar as a maximum (right position of the knob). Obviously, we don’t need that.

First, you need to do the right-click choose “Invert Range” because we want our knob to control the grid in the opposite way. And now set the minimum value for 1/6 as this is Beat Repeat initial state as described above. I also suggest limiting the maximum at around 1/48 because 1/256 is way too extreme.

Mapping the Grid parameter with inverted range.

That’s it — this is exactly what I used during the set at PDJ TV.

But we can go further and bring this effect into a level by adding an extra EQ that would cut the low frequencies along with the intensity of the Beat Repeat. Here’s how to do it.

Add EQ Eight with a low-cut filter after the Beat Repeat and group them into a new Effect Rack (Select both → ⌘+G). Now do the right-click on the Grid and select “Map to Macro 1”, and then do the same for the EQ’s filter frequency:

Mapping both parameters into a single macro knob

Now open macro mapping tab by clicking on the “Map” button and set a maximum value for the filter frequency at around 1000 Hz. It doesn’t have to be precise, but I suggest limiting the frequency that way otherwise the signal will be completely filtered.

And here is a tiny video I’ve recorded (excuse the shaking camera and the editing, I’m not a pro on making videos). You don’t need to do this effect that often obviously, this is just for the demonstration purpose:

Track playing on the video: Daniel Lesden – Ignition (Waveform Remix).
2017   Ableton   Advice   DJing and performance

Time traveller’s archive — 11

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Richie Hawtin explains his DJ setup with gestures
  1. How I play: Richie Hawtin Model-1 DJ Setup. Despite that this video has a solo marketing purpose for promoting the Model-1 mixer, it’s still nice to know what happening in the mind of such an experienced DJ as Richie Hawtin.
  2. Roland TB-303 vs. TT-303 vs. TB-3 vs. TB-03. Great audio and visual comparison of the legendary TB-303 with its modern reincarnations, made by ADSR. This might be useful especially for those who planning to buy one of these synthesizers.
  3. Everything you hear on film is a lie. Nice and entertaining insights at TED from sound effects designer Tasos Frantzolas on how our mind tricks us when we hearing sounds; most “authentic” sounds (to our ears and brain) are actually fake. Now every time I watch a rainy scene I hear crispy bacon.
  4. 7 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me About Releasing Music. It’s good to read a confirmation of what I’ve written about myself. Particularly, this part: “There are lots of labels out there who may offer to release your music, but the reality is, unless they’re really putting in some serious promotion efforts, and have a strong, well established fanbase who are keen to follow the label, and not just the producers they have released, then you’ll probably not see much come from it.”.

    And this: “Let’s face it, you’re highly unlikely to make enough to live on just from selling music. Those making money from music are doing LOADS more than just releasing. We’re talking releasing music, remixing, DJing or performing live, doing sample packs or patches, tutoring, licensing, producing for other people, running events, and more. And even then, some will be doing other things to supplement income that are not related to music.”
2017   DJing and performance   Music industry   Sound design   Time traveller's archive

Dealing with party promoters prior to the event

What to do when as a DJ you don’t know your set time and promoter ignores you

cover black

Hi Dan, I have been asked to play at a festival here in my city and it was originally supposed to be situated in a very beautiful bushland place near by. Due to some issues that I don’t know exactly that have had to change venues and it has been moved to a showground, so totally not a natural environment. People have purchased pre-sale tickets and there is a large number of them that are very upset of the changes as it was last minute, with only 4 days till the event opens.

From a Dj perspective, I haven’t been given any information about set time, start time, genre, event flow, nothing. It’s very frustrating because I want to deliver exactly what should be required for the event. So I guess I’m asking for your thoughts on this as you probably have a bit more experience dealing with promoters and other Dj’s.

My feelings on the issue is that I’m getting very grumpy about it all. Part of me actually wants to withdraw from it all together, purely on principle. Another part of me wants to go and perform, but from where I am, I don’t feel as though I am being respected or treated properly as a DJ for the event. I’ll leave it there – hopefully it all makes sense.

