Your Questions: DJing With Drum Loops

Traktor Kontrol F1

The Traktor Kontrol F1 is a cool way of incorporating samples into your DJ set, but it goes deeper than that - and if you're not quite ready for its "Remix Decks" workflow, there are cheaper ways to get going.

Digital DJ Tips reader Dave writes: "I've recently been looking at controllers like the Traktor Kontrol F1 and other similar controllers hoping to understand how they all work. The reason being is that I want to start using drum samples etc in my mixing to make it sound a bit more personalised, but as I'm sure you know they're not cheap! I was wondering if you knew of any alternatives to the F1 or even if I can use my current set up (Mixtrack Pro) just to get a feel of how to incorporate sample an loops into my mixing."

Digital DJ Tips says:

The good news is that while the F1 is a great concept and a cool controller, you don't have to dive right in and spend that money - the F1 is based around the idea of "Remix Decks", which take it all a stage further than what you're trying to do. All the main DJ software can handle loops - segments of music that play "underneath" your main decks and that you can bring in and out of the mix. Using these features, you can layer drums, percussion (but also vocals, riffs etc) over what's playing, or even mix out of what's playing entirely and perform on just those loops for a while.

Traktor Pro has the most features in this area (and its "sample decks" with four independent samples per deck are available to all Traktor users, you don't need an F1 to use them), but Serato ITCH (and now Serato DJ) are also good, and Virtual DJ also gives you the basics. I would say you need "pro" software though - if you're using LE software of any flavour (and that includes Serato DJ Intro), you'll find the sample features too limiting.

For controlling your loops, some DJ controllers offer rudimentary control over samples, with the Traktor Kontrol S2 and Traktor Kontrol S4 being the best, but most are a bit flat in this area, especially the cheaper ones.

Akai LPD8

The Akai LPD8 is a good value way of giving you pads and knobs to control samples - but you'll probably have to learn how to map it the way you'd like it for yourself.

A smart move is to learn the keyboard shortcuts. If you think about it, you've got a button controller right there in front of you - on your laptop. Learn to trigger samples, and as long as they're synced/quantised, you don't need to be a keyboard demon with the timing of an arcade junkie to trigger them correctly.

Later, you may want to add an extra, small controller for your samples - something like an Akai Pro LPD8 is always a good (and cheap) choice. It'll give you your first taste of Midi mapping too! (Note that if you're thinking of mapping an external controller to Serato's SP6 sample player, you'll only be able to do it on Serato DJ, the replacement for Serato ITCH - ITCH doesn't allow Midi mapping at all.) As far as material goes, I think the best place to start is your own collection - take interesting drum sections from tunes you love and make a collection of musical "beds" that suit your style, and that you can start to use independently of the tracks they come from.

And if you find yourself loving it, and wanting more? That's the time to look into the Traktor Kontrol F1 concept - because while it's brilliant, it's pretty involved, and you'll have to do lots of work to really start moving forward creatively with it.

Do you incorporate drum loops in your DJing? What is your choice of software and hardware, or do you do as I suggest and just use the keyboard? Please share your experiences below.

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  1. I think with the Mixtrack you are limited. Your best of upgrading to the Kontrol S2. The best option if you have the money is the S4 - Decks 3 & 4 dedicated to samples. You don't even have to use the sample decks. Just load the drum loop straight into the track deck and keep things simple for now.

    I currently feed Maschine's Output into Deck D - Traktor. For $250 AUD it was so worth it. Setup can be frustrating at first. Once you get it going though... ohh man it's so good.

    Go YouTube Dubfire and Richie Hawtin live.

    • For those who don't know, Maschine is a software and hardware made by the same company who make Traktor - Native Instruments. It's used for making music.

      Forgot to mention that I let Maschine SYNC up to the current master song playing in Traktor so my sounds stay in time.

      • I don't know how expensive you consider "expensive", but I just picked up a Maschine Mikro Mk2 (for the same purpose you want to use a drum machine) for $329 to my door. Because Maschine is complete package (albeit not completely stand alone), you get a lot for not a whole lot, including Massive and a WHOLE BUNCH of Drum samples with the kit (which you can use to create your own triggerable drum lines). Maschine isn't integrated into Traktor just yet, but they'd be idiots not to integrate it (with the color change buttons) when they unlock the remix decks before version 3.0 of Traktor (as promised).

