I mentioned in the last issue that I have become a fan of an online mobile disco forum. Perhaps the most interesting thing about nearly all the subjects discussed is the way in which we can all relate to any problem or tricky situation which others have experienced.
Whatever type of music you play, however many years you’ve been in the business and, probably, whichever country you work in, DJs all face the same challenges. The awkward guest who manages to find the one song of which you’ve never heard or the contrary guest who wants slow music when you’re playing fast, rock music if you’re playing soul, and so on. There’s always one of those at every party!
My own personal hate is the guy (nearly always a man, although I have met one or two female versions of this type too) who tries to be a ‘friend‘ and asks what sort of music you really enjoy. The thinly veiled insinuation is, of course, that no one in their right mind would like the sort of rubbish being played at the moment of the conversation! So the guest tries to be ‘matey’ and instigate an in-depth discussion on different music types as one friend to another. All this takes place, of course, when you’re trying to keep a dance-floor full! At one time I used to try to humour this sort of person, but now I politely make it obvious that I am working and don’t have time to talk. The one advantage of being older is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often these days, as I imagine that most people now think that I won’t know anything about modern music anyway!
Whilst reading Pro Mobile and looking at various questions from DJs on internet forums, I have realised quite recently that I will soon be too old to run a mobile discotheque. The reason for this is that I don’t understand the complexities of modern disco equipment! I have commented on this before, when I suggested that the most important feature of any piece of equipment is reliability, closely followed by ease of use. When I switched from CDs to computer playout some years ago, my worry was that it would be too complicated to operate. The one thing I always try to do when working is to look at the dancers - assuming there are some! This is to ‘read the floor’ so that I can fine-tune the music accordingly. Much is written these days about the DJ who never looks up from his kit; with headphones on head he presses buttons and moves faders but has little, if any, communication with his audience. To me that is no good. What if he looked up and saw an empty dance-floor? Would he know why everyone had stopped dancing? Disco equipment needs to be simple to use. How many people when driving look at the pedals? No one does… in fact if you do, you shouldn’t be driving!
The system I chose when I switched to computer was a 00DJ. For those who have never seen one of these, it is a laptop in a strengthened case which has been adapted specifically for playing music. There are no frills at all, but two sound cards, which means that the leads come out of the 00DJ and go straight into the mixer. No external sound cards, no internet access, no viruses, two powerful fans to assist cooling and two hard drives - one only used as an emergency back-up.
When I first bought the 00DJ a lot of people told me that the same thing could be achieved with the regular laptop one uses for day-to-day business and recreation, combined with a decent external sound card. That’s fine if you want to spend time setting everything up before worrying for the rest of the evening about the possibly of your system suffering from some glitch that causes it to stop working in the middle of an evening for no apparent reason. I’m sure there are those who don’t use a dedicated DJing computer system who have never had any problems at all, but for every one of them I’m sure there are two or more that have!
One of the main criticisms of the 00DJ was its price. Brand new, it was £1000, give or take a few pounds. A lot of money certainly, but, for ease of use and reliability, in my humble opinion, well worth it. Unfortunately, the 00DJ is no longer available, although the principle of having a dedicated DJing computer - with no other software installed - can still be followed. Certainly, for those of us who don’t enjoy playing about with technology, reliability is the most important consideration.
DMX lighting control is another thing which seems to me to be a dark art! I am waiting for the DMX controller which has simple wording for its buttons and dials like: Left, Right, Up, Down, Strobe, Dimmer etc. If any lighting manufacturer is reading this, I’m sure I’m not the only person who would buy a controller which did not require a degree in IT to operate! I have bought various devices in the past, all of which I have been assured are so easy to fathom that a child of six could master them... I’m a little older than that, so maybe that’s the problem!
Surely, though, I can’t be the only person in the world who has had problems getting to grips with these things? Maybe it’s just that I regard all the electronic bits of kit we use as DJs like servants, which should just get on with their work without always needing an input from us! I like to concentrate on the guests at a party, not the equipment providing the music and lighting. If there is someone that would like to spend hours programming some lights for me I will gladly pay them - there we are, another business idea for some enterprising person!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 73, Pages 58-60.