I’ve been DJing over a decade and have seen all sorts of software and hardware issues when playing out. I had quite the nightmare at my last gig, that included both software AND hardware issues. I thought it would be useful to share what happened and what I did to fix it to get through my gig. There are lessons here for all DJs who play out, and who worry about things going wrong…
My pre-gig check
After years of digital DJing and having my fair share of run-ins with issues, I’ve come up with a “systems check” that I try to go through before every gig. Making sure to go through such a checklist yourself can help minimise issues before they happen, or can help you narrow down the cause of issues should they occur.
First, you’ll want to make sure all of your software and audio drivers are up to date and have been checked before the start of the gig. This is because the latest software and drivers usually have fixes for bugs that could cause issues during your set.
Next, you’ll want to make sure the drive that you have your music stored on is properly prepared. This means making sure it is formatted correctly, in good physical condition (hard drives do fail over time, especially external drives), and that your music has been properly analysed in your DJ software.
Finally, make sure that you have all of the cables that you need; audio, power, and USB cables, and that they are in proper working order. Even if you have all of the proper cables, if they are in less than the optimal condition that can cause issues (more on this later…).
While such a checklist can help minimise technical issues you may encounter while playing out, it does not guarantee you will never run into problems. the truth is that ;earning what to do when an issue arises is even more important than learning how to prevent issue.
What happened to me…
So at the gig, I started experiencing issues almost immediately after a DJ changeover with the opener. Within the first five minutes, there was a brief audio dropout, but I did not pay it any mind. But no further than 15 minutes after that I noticed a significant audio lag within the software.
By this time the opening DJ had already left and the audio tech was nowhere to be found. This issue continued to happen repeatedly during my set and became noticeable to the crowd. I couldn’t continue the rest of my gig (which was an additional four hours) with the software and hardware behaving like this, so I was left with no other option than to figure out a solution myself.
Troubleshooting the problem
Knowing the equipment
One of the most important things you can do in a situation like this is not to panic. If you lose your cool, it will make it a lot harder to find a solution and you could, in fact, make things worse by trying to fix things too fast. I’ve been guilty of this and have unplugged the wrong USB or audio cables by mistake in such circumstances, causing “dead air”- probably the worst thing that can happen during a set.
Being familiar with the gear you are playing on, knowing it inside and out, becomes invaluable when trying to figure out what could be giving you issues.
In this case, I was using a pair of Pioneer DJ CDJ-900s and a Rane Sixty-Two mixer with Serato DJ Pro. I have played on this type of set-up, or a very similar set-up. countless times and I am familiar with each component, so I was able to go through a step-by-step troubleshooting process quickly.
The importance of backups
Before I could begin troubleshooting possible software issues, I had to switch to another backup audio source of some kind. It’s always a good idea to carry one, if not a few, backup sources of music. A thumb drive or two with music on, and/or an RCA to 1/8” cable to plug a phone or tablet in are some good options.
Since I was using Pioneer CDJs, I knew I could just plug in a USB thumb drive with tracks that had been analysed in Rekordbox to get the music going from somewhere else other than my laptop.
Troubleshooting the software
Once I was able to switch to another audio source I decided to check if the issue was software related first, as this could be the quickest fix.
The first thing that I tried was a computer restart restart. Once Serato DJ Pro restarted I switched back from the USB flash drive to Serato DJ Pro to see if it had fixed the issue, but unfortunately it hadn’t. So I switched back to the USB flash drive from my laptop to try another fix…
Troubleshooting the hardware
The Rane Sixty-Two mixer has two USB ports that allow for two laptops to be connected at the same time. My first thought was to try and switch to the other USB port on the mixer to see if that would solve the issue. Again, it didn’t.
My next thought was to try powering the mixer on and off, – usually not possible without the sound cutting off. Luckily though in this instance, I was about to track down the audio tech and he was able to switch to another audio source outside of the DJ set-up for me to attempt turning the mixer power off and on. Unfortunately, this too did not solve the issue.
My final attempt at a fix was to use another audio interface instead of the one built in to the Rane Sixty-Two mixer. This was my last resort because it is especially tricky to unplug and replug all of the necessary RCA cables in a dark DJ booth.
But with the help of a small flashlight that I keep in my bag, I was able to take care of all the cabling pretty seamlessly. After switching the USB cable from the Rane mixer to the other audio interface I was able to get Serato DJ Pro running perfectly.
So what DID cause it?
So after finishing the gig, I took some time to run through all of the hardware and software again without the added pressure of having a crowd in front of me.
After looking at each element step by step I noticed the USB cable I had been using to connect to the mixer was in terrible shape. It was old, dirty, and clearly had not been kept in good condition over the years.
This was most likely the culprit to the audio dropouts and lag I was experiencing while trying to use the mixer. When I switched to the other audio interface I had switched to another USB cable, which is why that “fixed” the issue.
But the annoying thing is that if I had checked that cable as per my usual pre-gig checklist, maybe I could have avoided all of that hassle.
Going through a tough night full of technical issues, one good thing was that I had enough experience and cool-headedness to be able to figure out a solution – albeit one I could have prevented if I had followed my own rules. The reality is, though, that every DJ will run into some sort of technical issue during their career.
It is up to you to be prepared and also to have some knowledge of how to fix issues, so I encourage you to take some time and prepare a backup solution at the very least, but also learn everything you can about the hardware you play on, so when you do run into an issue, you’ll be able to keep the music playing and the crowd dancing.