Well...2010 will be finished here in about a month or so...and I have stopped DJing for the rest of the year. I have many things going on in my life like a video / audio company I am starting in Hawaii, and a vacation back to America. So I wanted to write a small piece about my biggest lesson of 2010 when it comes to DJing.
Now, before I go too far, I know tons of you avid ableton DJs are gonna rip me apart for this blog. Remember, this is an opinion, and doesnt necessarily mean its the best opinion...but its MY opinion.
Ok...so my biggest lesson of 2010 is "LESS IS MORE". This can be applicable in many ways...lets start with the most simple way...and I will build up from least important to the most important.
5. Less is more when it comes to your tracks content. I have noticed this year, that the tracks (in house and tech house) that have nice simple bass lines, nice steady swinging beats, and profound but simple lyrics, are ALWAYS getting the BEST response on the dance floor. Maybe its because the normal dance goer is not as musically inclined as the artist performing it, maybe its because from a technical stand point there is more room for certain frequencies to stand out and punch. But, what I THINK it is, is that producers, now in the days of digital releases, are looking to gain smash, and make their track the LOUDEST they possibly can. By making more simple grooves, this creates more room for compression, and ultimately more room for the final output level...letting you make a LOUDER track. I have noticed that most people dont notice all the great effects and envelope automation that I do...but rather, HOW LOUD the track is. The producers that can make these SUPER LOUD tracks, always seem to sound better than the LESS LOUD track that was on right before it. When the track is more simple, you can raise the overall levels pretty high (above industry standards and distorting )...and that in turn makes the BASS sound more bassy, and the kicks thump your chest more. This ultimately has the greatest effect on the crowd, rather than complex rhythms and melodies that make controlling the distortion over 0db rather difficult. So, when I get a new track, and toss it into ableton, I always check how loud it is compared to the other tracks. Even though I could control how loud the track is using the tracks individual gain...this is not CONTROLLED distortion as producers have done. They have spent countless hours raising the gain, and using mastering techniques to clean up the distortion....using their ears to decide HOW distorted it is. When you can keep the track at is normally produced level...yet its LOUDER...that is when you get a thumping track in the club. Even when I listen to a track at home on professional studio monitors, and as a producer, can hear the compression and distortion (especially in the crash cymbals), it never seems to be noticeable in the club...and definitely not noticeable to the dancers. So....back to simple, thumping, loud tracks! I know a from a purist stand point, its WRONG...but in the club...all that matters is making the peoples feet and bodies groove harder.
4. Less is more in terms of the amount of remixing you do. Again, I know tons of you DJs will disagree...but this is what I think. There is a BIG DIFFERENCE between scratch DJs and House DJs. In house...people want to hear tracks for a little longer so they can really groove on a track. This is not hip-hop, where you are playing vocally charged tracks that people know because they are remixes of TOP40 tracks. These are groovy, rhythmic tracks that people move to because of their dynamics and flow. Funky to the core. Remixing is a nice technique to do as a DJ, but use it sparingly. One reason is, most of the time, if you are a thoughtful, "searching for tracks" kinds of DJ...chances are...99% of the people at the club have never HEARD the song you are playing in the first place. So remixing it doesnt do much good because they dont know what it sounded like originally. It kind of defeats the point of live remixing unless they can realize you are remixing it. And another thing... What makes you think you can remix it BETTER than the original artist anyway. That artist spent COUNTLESS hours making their track, thinking about every little detail of how they wanted the track to sound. If you are remixing it live, you are only changing it to sound the way YOU wanted it to sound...not how the artist originally intended. By adding an accapella or something over it...you are now making the track into what YOU think is good, and not what THEY thought was good....and to be quite frank....99% of the time, the artist had it RIGHT in the first place....the DJ only ruined it. From a production stand point (which I will get into in my most important lesson)...and from a TASTE stand point. Usually, the reason we DJs remix a track is because we have heard the original so many times, that remixing it makes it sound FRESH to us. But FRESH does not mean BETTER. As DJs, we listen to TONS of songs. This creates a vicious "ADD style" chain reaction. The more tracks we listen to, the more we want to hear fresh new tracks. This makes us get sick of certain tracks more quickly...the more and more we listen to music. So, what do we do when we really like a track, but have heard it too many times...remix it. But again, this doesnt make it BETTER...it only makes it DIFFERENT. In the future, I will only use remixing techniques if I absolutely feel it enhances the track, neurally connects to the audience, and is worth the effort. I wont do it for the mere fact of remixing it.
