Category Archives for The Craft

What the DJ’s Craft Is About

The DJ’s craft is everything that goes beyond knowing your equipment and possessing the necessary technical skills. It begins when you graduate from your bedroom and start playing real gigs.

In this part of the website, I’m talking about how to break free of that bedroom confinement, the basics of DJ self-promotion and other useful things such as where to get the music, how to play warm up slots and much more.

Gilles Peterson playing in a club

What Is a DJ?

Before we get into mastering the DJ’s craft, it’s important to get a clear understanding of what a DJ actually is and what he or she does. It’s all the more necessary if you take into account all the myths and delusions surrounding the craft of the person behind the decks. In this article, I’ll try to provide a clear explanation of what a disc jockey is (and what he/she is not), while debunking some of the popular myths about our profession.

DJ: Definition and Myths

Larry Levan

DJ Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage

Let’s start with the definition of the word “DJ” as given in the DJing Tips Glossary:

DJ: A person who plays recorded music for other people.

That’s it, no more and no less. Re-read this sentence. As you can see, it doesn’t say that DJs necessarily make music, that they can scratch, or that a true DJ must play vinyl.

Actually, I think that most of the myths surrounding the DJ’s profession have to do with the fourth word in this definition: “plays.” More often than not, people think that a DJ plays music just like a pianist or a violinist does, whereas in reality he or she “simply” plays tracks made by (usually) other people.

Of course, you can play records for your audience in different ways. You can be simply kicking one tune in after the other one has ended. But you can also be adding sound effects, doing smooth transitions between the records so there are no gaps, mixing two or more tracks or, finally, scratching. The end result may be so different from what you hear on the original records that it’s appropriate to refer to the turntables as a musical instrument (like in turntablism). Still, the gist of what DJs do remains unchanged: they play tracks.

Types of DJs

Radio DJ

One mean radio DJ dude

There are three main types of disc jockeys: radio DJs, mobile DJs and club DJs. As you would expect, there are certain specifics to each type.

Radio DJs have to talk a lot. They take listeners’ calls, introduce traffic reports, share some celebrity gossip – all this, of course, in addition to playing music on air. (The latter, incidentally, is more characteristic of dedicated radio shows. What you hear on the radio day in and day out comes mostly from the playlists compiled by the station’s program director weeks in advance.)

Radio DJs don’t mess with the records’ original sound and play “album,” or “radio” versions of tracks that are usually no more than 4 minutes long.

Mobile DJ

A DJ at a wedding

Mobile DJs are the guys who you see spinning at weddings, high school proms or Bar Mitzvahs. They often have their own sound equipment – from mics to speakers to DJ decks – that they bring in with them to the party. The type of events that these DJs have to play makes having a vast collection of music of many genres a must.

Mobile DJs do manipulate the sound, but only to a certain extent because of the variety of music styles that they have to play during a set. As far as the talking goes, it’s pretty much limited to occasional announcements and shout outs.

Finally, you guessed it, club DJs play at night clubs. Surrounded by massive hype, club DJing is arguably the most glamorous category of DJing there is. Tracks played at a typical club party normally belong to a narrow sub-genre of dance music (like hard house, uplifting trance, nu-disco etc.), and so it’s not unusual for a club DJ to “specialize” in a particular genre and position themselves accordingly. Such specialization, incidentally, allows for more freedom in manipulating the tracks played. In clubs, some aspects of such manipulation (like mixing) go without saying.

Gilles Peterson playing in a club

Gilles Peterson at the decks

DJing Tips is dedicated to club DJing, and so it won’t hurt to provide a bit more details on the noble craft of the club DJ. Just like the other types of DJs, the club DJ essentially plays – one after another – recorded dance tracks. At the same time, he or she…

  • …is not limited to a single record medium and may play tracks from vinyl records, CDs or even thumb drives…
  • …mixes the beginning of a new track with the ending of the previous one to avoid gaps and make the transitions between songs as smooth as possible…
  • …may add sound effects or lay samples on top of the records played.

The tracks that club DJs play are also a bit different from what you’d be able to get in a typical record store. Club DJs normally play long versions of the dance tracks, produced specifically for them. Thus if a radio (album) version of a song is only 3-4 minutes long, its “extended” DJ version can be as long as 6-8 minutes.

Of course, the division of DJs into the three types listed above is not set in stone. A club DJ may have their own radio show, during which they spin dance tracks on air just like they’d do it in a club. And the mobile DJ that you’ve seen today at your girlfriend’s birthday party may also be the resident DJ of one of the local pubs.

In any case, I hope that your understanding of the DJ’s craft got much better after reading this article. As you can see, what a DJ does behind the decks is not a mystery of some sort but something that is pretty easy to grasp. I’m making it even easier in my next articles on DJing Tips, so let’s move on!

Vinyl fan t-shirt

CD and Digital Downloads vs. Vinyl

The biggest dilemma you’ll face when shopping for DJ gear is whether to buy vinyl turntables or CD decks (or to go for another kind of digital setup). The choice you make will in turn determine what music medium will dominate your music collection.

