SAE recently hosted a DJ masterclass with Liam Roberts and Neil Ormonde from Education & Bass. Education & Bass are one of SAE’s industry partners, with students able to access the online learning platform which hosts over 1000 free online multi-genre music technology tutorials (software and platform agnostic). All they need to do to take advantage of this resource is sign up here using their SAE Institute email address.
Liam began the SAE Extra session by giving an overview of his background, talking the attendees through his work running Seedy Sonics and Carnival Magnifico (a multi-genre event). He talked about his artist liaison experience, as well as his background doing sound engineering. Fellow DJ and Birmingham Techno music blog founder Neil Ormonde was on hand to answer questions from the attendees via the chat.
After introducing himself, Liam talked about the best things you can do when you’re just starting out as a DJ. One experienced attendee said: “There was a lot of useful information for an absolute beginner which serves as a tremendous service to those who are looking into getting started.”
Liam’s tips were:
- Learn your trade as much as possible
- Record yourself to listen back to, easy to track your progress this way
- Listen to your favourite DJ sets and make notes on how they transition between tracks
- Network with event promoters and other DJs in your local area
- Be active in the scene that you want to break into
- Be flexible and prepared to take on unpaid gigs to develop your confidence in front of a live audience
Attendee Alberto Banci said: “I understood that without hard work and dedication it’s difficult to create a name for yourself in this industry.”
Next, Liam talked about how partnerships can be leveraged to help expand your brand profile. He talked about how he did events with RedBull. He said: “Make sure you both get something out of the agreement e.g. tickets to each others’ events, a chance to play sets. Getting to share a stage with people you look up to can be a big confidence booster.”
After that, Liam broke down what a DJ actually does on stage:
- Counts the beats, bars and phrases when tracks are playing
- Spend time digging for new music to play at live events
- Chooses the records to play next when performing live
- Blending tracks together using the mixer controls
- Interacts with the audience/crowd
- Changes the tempo of the music
- Use effects to create interesting transitions
- Dancing to the music that you are playing
- Reading the mood of the crowd to inform decision making when selecting the next records
- Create a unique mood/atmosphere by combining all of the above
He then talked about the technical skills that are required to DJ:
- No substitute for practice when it comes to learning to mix
- Training your ears to be able to listen to two different pieces of music at the same time and then be able to correct the speed/pitch of one of the tracks so they match is something that takes most people a while to get used to
- A technique that people often use when learning to mix is to set up both decks/turntables.controller to have the same track playing on both channels and then match the tempo using the pitch fader
- Practice with two versions of the same track
- When you get tracks perfectly beat matched you’ll get phasing coming through because two of the audio signals are perfectly matched
- Need to understand beats, bars and phrasing
- Most popular music - a bar contains 4 beats, meaning every four beats a new bar begins. Phrases are made up of a number of bars, usually 8 - 16 bars.
- It's important to understand beats, bars and phrasing because when you start the second track you want to make sure you start it “in phrase” with the track that is already playing
Organising music is a very important aspect of DJing, and Liam talked the attendees through the best way to manage your library.
Shaun Hardy said: “I enjoyed it, especially the later part about really using your chosen software to manage sets better.”
- Most DJs use Rekordbox (Pioneer’s flagship DJ software)
- Serato DJ Pro and Rekordbox DJ let you import, browse, search and organise thousands of tracks in a music library
- Rekordbox DJ takes it a few steps further with more advanced tools, including star ratings, custom tags, related track searches and a dedicated window for ID3 tag editing.
- Serato doesn’t have quite as in-depth metadata - it's also paid for, whereas Rekordbox is free
Liam gave an explanation of harmonic mixing, which is when a DJ selects two tracks to mix together that are harmonically rich with one another, this means that the key signatures that define each track work together when the tracks are played together in the mix. Usually this means that the two keys share a lot of the same notes within the major/minor scales, making for a harmonically rich transition when playing two different but compatible keys together. Liam said: “Lots of talented DJs mix with their ears, but there are a few computer systems that have been created to help DJs with this.”
Liam also gave examples of other types of harmonic mixing, such as Power Block Mixing, which combines two different DJ techniques - the action of playing a new song every 30-60 seconds e.g. four tunes in the tune of G, going from less energetic to more energetic, while Block Mixing is dropping songs in the same key in “blocks”, such as 8A, 8A, 8A, 8A, then 3A, 3A, 3A, 3A.
Jan Halas said: “The event was interesting; it was fantastic to get examples and a demonstration of the tools used by a practising industry professional (especially considering the market saturation with seemingly identical products), and it was fun to engage in discussion with other attendees in the chat.”
The full masterclass will be available on SAE’s YouTube channel soon - thanks so much to Liam and Neil for their time!