The Computerized DJ: How to Pick Your Software by Dr. Drax

November 20, 2008 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

Well, here we are eight years into the new millennium. What can we say about how we’ve progressed? In just 10 short years, we have gone from storing a few hundred MP3s to storing tens of thousands on a single hard drive. One might ask, “What will the next 10 years bring?” We are already seeing a high rate of change, in fact, a more significant change in the last two years than we experienced in the previous eight. The continuing expansion of technological and software systems will literally revolutionize how we do what we do.Priority One: Performance Style

When considering digital DJ software several key elements need to be outlined as we discuss our choices. Are you a hands-on, club-style mixer focused on the tactile feedback of platters? Or are you satisfied with semi-automatic functionality that allows you to spend more time out on the floor working the crowd, making announcements, leading interactive elements, etc.? In other words, one of your prime considerations is the way you perform. With the answer to this basic question, you can start to lay out the choices that are available to you.

I have always said that rather than the debate which platform to run (Mac or PC) or what might be the best hardware configuration, you should instead choose the software you want to use and then select the hardware that most appropriately runs that software. For those who desire a traditional interface, comparable to two turntables or two discrete CD players, there are numerous product offerings-too many to name without fear of leaving someone out. The same holds true for those looking for a functional automated interface in which they can program the entire night’s play list, add requests when needed, and spend the bulk their time interacting with guests.

Once you have somewhat defined your DJ style, selecting a tool that best fit your needs becomes a matter of trial and error. I would strongly suggest downloading the demos of the respective programs you’re interested in, and loading them up on a platform comparable to the software’s recommended setup. Another method is finding users who are currently working with the tools you are looking at, and asking if you can shadow them, as well as getting their opinions. Their satisfaction level is important, as they are real-world users of the product, not salespeople.

Some questions you might ask:
• How difficult was it to become proficient with the software?
• How long does it take to understand the basic nuances of the interface?
• Does the software allow for introduction of various file types, or is it constrained to a single file type?
• Does it allow you to go from a dual-deck, beat-mixing format to a single-player format?

Expanding Your Search

As the hardware makes storage of more and more tracks possible, an increasingly important question is, how easy is it to search using the prospective software? For example, can you do concatenated searching, using a combination of terms? An example of this would be searching for every disco song from the year 1979 that was number one on the Billboard Top 40, with the BPM of 100. While you may never have to get quite so focused, having the ability to do so is a powerful tool to build the quality of your performance sets.

Another thing you need to consider is how is the program’s database (often described as a “record case” or other type of physical storage) is structured. Is it established in such a way that makes logical and intuitive sense to you? Or does it require you to learn a whole new way of living or a whole new language? Look for tools with strong relational database capability. This is easily reflected in the structure of the record case or library, how information is presented to you, and how easily you can search through that information.

An organizational area that I feel is key in the adoption of a basic MP3 software player is the utilization and proper handling of ID3 tags. These are pieces of information appended to the MP3 file, which provide information such as artist, title, genre, BPM, or other bits of interesting information about the track. Failure to handle ID3 tags properly is a great restriction. I would avoid any tool that did not fully utilize ID3 tags.

One place where I think most DJs make a mistake in utilizing software, is organizing their music in the same way they organize their CDs. By doing this, one loses a great deal of the power of computing, as it doesn’t make sense to create separate folders for every single CD or album in your library. Rather, I think it makes more sense to organize your music library files by things like genre and decade. After all, it will be rare that somebody will come up and ask you for a song from a specific album or CD. They will ask you things like: “Can you play some old school funk?” “Do you have any hip-hop?” “Do you have any good ‘60s music?” Most requesters will either identify a specific song (apart from the original album name) an artist or genre.

The bottom line is, the software you choose should give you great flexibility in organizing your library the way you wish, rather than constraining you to a specific organizational structure, which might impede your ability to think naturally, logically and creatively in locating desired songs.

For the rest of Dr. Drax’s extensive discussion of what to look for in DJ software, pick up a copy of the latest MB Gear Guide (December 2008, issue #118). Subscribers receive the yearly guide to products and services as free addition to their subscription.

Mobile Beat Staff Writer (375 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.

Filed Under: 2009, Digital DJing