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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Introduction to live DJing with Virtual DJ

This is the next instalment in the series on how to DJ in Second Life.  In previous blogs, I described Repear and Winamp, but I've put all those aside for my new favourite tool, Virtual DJ.  This $49 software gives me everything I need to DJ live.  You can get more expensive versions of the software all the way up to $300, but the $49 Broadcaster version does the trick.  At first I used it to have an intelligent mix of tracks, and a nice smooth transition from one track to the other.  These days, I am playing, looping and remixing tunes live and have had a ton of fun each time, I won't go back to just playing tracks.

Virtual DJ an Overview

At first glace, Virtual DJ (VDJ) is a bit overwhelming:

There is a lot going on in this interface, but now that I'm used to it, I can say that it's well thought out.  VDJ's interface is skinnable, and this is a snapshot of the 4-deck (1280x1024) interface.  Each deck has it's own settings and they are repeated on each deck:

A simple blog won't go through all the details but this deck tells me the song and gives a song graph.  The white vertical lines in the sound graph are the cues I predetermined, and I use these points so that when I am mixing live, I know where the important bits in the music start and end.

When you play live, you can see a detailed sound graph at the top of the window:

In a live set, you will do live remixing.  This is accomplished by looping a large sections of music within the same tune.  When one section ends, you loop back and replay the same section, and make the sound transition completely seamless. 

To achieve this, you load the same song on the left and right decks and fade between the two.  Notice the position of the colour of the deck in the sound graph.  The right deck (orange) is further along in the play than the left deck (green).  Also notice how the right deck in the top-left corner is highlighted orange.  This is the active deck. 

Note: Above the SYNC button there is a "master" indicator.  When you click the SYNC button, your track adjusts the the master track.  So to do a fade, I first line up the cues then do a SYNC on the green track to solidify the connection.

The important bits from the display are shown below.

The brighter orange (overlays the lighter green), as the Orange part music changes, you can slide the crossfader all the way to the left, to go from the sound on the Orange track to the sound on the Green track.  Practice and the sound style determines how fast to slide it.  With skill, you can now repeat a section and make it as if the music was meant to sound that way.

You can continue to fade back and forth between the two tracks to repeat sections over and over again, and as you practice, you can fade to the beginning, skip entire sections, or automatically repeat sections and listen to the looping part while overlapping some part of the song.

When done right, the sound is entirely seemless and a song, that was on 7 minutes originally, be looped and remixed and last 15-20 minutes, and be completely unique rendition of it each time you play it.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It took about 4-5 hours of practice before I was ready to play for friends.  Even after playing live I still make oopsies, but don't worry about it too much.  It's not like I'll stop the music, write into IM ... I messed up and restarting now.  Just chalk one up and continue.

I do know that it's really hard to play live AND IM at the same time.  So I generally avoid it unless I know I have at least a few minutes.  That's pretty rare, since some sections I am repeating are only 30 seconds long.  Lot of work and concentration.

To DJ Live or Not to DJ Live

I won't go back to just picking a set and playing it.  You can do this, and set it into automix mode and just let VDJ do the fades for you.  But there is simply too much fun and creativity that happens as a result of playing live.  It's always different.

- Gin

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