Sunday, December 2, 2012

Timecode Ninja: Setting Up DVS Like a Bauss

Burning CD sucks, Rekordbox Thumb Drives are great for DJing but there are still clubs with no Rekordbox Pioneer devices.

Controllers are great but we dont always have space in the booth! (Plus the extra swag factor for when actually using the clubs gear)

This why we all love Timecode with DVS (Digital Vinyl System) - it lets us use the club equipment while sourcing our tunes from our wonderful laptop which we can prepare tunes and playlists from.

DVS Comes in different flavours, the majority will be divided between two DJ Software heavy weights, the German engineered TRAKTOR and the New Zealand based Serato Audio Research. They have their differences but their core functionality is pretty much the same

And from my own experience, the laptop is ACTUALLY the least variable to crash your gig, the CDJ's and the mixers that get constant trashing and abuse actually have more problems than our laptop (well in my case anyway!)

Here are some ninja tips that you might find helpful in setting up timecode with the DVS of your choice!


Understanding How Timecode DVS Works

"Timecode DVS" is when you see the dj using the vinyl turntable or the club cdj to control the tunes that are on their computer, diminishing the need for them to bring a ton crate of vinyl or a giant cd wallet to their gigs - everything is on their shiny apple logo computer.

There are other ways of controlling music (thru usb in which the cdjs are essentially acting as a midi controller - more on that some other time) but some of the older club gear (CDJ's) dont particularly have USB connections - meaning timecode is still the only way to go (or again - a dj controller)

So, in this case, the CDJ or the Turntable DOES NOT actually produce the music you are listening, it is merely using the timecode CD/Vinyl to give instructions to the DJ Software of your choice, regarding the song's playback, speed, or whatever.

So if i may illustrate it with a bunch of arrows it will go something like this in terms of output:

CDJ/TURNTABLE ---> Sending Timecode Audio Signal Thru RCA -> Audio Interface

Then the audio interface itself is the one pumping out awesome music off your laptop thru another set of RCA cables into the DJ MIXER

So, yeah, the cdj/turntable is merely giving instructions to the software (via the audio interface) on what you would like to do with your song (start, play, pitch information), the software can still pump out music even if there is no inputs detected (thru internal playback mode)

Keep Original Timecode CD's at home

Burn AT LEAST 3 Pairs (3 x 2CD's = 6) of the Timecode CD and keep the original at home safe and secure, this way you can always make more new ones whenever you need so!

And this is very important -> BURN THE CD's IN 2x or 4x CD burning only!!!! 

NEVER Burn on 24x speed as the CD will be very prone to skipping (and you dont want that!), when it comes to burning CD's - the slower is always better!

Make One Pair of Emergency Timecode on USB THUMB DRIVES!

This is something that not many people actually do, but i have tested this and it works 100% (I Actually prefer using this method rather than Timecode CD these days)

What you do is you rip the Timecode CD that comes with your software (serato or traktor) and use iTunes (or whatever) to rip it into FULL 16BIT/44.1khz wav file!

In Traktor, there will be 3 files, the first will be the lead-in, the second will be the actual timecode, and the third is almost useless as it allows you to select tracks (makes not much sense if you use CDJ's if you ask me - so i never use this 3rd track)

Now copy there files using rekordbox into a pair of USB thumb drives, make sure they retain their original wav file quality! Now you have yourself a TIMECODE CD on a usb stick! I have tried and tested this on CDJ900/2000 and it works just like a regular cd timecode!

What is the purpose of this? Well, there will be some cases in clubs where the actual cd reader lens is burned out, deep fried, to the point of the club cdj wont read anything properly (or skips!), well if its any of the newer generation Pioneer CDJ's it will read rekordbox usb's - Rekordbox USB's almost have no wear and tear so even if the CDJ lens is burned out the USB drives will most likely be fully functional!

Setting up Timecode in the Club!

FIRST - Find At Least One Empty Channel in the Mixer!

This is important because you want to SECURE THE OUTPUT from your audio interface (whatever dvs you use - be it Rane SL2/3/4 or Traktor Audio 4//6/8/10 boxes) - remember the audio interfaces are the ones that pumps music, so in emergency situations the internal playback mode can be a life saver!