To start off, here’s a simple truth that will be central in helping you resolve the analog vs. digital problem. The crowd on the dancefloor couldn’t care less where the sound comes from: vinyl turntables, CD players, your iPhone, laptop or a reel-to-reel tape deck – as long as you’re playing quality music that makes them dance!

After you grasp this simple fact, it becomes clear that the most important factor in making a choice between vinyl and digital media is what works better for you the DJ. What’s easier to buy, vinyl records or digital file downloads? What’s more convenient to store and carry around? Which medium gives you more creative freedom? Which one offers better sound quality?

Storage and Transportation

One CD holds 2.5 to 3 times more music than a 12” single. It’s also considerably lighter and smaller (they called it “compact disc” for a reason, right?). This difference becomes very tangible after you schlep a box full of records to a party and back. I guarantee that you’ll soon wish that you were that guy with just a CD wallet and headphones on his hands.

Things hardly get better after you become famous. You now have to haul your precious plastic through airports. Worse yet, occasionally you may be asked to check in your records, which is begging for them to be damaged or stolen. On the other hand, a CD wallet or case fits in overhead compartment easily. And if the unlikely happens and your CDs get damaged, you still have all your tracks on your laptop (well, I hope so).

Last, the playing of a record is a mechanical process. This means that the record and the stylus are slowly worn out. Also, to ensure consistent sound quality and the longevity of your records, you have to regularly clean them to remove the dust and the dirt that accumulate. (The needles need to be cleaned, too.) And I’m not even going into the bass feedback problem in clubs and open-air gigs.

I have a lot of records with me, no vinyl though. It’s not a matter of convenience, it’s just that vinyl is so outdated nowadays. I can make a track in my hotel room today, and play it for the crowd tomorrow. That never happens with vinyl. I played a lot of acetates at the end of my vinyl period—I used to make tracks and get them pressed in four or five days—but the quality was always so bad and they would skip all the time. The vinyl days for me are over. I still buy vinyl, but only albums, and just to play. For DJing, vinyl is a nightmare.

– DJ Tiesto, The AV Club

Sound Quality

This argument goes back to 1980s when the CD was first introduced. There are folks who claim that vinyl records sound “warmer” and “richer” than digital audio. Their (no less reputable) opponents dispose of those claims as popular myths. Whatever the case may be, it’s safe to assume that for a dance record released in the past couple of decades, a digital master was used anyway. This kind of makes this whole argument irrelevant.

Note: In the above paragraph, I’m talking about true CD quality (or uncompressed WAV sound). MP3s are a totally different story because MP3 is a lossy compression format where sound quality deterioration is inevitable. On the other hand, in properly conducted tests, most people can’t hear the difference between a CD (or a WAV file) and a good 192 kbit/s MP3.

Cost and Availability

Vinyl continued to be the medium of new dance music releases long after CDs became mainstream. No wonder, since it took manufacturers almost 20 years to release a digital deck that would allow DJs to manipulate a CD in much the same way as they would a vinyl record.

Several years ago, it finally became common for dance music to be released as digital downloads alongside the vinyl. Moreover, the labels started digging into their back catalogs to offer older tunes for download as well.

A new 12-inch single, which typically has 3 to 5 remixes of a track, costs in the neighborhood of $10-12. As MP3 or WAV downloads, those same tracks can often be purchased for $1.50 to $2.70 apiece. So not only are digital downloads generally cheaper, they also allow you to only buy the remixes you’re interested in. That alone can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Also, when dealing with digital music, you can have the song within seconds after buying it. Not so with vinyl. Unless you have a dance record store in your city, you have to have the records mailed to you, which takes extra time and cash.

That said, bear in mind that there are lots and lots of old vinyl albums out there that may never make it to digital music storefronts. It’s in that dusty pile that you may discover that 1975 gem that will blow up your dancefloor. Keeping an open mind towards vinyl helps you appreciate music and educate your crowd better.

Sound Manipulation

Vajra winning the 2011 DMC World DJ Championship

The 2011 DMC DJ Championship was the first one where DJs were allowed to use DVS like Serato

Sound manipulation is the one area where vinyl has been an undisputed leader – until recently. With vinyl, you could slip-cue, beat juggle, scratch and do other cool tricks at your ghetto parties as early as in 1970s.

It was only in 2000s that the DJs obtained comparable level of control over digital sound. Pioneer CDJ-1000, released in 2001, was the first CD deck to emulate a vinyl turntable. DVS systems like Final Scratch (later followed by Serato and others) made it possible for you to use regular turntables and timecoded vinyl for mixing and scratching digital tracks that come from your computer.

While mixing CDs was possible before the advent of the CDJ-1000 or Final Scratch, it’s only now that even turntablists can safely switch to digital sound, and many of them do.

Positioning and Showmanship

There’s an exception to every rule. Yes, the music that you play is much more important than the medium you play it on. Still, to a lot of people, a “real” DJ is someone who spins vinyl records, and you just can’t ignore that. The very fact that you bring a box full of vinyl to a gig suggests to them that a). You’re serious about your music because records cost more time and money to obtain, and b). Your set is going to be special because “anyone can download those MP3s.”

As digital DJing becomes more and more mainstream, with everyone from newbies to superstar DJs adopting it, the public opinion is bound to change. For now though, the special charm of traditional vinyl DJing can’t be denied.

