Musikmesse 2013: 2 DJ Tech Trends To Watch

DJ Angelo

DJ Angelo engaging his crowd and showing that modern DJing doesn't have to be boring, at a showcase at Musikmesse 2013. Ways of enhancing your DJ performance seem to be top of the agenda again, thankfully.

With a lack of huge tech innovation going on at Musikmesse 2013, it was nonetheless possible to identify a couple of trends in digital DJing that I think we'll see more of in the future. For our final post from the show this year, I'm going to look at each of them more closely. The first of these - the rise of the iPad - is only surprising in that it took this long for manufacturers to start getting some mainstream products out there. And the second - "macro" performance features - shows a welcome realisation that DJing is ultimately about performance rather than blind progress (especially if that "progress" ultimately means simply pushing more buttons, regardless of how clever what those buttons are controlling purportedly is).

1. The iPad is challenging the laptop

While Traktor DJ made the wider world take note of the iPad as a serious DJ device (despite the fact that many, many people have been using Algoriddim's djay for a long time now on both iPad and iPhone), it is the pairing up of the iPad with DJ control hardware that is finally showing the direction this is all going in.

For many DJs, having to use their laptop with their DJ controller would cease to make sense if they could be shown that their iPad could do the same job, as iPads are smaller, lighter, more durable, and capable of pretty much the same performance. Sure, mobile DJs and music hoarders will always want more storage for music, but we think the larger iPads have plenty enough capacity for most DJs. The only issue that remains, now that multi-route audio has been introduced on the iPad for seamless headphone monitoring, is in getting a simple, clean connection between the iPad and the DJ controller, one that also charges the iPad. This is because unlike in a laptop/DJ controller set-up where the laptop typically powers the controller, in this instance it has to be the other way around.

Vestax Spin2

The Vestax Spin2 is Apple approved, meaning it can have an "official" Apple connector, and can charge the iOS device too.

The best way to do this is how Vestax and Numark have done it, by having their units Apple-approved and chipped so that they can have 30-pin or Lightning connectors built in. Not only does this remove the need for expensive adaptors, but it allows the DJ controller to charge the iPad simultaneously, the DJ controller being plugged in to outlet electricity using a standard power supply in order to be able to do this. I wonder how long till we see a DJ controller with a high-capacity rechargeable battery built in? An alternative method is to do what Pioneer has done with its DJC-WeCAi cable, which the user can pair with Apple’s Camera Connection Kit in order to join the iPad and DJ controller of choice together, a third branch of the cable plugging in to a USB wall power socket (typically the iPad’s own charger) to provide power to the controller.

The disadvantages of the second method are that it doesn't charge the iPad (it’s a limitation of the Camera Connection Kit), it is messier, and as the whole idea involves “hacking” the Camera Connection Kit (which was originally designed to give the iPad USB out for photographers), there's no guarantee further iOS updates will work with it. However, if you own a DDJ-WeGo or DDJ-Ergo and simply must use it now with an iPad, this retro-fitted solution works and is pretty cool.

Which brings us on to the software. Without exception, every DJ controller we saw hooked up to an iPad was running Algoriddim’s Djay software. There is other software out there - iMect’s professional but esoteric DJ Player software can even work with DVS, as was demonstrated on the DJ Tech stand, and Traktor DJ from Native Instruments will surely get hardware support soon (although it’s an open question whether Native Instruments will encourage its mapping to other companies’ hardware), but for now it’s currently djay 100% of the way. A situation that - not least due to djay’s unashamedly beginner appeal - will need to change if the iPad is to continue to gain ground.

2. Macro effects and other performance features are back!

My other big trend was macro effects. More resurgent than new, “macro effects” means effects (or, strictly, any function, but it’s effects we saw over and over again) pre-mapped multiply to performance controls. Christian from Reloop explained it best:

“Traditionally when you want to use some exciting effects in a DJ performance, you have to do up to five things. Select the channel. Dial up two or three effects you want to use. Turn them on, set their parameters, then modulate them simultaneously. Not only is this difficult, but it’s no fun to watch,” he said. “So most DJs don't bother.”