Vernon Jones

Thanks for sharing this, Vern. I totally understand your pain, and sadly, this is a pretty common situation for up-and-coming DJs. Let’s take a look at this from two points of view.

Party organizer’s perspective

First, think from the organizer’s perspective. It’s no-brainer to predict that changing some nice venue to a worse one would piss people off, so I bet they wouldn’t do this without a strong reason.

Party organizing world is full of surprises, and mostly those aren’t the kind of surprise you would like to get. And if they encounter some serious issues, they probably simply don’t have enough hands to both handling the issue and communicating with the artists. It’s easy to blame someone, but I wouldn’t suggest doing this until you know all the details, it’s really anything can happen.

A DJ’s perspective

Now from your perspective. The fact you don’t know event’s genre, start time etc is actually your fault. If you dealing with the promoter directly without some manager from your side, the first thing you should do once the gig is confirmed is to get info: who’s the main person in charge or ‘emergency contact’ for the occasions like this, what’s your set time etc. 

Preparing for a live set

Sometimes it’s simply impossible to know the exact timetable in advance, but at least you should know what kind of set they expect you to play, whether it be an opening set, a warm-up set before the headliner, or a peak-time set, or a closing set.

Opening DJs

Advice

If you want me to give some advice on what to do in this situation, I would certainly not suggest withdrawing from this because it would be unprofessional from you not arriving at the event at all. Just come at the place, look around for some of the organizer’s crew, ask if everything is alright and do they have timeslots for DJs because you still don’t know when you supposed to play. Keep it calm, don’t start with yelling even if you really want to. Even ask if they need some help.

The worse thing they might tell you is something like “sorry man, we no longer have a slot for you”, so you’ll get your days off for nothing. It’s frustrating, but not the end of the world. At least this way you’ll do everything you can do.

When you act like a professional, people feel it. Because it’s a real pleasure to deal with people who control emotions, keep rational thinking, and even offer some help in the stress situations like this.

I hope it makes sense.

The picture on top is here to help people notice this blog on their Facebook feeds. Thanks to Trey Ratcliff for this beautiful shoot from Burning Man Festival.

2016   Advice   DJing and performance

The bridge technique in DJ mixes

Hi Daniel. I follow your advice about harmonic mixes and it helps a lot. I have a quick question: how would you mix two tracks if they share the similar feeling and you really want to put them in a set, but they have different harmonic keys? Would you sacrifice harmonic mixing to keep the vibe going?

Timothy Huff

Timothy, harmonic mixing is not a rule, you have to trust your ears and instincts. If the mixing doesn’t sound right, you probably should find another track to mix with.

But sometimes you may really want to mix some tracks with a similar vibe while they aren’t quite compatible for different reasons: because of different tempo or rhythm structure. And I’d like to tell you about a technique which I call “the bridge”.

February’s Rave Podcast edition was quite a special as it was 5 Year Anniversary, so I’ve decided to play two of my all-time favorite tracks from the 90’s:

I wanted to make a slow-paced mix allowing each track to reveal it beauty rather than instantly switch one track to another one.

The problem was that these two particular tracks are driven by different elements with different stress patterns. On top of that, the key of the second track is one semitone lower than the first one, as the result, it would give a not quite pleasant transition.

Rhythm structure basics

In other words, this wouldn’t work:

Luzon Age Of Love

To solve this, I’ve decided to put one more track in between. But not some random track, it had to be very specific. On the one hand, it should keep the original vibe going rather than drag it into another direction. On the other hand, it should have some common elements of both tracks and prepare the ground to become a bridge between these two.

Luzon → The Bridge → Age Of Love

Here’s a screenshot from my Ableton project that sums it up visually:

Ableton project overview. The bridge used in Rave Podcast 069 along with some extra loops

Note how “the bridge” overlaps the Track A, it almost didn’t sound by itself. You may also notice that the bridge is chopped in several pieces — that’s because I didn’t need its breakdown and climax; basically, I just looped the intro.

As you can hear, this bridge keeps the original vibe and haunting vocals while bringing a new drive in the lower spectrum and percussions which will also appear in the Track B.

