How do DJ Controllers Work

Ever wonder how DJ turntables really work? People often see DJ gear and become intimidated by the complexity of the nobs and faders and sheer amount of controls available for manipulating sound. Back in the day record turntables did all of these things themselves. They were analog audio players that were allowed to be adjusted by users to create new and unique sounds with source audio from records or CDs and help from electrical effects.



You could adjust the BPM of the song by adjusting how fast the audio signal played by physically slowing it down. Or you could adjust how loud each record played to make transitions from one source to another. The physical turning of the record set the pace, and the music was turned into electric signals for the speakers. Between the speakers sat electronic filters, much like electric guitar pedals that would create effects and frequency response changes, adjusting the play out of the song. These changes were all analog, adjusting how the signal was interpreted (making it slower, or ignoring bass), but not through active reprocessing. The signal was read differently, not processed.

dj studio speakers

These good old days are truly becoming old school and companies look at gear like this a niche market. The majority of the focus goes into making new electric DJ controllers. It’s picked up as the cost of electric components and circuitry has become more powerful and cheaper for manufacture. These new turntables have gone binary. The manipulation and even the audio sources themselves have gone digital, and are run through CPUs instead of the older method of analog alterations.

Today modern DJ turntables work as peripherals and don’t adjust the signals themselves. Now new DJ setups require a computer with audio editing software dedicated to DJing, a Dj controller, an audio card, and a sound system. Essentially all the work falls into the lap of the laptop. All the audio is stored on it’s hard drive, all the audio adjustments are controlled through it’s software, and all of the alterations and processing is done by it’s CPU. In fact DJ controllers do none of these things. They are glorified specialized keyboards, allowing for an alternate way to converse with the laptop.

A DJ controller works by connecting to a laptop via USB. The DJ then maps the buttons, faders and nobs to menu settings and selections in the software on the computer. So in essence, pushing the auto-sync button on the controller merely hits the auto sync button in the DJ software and the computer does all the work. Larger turntables just give more options and more control over the software and can be mapped in any way you choose.

Some controllers come with an onboard audio card. This premium option allows for the audio output of the DJ software to be sent back to controller digitally over the USB cable and through the audio card. These sound cards allow for the DJ to adjust audio levels to outputs much like an audio mixer, through choosing channels and controlling the sound system. Turning the digital signal to analog sounds. So controllers can do some work in the signal chain. But the vast majority of the show is still done on the laptop. Even if you’re spinning the jog wheels instead of scrolling the mouse.



Being a DJ’s Girlfriend – Advice on Dating a DJ

Should I Date A DJ?

Look we all love passionate confident men, but are all passions equal? Dating a DJ comes with benefits and sacrifices. I mean we’ve all thought about it, but how can we manage? It’s a tough balance but if you pull it off your relationship will be rock solid. The biggest issue is finding the perfect resonance between you, his fans and his mixes. If you can handle a DJ you can handle any man’s childish dreams.



Being a DJ’s Girlfriend

He’s deadset on his “craft” and he’s looking to you for support. A DJ’s girlfriend needs to take special care to navigate the relationship on a tight rope. Just like mixing the perfect beat you have to find the right balance. On one hand you can’t enable him but on the other you can’t destroy his dreams. You’re not that mean right? With this handy guide you can be consenting without approving and we can hope he gets the hint and a real job.

Handy Dating Advice

You have to start the relationship off right. When you meet a DJ, the first thing they will tell you is probably something along the lines of, “I’m a DJ”. This behaviour is twofold and focuses on your reaction. First it’s a warning, “Hey I’m a DJ, and if you’re not cool with that, run away”. If you continue interacting with him, he’s no longer morally responsible. Second, it’s to check and see if you’re an open and accepting soul that will let him follow his dreams without hurting his core. He needs this subtle approval. He’s already pumping his ego by claiming he’s an artist, that’s enough of that. From this point on the game is afoot. Remember the balance. Consent without approval. Try acknowledging through a slight nod and a vocal “oh”, or maybe even a barely intrigued “hmm”.  Set the rules from the start.

The tests come strong and fast however, the next one will come up when you try to find out his name! DJ’s create stage names to dissociate from their issues and escape the emotional pain. Try to find out his real name and not his stage name as soon as possible. If you’re having real trouble, just say he can’t be whatever age he is and get him to show you his ID to “prove it”. Try to never use his DJ name. Never. Sorry Em-RK, you’re just Mark to me. If he asks you to use it when referring to him; avoid patronizing questions like “Umm why…?” Remember don’t stomp on his dreams, just subtlety let him know you don’t respect his life choices at all.

concert

When you hang out at his place you have to totally ignore his gear. Look it’s obvious he spent way too much on that DJ controller. But it’s his baby. Just pretend it doesn’t exist, don’t touch it and definitely don’t ask questions about it. This is the first step in finding a harmonious relationship. There are certain mental anchors a DJ has and avoiding them is the best form of defense. When he wants you to listen to a mix he made, pat him on the back and say, “It’s fine”. You can’t hit his dreams in the dick with a frozen sledge hammer, that’s cruel. Don’t white lie though, as the ego will snowball if you say something like, “That’s pretty good Em-RK.”

