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Is DJing a hands-on or mouse-on activity?

Is DJing a hands-on or mouse-on activity?


Whatever people do in the real world, computer software companies will devise a way to do it in the virtual world. Yes, that included.

So it isn't surprising that software geeks have been spotted hanging out in the coolest clubs on Earth, sussing out exactly what it is that gives the DJ his or her magical control over the crowd.

And they have come up with software such as Native Instruments' Traktor DJ Studio.

Software such as this must replicate or replace all the tools of the DJ's trade. That includes the vinyl library, the decks and the mixer. Broken styluses don't need to be emulated fortunately. Scratched and warped records are optional.

Firstly the vinyl library. DJs will commonly have libraries consisting of 1000 or more records, sometimes many more. Plainly this takes up a lot of shelf space, and you will have to have a degree in librarianship simply to navigate your way around.

Next, the decks. Now honestly, if the turntable had never been invented, and someone just invented one now, would anyone be interested? OK, decks are good for scratching and needle-dropping, but there are 1001 other ways a DJ could manipulate music, given the right tools.

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Lastly the DJ mixer, which is used to crossfade between decks, and often to provide EQ and filter functions.

Now if we look at Traktor DJ Studio, what we find is an internal, classifiable and searchable library of music. That library potentially could be as large as your hard disk. You wouldn't need to own a vinyl collection. You could borrow vinyl, or you could buy it cheap, digitize it, then maybe even sell it at a profit on eBay!

Once you have your digital library set up, you can browse it for samples, audition them, then drag the one you want onto one of Traktor's 'DJ decks'. Traktor can of course analyze a track for BPM, and synchronizing one track to another is a simple matter of clicking the 'sync' button! No trial and error, and no train tracking.

DJs commonly identify cue points on records by making marks on the label, or even writing with a wax or felt marker at the exact starting point on the disc of an interesting phrase, and to hell with dirty styluses. Traktor DJ Studio offers digital cue points – up to ten per track (surely more would be useful on occasion).

And where a DJ would loop by mixing back and forth between identical records on the two decks, of course Traktor DJ Studio can loop easily within software. No physical jumping around involved.

Naturally Traktor DJ studio can crossfade, and also EQ and filter – the filters are very powerful with a convenient display of frequency response.

It is fair to summarize that Native Instruments have incorporated all the functions a DJ could want very successfully, and have added to them.

But you can't use Traktor DJ Studio on stage really, can you? The art of DJing is going to remain a physical, hands-on spectacle for a long time yet. And where a DJ does everything by feel and musical instinct, a Traktor DJ will spend a lot of time with the brain's analytical functions engaged, which is not usually a good thing for music.

However, for studio work and the production of hip hop and dance tracks, and also mixtapes, Traktor DJ Studio does seem to be a very powerful tool. Don't throw away your vinyl collection, decks and mixer just yet, but have Traktor DJ Studio running alongside your conventional studio equipment. See what new sounds you can come up with…

David Mellor

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David Mellor