Back in January, we made the New Year's resolution to learn something new. To make an attempt to go beyond our normal realms of DJing and just try to "take it to the next level”. Some of you are already taking on this idea in our new Scratching For Controller DJs course - but this is just one way of making your DJing stand out. Another is the newer methodology of fired samples, loops, and chopped up pieces of music - a major element of what is often called "controllerism".
Today's article is the first of a three-part series where we’ll get you started and explore the world of basic controllerism, and give you some ideas on how to bring these techniques back into the basic DJ set. We’re going to start things off with software and finding sounds to use.
Go on, try your sampler!
It doesn’t matter if you use Traktor, Serato, Virtual DJ, Mixxx, or even are still on Torq or an older version of Deckadance; samplers are now standard in almost any DJ software you pick up. You don't need anything new. If you’re performing with a DAW like Ableton Live, then you have even more options at your fingertips. Some of you are already using your samplers. Some might be using them with loops and sounds, but others are more likely to only use the sampler to fire off name drops. I’m assuming many of you, like me, barely ever touched the sampler outside of playing with it at home.
If you’re using Traktor, you of course have the added power of the Remix Decks, but unfortunately, trying to control them without a Kontrol F1 can prove difficult. Regardless, you still get four banks per channel even without the Remix Deck set up (the old "Sample Decks" behaviour), which can give you a lot to play with - depending on your imagination, of course!
For Serato Scratch Live users, you can pack more power into your set-up if you happen to have a copy of Ableton Live. The Bridge will give you Ableton power combined with the vinyl fun of Serato. But even if you don’t own a copy of Serato Scratch Live, you still have a multi-bank sampler at your disposal in Serato ITCH, Serato DJ Intro (a basic version), and Serato DJ (far more fully fledged). The same goes for users of other products. As I say, don’t think there is any DJ software on the market now that doesn’t have a sampler.
So in terms of using the sampler, it’s pretty straightforward. You load in sound clips you collect and play them either as one-shots or loops. Examples of one-shots would be vocal samples that play once when you press the play button on the sampler. Loops simply play repeatedly, and will now sync with your master Midi clock or whichever tune on the decks you set as the “master”. Take a look at some of the Native Instruments videos on YouTube to get ideas.
Don’t forget hot cues
Live remixing and performing isn’t just about the sampler. All the DJ software titles give you multiple decks to play with, and especially if you have four-deck software, you can easily have "sample sentences" (groups of samples in a single track). These pre-made MP3s of samples are then linked to hot cues on a deck so you can trigger them by pressing the appropriate buttons on your controller.
But why not just use the sampler, I hear you ask? Think of it this way: If you’re firing off sounds and bits in a performance, you could pull that off easily with an MP3 set up with hot cues, without even bothering with the sampler. It allows you to easily have all those sounds ready to go at a moment’s notice on one file (because hot cue settings are stored with the file).
On top of that, it frees up sample banks for loops - but even then you can also set those loops up on decks as well if you need to with some software. We do it already for straight playing, so why not this? Truth is, hot cues are another tool, and you can use them concurrently with samples.
Building a sound collection
So you’ve gotten your software figured out, now the other important piece is your collection of sounds. Lucky for you with the internet you have plenty of resources to get sounds. The first and most obvious spots are the online shops selling samples, like Beatport Sounds, Loopmasters, and even "normal" MP3 stores like Traxsource and Juno Download. Unfortunately, samples are not cheap: You’ll pay US$5 to US$50 for a package that could be just the samples from one song to a whole collection rotating around a specific sound genre.
Be smart. We’re all not made of money, and past legends more or less sampled the old-fashioned way rather than seeking out sound packs. Purchase these expensive sound packs only when you can see you’ll get the most bang for your buck. (Please, though, fight off the temptation to download illegally. Samples or songs, it only makes things harder for the DJ community in general.)
Always look into your own music for samples. Many beats, keyboard riffs, even simple blasts and vocal snaps can be easily taken right out of the music you’ve purchased. It is within your rights to do this, as long as you’re not publishing new remixes or songs for sale.
You can either use hot cues to remember spots you wish you use in performance, or chop out sounds you would like in an audio editing program and save them as new files. Some software also allow you to drag sounds as loops to the sampler.
Also keep your eyes open for free resources of samples and music. There are online forums that talk about samples and even help you gain access to free and legal samples.
Remix competitions will also entice contestants with packs of free samples. Also, sign up on mailing lists for sites that specialise in sounds. Often you’ll see massive discount coupons or even freebies. Get organised. I will later dive into ideas on what to do in your performances, but I will say now that when you save out samples, think in terms of the performance piece you wish you do.
So if you do a wicked live mashup of Call Me Maybe with, let’s say, Gangnam Style, save those bits and pieces into a crate, Remix Set, folder, or whatever is at your disposal so you can easily pull them up at a moment’s notice. The idea of what we’re shooting for is making these ideas into items you can easily pull up and perform in a set like you would play any normal tune.
Itching to get going? Why not spend some time getting familiar with your sampler, Remix Decks, Bridge, or whatever you have at your disposal. Also think about how you would organise samples and bits you would use in a live remix of one song. In Part 2, I will jump into the hardware you would want to consider having in order to increase your flexibility when bringing more live remixing into your DJ sets.
Check out the other parts in this series:
Do you use hot cues and sample decks / Remix Decks in your DJing? How do you use them? Do you do it all the time, or just occasionally? And what software / hardware do you use to do so? Please share your thoughts in the comments.