Roland DJ-202 DJ Controller Review

I’m excited I got to review the Roland DJ-202. It is a great beginner DJ controller with tons of little features that all add value. The controller has two channels and four decks, large plates optimized for scratching, is compatible with iTunes, and has some classic Roland drum kits included. Basically, this is the perfect controller for a beginning DJ.

It’s time to take a closer look if you want to master this craft. The Roland DJ-202 was designed for use with Serato DJ software and comes with Serato DJ lite. However you can use it with any DJing software. This software is great for beginners but has functionality missing. Anyone truly interested in getting the most out of the device will have to look into a full Serato (or other DJ software) purchase.

The Foundations

This controller contains all the features you would expect on a controller. You can load tracks quickly into either channel by selecting them onscreen using a knob and loading via the load button for each channel. Each channel has EQ for adjusting high, low, and mid frequencies, as well as a basic filter and volume control. There is a crossfader for controlling the mix of the two channels, as well as volume controls for master volume and headphone volume. But the cream of the crop is the fact that it’s a 4 deck controller allowing you to mix 4 songs at once. This feature gives this controller great value. Usually quad decks start emerging around the $350 price point.

Spin Plates

One of the best features of this controller in my opinion are the spin plates. The plates are highly responsive to touch and sturdily built. It’s easy to generate a number of highly impressive scratching effects with a light touch of the plates. Although the controller itself is very lightweight and portable, the plates are solid and perfect for scratching.

FX Controls

Each channel has a bank of effects. You can assign these in the Serato software. Common audio effects such as flange, echo, chorus, phaser, etc. can be easily loaded to buttons above the spin plates. A total of three effects can be loaded at a time and these effects can be easily changed onscreen via the software. Basically this means you can create tons of original effects. You can toggle effects with these buttons and change the level of effects with a potentiometer knob. The tempo of each channel can also be adjusted using a slider in the upper right hand corner. Temp control can be a bit tricky especially for beginners, however there is also an option to sync the two channels, which will automatically calculate and match the BPMs of the two channels.

Performance Pad

Each channel has a set of eight pads at the bottom. You can use these pads to store loops and samples for easy use. The pads can be loaded with looping portions of the track or one shot samples. These can be fired at will and the program handles the timing. This controller has several classic electronic drum kits included. With this you get even more value. You can assign these kit samples to the performance pads. The control scheme of this feature is a little difficult to get the hang of. But once you figure it out, it’s very easy to create original drum patterns to play over your mix. You can load and assign your own additional sample banks. You can insert drums live with the pads while a sequence is playing and the software will play them in time. This is perfect for learning controllerist DJing.

Pro Features

Although it is not required, additional features of the controller can be accessed by upgrading to the Pro version of the Serato software. Among these features are the option for you to record live DJ performances and to cue loops and effects in advance. You need to upgrade to get usage access to the two additional decks within Serato. However, even the basic features of the lite version are more than enough for a beginner to create professional sounding mixes with only a small amount of practice.

The Final Word

All in all, this is a fantastic entry-level controller for anyone who wanted to get into DJing. This is a great all around controller for multiple different styles.

The Roland DJ-202 DJ Controller is a great piece of DJing equipment. It is perfect for a beginning DJ looking to learn the craft. The controller is portable and packed with enough features for professionals looking for a mobile set up. Probably the best overall feature of this controller is the spin plates; these plates are very sturdy and well built with the perfect touch response. If you’re looking to get into scratching, this is a great controller to get started on.

The four decks for the price point are amazing as well. Mashups and party mixes take on a whole new magnitude of possibilities when you can use four samples at once. With on the fly customization the drum pads are great if you’re looking for a more controllerist path. The lite Serato version included with the controller has everything you need. But additional features are only available when you upgrade to the Pro version.

Beat Making Equipment Guide

This is an equipment guide for beginners looking to get into beat making and trying to figure out how to get started. With technology where it’s at today its very simple and takes very little investment. With some key pieces of gear you can easily become a music producer making your own beats. The great thing is you can start making beats right away, regardless of how much investment you’re willing to put into your hobby.

