This weekend for a little variety I decided to swap bars with another DJ and instead of my usual funk and soul, I did a RnB & hip-hop night. Now I’m no stranger to hip-hop nights, over the years I’ve done plenty of these nights and I know what works. Anyway, what made me decide to write this blog was that during the night I was asked by a customer “ What’s on your hip-hop playlist tonight? ” to which my response was “ I don’t use playlists and I’m just going to wing it”. To my surprise the customer looked a little put-out and walked off – this isn’t the first time this has happened to me recently either.
Now, perhaps saying I’m just going to wing it wasn’t the best way to phrase it but saying “ I don’t use pre-made playlists and I’ll use my years of experience to read the crowd and play the right tracks that fit the genre for the bar” would have been a little bit of mouth full but at the same time I wasn’t prepared to reel off a list of artists which I may or not play. As it turned out Drake, Rihanna & Chris Brown didn’t go down very well and the classics like Blackstreet, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. were the floor fillers – so it ended up being a hip-hop classics night.
Now the question is, is it good to use pre-made playlists and my first response would be no. With pre-made playlists, your sets are going to be the same pretty much every time which will quickly make you bored and the crowd also - they will pick up on this if you play the same tracks week in week out. With sticking to a pre-made playlist you can’t adapt to the dance floor, the crowd may not be the same or in the same mood each week. You don’t want to be continuing with a playlist of tracks that is killing the mood and nobody can predict the night ahead!
For a few weeks now my DJ laptop had run a little peculiar and this should have been a warning for what was to happen. At the start of the week, my laptop died and I had to reload Windows, Traktor and Rekordbox but this was only the start of my troubles. The Windows reload meant that my laptop was now running the new version of Windows and the same new version Pioneer said not to install. I had no way to revert back, I could no longer sync up my USB sticks for my CDJs and in the process, I had wiped one USB stick trying to sync. I thought this wasn’t too much of an issue though as I could still use CDs, this was until one CDJ decided it wasn’t going to play CDs anymore.
During the week my newly reloaded laptop was still being a little peculiar and later on, the day of a gig my laptop died again. The hard drive failed and needed replacing. So now I had no laptop, one working USB stick and one CDJ. I needed my gear working and I needed it working soon.
Luckily I had a few backup plans, firstly, all my music is stored on an external hard drive and my iTunes playlists also exported and saved; this makes any reboot a little easier to complete. I have a second backup with all my purchased tracks on another hard drive and a spare laptop. The second laptop has a lower spec, not ideal but it gets the job done. With time, I was able to load my playlists for Rekordbox on to the wiped USB stick using this spare laptop. Windows hadn’t been updated yet and iTunes was loaded with the playlists. One problem fixed.
I put a new hard drive in my main DJ laptop and started to reload Windows again. I was pretty lucky on this as I had a spare hard drive which wasn’t being used. I keep all my DJ software, serials and driver CDs in a box with my spare gear so they are easy to find, this was a life saver. As quickly as possible I reloaded Traktor and the required drivers onto the laptop. As this was loading I gathered my stuff, by this point, it was getting close to the line. I have a few older CDJs knocking about, these aren’t USB CDJs but I was able to grab one and a wallet of emergency MP3 CDs. At this point, I wasn’t sure if my reloaded Windows and Traktor would be work so taking down a third CDJ as a safety net.
With seconds to spare before I had to leave for my gig, my laptop finished installing iTunes, the playlists and Traktor. I had no time to analyse the tracks but I never analyse my tracks anyway as I flip between the laptop and CDJs, I rarely mix with the sync button. I wouldn’t recommend using an untested machine for a gig but it was something I was going to risk. I did have my spare second laptop with me but the specs are too low and I’m not comfortable solely relying on it.
Now many might be thinking I’m going to go down the road of vinyl is king, digital DJs are just button pushers, it's about beatmatching blah blah but no. I like to DJ with all sorts of different mediums including vinyl but I also DJ with CDs, USBs and Traktor with controllers and DVS and I’m not going to get into which is best and this post is just about the music. But why should you buy hard copies from a record store? From a DJ point of view, there are just some tracks that you can’t buy on a download like limited editions, old obscure records, remixes on older pressings or maybe the odd old DJ Promo. Searching around for these tracks which will, in turn, make you stand out from the vast crowds of DJs and the usual Beatport 100 DJs.
Buying from a record store you get the advice and opinions of the staff who could point you in another direction, again making you stand out. There may be the soul enthusiast who could point out a record with an obscure hip-hop sample that would go with the old skool hip-hop record you just picked up or the disco enthusiast pointing out a record to go with that house record. We’ve all seen the film Human Traffic with Koop the vinyl pusher and the record store scene right? If not id suggest some homework and go and watch it but in the scene, people are asking his opinion and advice. With record stores you’re getting a personal service and hopefully honest opinions and who would work in a music store if you hated music? Not many. Buying those records keeps this personal service going for other DJs and music lovers in the future and the creativity going. Record stores are closing because of technology and it’s a shame it needs something like this to try and keep them going, however vinyl sales are on the up (even if it was just for Christmas) so fingers crossed it keeps getting better.
When downloading new tracks online, you don’t really get a warm personal service, it’s cold and emotionless and this can be an uncreative process by simply downloading the Beatport Top 100. When downloading music you may see star ratings or the faceless keyboard troll leaving negative feedback just because and would you click on a low rated track? Would it even appear in your search? Probably not as it’s just text on a screen with a star rating and rankings. Everybody is going to be playing the same stuff this way, an example would be Boiler Room. I’ve listened to quite a few and recently came across 3 sets which were all very similar and playing the same tracks and if all local DJs are playing the Beatport Top 100 then it’s all a little bit boring really.
