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25 posts tagged

DJing and performance

Key Lock, Master Tempo, and the sound quality

I mix using Traktor and a MIDI-controller, and often I play a track faster or slower than its original tempo. And while I’m doing this, I hear a very noticeable distortion especially in the low-end area, it’s like the bassline loses all the juices. Technically, I realise there is some interpolation happening or something. But as far as I remember, when I mixed on a Pioneer mixer DJM-800 and 2000NXS, there was nothing like this. So, my question is: how to avoid this? Should I mix in Ableton instead if there is no such stretching issue? By the way, I’m using Key Lock to keep the original pitch of the track.

Sergey Khivuk

Sergey, it’s all about the Key Lock function you use. Pioneer call it Master Tempo, but it works the same. I’m going to call it Master Tempo too, just to avoid confusion.

You see, tempo and pitch are two physical properties that bent together. Slowing down the tempo lower down the pitch, and increasing the tempo raise up the pitch.

Let’s listen to a few example with a vocal song to get a better understanding what’s happening. Here is the original song:

If we significantly increase the tempo, the voice will sound like a hamster on steroids:

And if we significantly decrease the tempo, Lana will sound almost like a man:

Notice duration of these samples: it’s the same fragment, but in its original tempo it’s 29 seconds long, in the increased tempo — 18 seconds, and in the decreased tempo — 46 tempo. So the tempo and the pitch does bend together, indeed. Nothing fancy so far.

Now let’s turn on the Master Tempo function. I’m using Ableton to emulate this, but on Traktor and Pioneer gear it would be the same:

On a higher tempo, we certainly hear that Lana sing faster whilst her voice timbre remains almost clear. Well, at least not a hamster-like in the pitched-up example above.

Now let’s do all the same but with Psytrance. Here’s a track from Lyktum, 140 BPM, D#m:

Here’s the same fragment, but at 150 BPM:

It’s got about a semitone higher and the energy has changed, but still quite alright.

And now also 150 BPM, but with a Master Tempo emulation to keep the original pitch:

This is awful. The bass is fuzzy, and mids and highs aren’t clear — it’s like listening to a 64 kbps MP3 (FYI, the samples uploaded here are in 320 kbps). I guess this is somewhat what you are experiencing?

Let’s recap:

  1. For a vocal and non-dance music like Ambient, the Master Tempo feature might work, potentially.
  2. For all electronic dance music, including Psytrance, the Master Tempo is certainly a no-no.

Keep in that that Master Tempo always altering the sound and decreasing the quality, sometimes it’s just more audible, and sometimes less. Even Pioneer states this:

“The sound is digitally processed, so the sound quality decreases”. Pioneer CDJ-2000 User Manual, page 15.

To avoid quality loss, simply don’t use Master Tempo and try to mix tracks with a roughly the same tempo. If you mix a 140 BPM track with a 142 BPM track, that’s fine. If you mix a 140 BPM track with a 148 BPM track, the pitch change will be noticeable.

On average, every ±6–7 beats per minute lowering or raising the pitch for one semitone. For example, a 145 BPM Cm lower down to 138 BPM would Bm. Or, a 140 BPM D#m increased to 146 BPM would Em. Hence why it’s a rule of thumb to mix the tracks within the 2–3 BPM difference tops.

I hope it makes sense.

Read also: Harmonic mixing

Dec 27   Advice   DJing and performance

Back to Pioneer

For the last five years, I’ve been performing using Ableton with a MIDI-controller and even recently made a vlog explaining this setup.

Now I’m thinking to get back to the classic Pioneer’s CDJ gear. I spent last week in Moscow practising on CDJs to get myself back in shape with traditional DJing (yes, no more sync). It seems I have to make a new video telling more about this switch? Let me know in the comments if it sounds interesting to you.

Here are a few photos from my DJing sessions:

P.S. Follow me on Instagram to see more lifestyle photos like this.

Dec 10   DJing and performance   I am   Photo

How I prepare for gigs

Vlog 004

This vlog episode is all about my travel to London where I’m playing at The Egg Loft at Dance:Love:Hub. Also in this video I share 3 tips how I prepare for gigs, so I hope you’ll learn something new as well.

What do you guys think about this video format, pace, and duration? I’m still not feeling quite comfortable in front of a camera, so any suggestions are welcome.

P.S. Soundtrack credits: Sideform​ and AudioFire​

2017   DJing and performance   Gigs   United Kingdom   Vlog

Time traveller’s archive — 15

Cool stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Ableton explains the difference between electronic and acoustic sounds
  1. Get Started Making Music. Ableton launched this cool little website with some basic music production concepts. I like the interactive tools here, pretty fun and useful at the same time.
  2. Laurent Garnier DJ set at Boiler Room, Lyon. This isn’t a new video, but still such a pleasure to watch (and listen!) such a master behind the decks. These two are my favourite moments: 1:20:03 and 2:29:39.
  3. Futurephonic Live with Chris and Regan. A cool live Q&A with two very influential people in the Psytrance festivals scene. I highly suggest watching the full video, but just in case, I’ve made a quick summary and highlights.
  4. No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988 to 1999. A nice collection of party flyers from the previous century, I like that. Check also my Psytrance flyers 2005–2007.
  5. Horror Musical Instrument – The Apprehension Engine. This is genius and creepy. I would probably use some of these sounds in my production!
2017   Ableton   DJing and performance   Music production   Psy scene   Time traveller's archive

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.

2017   Ableton   Advice   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.

2017   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   Gigs

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
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