DJ software turns your computer into a mixing console
By Tobias Hanraths Mar 4, 2012, 3:26 GMT
Berlin - If you've got a notebook and a couple of speakers, then the party can start.
That's because modern software has replaced expensive hardware and allowed amateurs to become their own DJs, provided they have a digitized music collection that is organized properly. Long gone are the days when DJs had to lug around crates of equipments and albums. Theoretically, all you need today is a notebook computer and a well-stocked hard drive to get the party started.
It's all possible thanks to DJ software. Although used by professionals, it's easy for beginners to figure out too. 'They can learn it in a few minutes,' says Lutz Scheffler, a DJ and spokesman for the German Professional Association of Disc Jockeys (BVD).
The programmes do more than just play music, says Scheffler. 'This is creative processing software that can replace one or several high quality CD players.'
Songs can be played at higher or lower pitches, with effects like reverb and echo blending and pitching, in effect slowing down or speeding up the music. That helps create a seamless transition between two pieces. Many programmes use a function called beatmaking to recognize the speed of songs and find ways to match them to one another.
Traktor Pro from Native Instruments is a programme in widespread use. The graphic interface looks like two record players, underneath which is a folder structure from which the user can choose the next song. The programme costs 199 euros (265 dollars) and a time-limited demo version is available for trials.
A lot of DJs are also fans of programmes from the New Zealand company Serato, says Scheffler. 'But those are really for professionals.'
VirtualDJ from Atomix is much more welcoming to beginners. It has a similar interface to Traktor Pro and is available for the Mac. The same applies to Ultramixer from Digital Audio Solutions, which also comes in a Linux version. VirtualDJ and Ultramixer can both be used for free, so long as they are not used professionally.
One open source alternative for Windows, iOS and Linux is Mixxx. Other free versions include Jackson and DigiJay. Beginners should take the time to try out all these freeware programmes, says Hartmut Gieselmann.
'But you often have to cope with programming errors,' said the expert, who works with the German computer magazine c't. If a person plans to use the programmes for an extended period, he recommends moving to the commercial versions. 'Beatmatching delivers significantly better results,' he said.
Whether free or not, all of these programmes can be operated like any other, with a mouse and the keyboard. But, when working as a professional, many DJs also add a Midi controller. This significantly speeds up the selection of songs and effects, because the controllers can be set to the user's individual needs.
'But Midi controllers usually only work with commercial programmes,' says Gieselmann. Good models cost at least 200 euros (278 dollars). Beginners are advised not to jump straight in with the professional hardware.
If you're just starting to figure out DJ software, you'll probably be starting out at private parties. Here, there are usually no legal perils. But that's not necessarily the case at public gatherings. Be sure to know local rules about playing copyrighted music at such events.
A lot of DJ programmes can generate edited songs or mixes as MP3s. But if you record pieces like that onto a CD or release it as a download, you could be violating the rights of the original artist.
'Then you have to ask the copyright holder for permission,' says Gaby Schilcher from gema, the German Society for Musical Performing and Mechanical Reproduction Rights. The holder is usually the appropriate record label and it might not always want to cooperate. Rules apply not only to whole songs, but also to snippets and individual components of a piece.
And a final tip: If you're going to work as a DJ, you have to get your music organized, otherwise you'll be looking in vain for the next track as the party threatens to die, warns Scheffler. 'It's important that not just the file names are right, but also that you keep track of the ID3 tags.' Those tell, for example, the song title, the performer, the album and the genre, among other details.