Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 353: How to Make Smack my Bitch up in Ableton

After yesterdays mammoth post, today just a quick video turorial that needs no explaination.

If you make tunes in Ableton this will be very useful indeed, or if you every worry that you use too many samples then fear not... once you have watched this you will realise that that is probably ok!

Awe inspiring stuff!




Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 352: Tonium Pacemaker - Decks in the palm of your hand - Product review

All this week we have been reviewing DJ courses as present ideas for the DJ-Loved one in your life (even if that is yourself!). Well to end the week we are featuring something special, possibly one of the best Christmas presents a DJ might hope for.

OK So this isn't a DJ course, but it is a DJ tool, a whole lot of fun, a gadget and therefore perfect present material.

I am of course referring to the Tonium Pacemaker. I have been drooling over these since the moment I saw them, and as it goes they are partly responsible for me getting into DJing properly, as the music on one of the adverts saw opened up a world of new tunes I'd not heard before.

There are lots of reviews, features and breakdowns of this product online already. I was lucky enough to get my grubby mitts on one of these recently, and I can't explain how happy I am with it.

So rather than repeat all the information you can already find online about it, I will simply review it from an actual end usage point of view.

When I first opened the box and powered the Pacemaker up I had already been watching video reviews about it online etc so I already vaguely knew how it worked. I was pleased then that on turning it on to find it already had a couple of tunes loaded on it, especially as I wasn't near my own computer.

Loading a tune to each "deck" I decided to dive in and try and get to grips with it. First of all by default the Pacemaker is set to CD Style cueing, which if you don't know is when it stutters the cue point, and you can adjust it back or forth. I personally found this very difficult to work with, though for some reason the compulsive in me was determined to get to grips with it.

After a modicum of success I soon found that you can change the cue setting to "vinyl" mode which is much better in my opinion. This is much like CDJs Vinyl mode, and unsurprisingly more like vinyl itself where you manually wind the tune on until you find your desired cue point. Press cue to set it, and you are away.

Once I had this sorted the fun really began.

It really is impressive the amount of control that you have in such a small device. To put it in perspective, this little gem has more features than my more expensive, much bigger dedicated iDJ2 console.

Naturally though what you get in features, you lose in work area. The Pacemaker for example comes fully loaded with EQs, gain control, hot looping (with loop splitter) and EFX. The EFX themselves are pretty impressive. Choose from Hi/Lo Cut, echo, roll, reverb, crush, delay, trans and wah. See, that's an impressive list by any ones standards.

The control surface is similar to that of an iPod jog wheel, cleverly divided into north south east and west. This means you tap from the center out to one of those four points to access the EFX or EQs, and then roll your finger round the side to adjust the amount. Tapping twice in the centre then doing the same allows you to adjust other parameters for that effect, such as roll amount etc.

This clever use of space is really what gives the Pacemaker the edge. It would have been easy to cram in the basic pitch controls and mixer interface and leave it there, but they really have made the extra effort in making it as close to a pro DJ console as possible.

The 'decks' are accessed by a select button on either side, and once pressed, anything you do (apart from cross fade) will affect this channel only. This keeps things tidy, but the only downfall is that you have to be very careful to remember which side you are working on, else it can go horribly wrong!

An example might be that you have Track A playing, and Track B in the headphones, beat matching. You cut the bass from track B, and then switch over to control track A. On a normal mixer you could adjust the Bass EQ controls for both tracks at the same time blending them over, but this can't be done while controlling one track at a time. Sometimes if you are not careful too you can roll off the bass of the main track forgetting which side you have left switched on too!

There is a setting that lets you adjust the effect with the fader, so as you go from one track over to the other it rolls the bass off of one and brings it up on the other. This is a reasonable solution to this problem, but requires turning this effect on and off each time, or just leaving it on always, which might not be desired.

Once you get the hang of these subtle nuances however you really can get rocking. I've tried it out over my Amp, and the sounds seems punchy and responsive. The controls are tactile, and as mentioned cleverly placed, sometimes it really is easy to get lost in the fun of it all.

My only drawback on the hardware side of things is the "P" button, which is a slider on the side which again allows quick access to multiple features (it basically acts like a Shift Key). This feels a little wobbly to me, and if you have larger hands of chunky fingers like me, sometimes feels like it might snap off over time. We shall see on that one.

Software wise, for me the only gripe is that (as far as I know) the beat counters can't be turned off, and they can be quite distracting. Especially if you are learning to beat match, and you want to do it all manually so you know you got it right. The display also has a beat grid which shows you if the beats are aligned. It seems pretty accurate but also distracting and, as before, if you want to be a purist, there doesn't seem to be the option to turn it off.