3. Less is more in terms of the amount of effects I use. To be quite frank...its OVERDONE. All these filters, delays, flangers...blah blah blah...its old! Some DJs do it ALL THE TIME. It sounds fucking horrible. First off, your ruining the dynamics of the track by doing it. Since music notes have fundamental frequencies and harmonics...removing certain ones with bandpass filters ruins other parts of spectrum that your arent filtering. Low pass and high pass are SIMPLY overdone. They can be used NICELY...HERE AND THERE...on build ups...or artistically where beats are becoming stagnant. But, in the future I will do less. If you are an ableton DJ...you have INFINITE amount of OTHER ideas you can do to make an interesting mix using clip envelopes, and more thought out mixes....rather than just turning some bullshit knob for the mere fact that you are BORED. As a house DJ...its OK to rock out a tune...and ENJOY IT...listen to it in the way it was intended.
2. Less is more! Im going back to the basics. To me, the art of mixing is just that - MIXING! Focusing on the seams between tracks and making them SEAMLESS! That is what I want to do in my next year, and what I have been focusing on. So many DJs are up there turning tons of knobs, doing all these crazy DJ effects...but when it comes time to switch between one track and the next...its a horrible...noticeable change! Instead of going nuts on your gear...how about using your time up there to more thoughtfully think about your next track...or even better yet...when you practice at home...remember what works and what doesnt. Its ok to pre-plan a little bit, as long as you are able to change depending on the crowd. But, DJing is about making nice seamless transitions between ONE track and the next! With ableton live, you have no EXCUSE for bad mix points besides your own negligence to prepare, or ability to hear what goes with what. With tools liked mixed in key (for only 40 dollars), and abletons ability to warp and match timing of tracks...there is really NO EXCUSE. Sometimes, DJs seem to feel like if they are standing up there not doing anything...they are doing something wrong. But, your HANDS dont have to be doing anything...how about instead...your BRAIN! Ultimately, its what makes the people enjoy the music and dance...that is what matters. And for the most part...they dont know what your are doing anyway...but they WILL notice when you change between 2 tracks drastically. So, make those mix points seamless, and spend more time thinking about HOW to make them seamless using envelope automation or skills. And dont worry about those people looking your screen...or that club owner who knows a thing or 2 from past DJs to judge whether you are doing A LOT or too little. THEY DONT MATTER. What matters, is good, thumping beats coming out of the speakers...and not what that 1% of other DJs that happen to be in the club THINK about the complexity of mixing. They are most likely just jealous anyway thinking "why is it that this DJing is doing so much less than I do...is so much less talented than I am, but the people are grooving like its no tomorrow". Fuck em, because ultimetely...you are the smarter DJ...and not the one just showing off the capabilities of your computer and software.
1. Ok...now the the most important reason why LESS is MORE! Ok...start the hate speech..."FroBot...your an idiot...you are wrong...etc etc). Alright...here it is. Ok...so since the release to the APC40 and novation launchpad...I have seen a drastic excess of ableton DJs. I, just like them, when I got my launchpad and VCM-600, loved the fact that I could download shitloads of loop samples...play them all together....improv a set...and make a NEW track that no one has ever heard on the fly. It is cool, and really works neurally with the need to HEAR new sounds constantly. Its almost like a disease we computer DJs have. After realizing the capabilities of your software...you seem to want to exploit them by running 12 tracks at the same time...individual HH and kick samples...etc etc. It is really cool...and for a LIVE style performance...where you are playing with BANDS and improv musicians...it is truly great. I definitely enjoy it more than DJing, because I have more control over unique sounds, and it really fuels my creativity. But...DJing is not about this. Its about providing a thumping beat that is rhythmically stable and full of nice changes, build ups, and thought out construction. The Key here is - IMPROV ABLETON AUDIO IS NOT MASTERED AUDIO!!!!!!