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Rundown of Beat Making Equipment

  • The DAW or Digital Audio Workstation: A computer software program where you build your musical compositions
  • Practice: Learning how to properly make beats with your equipment is one of the most important parts.
  • Computer or Laptop: You’re on one right now, just make sure it meets minimum software requirements for your DAW
  • MIDI Keyboard: With a MIDI keyboard your able to record note patterns for your DAW

DAW Digital Audio Workstation Software

The DAW is your main hub. All your beat making will be done in this software.  Sequencing, mixing, recording and mastering your composition; it’s all done with this program. There are a lot of free DAWs available to get your feet wet, so I’m going to suggest a free version and a paid version.

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MU Lab

MU Lab is probably my best suggested Free DAW. The software allows you to record, mix and play around with multiple tracks. It also has a lot of secrets hidden inside its menus for functionality. MU has MIDI and audio recording which is by far the most important feature needed for producing music. You’d be surprised how many programs don’t have this basic feature. You’ll also find it has a good assortment of effects and filters. You won’t feel too restrained with this program, especially as a beginner. If I had to give up my paid DAW I’d have to go with MU Lab which you can download here.

FL Studio Producer Edition

If I had to go with a paid program I would hands down suggest my ultimate favorite FL Studio Producer Edition. There’s a reason it’s the most used DAW software in the music production industry. It has the most features, most support, most third party add-on effects and sound engineers create samples solely for the program allowing for easy integration and finding the perfect sounds. On top of that I found one of the most comprehensive courses ever to bring you from beginner to master in music production with FL Studio (next section).

Now FL Studio can be found if you know where to look. I want to say, if something brings you so much value and enjoyment, you should definitely support it as a thank you as soon as you can. FL Studio Producer Edition can be purchased here.

Be careful there’s a cheaper “Fruity Edition” of the software that does not allow you to record it is not worth the money, go with MU Lab for free instead.

Practicing, Experimenting and Consistently Growing

Everything that’s worth having takes effort to get and becoming a skilled music producer is no different. I know practice isn’t technically equipment but it’s one of the most important aspects of becoming a good composer. There’s nothing more frustrating than having an amazing piece of music in your head but not enough technical skill to make it reality.

There’s nothing worse than feeling so lost and never finding your way to your dream. The DAW will be daunting when you first get started. It comes with so many sub menus and things that could be done. It can make you feel insanely overwhelmed.

I know I felt that way.

I wished I had a full on road map of what to focus on when, a guide to what the most important things in production were and how to design an build a song from the ground up. What I wanted more than anything was to learn how to go from absolute zero to making my sound, my piece.

Then I found an amazing online course that solved all these issues. With 750 hours of tutorial videos organized to show you where to go next and an on demand community where you could ask questions if you get confused.  This course will get you on par with most mainstream producers, and it’s just up to you to refine your sound to be your sound.

That’s why I say practice is mandatory, without guidance and practice you’ll never get where you want to be. Investing in a great course will allow you to quickly reach your goals and become the producer you want to become. Click this link to check out this amazing course.

MIDI Keyboard

Now technically you can start producing music without one. But it’s basically going to be you dragging and dropping notes one by one in a program. I can’t think of anything more disconnected from music. With a MIDI keyboard you’re able to record patterns in real time, play chords out with proper timing, and easily record song patterns.

You don’t need a massive MIDI keyboard either. If you’re extremely enthusiastic and want to invest a lot into your set up you can get a full keyboard. But most of the time all you really need is a 25key 2 octave keyboard. The most popular one on the market and most widely used is definitely the Akai MPK Mini MKII.

The Akai MPK Mini MKII is small, lightweight, and will fit on any desk. For size it’s about the same size as a computer keyboard. On top of that it allows for full MIDI mapping to not only keys, but velocity launch pads. These are insane for drumming beats as the harder you tap the louder it will be in the DAW pattern. It has some assignable knobs to adjust effects as well. However, I just use the mouse and change them in FL Studio myself so I don’t use them that much. The best thing is it’s pretty cheap for how far it will take you. You can check out the keyboard here.

CD Baby Review and Information

CD Baby Review

When you’re starting out trying to make a name for yourself in the music production world, you’ll need to spend a lot of effort, time and resources to get your sound out into the world. The internet is a great tool for sharing and communicating but it comes with it’s own challenges. CD Baby is one web service designed to solve these issues. I’ll talk about the pros and cons I found with using with this service in this quick CD Baby review.

What is CD Baby?

