Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is the HID/Rekordbox enabled CDJ's a waste if you use them with DVS software?

Recently, I engaged in a Facebook debate where a friend of mine directed a post to another friend of mine who is a CDJ-2000Nexus owner, asking if don't they think it's a waste to be using the CDJ-2000Nexus as a controller? For the sake of security, I will refer to the poster as DJ Cane, and the Nexus owner DJ Lite. I quote the post as follows:

"DJ Lite, doesn't hooking a laptop up to some cdj's to Mix music seem like a waste of some perfectly good cdj's and defeat the purpose of owning them to mix? What are kids doing these days I see it all the time now and don't get it!???"

He further added this comment.

"I totally understand what you mean [other dj] with the plug and play off a computer to make it easy if you aren't familiar to the operating system on a cdj's but, I'm more referring to the people who know how to use them have prepared music but just choose to turn their cdj's into giant expensive computer controllers."

Here is my response.

  "Actually DJ Cane, if you are referring to the thought that a CDJ's best use is ONLY with Rekordbox, that is very incorrect. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the features like quantize and ahem beat sync, along with the beat and loop effects are exclusively on CDJ-mode only. However, you're not giving enough credit to the HID control system that the first CDJ-2000 along with all present generation CDJ's are equipped with. HID control is more advanced than simple MIDI control, that is because it can not only accurately detect high resolutions of rotation (which is important for accurate jog wheel motion), it can ALSO display parameters such us waveforms and playlists onto the CDJ-2000 and CDJ-2000Nexus LCD screens.

What's the big deal about HID? Up until HID was invented, the only way to use a DVS program like Serato or Traktor was to use a timecode CD similar to timecode vinyl on a turntable. The biggest setback to CDJ users who added a DVS system to their setup is that they lose a lot of the functions that a CDJ would have, like using the main cue button, the hot cue buttons and the loop. That is because "relative mode" is relative to the position of of the song on the software, and not the position the CD timecode signal. The closest you can get to a near-CDJ experience is to use absolute mode, however, the initial cue of a track will have a minor delay to catch up to the timecode position that you can clearly hear, as well as the fact that you have to always reset your cue points for every song as you play, which can be inconvenient and time consuming.

The HID system, which was a joint development between Serato and Pioneer and is also applied to Native Instruments Traktor, was created so that the DVS user can finally bring home the 100% CDJ experience home to their software. That means that the hot cues, loop buttons, and the main cue and play buttons function EXACTLY as if you were only playing on a CDJ. And the fact that your playlists can be viewed and selected on the LCD screen, means you can literally put your laptop HIDDEN and away from view, and no one would even know what program you are using. The added bonus to the MIDI functionality is the fact you can reassign knobs and buttons to trigger effects and transport controls as well.

The truth is, the present generation Rekordbox/HID enabled CDJ's has MULTIPLE functions to use it. The obvious use is what EVERYBODY does which is, plug a USB stick, and play it as is. But you have to remember there was further development so that the CDJ can be used as a CONTROLLER, which is actually very new to the CDJ as a standalone deck. In one gig, one DJ would never use ALL the functions of the CDJ, because it wouldn't be practical for one DJ to switch around between Serato, Traktor, and Rekordbox. HOWEVER, I have done a set with two other DJ's, where in one night, we switched between Traktor HID mode, Rekordbox, and Serato HID mode.

The fact to recognize is, the CDJ is made to be used 3 main ways: 1) Rekordbox mode 2) Serato HID control mode 3) Traktor HID control AND soundcard mode. And the funniest part is, there are even native mappings for Virtual DJ and Ableton Live as well that can be used with the CDJ.

So I don't think DJ Lite is wasting a perfectly good set of CDJ's, in reality he's using them in a rare way that most people aren't aware of. The only time I would say someone is wasting their CDJ-350/850/900/2000/2000Nexus is when they still use a Timecode CD, because literally, you're making the CDJ function no better than an older CDJ-800. Not everyone has to use a CDJ the way Tiesto and Armin van Buuren use it, just walking up with a thumbdrive. The reason why those things are SO expensive is because, there is more technology on it, that any one DJ will ever figure out. And yes Dru Soy we have had this conversation, 3 years ago, when I was excited about the potential of HID control."

"^^^ And if everything I rambled above went over anyone's heads, I will gladly would love to demonstrate the use of HID control with Serato Scratch Live tonight at 10pm at Joker's when Open House kicks off"

"Also, because of the HID system, did you know on Serato and possibly Traktor, you can have the CDJ-2000's control the software in Internal Mode, and have Relative Mode linked to a turntable? That's not possible with Rekordbox alone."