Boost buttons

That 'boost' button? It does what it says gives an FX 'boost', which you can accentuate by turning the big, red-lit knob faster and faster. An unashamedly 'performance' feature.

He was demonstrating the Reloop Jockey 3 Remix to me, a controller that - while using ideas that have existed since before Ean Golden popularised the idea of FX-friendly mappings/firmware with a modded Vestax VCI-100 several years ago - brings a modern development of these ideas to big-brand prime time. With the Jockey 3 Remix controller, a touch of a single button “remaps” the usual controls (pads, jogwheels, faders) to preprogrammed sets of effects: distortion on the line fader, a progressive gate effect on the pitch fader, and so on. Cue the ability for a DJ to hit one button and then add some dynamic sparkle to his set with a complete minimum of fuss. you can pre-plan your combos yourself, or just use those provided.

It’s the same thinking on the new Pioneer DJM-750 digital-friendly DJ mixer. This device has a “super knob” that also has some pre-programmed macro effects. Engage it, and by turning it you can add another layer on top of your currently running effect. In this instance, the ”performance factor” is augmented by the fact that the faster you turn the knob, the more pronounced the effect. DJs using this feature now have a bonafide reason to over-dramatically twist the living daylights out of the thing, all in the name of performance. Let’s hope Pioneer’s engineers have built it to last.

Finally...

People were saying there wasn’t much of interest at the show for DJs, but I actually think it was an interesting show. The iPad thing is good because the days are close when you’ll be able to turn up at a venue with an iPad and a pair of headphones, slot your device into a pre-fitted eye-level stand, and use their gear to play, which just makes brilliant sense. Meanwhile, the swing toward reconfiguring the tech we already have into more exciting performance tools to directly improve what the digital DJ actually does means the performances you’ll be able to put in using such a set-up will be far more exciting than those delivered by the worst proponents of screengazing and button pushing.

But ultimately, it pays to remember this stuff is all driven by the passion of people. The iOS developer who’s written every line of his software himself to shave milliseconds off the latency of it. The self-confessed geek (who moderates DJ forums in her spare time), playing trap behind the decks at a show stand, with her contented earplugged baby strapped to her! The rising scratch star telling me that he thinks a true love for music and some well-chosen business skills are what really counts when you want to get on in DJing, not innate talent - and that he got to where he was today partly by teaching others how to DJ.

DJ Freshfluke

DJ Freshfluke and baby at the show: Hip hop lover, forum moderator, show DJ, passionate about her music: It's the people who keep all of this going, not the tech (and yes, the baby is wearing earplugs...)

How about the sync button software pioneer explaining that his mission was to put the ability to DJ into the hands of every music lover the world over, and that engineering that first software sync button was still one of his proudest moments, despite what old school DJs thought of him. Or the product designer who said music literally rescued him from prison, and his ultimate aim is to put having fun with music into the hands of every kid in every deprived area in the hope that they choose a better path than the one he nearly took.

Yes, it's sometimes easy to forget that there are real people behind every piece of gear, ever DJ mix, and every software development that we play on, hear or incorporate into our own DJing. These stories of music-loving, passionate human beings, out to do good through DJing, are my most positive takeaway from the show. Because while these people exist, we need not worry too much about where this is all going. Rather we should go with what makes sense to us personally, and keep making and playing the music. That’s ultimately what counts.

• I'm writing this on a plane back home after a long and busy five days in Frankfurt at the show. Once again, thanks to all the DJs, gear and software companies, and Digital DJ Tips readers who helped make it so much fun. I'd also like to thank our cameraman Terry 42 for helping with all the videos we made.

What do you think of my two trends in digital DJing? Are you glad to see things swinging back to "performance"? Do you think you'll ever DJ on an iPad? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. There’s little doubt in my mind that the ipad is the next stage in the digital djing revolution. I’ve been holding off as I don’t want to buy a laptop if an ipad can do the job. As soon as Traktor and Serato start supporting ipads for controllers and Apple gets on board then the laptop will be on its way out…it’s not a case of if, just when.

