Digital mixing is different not better or worst

If I hear one more person say, digital mixing is cheating, i'm going to scream.
Its all different, or at least it should be different. Why? surely its just mixing with another media nothing exactly special?

Wrong! The media is the message… Seriously digital mixing isnt ment to be about copying vinyl mixing. In this post – a way not to do digital mixing I start to lay into the hercules audio dj console. But start to lay off when I mention the fact you could use the midi and digital inputs and outputs, could easily be used for something different and richer than vinyl mixing.
And this is where I will start my voyage into the future world of digital mixing.

I use Atomixmp3 2.2 but it wasnt always the case. I use to use Virtual turntables and before that vinyl. Virtual turntables died a pretty nasty death when its author didnt keep up development. But even then there was debate about auto beatmatching and scratching, and to tell the truth I got involved and never really think about the wider issues at all. However I'm seeing more djs and groups using computers in there sets. Most tend to go with applications like Propellerhead's Reason, and I love reason alot. But have you tried using reason in real time over a 2hour set? Boy oh boy its hard work. So what am I suggesting, more on interfaces soon, till then check out my previous – disagreement [Digital mixing != Vinyl mixing].

But back to Reason. Propellerhead sell not only reason but also Rebirth which I love as much as my Moog appilcation. And Recycle which takes looping to another level, well same level as Acid really. But its interface isnt made for real time use. Just like reason really… But as said before more about this soon, read this beforehand.

The software professionals are using the full apps because they contain key features like midi, hi quality sound, unlimited levels of soundscaping, unlimited effects and instruments. Now why would you want these things? Well if you think like a normal vinyl dj then anything above the cuts is cheating or not worth bothering with? Saying that many djs have wanted to dj with 3 or more decks, well i think about mixing with 5 and more tracks now. But that aside, what would these features bring to digital mixing? Well let me tell you first up, these would make digital mixing something very different, but on with the show.

Networked music

The problem with mixing to more than one version of atomixmp3 is that it breaks the auto beatmatching feature in half. You can match the same bpm but not the beat easily. For that you need a external mixer with monitor to put the mix back in place. Sorry but I thought we'd pass that ages ago. In atomixmp3 you can see a visual waveform of the music playing, so there is no need for headphones, specially when you know the track inside out. So realisticly it is possible to do a whole set listening to the main club output, aka dancing along with the clubbers. If that doesnt put digital mixing far off from vinyl mixing, i will find you something else which will do, give me time… Back to midi, using midi it should be possible to perfectly sync one atomixmp3 with another one, even if there on different machines. Now this relys on Atomixmp3 giving off a sync beat like you hearing when messing with midi for the first time. The sync beat keeps everything in time, and will adjust for any changes, just what is needed for mixing, wouldnt you agree? Now to take advantage, why limit ourselves to a midi cable? If the broadcasts are in something simple like SIP, SOAP, XMPP or even XMLRPC. It would be possible to do live sync mixing over any ip network. Say a Local area network, wireless, usb, firewire or even bluetooth. And like the midi in, out and thru connection theres no reason why there cant be a whole range of device or computers picking up and adjusting the sync track. Obvioulsy the sync track is just that and wont broadcast actual music, just the beat, bpm, pitches, etc. Maybe it will be possible to broadcast lots more like the tracks queued up and playing?

At which point we got something totally different from most vinyl djs, yes the aspect of collabration and team play. Common in groups but not in djs. Could that be because most djs like designers are so ego driven? I play the music, people come to see me? Who knows, but with these technologies its possible to do a mix from anywhere, even the dance floor…

Freedom of movement

Forever djs have stood in front of the clubbers or there fans behind the decks. Why? is it really all about security or does some of it have something to do with the ego of djs? who knows, rare cases have I seen the dj on the floor level of clubbers and if so there still usually in front. However I spent a little time in berlin last year, and went to a club opposite the universal building just on the east side across the river. And in the club on the bottom floor along side the great view of the universal building the dj was on a 10cm tall stand and right in the middle of the dance floor. So clubbers were surrounding the dj. Its pretty awesome to see, but doesnt work well because of the old legacy vinyl problems. First one, vinyl jumps, when someone hits the decks or surface on which the decks sit. So many times a slightly off balance clubber would hit lowish wall and make the record skip. Then the dj needed monitors, so if you were close to the booth, you could hear the slight delay from the PA system. its a pain in the arse for sure. Now if it was digital mixing all those problems would be solved. On top of that, there would be little need for a booth at all. Basiclly the digital dj only needs a power cable and a audio cable. Digital output in optical or coxial makes the cable small and good quality enough.

But hey dont be silly, what about wireless? If you setup a audio server on the laptop or device its possible to stream the music from the laptop/dj server to the client which would be the PA system. Now I'm not suggesting using 802.11b as its doesnt hold enough bandwidth for a consistant large stream, but 802.11g would work and lets not wipe out custom frequences. Ultimatly I believe UWB would be better in such an environment as a noisy, sweaty club. But imagine the possiblies once the dj is cut from the cables, as there no reason to have a light laptop really, so a laptop with extra large batteries means nothing really. Nothing stopping you from having a laptop with extra long storage batteries which could last 5 or more hours. There would be no need to have the screen brightness high, and atomixmp3 doesnt use up as much processing power as you may imagine. The server shouldnt either really, done tests with shoutcast server and atomixmp3 over a 802.11b network using my tablet pc in tablet mode and using the pen. And it lasts around 2 hours without killing the battery dead. A decent Athlon XP or Pentium 4 machine should beable to handle multistate atomixmp3 on batteries, as mine doesnt.

Changing the Interface

A move away from standing behind some decks or messing with the trackpad is so needed. I've had enough of looking out on to a crowded dance floor and thinking I wish I was there and here. Surely there is a way of having a good old dance and mix the music? Well I swear we need to look towards the live performance of people like MICHEL WAISVISZ. I've already done a huge post about him.
I love what you can do with a couple of laptop screens but the actual controls on screen are far too small to do a live performance. One of the interfaces I actually like is the dance dance revolution one. Now I'm not suggesting dance dance revolution should be the interface for digital mixing, just that its kind of neat how you have the interface ontop of the quickly moving backdrop. All perfectly watchable from a far.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.