"One last thing, to say it's a waste as I quote from DJ Cane to "turn their cdj's into giant expensive computer controllers", the fact is, the CDJ IS A CONTROLLER. You're either controlling a USB stick OR a computer. You're sorting digital files from either a USB source or a DVS software played back from a SOUNDCARD. Now unless you're playing CD's, the present generation Rekordbox/HID enable CDJ's is a MULTI-PLATFORM CONTROLLER that gives you OPTIONS. It's the most universal single decks created in our time." 

Monday, November 11, 2013

My thoughts on Reloop's newest turntable, the RP-8000 with MIDI functionality.

I am a bit pleased to see someone is taking charge of the turntable market. Sure Vestax, Stanton, and Numark were good competitors to Technics, and still are competing despite the discontinuation of the SL-1200, but I feel like the whole turntable market hasn't really innovated anything new.

Looking at how "standard equipment" evolved in the past 10 years, I saw the birth of the CDJ, that for a while, actually affected the sales of the Technics to the point that they came down in price as far as $399 when I worked at Guitar Center in 2006. The M5G's were $699 during this time as well, the price you can buy used ones for today. However, with DVS software like Serato and Traktor on the rise, I don't think the turntable, even though I am not a user myself, ever left the circle. It seems like it's more the choice by the open format, hoip hop, and showcase DJ's; while the EDM guys are on CDJ's or controllers.

Up until now, the only turntables designed for DJ use with midi functionality has been custom 1200's with built in dicers. I know Vestax developed a turntable that was an all out midi controller, but that was meant to be more of an instrument, that a DJ tool to trigger hot cues, loops and samples. What I like about this new RP-8000, is that it's the first turntable to take cues from the Technics, the innovations of Stanton, innovations from Numark, AND innovations from custom modified 1200's.

To explain, the aluminum finish, rectangular start/stop buttons, S tone arm, and overall look and feel (at least on photo) is made to make a Technics user feel comfortable and at home. Of course, like most newer turntables, they gave it a second start/stop button on the lower left corner. Since this is a Super OEM turntable, it's likely to be built in the same factory as some of Stanton models as well as other brands. In fact, it's using the exact same tone arm as a Stanton ST-150, which was Stanton's best S-arm turntable. The digital pitch read out is reminiscent of the Numark TTX's pitch control. If that wasn't Numark-like enough, they even included a feature that people didn't realize that the second generation of TTX's actually had; the torque strength adjustment. Many DJ's don't realize, that from all "pro" turntables, the 1200 actually had the weakest torque. Stanton, Vestax, and Numark all head a bigger stronger motor that Technics, which was why those turntables were always heavier. Some DJ's and turntablist found the strong motor a little too strong. Numark developed selectable torque strength, and Reloop seems to be the first manufacturer to follow that idea. And up until now, the only way to get midi trigger buttons on the top of your turntable was to either place in some dicers, or have them custom meshed into the body. It looks like Reloop answered that demand.

Now I have only seen this turntable in the article, but a few things I could think to improve it would be, a vertical pitch fader including it's display; and a tonearm as advanced as Vestax's A.S.T.S. tonearms. Let's be real for a second, if you are using DVS software to DJ with, sound quality is not an issue from record to needle. What is more important is stability and gain from the timecode records. A straight arm would have been a better choice here, especially one like Vestax that canhave the turntable positioned up to a 45 degree angle. Maybe that would be overkill, but I don't think it would cost more to have the Stanton STR8 tonearm in place of the ST-type ones.

Now this is totally my own speculation, and I could totally be proven wrong depending how well Reloop markets these tables, but even if these decks are everything they promise to be in reality as they are on paper, I have a doubt in my mind that they will take off. I think one of the main reasons companies like Stanton, Numark, and Vestax never really put much effort in creating new products for the turntable market lately, is because turntable users, specifically Technics users, will always be loyal to Technics. Don't get me wrong, I give a lot of credit to Technics build quality with the SL-1200 but let's be honest, they weren't exactly a great DJ gear company. They just made a good turntable, that's it. Technics was known for two epic fails, their DJ CD player that was supposed to compete with the Pioneer CDJ's, and the mixer that went along with it. Despite companies making higher torque motors, digitally accurate pitch adjustment, turntable alternatives like the Pioneer CDJ and all the media players that followed it including motorized platter players like on the Numark CDX as well as newer Numarks and Denon decks and controllers; the Technics users, whether they scratched, juggled, or not, remained loyal to their Technics. A few moved over, but it seems like the common rider request for open format DJ's across America are still Technics SL-1200MK2's or higher. It doesn't matter if you give them more torque, less skipping, or make the turntable look and feel like a 1200, I think the loyalist are wired to choose the Technics. My speculation for that reason is simply because, there is no other DJ product in history, that lasted over 30 years, unchanged. Nobody can argue that the 1200 gained a lot of trust.