Make up excuses for avoiding shows as much as possible. But if you have to go to you DJ boyfriend’s performance you need a plan. The best way to handle this is to be a wallflower in the corner. Play on your cell, avoid eye contact with horny teens and stay away from the DJ booth.

Dating a DJ is Hard

If you find yourself having difficulties making the relationship work. The nicest and most caring thing you can do for your DJ boyfriend is dump him. He’s busy and going places and you’re definitely holding him back. Let him focus on his dreams. When you break the news remind him “It’s not him, it’s you” or something.



 

What is a Cue Button and What Does It Do

CueButton

There’s a pretty common question I see from lots of new up and coming DJs. They see the cue button in their new DJ controller or on their software and wonder what it does. This great option is universally available, whether it’s in Traktor, Virtual DJ, even on CDJs. Learning how to use it right will improve your performances and recordings. There are actually a few cue buttons to worry about. Each one has a different usage. There’s the monitor cue, hot cue, and track cue location.

What Is A Headphone Cue

The first cue type I want to get into is the mixer, monitor or headphone cue. This cue essentially allows the chosen track to be played in your monitor headphones. If you use the headphone cue anything you play on this channel will be privately played to you and not sent out to the actual mix being played in your performance. This allows you to “cue” up the next song and match beats without worrying interrupting the rhythm of your show. You can easily find starting beats, timing, and key. This cue is usually near your faders, gain, EQ filters, etc. It’s part of the mixer and channel sound controls portion of your deck.

What is a Cue Point?

A cue point is a deck cue that indicates an important point in the song, used to designate when in the track the music will play. It sets the starting point for the track so that you can perfectly beat match the two (or more) tracks together. This button is found on each individual deck. If you push this button while a track is paused it will set the cue point. Pushing the cue track button while the track is playing will cause the track to restart at that cue point. So you set your point on beat and as long as you do it right you’ll always be able to cue up and play on beat music. If you hold this button down after the track goes back to this cue point it will only play as long as you hold the cue button down and will pause/stop when you release it.

CueButton

What’s a Hot Cue?

Hot cues are essentially just setting addition cue points in a song. Want the track to start at a drop, place one there. Want to skip distracting vocals or an uninteresting section in the song? Place a hot cue after the section when the song becomes useful again. You can build up a list of these hot cues for each track. Hitting a hot cue will set the song to that set cue point. Allowing for massive control and on the fly creativity. They allow you to pick and choose aspects of the song you want while skipping the things you don’t.

DJ Cue Tricks

One of my favorite uses for the hot and regular cue buttons is to create a live mashup. For an easy example, lets say you just have song one running. Song two has a vocal you want to inject into the current song. All you have to do is set a hot cue on the second song just before that vocal. While the second track is paused you hit the hot cue to go to that point in the song. Then you hit the cue button and it will set the cue to start the track at this point. Then all you have to do is hold down the cue button and the song will only play as long as you hold it down. The vocal plays over your track one, and you release the cue. Now you have this vocal that you can drop in on your main track at any time, creating a simple vocal mashup live. This is called cue sampling and you can improvise without needing to set up samples beforehand.

Mastering the Use of Cue in Live Shows

If you’re looking to master the art of DJing and live mixing, there’s a course that I can’t recommend enough. It’s really inexpensive and shows you everything you need to know about the DJ controller controls, as well as how to master mixing and playing for a crowd.

It’s extremely in-depth and well structured, so you won’t miss anything. If you self learn it’ll take you months to learn what this course will help you master in a week.

 

DJ Headphone Specs Explained

DJ Headphone Specifications Explained

Headphones are one of the most important pieces of gear a DJ can have. Without being able to hear what you’re creating there’s no way to realistically make it sound great. With better headphones you’ll be able to more accurately hear what you’re actually producing and get a real feel for the beat. However when it comes to specs DJ headphones have a lot of confusing and complex stats. So in this guide I hope to give you a quick understanding of how to read the numbers and determine if a set of headphones is right for you.



dB SPL/mW Sensitivity

I figured I might as well get the most technical sounding spec out of the way first. dB SPL/mW sensitivity is a specification that deals in how much sound pressure the DJ headphones can put out for the power supplied. Basically it tells how loud the speakers are. The higher the number, the louder the music is for the same volume level from your player. Misleadingly simple isn’t it?