To Sum It Up

Both vinyl and digital media have pros and cons to them. After reading this article, you may think that I’m a digital DJing fan boy, but I really am not: vinyl is still my medium of choice. It’s just that I think that progress is unstoppable and that vinyl will continue to lose its stronghold in the DJ community. A good DJ needs not worry about it, though; their main asset is their music taste and the ability to create the right vibe on the dancefloor.

A vinyl record store

Where to Get the Music

In this article, I’m going to tell you how I find out about new releases and where I buy my music from. Since I mainly play disco and soulful house, I may not know about specialist stores for trance or hip-hop DJs. Let me know if that’s the case – I’ll be glad to fill in the gaps.

Your Local Record Shop

If you’re lucky to have a dance store in your city – an endangered species these days – it’s worth dropping by from time to time if only to make friends among the staff. They may have useful connections in the local scene and/or offer worthwhile music suggestions.

A physical store is not as convenient for finding out about new music, though. It’s much easier to preview a bunch of tracks in the Internet (see below) than to carry piles of records from the crates to the listening post and back. On the other hand, you might stumble upon a rare gem that you’d probably never come across online.

Online CD/Vinyl Retailers

Juno Records. One of the biggest online dance music retailers, Juno sells vinyl records, CDs and digital downloads (more on that one below). I regularly visit their site to order another batch of records or just to go through the new stuff. I’m also subscribed to Juno’s genre newsletter, so I every week, I receive an e-mail listing new disco/funky house releases, complete with instant preview links.

Hard To Find. Initially called Hard To Find Records, this Birmingham-based business is more of a DJ equipment store these days. They continue to sell records and CDs though. I find their catalog not as well structured and easy to browse as Juno’s, but sometimes you can find excellent stuff at HTFR.

Chemical Records. Another online store that sells dance vinyl, CDs and digital downloads. Chemical Records is the only store I know of that lists key and BPM information for the records they carry. You can filter tracks by their key and find tunes whose keys are compatible to a given one. Sweet!

Decks Records. A big German store with a large selection of records and a nice little preview player. At Decks Records, you can often find bootlegs and white labels that you won’t see in other stores.

GEMM. This one isn’t a store but rather a global marketplace for music lovers. You can find the most obscure stuff at GEMM, so there’s a lot of truth to their old slogan: “If you can’t find it here, fuggedaboutit!” The sellers at GEMM come in all colors, shapes and sizes, so pay attention to their ratings as well as shipping methods and costs.

Digital Download Stores

Traxsource. A big digital music store that’s largely house-oriented. In addition to the main catalog, Traxsource offers a regularly updated selection of upfront promos. The player is nice, too.

At Traxsource, you can buy tracks in MP3 (192 or 320 kbps) as well as WAV, with WAV being the most expensive option. A release often comes out cheaper than a total of its tracks, as is the case in most other stores.

Juno Download. Juno’s music download arm with a more advanced player and catalog interface geared specifically towards digital downloads. Unlike Traxsource, you can listen to any part of the track, not just one pre-cut sample. Large selection, the tracks are available in MP3 (192 and 320 kbps) and the CD-quality WAV.

Beatport. One of the largest and most widely known digital dance music retailers. Beatport’s signature feature is its new super-convenient HTML5 interface that allows you to browse the catalog while listening to the tracks. Forget about those annoying player pop-ups!

Supported formats include MP3 320 kbit/s, WAV, and, interestingly enough, MP4. The latter format, also used by iTunes, offers comparable sound quality at lower bitrates than MP3, so your tracks will be downloaded a bit faster and will take less space on your hard drive.

Trackitdown. Nice store and all, but seriously, what’s up with those prices? A 320 kbps MP3 costs $2.44 on Trackitdown compared to $1.99 or even $1.49 on Beatport. WAV prices are all right, though.

Trackitdown’s player is strange. It doesn’t create pop-ups, so the playback stumbles as you navigate between pages. It’s the worst of the two approaches, if you ask me.

Tip: Some record labels sell their releases directly and may offer better deals than the major retailers. So if you’re a Defected fan, for example, make sure to drop by their online store from time to time, too.

Finding Info on Artists & Releases

Discogs. The database of music releases, Discogs offers comprehensive catalog-style information on records, artists and labels that dates back into 1900s. There’s also an online marketplace for those wishing to trade vinyl and CDs.

AllMusic. An online music guide featuring exclusive editorial content such as biographies, reviews and rankings. AllMusic’s database is not complete down to the last release as Discogs, but it’s indispensable if you want to learn more about the artist on that weird 1964 7-inch.

Danny Tenaglia and his CD wallets

How to Burn Your Tracks onto CDs

If you are a CD DJ, chances are that you’ll be buying the bulk of your music from digital download sites such as Beatport or Juno Download. Now, to be able to play those tracks on a club CD deck, you’ll need to burn them onto CDs. In this guide, I’ll go through the strategies and tactics that go have to do with burning the discs.

Arranging the Tracks on CDs

There are three widely used approaches to arranging your tracks on CDs. Here they are:

MP3 CDs. In this approach, you burn your MP3s as files as opposed to audio tracks. You’ll probably want to group tracks belonging to the same release into folders so the CD is easier to navigate. If you’re dealing with 192 kbps MP3s, you can fit about 7.5 hours of music on a single CD.