CD Baby is a content distribution service designed to give musicians and music producers the reach they deserve. The service itself is a popular place for people to look for new music and find new sounds and artists. The site also attempts to help users find your sound through staff recommendations. So if your sound is good enough you can expect some work to be done for you. Some being the focus of that statement.



Essentially CD Baby is an opt in Record label, and manages distribution, sales and royalties of your music so you don’t have to worry about chasing down scouts and running demo pitches. CD Baby will indiscriminately distribute to its large collection of well known and used digital partners; like iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, Pandora, and many more. It puts you on way more markets and sites and has 30 partners.

I will point out an additional partner, a sleeper network deep in the list, iHeartRadio. As a sound engineer I’ve seen a major move in the industry. Large media companies across the world are starting to use iHeart as their distribution for online radio streaming services. It’s starting to become a service they have to be a part of or they’ll be left behind. Stations across the world are starting to advertise iHeart to their listeners as part of a promotional agreement they have to satisfy. So being on iHeart is a good place to be as people listening in their cars start to get the message and check it out.

Members Fees and Earnings

It’s pricing structure is geared towards smaller underground artists due to it’s percent of sales setup. The bigger you are and the more you make, the more you have to pay CD Baby. When you’re small this percentage beats out other competitor sites like Tunecore which charge large recurring fees. If you start making more than $1250 in a year off a single track or album I’d start to look at putting that high earning work on a different distribution service



CD Baby Distribution

In exchange for a percentage of sales CD Baby gives you the reach a record label usually would. With anyone able to opt in, it’s definitely an easy route to get your tracks and albums out to the world. It’s a go to option for upstart artists or first releases. CD Baby gives potential fans access to you. They give a free addon called Sync licensing which allows you to license your songs as well, allowing content creators to use your songs in their commercials, tv shows, games, movies and youtube channels, all of which properly pay you for your work.

CD Baby is a bit of a lame duck when it comes to promoting music and artists. Where a regular record label will do the work and spend the money to promote in order to get a return on investment CD Baby doesn’t care, they only earn if you earn. Your music will end up in new release lists, sounds like categories, and suggestion algorithms, but that’s the extent of CD Baby’s promotion. Meaning all the work falls squarely on you. Which could be really good for you or really bad for you. But this all depends on how well you can guide new fans to find your work.

How to Become Better at Promoting Yourself on CD Baby

If you’re really serious about wanting to start selling your tracks, beats and albums, I highly suggest you take a look at this course. It runs down all of the things you need to know to navigate the industry. On top of that it has rock solid tips on how to make your sound stand out and be exactly what content creators are looking for. Letting you really flourish on sites like CD Baby and Tunecore, especially with their sync licensing content creator access.

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CD Baby’s hands off promotion does come with perks for new artists though. It comes as a strong alternative to regular record labels. With the ease of joining, the ease of distribution and an extremely fair percentage cost to use their service. If you work smart and hard you can definitely build a life off your passion.

Tunecore Review and Information

Review of Tunecore

2020 Update:  As it stands I have to almost always suggest DistroKid over Tunecore and the other competitors. See the comparison section below for details. You can see my in-depth DistroKid Review here.

What is Tunecore?

Tunecore is a platform for conglomerating the distribution of digital music. The main reason to use this service is it allows for musicians to get their mixes and songs on multiple online distribution platforms.

The main appeal of Tunecore is the sheer amount of implied reach that the site promises. In exchange for the distribution of your music to these services, they ask for flat yearly fees for putting the tracks and albums in their system. With a smaller year one stocking fee, and a larger recurring annual fee.

The service allows artists to feature their work on a total of 150+ platforms, with the biggest networks being:

  • Apple
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • YouTube
  • Google Play (2020 Update: Being Discontinued and combined with YouTube)

How much does Tunecore Cost and What’s It’s Pricing Strategy?

Tunecore has a subscription pricing strategy that’s separate for every album and single released on the service. If you stop paying, your music is removed from the service. For an album it costs $35.99 ($3/mo) for the first year and $59.99 ($5/mo) for every following year. A single has a flat rate of $11.99 ($1/mo).

Is Tunecore Even Worth the Price?

Whether or not Tunecore is worth it is entirely dependent on where you are in your artistic career. Essentially the bigger your following is, the better Tunecore is for you. If you’re frequently getting questions about where to find your tracks during outreach and shows it’s definitely worth looking into.

