“iDJ Life”: mobile music libraries and storage [or Mobile DJ-101]

DJ 101 - How to rock a party | Koss community board
DJ 101 – How to rock a party | Koss community board

***The following is my personal philosophy/approach to DJing with an iPad; your situation may vary and I do not believe my setup is the best/only way to do it…***

The popularity of DJ apps for mobile devices is on a steady rise with names like Pioneer, Numark, and Vestax making controllers to work with those apps. With this advancement in mobility and smaller setups, there has also been an increase in concern over music storage. The limited storage space in laptops was easily circumvented with the option to attach external drives. External storage allowed DJs to carry an extra few hundred GBs of music as an emergency source of request-fillers. With the new possibility of DJs replacing their laptops with tablet devices, the biggest question facing DJs is whether tablets will have enough space to carry our music libraries [unless you have an Android tablet with SD card/external storage options].

In my specific situation, the hard limit of 64GB on the iPad had me worrying that I wouldn’t have enough music on hand for my gigs. I was able to stop worrying once I got over the initial shock of reduced storage and thought more about the nature and specifics of my music programming for mobile events. My perceived problem was the result of being stuck in the mindset of a club/radio mixshow DJ; this mentality dictates that I must create completely unique music sets at every event and avoid duplication.

Mobile DJ events sit in stark contrast to club DJ residencies. Mobile parties are usually ‘one-timers’ [you may never encounter these people again] with a crowd that will often ask for the same song more than once. The locations may be different, but the partiers regularly want a lot of the same songs at each event- top 40, easily recognizable oldies, and certified dance floor anthems. Once I remembered the similarities in my mobile gigs, I realized that I didn’t need to carry 45,000 songs with me to EVERY event.

'DJ SOUNDS'(TM)  CD music library
‘DJ SOUNDS'(TM) CD music library…

Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have a lot of options with your music library and even smart to be prepared for anything someone throws at you. However, it is unrealistic to think that you can anticipate absolutely any request from a party guest AND keep all of those songs with you at all times. Rather than carrying 5 hard drives around [risking loss, damage, theft], you should make sure you ALWAYS have the most popular and most often requested music with you at every event.

Many events have a specific theme or genre requests that you can prepare for in advance of the event. Anything beyond the most popular music and the expressed desires of the client becomes ‘judgment call’ territory. In this situation, you should be able to use a professional attitude and personal charm to overcome any disappointment one or two guests may express when you tell them you don’t have the particular song they’ve requested. [NOTE: Pay attention to how many people request specific songs that you don’t have and consider adding them to your standard library!]

djay for iPad music library view
djay for iPad music library view

A not so secret rule in the mobile DJ industry assumes that the vast majority of weddings/mitzvahs/parties can be thoroughly entertained with a standard set of 200 songs. The average mobile DJ set lasts around 4hrs; at an average of 3min per song, 20 songs per hour, you typically end up with just under 100 songs played at an event. Barring extremely rare requests from an exceptionally diverse crowd, the songs in that playlist are quite common between events.

Taking that 200 song preparation list in mind, I honestly don’t NEED to bring more than 500 songs [less than 3GB] to an event when I properly plan and program for it. Going back to my concerns about limited iPad space, I would still have a lot of room to play with for music storage. Careful consideration of the specific event theme and anticipation of the ‘reasonable expectations’ of the crowd based on age groups will provide me with enough information to trim my ‘extra music’ to a storage size that will easily fit on the device.

I currently use my iPad as a backup/emergency device for mobile events and always keep it synced with several playlists for specific styles/genres/events. I have the mandatory mobile DJ library of ‘DJ Tools/Platinum Series’ songs [4GB], the last 6 months of Top 40/Dance/Urban Promo Only ‘quick edit’ tracks [3GB], and a flexible playlist of specific or anticipated requests, dinner music sets, or cocktail hour mixes [2GB, depending on how paranoid I am]. That leaves me TONS of space, even if I only had a 16GB iPad.

The new controller I have been blabbing about for weeks will test my theories, but I will be sure to have backup plans to keep the party going if it doesn’t meet my needs. If decide to go with an iPad-only setup and feel like I absolutely MUST carry my entire library with me, I may try looking into the Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless HDD [500GB].