        The biggest differences between the Mikro and the F1 is that the Mikro has bigger pads and they are velocity sensitive (which means you can change the value of a track by pressing harder or softer on the button, both on the initial hit and while the track is playing "aftertouch") while the F1 has four up-faders and 4 knobs and costs about $50 less than the Mikro... the F1 does not come with Massive, Maschine (software) or any extra drum samples and while it has sliders and knobs, it's less of an over-all offer.

  2. I myself as a non Traktor/Serato/etc dj software user have been trying to find ways to include some extra bits and pieces to my dj'ing. I'd like to see something like an iOS app á la Pioneer RMX-1000. Propellerhead Figure app can do even more in musical terms but it is lacking the essential tempo nudge function and finer tempo resolution. I strongly believe there's a market for special dj tool apps. Developers take notice! 😀

  3. Mike Graham says:

    Another way is if you already own an iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet is to use an app called TouchOSC which turns your device into a wireless midi controller. I recomend though you keep your device plugged in because it will drain your battery. The app is free . Check it out at

  4. I love the Akai LPD8, though my main use of it is for samples in VDJ, I also have it mapped to cue jump and tweak some settings as well. It is a bit daunting at first learning to map, but after getting over that hill it is sooooo much fun to add another dimension to my numark mixtrack and it tides me over until I can upgrade to a upper level controller.

  5. Another alternative to the Kontrol F1 is the Midi Fighter 3D by DJ Tech Tools. I found it better value for money than an F1 but I am far from using the remix decks for anything more than messing around. I still find them a bit overkill for doing your average pub club gig. The 3D is allot of fun and versatile and well built.

  6. King Of Snake says:

    Hi Phil,
    Great subject, as it's pretty much the next step after being selctor and beatmatcher...
    I found mixvibes' crossdj working quite well for me. It's also a less complicated option if you just want to play around with samples and stuff. I also use the keyboard to trigger samples and actually that's the hidden trick for extending a basic controller.
    Still waiting for the Twitch to add to my setup. Second hand it's coming for around 200 euro's and it should work nice with those pads to trigger samples.
    King of Snake

  7. I have 2 Kontrol X1's and the Akai MPD32. The MPD is custom mapped so 4 faders control volume, 2 faders control the three effects banks at once, 4 knobs control tempo and the last 4 faders control gain. The 8 bottom drum pads control the 8 sample banks on Deck C/D. I load various samples as loops and they sync w/ the tempo of songs in Deck A/B.

    One X1 is factory mapped. The second is mapped to the mixer controls which you can get from the NI forum. And finally, my soundcard is the Audio Kontrol 1. I have the buttons mapped to headphone cue and the fat know is my crossfader. I use a 4 port USB hub to connect everything. Yes, I have alot of toys but my rig is very modular and can take one piece or all depending on the gig. When I can afford an S4 I'll get one.

  8. This was my question so thanks for the answer(s)! Iv been looking at the Akai as the cheapest option but I think ill probably start by using the keyboard and taking drum sections from song I already have. One last Q, I know beatport sell sample packs with drums/ bass loops etc but they usually cost around £15, for that money are they actually worth it? I don't want to spend that much to find iv just got a set of average samples.

    • I "extract" drum loop samples from various tracks. Often times the track intros or outtros are good to sample. They are clean and come out without much instruments/vocals. Solo vocals are also good to insert in the current track being played. Just make sure they are harmonically matched. It will come out like a semi-mashup and the crowd loves a bit of a sneak peek on what's the next track.

      On those notes, I would suggest you try to get your first samples from what you already have, your current tracks. Worth a try and it's free. Good luck and have fun!!

  9. I use an LDP8 as an effects/sample controller along with my previous vestax typhoon. I mix with the Traktor software. I mostly mix progressive house and on the down/vocal part of the tracks, I usually put a drum loop bed in order not to loose dance floor momentum. It's a no miss formula. Additionally, by using you're drum loop samples, transistioning is cleaner. Just make sure you pay attention to your bass and drum lines and adjust your equalizer levels accordingly as not to get the sound to muddled. Just my two cents. Hope this helps!

  10. DJ Dirty Dan 717 says:

    I'm still looking for a way to map my Twitch to use the Remix decks in Traktor. I don't really have use the Beat Grid section of the pads, if I could remap them to control the RD's I'd be one happy pup. Other than that, I friggin love my Twitch.

