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Imagine this: You are a DJ, but you don’t own turntables or vinyl records. You don’t need to drive to a gig, the subway/underground will do just fine. You also don’t need an assistant to carry milk crates of heavy vinyl. Everything you need is in your pockets and smaller than a pack of cigarettes. You only have 2 iPods, but together they hold enough music to play for several months straight, 24-7, without a single repeat. You are a mp3j.
iPod DJs In London At noWax
Somewhere in East London the turntables are motionless. The only thing spinning is a chorus of iPod hard drives, or the ceiling (if you’re friends with the bartender).
The club’s name is Dreambagsjaguarshoes and the event is called noWax. The concept for noWax is simple: MP3s, not wax. iPods, not decks. On noWax nights, mp3js bring their iPods and wait for the automated projector above the DJ booth to flash their number. Then they plug-in to a Tascam XS-3 and mix three songs back-to-back against another mp3j.
noWax is a public competition very similar to ‘Rap Battles’, a la Eminem’s movie 8 Mile. Whoever mixes the best set of songs and doesn’t get booed off-stage wins. They continue to hold their place on the stage until another mp3j can dethrone them. “People who never normally get to play tunes in bars or clubs are getting a taste of the glory, and they love it!” says DJ Charlie Gower, co-organizer of noWax.
noWax is the latest instance of a new trend hitting clubs and pubs around the world. It’s called MP3Jing (also called ‘iPoding’ by dorks) and the reasons for its popularity are obvious. The iPods compact size combined with its unbeatable user interface and sheer mass of musical storage make it the default choice for digital music lovers around the globe. Apple has sold millions of the little gadgets and people carry them around everywhere, including the bars. “It’s practically insane when you think about it,” says Walt Ribeiro, a recent iPod owner. “At any given night, there could be a million songs in one room.”
MP3js In New York City At APT
East London’s noWax isn’t alone in embracing this mp3j DJ trend. Clubs in New York City have also started “iPod Nights” to lure in customers. The New York City venue, APT (pronounced A-P-T), allows patrons to sign up by grabbing a ticket from a deli dispenser and mix a couple songs from their iPods.
The event is hosted by two guys, both named Andrew, better know collectively as AndrewAndrew, who preselect a giant playlist every week. It is best described as a do-it-yourself jukebox/Karaoke system for the crowd.
noWax vs. APT
The crowds coming to see an iPod DJ are vastly different in New York City vs London. The crowd at noWax is often described as Shoreditch. Geek-chic at APT in New York’s meat packing district.
The Shoreditch area in East London is full of media and art based folk. It started as a place that just had artists studios and then became pretty trendy, and now has lots of bars and young companies. So if you have been to downtown Manhattan, picture a Greenwich Village smack dab in the middle of East London. “Quite a fashionable area!” says DJ Charlie. Where would you rather go? East vs. West. Let us know, especially if you’ve been there.
iPod DJ Methods
There’re two ways to DJ with an iPod. The first is to go “pure Pod” and set up with two iPods and a mixer. This method is less perfect and more for the crowd’s geek-fun of it all. The mp3js doing all the mixing are usually audience members like at noWax or APT.
The other way to iPod DJ is to go “pro Pod.” People who actually get paid to DJ can hook their iPods to a laptop and use programs like Traktor’s DJ Studio or Final Scratch.
You may think that DJs can just pretty much pre-program the entire night, but that’s not the case. “We no longer have to manually match the initial setting of the tempo, but we still manually fine tune it, live, as we are playing.” says DJ Hobbes. “In all reality, the DJ behind the laptop still does 99% of the work. We no longer have to manually match the initial setting of the tempo, but we still manually fine tune it, live, as we are playing.”
Drawbacks Of Being An iPod DJ
Sure it sounds like a good idea, but being a MP3J has its drawbacks. Especially for the amateur DJ. Which would you rather pay money to watch: a DJ sitting behind a laptop or iPod pushing buttons, or the real deal spinning vinyl and rocking that cross fader?
Unfortunately with the MP3J method, gone is the expert physical touch of a DJ and their vinyl. And some people feel that it’s just not the same. “I paid $25 one night for some DJ I didn’t even know. DJ MegaByte or something stupid and computerized like that.” says Laura, a connoisseur of New York City’s ‘house’ music scene. “The bouncer at the door said he was really popular, so we kind of felt a little better. But then he was just up on stage with a computer. He probably hit play on a CD and was checking his email or something all night.”
The public is used to that familiar background hiss of a record playing and the fancy finger work that goes into a “live” DJs show. They want the DJ to feed off their energy and have that energy reflex in the music that is being mixed.
The Advantages Of Being A MP3j
On the other hand being an MP3j has plenty of advantages. For one, a professional DJ could download a new tune from a friend, while at the DJ booth, and play it minutes later. The digital immediacy of it all is a very cool and an underused factor.
