Dont Understand This...
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  1. #1
    Tech Wizard djfofo's Avatar
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    Default Dont Understand This...

    Why do dj's use cdj's with a laptop? And what is so amazing about cdj's nowadays anyways. I can understand how it looks more professional, but why are they so damn expensive when you can do that on a much cheaper controller ?

  2. #2
    Tech Guru geminimech's Avatar
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    The oft asked, never answered to anyone's satisfaction, $10,000 question .
    Cheers!
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  3. #3
    Tech Wizard djfofo's Avatar
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    haha yeah no shit

  4. #4
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    CDJs with a laptop seem like a waste to me unless you really just like the feel of CDJs and need your laptop with all the tracks, that's the only reason I can see for using CDJs with a laptop.

    Why I believe clubs/many people use CDJs today:

    1. Easy to transition from DJ to DJ during a set in a club, don't need to connect and reconnect a bunch of crap, can use the same system.

    2. Don't need to haul a bunch of stuff to a club to play, just bring your CDs.

    3. In terms of finding a gig, being able to use a CDJ shows a level of credibility and experience that strictly-midi DJs don't have. I attribute this mainly due to the huge influx of cheap midi gear that can turn anybody with $50 into a "DJ'. Club owners want to weed out these people because they want experienced DJs who won't screw up a set + will bring people in, not a kid who just started DJing two weeks ago. Being able to use a CDJ shows that A) you've been around for a while and know previous technology, indicating experience, and B) You know how to beatmatch and do everything properly, you aren't reliant on your software

    From a club owner's perspective, it makes sense and is very understandable.

    Overall, these are pretty well the reasons why I picked up some used CDJs recently, after using strictly midi for about 2 years. I still prefer and will always use midi over CDJs by a longshot, but being able to do both is pretty nice imo.

  5. #5
    Tech Wizard djfofo's Avatar
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    Yeah I mean right now, Im all midi, but I feel like I spend more time on the controllers than the laptop and I agree 100% about the experianced thing. Im thinking of going the cdj route, its just alot more pricey, but thats expected.

  6. #6
    Tech Guru mostapha's Avatar
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    This is going to be a long one. I'll probably ramble a bit. But it's something that I've been thinking about for a while…in more contexts than just DJing.

    To answer the simple one first: why do people use a Laptop with CDJs? Frankly, I see 2 reasons: effects and library.

    The effects in Traktor and Serato–if you like effects at all–are better than what's on your average mixer. Now that Pioneer has basically completely dominated the club scene with "not crap" effects for a long time, that's probably fading some. But there are still more of them in Traktor, and you have more control over most of them. The library issue is one of preference. If I'm playing for an hour, I know I'll play 8 to 20 tracks depending on genre, time during the night, type of set, and a few other factors. I can't see wanting more than 80 tracks per hour at any point. If you know so little about the gig that you genuinely feel like you need more than that, then you haven't adequately prepared for the gig and probably shouldn't have gotten it. Even if you have 100,000 songs in your collection…if you can't cut it down to 2-4 times the amount of music you need for the gig, you could stand to do more prep work.

    The second question is more complex, and while I firmly believe what I believe, I'm not convinced that it won't change again, and I'm not convinced that my answer is right for everyone.

    Why CDJs when Computers can do more?

    Simplicity is one element. It's a lot easier to have a consistent, high standard of quality if the sound guy (venue owner; security guy tasked with it; whatever) has fewer pieces of gear to understand. It's also easier to transition between DJs if the only thing they have to lug in/out of the booth are headphones and CD wallets or USB keys. It's easier to do the sound check ahead of time and know that the levels are going to be sane. You just have one stereo fader on the FOH mixer that you have to pay attention to in order to compensate for DJs knowing or not knowing how to read level meters. If you're running off controllers run direct to the board…there are more variables, though it's still doable.

