As audio gear became more affordable in the late 80s, many DJs experimented with equipment you wouldn’t normally see in the booth. Drum machines and samplers suddenly found a home next to turntables, and the roots of the hybrid DJ and producer were formed. Today there are tons of tools and new technologies available if you want to experiment past just using two decks when spinning.
Here are four ways to connect all your latest gear to your DJ setup...
1. MIDI Enabled Audio Hardware
The good old MIDI is 30-plus years old and going nowhere, and nowadays, controllers like the Roland DJ series, or the Traktor S4 MK2, have dedicated MIDI out ports. This allows you to send MIDI clock from your DJ setup to a hardware drum machine or synth. Even as you change tempo on your songs, the drum machine or synth will stay in sync, allowing you to remix on the fly without manually beatmatching your hardware.
2. Link Enabled Audio Apps and Hardware
Ableton Link is a technology that keeps devices synced in time over a wireless network. Think if it as MIDI without wires. The format first took off for iOS, but Traktor and Serato now both support Link, so you can easily connect your DJ software with dozens of mobile apps. You may not have a classic drum machine like Mills, but you probably have five bucks to spend on a drum app that can wirelessly sync up to your decks.
Even hardware developers are catching on; the new Akai MPC line and Maschine both support Link.
3. Visual Effects Software + Hardware
Serato has built-in video options, but ideally, you want visuals sorted on another computer, often by another person. Through Link or MIDI, you can now send clock to third-party video programs like Resolume and VDMX, so that your visual show can sync to the beat of your set.
Hardware video synths like the Critter & Guitari “ETC” can bring a new range of visuals to your performance without any additional computer at all. Just plug them into the midi out of your controller, or a spare audio output from your mixer.
4. Live instruments. Played by...wait for it...musicians!
There’s a reason why more and more rap shows are now featuring live musicians playing alongside DJs. Music is about fellowship, and something incredible happens when a DJ is joined by someone who can play along at that moment.
Simply adding one instrumentalist on percussion can make a world of difference and doesn’t need any MIDI sync to fuss over. There’s even a new wave of DJs who are bringing their own instruments in the booth and playing on top of the records they spin. If you play an instrument, push yourself and see how it integrates into your set.
As a creative DJ, you should always seek inspiration and progression. Dipping your toes into unfamiliar territory by connecting something new might just spark the sound that makes you unique as a performer.