From The Ground Up: The Method to the Madness

August 10, 2014 by Stu Chisholm

Today’s entry has no dates, but for those who insist, suffice it to say that it covers everything through the weekend of the 10th.  I had hoped to have my new gear in, up and running by Saturday because I did something I very seldom do: booked two events in one day.  Having to be set up and playing by 9:00 AM for a little league baseball awards picnic, and then hurredly packing up and heading to a wedding reception that starts at 6:00 PM and ends at midnight, the thought of nursing my old Cortex-based cube through a grueling weekend wasn’t something I was looking forward to.  Lucky for me, my pal David, known more by his handle, “Scary Guy” (he drives a hearse and always wears a black duster) was available to lend me a hand.  He’s also a working DJ who is popular in the suburban Detroit club scene.

So while we managed to pull-off the weekend successfully, he got a ringside seat as my trusty ol’ Cortex proceeded to once again embarras me in front of my audience.  And, of course, the audience didn’t seem to notice much.  But we did.  Every time.  See, for one thing, the Cortex has a design flaw that was never worked out, although it had been planned to be, before the company dropped its support for their products: if you accidentally search and select a song on the same side that one is playing, it will instantly STOP the playing track, load the new one and go into standby.  Hello unexpected stone-cold silence and stunned expressions on both the audience’s faces AND mine!  And even though I have a well-established rhythm down, this happenes every now and then.  Yesterday was one of ’em.  Fortunately it was at the picnic, and I was providing more of a background for all the other stuff going on, so no dancers were harmed in the train wreck of a mix.  I’m also extremely happy to have an American Audio media player for flash drives and SD cards, and I always have a similar track on stand-by, so again, most of the picnic partiers didn’t notice a thing.

There were actually two stoppages during the show.  The second revealed a strange quirk, although I’m baffled as to exactly how it happens.  When you’ve got a mess of kids to entertain, you’re naturally going to get requests for “Happy,” the tight little Pharrell Williams tune, about 50 zillion times.  So, after not having played it for well over an hour, I decided to cave and repeat the song.  Now, instead of entering “Happy” and searching through the 128 tracks with the word in the title, I thought searching for “Pharrell” would speed things up.  The Cortex thought otherwise: that search, for some reason, resets the system; the sound stops and I have to select the playback device, as you have to do when first turning on the Cortex and getting ready to play.  This is something I haven’t seen in the 7 years I’ve been using the thing!

The final insult came at the wedding, where a guest’s request was playing and the dance floor was packed.  This time no mistake was made; I carefully assured myself that the track that was playing was NOT on the side I was searching.  When I found the track, it again had a handful of tracks with the same title, so I began hitting the “info” button to see the artist names.  Even though the keyboard toggle was indicating the side I was searching, using the arrow keys (which is how you navigate) triggered the playing side to move to the next track on the search list I used to select the song in the first place!  This was a major malfunction — yet another I’ve never seen on ANY media player, let alone the many HDC’s I’ve owned since they came out — and solidified my resolve: this is going to be the final weekend for my old system.

There was an episode of the old CSI:Miami series where one of the main characters gets killed in a shoot-out.  The plot device was that his gun jammed, because he was well-known for not caring about, and hence not properly cleaning, his firearm.  They used the phrase I’ve only heard used previously by actual tactical operators: “He got caught looking at his gun.”  That phrase kept running through my mind as I got caught “looking at my gear.”

And when it comes to the equipment upgrade portion of my three-way plan I’ve been detailing here, this is my main goal: to get my gear out of the way.  I don’t want it getting in-between me and my audience.  Our gear is the DJ equivalent to a nice car; we want a lot of features and we want it to look cool, but when we’re driving, all of our FOCUS needs to be outside the windows.  The car needs to be an extension of ourselves, and react instantly to our commands.  It should feel as if it is reacting to our thoughts!  Likewise, my goal is to make my new systems an extension of myself, so my focus is on my audience and the system simply reacts.

The vision of my new set-up is only limited by the technological limits of what is available and the technical know-how of myself and the people I’m consulting.  I’m still awaiting Ben’s reply, who as he puts it, is “putting something together” for me, and Scary Guy, who is himself a tech wizard.  He has also signed-on to help out and has made some useful suggestions of his own.  While I await my truck repair crew’s price estimates and parts arrival, the week ahead will be completely focused on the playback systems.  I’ll be simplifying set-up, slimming down the size and weight issues, and wrapping them in a roadcase shell that will look as elegant as any wedding decor, yet still not look out of place when doing a company picnic or pool party.  And yes, there will be photos!  Stay tuned.

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Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (45 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.


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