Friday, April 24, 2009

DJ 101

OK, so here's my LONG overdue post on DJ'ing essentials. I continue to get this question regularly, so I figure it's still topical. Sorry about the long hiatus, but RL's been nuts, and in SL, I've been up to my eyeballs in gigs. Which isn't a bad thing, as I really love what I do, but it doesn't leave me much time to do other stuff, like write semi-coherent essays :D

Let's start w/ the basic necessities for today's particular lesson. We'll get into the finer points of music selection, technique, even setting up of your software later. For now, we're gonna just look at what you have to have to do it. DJ'ing in SL requires 4 things. You need a music library, obviously, stream software to play it, stream service for your listeners to hear it, and a venue in SL for folks to catch your show. Let's take those one at a time.

On the music library, MP3 files are the way to go, although I've used WMA formats also w/ success. I prefer MP3 Pro formatting myself, so I rip my CD's to that format. It preserves the best sound quality, but still makes the data sufficiently compressed that bandwidth doesn't become an issue. I'm assuming if you're in SL, you're already using at least DSL; dialup just doesn't cut it for SL, and it sure won't handle streaming and being in world at the same time. Streaming is kinda brutal on bandwidth and computer resources in general. Get used to lag on an all-new level of pain, LOL.

I prefer to use my own resources for music. Granted, I'm an admitted music freak w/ a ridiculously sized CD collection spanning just about every musical genre out there. It's also helpful to find a way to get new stuff "on the fly" as it were, in case you get a request for some obscure song you don't have. Good sources to obtain music on demand are a good thing. I have a subscription to Napster that I rely on heavily, although I've also used and for music, too.

WARNING: I know a lot of DJ's that use sites like BitTorrent, LimeWire, etc. to good effect as well, but I don't recommend it myself. Even though they claim to be bug-free, I know a lot of DJ's who've picked up a virus from 'em that's gutted their system, so be careful if you do it that way. Plus, this may or may not be illegal; the fur is still flying on that point last I checked, as it is w/ who's gonna get nailed if the big music companies ever go after those services. I prefer to pay for my music myself; my streaming is thus covered under Fair Use rather than being susceptible to claims of piracy.

I like to check out to stay on top of music trends, and Napster itself has a great entertainment news section. There are a host of resources out there for news on the music industry, on what's hot & what's not. Radio is also your friend; pay attention to what they're playing that you feel would be a good addition to your playlists. Plus, your audience itself will keep you updated via requests. You'll figure out what they like based on that, and their responses to what you play. It's generally easier if you specialize in a genre of music that you really like anyway, b/c you'll naturally stay abreast of music developments there. I'm an oddity in that I don't specialize, just b/c my tastes are so broad. I custom-tailor my sets based on the venue I"m playing.

Next up, stream software. If you're just starting out, I highly recommend WinAmp, but spend the $15 US for the pro version. It'll be faster and smoother, which will translate to a better experience for your audience, which makes you look good.

WARNING: Winamp doesn't like systems whose sound cards are half-duplex (which, logically, should be monoplex, but no one calls it that). WinAmp is very reliant on the sound card to process the music, and you really need the duplex so it can juggle input from the song that's playing and the next in the queue to do crossfading. Also, you have to have that if you want that smooth DJ style where you talk over the intro. It doesn't work well on half-duplex cards if you're tryin' to talk on the mic over the intro to the song (intro being that part that plays before the vocals start--NEVER stomp the vocals. Sounds unprofessional, and it screws w/ your listeners who're all fired up to sing along w/ their favorite band).

I personally use and absolutely LOVE emphatically SAM4 BC. I was a RL DJ for several years for a commercial radio station, and it's got all the features I like to control my show and keep it all running smoothly. It ain't cheap, though. If I remember right, it was $250 to $300 US. Worth every penny, though, if you're serious about really wanting to do this and do it right. SAM4 BC was designed, in fact, to run a full-time professional internet radio station. Even in automated mode, it'll make ya sound good. It's a LOT easier to set up, too, as it auto-selects the encoding format for your stream. Only thing it can't handle well is copy-protected stuff. Heck, it even figures traffic for commercials and can customize song rotations to keep from overplaying a hit until everyone gets sick of it, and it can take requests, all in automated mode if you're doing a full-time web-based radio station as opposed to just an occasional DJ gig.

Which brings me to stream. When you're DJ'ing in SL, you're sending data from your system to a bunch of other folks' systems simultaneously (not counting the sweating your system does just to maintain your presence in SL itself--toldja this was gonna be a tax on your system's resources & bandwidth). If you're playing a gig in a club w/ say, 15 folks in it, there's absolutely no way a garden-variety computer, or even a gaming monster, could do that and still function. Hence, stream.

When we say stream, we're referring to use (usually rented) of space on a server somewhere out there that does streaming media services. It takes your one signal and replicates it to send it out to several other recipients simultaneously. Thus, your system is only carrying the strain of sending one signal, communicating to one server. That server you're sending to is specially configured to support streaming out to your 15 (or 30, or whatever) eager audience members via a stream URL.

Someone's paying rent on that stream service. Most DJ's I know have their own stream, but it's not always necessary, as some clubs rent their own stream account that they prefer DJ's log into themselves. Only one person can be logged into one particular stream account at a time, so be sure to log off of stream after you finish your set, or an administrator will have to come in to kick you out of that account the next time someone else needs to use it for that club.

Finally, the venue. The way SL is set up, media is configured per parcel. Even if you have stream, it's gotta be entered into that parcel's Streaming Media URL section by someone w/ permission. This can be made easier by having a "radio" object in SL that's scripted to switch through a set of preprogrammed URL's that DJ's or hosts have permissions to access; this method doesn't require that all DJ's or hosts, or whatever, have land rights on the parcel.

The last one seems like a no-brainer, but at least once every couple of weeks, I have someone come up to me in-world and ask if I like the song they're playing on Windows Media. If you don't have it streaming out, no one can hear it in-world, and even if you do have stream, if that URL isn't set up in the parcel's media URL, again, no one's gonna hear it. Folks CAN listen to your stream remotely via a music player on their PC if you give 'em your URL, but it's not gonna be coming over SL's media features, so you'd have to pass that URL to every person there and each one of 'em would have to fire up their music players and enter that URL into it to catch it as an internet radio show. Otherwise, someone w/ rights on the parcel's gonna have to plug that URL into that particular parcel's land settings to hear it (my stream IS a preset on the radios of several friends of mine at their sandboxes so they can tune into my club gigs while they're building elsewhere).

So, there you have the basics of what you'll need to obtain in order to jump into this venture. DJ'ing is very high on my list of favorite SL activities, so I find it highly rewarding. Not necessarily always lucrative in terms of generating L$; I'm not in SL for the money anyway, so I've never really tracked that aspect. To date, I've never cashed out any L$ into real US $'s. I kinda doubt it nets any huge profits by the time you figure stream rental and the cost of buying new music, not to mention SAM. But if fun's what you're looking for, well, it sure works for me :D.

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