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28 posts tagged

DJing and performance

Live Q&A with John 00 Fleming and Tim Penner

Livestream highlights

The live stream’s banner

Two of my favourite artists, John 00 Fleming and Tim Penner, hosted a fantastic Q&A live stream yesterday that was full of insightful information and motivational speeches that every producer (myself included) should know. Seriously, go watch that video if you missed it live. It’s 2-hours long, but it’s worth it.

For those who don’t have two spare hours, I’ve written a quick summary to highlight some of the most important quotes from these two masters. And in such way, it’s also easier to come and read this again at any time.

On social media

I feel sorry for the next generation. Running a specialist label you definitely get to work with super talented producers and DJs, but they can’t make a career because they don’t know how to handle social media or they not doing it whatsoever. And it pains me because that person should be on main stages on the festivals and have a fruitful career, but they haven’t because they don’t understand social media and not doing what they should be doing.

Ace Ventura on social media

Music is used to be first, and if you were a good DJ, you’re good to go. Now it’s the other way around. If you good at social media, your career will take off regardless of what you got behind you, the music comes afterwards. Nail the social media, and then worry about the music afterwards. It pains me to say, but that seems to be the way it is today.

Nail the social media, and then worry about the music afterwards

On organising music

I can only answer from me personally. I organise playlists as the tools that I need in hand. I never pre-plans set at all, I woke up to every single gig whether I playing an hour set or a 10-hour set, I never know what I’m going to play until I step up to the stage. But the way I’ve got my playlists it’s the musical tools that I know, let’s say ‘Progressive’ which is deep and melodic, you got ‘Progressive’ which is dark and driving, you got ‘Trance’ which is driving, ‘Psychedelic’ which is deep. 

Organising music library

I must have to have about thirty different playlists, but the key to me is learning the tracks. It’s identifying by looking at the track exactly what it’s gonna do as soon as you start playing it.

Sometimes I secretly spy on other DJ’s playlists, when they come along playing before or after me and they got the USB connected to the players. It just pains me that some DJs will have just twelve tracks and nothing else on the USB. I couldn’t play like that!

When you first get tracks you don’t really know how good is gonna be until you play it in a live situation. It might sound quite driving at home but when you play it a club it’s not driving, so when I get back from the gig the first thing I do is spend an hour just going through memorising what I played and adding the extra notes.

What makes a good warm-up set

John 00 Fleming: The short and sweet answer is basically what you [Tim Penner] do. You got a respect the person that you warming-up for, you got to do your homework. And this is a big moment. What a lot of newbies think is their head is “Wow, this is my gig, this is my moment to shine, this is the moment my career going to take off!”, and they just want to play a headline set in that warm-up set. But it does the opposite, you just really upset the DJ you suppose to be opening for.

The importance of proper opening DJs

The point is you’ve got to get people in the room, you got to keep your levels down. You don’t want to walk in a club when everything is just screaming at you and you can’t go to the bar, get a drink and hang out with your mates.

You want to warm-up slowly, but then when everybody standing around the dancefloor that’s the magic moment — it’s knowing exactly when to drop a track that has a bit more energy or familiar track, and that’s when your levels come into play.

You got a respect the person that you warming-up for, you got to do your homework

Tim Penner: It is a really important job to be the most humble artist in that room: you’re setting the mood and you’re setting the vibe for the night. And the thing is that people are too smart now. They may not know that you are the best DJ in the world but they know that fit that motive perfectly for the night, and you set what that whole night is supposed to be about, people know this.

On productions skills

When new artists come into it, there is something that cool and hot at the time and that’s what they wanna make. So it takes time to become a skilled producer, and they’ll start to make that genre. So what you see now is all those artists starting to get better, they started to sound like that generic sound from four years ago. And when I listen to such music, I’m like “it’s not current anymore, it would’ve been four years ago”.

So the best turning point that also was for me is the hardest, is staying true to yourself but also looking ahead of the curve and seeing where the trends are going.

Keeping close to what you wanna make and expressing yourself through music while becoming more skilled as a producer, but not going by trends and trying to cut them off. Those artists that are cutting edge and trying different things, they are the one that stands out now.

On balancing production and life

This balancing production is a battle that every artist faces whether you touring or not, balancing life, in general, can be really hard. That could be one of the biggest hurdles for an artist to get over. You know, you have a family, a spouse, you have emergencies, and other things you want to do to fill your time with.

And wheater it’s touring or Game Of Thrones, there’s a balance between life and work. And you need to find that balance. Everybody faces this battle, and I think it’s a number one reason why people give up.

You need to find a balance, it’s a number one reason why people give up

On the mixdown

There are certain misconceptions about what makes a good track in the end. Mixdown and mastering, I think there are misconceptions about what that is, you know, a lot of artists will put sounds together and try to make a track and be like “well, we’ll fix it in the end”. But mixdown and mastering start at the very first sound that you put down, it’s very important to understand the physics of the sound and what you are trying to accomplish.

What is sound

One of the tricks with figuring out how to make music is how to make sounds sound full. A lot of people will just load their Ableton with a lot of sounds to make it sound full, when in fact the whole goal of making good-flowing music is to give each sound it’s own space to move.

So that is actually a backward concept where you make a sound and you need to let that sound work its magic in its own space. It’s not fighting with other sounds, and that’s the key.

On sharing the knowledge

A lot of people keep things in secret, and if anybody knows me that followed me over the years, I’m an open book. And I think being an open book, sharing your knowledge and helping people is the best way to strengthen our industry, as opposed to keeping it sheltered behind your own wall. 

