If It Sounds Good - It Is Good!
— Duke Ellington

DJ Poke In The Ear

So an old friend asked me to come out of 'Retirement' and spin some tunes at a party he's throwing. Yep, like pretty much the rest of the planet, I too used to be a DJ.

I use that term for myself very loosely, because I never considered myself one. Many many moons ago it was an easy way to get out and promote my releases, and was a lot of fun to boot. But I never took it too seriously. My compadres at 8D were so much better at actual Deejaying both musically and technically. I just spun tunes I liked without any inkling of seeing how much blood I could leave on the decks.

So now that I'm (quasi) jumping back into the fray, I have to eat my own technological dog food and figure out how to do this the right way. I gave away or sold all my actual vinyl long ago, and the thought of actually using a turntable again is not appealing to me at all. Sorry vinyl fetishists - but I learned my lesson decades ago lugging 100 pounds of wax to Europe and back. So I'm going to do this all on my trusty iPad Pro. I have more than enough toys laying around to get data in and out of the thing, so I just have to find a way to get the music into it and find an App that will let me manipulate it all into something cohesive. And just like my past days, it had better be fun too...

(Cue Batman Segue Theme) To the App Store!

My first thought is this should be a no-brainer. I have an Apple Music subscription, and I also have a lot of tracks backed up on various hard drives.

Before I stopped DJing, I was testing and occasionally using an Mac App called MegaSeg that would access your iTunes Library, let you choose tracks, cue them up for playback, and perform very basic 'DJ like' tricks. It was basic back then (and looks pretty serious today), but taking an iBook and an audio interface out for gigs was better (and certainly less back and shoulder breaking) than carting record bags all over the place. Funny how I used to get a lot of grief for trying this when everyone I know now has a laptop controlling their sets. C'est La Vie on the Bleeding Edge.

Today's hardware and software is light-years ahead of what I was using then so surely things have gotten better in the past 15 years, right? Well, yes and no...

Searching for 'DJ Mixer' brought up enough hits that I spent about 2 hours researching them all. There were a few names I recognized from past purchases, some I found in my past purchases that haven't been updated in about a bazillion years, a lot that were beat-making or soundboard (sound effect) programs, and a surprising number that are nothing more that Publicity Apps from 'top name' artists that I have never heard of. So I guess these let fans pretend they are DJ MADDOGG2020 or DJ Poopypants (or whatever they're called - honestly they're so cookie-cutter they seem like parodies) and I assume you press a button or 'scratch' a virtual tuntable to play their hit(s), press a few more buttons for 'Dub' or 'Current Trendy EDM Genre' effect sounds, have a minute of so of fun, and ultimately leave you wondering why their picture was staring at you the whole time you used the damned thing (all of the ones I previewed had 'angry scowl with shiny space jacket' promo pix of the artist prominently featured on their main interface page - ah, narcissism...)

What did surprise me is that a lot of the 'Pro' ones go crazy with the In-App purchases (for 'Skinz' or Loops or FX) or Subscriptions (more SAASiness) for Cloud-based thingamabobs or other nonsense. I'm assuming they know that everyone with an Apple ID has iCloud Drive that can host files, and more have a Dropbox, Box, or One Drive account as well. I'm sure lots of 'big name' button pushers (pressers?) will begrudgingly go along with it, but you're a fool if you think I'm going to pay for yet another Cloud service that is only dedicated to a single function like storing my DJ Set. As one of the reviews for said service said: 'It's cool, but be prepared to feel like you have a hole in your wallet...'

I narrowed my choices to djay (which comes in lots of forms from free to quite expensive), Cross DJ (also has free and paid tiers), Traktor DJ (paid), DJ Player (the cheaper 'entry' version), and Pacemaker (which looked like a clever modern interface but wound up being confusing as hell and navigating the Library was a serious pain in the...) I downloaded the freebie versions and could almost tell on launch if it was going to work or not. Most are pretty straightforward and some are really overwhelming, but after an hour of poking about I had made my decision.

I went with Native Instruments Traktor DJ. I have a real dislike for NI's products since they decided years back that samples were better that making good instruments and effects and decided to End Of Life almost every single piece of software I purchased from them. Boo. But Traktor has iCloud connectivity for their 'Playlists', an easy to understand interface, good tempo and syncing capabilities, simple built-in effects (with no extra purchase required), and best of all it looks like I had already bought it years ago so I didn't have to pony up any cash. Bonus. :) Traktor is currently $9.99 in the App Store if you're interested - honestly, I'm not sure if I paid that much for it, but I would say that it's worth it for a tenner.

One other thing to mention here - I was trying to find an App with some MIDI Clock capability as well. My thinking was it might be cool to be able to link up the Modulars or another MIDI gizmo for processing or just to add some noodling. DJ Player Pro has it, but it's one of those SAAS apps.

Now the fun truly begins, because absolutely none of the DJ Apps can access Apple Music directly. Many will happily connect to Spotify or SoundCloud (srsly?) but not the service that Apple offers. Apple also makes the iPad, if you weren't aware. They also make and oversee the App Store where you buy your Apps for your iDevices. So you can buy their hardware, load it up with the software sold on their online store, but not access the tunes you pay them for every month.

(loud expletive scream)

Unless...you have iTunes Match.

Giving The Mothership® an extra $25 a year has its perks - it's the bridge between renting and owning. So now I can go into the Music App, download what I want to the iPad, and once I relaunch Traktor, it's there in the Library ready to play. A bit of a workaround, but certainly usable. Note - because I have iTunes Match this works for me, but I'm not 100% sure you need it to work. The Interwebz® say you do, so if this is something you want to try just be aware you might need to pay for it.

Mission accomnplished. I have my App and can easily get my music into the iPad. The final piece of the puzzle is what the $#@! I'm going to play... And I have a lot of practicing to do.

Until next time...

What We All Want

July 2017 Dynamics Check