    Risk–from the DJ's perspective–is another one. If there's a disaster (fire, flood, etc.) or theft, it's a lot easier to recover from a $340 loss (assuming top-end headphones and USB keys) than a $3000 loss (assuming a MBP with an SSD, S4, and top-end headphones). In the first case…somebody else has the music you brought that night. Big deal. In the second, you better hope that you have insurance or are commanding a high price, otherwise you'll be gigging for a while just to hit the black again.

    Accountability is a big one. Running a venue is expensive. DJs–assuming you're not in a race to the bottom, bedroom DJs playing for a beer type place–cost money. The PA system costs money. Bouncers, licenses, bar staff, liquor, furniture, insurance, the space, etc. all add up, and they're all things that most DJs don't pay attention to. At that point, knowing that your equipment is in passable shape and that failures aren't too likely to ruin your night (and cost you an arm & a leg in lost revenue and lost reputation) is huge and a lot more tolerable than some DJ you don't know who might be sending you a horrible output or wiring your shit wrong, even if they're otherwise competent. Knowing how to play on CDJs (if you can trust they recorded their demo that way) also weeds out the worst digital DJs who can't deal with failures, but I think that's probably more of a bonus.

    One big example of this is the rock/punk/metal venue backline. I've been to a few rock or metal shows that had huge lineups, just meaning the sheer number of performers. When a metal band shows up at Prog Power in Atlanta, they walk on to stage carrying drum sticks (for the drummer), nothing (for the vocalists), or a guitar and a pedal board (for the guitarists) and have a small selection of amps to plug into. Yeah…It's a PITA if you're used to playing a huge 200W hughes & kettner amp that you custom modded to give you your sound and all you find is a Marshall DSL and some Mesa Triple Rectifier. But you can still play. And changeovers take about a minute plus a very quick sound check that's entirely spent setting amp gain and EQ. You don't have to re-mic cabinets; you don't have to tear down and build up a full drum set. You don't have to deal with any weird shit. Play like that or don't play. It draws huge acts and huge numbers of punters because it runs so smoothly.

    DJing is the same way, even though the most complicated controller setup is lots simpler than changing out a mic'd drum kit.

    Professionalism is another, though one I'll gloss over since I've kind of mentioned it. Playing on what's basically considered industry standard stuff implies a level of professionalism that the vast majority of controllers don't immediately display. This fact becomes more apparent when you realize that the vast majority of club owners/managers have never heard of DJTT, don't know that a MidiFigher wasn't thrown together in your retarded cousin's basement for $5 with no expertise or research, and don't understand anything about what computers are capable of.

    The issue when thinking about it purely from a DJ's Performance is a much harrier matter, but I still think the CDJs come out on top. I freely admit that other people can make different decisions and that I–too–made a different decision for a long time. My position in knowing the different ways a DJ can perform isn't unique by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel it makes me qualified to comment. I've owned and performed with Technics turntables, Pioneer CDJs, NI and other MIDI gear, Ableton, Traktor, SSL, and a pair of iPods plugged into a Behringer Xenyx at different points in everything from my bedroom to small clubs. I'm not a touring pro and have never made a substantial amount of money from DJing, but I've seen some aspect of it all.

    Here's the thing. The more prep work you put into your set, the more you can do. But that holds no matter what you're using. Orbital still performs with Analog and VA synths…and when I saw them, I didn't see any computers. They're doing more than the vast majority of DJs, and they're doing it–to my knowledge–with all hardware. And they're not the only ones.

    Here's the difference: computers are basically limitless. They're insanely versatile. And while that's amazing from a cost standpoint, it's not the best for reliability and more importantly real-time control. Having a direct, simple control for each thing you want to do is worth way more to a lot of people than limitless capabilities.

    By accepting the limitations that Pioneer (or Technics or Vestax or Urei or whomever) have placed on a device, you get simple, direct controls for what it can do. You get a piece of gear that's entire purpose is to do those few things really well. And the sacrifices you make–from a DJ's perspective–are pretty small.