Advice series

We want to be around for as long as possible, that genre and our feeling, and the way to that is to embrace young artists, help them to get over the hurdles so they gonna be there decades down the road.

sharing your knowledge is the best way to strengthen our industry

Read also: Futurephonic live with Chris Williams and Regan Tacon

Jun 12   DJing and performance   Marketing   Music industry   Quotes   Social media

On audio formats support and DJs

CDJ-2000NXS2 plays everything on anything, but you probably won’t see this player on every venue

I’m wondering, do DJs play MP3s? As far as I know, there aren’t many models that support FLAC or WAV?

Is there any point in playing music with a higher bitrate than 320kbps? Does it make a difference at all? Or it’s up to the gear?

Sergey Khivuk

Sergey, let’s go through each of your questions and statements in order. At first, we go on the formats support, then what DJs play, and then about the bitrate.

Audio formats support

Let’s find out what DJ players support WAV for sure. To do so, just go over to the PioneerDJ official website and take a look at each model’s specs.

Pioneer.com

I’ll put it here at a glance and also add archived products as some of them still might be used at some venues:

Model Plays Sources
CDJ-2000NXS2 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC, FLAC, ALAC USB, CD, SD, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-2000NXS MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD, SD, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-2000 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD, SD, Mac, Win
XDJ-1000MK2 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC, FLAC, ALAC USB, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
XDJ-1000 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-1000MK3 MP3, CDA CD
CDJ-1000MK2 CDA CD
CDJ-1000 CDA CD
CDJ-900NXS MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-900 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC CD
CDJ-850 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD
CDJ-800MK2 MP3, CDA CD
CDJ-800 CDA CD
XDJ-700 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-400 MP3, CDA USB, CD
CDJ-350 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD
CDJ-100S CDA CD

We can make two conclusions by looking at that table.

First, you shouldn’t really worry about WAV support: even among the archive lineup only three models playback MP3 by doesn’t support WAV: CDJ-1000MK3, CDJ-800MK2, and CDJ-400. All the rest either newer and support several file formats, either older and hence playback audio-CDs only.

Second, your audio source of choice is what you should be aware of the most. Let’s say, if all your music on SD cards but there are no CDJ-2000s at the venue, you screwed. Or if you have all your music on a flash drive but there are CDJ-1000s in the club, you screwed too. Or if you have all your music on CDs but at the venue you see any model of the XDJ range, you screwed again.

always have your music on several media sources

A simple rule that every professional DJ should know about: always have a backup. Even if you have CDJ-2000NSX2 in your tech rider and the promoter said it’s no problem, still bring some alternative media source which you could quickly plug-and-play in case some shit happen. And yeah, shit happens!

What format DJs play

I’d like to make a serious face and say “all DJs play WAVs only for sure” or “the majority of DJs play MP3s”, but the truth is, I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t have such data, and pointing out on a random fact is not what I consider right.

I can, however, speak for myself. Personally, I prefer AIF: it has the exact same sound quality as WAV, but supports extra ID3 tags and a cover artwork — which is very handy when dealing with a large media library or browse tracks on a DJ player’s display.

I do use MP3 too, but more like an exception for bootlegs, promos and all that kind of unofficial music.

Is it worth using WAV

In short, the answer is yes. Uncompressed audio obviously better than its compressed comrades, and if you want to go deeper in tech and nerdy stuff, read articles on one of the trustworthy sources like Sound On Sound magazine.

What Data Compression Does To Your Music. Sound On Sound, 2012 

But I’d like to talk about something different.

You see, the audible sound quality is a very tricky thing especially in the clubs and larger venues: the sound goes through a lot of processing before reaching our ears, and it’s very easy to mess it up on every stage it passes through.

For example, if a DJ plays 192 kbps MP3s, the sound will be shitty despite the top-class PA system. Or if a DJ screw the gain control on the mixer and plays in the red zone, the sound will be shitty again despite the audio engineer’s efforts.

And it works the other way around as well. For example, if a drunk sound guy messes up the PA equalization and calibration, the sound will be shitty even with a professional DJ playing lossless formats. Or if a greedy promoter saves some money on the gear rent and put the “100s” CDJs in the DJ booth. Or if a venue has no proofing whatsoever. And so on.

good sound on a party is the result of a teamwork

The point is, making a good sound on a party is a teamwork that relies on many people and things involved. Now answering your question on if it’s worth using WAVs — I think it’s up to a DJ whether he wants to work as a team and ensure the best sound quality, or not. To me the answer is obvious.

Jun 3   Advice   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

2017   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.

2017   DJing and performance   I am   Photo

Playlist or tracklist

What’s the difference, or why you probably use the wrong word

Rekordbox 5. Example of a software that lets you create playlists.

Quite often I see DJs posting their mixes with a list of played tracks, and they call those lists a “playlist”. Well, that’s wrong. A proper word for this is a “tracklist”, or “tracklisting” if you will.

Here is what the difference between these two.

playlist is a list of audio or video content that can be organised and played back in any order. The point is you as a user have a control over the playback of individual items. You can playback it sequential or you can shuffle it, or you can add more items — like adding songs to a playlist on iTunes or adding videos to a playlist on YouTube.

tracklisting, on a contrast, is a list of tracks appearing in a particular given order. In case of DJ mixes, it’s set in stone, you cannot change it.

So, when a DJ plays a set he may have tracks organised in playlists, but once he recorded his set, the list of the tracks he played become a tracklist.

Perhaps, I sound like a nerd (and I am, indeed) but I hope it’ll help to make things clear.

2017   Advice   DJing and performance   Music industry

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:

my-dj-bag.jpg
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
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