SYNC your teeth into this

(Yeah, <groan>, another one of these. Whatever, I’ll try to keep it brief)

I press SYNC and I don’t care. I press play and I don’t care.

I see a lot of “old school” DJs complaining about this (SYNCing is cheating, laptop DJs aren’t DJs, blah blah blah). Honestly, this is so utterly, completely and mind-blowingly ignorant given that the umbrella genre is electronic music (I refuse to call it EDM as it’s not all “dance” music per se).

Last I checked, laptops, sync algorithms, DJ controllers, etc. had a hell of a lot more in common with the field of electronics than rotating platters, pressed wax discs, and synchronizing music by hand. Given that the music has it roots in technology why not embrace everything technology has to offer?

It’s akin to somebody riding around on a horse complaining that motorists are cheating. Or someone doing math by hand complaining that calculators kill the art of math. Seriously? Step off your high-horses and into the 21st century.

For the record (no pun intended) I started DJing on vinyl. I think vinyl is great and nothing compares in terms of feel/tactile response. But it’s heavy, expensive, it degrades, etc. Likewise, turntables are heavy, expensive, prone to skipping if not properly installed, and generally not really a standard commodity at shows nowadays.

Snug circa 1999. All vinyl, baby.

That said, I do have lots of respect for DJs who can scratch, do 3-4 deck mixes, etc. This takes skill. But so does rigging an Ableton Live set with synchronized lights, visuals, external synths, etc. So does a multi-deck mix on a controller with on-the-fly looping, live FX processing, overlaying synth and drum loops, etc.

Snug 2012. Vinyl + controller (SYNC button engaged!)

At the end of the day the end goal is to produce sound and/or entertain. If it sounds good and/or entertains then who the hell cares? So what if modern technological advancement means “everyone’s a DJ”? Honestly, when I was getting into it “everyone was a DJ” then, too. Same old story. As with anything, those with talent and drive will go much further than those without.

Closing thought: if “keeping things on time” is what you’re most concerned with then maybe you should consider a job as a railroad conductor or a dispatcher? You’d probably make a hell of a lot more money than you would DJing, anyway.


Review: Numark NS6


So after a couple years of DJing with Ableton Live using my Allen & Heath Xone:2D I’ve decided I don’t like it. It’s not fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ableton Live, but as a DJ platform it’s clunky. Sure there are some definite pros to DJing with Live but personally I feel the cons outweigh them.

So based on the above, plus a decent tax return, I decided to pick up the Numark NS6.

Numark NS6

First impressions

My decision was really down to the Traktor Kontrol S4 or NS6. I didn’t get a chance to play with the S4 first hand but I was able to compare an S2 and the NS6 side by side.

Coming from a vinyl background the NS6 felt much more natural to me, probably in large part due to the long pitch faders and bigger platter. Setting cue points was extremely intuitive – more so than the S2 – and I was able to start mixing immediately without so much as a glance at the manual.



The NS6 has all the outputs you’d expect: two main outputs (RCA and XLR) and a booth output (RCA only). The mixer layout is fairly compact which may throw some people off, but the knobs and faders feel sturdy.

One nice addition is that you can also use the NS6 as a conventional mixer: the two main channels offer switchable line/phono inputs while the other two offer switchable line/mic inputs. Realistically I’m not sure how practical this would be in a club setting as more than likely you would be plugging the NS6 into the house mixer alongside any turntables or CDJs, but it’s still a nice addition nonetheless.

I do have a gripe with the placement of the ground connection, however. It’s at the far end of the inputs rather than being in between the two phono inputs. Depending on your cabling this could be quite a nuisance (it was for me, anyway).

NS6 rear view

Where the NS6 really excels is with its large high-resolution platters, long pitch faders and “strip search” (track scan) ribbons. For me these three things combined rivalled playing on vinyl.


I have to admit I had never actually used Serato before though I had seen it so I knew what to expect. The layout is fairly intuitive so it didn’t take me long to get used to it.

Most of the gripes I have with the NS6 are with the ITCH software, and not with the controller itself. For example, the key lock (“Master tempo”) algorithm is very glitchy – it’s more akin to Live’s “beat” warp mode than something as smooth as Complex or Complex Pro. From what I’ve read, Serato Scratch has far superior key lock but ITCH is always a few feature cycles behind.

The FX are also lacklustre. The HP and LP filters are fine but, for example, the reverb is horrendous to the point where it’s not usable. Some of the other FX also felt a bit too gimmicky for me.