    • I agree with you that it’s not QUITE there yet… but it’s close enough to call I think. As you say not if but when. Of course, there will always be laptop DJing applications and uses but the iPad (and maybe Windows 8 tablets… same OS for “laptop” and “tablet” is definitely an advantage) will in my view make major inroads this next few weeks and months.

    • I just bought my first Macbook Pro and for me to jump into a tablet it would have to be able to support multiple controllers, multiple usb & firewire devices, and hdmi connectivity. Its difficult enough dealing with limited i/o on Mac and hoping that your belkin powered 4x usb port doesnt fail. Artist/ DJs will also want a device that can run their favorite DAW and DJ app for economic purposes. Considering how all these things are possible, I’m thinking 3 to 5 years before technology gets there.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      I don’t think Consumer-grade touch surfaces will completely take over, but the demographic of DJs that want to “just play songs” digitally might choose to go this route. I equate this argument to cars… some people will choose whatever works, some will choose the least-costly and some will choose the most insanely performing platform they can get. I think this is a fair assessment.

    • You may want to check out the Numark iDJ live unit. That unit takes using DJay by Algorythm to a whole new level. With all of the inputs and outputs, it fuctions as a mixer and controller in one. You can do everything with it that you can do with Tracktor and personally, I like the interface better. The only problem with that numark unit, which is the same problem with all the low to mid tier unit is the wheels drift, so you cant perform lengthy scratching chops

  2. “Yes, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are real people behind every piece of gear, ever DJ mix, and every software development that we play on, hear or incorporate into our own DJing. These stories of music-loving, passionate human beings, out to do good through DJing, are my most positive takeaway from the show. Because while these people exist, we need not worry too much about where this is all going. Rather we should go with what makes sense to us personally, and keep making and playing the music. That’s ultimately what counts.”
    Well said!! – I really appreciate all the content & info you bring to us on a daily basis. Your enthusiastic, open-minded & logical approach to everything related to the music scene is very refreshing and is what ensures that I visit this site everyday for my “daily-fix”. Keep up the great work – thanks again!!

  3. The new technologie are always good for DJ (and music in general). When I started DJing in the middle of the 90’s, it was all about vinyl, and the Technics was the only choice (also there were still some bad imitation or ETP/BST cheap turntable). For me it was hard to move to the CD (thanks to the Numark CDX), and then to the DVS, but now I don’t regret old technologie (I use DVS with CD, didn’t go back to vinyl).

    I don’t think I will go on iPad one day, but the technology is still good. And it’s just the beggining. Even if for us (the old generation) it’s not good, and some of us hate hate that kind of technology, the new generation will grow up with that, and it will be the usual thing for them.

    Old shcool DJ usually don’t like the new stuff that make DJing easier (like sync and other stuff), but for me I prefer seeing it as a challenge. Everyone have the same access to the new stuff, so it’s become harder to make the difference, so you have to be more creative to be notice. And stuff like iPad, sync, macro effect, they just make thing easier for DJ’s, you can choose to not using it, but if you don’t, you have to find a way to be more creative than the mass who will going to use it.

    So to resume, it’s all good to have the choice. And using a iPad with a controler is probably going to be standard. And maybe in some year (month?) we will see the CDJ plugged on iPad, and DVS system on it (which could be a reason for me to stop using a laptop and buy an ipad)

    :)

    • I think you’re right about CDJs. Imagine turning up at a club with your iPad to use it as a huge, big screen AND music library to help you pull tricks using the gear that’s already there? And we saw DVS working with iPad (DJ Player) at Musikmesse 2013. It’s already here…

    • I´m an “old school” DJ by any standard (42 y.o., started playing back in the early 80´s) and I absolutelly LOVE to play with my iPad and Djay. I´ve been on every kind of technology throughout the decades since I started playing, and I prize my huge vinyl collection (that still see some use here and there..) and my hard-earned skills. But I´m all for sync, touch screens, controllers, effects and whatnot, and I don´t care a bit about what other “real” DJs think of such “toys”. It was the same when CDJs arrived, then DVS, controllers and now iPads.

