Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Search for the ultimate DJ software

I have been using Ableton Live for about 4 years now. I was using Live for performance, and Logic for production. Then, when Logic dropped Windows support, I switched to Ableton for production as well. But while Live is absolutely unmatched for live performances, it isn't so great for just playing tracks. First of all, when you are DJing with Ableton Live, you look like you are checking your email, even if you are using a shiny cool MIDI controller. Because, unless you are using software synths, triggering samples and bending effect parameters, the only knobs you may be using are those of EQs and X-Fade. And that is only if you are not using the external mixer. Another, smaller issue with Ableton is that you really have to prepare all your tracks before hand and make sure the beat markers are aligned. Unless you are playing psytrance, this usually requires going through the whole track and adjusting the markers. If your beat markers get misaligned while two tracks are already playing through the speakers, you are screwed, because if you start moving beat grid while the track is playing it sounds like a skipping CD. Other, smaller, flows in Ableton Live as a DJ tool are:
  • no MIDI control for browsing the library and loading tracks (you have to drag them to the channels with your mouse)
  • no MIDI control to fastforward/rewind a track (have to use the mouse)
  • cannot fastforward/rewind when previewing tracks in the browser (my workaround is usually to have a designated channel for previewing tracks)
Having all these in mind I decided to look for a new tool. I have been reading a lot of reviews, articles and discussions on forums and blogs. One specially helpful blog that I found is DJ Tech Tools by Ean Golden. There is a lot of useful information on Ableton's forum, on NI forum and on Image Line forum as well.
There are plenty of software and hardware tools for a digital DJ. Some of them are cheap, some expensive, and some are free. For now, I am not going to look at integrated decks that have built-in harddrives because of two obvious limitations 1 - hard or impossible to upgrade the hard drive to a bigger one, 2 - I already have a laptop, a MIDI controller and a sound card, and I don't want another box to carry around. Also, usually they are more expensive than software, because they can also play audio and mp3 CDs, which I do not need. I decided to focus on the five mainstream programs, which as far as I know are:
  1. Traktor / Traktor Scratch
  2. Serato Itch / Serato Scratch
  3. Image Line Deckadance
I think, these are the top three brands to be cosidered as an alternative to Ableton Live for DJing. I also read on Serato and Ableton websites that they are doing something together this year. Hopefully, their collaboration will result in an ultimate digital tool which will be the best choice for both DJing and performing live, but they did not announce any details or timelines. Meanwhile, I will be testing Traktor, Serato and Deckadance. I will be posting the results here as I research and try these programs.

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