5 Ways The Apple Watch May Help DJs

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I myself don’t know anything about the Apple Watch, and I definitely don’t need another thing to buy. I also find that between the endless app notifications and software updates, I am constantly making adjustments to my phone just to keep it up and running smoothly, so the idea of that expanding to something I wear is less than appealing. I did read an interesting post by Joey Santos from Digital DJ Tips who posed similar questions but saw ways in which the Apple Watch might benefit DJs in the future. While I like to keep my gear to a minimum, other DJs might find it to be something they can’t live without. The following article is re-blogged…please enjoy!

Yesterday, Apple waved its magic wand and introduced us to its take on wearable technology, the Apple Watch. Touted as the company’s “most personal device”, as far as I can see it can do two things quite well that may be of interest to DJs: Collate information about your body and yourself, and send pertinent data discreetly to you, sometimes without demanding you even look at it. (It also, apparently, tells the time, which is quite revolutionary: We’ve all been looking at our phones to do that for years! ;)).

So with these functions in mind, we thought it’d be fun to spend a little time thinking about how the Apple Watch can affect digital DJing. So after the keynote ended yesterday with an awkwardly charming skit from Apple’s Tim Cook and U2’s Bono, I scribbled down a few ways the Apple Watch may help us in our DJing:

1. HELPING WITH BEATMATCHING

While sync’s been around for a while now (and although it’s essential for more advanced form of live production such as in Traktor’s Remix Decks or DJing with Ableton Live) it still pays handsomely to know how to manually beatmatch.

The Apple Watch could give beginners a helping hand by acting as a BPM counter that offers different levels of vibration when two songs are out of sync (light vibration when it’s slightly out of sync, strong when it’s way off, etc). Not only would this be a great tool for learning the basics of beatmatching, but it doesn’t take beatmatching itself out of the equation. (Let’s not forget that, prior to sync, a lot of hardware mixers featured BPM counters on them, and that wasn’t seen as “cheating”.)

The Apple Watch, by introducing sensation through its “Taptic” Feedback feature, would not take your eyesight away from the crowd, helping to reduce screengazing. Fusing sensation with what you’re hearing would definitely help in demystifying beatmatching, making it not necessarily an “easier” affair, but a more manageable one for the beginner

2. SHOWING “TIME LEFT”

One of my least favourite experiences while DJing is having to go to the restroom in the middle of a three-hour plus set – but when you’ve had a few drinks, sometimes you really have to go! In the past I’d look at how many minutes I had left on my CDJ, but there have been one or two occasions where I didn’t make it in time, thanks to a difficult crowd that I’d have to squeeze through! Nowadays, I just throw in a long song when applicable, but if you’re doing a Top 40 / pop set, there often really aren’t any long songs to buy you time.

A “Remaining Time” feature built into Traktor or Serato for Apple Watch would not only gives you the exact amount of time left before the song runs out, but could also calculate the distance and amount of time to and from the loo for you! Further, the app could also give you song recommendations as to what tracks to play next, in case you haven’t thought of that yet. You can then preview them from your Apple Watch and cue them, but personally I’d stop at letting it actually play the song for you – after all, that’s your job…

3. CONTROLLING EFFECTS & LIGHTING

The Apple Watch comes with a gyroscope, and while movement-to-Midi has been around for a while (the Midi Fighter 3D, the Numark Orbit, etc), implementation is in its early stages and would definitely grow when paired with a mass-market device such as the Apple Watch. While there are obvious uses for this in your DJ software such as FX, filter sweeps, and EQ-related tweaks, the Apple Watch could also be used to control visuals and visual FX, both of which could be tightly tied to the DJ/performer onstage.

Imagine being able to affect the strobing or intensity/brightness of your visuals every time you put your hands up: That makes sense because you pump your hands to the beat anyway (if you’re that kind of DJ), so there’s an obvious correlation between the two. The Apple Watch could have an app that sends Midi data to DMX lights, so for example you can have a nice, cool blue hue when you have your hands on your decks at waist level, then brighter, more intense colours when you have your hands up.

