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March 30, 2007

tech up

Posted by dogpossum on March 30, 2007 1:15 PM in the category djing

A revivial of the "Previewing. How do you DJ without it" thread on Swing DJs, coupled with a case of god-I'm-bored and the anniversary of my getting into DJing has prompted me to take an interest in DJing hardware. It probably doesn't help that I've been reading that book by Justina Robson*.

I've been looking into some sort of software/hardware option to expand my DJing from a laptop for a while now. I want to be able to preview songs on headphones while I'm playing music that goes out to the mixer at the same time. With a pc laptop that's as simple as opening two versions of winamp and telling it each where they should send the sound. But with a mac, there are far fewer DJing/music media player options.

I use itunes as my default music library/searcher/player. Problem is, macs won't let you open more than one version of an application at a time - great when you're working with word documents, but not so great if you're looking to DJ. It wouldn't be a problem if itunes would let me send music to two different outs. But it's not a DJing tool, despite its popularity with swing DJs - it has a sweet search, nice layout, reassuring colour scheme, etc etc, but simply can't handle the sheer volume of music and complexities of DJing. Winamp doesn't work on macs. I have tried windows media player (gag), but it won't let me click and drag songs from itunes to the media player (which is pretty important if I'm keeping itunes as my library - which I'd like). Plus it sucks. And Cuephase, one of the few plug ins for itunes isn't terribly sexy or useful. The Squeeze was going to experiment with a bit of applescript, but I don't see that happening any time soon (sorry love, but you know it's true).

There are a whole heap of DJing software packages, but very few specifically for macs, and even fewer in a sensible price range. The problem is to do with the fact that there are so few mac users out here in the wilderness, especially not in comparison with winblows stooges. The PC doods often use PCDJ if they're getting fancy (though the itunes/winamp option is a lasting favourite), but there really isn't much for the mac DJ beyond DJ1800, which isn't a great product. It has little 'blank out' moments when it pauses or simply drops out for a second or two. Recovering from these can lead to crashage. It's also a bit resource-hungry. It costs ($US60 or $AUD77), it's ugly as sin, but you can do nice things like click and drag songs across from itunes, shrink or minimise the various 'cd players' in the set up and tell it where you want it to send the sound - to the mixer, to the headphones, wherever. You can download a test version (which is worth playing with if you're interested) which closes after 20 minutes, but I've had trouble convincing it to recognise my USB headphones. I'll have another bash, but I don't think it's playing.

Anyhow, today I bought it (which means that it gave me the password so it won't close after 20minutes), and I'll have a play before letting you know how it goes.

To make playing through two sources at once possible (ie through headphones and through the mixing desk), you need to use a USB/headphone jack combination, or get jiggy with an external soundcard. I've been looking at a few, including the ever-popular-with-DJs turtle beach thingy and extravagant items like the numark mixers with 2 USB ports (look under products then mixers) which is complete overkill, ridiculously heavy for carrying with me on my bike, but too darn tempting for a DJ nerd. I haven't exactly figured out whether or not I need the external sound card in combination with DJ1800 and itunes to be able to preview on headphones and play through the mixer at the same time, but there are other reasons for using an external sound card. Better sound quality is the most important (I've had one on my christmas list for a while). I'll have a fiddle and see what's what.

What I want:
- to be able to play music through two media players at once, previewing on headphones and playing through a mixer
- decent sound quality
Wish me luck.

CyberDJ.gif It's probably worth noting that I'm the only girl in my town who talks about this stuff. Meggers and I have become DJing buddies, though, and while we have very different tastes in music, we have similar philosophies of DJing (ie get the energy up and kick their arses, fill the floor and Keep It Street) and are equally interested in figuring out how all the equipment works. She uses a pc laptop, though, so we have different technical issues. It's really nice to have someone with similar interests and experiences to play with. We take the desk out and figure out what's connected where, trade tips as we learn new things and give each other feedback on the sound in the room when one of us is DJing. It's nice and encouraging but also a great chance to explore technical stuff which is so male-dominated. We've also been charmed by the willingness of young Cameron to help us learn about this stuff. I guess he likes the fact that we're more than happy to let him come up there and twiddle our knobs (wo-ho!) to demonstrate how to get a better sound from a particular song - I know there are a few DJs (both male and female) who are too defensive to ask for help or give help unstintingly. There is a degree of competitiveness between DJs in our town (because there are so many of us, and because Melbourne swing is all about competition - in ethos as well as practice), so it's nice to have an amigo bandido.
Having said that, the SwingDJs discussion board is full of lovely, helpful people, and there are other DJs in other cities who'll happily help out or share their experiences!

*It's not a fabulous book, but it's kind of addictive. As my dad describes it, it's a combination of science fantasy elves and fairies stuff (literally) and cyber punk (literally - the female protagonist is a cyborg body guard for a rock star - what is it with books that like female cyborg assassin types? Or rather, what is it with the idea of a cyborg woman capable of violence?). And if something so silly can keep my hardcore-Sci-Fict dad interested...

Posted by dogpossum on March 30, 2007 1:15 PM in the category djing