In my opinion, Tunecore is only viable if you are a full-time musician with a large following or a record label with many artists. However, in almost any other circumstance, Distrokid is your best option.

Tunecore VS Distrokid VS CDBaby for Releases

2020 Update: As it stands I have to almost always suggest Distrokid over Tunecore and the other competitors. Unless you are running your own record label, and releasing multiple large records for multiple large bands. As an indie artist or band manager, go with DistroKid. This section will explain in-depth why this is so.

Which service you go with generally amounts to how much traction you have on your own and whether you’re planning to be a releasing under multiple artists/bands. All of the companies have almost the same distribution networks. Any differences usually amount to <1% of your streams and sales. Distribution networks are essentially null at this stage in the industry.

Tunecore charges a subscription for each musical release on a yearly payment schedule. You are able to keep all royalties on the songs and will stay in the distribution network as long as you pay the subscription. The more releases that are done, the more expensive the service becomes. Additionally, to break even on each release, you need to generate a lot of streams and sales. If this was the 90s, this would be the best distribution network. It’s not.

CDBaby charges a small 1-time fee for each musical release. Yet takes a percentage of royalties generated from the distribution network. In my mind, CDBaby actually impedes you as you get bigger popularity. For actual numbers, if a track or album generates >$950 yearly revenue the service starts to lag behind Tunecore. Yet is almost always behind DistroKid.

DistroKid charges a yearly subscription to stay on their service. Their basic plan is $20 a year. Their upgraded plan is $36/yr. It immediately beats Tunecore and CDBaby with that pricing unless you’re only releasing 2 singles for the entirety of your artistic career with Tunecore (or 2 a year with CDBaby).

You get to keep 100% of your royalties and can release an unlimited amount of tracks and albums, without raising the price of the subscription. The $36/yr plan is recommended, as it allows you to set release/preorder dates, gain data insights, and set iTunes prices.

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Right now the industry is changing rapidly and artists are finding that thanks to technology a new release schedule is becoming extremely lucrative. It’s moving from “Movie style” to “Youtube Style”. Instead of doing one large project blockbuster hit, it’s better to reach out to your fans often. In other words, instead of 1 album a year, it’s better to do multiple small releases.

This strategy is much more effective for artists (especially indies) because it allows you to frequently interact with your fans in a meaningful way. Each new release is an event to increase your popularity and fan base. At the moment, only DistroKid is efficient and effective for this strategy.

 

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What is Needed To Release on Tunecore?

The requirements for distributing a song to Tunecore are pretty straight forward. They have the same requirements as any distribution service. You only need to bring a few things to the table. Here’s a rundown of everything you’ll need:

  • A Tunecore account
  • Funds to pay for the service
  • A kickass track or album
  • An ISRC Number (Tunecore will provide you with one if you don’t have one)
  • Amazing album art for the track/album
  • Artist information (You and any collaborators)
  • A list of what digital stores you want Tunecore to release to

What Does A Successful Tunecore/DistroKid Release Need?

This is a slightly different question. Here’s what you need in order for your release to be as successful as possible. After releasing a bunch of indie music over the years I’ve determined three things that really up the success of music being sent to a distribution platform.

Fans

First, you’ll need an existing fan base and a way to communicate your new releases to them. Most of the store’s suggestion algorithms look at how popular tracks are and will suggest tracks with more traction more often. It’s unfortunate but you need to have some form of off-platform buzz.

You’re probably doing it already, but if you aren’t; Post in your social groups, tell your fans, advertise during shows, and if you got an email list from merch sales, send it to them too. Make them aware.

Sexy Album Art

Second, album art needs to look professional. This is pretty much the first contact fans and potential new listeners come into contact with you in the music stores. It needs to be on point because subconsciously the quality will be attached to your music. I found a direct correlation between art quality and shares/new listener discovery.

You’ll need a really good graphic designer, illustrator, or photographer. If that’s you, put in extra time to make it look amazing. Reach out to buddies if you know any. I didn’t know any, but I found a few freelancers online. Ironically I found them on Fiverr and learned that inexpensive doesn’t mean cheap.  I’ve come to use freelancers a lot more in my work. Click the button to see for yourself:

Priming The Algorithm

Finally, and this is a huge game-changing secret for music distribution… You need to set a future release date of at least 2 weeks after you send it to Tunecore. Here’s a guide on how to do it. This is a real pro strategy. Let me break it down. If you intend to do this on DistroKid you need the $36/yr plan.