Pics from my two most recent Weddings [Stone Mountain Lodge & Denver Aquarium]

I wasn’t able to get good photos from the aquarium event due to a projector screen that was setup in front of my rig for most of the night. I also didn’t have time to take photos during the dancing portions of either night; I was too focused on keeping the crowds jumping!

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Tonight’s Gig is codenamed “Aqua Boogie Night”

… or, if you are familiar with P-Funk, “PsychoAlphaDiscoBetaBioAquaDoloop Revisited”!

Much like last weekend’s event [I know, I haven’t posted photos yet], this will be a wedding where I get to display the depth of my personal music library and showcase my mixing skills. The couple have expressly forbidden anything that is NOT “club-style dance music” and I have 3 hours dedicated entirely to the dance floor. To characterize my mood as ecstatic would be a huge understatement!

I will try to take a few pictures, but it may be difficult depending on where I will be setting up in the venue. It is literally an aquarium; the Denver Aquarium to be exact. Since sound travels faster and farther in water, I wonder what effects my subwoofer will have on the fish. It will be interesting to see how they react, or if they react at all.

I would have called this event ‘Underwater Rimes’ as a tribute to Digital Underground, but there won’t be much hip-hop tonight. Then again, I have a ton of dance remixes of hip-hop tracks I could play…

Pioneer enters the ‘wireless’ DJ wars with XDJ-AERO

My daily routine starts with checking my iPad screen for any news, email, reminders, or calendar alerts that came in while I was sleeping. When you’re as technologically savvy/dependent/addicted as I am, you are ALWAYS connected; my day can’t start unless I know what I have missed. Most of the emails are spam-like alerts from websites I follow, but I don’t block them out of fear of missing something. Yesterday morning was one of those moments where I was rewarded for my neurotic behavior.

I literally shot up in bed when I saw the email subject line:

Pioneer cuts the cord with wireless XDJ-AERO

XDJ-AERO | Pioneer
XDJ-AERO | DJ SYSTEM | Pioneer

My initial assumption was this email would describe a super expensive, multi-piece setup/converter designed to connect CDJs and mixers to a set of specialized speakers, neither of which would be available for at least the next year. Pioneer sets the industry standard in performance DJ equipment, so a long wait is not out of the ordinary. A very quick reading of the post corrected my assumptions: this was a DJ controller that would be out later THIS MONTH!

I was barely awake and already plotting complex financial moves…

to justify and implement the purchase of this device!

Before I go any further, I should give you some background on my current DJing situation. I am a professional mobile DJ, albeit a weekend warrior, that averages 2 events each month. I got my start in radio and night clubs, but soon realized that mobile gigs paid more and were better suited for DJs that need to have a ‘day job’ for health insurance benefits. Until recently, my DJ setup consisted entirely of Pioneer equipment that I built from a club-DJ perspective: two CDJ1000s & a DJM800 mixer. Due to the nature of my travelling performances, I had to trade my rig in for something more mobile and less ‘club’.

Mobile DJs rely on compact sound systems designed for simplistic setups. My Pioneer rig was housed in a DJ coffin [HEAVY] and need to be connected with a Serato ScratchLIVE box that interfaced with a laptop perched on a removable stand that hung off the back of the coffin. It produced an unsightly mess of cables when assembled in a rush and made my gigs look disorganized. It was also a massive pain to transport!

When I looked into shrinking my monster rig into something more manageable, the solution was a MIDI controller to connect to a laptop. My first choice was Pioneer’s DDJ-S1, but it was a huge disappointment. It lacked the quality and functionality that I expected from such a big name in the industry. It definitely didn’t look like the professional setup I was accustomed to and it was limited to only two channels.

Numark gave me what Pioneer was missing. Their 4-channel NS6 controller was easily able to handle the demands of diverse events like weddings, mitzvahs, and birthday/corporate parties. When I started researching ways to DJ with my iPad, Numark’s upcoming iDJ Pro controller became the obvious choice for mobile gigs. I am even planning on eventually buying a set of Alto Professional AirPlay-enabled speakers to complete a wireless ‘controller-to-speaker’ system.

