A blog like Digital DJ Tips is great for the latest news, product reviews, opinion pieces and so on, but blogs aren’t so good at stepping back and presenting a broader overview of where we’re at – in this case, of course, talking about digital DJing.
That’s one of the places where [laptopdjhandbook] by Jason Emsley delivers. This large-format, rather chunky softback book is written by a California-bred, London-residing techno DJ/producer who has worked for (and still freelances for) Native Instruments, the makers of Traktor.
So he knows his stuff, but at the same time don’t expect a hand-holding beginners’ guide. As Jason says himself in the book:
“If you’re new to laptop DJing and/or production, there’s no reason to steer clear of advanced material. To be honest, I generally find that diving in at the deep end is usually the best way to learn.”
However, having said that, this is one of two volumes, and the second will be the more complex of the two. This one, then, is his broader overview of Digital DJing.
It starts with a rather good 20-page summary of the history of DJing, right up to dubstep, which is well researched and academic in its tone. It then moves on to discuss what you need to have in order to DJ digitally, going into some detail about the hardware, disc drives, sound cards (or “audio interfaces” to give them their proper name), with some in-depth advice on making these choices, as well as a look at gear including Maschine and Monome controllers.
The gear advice is a bit weird in that it doesn’t present a single “standard” controller, ie two jogwheels and a mixer – it has the X1, the Akai APC Ableton controllers and various other bits and pieces, but no representative of the most popular controller format.
From here, the book covers in some depth what it deems to be the three main programs for DJing: Traktor (Scratch) Pro, Serato Scratch, and Ableton Live. No Virtual DJ, though: There are probably more Virtual DJ users than any of these programs, but that program is often missed out in material such as this.
In these sections, there is some duplication of the product manuals, with lots of basic talkthroughs, which seems a bit unnecessary, and of course, will be useless to you unless you have the program it is talking about. However, even here, there is historical context and history, which is really nice to read – Jason explains the different approaches of Traktor Scratch Pro and Serato Scratch Live to digital vinyl, for instance.
There is also some pretty involved information, with stuff about HID devices, Traktor modifiers/Midi mapping, and actually DJing with Ableton Live (and why you may or may not want to do this).
No book across 350 pages could ever exhaustively cover such a subject (Digital DJ Tips has barely scratched the surface in 400 posts), and it’s already a bit out of date (no talk of Traktor Pro 2, some of the websites it references are no longer good), but it’s the most up to date book of its type by far.
If you’re looking for a substantial read on digital DJing, with a good mix of history/context and solid, professional technical know-how, this would be a good purchase for you.