Max Input Power

Next up is a pretty self explanatory specification. The max input power value is the maximum amount of power the headphones can handle before you edge into the danger zone. If you get a pair of headphones that are too low in this value you might end up blowing the speaker or ruining the frequency response. As a DJ you’re going to want to get headphones with around 3W Max Input Power. Most pieces of DJ equipment with headphone monitoring are in this range and you want to be able to match it. Otherwise your gear is at stake.

dj headphone specificationsFrequency Ranges

This specification for DJ headphones is all about what sounds the headphone can make. Just like singers have a limit to their vocal range, headphones have limits to the sounds they can make. For the most part this is an unimportant stat. The majority of headphones all cover the same ranges. 18Hz-20kHz is what you’re looking for. Human hearing is 20Hz-20kHz so it makes sense, no point blasting your ears with sounds you can’t hear. The only thing you want to watch out for is headphones that only go up to 18kHz. They cut out some of the really high end. While you don’t specifically use pitches above 18kHz very often you’ll find that lower frequencies create these tones as harmonics. Harmonics make your sound fuller and warmer. You want to know what your sound is doing and you won’t get the whole picture if you get less than 20kHz at the top end.

Frequency Response Charts

I mentioned it briefly earlier and now it’s time to explain it. Frequency response is like a headphone’s preference in sound. If it has a high bass response it will put more power into the bass. So the low end sounds louder than the high end. If it has a lower frequency response in a range it will not express those pitches. This is where it gets real sciency. Heavy deep explanations aside, when you look at the frequency response chart, the higher the line is at a certain frequency the louder that frequency will be, the lower that line, the quieter.

Our ears themselves don’t hear all frequencies equally either. Human ears have a frequency response as well. We tend to hear bass and high pitches louder than they are. For a comfortable sounding set of DJ headphones you’re going to want ones that have charts that drop off under 100Hz and over 10kHz, In the middle you want a nice even line so all those frequencies get represented equally, with a slight boost around 7-8kHz.

Impedance

Finally we get to the last major specification for DJ headphones. This spec is a physics value that determines how easy it is to drive the headphones. A device needs less power to drive headphones with lower impedance values. Phones and tablets work best with low impedance headsets (20-40 ohms). DJ controllers, audio interfaces and other monitoring amps work better with higher impedance headphones (50-80 ohms). The important thing to note is the lower the impedance, the lower the max power input. Additionally equipment can’t run speakers that have too high impedance. So if you go for high impedance spec headphones you definitely want to take some time to see what your gear outputs. So see what kind of output levels your equipment can handle once you go north of 175 ohm headphones.



Gain Staging and Gain Structure

As a broadcast engineer I frequently work with professional radio hosts who’ve been trained on proper leveling of equipment chains. They pretty much need this skill for job security as stations are broadcasted to hundreds of thousands and the show needs to sound good. But to be honest it hurts to go out and watch live shows of underground and local bands and DJs. It’s very common that their sound set up destroys the very music they’re wishing to play, plummeting quality and creating a loud mess. Due to the nature of the room acoustics the performers can’t even realize this without outside help.

The main culprit I’m talking about is audio distortion and it’s main cause in the live music scene is audio clipping from improper gain setup.




Gain is the amount of amplification of an audio signal. In a perfect world it’s a 1 to 1 ratio and the whole signal gets boosted uniformly and without issue. The problem is equipment has limits to what it can do. The peaks of signals can often be amplified until the point where the system no longer registers them. It’s just “Loud” and no longer notes. The most important thing to note with this is it happens with all gear. This isn’t just a software problem. It happens with mixers, audio interfaces, and sound systems. Here’s a quick video showing the effect on an audio editor:

With this in mind we can see how improper gain management can ruin the quality of a show, and we won’t know how bad it is until it’s playing. Even worse is it provides strain and starts to damage and weaken your equipment. So you have to follow some guidelines to determine how to properly set up the gain in your system. With proper organization and planning you can create a setup that not only removes this issue entirely but is extremely easy to adjust, even with multiple pieces of gear!

So here we go, how do I fix gain matching problems and how do I gain stage? Easy! The first thing you need to do is stop clipping on all your gear. If you have lights showing levels on your EQ meter you’ll immediately have a visual representation of the problem. Just adjust the volume/gain so you’re no longer maxing out. The last level should always flicker at the most. This prevents you from distorting the audio with this piece of equipment. Never go past this point and your audio will be fine. Now if you want to gain stage and you have multiple pieces of gear the best thing to do is max (without clipping) all of your equipment except for your last piece of gear that can set gain. This way you can easily adjust volume levels with just one piece of equipment. The rest of the gear in the chain is outputting the most it can without audio distortion and the last control will adjust the total volume output from the system.