All of these purchases and plans have failed so far in replacing my desire for a Pioneer device capable of the portability and functionality I feel is necessary in my performances. Throughout my 20+ years as a DJ, I have always believed that Pioneer equipment is THE BEST in professional DJ setups for nightclubs and anyone serious about dance music on a large scale. Sure, I am not David Guetta or some other major EDM DJ, but I respect their trust and faith in Pioneer as their equipment for live performances. Besides, I only recently switched my setups and the iDJ Pro will be released less than a month after the Pioneer controller hits the street. Maybe Pioneer has finally made the controller I have been waiting for…

Could the XDJ-AERO be a better setup than my planned iPad-based system?

iDJ Pro Premium DJ Controller for iPad | Numark
iDJ Pro Premium DJ Controller for iPad | Numark

After reading DJWORX’s WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Pioneer XDJ-AERO Hands-on Preview, I have to say I am going to stick to my Numark plans. I may be a Pioneer equipment fan-boy, but I am a proud Numark-convert. Though the XDJ-AERO looks like it can do the job at first glance, my detailed requirements prove Pioneer still falls short.

The wireless functionality of this controller is a built-in wifi router which provides connectivity to laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones [up to 4 devices]. This connection enables access to the music contained on the device(s) by way of Pioneer’s ‘rekordbox‘ mobile app [upcoming release], unless you go ahead and connect via USB to a laptop. You still need to run cables from the controller to your speaker system.

That’s NOT a wireless setup in my view. Maybe I am being picky about how I would use a wireless system, but my idea of a cable-free rig is focused more on the output than the input. The only benefit of the XDJ-AERO setup is mobility in music library management and I can get that with my previously planned iPad-based rig.

If only the XDJ-AERO supported wireless output to speakers!

Since wired output is required, I only see this controller having value as a bedroom/house-party mixing platform. It could POSSIBLY be used at a club, but those setups are usually stationary with no need to hide input cables or conserve space for a sprawling system. Although you can switch to external inputs on each of the input channels, you are still limited to only 2 live channels at any given time. With only two channels available, serious club work is out of the question.

The XDJ-AERO has just enough to get the job done for mobile DJing if you overlook the fact that XLR connections [mic input/audio output] are missing. The Mobile DJ industry standard connector for compact PA systems is XLR; RCA or 1/4″ inputs/outputs can be connected to adapters, but that is a make-shift solution. I expect a controller reportedly costing between $1099-$1399 to have XLRs from the start. Adapters are an increased opportunity for failed connections or degraded sound, so I avoid them as much as possible.

And let’s talk about that price-tag a little more. If you believe the lowest price is accurate, the Numark setup I described is a steal in comparison, even if you don’t already own an iPad! With the iDJ Pro retailing at $500 and the largest iPad2 [64GB/3G/WiFi] being another $600, you have a similar mobile music library setup while getting a tablet in the deal!

If you want to talk about music sources, the rekordbox mobile app is probably on the same ‘local library’ restriction as Algoriddim’s djay app on the iPad. But the iPad has iCloud and iTunes Match to give me access to as many as 25,000 of the songs in my music library, so I can leave my laptop at home and use the 3G/Wifi on my iPad to get any music I am missing locally. Not to mention the probable future iDJ Pro compatibility with Algoriddim’s vjay app and its AirPlay video output.

I could be totally wrong on my critique of the XDJ-AERO; I admittedly haven’t touched it or tested my theories on its connections and performance. But the few details I have lead me to believe it is nowhere close to what I have available to me with the iDJ Pro. This is just my opinion; your DJ requirements may be different than mine.

Compare the promo videos of each device for yourself:

A second trusted DJ review by Digital DJ Tips: Pioneer Announces The XDJ-AERO: WiFi-Enabled DJ Midi Controller & Mixer

Anna & Jason Lucas Wedding @ The Westin Westminster Lake House – Starkey Productions

Gorgeous venue on a lovely day!

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Jake Beaber emcee’d the event while I handled the sounds. Up-lighting & custom gobo light [couple’s name and date] were provided by ‘Swank’ as the Westin hotel’s in-house production team.