  4. Me personally was waiting for the Musikmesse and hoped that I will get what I’m waiting for.
    Right now in small restaurants I use my iPad with djay, but in parties I use my MacBook Pro with Traktor (and the iPad as a controller). But I would like to use my iPad (instead of my Mac) and the new Traktor Dj app AND a quality controller with it. I hope soon I can use a S2 with my iPad and the Traktor Dj app! I think it’s just question of time…

  5. DJ Forced Hand says:

    I think touch screens will improve the software interface for DJ software because they add a level of convenience for DJs. It’s just a pain in the backside to have to configure buttons to do things that make more sense to assign to a gesture. That being said, touch screens tend to be sloppy and slow to react for fine or quick actions which is why we’re seeing hardware controllers for tablets (and laptops). An iPad (or Microsoft Surface) is a good touch screen surface, but tablets can’t run a suite of programs like Ableton Live along with DJ software (yet) because there simply isn’t “enough there” to do so.

    “Tablets” (right now) are intentionally designed to be the low-end of the computing scale. I think a lot of people think these devices are neat, but whatever is offered on a tablet is going to be a watered-down version of laptop software (at this point in time)… until tablets become *as powerful as* laptops at which point they’ll essentially BE laptops… but they’re not there yet. Laptops are generally more capable than tablets without being inconveniently larger, expensive or heavier… this is why I think people who choose to go the tablet route are jumping the gun and settling for less.

    There will be the group of DJs that want to spin “on the cheap” with gear that “does the job” (I think tablet DJs do this), and there will be the DJs who will need something “more” simply because the cheap gear won’t allow them to do what they want (I think these are the Laptop DJs).

    • DJ PartyPapi says:

      absolutely… when it comes to even more variety of functions or even more space for your library, the typical Pad is only the center of the network of peripherical appliances. In my opinion there will be even more wireless HDDs, controllers, audiointerfaces and stuff like this for the pads in general. and I think, that insufficient computing power and also displays will be solved with multiple pad-solutions. think of one pad for each player. how many players do you need? now go and buy more pads! And maybe one for controlling the others and to be taken on the dancefloor? hopefully a developer is reading this. ;-) As I like rock stable installations in cases with all the computing power, i won’t change to any pad at the moment. but having my MixVibes CROSS controlled wirelessly via its iPad app is a big advantage if it comes to typical weddings or birthdays. If you also act like an MC you can easily leave the place behind your decks for a mix or two to get the microphone and go into the crowd. That’s what a pad is perfect for!

  6. Bigg Jones says:

    Great article and definitely hit the nail on the head with a few things. I absolutely love my DDJ SX, but hate having to drag my laptop out along with this. You like a walking advert for a burglary in some of the less salubrious areas, not to mention keeping it safe in the club. If you got iPad control, or even the ability to plug in a HDD to the controller this would be amazing. fingers crossed!

  7. sheldon chin shue says:

    i agree that Musikmesse 2013 did not have much to show for new innovations in the the dj world. i am still waiting for someone to make a controller that have a display on the controller, showing a colorful waveform and information about the track time, bpm, with album cover display, etc. that would be a cool controller i will surely buy. my last controller is the numark mixtrack pro 2 and i not buying any more controllers unless i see a controller with those features. some of the controllers that were shown where featured at the namm show and what was not show at namm, the existing controllers that are sale, they made a cosmetic look to it. no new feature to it. i really don’t see the need for vestax to make new vci-400 for different dj software, because initially it was made as a one controller to be used on different dj platform. the new vci-380s looks good in appearance, but i don’t see many people buying a particular controller tied to one software. maybe the difference might come down to prices. we will have to wait and see.