Of course, you’ll need to burn two copies of each CD so you can mix tracks that reside on the same disc. Also, don’t forget to print or jot down a tracklist for each CD just so you know what’s in there.

By the way, if you prefer to buy WAVs, you’ll need to compress them into MP3s before burning an MP3 disc. Make sure to keep the original WAV files, though: MP3 compression is lossy, which means that some sound information is lost forever during conversion.

In reality, DJs rarely burn MP3 CDs because the level of MP3 support varies greatly from one CD deck from another. Most new models will play MP3s no problem; some older ones may only play constant bitrate MP3s well; and yet others won’t play MP3s at all. Given how cheap CD-Rs are these days, DJs prefer to keep things simple and burn the universally supported audio CDs. How? Read on:

Audio CDs, several releases per CD. Instead of burning data CDs with MP3 files on them, you burn your music as audio tracks. Audio CD is the original standard that’s guaranteed to be supported even by the oldest CD players. One audio CD holds about 80 minutes of music.

Burning such a CD is simple. You burn several releases – such as singles or EPs – onto a disc, one audio track after another. So, for example, CD tracks 1 to 4 will come from one single, tracks 5 to 7 from another, tracks 8 to 11 will come from an EP, and so on.

With this approach, you’ll also need two copies of each CD, plus a tracklist for each pair.

Burning several releases per audio CD is my preferred way of arranging music. It doesn’t let you squeeze nearly as many tracks onto a CD as you would by burning an MP3 disc, but on the other hand, you don’t risk ruining your night if the club’s decks turn out to be too old to support MP3.

Audio CDs, one release per CD. In this approach, you only burn audio tracks from one single or EP onto a disc. It’s unlikely that you’ll want two tracks from the same release to follow each other in a set, so you can safely burn only one copy of each CD. On the other hand, if you don’t buy full releases but only one or two tracks that interest your most, you may waste a lot of CD space this way. It’s your call.

Processing the Tracks Before Burning

In most cases, applying audio processing to an already mastered track in an attempt to make it sound “better” is futile. Trust me, the record’s producer has spent a lot of time making it sound the best. For that reason, I don’t apply any processing – not even normalization – to the tracks I’m burning. The only exception might be vinyl rips that could benefit from some audio processing, but I don’t think you will (or should) have a lot of those.

Bottom line: Don’t bother.

Which Blank CDs to Use?

First, a few words on using CD-Rs vs. CD-RWs. You may be tempted to burn rewritable discs so you can reuse them later, but that’s not such a good idea: some older decks won’t play CD-RWs. Thus I stick to CD-Rs whenever I can.

Which CD-Rs are better? Any brand-name discs will do, but if you’re aiming at top-notch quality, look for Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs. Those can be found under Maxell, Sony, TDK, Verbatim and other brands, so you’ll have to do your research.

The Burning Process

Back in my Windows days, I was using Nero to burn my CDs. I use iTunes now that I’ve switched to Mac, and it’s just as good for simple CD burning tasks. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind as far as the actual burning goes:

  • Use the “Data CD” (“MP3 CD” in iTunes) option to burn an MP3 CD, and “Audio CD” for an audio one. When you add MP3 or WAV files to an audio disc, Nero automatically turns them into audio tracks. They remain computer files if added to a data CD.
  • Make sure sound processing options such as “Normalize all audio files” or “Use Sound Check” are turned off.
  • Don’t use burn speeds higher than 8x. Lower speeds mean better burn quality and fewer problems with older decks.

I hope that these tips will help you refine your own approach to burning your DJ CDs. Experiment, try out different strategies, but always make sure to have a backup of your music collection on your computer!

Home studio

How to Record a Mix, Part 1: The Process

A mix burned onto a CD or put on the Internet can be very useful in promoting your DJ name. Your mix is your business card: it showcases your musical taste, technical skills and the ability to build an interesting set. Before you can start handing out your mix, however, you need to record one. Read on to find out how.

The Basics of Recording a Mix

You can record your promo in a number of ways:

  1. Live from your decks, from the beginning to end. This method is the hardest because even a smallest hiccup in one of the blends means that you’ll have to start over. Unlike a club sound system or even your home stereo, recorded sound can be very unforgiving!
  2. From the decks, in chunks. In this approach, you record track #1 first, then the transition from #1 to #2 (until you get it right), then track #2 and so on. You then glue those chunks together in a sound editor. This method is the most time consuming but it allows you to stop and listen to the transition you just did before moving on to the next one.
  3. “Semi-live”. This is a middle ground between the “live” and the “chunked” approaches. You start recording your mix as you would in the “live” method. In case you screw up a transition, however, you simply rewind and redo it without stopping the recording. After you’ve finished the mix, you use a sound editor to replace the bad blends with the redone versions.
  4. On a computer. Here you don’t touch your decks at all and do all the mixing in Ableton Live or similar software.

If I were shown this list ten years ago, I’d get indignant: “What? Recording a mix in chunks? On a computer? But it’s cheating!” And I still agree that a beginner DJ should start with recording their mixes live, if only to perfect his skill. There’s nothing more pathetic than a newbie with a mixtape done in Ableton who can’t beatmatch two tracks in a club.