4. HELPING TO READ THE CROWD

The Apple Watch could potentially aid in reading the crowd, thanks to its built-in pulse sensor. While it wouldn’t tell you exactly what your crowd wants, it could potentially collect data for you based on other Apple Watches in the vicinity, giving you average pulse readings (ie is it a chill kind of night, or are people ready to get mental?), and even song recommendations to keep the mood going or to kick it a notch higher.

Apple’s keynote didn’t give a lot of information about the watch’s sensor, but it did offer that the watch could tell whether the wearer was actively moving or not. An app for DJs might give you crowd data, such as how many people are actually dancing, how many are seated, how many have come in and out of the club, etc. Of course, this wildly assumes that the Apple Watch becomes a universal device that everyone has on their wrist, but if Samsung and other Android smartwatch developers up their game too, a smartwatch on everyone’s wrist doesn’t sound so implausible, does it?

5. COLLECTING REQUESTS

This could be one of the first uses of the Apple Watch for DJs. In the keynote, we saw Apple’s vice president sending a scribble on his Apple Watch to Jony Ive, Apple’s design lead. A DJ with an Apple Watch could receive these types of messages from other Apple Watch users, eliminating the pen and paper form of taking requests. As the night wears on and inhibitions lower, requests might come flooding in, so a “request screening” function of sorts might be built in to such an app.

Also, since the Apple Watch reads a user’s iTunes data (or maybe even Spotify plays), perhaps a DJ app could have a function that tallies users’ most played songs, and notify you of the most popular tracks per genre (eg Top 10 indie dance tracks)…

FINALLY…

Of course, these are all just speculations based on Apple’s keynote presentation, but I don’t see any reason why we won’t have some form of smartwatch integration with digital DJing. While portable alternatives to laptop DJing, such as DJing on an iPhone or tablet, still have to gain widespread acceptance and use, the Apple Watch could buck this resistance by not trying to replace the laptop and controller, rather augmenting them. It wouldn’t compete with the future Traktor Kontrol S4s and Pioneer DDJ-SXs of the world, rather be an accessory in a class all its own. Hopefully, at least one of my points will become commonplace someday!

Producer Salaam Remi on Making Hits with Alicia Keys, Nas, and More

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“My creations are based upon what I want to hear that I’m not already hearing somewhere else,” says multi-platinum producer Salaam Remi, speaking from his office in New York City. “I create what I’m missing.”

A simple premise, perhaps, but one that has yielded massive success for Remi, who began his career as a keyboardist on Kurtis Blow’s 1986 album Kingdom Blow. Since then, Remi has gone on to produce for Nas, Usher, Amy Winehouse, Miguel, Whitney Houston, Leona Lewis, and many others. Remi was also nominated for a Grammy in 2012 for Producer of the Year and he has been Executive Vice President of AR/Production at Sony Music since 2012.

Amongst his growing duties as executive producer on a wide range of projects, Remi still found time to co-write and co-produce Alicia Keys’ 2012 smash “Girl on Fire,” and just last year, he also released his own Grammy-nominated debut album, ONE: In the Chamber.

Here’s what Remi had to say about balancing his duties in the studio and boardroom, fusing disparate influences throughout his impressive body of work, and how UAD Powered Plug-Ins and the Apollo interface has streamlined his process — and lightened his load.

What’s new and exciting?
At this point, a lot of what I do is executive producing and mixing more records than I’m actually creating, as well as going back and pulling up projects that I’ve done over the past years, mixing those projects, and putting them to the fore. An exciting one for me is an artist named Liam Bailey, who I’ve worked with over the last five years. He was on different records by a group called Chase and Status and had a big UK record called “Blind Faith.” I produced and wrote with him, and that’s the key thing at the moment where I’m using my engineering and recording skills, outside of the executive space.

How are the roles of producer and executive producer different for you?
Producing is very hands-on. As the executive producer, I’m more responsible for pulling things together and handling the financial aspects of a project. It’s more like coming in every few weeks, seeing if things sound good and if everybody is working well together, and offering advice. The producer is more day-do-day into what needs to happen as far as making a record and shaping it with the artist.

Do these roles ever go hand in hand?
I see executive producing as adding another set of ears, like having a friend hanging out, as if I wasn’t involved with the business of the project. I might suggest using a snare drum here, or putting a different bass there, just sharing ideas and thoughts on ways to make something better. Ultimately, the decisions are up to the artist.