  8. Exactly, I’m also waiting for some real innovation on the controller and its software integration. Also, why do many producers often seem to stop short of the goal to build a killer controller that covers all well known bases such as decent VU-meters, long throw pitch faders (missing e.g. from the VCI-400?), booth out, all in one device? Bowling a strike against most other models?
    On the question of tablets/iPad, these are optimised for low power consumption to run well on battery, not for realtime number crunching of a bunch of macro effects. Sure the low weight and touch are cool, but then a 2kg notebook with some real screen estate will be fine enough for me.

  9. I’ve always wondered how the IPad handles as far as stability is concerned – if it truly is stable and can handle potentially harsh environment I can see it being seriously utilized in the future but until it breaches it’s “toy” status I think it still has an uphill battle in front of it.

    • I can tell from experience that it´s very reliable and stable, more so than many laptops anyway. I´ve never had a freeze or shutdown while playing, not even once, and for the best part of last year I´ve used my iPad2 + djay to play gigs, radio shows and clubs so I´d know.

      Of course it demands care and attention, the buttons are small and the touch screen requires special care so you don´t hit something inadivertently and screw your music mid-set. And it´s light and small so you better find a decent support that won´t let it slip or fall.

      But in the end it´s not that much different from playing with decks or CDJs or controllers, we had the stylus, touch plates and CDs to care for too so it´s just part of the job really. IMHO the DJ needs to look out for the gear while using it, whatever that is.

  10. DJ Gerard says:

    Is not expected maybe that things may work more towards tech like XDJ-Aero by Pioneer? Just food for thought while on the topic of digital DJing moving away from the laptop and to the tablet (maybe) :)

  11. I think that ipad will be the following trend in the DJ world, but ultimatelly, I believe that most DJ’s would prefer just to show up in a party with a simple USB, sd card or their smartphone. Therefore, although ipads could be interesting, I think that inteligent hardware will keep envolving and providing the best DJ experience. I even bet that NI will bring a traktor deck to the market soon to compete with the pioneer CDJ-2000 nexus

  12. iPad, Laptop…Whatever – they’re both computers in the end.

    They’re just making dev. time longer by running on different OS’s than the major player’s platforms.

  13. I’d never use an ipad, I use a Custom made computer, basically a gaming computer on steroids. Laptop can’t handle my shows. Music or Music Video, Text 2 screen, download or cache requests, all while surfing.

  14. A laptop can run any x86-64 software you may need. For example, SMAART, Live 9, DMXControl, Traktor and Resolume Avenue. The latter three I sometimes need at the same time (with a 2nd monitor and controller for DMX/Video).

    With a laptop, I can choose any USB/Firewire sound interface I like (I prefer standalones vs. All-in-Ones), from $50 to $1000+, depending on my quality, input and output requirements. Sometimes the need may arise to feed balanced +4dBu from me directly to the amp. With an AiO controller, you’re stuck with whatever sound interface is built into it.

    Before a gig, if the venue doesn’t have a sound guy, I can do a quick’n’dirty sound calib. with SMAART and a measurement mic and then keep SMAART running during the gig to make sure the sound stays consistent as the crowd migrates on/off the dancefloor.

    I can feed a VST-heavy Live 9 performance into Traktor as just another (usually, 4th) deck via ReWire, JACK or through the sound interface, sacrificing 2 ins and 2 outs (out of 12).

    Just a few things I can think of off the bat. I’m sure there’s dozens more examples.

    Mobile devices do not yet provide the same degree of empowerment and freedom a full-blown PC/laptop does. It’s like comparing a good PH0 screwdriver to a good Swiss army knife that has one (among other things). Some of us need that freedom.
    That, and iOS/MacOS devices don’t like FLAC, which the majority of my collection is in.

    No. Just no. :P

  15. Great article! I’m not shure yet that the tablet is challenging the laptop, but I use them both. And I recommend the new Pioneer DJM-750 digital-friendly DJ mixer.

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