Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Digital DJing

All of Ambient's DJs have gone digital, primarily mixing music using high-quality MP3 files. The specific program used, Serato Scratch Live, is a revolutionary product. DJs lose none of the tactile elements of mixing - in other words, using a time-coded CD or piece of vinyl (i.e., record), DJs can manipulate the digital file that is stored on a laptop computer or external hard drive just as they would a regular CD or piece of vinyl. The time-coded vinyl can even be scratched. Importantly, music can be mixed with Serato.

Benefits to the mobile DJ of digital DJing include:
* Portability (no more lugging huge briefcases of CDs or crates of records);
* Speed in fielding requests (with a keyword search, a DJ can locate a song within 5 seconds... no more digging through the books);
* More time to focus on the party - since songs can be located and cued quickly, a DJ is free to focus on his party guests!
* Longevity (MP3 files do not wear out or get physical scratches);
* The ability to pre-set cue points, freeing a DJ to "hot mix" multiple tracks in mix-show style, or what I like to term "Vegas mode." This feature of Serato comes in handy at Sweet 16 candlelighting ceremonies where the birthday celebrant selects 16 songs for each of 16 individual/groups who come up to light a candle..... by pre-setting cue points, the DJ can quickly jump to the sweet spot of a song, such as the chorus.

Potential negatives of DJing from a laptop include:

* System failure (i.e., laptop crash!) - in my case, to mitigate this risk, for weddings and other formal events, I play special songs such as the first dance off a physical CD in a CD player. The laptops used have very fast processors and we have removed as many programs as possible so that there is minimal potential for competing programs to place a drain on the processor. And of course, a book of backup CDs is brought - just in case the laptop goes down in flames or is ruined by a spilled vodka & tonic!
* DJ Fedde Le Grand of "Put Your Hands Up for Detroit" fame doesn't use a laptop as he believes that it is visually unappealing to see a DJ working off a laptop. That said, for those guests who like to see a DJ spinning the platters (the so-called "trainspotters"), a DJ may still be very busy on the wheels of steel, even if having a laptop in his equipment rig. I agree though that it would be boring to watch a DJ clicking a mouse all night (which I've seen).
* The use of low-quality MP3 files - with illegal filesharing still rampant, many files used by individuals who find their music through filesharing are available only in lower fidelity versions. Many guests would not notice a difference, but audiophiles would likely notice a muddy or tinny fidelity, particularly at certain frequencies. Ambient DJ Service uses only legally downloaded, high-quality digital music files, or music ripped from physical CDs. First and foremost, this is to reward the musical artists who work hard to bring us the best content possible. Second, legal downloads just sound better.

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