Here’s another, more fast-paced example. This time, I wanted to put Thomas Datt’s “The Psychonaut” at the end of the mix but its bassline didn’t quite fit the bassline pattern of the previous track. So I’ve put one more track in between, “the bridge”, and mixed it on a triplet grid.

Ableton project overview. The bridge used in Rave Podcast 068 is preparing the ground for “The Psychonaut”

I’ve been using this technique for years, and you can hear much more examples in my mixes, lives sets, and radio show.

I hope it helps.

2016   Advice   DJing and performance

The importance of proper opening DJs

How to warm-up, not burn

cover

Who are the “opening DJs” and what’s their role?

Patrick 

Good parties are made of many different aspects: good venue, good sound system, good artists, good bar, and even good toilets. There are much more things that all together make event stands out, and today I’d like to focus on one of them — an opening DJs.

Opening DJ is a person who playing first at the beginning of the event. Alternatively, they called a warm-up DJs. And I believe that opening DJs have the hardest and a very underrated role.

The problem

A DJ think: “Finally I’ve got a gig, this is my time to shine! I’ll show everyone how talented I am!”. And he drops the most banging tracks on the empty dancefloor, or to some people who are completely not ready to this yet. As the result often we see something like this. Please don’t be like that guy. Just don’t.

Laidback Luke explains opening DJs at Dancefair Seminar

The philosophy

An opening DJ should:

  1. Welcome guests.
    People won’t rush to the dancefloor as soon as they come in to the club, even if you drop the top hit track. They want to meet with other people, drink something, i.e. get into the right mood.
  2. Fill up the bar.
    “A bar? I’m a DJ, I have to fill up the dancefloor!”. That’s not really true. First few hours after doors opening is the most profitable for the bars (look at p1 above). If you’ll play a proper background music like it should be at the beginning, party organizer or venue owner will appreciate it.
  3. Prepare crowd for the headliner.
    Prepare means gives them anticipation that something big is about to happen. Tease them, but don’t give those “big things”. Let the headliner bang it. Warm-up dancefloor, not burn it.
A small remark to this picture: this is pretty rough “energy lifetime” scenario for an 8-hours long club event. Primetime energy level may be vary depending on the lineup, as well finishing up time scenario could be different: from rough stop on top of the energy to a very long gentle slowing down. Warming up part is what we’re talking about in this article, so the rest is grayed out.

You see, during the first hour, energy level must be very low and almost not growing up. Just enough to welcome the clubbers on positive vibes. At the end of the second hour, you can start to slowly increase energy, and nearly at the finish of your set you can drop a few tracks with a similar energy level as the headliner will play, but not higher.

John 00 Fleming gives very insightful talk about warm up DJ’s in his vlog

And this not only one man’s opinion, many credible artists think the same. John 00 Fleming, who’s in DJing for two decades now, is one of them.

Advice

  1. If you don’t know a headliner that will play after you, make a research before the event: listen to his tracks, try to find his recorded live shows — it will help you programming the set.
  2. If you haven’t played in this particular venue yet, try to find out as much as you can: some specific things in local crowd habits and behaviors. Speak with the venue manager, the party promoters, the other DJs or people who’ve been there before. In fact, this advice might be useful not only to the opening DJs.
  3. Never, never play tracks with higher BPM than the headliner. If the headlining DJ of this particular event plays a 145+ BPM Full On PsyTrance, it’s okay to start with Psy-Progressive at 130 BPM. If the headliner’s music is 135+ BPM Psy-Progressive, then start with 125+ BPM deep Progressive or even Techno.
  4. Don’t play at full loudness — drop it down up to 90~95% of total volume. Here is the hint: the louder music is, as better we think it is. That’s our body language. That’s why “loudness wars” exists is the music industry. So, if you playing at 90~95% of volume and then the headliner will increase it to 100%, his music will sounds “better”, harder and more pumping.
  5. Don’t play tracks made by the other artists that will be playing after you.
2016   Advice   DJing and performance
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