E q u i p m e n t - 1 0 1
"Play the mixer like a musical instrument"
-- DJ Timothy Heit
Before DJ equipment became widely available to consumers, most DJ's learned their skills at discotheques. Typically, experienced jocks passed on their techniques to new DJ's. As a "resident" (i.e., a DJ with a steady gig), the DJ had access to professional equipment, a pro-audio sound-system, and promotional music mixes -- which at that time -- gave the Club DJ's a virtual monopoly on the presentation and performance of dance music. Eventually these club jocks got slots on the radio and the first "mix-shows" emerged (such as Chicago's Hot Mix 5 on WBMX-FM). As a result, Club DJ music and skills such as beat mixing were exposed to the masses.
Perhaps the most significant development in the evolution of DJ equipment occurred when Technics released the "direct-drive" SL-1200 in 1974, and the improved SL-1200MK2 Turntable in 1978-79. Still considered the industry standard, the "twelve-hundred" enabled DJ's to scratch and mix without fear of breaking and/or stretching the belt found in belt-drive turntables.
Hip Hop, which originated in the Bronx (New York) during the early-to-mid-70's, strongly influenced the evolution of DJ equipment - particularly turntablism. DJ's such as Kool Herc (first DJ to loop two identical records on two turntables-1973), Grand Wizard Theodore (first DJ to scratch-1977), Grandmaster Flash ("peak-a-boo cue system"), and Afrika Bambaataa ("godfather of hip hop" - produced Planet Rock) invented turntable techniques that eventually spread throughout the world - particularly when Grand Mixer DST performed on the turntables in Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" video (1980's). As a result, scratching and turntablism was exposed to the masses.
With the growth of raves in the late-80's and 90's, the demand for DJ equipment also grew. Speciality shops catering to rave and hip hop DJ's proliferated and almost anyone that wanted to become a DJ had access to professional equipment and music. At roughly the same time -- because of the Internet -- DJ remixes could be obtained for free and sometimes quicker than conventional distribution methods. The nightclub DJs' monopoly in breaking new dance music had ended -- as well as a portion of the Club DJ's value to record labels and artists.
The Basic Equipment Set-Up
As Table 1 below shows, the basic DJ set-up includes two turntables (and/or two CD players), headphones, RCA stereo cables, and a DJ mixer, which is connected to an amp and/or amp rack via the mixer's master output. It should be noted that many DJ's on a budget often employ the auxiliary input on their home stereos in lieu of an expensive amp/speaker set-up. The mixer's "crossfader" (the horizontal bar on the mixer) enables the DJ to switch the volume between Channel 1 (the green turntable on the left) and Channel 2 (the black turntable on the right). Each channel has an "upfader" volume control (the vertical bars) and can usually accommodate two input sources (such as phono and CD). In addition, many mixers have "gains" (aka "trim") that also controls a particular channel's volume. With the addition of the master volume, which controls total volume output, a DJ usually has four places to control a song's volume (crossfader, channel gain, upfader, and master volume) -- with the crossfader serving as the bridge between channels.
A DJ should also know how to work a mixer's (or rack's) equalizer (EQ). According to DJ Timothy Heit, "because hearing is normally around 4 kHz, you want to lower that frequency (and perhaps the frequencies near it) on the equalizer. This creates a comfortable listening environment (i.e., the customers can hear one another). While desirable, higher frequencies, such as tweeters, can damage hearing. However, low-end bass frequencies are not as damaging - it tends to cause listening fatigue instead."
Today, it's not uncommon to find DJ's that practice, record, and even remix tracks at home studios. If you're about to start a home DJ-studio or need mobile DJ equipment, then consider investing in equipment that accommodates your style. Hip hop DJ's for example, usually purchase scratch/battle mixers and direct-drive turntables. It should be noted that unless you're on a strict budget, avoid purchasing belt-drive turntables. On the other hand, if you plan on spinning corporate clubs, mobile-weddings, and/or MP3's, you'll most likely mix on CD players (such as Pioneer's CDJ series) or computer programs, such as Rane Serato Scratch Live. Ideally, you should learn to play CD players and turntables interchangeably (so that your music sets aren't constrained). DJ's such as Josh Wink employ CD's and vinyl equally.
DJ Software Programs/Rane Serato Scratch Live
A substantial number of modern DJ's are employing DJ software programs such as Rane Serato Scratch Live to augment their performances. These programs are designed to be used with a computer laptop (often a Mac), as well as two turntables/CD players and a DJ mixer. This type of program enables the DJ to select music files (i.e., MP3's) on the computer hard drive to be played along with a time-coded vinyl record or CD. With music downloading becoming an essential part of the DJ's music library, programs like Rane Serato Scratch Live enable DJ's to perform current tracks on turntables with turntablist skills. In addition to Rane Serato Scratch Live, other programs include Virtual DJ, and Traktor Pro by Native Instruments.
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