I see it like this — robots get programmed and artists get inspired. If I suggest something to the producers and artists that I’m executive producing, it’s not for them to do exactly what I say. It’s for them to take some inspiration from this other point of view and apply it.

How do those influences play into working with an artist like Nas?
Nas and I are friends, and we like a lot of the same music — and our conversations about music spill out into our creations. He’ll say something like, “Hey, remember that song?” Sometimes I might sample it, but other times I might just create something that’s in the zone of the track that he was talking about.

And Alicia Keys?
“Girl on Fire” was the same thing, a conversation that developed into being a record. It came out pretty easily, to be honest. I usually work that way — when I’m speaking with people who have talent, our conversations can quickly turn into audio and musical conversations.

“Even though I’m a vintage freak and I track through a lot of old analog equipment, I still use UAD Powered Plug-Ins.”

How exactly did that manifest with “Girl on Fire?
I came up with some chord changes on my laptop and was playing with some beats and also a guitar riff. Then Alicia started singing to it. Jeff Bhasker came in and started playing the piano to the chord changes that I had in the guitar part. Eventually, we all sat together and worked on it and, three or four hours later, we had the basis of that song.

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“The Roland RE-201 Space Echo plug-in
gives me a nice clay to work with.”

When you’re mixing, what role do Universal Audio plug-ins play?
In all of my studios, I have an Apollo Interface or UAD-2 Satellite DSP Accelerators hooked up. Even though I’m a vintage freak and I have a lot of the older analog equipment that I record through, I still use UAD Powered Plug-Ins.

So even though I record through my hardware Neve 1073, I’ll still utilize the UAD Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection, the Teletronix™ LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection, and the Roland® RE-201 Space Echo Tape Delay Plug-In. So whether I’m in New York, in my space in London, or in Miami or Los Angeles, I work mostly on my laptop, plug into the interface wherever I’m at, and still have access to the same sounds.

Can you talk about your solo album, ONE: In the Chamber?
ONE: In the Chamber is my first vocal-based album that I’ve done myself. I did an instrumental album previously called Praugenosisthat I was going to release a vocal version of, but I’d already taken so many of those tracks and put them in other projects that I decided to look at my catalog again — I realized that I had a lot of songs that hadn’t been released and that involved my orchestral background, as well as the hip-hop, reggae, or jazz angle from the music that I love. So I was able to get in and create a body of work out of the songs that I’d already written. One song was “One in the Chamber” featuring Akon, so I decided to name this project, it being my first album, ONE: In the Chamber.

Did you use the Apollo interface on that album?
For sure. Some of it started before I had the Apollo, so I used my UAD-2 Satellites DSP Accelerators. In general with my mixing process, I usually continue to mix and mix until the final minutes. And because I was traveling a lot between Miami, Los Angeles, London, and New York while I was finishing that album, I was able to open my mixes and continue to work on them without needing to even be near my full studio. With a great set of monitors, the Apollo, and my plug-ins, I was able to continue without having to recall the physical gear.

Utilizing the Apollo with the Thunderbolt connection does a lot for me. I work at 96 kHz, so even though working on the project at that resolution eats up more power, I’m really happy with the sonics that I’m able to push out using it. A lot times these days, I work off of powerful laptops, and I’m excited to be able to expand what I do with them in every way.

Has this technology changed the way you work?
Yes. Over the years, there were times when I had to ship two or three full racks of vintage gear all over the country. Now, that equipment is able to be there virtually because I have Universal Audio hardware with the plug-ins attached that are close replicas of the analog originals. Now, I’m able to really get the sounds that I’m used to, wherever I am.

When you had to ship analog gear, did you have to reset every single parameter once you opened it up again?
Oh yeah, we formulated different ways of dealing with it. We sometimes took pictures of the gear settings — at one point, we had a Hi8 video camera to help us remember how things were set and to keep lining it all up. At this point, I guess we would be using iPhone pictures [laughs], but it definitely means something now to just be able to pull up the plug-ins and do it.

When you’re mixing, what is your go-to UAD reverb?
The Roland RE-201 Space Echo plug-in — I love messing around with the knobs and toying with the sounds I’m putting into it. I don’t have favorite settings that I always go to. If I feel like I have nice clay to work with, I can always make something.

