April 28, 2015
A couple weeks back, I had the pleasure of DJing for the first time in my life.
That’s kind of a lie. I was a radio DJ from high school through college — about five years in total. I was a real pro at mixing a set — cuing the CDs and records while calling up promo spots and reading underwriting liners and telling people about favorite bands and dropping in a perfect crossfade. It was DJing, but it sometimes felt sterile; after all, I was pretty much just sitting on a stool and staring at computers for three hours at a time.
I also DJed a few weddings, but that was even lamer. I’d haul in the radio station’s for-rent P.A. system, plug in an aging Macbook and hope the thing didn’t die mid-set. It was a strictly iTunes affair: get the playlist in order and run through it. It was so cheap — after every single song, I’d fade the track down, hit the “next track” button, and fade back up. There wasn’t a single smooth transition to be had the entire night. And, if they had an open bar — whoops. Not some of my proudest moments.
(Also, hiring a DJ from an indie college radio station is kind of a gamble, especially when said DJ has a chip on his shoulder about his music taste and really thinks that some hyper-unknown song would be good for dancing at a wedding in Stillwater if everyone would just really listen to it. Dumb.)
No, a few weeks back was my first time DJing, in a bar, with equipment, with lights, with projects, to people who danced. It was awesome. And, wouldn’t you know it, I got a glimpse of the future.
I used to work in the office at First Avenue, and I’d pay DJs four-plus nights a week. They were always so cool because there was a particular technological barrier to getting into it. You had to have some pretty expensive turntables, a mixer, a collection of music, a sound system — and a vision. First Avenue provided some of the equipment, but these guys and gals still had to spend what seemed like untold hours practicing their mixing, whether with old-school turntables, newer-school CDJs, or “huh?”-inducing Serato rigs. I was always kind of jealous.
So, when my best friend — who bartends at Club Jäger — said, “I can get us a DJ night,” I was excited but skeptical. How were we — two lifelong music freaks with giant record collections and too many song ideas to corral — going to even get our technical prowess to a level where we could reasonably expect to entertain people?
Thankfully, there’s an app for that. For $50 and five minutes of download time, I became the proud owner of Djay, a German-made Mac/iPhone/iPad (and now Apple Watch) app that lets you turn your digital music files — and even your Spotify account — into an endless catalog of potential dance hits. No heavy, valuable vinyl. No flight cases of Technics turntables. Just a laptop, my music and a headphone plug. All of a sudden, we were ready to go.
(And, as someone who has a really, really stupid sense of humor, the built-in “gunshot” and “airhorn” sound-effect buttons were a godsend.)
Djay has the ability to replicate the largely manual process of putting on a record, finding start points, beat-matching and scratching. We learned the basics, but the software made it so easy that we spent more time discussing the merits of the individual songs we’d be putting into the playlist than actually practicing our DJ skills. Of course, some things didn’t translate: Without dropping a few hundred dollars on a USB DJ controller, we were stuck clicking one button at a time with the computer’s trackpad. Not exactly the immersive, two-hands-on-decks approach of yore.
But, I can now add “DJ” to my long list of things I’ve done once that I thought were awesome. (See: Flight school, online-ordained minister, etc.) People had a good time, and it was honestly the most fun I’ve had in months. With any luck, I’ll get to do it some more. I don’t even need to bring any gear — just Djay.