    Pioneer CDJ-2000s have 3 hot cues instead of 5 (SSL) or 8 (Traktor). Their looping isn't quite as simple, but it's just as accurate. And you can save loops ahead of time in Rekordbox just like you can with Traktor or SSL…but you're limited to 3 instead of 5 or 8, shared with hot cues exactly the same way.

    And if you really want that many hot cues…MPCs exist. So does the Octatrack. And a bucket load of other samplers that can do very similar things. They probably take a bit longer to set up and definitely longer to get good at, but what you sacrifice in ease of learning and setup you gain in direct control in the moment.

    I think computers have their place, and I think that the world is quickly adapting to accept them. SSL was accepted faster than CDJs were. TSP was accepted faster than Ableton. I think that–for the most part–they make the right concessions of usability for versatility while costing less…if that's what you're into.

    But it's not as simple as saying "computers can do more," because I really think they can't. They can do more with less time/money invested, but to some degree that plays into professionalism and accountability.

    You want to play loops under your DJ set…get a 3rd CDJ (maybe a 4th if you're crazy). Make CDs of the loops you want to play. You won't be able to do as much, and you have to beat match manually…but it's still perfectly doable with a combination of stored loops and preparation. Don't like that idea, get a groove box that can play and manipulate loops. The Octatrack can already do more than I've seen spoiled about Traktor's new sample decks. Apart from track count and hosting plugins, I think it can do as much as Ableton. Well…apart from scratching the loops, that's kinda cool.

    But CDJs can do that.

    Choosing what limitations you're willing to work under gives you much better control over what you're doing. And if you really can't make those decisions, I want to hear you…because you're probably the best in the world. Better than I've heard, at least.

    There's also a reliability component that is way more complicated (and valid, IMHO) than "computers can crash."

    Say you have this ridiculous hybrid DJ + Live Performance thing setup. You play songs, but you also play your own beats and maybe even sing or play guitar or synths or something.

    If Traktor or Ableton goes down bad enough…you can't perform. That's not likely, but club owners might not know that, and you can't ensure that it'll never happen. If your octatrack goes down…you still have CDJs. The only thing that can take out the whole thing is the club's mixer…which is also possible…but it's not your fault. And it would have taken out the all-computer system too.

  7. #7
    Tech Guru mostapha's Avatar
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    So, your cost savings directly contribute to increased risk on the part of the venue (in terms of potential fallout, not in terms of likelihood)…and it requires you to either put all your stock in a small number of tools (S4 + F1 or whatever) or put a lot of effort into making things work the way you want.

    Now, I know where I fall on this. Given my druthers, I'd have a rotary mixer, 3 CDJs, 3 turntables, and a groove box. I honestly think that would give me all of the capabilities that I actually used from Ableton or Traktor…without a computer…and with direct, simple controls for everything. And the only thing that needs to be rock-solid reliable is the mixer for me to perform something. It could degrade into straight A-B DJing or straight live performance. But I can hardly imagine that much different stuff failing in a situation where anyone would hold me responsible.

    I'm facing this issue with Computers and Production as well. Moving from Live to Maschine was a big jump, IMHO. I'm producing things that I'm closer to happy with because Maschine imposes some specific workflow limitations. I want to take it farther. I don't want to be able to go through 800 kick drums, 5000 synth presets (mine or other people's), a billion routing schemes…I think all of that just gets in the way of making music.

    I want an MPC or an Octatrack and one or two powerful, hardware synths. Recall sheets scare me a lot less scary than endlessly tweaking sounds. The more I think about it, the more I realize just how much awesome music was made with the "crappy" compressors that are inside the MPCs. The crappy reverb effects in groove boxes. People made gorgeous stuff within these limitations. Why can't I do it without them? Maybe I suck. I have to admit that possibility. But I really think that these limitless computers share some of the burden of responsibility. And I think DJing is the same way.