One thing I was pleasantly surprised with, and which seems to be a feature specific to the NS6/ITCH combo, is the “bleep” reverse mode. Basically, it does a momentary reverse of the track without throwing off the playback location. This allows for some very interesting mixing possibilities, and it’s something I have to restrain myself from going overboard with because it’s just so much fun! There is a caveat with this feature, however: it’s accessed by pressing the shift button followed by the reverse button. If you forget to press the shift button first the playback will go into full-on reverse mode. It’s unfortunate they didn’t do this the other way around, as accidentally putting a track into reverse mode is not something you can easily recover from when you have another track mixed in.

Serato ITCH


The integration with Serato ITCH is extremely tight. Once you’ve got music loaded into your library you won’t need to touch your laptop. At all. Navigating your library is a breeze and you can even do some limited searching using the buttons on the NS6.

While I occasionally had issues with my Xone:2D registering itself with Windows 7, the NS6 connectivity has been flawless. I’ve never had to mess around with different USB ports, reboots, or anything else.

NS6 with ITCH


The good:

  • good build quality
  • high resolution jog wheels (“the best on the planet”)
  • long pitch faders

The bad:

  • software lacking in several areas (keylock, FX)
  • short faders may turn some people off
  • some questionable design decisions, such as placement of ground connections

Overall I would highly recommend the NS6. Whether you are just getting into digital DJing, or a seasoned veteran, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. While some of the issues with the software do put me off a bit I have my fingers crossed that they will be resolved with time.

Blazing through the techmosphere (new drum & bass mix)

A smooth blend of melodic, atmospheric and techmospheric drum & bass and drumstep.

Blazing through the techmosphere – September 2010 by Snug

01 ASC – Focus Inwards
02 Blue Motion – Leaving Home
03 ASC – Stardust
04 Blu Mar Ten – Overwhelm (Seba remix)
05 Jubei – Outcast
06 Mav – Ocean Phantom
07 KM & Paralyzah – Nega
08 Kharm – Hiding Place
09 Modemellow – Plasma Surface
10 Mendalayev & Cutworks – Across the Space
11 Kubiks & Lomax – Get it on
12 LM1 & Kharm – Duplicity
13 Seba – Arsenic
14 Snug – Starstruck

Beat-matching is soo 1999 (or Fun with Ableton pt. 2)

Don’t get me wrong, I started off with vinyl and I still love it, but I just sold my turntables in favour of a DJ controller to use in conjunction with Ableton Live!

Not spending half of my time focusing on beat-matching opens up a lot of mixing possibilities. For example, if I wanted to mix a dozen tracks at once, I could. I don’t want to, but I could. More realistically, I can mix in bits and pieces of tracks that I may not want to play in their entirety, while doing a conventional two-deck mix and applying a healthy dose of filters and FX to create some additional movement, suspense, etc.

Another advantage is that I can audition a track, in sync, in a split second. If it works I can start bringing it up in the mix right away. Looping a track is just as easy and it’s always in sync with the master tempo.

On a side note, something I’ve become completely addicted to is harmonic mixing. I used to do this instinctively with vinyl but it took tenfold the effort to find records that mixed in key, since adjusting the speed of the record also adjusted the pitch. Using Live to do harmonic mixes is a dream. Not only can I key-lock tracks I can also transpose them on the fly with high quality algorithms.

The main downside I’ve found to letting the computer beat-match is that it doesn’t always get it right. Messing around with warp makers is definitely not as gratifying as nudging a piece of vinyl or adjusting a pitch slider, but when it’s done, it’s done for good – I don’t have to do it every single time I play a gig, over and over 😉

Fun with Ableton

So I’ve spent the past few days setting up a live set using Ableton and my Novation X-Station. So far it consists of 7 audio channels, most of which have a dedicated effect, with a bunch of stuff pre-mapped to the X-Station.

Here’s the channel breakdown as it stands now:

  • 1: Beat repeat, EQ3 & auto filter
  • 2: Dry
  • 3: Saturator
  • 4: Phaser
  • 5: Grain delay
  • 6: Dry
  • 7: Auto filter
  • Send A: filter delay, compressor
  • Master: compressor

Channels 1 & 2 are used for drums, and channel 3 for bass. Everything else is used for whatever.