Lastly, sometimes the beat grid drifts quite wildly, despite the beat counters insisting you speed up/slow down the track, as if they are not co-ordinated. Again this can be quite distracting, and stops you from using just your ears, which is what you really want to be practising with.

Those small gripes aside though really don't take away from the sheer brilliance of everything else.

The bundled software is slick and easy to use. Great for organising your DJ library too to make it easier to find tracks once they are on the Pacemaker with it's not too large screen. You can also record mixes with the Pacemaker cleverly through the use of Meta data, which can then be transferred to the software, and exported as an audio file all very efficiently. You can also edit the mix on the software to tighten up that wonky mid set mix ;).

Easily the best DJ gadget on the market right now and if I am honest for the foreseeable future too. The new 60gb version is £299.99 most places, and while that may seem a lot, once you feel the quality, and have a go, it'll soon seem like a bargain.

Thoroughly recommended.




Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 351: DJ Master Course - Review

So far this week we've had DJ courses in Book format, DVD, and Online Video. Today's course is a bit of a combination, coming in the form of online videos with an accompanying e-book.

The course is DJ Master Course.

Created by Australian DJ Benny Drohan, DJ Master course is very well produced. The videos look slick, and the e-book has a very professional feel. This isn't just some quick rushed up cash money idea. There has obviously been some time spent in putting this together, and making it look the part.

Here is a breakdown of some of the topics covered (taken from the web-site):

  • Incredible and Professional Custom Created HD Video Demonstrations Making the Knowledge Come to Life!
  • A Multitude of Audio Samples to Help you Hear and Understand the Exercises in the Course.
  • A Work Book Complete with Real Time Exercises and Incredible Diagrams
  • Learn How to Set Up Your Equipment Properly and Effectively Including Incredible Diagrams Making it Easy to Understand
  • You Will learn How to Start Separating the Sounds
  • Learn How To Cue Your Music using Vinyl or CD
  • Learn How To Keep Your Tunes In Time Without Using Your Head Phones.
  • Learn How To Beat Match – This is ESSENTIAL, It’s the Number 1 fundamental Skill of ALL DJ’s
  • Learn How To EQ and Master Your Mixes So That You Get Them Sounding Professional Every Single Time
  • Learn How To Mix Your Music at Exactly the Correct Point Effortlessly Every Single Time
  • You Will Learn How to Create and Record a Perfect Seamless Demo that People Can’t Stop Themselves Listening to and Raving About
  • A Glossary of DJ terms so Nothing You Come Across Seems Foreign to You in the Course or the DJ World.
  • Cross Fading, Up Fading, Harmonic Mixing, it’s All Included!
That's some good ground covered right there. Having worked through the videos, if you watch them alone, they are themselves enough to learn how to DJ pretty well. Though this would assume some familiarity already with the basic concepts of DJing and the equipment. The book comes in to fill in any gaps, and cater for those completely new to DJing.

The course also has a supporting blog updated regularly with tips and advice from pro DJs and more. Although this course may weigh in as the most expensive we've featured at $97 (£60/€67) it also offers an amazing affiliate scheme to earn money from recommendations, and a no quibble money back guarantee should you not be satisfied with the course, tho we feel this is quite unlikely.

Promo video below, and free lessons available on the web-site.

Over all this is a quality resource that gets you excited about DJing as you progress. Many times I got distracted for a few hours mixing after reading an idea of concept in the course. The enthusiasm for the art pours through in this course, and in many ways this is half the battle won in DJing, drumming up that passion. A well thought out program.




Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 350: DJing for Beginners - Sonic Academy - Review

Continuing our mini series of product reviews we now take a look at an online only resource - Sonic Academy.

I first found out about Sonic Academy whilst doing some youtube searches ages ago, and it instantly caught my attention. Something about the look and feel of it straight away made me feel like this was a course/resource almost directly aimed at me.

Basically Sonic Academy is a subscription based service. They make their own video tutorials covering a host of DJ and Production related topics. Literally everything to do with electronic music is covered, but there is a definite leaning to the club and DJ side of things.

The tutorials I am going to cover today are the specific DJ related ones, as this is the theme of the mini-series.

SA offer two specific DJ courses, one is straight up meat and potatoes Vinyl DJing, and the other is DJing with Ableton. Therefore you have the option of the Vinyl course which is suited to someone just making their first steps into DJing, or the Ableton course maybe for someone who has earned their Vinyl Stripes, and wants to move into the digital world.

Both courses are laid out in a modular fashion, about 9 or 10 separate videos, each tackling a different topic.

In the Vinyl course, all the essentials you might need to get beat matching are covered. All the Sonic Academy courses are given by experienced industry professionals who have made their names as DJs and Producers, so you know you are in safe hands.