On the other hand, as you get better at your craft, your time will be more valuable and you’ll feel less of a need to prove anything to anyone. That’s why all the big DJs do their commercial mixes on a computer. And there’s nothing wrong with that: those guys know how to rock the party live, too.

I’ll talk about Ableton and stuff in another article, and today, we’ll zero in on recording a mix from the decks. I assume that you’ll be recording the mix to your computer, so you don’t have to pull that tape deck or CD recorder from your closet.

Which Software to Use?

Audacity is a great sound recorder and editor, and it’s free. There’s also Sound Forge Pro, which I use, and Adobe Audition (both you have to pay for). You’re by no means limited to these three, though; for recording a mix, any decent wave editor should do.

Connecting the Mixer and Setting the Sound Level

Line In input level in Windows 7

Setting the Line In input level in Windows 7

In order to connect your mixer to your computer’s sound card, you’ll need a 3.5mm jack to RCA cable. Plug the mini jack lead into the card’s Line In input (make sure it’s not the microphone one), and the RCA jack into the mixer’s Rec Out output. If your mixer has no Rec Out, you can use Booth Out or even Master Out instead.

Now, put any record on the turntable and set the mixer’s levels as described here. Make sure that the deck’s channel fader on the mixer is open. Then go to Control Panel ➝ Sound ➝ Recording on your computer (I assume you’re on a Windows 7 or Vista PC). Highlight the Line In device and click Set Default. Then click Properties to open the Line In Properties dialog.

The Record dialog in Sony Sound Forge

Sound Forge’s Record dialog

Next, open the sound editor you’ll be using for recording. If the record on the turntable is playing, you should see the input level meter in the program bouncing up and down. This means that the sound signal is coming to your sound card. Great! You’re almost there.

Go back to the Line In Properties dialog. Click the Levels tab and adjust the volume slider so that the editor’s input level meter peaks close to the 0 dB mark but never reaches it. If everything is set up correctly, the mixer’s channel meter will occasionally touch on the red without staying there, and the input meter on your computer will approach 0 dB but never get to that point so as to prevent clipping.

The Recording Process

I know that you’re already itching to start your first track, but there’s one important step left: setting the bitrate and the sampling rate for the recording. Without going into too much technical detail, let me just say here that you should record in at least CD quality, which is 44,100 Hz, 16-bit, stereo. Note that uncompressed high-quality sound tends to eat up space on your hard drive rather quickly (about 10 MB per minute).

That’s it as far as the setup goes. Click the Record button in the editor and start your mix now. If you’re recording live from start to finish, then the process is fairly simple. You start the recording, spin your tracks for an hour or so, stop the recording and then save your mix into a WAV file. As usual, don’t forget to maintain a constant sound level throughout the mix by monitoring the mixer’s Master Volume meter.

Things are a bit more involved if you’re recording your mix in chunks:

  1. Put your first record on a turntable, set its sound level and then record the first track in full without even trying to do a transition. Save the sound file as, say, “Track 01.wav”.
  2. Put your second record on the other turntable, set its level and beatmatch it to record #1. (Of course, you could have done all this while track #1 was being recorded.)
  3. Fast-forward the first track closer to its ending and start the recording again. This time, you’re recording the transition from track #1 to track #2. No problem if you don’t get it perfect the first time; rewind #1 to where you started and try again.
  4. After you’ve managed to record a blend you’re happy with, stop the recording and save the file as “Transition 01-02.wav”.
  5. Record track #2 in full from start to finish and save it as “Track 02.wav”.
  6. Rinse and repeat by recording a transition from #2 to #3, then track #3 and so on.

What you’ll end up with is a bunch of full tracks on the one hand and transitions between them on the other. (I’ll show you how to glue those pieces together in part 2 of this article.)

Finally, you may want to opt in for the “semi-live” approach, which allows you to fix your mistakes without turning your recording session into a boring, mechanical chore. In this approach, you record your mix from start to finish. Whenever you mess up a transition, however, you turn off the sound for 2-3 seconds (so you can easily locate that spot in the sound editor), go back, redo the blend and continue with the mix.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll be doing some basic mix mastering and splitting of the mix into individual tracks for CDs!

DJ working in a sound editor

How to Record a Mix, Part 2: Post-Production

After you’re done recording your mix (see part 1 of this mini-series), you’ll end up with either a WAV file containing the whole thing, or a number of tracks and transitions between those in separate files. Today, we’ll be doing some basic mastering of your recording in order to prepare it for burning onto CDs and uploading to the Internet.

Gluing the Chunks Together

If you recorded your mix in chunks or used the “semi-live” approach where you redid bad blends as you were recording, then the first step of the post-production is to glue all those tracks and transitions into a continuous mix. (You can skip this part if you recorded your mix live from start to finish.)

In the outline below, I assume that you have your tracks and transitions in separate files. It’s not essential, though, because for the “semi-live” recording method, the process is pretty much the same.

