Review: RekordKrate for iPad
It's a long time since DJs moved away from well-thumbed record boxes as their music library system. Nowadays, laptop and iOS DJs, of course, tend to select their tunes through lists, virtual crates, smart crates and so on. But for pro and semi-pro DJs playing from USBs plugged in to CDJs in dark clubs, all they had to replace their lovingly packed record boxes were small LCD displays on CDJ players.
The new RekordKrate app aims to put some of the big-screen library navigating power enjoyed by laptop DJs into the hands of USB (and CD) DJs, by allowing them to use their iPads (and soon iPhones and Android devices) to browse their music libraries easily. Crucially, it also allows them to quickly choose a next song based on harmonic key and BPM.
RekordKrate has been developed by Ian Ossia (resident DJ at UK superclub Renaissance from 1992-2002), and was borne out of frustration at the limited space on CDJ display screens. It doesn't play any audio, and it doesn't display any waveforms or artwork; it is solely for use as a "DJ guidance system" during a mix.
To get started with RekordKrate you first need to process your tracks through Pioneer's rekordBox on a PC or Mac. Why recordBox and not Traktor, Serato, VDJ or even iTunes, you might ask? The answer is key detection. If you're not aware, Pioneer's free rekordbox software introduced key detection in version 2.0.1, rather quietly, last year.
(By the way, if you want to use RekordKrate and you're a Mac Traktor user, you can use the RekordBuddy app to sync your Traktor and rekordBox databases, keeping things clean and simple. Full Traktor support will be available in the next version.)
Once your tracks have been processed, you export your database, connect up your iOS device and using app file sharing, and copy the database into the area for RekordKrate. As RekordKrate opens for the first time, it processes the imported database, looking at BPM and key information.
On first load this may take a while depending on how many tracks your database contains; however, I threw over 1,000 tracks into it creating a database that was about 547k in size, and RekordKrate took a matter of seconds to process this information during first load, which felt incredibly quick.
Once the app has loaded, you can choose which playlists are active. The orange button at the top of the column will set all playlists on or off; you can then add / remove playlists as required. If you've got each of your USB sticks or CD wallets listed as playlists, this would allow you to easily tell the app which items you have with you at the gig.
So let's say that your DJ set is in full swing. You've started out well, playing a few tried and tested mixes, blending a handful of tracks that you know inside out. Everything is good! But then you notice that the track you're currently playing is not actually not going down as well on the dancefloor as you'd hoped.
The idea of rekordKrate is that you'd reach over for your iOS device and use the search box at the top of the app to quickly find the track you're currently playing. (At the moment, the search box works best for one word searching and it includes Artist, Title and Genre in the search. The next version of the app will improve the search functionality.)
The current track page results can be displayed in the original playlist order or sorted by Track, Artist, Genre or a combination of key and BPM.
Tap on the track that is currently playing and the "Mix Options" page is be displayed, showing you a list of tracks which are harmonically compatible with your chosen track, taking into account the BPM difference (so "master key" or "key lock" is not required in order for key matching to work). The list shows the tracks which are the best match for BPM and key combination nearest the top. (You can choose whether the mix options look at your entire collection, the active playlists or just the playlist that your current track is in.)
Once you've decided which track you're going to play next, you tap the track detail on the screen, from where you can choose to navigate directly into the playlist in which that track resides. This is particularly useful if your playlists correspond to physical media, as it therefore assists you not only in selecting the next track but also in locating which USB drive (or CD) that track is stored on.
RekordKrate is firmly aimed at pro / semi-pro DJs who use USBs (or CDs) to DJ on "DJ booth" gear. These are also the types of DJs who would definitely spend the necessary time tagging their music correctly, and carefully organising their CDs, USB sticks or playlists (this is a data-driven app and will only ever be as good as the data entered into it).
For USB DJs it is easy to see its value. If you're a CD DJ, you could possibly rip CDs by harmonic key and write BPM data on the sleeves - but taking this manual approach will mean you would need to do a lot of work when ripping your CDs, as well as a lot of reading of sleeve notes in dark clubs. rekordKrate is a more elegant solution to "crate digging" in this case too.
Even software DJs could potentially use RekordKrate as a standalone app, although similar results can be reached through the careful use of tools like Serato's "smart crates" to sort tunes automatically into harmonic and BPM bands. For me, I wouldn't use it to solely guide me through an entire set but it certainly threw up some track suggestions which I wouldn't have ordinarily considered.
It's worth noting that the very newest Pioneer CDJs have wireless rekordBox compatibility with mobile apps, which certainly duplicates some of the features of rekordKrate, and also that some rekordKrate-like features are also available to users of Denon's Engine iOS helper software for its own CDJ players.
As mentioned, the next version of the app is currently in review and should be available soon in the App Store. This will allow Traktor users to directly export their database into the app without using RekordBox. If you're a Serato user, you can convert your Serato database into Traktor format as described on the Native Instruments forum. Of course, neither Traktor nor Serato calculate harmonic key data so this is only of real use if you've processed your tracks through key detection software such as Mixed In Key as well.
Update (20.02.2013): The RekordKrate Mini is now available in the app store for iPhone and iPod Touch.
Are you a rekordBox user? If so, are you tempted by RekordKrate? What price would you pay for RekordKrate assistance during your DJ set? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.