For International Women's Day here are 5 awesome mixes we enjoy listening to from 5 female DJs in the industry. We particularly like the one by Little Boots for its track selection and we have this on repeat here at THDJs.
From being a DJ in my local town for the past 14 years I have seen a dramatic decrease in bars and the number of people coming out into town. I started DJing when my town didn’t have late licenses, beer was cheap and Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday was rammed. We’re lucky if we get a busy Saturday now. The licensing laws in my local town back then said you had to be in your chosen bar by 10:30PM or you were locked out and had to go home; here you stayed till the end at 1:00, you couldn’t even leave to go to the cash machine. Now, at the time this seemed daft and to some point yes it was but I think for my local town its one of the reasons for the decline. Bars are now open until 3:00 and you can come and go whenever you feel, which is great to an extent but with cheap alcohol now in supermarkets people are choosing to drink at home, watch X-Factor and come out after midnight. They aren’t locked into one bar to spend the cash in one place and by the time they get out into town they are already drunk and don’t spend as much. Money is tight for most and I don’t blame them for this but local bars that aren’t chains simply can’t lower their prices to compete with supermarkets, in fact, the prices in bars go up to try and meet their overheads and its made worse that people aren’t out as long. In my local town, a large chain has opened up, selling cheap drinks and it’s wiped the town out. Everybody else is struggling, simply because they can’t compete with price and the people who are out are simply sheep. Everybody moans about the fights, cheap nasty drinks, the bad cheesy music, plastic pint glasses, too many kids but they all still go because everybody else goes there. Which leads me to the people who go out into town...
The crowd dictates, which I think is a big reason for the problems in most towns. One reason I decided to write this was also to defend the poor DJ in the documentary who was playing a small local bar and who they were laughing at for playing the Macarena. Another reason for the decline in the nightlife, mainly in smaller towns is simply the people who go out. A DJ in a small town usually doesn’t have the fanbase, they don’t have the pulling power the larger DJ’s like Annie Mac have or even the number of people who go out to the cities do so they have to play what people dance to for what little people do come out. If people don’t dance to a house track but they do dance to the Macarena, unfortunately, the Macarena wins regardless even if we all think its cheddar cheese. Now, I run a few nights, one pop and one soul and Motown. The 2nd has been running every Friday now for the past 4 years, although funk, soul, and Motown aren't anything new but it’s not the same as every other bar in my local town playing chart, it’s not really an offensive genre, people know it and why I started it. I have a modest following in the small bar but I still get arguments every week as to why I won’t play Drake, Rihanna or Calvin Harris. I explain nicely why I won’t be playing those tracks and they can hear what they want in any other bar and club in town, I show them the flyer; explain it’s been running for 4 years like this, doing something different etc. So far I’ve been spat at, had a bottle thrown at me, heckled, had somebody threaten to beat me up, offer me money, cry on me, screaming at me saying I was £$%^, one tried to get the whole bar to walk out, I’ve been told I’ve ruined somebody’s night, one threatened to pour a drink on my equipment and one tried to throw the PA speakers on the floor. The last one was because I wouldn’t play Madonna “Like a Prayer” which isn’t funk, soul or Motown believe it or not. The rest was because I wouldn’t pay top 40 chart. This is a smaller bar, I can just about get away with advertising and doing a genre specific night but I only draw in enough of a crowd to make it just about worthwhile. If you’re in a larger bar and people aren’t willing to listen or dance to something that’s not top 40 or cheese then what do you do? Most will play to what the crowd wants to dance to even if it cheesy to keep the dance floor full. Unfortunately, in smaller towns chart, cheese and RnB is the majority.
We have been keeping a look out for the new player for some time now since the #ChangeYourRider hashtag first appeared, we have now seen some videos appear and from what it looks like.....wow!
Hopefully, I won’t be biased as I’ve used Denon products from mixers to media player myself for a number of years but I also use Pioneer. I’m currently using an older Denon mixer in my current setup, mainly because it does what I need it to do and it’s built like a tank. Anyway, SC5000 Prime..... We’ve not been able to get one to test as we are only new so unfortunately I can only go from what I’ve seen and won’t be able to test one until a show in the UK or we get one in but they look awesome from the videos we’ve seen. With the full-colour screen, hot cue buttons, effects and even down to the little things like album artwork in the platter and the power backup if the plug is pulled. Yes, this still runs for a while in case the power is cut so not to interrupt the playback.
So, the screen first, its high definition, and hi-contrast display is touch screen; which is great for navigation to find that track quickly and allowing you to get back to the mix or interacting with the crowd. If you have not had time to analyse your tracks, this is the first player capable of onboard file analysis. The screen shows all the data such as the beat grid, waveform and BPM on the colour screen. Another unique feature on the SC5000 is its bank of eight multifunction trigger pads for your hot-cues, loops, slices and roll playback which is great for live remixes/edits. Some controller DJs will hopefully feel comfortable with the SC5000 as well. One last feature which I’m just excited about is that the SC5000 has two audio outs, why? Because you can play two tracks at the same time, one can be playing on channel one while the other is playing on channel two and both with its separate colour codes so you won’t get confused. If you like to use multiple channels at the same time like me then it’s much cheaper to buy two units than four! I also hear the RRP is cheaper than Pioneer.