In a club - dead silence -> DEATH! You dont ever ever wanna have total silence when the dj before you finishes, its just bad, It kills the whole vibe! By securing the outputs of the audio interfaces first, you are guaranteed to be able to pump music into the DJ Mixer, the Internal Mode also serves as a good method to make sure the channels are functioning (Eg. in traktor as soon as you secure the RCA's from your audio interface into the club mixer - load a track and press play - if the channel is setup correctly you can see the VU meters functioning, just make sure the faders are down!)

Have two channels free? 

AWESOME! secure two pairs of RCA from your audio interface's output into those two channels, without disturbing the previous dj too much (you can always buy him a beer later if he finds you annoying)

use the internal mode (using the computer to playback songs without timecode - both serato and traktor has this, for example for traktor the 'W' hot key is to play/pause the Deck A) to test if the channel is functioning - you should see activity on the DJ Mixer's Vu meters (those pretty green lights in the middle of the mixer) - if you see activity at this point YOU ARE SAFE - you are guaranteed to have output of both channels , you are pretty much bulletproof at this point by securing both outputs

if you see no activity when you attempted playback then you need to make sure the output is really secured from the audio interface to the mixer! (check the dj mixer input settings - on top of the gain control as well)

If there are extra CDJ's that are not being used (4 CDJ setup?) then grab an RCA from the CDJ/Turntable into your soundcard's input and calibrate - repeat with the other channel , there you go - timecode is setup! If you dont have the time to calibrate your timecode, always use internal mode for playback first and calibrate later when you do have the time!


Ok this can be a little be more tricky when transitioning after another dj, and requires some speed, as you will need to do this very very fast - before the last song of the previous dj ends!

For CDJs
So this is what you do, as soon as the DJ before you play the last song (meaning one channel is free), unplug the RCA off the CDJ that he is not using (make sure its not the CDJ that he is using to play the last song!!) and plug that RCA (from the back of the CDJ - very very easy to find!) into the output of your Audio Interface

What you just did is to secure one output from your audio interface straight into the DJ Mixer, the back of the CDJ is usually very easy to access, so unplug the RCA from there (the RCA goes straight into the mixer by the way, the other end will already be plugged in to the mixer) and into the output of the audio interface. When output is connected, use the internal mode to play a song to see if the VU meters are showing activity - if it is then one channel is secured! You can now choose to play in internal mode until the previous DJ is totally off the stage or you can attempt to calibrate your timecode now

Repeat with the other channel!

Remember to Check if Input is Phono or Line!

Make sure you check the input setting for the audio interface! If you are plugging CDJs always use Line, if you use Technics turntables (or anything with phono output) use the phono option, failing to setup this properly will get you problems during timecode calibration!

Always Have Backup!

Silence is death! Make sure you burn a few Audio CD's as a backup if all else fails, you will very rarely need to make use of them, but its always better to have and not need than need and not having! This is when your manual beatmatching skills will be of use again (it is a very useful skill!)

You can also bring in a spare Y-Cable to plug your iPhone/smartphone into the club mixer during emergency, just to avoid that awkward silence in an emergency

Alternative - Mixers with Timecode Capabilities

Some mixers, such as the DJM900 NEXUS, is Traktor Scratch ready (or the Rane mixer such as the 57 or 68 for Serato), meaning you can simply plug a usb plug into the mixer and playback the timecode off the cdj/vinyl straight up - no mess no cables, i wont get into too much on this but - make sure the firmware is up to date or you might have problems!! You still need to use timecode medium (CD/Vinyl) so make sure you have some ready

Alternative #2 Try Advanced HID Mode

Some CDJs such as the CDJ900/2000 have advanced HID mode which allows you to use the CDJ's as a controller, you can try these too but there are a few factors to think about, firstly when you use advanced HID with Traktor you need to setup the aggregate outputs - its much safer to get to the venue early to try to get this setup if you can , plus you will need to make sure the club cdj has the latest firmware that supports the advanced HID as well. 

In Serato you still need to have their audio interfaces (SL1/2/3/4) to make use of the Advanced HID while in Traktor you can use the Aggregate device (above shows the already aggregated CDJ's) to setup the outputs from the CDJ's in the outputs panel

Closing Words

That's It! When you are new with timecode all these can get intimidating (and nerve wrecking especially when trying to setup timecode in a very dark club with not much light, not much space, and a bit too much alcohol - plus imagine the last song of the dj before you is ending soon and that death silence approaches) 

but after awhile you will get used to it and you will be able to do it with one eye closed!