I’ve mapped 7 of the sliders on my X-Station to the channel volumes, and the buttons above to the mutes. The rest of the knobs and buttons control various effects parameters. Here’s the template from the Novation X-Station editor so you can see what I mean:

Here’s a run-down by section:


  • SEND A: send A level (ch1)
  • REPEAT: toggles beat repeat (ch1)
  • LOW CUT: cuts the low on EQ3 (ch1)
  • S. LEVEL: saturator dry/wet (ch3)
  • S. BASE: saturator base level (ch3)
  • P. LEVEL: phaser dry/wet (ch4)
  • P. RATE: phaser rate (ch4)
  • G.D LVL: grain delay wet/dry (ch 5)

The filters section is mapped to the auto filters on channels 1 & 7 (toggled via the 1-2 button). Ideally I’d have a separate controller for each filter, but this should do for

  • F. FREQ: filter frequency
  • FLT. RES: filter resonance
  • F.E. AMT: filter envelope amount
  • F.L. AMT: filter LFO amount (filter 1 only)
  • F. TYPE: filter type


  • FLT. RTE: controls the filter rate for filter 1


  • SEND A: feeds send A back to itself
  • F.D. FRQ: filter delay filter frequency

As you can see, I still have a few more sliders I could map to an 8th and 9th channel. I’m thinking about adding one channel for MIDI clips, and one for general effects (swooshes, etc.) that I could trigger from different keys. I was also thinking about setting up some side-chain compression, say, take the low-end from channels 1 & 2 (beats) and use it to side-chain the bass channel and possibly my “swoosh” channel.

More to come on this as it evolves 🙂

Indexing MP3 CDs for DJing

So my fiancé and I DJed at her grandparent’s 50th anniversary party last night. I decided to rent CDJs instead of doing the whole turntables + Final Scratch thing, mainly because my needles are not well suited to dance floors (I found this out the hard way at the last party I DJed).

I wanted to print out a spreadsheet with all the tracks, indexed by their number on the CD, so we could easily find them. Here’s a quick way I came up with to build a numbered track list from a directory of MP3s.

You will need:

  • Notepad
  • Excel
  • Your MP3s named in the format of “Artist – Track name”


  1. Open a command prompt
  2. Go to the directory containing your MP3s (cddirectorywithmps)
  3. Type: dir /b > list.txt
  4. Open list.txt in notepad
  5. Search/replace “.mp3 ” with nothing
  6. Search/replace ” – ” with “,”
  7. Rename list.txt to list.csv
  8. Double-click it (it should open in Excel)
  9. Insert a column
  10. Type “=row()” in first row
  11. Click the bottom right of the cell and drag all the way to the last row. Screenshot of this:

(An alternative to steps 10 & 11 would be to turn on “Row & Column headings” under File -> Page Setup -> Sheet tab)

Voila! You should now have a spreadsheet with track number in column A, artist in column B, and track name in column C. Technically the first 7 or so steps could be built into a batch file if you needed to do this on a regular basis.

Note: if any of the track names had commas in them then will need to clean them up. Alternatively, you could replace ” – ” with a different delimiter in step 6, though then the process to load the data in Excel would change slightly.

Also note: be sure to do this after you’ve burned the CDs. Some CD burning software (i.e. Nero) has a different idea of “sort by name” than Windows! (apparently upper case M comes way before lower case M, 10 comes before 2, etc.)

Harmonic mixing 101

Harmonic mixing is where you mix two songs either in the same key, or in complimentary keys. When I used to play vinyl I did this by ear. Now that I’m using Final Scratch I actually index all my MP3s by key.

The nice thing about Final Scratch is that I can “lock” the pitch, so if I’m playing one record at -4% and another at +6% they’ll still match. With vinyl I had to account for the pitch difference, so it took much more effort to work out harmonic mixes.

Here’s the basic process that I follow with my digital collection:

1. Whenever I buy a new MP3 I’ll play it back and try to identify the key using a softsynth. You have to have a bit of an ear for this. Basically, you’re looking for the root note. Typically this is the note that the bass line revolves around. I’d say something about being able to differentiate between major and minor keys, but it hasn’t come up with any of the electronic music I’ve bought (it’s all minor!)

2. Once I’ve identified the key I’ll stick it in a few different places:

  • At the start of the filename (i.e. A#_song.mp3). This allows me to find complimentary tracks without having to even load them up.
  • In the ID3/4 comment tags
  • At the end of the song title, i.e. Title (A#)

3. When I load everything in FS I just sort on the comment, and when I’m playing a track I can see the key in the title at the top. Yes, there is a place to put the “key” in FS but it’s not a standard ID3/4 tag so it doesn’t get written to the MP3 AFAIK.

When mixing, I keep a spreadsheet open in the background with all the complimentary keys:

As you can see I’ve highlighted a few cells in yellow. This is because it can be annoying to move to and from sharp/flat keys, so I’ve highlighted where these transitions can happen. Lately I’ve been pitch shifting some songs to create more possibilities (more on this in another post)

An alternative to my technique would be to use the Camelot wheel, and index everything based on key code. This way, when sorted the complimentary tracks would appear side by side. Frankly I don’t mind working with the keys though, because they’re more meaningful from a musical perspective. It just means a bit more scrolling.