All the main music platforms have new release suggestion engines in place. When a new track is released, they find their way to new fans through these playlists. However, all of these platforms require time to get to your track, analyze it, and decide what kind of listeners would enjoy it. This usually takes around 10 days.

If it doesn’t get that analysis, it won’t make it on to the suggestion playlists, because by the time it does get analyzed, the track will be too old for a “New song suggestion” playlist.

Adding in this future release date lets Spotify, Apple, Google Play, etc figure out what your music is all about, and connect potential new fans that will enjoy it.

 

Is Tunecore a Scam For New Artists?

It’s definitely not a scam, but it’s definitely not for the naive or new mixmasters. Just because you can put your music into the system doesn’t mean they’ll ever get purchased. A large portion of music (around 94%) on the platform sells fewer than 100 copies. 64% of the tracks manage sell more than one copy. 1 in 3 tracks don’t sell at all. You definitely have to be in the top 5% of music composers for this platform to really pay off.

The main problem with the above paragraph is the annual fee, the first year for an album is cheap at $35.99 but the following years it costs $50 to keep your album on the platform’s roster. If you’re not making the sales you’re just going to be losing money.

As mentioned above Distrokid is almost always the better alternative. With only a small recurring yearly fee, Distrokid will be much more efficient for you.

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Both services provide a nice way to reach potential audiences and are a great way to bring in some extra money that can be used to improve your setup or free up some time to continue to create. But if you’re looking at a distribution service be sure to pick the one that’s right for where you’re at professionally.

How to Become A Professional Music Producer and Sell Your Beats

Why You Should Work Towards Trying To Sell Beats

I remember the first time I sold some of my music. I sold a backing track to my buddy for his live DJ shows down at a college bar. Initially I was going to give it to him for free, all I asked was for him to promote me. But he refused, said he’d pay and passed me $40. He told me, “Producing music takes a lot of time. If you’re just giving it away for free you’re essentially forced to only do once in a while. You won’t be able to dedicate as much time to your craft. You won’t be able to give what the track deserves. Quality will suffer and you’ll be stagnating as an artist. Less time leads to less practice. That’ll stunt your growth. “You can’t not sell”.

I had to follow his advice and I have to say it’s one of the most satisfying ways to make money. You’re creating something you put your soul into that was forged out of passion. Then it lets you buy fancy dinners. It sure as hell beats a nine to five. Since then I’ve sold different compilations in online marketplaces and to video advertisement agencies for YouTube and television marketing.

Creating a beat worth selling

One of the most important things a music producer needs to learn (or any artist really). It’s that when you’re creating something with the intent to sell, you’re creating value for the right person. I’ve ran into so many “VISIONARY” DJs and producers who create weird ass shit that they love; but it sounds like noise to the average listener. They’re creating music for themselves, it’s purely selfish in nature. Call it selling out if you want, but if you’re creating music for others, create it for others first and your own ego later.

So when you’re creating a beat to put on a marketing database or online you have to start with the end in mind. Who’s this beat for? Is it for an upbeat fizzy drink ad? DJs looking to add some Metalcore to their transitions? Is there a demand for what you want to make? Work backwards and create something people can’t help but need because it was made for them.

Where do you sell your beats?

There are two different ways to sell your musical productions and beats. You can either join a free marketplace where other members are trying to sell. Or you can get yourself on paid distribution databases like Tunecore or CD Baby. These sites put your music on Google play/iTunes. These databases also have sync licensing which is intended for non-musicians and content producers to find tracks for use in their media. Think commercials, media, movies, television, etc.

Now I’ve had some experiences with online marketplaces. I put my tracks up, and didn’t get a single sale, because literally everyone on these sites were there for one reason. They all wanted to sell beats like me. They weren’t there to buy them.

Any sale I did make was through self driven promotion. I had to do it myself and could have just sold to them directly for my own price. But this is absolutely amazing if you’re starting out and don’t really have an infrastructure foundation. It’s extremely simple to do. You just make an account, put your beat up, and hope someone willing to pay finds it once in a while.

The money goes straight to your Paypal and you can build your portfolio. Sales are rare, and you’re definitely not going to build a reputation on these sites. Not without hitting the pavement hard with self promotion.