First, create a new file in your sound editor with the same attributes as your recording (44,100 Hz, 16-bit, stereo) and save it as “Mix.wav”. This is the file where we’ll be building out the mix. Copy the first song of the mix from Track 01.wav and paste it into Mix.wav. Now you need to append the transition from track #1 to track #2, which you have saved in Transition 01-02.wav, to the end of that first track.

Gluing mix chunks in SF

Finding the merging point in Sound Forge

To do that, find the exact same spot on the first track in Mix.wav and Transition 01-02.wav. A spot that’s easy to locate is the first beat of a track’s 8-bar phrase that comes before the transition. After you’ve found it, put a marker on that spot both in Mix.wav and in Transition 01-02.wav (to put in a marker in Sound Forge, press the M key on the keyboard). Start zooming in on the files and dragging the markers to the same spot in both windows until you hit the maximum zoom. Your goal is to mark the spot in both files with maximum precision (see screenshot).

Now that you have your insertion point, delete all sound after it in Mix.wav. In Transition 01-02.wav, copy the transition from the marker onwards and paste it to the end of Mix.wav. Check out how the track sounds on the marker: if you’ve done everything right, the stitching should be completely unnoticeable.

Continue in the same fashion by appending track #2 to the transition, then the transition from #2 to #3, and so on. What you’ll end up with is one big WAV file that holds the whole mix. After you’ve made sure that all insertion points are unnoticeable to a listener, you may delete the no longer needed markers.

Evening Out the Volume of the Tracks

Strange heading, isn’t it? After all, you’ve set the sound level before recording, and were maintaining a constant level throughout the mix. True, but the thing is, sometimes the perceived volume of a track in your mix will still come out noticeably lower (or higher) than that of the rest of the songs. The reason is simple: Even though the track’s level is peaking at around 0 dB, its average sound level is lower.

So what do you do about it? You can’t simply increase the level of the track: it’s already peaking at around 0 dB, so clipping is inevitable. Compression to the rescue!

A compressor is a special device or software function that amplifies quiet passages of a song but leaves the loud ones unaffected. As a result, the average sound level (and so the perceived volume) of the track gets increased, but the peak levels remain the same. Of course, the difference in volume between the loudest and softest parts of the song is thereby diminished, hence the full name of the device: dynamic range compressor.

Sound Forge's Normalize window

The Normalize window in SF

Now that you know what compression is, you can use it to fix that problem track in your mix. First, get an idea of how quiet it is in relation to its neighbors. If you use Sound Forge, select the main part of the song in the editor and click Process ➝ Normalize. In the Normalize window (see screenshot), click Scan Levels. Take note of the RMS value (i.e. the average sound level) for the sample. Next, click Cancel and find out the RMS for the neighboring tracks. Suppose that their RMS is around -15 dB, and the track at hand is quieter with an RMS of around -18 dB. You need to apply some compression to the tune so as to increase its RMS.

Select the main part of the track between the transitions. Make sure that the selection starts and ends with complete 8-bar phrases. (All major changes in the music should take place at new phrases – remember?) Open the Normalize window once again and choose “Average RMS power (loudness)” for the “Normalize using:” option. Set the level slider to the left to -15 dB. In the “If clipping occurs:” dropdown box, choose “Apply dynamic compression” like on the screenshot. This will make the editor apply compression instead of letting peak levels go beyond 0 dB causing clipping. Click OK.

Now listen to the mix starting from the transition to the problem track. You’ll hear how the sound becomes much louder at the new phrase. No wonder; we’ve amplified the main part of the song but it still plays at the old level during the transition. Thus you also need to amplify the blend, although to a smaller extent than the whole track. Finally, you’ll need to do the same to the transition from the problem track to the next one.

I know all this sounds a bit complicated, but fixing the volume of a problem track actually isn’t that hard, especially if your editor has the “Undo” button! Just trust your guts, let your musical intuition guide you and you’ll be fine.

Compressing the Whole Mix

Compression is routinely used in most commercial albums to make the music sound louder. If you don’t want your mix to sound too quiet compared to the other CDs out there, you may want to increase its average sound level, too. To do this, use the Normalize function to increase the entire file’s RMS to, say, -12 dB. Don’t overdo it: excessive compression may cause distortion and is tiring to a listener.

Splitting Your Mix into CD Tracks

At this point, your WAV file should contain the final master of the mix. If you’re only planning to upload it to the Internet, there is no more post-production to be done. If you’d like to burn a promo CD, however, you’ll need to split the mix into separate tracks so the CD is easier to navigate.

Here is a simple rule of thumb that I use when splitting a mix into tracks. A new track on the CD should start at the first beat of a phrase where a new tune in the mix begins to clearly dominate over the old one. Sometimes I simply close my eyes, listen to the blend and try to imagine at what point starting a new CD track would be the most appropriate.

Splitting a mix into separate tracks

A mix ready to be split into tracks (compression not yet applied)

One of the easiest ways to split a mix in Sound Forge is by using markers. After you’ve put a marker on the beginning of each CD track as well as on the very end of the mix (that’s important!), go to Special ➝ Regions List and click Markers to Regions. The markers will turn into regions that will correspond to your CD tracks. Next, click Tools ➝ Extract Regions to export all those regions into separate WAV files ready to be burned onto a CD.

