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.
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.