Another great advantage is the size vs storage aspect. The iPod is about the size of a tape cassette. Even the smaller 40 GB iPod can hold 10,000 songs, or four-weeks of music played continuously 24/7. That should be long enough to DJ your next rave, right?
And if your goal is crowd participation, like with noWax, then MP3Jing is the way to go. Everyone can just bring their own iPod to the club and plug-n-play. Drunk people and someone else’s expensive turntables just don’t mix. Especially if they are yours.
MP3j Tricks & Workarounds
Without a pitch adjuster on the iPod, you can’t match two songs up exactly. As a result, all your transitions might be a little chunky like some DJ Shadow mixes. Also, I doubt your hard transitions will be as well-timed and executed as Shadow’s. That’s not exactly bad, but your music mix just won’t always have a nice easy flow like his.
Faux Scratching – tap the center button of the iPod and gently jog back a second or two to make the music pause. It actually sounds more like a CD is skipping, but what else are you going to do?
Suggestions For Apple To Improve The iPod
Every time new iPods or iPod firmware gets released, things get better. But the improvements don’t always have DJs in mind. Maybe Apple could make special iPod DJ firmware. Here are some suggestions for Apple that could make the iPod a better tool for DJs.
- Add scratching. Press and hold the center button to activate a touchpad “seeking mode” that could simulate scratching.
- Add a pitch adjuster. When digitizing audio from a tape deck or vinyl record, the slightest variation in playback speed will result in a song that’s slightly out of tune. “Apple should add pitch control of (+)(-) 5 % to the options tag for the song,” says professional musician David Ondrick. “The new CPU power can definitely handle the extra computing.” A ‘live’ pitch adjuster could also be handy for DJs and make their song transitions smoother.
- Add a crossfader. The iPod should have had this feature years ago. iTunes has it, now the iPod should get it too.
- Incorporate add-ons like Griffin’s Powermate. The Powermate is a volume control wheel with neon lights. Several software developers have made their products work with the Powermate. Perhaps it could be used as a jog wheel, scratch knob or pitch adjuster in iTunes.
- Add an auto sensing BPM (beats per minute) feature in iTunes and/or on the iPod. Or have CDDB (CD Database) add this info to their online database. That way DJs can better plan their sets by matching beats.
- “Another upgrade or improvement in a dj-type iPod player is to make song transitions from one to another more seamless. For instance, songs that segue from say, track 1 to track 2 have a short silent break. Clear that up by making the transitions seamless. Lots of premixed CDs don’t sound as well playing on current iPods for this reason.” ~ txfxc
Contributors To This Article:
Special thanks to the following people for their contributions to this article.
- DJ Charlie Gower – Mr. Gower is a DJ, promoter and creative consultant working out of London. He specializes in the field of idea generation, brand representation and development. With the help of cutting edge English based companies like Sense Worldwide, Cake and Canoe, Mr. Gower has organized some of the most successful club parties in town. His Tantramar night is quietly hailed as one of the best underground nights in London. Always a trendsetter, Mr. Gower with Raj Panjwani and Sense Worldwide launched a new event that’s taken London by storm. Their love for technology, music, and the DJ craft helped inspire them to launch noWax.
- David Ondrick – David Ondrick is an accomplished musician who has worked in many fields of content development, including digital audio and video production. His proficiency with the recording software ProTools, has made him a regular in studios throughout the greater New York City area on both label affiliated and independent projects. This experience gives David a unique outlook on the advent of the MP3 revolution and the new business models under consideration for the future of music distribution.
The iPod DJ Revolution – Press Links:
We got a lot of attention for this article. Special thanks to all the online publications and books that linked to and referenced this piece.
- The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Volume 2 – The Oxford Handbook (May 2014)
- I’m old school I don’t get it (DJ using IPod) – SteveHoffman.tv (May 2007)
- ‘MP3JS’ BATTLE IT OUT IN LONDON WITH IPODS – MacTech (November 2003)
- MP3js In London – Mac Forums (November 2003)
- Numark iPod DJ Mixer Gets Official Release – Buzzsonic (July 2005)
- Everyone Wants to Be A DJ – SNTreport (March 2005)
- iPods Take The Place Of Turntables For Some DJs – MacObserver (November 2003)
- iPods and ‘MP3Jing’ profiled – MacCentral (November 2003)
- The New DJ Revolution: mp3j’s and iPods – Mac News Network (November 2003)
- ‘MP3Js’ battle it out in London with iPods – Mac Minute (November 2003)
- The MP3J Revolution – iPod Hacks (November 2003)
- Geek News: The New DJ Revolution: mp3j’s (and iPods) – MacMerc
- The New DJ Revolution – MacRumors (November 2003)
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