Working DJ's tend to be conservative, and want to make sure they have a product they can rely on and know they can get help with. Despite dealing with skipping when someone walks across a flimsy stage, or getting subharmonic feedback from the subwoofers to the needles, there's more people that can help you repair an SL-1200 than let's say, a Pioneer CDJ, or a Numark TTX. There's only two products I see that work in the DJ world, either a product that completely moves away from the classic turntable, like controllers and arguably the CDJ; or a product that preserves the 1200, like all DVS software and the accesories that go with it, like Novation Dicers. Anything that tries to mimic a turntable, doesn't seem to have a long shelf life. The Numark CDX was a pretty cool invention for the time but many of it's users reverted back to turntables when DVS software was on it's rise. Denon had many fumbled attempts which included the DN-S5000 and 3500 until they got something right. Turns out flanger and echo effects are as important as stability.

On a side note, what I don't understand is when DJ's, especially younger DJ's, use turntables, don't scratch, but insist on using turntables. Some admit it, some don't, but for the ones that do, they say they want to maintain a certain respectable image. For some it's the acceptance of older DJ's, for others, it's being an accepted image in a market you're trying to be a part of. My question has always been, if you're in a market trying to conform and preserve an image, how exactly do you expect to stand out? I understand if you're an older DJ, and turntables are something you are comfortable with. But the on going rhetoric of "I'm upgrading my controller to Technics". Technologically it's not even an upgrade. Now if you're studying or are capable of turntablism, I definitely respect that. But when I see other DJ's with booking power judging other DJ's and not booking them because they use a controller, I find that kind of silly. I mean, how about we judge them for how they sound, isn't that what matters? The value of any artist isn't about what he uses, more so how well he uses it. To what F** does it matter, what he's using, if he sounds just like you when he uses it? If the guy with the controller sounds like you, he doesn't have a problem; however, you might when he tries to take your job, possibly for less money (undercutters). So unless you an make yourself sound better on turntables, are just both guys who beatmatch and pick songs. There's nothing about having a controller that says a guy can't read a crowd or program his set, nor is there is anything about DJing on Technics that makes you more creative. There should have been a label on every Technics SL-1200 box that says, "talent not included". Anyways, I've rambled away from the subject, I think Reloop is on to something with this new deck of theirs, we'll see if the Technics users bite on this one.
My response to the article "'Ghost-Producing' is EDM's Dirty Little Secret"
Original Article:

Something to think about. Now while "production" is what makes DJ's famous, at least in the EDM world, as oppose to "performance", is having a few tracks produced by someone else entirely wrong? Now maybe leaving the impression that the given famous DJ made the track when he didn't can be a dishonest practice, let's think about it from an artist and performer point of view.

When you think of all Michael Jackson songs, you don't think about every writer, composer, perhaps even the dance choreographer that developed or assisted in the music video as well as the live shows. You don't think about the lighting guys on the stage, the pyros, the camera work, or the musicians that recorded the instruments. You think of the "experience" as Michael Jackson (the show).

Now let's bring it to something more familiar. Hip Hop music has been notorious as being a sample based form of music; many times not giving credit to the original sample's owner. Despite the controversy, the tweaking and editing of samples is accepted as an artform and part of the music's history.

Has the current world of EDM made us forget what a DJ really does? Isn't a DJ a person who plays "other people's" music? It's silly that people just don't know the difference between a DJ and a producer, and that when a DJ actually does a few things to be a DJ, people get all riled up.

So in a nutshell, I don't find it wrong if a superstar DJ has a team of ghost producers. People came to see a "show". I do would wish they would be more honest and crediting of it; at least say it was a collaboration with a new artist. In reality, what they do behind closed doors is really their business. I find it funny that if an artist is caught in one instance where they had to "lip sync" a set or had a ghost producer, produce a song, people act like this superstar was never capable of DJing or producing. I would even argue that some of the superstar's best work, was BEFORE THEY BECAME SUPERSTARS. Let's be fair, we really don't know the responsibilities behind the work it takes to set these shows up and make music, when you are that big, famous, and busy. Before they were superstars, they had more time in the world to concentrate on their music. I'm not defending poor work or lazy work when it comes to being an established artist. But I will say, from experience, that when you're busy traveling, your mind is not all there to sit down and make music.

And really, the people getting screwed are not the people buying the record or going to the show. They paid for a song and show and they got a song and a show. It doesn't change the quality of the song, whether the track was good or bad. The only person truly getting screwed is the ghost producer himself, who sold his song to a superstar for easy cash. But even then, let's be smart. Corporations have employees that develop innovations all the time that the corporation takes the credit for. Music is a money generating industry, and every superstar artist is just another franchise. And to call it a "dirty secret", really? Any ounce of common sense would have let you figure this out a long time ago.