When you’re experimenting with a reverb like that, how do you know when you’ve hit the right setting?
I feel it. When something’s right, it’s like an unspoken language and it inspires me. It’s like picking vocal takes — sometimes you just feel it and that’s it.

Do you have other go-to UAD plug-ins?
The Neve 1073 is usually my thing. I mess with that a lot. Also, the EMT® 140 Classic Plate Reverberator Plug-In — I use those more than anything else. Sometimes I use an API Vision Channel Strip or the Pultec EQP-1A on bass. When I’m recording, I usually track on a Neve board, or at least through Neve preamps. With drums in particular, I usually continue with the Neve aspect within the box, using UAD tools for that as well.

Why do you prefer Neve over, say, SSL?
I’m usually looking for something that has a bit more grit to it, rather than smoothness. The Neve pushes the grit for me.

How do you get acquainted with new instruments or plug-ins?
If I’m in a music store, I sit down and use whatever tool to try to create some-thing. If I’ve never played it before, I see if I can get three or four ideas that feel good in a few minutes. I do that with plug-ins, keyboards, guitars — any instrument — if I feel things just come out without me forcing myself, then I keep moving with it.

The UAD plug-ins are great tools, but once you’re introduced to great tools, it’s about what you do with them. You’ve got the tool shed — so find your passion and build.

For more on Salaam Remi, visit him online at salaamremi.com.
Photos: Juan Patino; juanpatinophotography.com.

DJing with a Disability: 2 Inspiring Stories

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A few days ago, Ken Taylor wrote a greatly inspiring article on DJ Tech Tools about several DJs with disabilities. I immediately thought of the film, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, where the main character, Frankie Wilde becomes deaf and is forced to learn to DJ again. While the film takes the form of a “mockumentry,” it is nice to see that there are real people overcoming actual disabilities in pursuit of a DJ career. The following has been reblogged from DJ Tech Tools. Enjoy!

The 1996 film Vibrations is maybe one of the worst movies you’ll ever see about the world of dance music. Its plot revolves around a guitarist who loses his hands in a car crash, only to find himself, after numerous twists, transformed into a leading figure on the US rave circuit when his friends create robotic hands for him to produce/perform electronic music. With James Marshall and Christina Applegate in the lead roles, the film is the epitome of ’90s cyberpunk cheese but for its acting and writing, not necessarily its message. At its core, it aims to illustrate that when it comes to expressing yourself (particularly as a DJ), where there’s a will, there’s a way. In that spirit, today we look at a few DJs who have adapted their DJ environs to suit their disabilities, proving that indeed anyone can DJ if you surmount a few obstacles and put your mind to it.

WILDE AT HEART

Robbie Wilde

New York-based DJ Robbie Wilde makes no bones about his disability—in fact, he uses the handle “That Deaf DJ” for all of his social media. He lost most of his hearing as a child (he has 0% hearing in his right ear, and 20% in his left), but, when he was 18, he was inspired by to take up DJing. “So I hit up DJ Shiftee at Dubspot and asked him, ‘You seem to love challenges—here is one. Teach a deaf kid to scratch,’” he says. “The next day the journey began.” That journey, which is still ongoing, first consisted of two four-hour classes per week, for about two years. “Since then, I’m still learning and growing,” he adds, “trying to get more creative in any way possible. I am now back at Dubspot to further my music production skills and to get certified!”

Since he still has 20% of the hearing in his right ear, Wilde is able to use a special in-ear monitor to amplify sound, but naturally, there were still a lot of hurdles for him to tackle. “The biggest struggle at first was beatmatching,” he says. “I started off using strictly CDs, so beatmatching was all in the feeling. Unlike today, with programs to make it easier visually, and sync buttons, I still keep to the roots of doing things the right way. Now with all the options that are available, I use them, not to ‘cheat’ but to get more creative, quicker, and keep the art of turntablism alive.” The onscreen waveforms and their color differentiation allow him to more easily mark cue points for vocals, bridges, etc.

But when it came to learning scratching, there were a host of other skills he had to develop in tandem. “Shiftee taught me about muscle memory,” he says in a video produced on him by Dubspot. “So when it comes to scratching patterns, that’s just from practicing and consistency of doing the same thing for two hours in class.”

