DJs who perform live are constantly making choices. Which song to play next? What feeling do I need to create right now? Is the crowd ready to build energy, or take things down a notch? And unless you’re an all-vinyl purist, one of those choices is which digital DJ platform to use for performing and preparing your tracks.
Chicago-based DJ and producer Matt Play has tried a few of the options out there, and he’s landed on Pioneer DJ’s Rekordbox ecosystem as his platform of choice. We talked to Matt about why he chose Rekordbox, and got some straight talk about what Pioneer DJ has to offer.
Reason #1: Rekordbox lets you DJ with or without a laptop.
Roll with a Rekordbox controller, or export tracks to a flash drive and plug into a CDJ or XDJ rig.
For Matt, versatility is the name of the game when it comes to DJ software.
“Rekordbox is the only platform that allows me to DJ in any given scenario that I may run into. I can DJ from my laptop with a controller. I can DJ from my laptop doing DVS with vinyl turntables. I can also export everything to flash drives, and play on standalone hardware….the Rekordbox ecosystem allows me to DJ with, or without, my laptop,” he explains.
“With the exception of the Denon DJ Prime system, if you’re DJing with Serato or Traktor, you’re always going to need your laptop with you at every single gig, no matter what. But with Pioneer DJ and Rekordbox, you have the flexibility to go either way. As a professional DJ, that comes in pretty handy. It’s cool to be able to use one platform that covers every single scenario.”
“I could have a DDJ-400 and just be DJing in my bedroom, creating playlists, setting cue points on tracks, doing all this work on my library, and practicing with the layout of the DDJ-400. Then I could get booked to play in a club, and I could just export my music to a flash drive right there from Rekordbox, and I could go plug that flash drive in at the club, and all my settings — playlists, cue points and everything — would be available, without a laptop, on that hardware in the club. With a $250 controller, you’re almost fully prepared to start playing on $6000 club systems.”
Reason #2: Rekordbox is one ecosystem that works with all levels of DJ hardware.
Translate your DJ skills from small controllers to big club systems.
Although Rekordbox is a relative newcomer among DJ software platforms, it’s actually just the newest member of a long-established family of industry-standard DJ tools. As Matt describes it, “Rekordbox software is the heart of the ecosystem, while all of the Pioneer DJ hardware that’s installed all over the world is the backbone of the ecosystem…Pioneer has always been a hardware king in the DJ world, and now their software has come along to support it all.”
At first, Rekordbox wasn’t intended as live performance software, explains Matt. “When Rekordbox was first developed, it was strictly a piece of software designed to support Pioneer DJ’s standalone hardware. Rekordbox came out at the same time [in fall 2009] as the CDJ-2000 — the first CDJ that had a screen on it and the ability to play from flash drives. Rekordbox, in its early version, was strictly a way for you to import your music, make playlists, set cue points, and export it to flash drives. It was more like a librarian software.”
As Pioneer DJ expanded Rekordbox into performance software and released their first Rekordbox-specific controllers in fall 2015, “they basically made exact copies of their Serato controllers…For instance, there was the DDJ-SX for Serato — so there was the DDJ-RX for Rekordbox,” explains Matt.” “But now that Pioneer DJ is revisiting the Rekordbox line of controllers, the DDJ-1000, DDJ-800, and DDJ-400 are no longer copies of Serato controllers. These are controllers that are built for Rekordbox, and the layout of them draws from the heritage of Pioneer DJ’s standalone hardware. All of them look like, and are laid out like, the top-of-the-line club systems,” says Matt.
Thanks to this consistency across the ecosystem, Matt explains, “I can be DJing on a little DDJ-400 controller, and later I can go to a nightclub with a nexus2 system, and the layout of buttons and knobs on the controller matches the club system. Things are in the same place. The way that I’ve been practicing…is translating to the top-of-the-line club systems that are installed all around the world. It’s about being able to jump in at any level…If I were to go from a DDJ-400 to a DDJ-1000 to a nexus2 system and then come back to a DDJ-800, it would be a fluid transition between all of them, because the user interface is aligned…as far as the layout of the buttons, faders, and knobs. It’s all going to translate from the product I was practicing with at home.”
Reason #3: Rekordbox has a powerful, customizable music browser.
Personalize how you tag, sort, and search your tracks.
“As a DJ, your music is your moneymaker, so the more detailed you can get with your collection, the better — so you can quickly find the right songs in the heat of the moment,” says Matt. “Once I was able to start focusing on one software to cover all scenarios, then I was able to start focusing on one music collection.”
Among Rekordbox’s best features for cataloging music is the “My Tags” filter, which Matt describes as a flexible metadata tagging system. “You can set all your own tags and categories, so you can filter down your music collection based on these tags, and it really helps with creating playlists or finding the right song at the right moment,” he says. “The My Tags filter, the ability to color-code your tracks, the ability to apply star ratings to your tracks — when you have all of those together, it makes the browser extremely powerful.”
