By: Afro Monk (www.afromonk.com)
Alright I’m back again and decided that if there is one thing I’d really like to talk about, it is gear. I’m a huge geek and ultimately love new toys. Every DJ has for the most part an arsenal of weapons they use to destroy the dancefloor. As technology has progressed, more things have become available. In the recent years, laptop DJs have been emerging more and more. The art of DJing has split into so many different categories and styles of play. New options are arising all over the place.
DJing ultimately started with turntables . Hell I’ll admit it, this could be wrong. DJ does stand for Disc Jockey and involved using vinyl at the time the term was coined. The art of mixing came from playing records on turntables and a mixer. The turntables came with pitch control where beats could be lined up to transition to the next track smoothly. Turntables are the staple instrument for most DJs but things are changing quite rapidly.
Tapes made their way into the world and allowed us to record music on tape players. The concept of the mixtape was introduced and took everything to a new level allowing us to create stories by recording our favorite tracks on a tape.
Eventually CDs became relatively available and became the next big thing. CDs were much more manageable than tapes. We all remember those days of tape getting all tangled up and strings of tape everywhere. It took a few years for the prices of CD Burners to fall and become wide spread allowing us to create CDs just like it was possible with tapes. DJing really took a turn once this was capable. Technology was changing the way music was shared. MP3’s were introduced as well as other compressed versions of music, allowing it easier to acquire and play. It became possible to burn a CD full of music with over 100+ tunes on a black data CD. Dual CD player decks became a norm in most DJ setups all around. DJ gear previously had only involved turntables, needles, a mixer, and records, but now for a better price you could use CDs instead of using records. These were the main tools used by a DJ for a significant amount of time, and were considered the standard.
Fast forward to today and while much of the same equipment is required, we’ve only added more to the traditional setup. Serato has developed one of the most popular alternatives to using actual CDs of music or records. They’ve put together a piece of gear that allows you to transform your entire mp3 collection into vinyl or a CD. Serato isn’t the only one doing this. The great thing about Serato and time coded hardware is that it allows you to use the same turntables or CDJs you most likely already have.
I believe there has been an overwhelming shift towards midi controllers and software. Programs like Traktor, Serato, Ableton, Virtual DJ, and others are starting to dominate the market with controllers. The popular MPD, APC, and Nano controllers are becoming a regular thing. The options are quite endless in many of these programs, as everything is assignable to specific things on midi controllers. The trend seems to be in a lot more genres where music is meant to be manipulated or mixed, with multiple options and effects. Another thing that programs like this open the gates to, is having live virtual instruments being playing while DJing. Software like Ableton allows for many producers to take it to the next level.
The amount of options in the world of DJing has become quite overwhelming when you really take a look into it. When I considered getting into DJing, I did tons of research and wanted something that would be versatile and easy to learn. I also didn’t want to invest in tons of gear and all sorts of pieces that would become worthless after I purchased them. If you are considering starting to DJ, I highly recommend going with an all-in-one option. After much research, I ended up going with the Numark NS7. It had just come out and seemed to be the closest thing to turntables, CDJs, a basic mixer, almost identical to Scratch Live, and allowed me to use MP3s. I knew that if I decided not to be a DJ, it would be a cool piece of gear to have just for whatever party and any DJ could hop on it. I obviously decided to continue on the DJ path and eventually picked up turntables and a basic mixer since I had already been collecting vinyl. I feel like any person who is a DJ is required to have a set of turntables. After awhile I really felt like I could do so much more and the style of music I was attached to had so many effects and live elements of playing, and eventually moved to Ableton and an APC40. This is an example of how things change and how there are so many options. My setups have evolved over months and I am always looking for the next piece of gear or toy that I can add. I feel as a DJ you have to constantly change or else it gets old. The same concept of playing that one track over and over in your set gets old; I feel it’s the same way with gear.
The last option I haven’t gone into yet is the do it yourself route. There are companies out there and tons of DIY projects you can take up to build your own controllers. One of the most popular options in this is the Monome. They are completely customizable and meant to be built by you. You order all the things you need and make it to your liking. The other popular DIY controller I’ve been seen around lately is the Midi Fighter. The possibilities are truly endless. I know right now I’m getting a bit worn out on using the APC40 for almost a year in February. My eyes are set on building a custom Livid Ohm 64, which will allow me to incorporate VJing into the experience.
The biggest piece of advice I have as a DJ is go out there and find something you feel comfortable with. Look into what you want to be able to do, and find/build something that works for YOU. Just remember as a DJ you’ll want to evolve, so leave options open for growth.
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