“The key to success for the first level of turntablism is training your body to do things. It’s all muscle memory,” echoes Shiftee in the film. “The difference with Robbie and someone else is just how you get those muscles to practice the right thing, so we took this kind of visual waveform approach. But as long as the muscles are doing what they need to be doing, you’re going to build up the correct habits and get good.”

Wilde’s technical setup is pretty simple and traditional, with two Technics turntables, a Rane mixer, an X1 controller, a customized Starkey Hearing Ear Monitor, and, to help amplify his music intake, “the biggest speaker I can find,” he says with a laugh.

The key to success… is training your body to do things. It’s all muscle memory. — DJ Shiftee

“With me being hearing impaired and deaf, I’m very physical with my hands, and [it's with] actually touching and working on the equipment that I learn the full detail of it,” says Wilde. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that that’s a very huge part of it—aside from hearing what you’re doing, little details are very important.”

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Robbie Wilde’s signature SubPac

To help hear and feel those tiny expressions, Wilde has been working with the creators of the tactile audio device SubPac, providing the developers with feedback and using the SubPac in the studio. “I’m looking forward to the progress of their next-level technology and how it will continue to shape the way not only DJs and producers interact with sound, but shape the lives of individuals in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community,” he says. “Headphones for the deaf, in a sense.”

Read more about the SubPac.

Any advice for other DJs in a similar position? “Look into the technologies I use, and don’t give a shit about the public criticisms, because I’ve been in this game for a long time, and have ‘heard’ it all”

HOOKED UP

Australia’s DJ Hookie has pretty similar motivational advice: “Disregard your disability and get on with it.” When he was 18, Hookie (real name Tom Nash) suffered a severe attack of meningococcal septicemia, a bacterial infection that caused him to have two heart attacks, a threefold weight gain, restricted circulation to his extremeties, and left him in a coma for 18 days. It also resulted in the need to amputate parts of both of his arms and legs. Once Nash recovered, though, and was outfitted with prosthetics (including the tools that provided him his DJ moniker), he was committed to living life as normally as he could, and part of that meant starting the DJ crew and club night Starfuckers in Sydney.

Disregard your disability and get on with it. — DJ Hookie

Nash says his start to DJing was awkward—but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. “We only really had access to the decks when we were at the club. I didn’t own a pair at home for quite a while, really, so my only time to practice was in front of people,” he says. “It definitely made me learn faster, but on the flipside I guess I took less risks. Taking risks is a really good way to improve your skills and confidence. It’s also a fantastic vessel for humiliation when things don’t work out—which in itself is humbling.”

When it comes to the tools that make DJing possible for him, Nash claims he’s “always felt it was more beneficial to adapt to what’s around rather than looking to how the tools could be improved.” That means avoiding using anything other than his bare prosthetics whenever possible. “The better I get at using my hooks to perform tasks, the less I need to rely on other forms of technology (which, in addition, evolve faster than you’d have time to adapt to them anyway),” he opines. “I like the knowledge that I can be faced with a setup that any able-bodied DJ is given and perform better than them.”

And to keep that DJ setup simple, he relies on just two CDJ-2000s and a DJM-900 mixer, with his tracks load onto a USB key and processed through Rekordbox prior to showtime. “Most clubs have this setup, so I’d rather stick to the simplicity of it, and just try to work on a good set with the least amount of junk or superfluous gear cluttering my life/DJ booth.”

There’s little different in his studio as well. He has some special “input peripherals” for his computer, but not much more than that. “It’s pretty hard for me to use a traditional mouse on a computer so I use a trackball, and map buttons to click and hold,” he says. “I’ve found the keyboard that best responds to my hooks, rubber faders, and knobs, etc., but nothing too ‘MacGyver’ is going down in our studio.” But because of his unique experience as a DJ, surely he’s developed some type of special club-land skills, right? Just “the ability to pretend I’m listening intently to mundane conversations in nightclubs,” he jokes.

Of course, Nash and Wilde are not alone in their pursuit of DJing and producing while smashing preconceived notions of what’s possible. Check out what folks like Philadelphia’s DJ TouchTone and France’s Pascal Kleiman are doing to circumvent their disabilities while still rocking the decks.