It’s crazy to think that in a matter of 6-7 years I’ve gone through about 4-and-a-half completely different setups for my live sets, each one completely different from the next. So here (in chronological order), I present you the “evolution” of my DJ rig:
1. Mixmeister Control
So it starts here. My mentor (who ran alot of big parties in my hometown’s club scene) had taught me that a good DJ was also a busy one – meaning not just standing still and pressing play, but also manipulating all there is to be manipulated during a mix. What better way to emphasize that than with a control with a crap-ton of knobs that I could twist? This was very early in my DJ career – and in pen-and-paper, seemed promising… but Numark’s Mixmeister software was a fluke. I bought into the hype, but with bugs, and lack of proper support (couldn’t even properly map FX), the hype died really fast.
I could have kept it after switching to Ableton; however by the time I did I was already over this product.
2. (Customized) Novation SL MkII keyboard
Inspired by Moldover’s interactive approach to mixing – I then decided to splurge on a rather large keyboard for a custom controllerism-inspired Ableton setup, as such. After much custom scripting, mapping and programming… the left 2 octaves handled one deck, while the other half of the keyboard did the other. It was cool – stacking effects, using the faders to handle transport controls (play, stop, cue, etc) and all – but the charm eventually wore off. This setup was a bit clunky to haul around gig-to-gig, and set prep / track organization became a chore (especially compared to something like Traktor). Practical functions that I wanted that Traktor had built-in (like hot cues, etc.), weren’t practical to make happen within Ableton, though I didn’t make that switch until after my next controller.
3. KMI Quneo
This instrument was a blast to work with. The Quneo was extremely durable (they even had an ad where they drop it off a building and spill coffee on it, the sucker still worked! Watch here!) – so every hit was a sure shot, and the pads felt great. I mapped LED visuals to let me know what was going on in my mix, which effects were activated, and even programmed a “beat grid” of sorts (seen in action, here) to keep my rhythm when I did cool routines.
I was still using a custom Ableton setup at this point, and finally decided to make the jump to Traktor DJ software when I saw how much it had advanced by this point (this was around when Traktor v2.5 had come out). I could have kept this controller after the switch – but was ready to move on by this point. 10/10, would buy again.
4. DJ TechTools Midi Fighter 3D + (2x) Traktor X1
After plenty of R&D, I thought the MIDI Fighter 3D and (what would eventually become) 2 Traktor X1’s would give me the right combination of practicality, portability, “touchability,” and fun. The 4×4 grid of arcade buttons were practical for launching custom cues, and performing fun routines. It also had 4 specific “bank” buttons that I could use to switch what deck I was applying effects to, and then there was the gyro. Depending on how I tilted the instrument, multiple effects could be stacked and applied. It was fancy – if not obscure, since it didn’t exactly look like a “traditional” DJ setup. So to fix that…
…I bought custom-colored knobs via DJTechTools. Now, the crowd could “see” that my red and blue Traktor units were separate decks, as well as make my gear pop a bit. I would also custom program the LEDs of the bottom button stacks of each deck to react to whatever they were playing (a.k.a. VU meters for my tech-savvy readers), and keep my eyes off the screen to prevent Serato face. Here’s some footage that shows the VU meters in action.
Aside from that, the MF3D handled all effects – so when you saw me reach for it, you knew it was going down! I loved this setup. However… I couldn’t find a practical use for the MF3D’s gyro. Despite the cool reactions I’d get out of tilting it – it felt awkward at times. Especially in particular mixing situations where I realized I needed more buttons.
4.5 Traktor F1 + Traktor X1 (2)
…Enter the Traktor F1. It took mulling over, but I concluded that I did need more buttons. I didn’t want to lose the versatile functionality of the 4×4 grid (and the nifty bank buttons…), but then I took a second look at the Native Instruments Traktor F1 controller and realized – that was it! I’d get my 16 buttons back… maybe program those 4 faders to deck volumes… and booyakasha – problem solved! By this point, I’d also come to the pivotal decision to remove crossfading from my live mixing.
I know, I know… “That’s not real mixing, bruh” and all that. However, by this time I was mixing more than two tracks on the reg – and with as much as I have going on now, crossfading was becoming a moot function. Those green knobs though. They’re for effects.
The green complements the red and blue, and stands out enough to show that cool things happen when I twist them. This along with a few steps to connect with the crowd (such as putting my laptop off to the side) would help break down those inadvertent “walls” that a bulkier DJ setup like a coffin puts up. All the while, making it easier for the crowd to feel “closer” to me, if you will. Less is more [inviting], if you will.
Worth mentioning is that I’ve also come to get rid of anything on-screen that I could already see on my controllers to reduce redundancy (EQ / fader levels, cues, i.e., stuff I already see on my gear) and would have mapped every single function I would need a mouse for (recording the mix, clearing the track search box, toggling views, etc.) to the F1 that sits in the middle. This way, I can stay “in the zone” and not lose the crowd (or rhythm) as much.
…And that’s the story so far. I don’t see myself retiring this setup anytime soon, considering how much time and effort I’ve put into this one. Expanding… maybe. I suppose only time will tell though, right? Sure enough, I’ll update this to reflect any changes to my gear since the writing of this article.