“Hey boy, hey girl. Superstar DJs, here we go” – The Chemical Brothers
Let me start this post by saying I have the utmost respect for real DJs – those people who can take two pieces of music, on two physical pieces of plastic, put them on two actual turntables, and make them sound like one continuous tune.
Back in the ’90s, most of my friends got into dance music in a big way, and they could mix two songs on the turntables in a half decent way. One even made a living out of it for a while, running his own club nights with the likes of Mixmaster Morris and Jimpster, touring Japan with Coldcut and eventually moving into sound mixing and engineering. I, on the other hand, was completely useless at it. I knew the theory, had loads of great tunes, and could operate the technology, but I couldn’t get my head around the actuality of altering the speed of one song to match the other and then starting it at the right time to align the beats and keep them in time long enough to mix between the two.
When the iPod came along, a different set of friends and I briefly dabbled with the concept of MP3-jaying. Two of us behind the mixer, one song each, battling to outdo the other’s selection, but there was no mixing as such. Just ‘blending’ between the songs with the cross fader.
With the digital music revolution came a whole new way to play around with your music. CDJ decks started to take over in the clubs, soon followed by proper MP3 mixers, before it all went back to the old skool with Serato – custom made vinyl discs that play on regular turntables and are hooked up to a computer where clever software interprets the signals from the decks to manipulate digital music files and allows DJs all the control they had with vinyl, but without having to lug crates of records around with them. The price of all of that kit is still one of the biggest barriers to entry into the DJ arena, apart from actually being able to beat-match obviously, and that’s where software like Algoriddim’s latest release of its flagship Djay software comes in. It’s currently only 20 bucks in the Mac App Store and for that you can turn your Mac into a set of decks, complete with mixing console, effects and a sampler.
Using it couldn’t be simpler, just grab a file from your iTunes library displayed below the virtual decks and you’re off. Djay starts playing the music, puts the artwork onto the spinning turntable and analyzes the tune, working out not just the tempo but the key it was made in. It generates a waveform of the music which is displayed above the turntable and shows you where in the song you are currently. With a click of the mouse, this display changes to a zoomed in view which shows you the tell-tale peaks of the beat of the track.
Grab another track from your library for the second deck and Djay will analyze that too. Now with a click of the sync button, the BPM will be matched perfectly and you’re almost ready for your first mix. Version 4 introduces full OSX Lion support, which includes full screen mode and mouse/trackpad gestures, so you can place two fingers on your magic trackpad and virtually grab the record and spin it to the start of the beat, hold it against the pull of the motor and release it at the right moment to start your mix.
You can also set a cue point at the start and practice starting the track using that. Every function in Djay has a keyboard shortcut – many have two versions, one for each deck – so you can operate it all seamlessly. There’s even support for external MIDI controllers for when you get really good. The gestures extend to controlling the cross fader with a left/right swipe and even turning the control knobs, although I found this a little tricky in practice. Much easier to adjust the hi, low and mid range filters with the mouse.
Speaking of filters, a click of the button below the cross fade opens up the effects panel where you’ll find a plethora of ways to tweak the sound of your tunes. There are flanger, phaser, bit-crusher, reverb echo and gate effects, all with their own sliders and knobs to twiddle or a touchpad style control interface. Also in this panel you’ll find a sophisticated loop controller that can automatically loop sections of the tune in increments from 1/16ths to 32 beats, all on the fly, and perfectly in time, another one to skip through the tune in the same increments, and finally a section to mark three additional cue points. Clicking another button in the center here opens up the new sampler which can playback some built in sounds, like a siren and other cheesy stuff, and also any clips you have on your hard drive or anything you want to record right there from either deck or a mic.
My frustrations with not being able to learn how to mix led me to try it another way, using the raw audio files and SoundEdit 9 – anyone remember that? This had the advantage of being able to fine tune every aspect of the mix, not just the tempo, but the start/end points, adding samples and even editing the actual tracks if they didn’t fit with my plan. I was very pleased with the result (you can have a listen to it on Soundcloud if you like), but it does feel a little mechanical. I still have all the individual tracks so they have now formed the basis for my testing of Djay. I know them all so well, having listened to the mix over and over, that I was able to faithfully recreate it with only a couple of practice runs. Djay also includes an option to record your set for posterity with the click of a button, although I’m not quite confident enough to share the results with you just yet!
Other great new features in this latest release include Harmonic Match – which can analyze your library and tell you what key each track is in to make it easier for you to find ones that will mix well together, and iCloud Integration — which keeps playlists and cue point in sync across all your devices. And it’s all wrapped up in an overhauled UI with OpenGL graphics.
To get the most out of Djay you will need at least one additional piece of equipment – either a headphone splitter or a USB audio device such as the Griffin iMic – to enable you to send the main output to your sound system and to pre-cue the tracks in your headphones. If you get serious about using it, you can invest in a MIDI controller that gives you physical controls for all of the software functions. One of them, made by Vestax, was developed with Algoriddim and even mimics the layout of the program in its hardware. You can also use Algoriddim’s Djay Remote app ($4.99 on iTunes) on your iOS device to control the tunes from the dance floor if you’re so inclined. The UI is shrunk down nicely so that all the important features are right there in your hand, allowing you to leave the laptop hooked up and just wander around taking requests, and maybe letting the excellent Automix settings take control of the cross fader for a bit if you need a break. There’s even a version of Djay specially made for the iPad ($19.99 iTunes Link), with all the same features, shrunk down to fit the smaller screen and adding AirPlay functionality. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to scratch your tunes right there on the screen.
Like Apple’s Garageband, this is an app I can lose hours to, and not come out of it thinking I’ve wasted my time because I’ve had so much fun!
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of Djay.