That’s it as far as mix post-production goes. In the third and final part of this article, I’ll show you how to burn a promo CD as well as how to turn your mix into an MP3 that you can upload to the Internet. Until then, post comments or ask any questions that you may have!

A DJ spinning in a club

How to Start Spinning in Clubs

You’ve been practicing in your bedroom for a few months now, recorded several mixes and grown to feel pretty comfortable behind the decks. Time to get out there and start pitching yourself to the clubs! Granted, playing records at home keeps you safe and comfy, but it’s only on a real dancefloor that you can share your music with others and taste the incredible joy of DJing.

In order to get a gig at a club, you’ll have to become pretty good at marketing yourself. To any party promoter or club owner, you as a DJ are just a commodity in a pretty saturated marketplace. This means that to sell your services, you’ll have to exert some effort.

In this article, I’m going to tell you about the three secrets that your strategy for getting club gigs should be based on. For each of those secrets, I have provided real life examples, one of which is my own. So read carefully, apply these tips (that’s the most important part!) and you’ll get to play a real party in a heartbeat. I promise.

Secret #1. Promote Yourself as a DJ

Promotion, promotion, promotion. Your DJ name has to become familiar and recognizable to as many people as possible. Here are some tips:

SoundCloud

SoundCloud (www.soundcloud.com) is a great place to upload your mixes

Get your mixes out there. A promo mix is not just your DJ business card but also a viral marketing device. Burn some mix CDs and give them out to friends – but only to those who ask you for a copy. (That way, there’s actually a chance they’ll listen to it; besides, you don’t want to look desperate handing your demos to just anyone.)

Upload your mix to the Internet and spread the word on dance music forums. Tweet about it, launch a small promotional campaign on Facebook… You got it.

Use any opportunity to DJ. DJing is all about knowing how to drive a dancefloor, so make sure you seize all opportunities to play for other people that come your way. Two hours of spinning records at a house party may teach you more about DJing than endless months of bedroom confinement. Oh, and don’t forget to take a your mix CDs with you – you never know who’s going to be there.

Leverage the Internet. Launch a website. Put up a Facebook page. Start a blog and post about any cool records you come across, or the parties you’re playing at. Begin publishing your weekly Top 10 chart. Start your very own online radioshow, for God’s sake!

The Story: DJ JM

My DJing career had a slow start but it got a huge boost after I’ve adopted some of the self-promotion techniques mentioned above. It sounds embarrassing, but I’ve recorded my first mix CD a full 1.5 years after I started practicing in my bedroom. CD-Rs were much more expensive back in the day, so I had to borrow $100 from my best friend Alex to burn that first batch and get the covers printed.

Shortly thereafter, I’ve launched my website, whose main goal was to promote the new mix. Even though the website was static (i.e. there was no new content being added), there was still a certain PR element to it.

I’ve given out the CDs to almost all of my friends, and the news about the new DJ on the block spread instantly. Amazingly, before the mix came out, many of the folks I knew had no idea I was into DJing!

Still, the real payoff came a year and a half later (talk about the slow start!) when I started cold-calling local clubs and getting appointments with the managers. At that point, I’ve already had two mix CDs and a website, and that definitely helped me land a residency in one of the best nightclubs in town. The rest is history.

Secret #2. Get to Know the Right People

They say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you.” Whether you like it or not, it’s all about the right connections, and that’s especially true of the hard-to-get-into DJ community.

It’s tough to start DJing in clubs if you spend your weekends at home. You have to be in the loop, live the nightlife and have friends in the industry, be it bartenders, club managers or other DJs.

DJ friends

DJ buddies 🙂

So hang out! Make new friends. Read a book or two by Dale Carnegie if you have to, and begin to approach people. By the way, Internet comes handy here, too, because a lot of those club folks frequent the same online communities and websites.

Speaking of making friends among DJs: More often than not, we’re a pretty suspicious species. DJs are very well aware of the glitter of the profession and are tired of newbies trying to make buddies with them just to get to the decks. It’s not about the ego – each of us simply wants to be interesting as a personality, not as a tool for advancing someone’s career.

So stay away from talking about DJing, even if you’ve been introduced to the resident of a club you’ve been dying to get into. Show your sincere interest in that person, their hobbies, likes and dislikes. Become real friends with them. Sooner or later (I’m talking weeks here), the subject of music will naturally come up. That’s when you can mention in passing that you’re a DJ, too – and ask if your friend needs someone for the warm-up!

The Story: DJ Andrew Chen

Andrew (name changed) has been hanging out in clubs ever since he was a teenager. At first, he wasn’t even thinking of becoming a DJ, and so he didn’t have any ulterior motives to become friends with DJ Alf – the resident of one of the hottest clubs in the city.

After a while, Andrew started helping his buddy at parties. He already had an understanding of what’s working on the dancefloor (because he’s been on so many of them), and easy access to the DJ equipment enabled him to master the technical skills quickly. Pretty soon, Andrew became the second resident of the club and was officially warming up before Alf.

Secret #3. Be Different

I’ve already mentioned that you as a DJ are a commodity that needs to be pitched to club managers. To lift that commodity status, you need a USP (unique selling proposition): a clear, unique benefit that you can offer to the buyer of your services.