So, how does a pro DJ tag his tracks? Matt says, “The way I work with my library, I’ll rate songs as being 3, 4, 5 stars based on how much I like them. Then I’ll color-code the songs based on the vibe of the song. You know, I’ll set a peak energy track as red, a warm-up track as orange, a fun track as yellow, a deep track as blue, a sexy track as pink, and things like that. I make tags based on which decade they came out, on the genre, and on the components of the music. So if I say that I need a pink track that’s rated 4 stars, that came out in the ’90s, and has female vocals, you can filter your collection down. You can name categories whatever you want, and name tags whatever you want. And it’s easy to bulk-tag things. I can just go in and type ‘Beyoncé,’ select all of them and apply the tag ‘female vocal’ to them. You can also tag tracks for situations — if it’s for an underground club, a mainstream club, a pool party, or whatever. It’s really powerful for organizing your database.”
Reason #4: Smart Recommended Tracks.
Get yourself out of a DJ rut with song matches you’d never think of.
While most digital DJ software can offer potential songs to play next, Matt is a fan of Rekordbox’s Recommended Tracks feature because it’s so customizable. “With Rekordbox, you can customize the criteria of how the algorithm recommends songs to you — and not only can you customize those criteria, you can save different criteria as presets,” he explains. “For example: Look at the song that’s currently playing, and show me songs that were only imported within the past year, that are only within the same BPM plus or minus 6 percent, and in the harmonic key of the song that’s currently playing, that also matches these My Tags I’ve set. You can save that preset, and switch back to it at any time.”
Rekordbox’s Recommended Tracks section can help save a DJ from getting stuck in a rut, suggests Matt. “Now, you just load a song in the player in Rekordbox, and the Recommended Tracks immediately populates with all these matches. It’s showing you songs you would never think of on the fly, when you have, like, one minute to select your next track. All of a sudden, Rekordbox is showing you this intelligent selection of tracks from your collection that match, and you can easily find songs that you would never have thought of, that you may have forgotten about. I think it really helps DJs get out of a rut…When you’re DJing, you can form a habit of always selecting the same batch of songs together. Recommended Tracks really helps you choose something different.”
What’s more, when DJs happen to organically play two songs that sound good together, you can set them as a match in Rekordbox, says Matt. “Recommended Tracks has a preset that allows you to see your previously matched tracks. So I went back to all the mixtapes I’ve made, and set those tracks as matches. And when I’m listening to songs and practicing, if I put two tracks together and think, ‘Wow, those sounded great together,’ I can just click one button to set them as a match.”
Reason #5: Effects!
Gain access to Pioneer DJ’s famous Color FX and more.
Matt explains how Rekordbox gives DJs a more affordable entryway into the effects found on Pioneer DJ hardware mixers. “Basically every effect that has every been put on a DJM mixer — all the effects that have helped make Pioneer DJ a leader in hardware — is all available inside the software. There’s even a Rekordbox “RMX Effects” expansion available that will add the famous effects from the Pioneer DJ RMX-1000 Remix Station standalone hardware processor. Having Rekordbox is almost like having all Pioneer DJ’s hardware, because the same effects are built in,” he says.
“For instance, every channel on DJM mixers has a Color FX section. On a lot of DJ controllers’ mixer sections, this knob will only control a filter. But on Pioneer DJ mixers, that knob can be changed from being a filter to being a sweep effect, or a dub echo, or all these different effects. All those are available in the software. And the effects are easier to use because of the pad mode, where you can actually trigger effects by playing the pads. Instead of trying to work three or four knobs together at one time, you can program different effects to the push of a button, and it’s customizable.”
Reason #6: The Rekordbox mobile app.
Manage your music collection from anywhere.
One of Rekordbox’s lesser-known features is a mobile app that syncs with your music collection, giving you access to your music when you’re on the go. “And not only can you listen to music, you can set your My Tags data, set cue points, make playlists, and do music management from your mobile device,” describes Matt.
“Say I just downloaded these 50 new tracks, and I’m getting ready to go on vacation to the beach for a week. While you’re on the plane, it’s cool to be listening to these songs, setting some tags and cue points, and doing some organization work, just on your phone while listening with earbuds. Later, you can sync that data back to your Rekordbox collection on your laptop…the Rekordbox app actually connects to Rekordbox wirelessly over Wi-Fi…so all of those settings you set on your phone are synced to your collection and available for you when you’re DJing.”
The basic version of the Rekordbox app is free, with a paid upgrade that adds more features, says Matt: “You can listen to one song at a time with the free version, but if you upgrade, you can compare two songs together. Turn your phone horizontal, and you can see two tracks playing at one time. So you can practice mixing songs together, set them as a match, and later sync that back to your music collection.”
What’s more, your iPhone running the Rekordbox mobile app can actually serve as a digital crate for Pioneer DJ hardware. “Your phone basically becomes a hard drive for you. If I was hanging out in a club one day, and all of a sudden they were like, ‘Oh, the DJ didn’t show up, can you play?’ I could actually plug my phone into the USB port on the CDJ with a Lightning cable, and that music that I had synced to the phone is now showing up on the CDJ as tracks I can play. So not only is it a music management app, it also becomes an external media storage device that you can use on Pioneer DJ’s standalone hardware.”