Existential Sync Crisis
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  1. #1
    Tech Convert
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    Dec 2017

    Question Existential Sync Crisis


    I've been a bedroom controller DJ for about 6-7 years but only took it seriously about a year ago. I began to feel the limitations of controller DJing so I decided to upgrade to a XDJ-RX2 in September. I've been loving it since I upgraded and feel that I've really moved up a level. My next ambition was to move away from the sync button. I know the old school heads will be rolling their eyes at that but let me give you a bit of context.

    90% of what I play is live-drummed disco and boogie, more original recordings than modern edits. I know that there is an awful lot more to DJing that long, seamless blends and that's not what I'm about as a DJ. But I do love to be creative, working the EQs, utilising loops, mixing percussion breaks etc. Trying to work like this, without sync, with varying BPMs is not getting much easier. I knew it would be hard, but 3 months of daily practice and the progress is negligible. Sometimes I've got a 4 bar percussion intro to work with and the BPM is varying not by a decimal of a beat but by 2-3 beats, so trying to work the jog wheel, a couple EQ pots and a fader is something I think only an octopus could handle... Sometimes you can use a steadier 4 beat loop but often that starts to reduce the soul of the tune, disco is all about phrases, not bars.

    When I mix house and digitally produced music without sync I can beat-match without any more issues than you would expect from someone who is 3 months in to learning the art. Progress is noticeable though, which is the key difference.

    I know that when I start to play out that 99% of people won't give a damn that sync is on but I'm the type of person who likes to work at a goal, analyse the problem and work out ways of solving it. In that regard, I've noticed DJs that I've seen live, playing the same genres, are slightly less creative than they are on studio mixes. The blends are nowhere near abrupt, but they're certainly not as long or smooth, or interesting even, as their studio mixes. But a part of me thinks that dismissing them as sync-users in the studio but not live is defeatist, and that they're just really, really good at what they do under all circumstances and they never use sync.

    So I'm keen to hear people's opinions on whether I'm over-analysing this and that using sync is fine if the tune selection and vibe-creation are there in abundance (that's something that I'm definitely progressing at!).



  2. #2
    Tech Guru Patch's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    Bristol, UK


    Sync wouldn't fix the natural variation of "played" drums? So I'm not sure what you're hearing when you've got sync on.

    The best way to fix played drums, is to warp the track in Ableton Live (use beats or complex mode) and place warp markers, practically, on every beat. Then export and play that track in Traktor.

    You'll lose some of the "feel" of the original drum parts, but you'll gain the flexibility of being able to create loops on the fly, beat match more easily, etc... The way to NOT lose the feel of the original track, is to ONLY warp those parts of the track that you plan on getting creative with. As long as you warp those parts at the same BPM throughout the track, and then set BEAT Markers at the beginning of those warped tracks once you get 'em into Traktor, you'll be able to play those tracks with the original feel intact during the verses, and have the flexibility to get creative at the intro/outro/breaks...

    To see just HOW wild those drummers tempo variations are, switch the warping mode to repitch and have a listen...

    So yeah - manually warp the track in Ableton Live, then sync or don't sync when you play the track in Traktor.

    The only time I switch sync off is when a track drifts halfway through making the beat-grid off. And I switch it right back on as soon as I can! ;-)
    DJ'ing: 2x1200MK2, DJM 850, Dicers, F1, Zomo MC-1000, Sony MDR-v700, i7 Win 10 HP Envy
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  3. #3
    Tech Guru mostapha's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2010


    Patch's suggestion works. I've done that before, but I don't like it. It will take all of the "human" out of a track with a live drummer. And while the algorithm is very good, it's not perfect...it can create artifacts on some tracks. One alternative would be to only warp the sections that you're going to mix over, so you still hear the drum variations for the bulk of the track. IME, that works a lot better, but you have to make even more decisions ahead of time.

    Back in the day, the way DJs would do this would be to set the pitch a little fast and feather the record with their finger in time with the drummer(s). It's quite difficult, and I haven't seen it done well in a very long time. You also flat out can't do it with CDJs or controllers without moving platters. You can do something similar, but that technique doesn't work right without them.

    That being said, Rekordbox has a dynamic analysis mode. Have you tried playing with that? I'm not sure if they did it this way, but it seems like it should be able to mark beats and keep any slave tracks in time with the master track, which is allowed to breathe. Like I said...I don't know if it does that, but it would be really cool if it did. Ableton Live did something like this by allowing you to use a track as the master groove for the clock.

    That being said, it uses sync.

    I don't have any problem with sync. In normal electronic music with dead-straight tempos, beatmatching is the most boring part of a DJ's job, and it has no real effect on creativity or expression. That's still basically true for tracks with a live drummer, it's just difficult and complicated instead of boring and simple. If you want to work at it just for you, go for it. There's no harm in it, and it could be fun if you find it fun. But, as far as I'm concerned, there's no reason not to use sync other than nostalgia or "because I can". No one cares. No one even really knows what DJs do. And when you get right down to it, all we ever do is play with a glorified stereo system and have really good taste in music. And only one of those things really matters.

    You might also not have realistic expectations of what you're doing.

    Disco came from a time before DJ gear had effects, looping, or even EQs. So, there was a lot less going on. The best disco mixes I've heard literally do nothing but play good tracks. Frankly, a lot of the best mixes I've heard in any genre fit that description. But, I'm in the minority. With a couple exceptions (richie hawtin, chris leibing, etc.), I don't think DJs really understand the tools at their disposal and use effects as "sound good" buttons and EQs to help them force mixes that don't work. But, again, I'm in the minority. Anyway...disco...we're talking about disco.

    In the disco era, transitions were also a lot shorter. With house & techno, you're talking several phrases. (side note...all music is about phrases...they're not less important in house, techno, or whatever just because the changes aren't as obvious). With some other generes (d&b, minimal, other sides of techno), you might not play a track alone very long. Hip Hop is the exact opposite...transitions can be less than a measure. Mobile DJs playing rock might not have a transition and just hit play (or cut) at the right moment and immediately shut off the other track. Disco is often a lot closer to that.

    Case in point...


    That's panotaker, who at least used to be active here. And he was spinning that music when it was new. He's using Traktor and Sync, and he's doing some more advanced things (like instant doubles to always mix left to right, the old fashioned version of an echo effect using doubles, etc.). The turntables are only there as an overall tempo adjustment and "because they're cool", which I can get behind. He's got a few disco mixes on his YT channel, and they're worth taking a look at.

    But, pay attention to how he's actually mixing. The transitions are at most 8 bars (1 phrase). Some were only a measure. More than one was bringing a beat into a breakdown or a beat-less outro.

    Most music will tell you how to mix it if you listen close enough.

    Literally any of those transitions, pushed longer, wouldn't have worked. My guess is that you're trying to do things that just don't work for that type of music.

  4. #4
    Tech Convert
    Join Date
    Dec 2017


    Quote Originally Posted by Patch View Post
    The best way to fix played drums, is to warp the track in Ableton Live (use beats or complex mode) and place warp markers, practically, on every beat. Then export and play that track in Traktor.
    Thanks for the reply, from a fellow Bristolian too!

    I'm using rekordbox, so I'm able to manually adjust the beatgrid of the tracks and then export to usb. The RX2 syncs gridded tracks really well. So I'm not struggling to use sync, it's more the use of it for live drummed tracks that I'm questioning.

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