The Ableton course is also well laid out. I learnt a fair few neat tricks about general Ableton use as well whilst viewing the course, tips that are useful even beyond the DJ side of things.

Over all, both courses are simple to digest, full of useful tips and information. The vinyl course wont hold much interest for the learning DJ who already knows how, but just can't yet beat match, however is perfect for beginners. And as above the Ableton course is well suited even for users with some experience.

The courses can be bought individually, even on a per module basis (£3.99 each) or you can subscribe to the service annually and have access to every single course they have ever done, that's many many hours of video.

I myself have subscribed, and will certainly be renewing it. The site also has an active online community that is great for getting help and ideas etc.

They are even offering gift subscriptions so ideal for that DJ stocking filler! Below is a sample video from the DJ course, there are more free videos to check out on their web-site.




Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 349: DJ's Complete Guide - DVD Review

Yesterday we reviewed the excellent DJing for Dummies. Today we move from the printed word to the small screen.

Today's review is of the DVD "DJ's Complete Guide". The title kinda says it all right there.

The change of media format brings with it a change of style. Books enable a large amount of information that is easily referenced, but Video boasts the ability to actually show you what to do, and this for some people is an important thing.

This DVD is presented by some chirpy blond lady, who takes the roll of presenter/interviewer/student whilst most of the DJ advice is dispensed by Miles Batty, a working DJ in London.

The structure of the DVD is fairly straight forward taking you through the basics, setting up equipment etc. Then a new topic is introduced as the presenter/student 'progresses'.

All the important topics are covered, equipment, beat matching etc and the delivery style is easy to understand.

The over all production quality is basic, but functional and the 90 minutes running time is enough to give you the information you need with out dragging it out.

Whilst this is most definitely aimed at the novice/beginner DJ there are still some nuggets of information within that could prove useful to intermediate. As is the nature of DJing, everyone does it differently, so there is always something to be learned.

Over all a good gift for the novice, or someone who hasn't yet taken up DJing, but wants to get a first look in, without committing the considerable hours required of a book.

Available now on Amazon here.




Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 348:DJing for Dummies - Book Review

Kicking off our DJ Christmas goodies reviews will be "DJing for Dummies".

The Dummies brand is well known by everyone these days, and they seem to have reached out to almost every corner of interest, pastime and activity. DJing is no exception, and we were lucky enough to get a copy to review.

The book is written by John Steventon, who is a real world working DJ who got into the game back in the 90s. Inspired by listening to other DJs he started making notes about the art, and later published these online, back in the early days of the internet. These notes grew and expanded and became a well respected resource online for DJing info, which is still there today:

Anyone who has ever read a dummies book will know the format already, but for those few that haven't opened the yellow book of knowledge, simplicity and clarity is the key here. The books are deservedly famed for their unassuming and easy to read style. DJing for dummies is certainly no exception.

The first thing you notice with the book is that you feel like you are being taught by a friend in your bedroom. Such is the style of writing that even some of the less interesting subjects, such as connecting up a mixer feel like idle banter between friends.

John delivers this friendly nature throughout the book, and peppers it with his friendly manner, and dare I say it bad jokes ;).

Another excellent feature of this book is it's comprehensiveness. Literally every aspect is covered from equipment, song structure, beatmatching, scratching, networking, getting a gig, and much much more.

Some of the resources I have read have tended to either just rush you through beat matching, or how to scratch, and kinda leave it there. In DJing for Dummies however there are many many elements that I hadn't even thought about that are covered. All of them real world and useful. Just simple things about various settings while using the headphones, or what to do when a gig goes wrong (often accompanied by a real world field story based on the authors own experience).

Therefore, due to the ease of reading, the comprehensiveness of the content, and the level of knowledge you will acquire, I have to give this a definite personal recommendation for any budding DJ that wants to be guided into the art almost effortlessly.

Naturally the book is available at all good book shops, and online such as here. A bargain at under £10 via Amazon.




Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 347: Christmas Gifts for the DJ...

Ok, so your partner is a DJ, or wants to be a DJ more likely. It's Christmas, you haven't a clue what to get them?

Ok there are plenty of things you can get them of course, ranging from the fabulous new CDJ2000 (pricey!) through to a mini torch for finding records in those dark DJ booths. However in keeping with the theme of this blog... how to be a DJ, I thought I would run a set of features over the week reviewing products that are about just that.

Starting tomorrow I will be reviewing different 'Learn to DJ' resources that are out there on the market. From Books, to DVDs, to online courses. All of them tried/viewed/read in person by yours truly. All of them are friendly on the pocket rolling in mainly under the £/€20 mark so all entirely affordable too.

I hope this might help those of you looking for those last minute gifts in the run up for Christmas!