This is key to remember here. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE between a song made by a producer that has been compressed, balanced, and made to perfection - and running multiple audio tracks together, improv style. Mastering is a KEY element of making a dance track...and real producers know this. There are so many important elements that go into getting the THUMP out of your kick, the WARMTH out of our bass, and the frequency separation of all your elements. Steps involving compression, harmonic balancing, EQing, overall reverb, harmonic exciters...all very precise configurations depending on the frequencies being used. When you are playing with multiple samples, especially in improv style...you are taking this element out of the track making process...leaving...what producers consider...a track before the the mastering stage...or even worse...the mixing stage. Each sample that you play, is using certain frequencies in the spectrum. In order for things to sound right and powerful, is important to make way for each sound to stand out clearly...which means TIGHT EQing. Using notch filters to remove certain elements is CRUCIAL in making a thumping dance track. Especially in your kick and bass...most producers use sidechaining when producing to make sure that the kick and bass have nice equal room to stand out and shine...and that their high hats have nice placement, ALONE...to stand out. In an even more juvenile concept...how about even the KEY of the god damn sample. Tons of people arent even checking the keys of their samples...having a kick at say D, and bass at C. It just sounds terrible!!!! Without an understanding of your parametric EQ, spectrum analyzer, and the concept of detuning your samples...your cant even start to improv using your launchpad other midi controller. The overall result is a LESS powerful sounding set...and obviously sounds different to the DJs before and after you who are using vinyl, CDJs, or even a computer doing less complex mixing. I didnt even get into how HARD it is to do all this mixing correctly in the first place...and many of the people I see doing this style of DJing are NEW to DJing...and they can run 6-12 tracks at the same time without fucking up? That is a whole other point in itself. NOW I understand why many producers still DJ on CDJs...but are really good at understanding ableton. Because in the end...all that shit doesnt matter...its about a good, rocking beat. Even if you are just adding a few samples on top of an already mastered track... doing that...you are RUINING the final mastered sound of the track. When you add frequencies to a mix...it not only puts new frequencies in...but can change correlating harmonics of other sounds. Just look at your spectrum EQ...sit down with a professional...and prepare to cover yourself from the vomit that is certain to be in your lap.
Now, some of you proficient with ableton live know some workarounds for this. Some I have heard is using Ozone, and analog warmers...etc etc. Yes, these are all good ideas, and can help to clean up your sound...but none of them can even compare the the results of a nicely mastered track. There is a video where deadmau5 showed how he gets the final sound from his improv style sets. Here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTCqeWu094I It takes TONS of processing, and extreme knowledge of digital music before you can actually produce a live set in improv form that stands up to real mastered tracks. The fact that he already has a good background in music and digital production, also helps with this. He really isnt improvising...he knows what his sounds are doing, and mixes them QUICKLY....but is still thinking about the placement of certain frequencies. This is not the same as loading up a bunch of samples and playing them all at the same time. Save that for JAM SESSIONS, or LIVE EVENT gigs, where other artists at the event are ALSO using un-mastered audio samples...or live instruments. When playing these kinds of events, your final output sound is not intended to be CLUB THUMPING, but rather an artistic musical creation where value is placed on the art and not the power of the sound. I have YET to see a local ableton DJ that plays in this improv style in the clubs...even come close to getting the sounds of a mastered track. In the end, you are left with weaker dynamics, lower volume, and ultimately have to push the gain on the clubs mixer. That is the only option you are left with...but still will not compete.
1.2 - Oh...and less is more for one other very important reason! You can get DRUNK! When you are at the club...you wanna have a good time too! Dont forget to enjoy yourself...but sometimes, you dont have much of a choice. By keeping your setup simple...all the tequila shots and free beer wont affect your perfomance much even if you have a 4am set. Since its less complex, you should be able to it, blurry eyed and all!
Well, that concludes my "Lessons for DJing in 2010" rant. Please take it with a grain of salt. I am in no way condoning a lazy set...but I AM saying to THINK more than you DO. Use your brain a little more, hit the audio books and learn a little more, and watch your crowd carefully. Give them something to groove on, and realize you dont have to USE everything JUST because you have it. Do what sounds right, and not what sounds complex. The girls will thank you with a few extra hip swings and the guys with a few more "heads down" "in the groove" dance moves.