    I'm going to buy a hardware groove box and a hardware synth…as soon as I can afford it. And I'm seriously considering a little 8-track digital recorder at the same time instead of upgrading to PT10 right away. Will I stick with it? I have no idea. But I'll use it–at least–to record DJ sets in the future, and I think it's worth taking the chance that it might actually help me out in the long run.

    Closing Thoughts:

    "A jack of all trades is a master of none…but sometimes better still than a master of one."

    The purpose of this argument isn't to say that limitations are always the answer or that they're the only answer. Nor do I mean to say that hardware is always better or that controllers have no place. I think each DJ and Producer has to make these decisions for himself/herself.

    Computers are amazing. Reason, Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton, Maschine, Traktor, Itch, and SSL each give you so much more than the same outlay of money did even 10 years ago. They're bringing DJing and production to the masses. I hate to think how much great music the world has lost out on because some genius electronic musician couldn't afford a Triton, a room full of Moogs, and a big desk. We're leaving that behind, and I honestly believe it's for the best. But I don't think it's the whole story, nor do I think it's the future for everybody.

    I just think that the new generation–or the old generation that's "moved on"–should probably give these issues some serious thought before they discount one side or the other. Similarly, I think the older generation should seriously consider the benefits of the new stuff…but there are high-end DJs already making inroads on that one…it's just a matter of time as long as the new guys don't completely burn all their bridges by pissing off everybody who chooses differently.
    Last edited by mostapha; 02-19-2012 at 03:10 AM.

  8. #8
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    Dear christ mostapha. And I thought my post was an essay...

  9. #9
    Tech Wizard Pedrotax's Avatar
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    Very fair answer. Just booked a 1 month DJ school in order to be as good on CDJ's and vinyls than I (hopefully) am on controllers.

    I'm just doin it to be able to tell the promoter: "yes I can do my set on CDJ or vinyl, although I would totally rock it with my S4 and Midi-Fighter". I admit than not being super confident on CDJ's is a justified scare-off for promoters, and that's why if you wanna go the professional way, you need to adapt. If you're able to rock it with the midi on the first time, then you're good. But you need to get the job in the first place and keep in mind that it is a risk for the promoter to let you play with your controllers. I myself don't have much experience in the professional DJing scene, so correct me if I'm wrong

    IMO, learn the basic pro stuff, then master your craft.
    Last edited by Pedrotax; 02-19-2012 at 07:20 AM.
    Traktor Pro 2 | Macbook Pro 15" i7 | Kontrol S4 | MidiFighter Classic | Perseverance

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  10. #10
    Tech Mentor oneapemob's Avatar
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    For the op :
    Mostapha already said it, but i believe it has to do with the library management. I mean for people who used to haul crates of vinyls you see the advantage right away, but it's nothing compared to the possibility of just using some flash drives. It went from 10's of kilos of vinyls, to a kilo of cds, to a kilo of a computer to a few grams of flash drives, neat

    The "professional" aspect is true, it's as true as when a pair of tech was what you found in any cabin anywhere in the world. Any dj comes up, just put your vinyl on the wheel of steel and start doing you thing. With cds it's the same thing, any venue now has some, its a standart.

    As for people who use expensive cdjs as midi controllers, well i don't get it. It's too goddamned expensive ( even other brands "knock outs" like the new geminis and such ) to justify using them as midi controllers (lets see tomorrow the new denons, at least they have a moving platter). It's just showing of. Plus they are really limited as far as midi controllers go.
    And in a "club situation" usage, re-setting the cdjs to use them as midi controllers doesnt make sense, because as Mostapha said, you are introducing a computer in the equation, and it's dangerous.
    macbook pro, technics trntbl, numark pro sm-1, vestax pmc 08 pro, traktor scratch pro 2, akai mpd 24, novation nocturn, vci-100 fw1.4, krk rp5g2 and FBV express mk2

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