Niki Belucci

Niki Belucci and her USPs

In any big city, there’s hundreds of guys calling themselves DJs, and tens of them spin music very similar to yours. Technical skills of the majority are at pretty much the same level, too. Why would then the party promoter choose you over everybody else? You’ll have to be able to provide a clear and convincing answer to that question.

Don’t forget that the DJ is part of the show. Take Carl Cox, for example. In the beginning of his career, Carl’s USP was being able to play on three decks at once, something that the “Three Deck Wizard” was certain to showcase in each of his sets. Or Niki Belucci: she’s got not one but two USPs (right and left, both real), and, even though she’s hardly a DJing genius, she knows how to pull a good show.

What makes you stand out from the crowd? What makes you different? Why would someone want to go to a party you’re playing at, and would they be telling their friends about you afterwards? Find (or invent) your “thing” and use it whenever you can.

The Story: DJ Margo

Margo (name changed) loved R&B and made sure she never missed a good R&B party. Margo is a beautiful girl who dances well, and she was quickly noticed by a DJ promoter who was looking for new ideas.

One word let to another, and in the end, Margo was offered to become the first female R&B DJ in town. And even though she still has a lot to learn as far as the technique goes, she already enjoys more commercial success than her boyfriend, a seasoned R&B DJ who has been spinning for years.

To Wrap It Up: The Most Important Secret of Them All

The three secrets I’ve just revealed are extremely powerful tools in promoting yourself as a DJ. But all of them are absolutely useless without one key ingredient: action. Even if you have your USP, are recording demos and meeting the right people – while sitting there and waiting for somebody to call and invite you to spin at a party – you better get sandwiches and a couple of good magazines because you’re likely to have a very long wait.

Be proactive in offering yourself! Call clubs. Get appointments with managers and party promoters. Hand out your mixes… And don’t forget to invite me to that first gig of yours.

Empty dancefloor

The Art of the Warm Up

Like most DJs, your club career will most probably begin with doing warm up slots. Playing for an empty dancefloor early in the evening may seem boring and uninteresting, but only at first glance. In fact, the warm up is a great school for the DJ, which like nothing else teaches them how to communicate with the audience. After all, what’s more challenging: To play an array of this week’s hits for tipsy dancers at 1 AM, or to create a mood, set the scene for the evening and invite the guests to the unforgettable journey in the world of music?

But let’s get to the point. The warm up is the time early in the evening when the guests are just arriving at the club and taking seats at their tables or at the bar. There’s no dancing going on so far; the folks are socializing, getting comfortable and ordering their first drinks. They’ll start getting drawn to the dancefloor after a few hours, but for now, your job as the DJ is to create a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, gently leading the guests to the main part of the night.

In terms of the music, this means that during the warm-up you shouldn’t try to impress the audience with a latest selection of hottest hits (no matter how you’d like to!). At the same time, you can’t go to the other extreme and play really soft tracks. The music you play should be:

  • Melodic, preferably with nice vocals
  • Familiar to the guests
  • Not too fast and not too loud
  • With a rhythmic, danceable bassline.

Remember that your goal is to draw the guests to the dancefloor for the next DJ, but to do it gradually, in a subtle and natural way. Speaking of dancing: while doing warm-ups, you’ll have to get over the fact that you’ll rarely see people on the dancefloor during your sets. The most you’ll be able to count on, especially early in the night, is one or two brave girls dancing near their tables.

At first, seeing no one dance to your records may make you pretty anxious. You may start taking it personally (as I once did), getting nervous and trying frantically to find the music that people will respond to. Relax. People simply need time to reach the “critical mass” (and a certain level of intoxication) before going out on the dancefloor. You control only a part of that process.

There’s more. Giving up trying to make people dance at all costs during a warm up can be surprisingly liberating. Instead of attempting to please the crowd that’s not ready to get on the dancefloor anyway, you begin with the music you really like – and that’s exactly when DJs have their best sets.

In particular, the warm up is the best time for a few old favorites. Or for a weird record, which, nevertheless, suits the mood well. Finally, why not just play that interesting track you simply wanted to hear on a big sound system?

As your set progresses, you’ll be able to tell that the people are starting to get in the mood for dancing. Some visual clues include people taping their feet, bobbing their heads with the music, dancing a bit on their way between tables. Keep it going, while increasing the energy of the tracks and maintaining a very, very smooth tempo acceleration. (Don’t overdo it: In the club where I started, you were not allowed to play faster than 128 BPM before 12 AM.) When you feel that the crowd has reached that “critical mass,” it’s time to invite the guests to the floor. Do it with a track that will resolve the anticipation; a track, it seems, that everyone is waiting for.

If you’ve done everything right, the people will get on the dancefloor just before the next DJ takes over. Congratulate yourself on a job well done and pass the all-ready, hot floor to your buddy.

A lot of the DJs look down on warming up as something reserved for the newbies, and yet giving the right warm up requires a lot of skill. The irony is that the truly successful DJs who can read the floor and know how to deliver a great warm up don’t play early. There’s a time for everything, and until then, make the most of your work. Learn to communicate with people through the music and to create an atmosphere. Doing warm ups is a perfect way to do that.

>