    Has anyone attempted that yet? I've Googled it but haven't seen anything.

    • The Remix Decks only officially work with the F1, but they'll be rolled out to other controllers at some point - or at least, the ability to map them will.

      • Search on DJ Tech Tools and in YouTube. There are now some unofficial midi hacks floating around for a few controllers. NI actually said when the software was released, if anyone could hack it they would give them a job!! within 72 hours someone had done it. No idea if they gave them the job though :)

    • I've done it, but you don't have all the controls you'd want (you can't toggle gate/latch from the controller or toggle the loop/one-shot option as well, but you CAN trigger them by assigning the trigger pad to the sample deck play option in the Controller manager. There are YouTube videos through places like Dubspot that show you how.

  11. I have been mixing with a Reloop Mixage for the past year, and recently got a Novation Launchpad to try producing songs, with Ableton Live... but when I see videos of the F1, and my Launchpad, I really get a feeling that I could use my launchpad next to the reloop in my mixing!

    What are your ideas on this?
    Are there any good tips on the best ways to use these 64 buttons?

    I'm a programmer, so I'm not scared of diving into technical details to get the best mappings possible!

      • Thanks for the link! I will dive more deeply into the thread, but it looks like an Ableton Live thing. Does it really help to use with Traktor?

        I forgot to mention this (my mistake.. :S), but I'd like to use the Launchpad with the Reloop Mixage *in Traktor*, and keep Live only for production...

        I already use the Reloop Mixage and Traktor, for some very basic kind of DJing, but I really wonder how the Launchpad could add to this setup. My question isn't only about the technical aspect.. I'm quite sure I can get anything to work with the Launchpad infinite mapping possibilities, but I was more wondering what would other DJ think about the best ways to use those 64 buttons?

        Should it be 64 samples?
        It could probably be more advanced and subtil... 😉

    • If you have Traktor, you can trigger the top row of "Remix Decks" by assigning them to your Launchpad (via the Controller Manager) also, you can synch the MIDI clock with Ableton Live so that at least you'll have the same Tempo across both programs, but this synching is not iron-clad. There is a cooperative project called "the Bridge" which mates Ableton Live with Serato Scratch Live, but it requires a Scratch Live certified controller and Ableton Live.

      Nothing really works as a complementary set of programs just yet and you'd have to either toggle screens (for the two different programs) or have two monitors to see both programs at once since very little communication goes on among programs. Nothing I've seen (so far) will match the key of a track in a DJ program with the key of a clip in Ableton (this might require something made in Max for Live) or a program modification of Livetronica Studio (I'll talk to Aaron about that).

  12. I have to say that trying to use the remix decks with mouse and keyboard is NOT ideal at all. The software was not only designed to be best utilised by the F1, i think to some degree it has been designed to actually be a bit of a pain to use if NOT using the F1. Fortunately most controllers that had a tsi/settings file for using the old sample decks, will still function the same way using only the first 4 'slots' of a remix deck, but it is still less than ideal is practice when you have no hardware volume fader for the samples.

    • Conversely, it's perfectly possible to control Serato's SP-6 (simpler) with the keyboard.

      • You can, but the only place you'll find the control listings are in passing in the Itch v2.1 release notes. the SP-6 Sample decks also have a function similar to the Remix Deck layout select in that you have an UP/DOWN selector to pick which bank (out of 4) of 6 samples to choose from. If you own a controller like a Twitch (as I do) you'll have to have the right bank selected to the Sample trigger layout before you choose the up or down buttons... the sample layout is spread across the two decks as though the buttons were one bank of sample controls.

  13. Some sample sites like loop masters contain some free sample packs but you have to dig through the menus. Some dj/production forums have packs posted by members , kvr audio etc. Search soundcloud for tracks you like , drop a mail to the producer saying you liked the track and if they could provide some of the stems . Dj tech tools posts weekly sample packs.
    Check Ean Golden's Traktor z2 video track ; is totally made from samples. For live users, search '6launchpad' vid on youtube and also its explaination (under the hood thing) which is the main part.
    Also you could use a cheap usb numpad for sample triggering.

  14. What about the Midi Fighter 3-D?One of the best most versatile midi controllers.And besides the F1 it also can control Traktors remix decks and effects.Check it out one of my favorite midi controllers.

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