Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reader Submitted: "How To DJ The DJ Tantari Way - Chapter Two Part One"

By Tantari Kim

"This is my guide for how to go from a newbie to a moderately successful DJ on Second Life. ...  If you do read it and have comments or corrections, I’d love to hear them.  (Mail me at tantari.kim at gmail.com.)"

Continued from Chapter One Part Two

*  *  *  *  *

Chapter 2: How to Write a Set the DJ Tantari Way!

You’re all set up to DJ!  Now you need something to play.  There are a million ways to do this, and there is no way I can cover all of it, so I won’t even try.  I know of one way, the DJ Tantari Way!

This is what I do, as quoted from my website: Let me take you on a Journey Into Sound. My sets take you across a landscape, explore a subject, and sometimes even tell a story. While I mostly play electronica and rock, I will include any music that I need to tell a story and meets my high standards.

I spend a lot of time choosing a topic, picking the right songs, and getting it to have a good flow.  I pepper the performance with colorful commentary and cool quotes.  But to really know what I do, you should see for yourself.  Come out to one of my regularly scheduled performances and see what I do.

Almost all clubs and events expect DJs to perform in 2 hour blocks.  That’s what I do and what I recommend, but if you wanted to write something longer or shorter, the same process applies. I’m going to walk you through the process of creating one of my themed sets.

Folder Structure

On my DJ station, I have a Documents\DJ folder where I keep all my DJ work.  Under that I have a folder for every one of my sets.  I also have a brainstorming folder named _ideas where I stash any ideas I come up with and then return to when I need some inspiration.  Lastly, I have a folder for my DJ logo art named _logo.

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic is both hard and easy.  You want a topic that is broad enough that you can find 2 hours of really awesome music but specific enough that you can give it a pretty thorough examination in that same timeframe.  Punk Rock is probably much too wide to cover well in 2 hours.  Otters is probably too narrow to have enough good tracks.  You could probably do cats, dogs, or a particular band in a single hour.  In this case, I chose the theme “Mood for a Rainy Day”.  (I’ve also done sets themed around a particular band.  That’s much easier but much more limited. I’ll make references to it here and there without going into too much detail.)

I start the process by going to my DJ folder and creating a “MoodForARainyDay” folder to hold all my stuff for this set.  Inside there I create a text file called ideas.txt and start brainstorming.  I write down the title and start coming up with related ideas.  The wider a net you cast, the more material you have towork with.  For Mood for a Rainy Day, I came up with: rain, storm, lightning, thunder, moody, melancholy, mellow, emo, sad, lost, alone.  If you can’t think of many, it’s probably not a good topic or maybe you need to think about it some more.

Filling the Crate

Fire up MIXXX and create a crate called Mood for a Rainy Day.  To do this, right click on the word Crates on the left hand side and click “Create New Crate.”

Before we go any further, it’s helpful to go over the differences between a Playlist and a Crate in MIXXX.  Both of them contain tracks from MIXXX’s library.  The difference is that in a Playlist, a single track can appear multiple times and the order preserved.  A Crate has no order and a single track can only appear once.  You can’t have duplicates.

Your Library is a repository of your own cool style.  It should be filled with as many cool songs you love as possible.  I always search here first because it helps give the set my own unique sound.  If a set isn’t in your style, then what’s the point of it?

Search the Library for your keywords.  I generally confine them to the title by typing “title: rain” if I wanted to search for all songs with “rain” in the title.  Then go through the list.  Listen to them.  If you think the song fits the topic and is cool, drag it over to the Mood for a Rainy Day crate.  You’ll see a pair of numbers next to it (total tracks and total time) increase if you did it right.  If not, the track was probably in that crate already.  Keep doing this for all the keywords in your ideas.txt file.  I like to put a “-“ after a word when I start searching for it and a “-x” after it when I’m done so I don’t forget where I am.  If you get new ideas, quickly jot them down at the end of the ideas.txt file so you won’t lose them, then go back to them when you’re ready.  This is your chance to daydream, brainstorm, go off on tangents, and get a general feel for the set’s topic and tone.

Here’s an example of my ideas.txt file for Mood for a Rainy Day set after I was finished.  Noticed that at the top I had tried out a few different titles.  In the next section I have a bunch of keywords, some of which I didn’t actually search for.  (I decided to go in a different direction based upon what I was finding.) In the last section, I have various specific songs, artists, and ideas that I wanted to check out.

     Mood for a Rainy Day

     Music for a Rainy Day

     Moody and melancholy















     Moody blues-x


     Depeche Mode (moody stuff)-x

     Alan Parson's Project-x

     Kaskade - 4 am-x

     TMBG - something from John Henry-x

     Porter Robinson-x

     human after all-x

     Don't answer me-x

     Blue Monday-x

     Mannheim Steamroller-x


     Life in a Northern Town-x

When you’ve exhausted all your keywords, take a look at the crate time.  It should be at least 2:30 for your 2 hour set, but I feel much better when it is 3:00 or 3:30.  If you’ve got a lot of really awesome material, you’re ready to move on!  If not, it’s time for some Research.

Researching New Material

Need more material?  Need better material?  Time for some research.

There are many ways to do this, but my number one stop by far is YouTube.  Almost any piece of music you can think of is there, ready to listen to at a moment’s notice.  I’ll start with some generic searches like “music about rainy days” or “rain song” and start listening to them.  The ones that say “lyrics” in the title tend to be cleaner (without extraneous sound effects) than the music video ones.  Feel free to go off on tangents and explore wherever your imagination takes you.  If I find something I like, I’ll go download it from a completely legitimate source.  Of course, you could always use something like http://peggo.tv/ to download them right away, but that could be illegal.  (Consult a copyright lawyer!)  However you get them, download them as the highest quality you can and dump them in a temporary directory like f:\temp\MusicResearch\new.

If you still need new ideas, search Google for “songs about rainy days”.  No matter what it is, it seems that someone has made up a cool list of songs about your topic.  You can use  http://www.songfacts.com/ but they tend to throw their net a little too wide for my tastes.  Once you have the list, search for each artist and title on YouTube to listen to it to see if it is worth grabbing.

Now you need to clean up your new files.  Open Audacity.  Drag the source file in there.  Trim off any unwanted silence or sounds at the beginning or end.  You’ll want to check out the Audacity tutorial (http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/tutorials.html) and manual (http://manual.audacityteam.org/) for more information.  I’ve found that the most convenient commands in Audacity are:

Shift-1 – Zoom in

Shift-3 – Zoom out

Shift and click the Skip to Start or Skip to End arrow button – Select from the current selection position to the beginning or end of the track

Control-X – Cut the selected sound

Control-Shift-E – Export the edited sound to a new file

Audacity Main Screen

Make sure you enter the metadata when you save it, and save it as a good filename.  I always do artist – title.mp3.  I like to save them all as 192 kbps variable MP3s because they sound good and can be read by anything.  I save them in a different directory, f:\temp\MusicResearch\processed.  You can delete the original downloads when you no longer need them.

In the end, you will have processed all your new files and have a directory full of them.  Next, you need to integrate them into your Library.  Open your Library folder (w:\music), and start moving them where you think they fit.  Make sure you think about this before you do it, because once you do, MIXXX and your sets will be keyed to those locations.  It’ll be hard to move them around afterwards!  In general, you’ll want a folder for each artist and to place the songs there.  If it’s something that I don’t think will ever be used anywhere else, I’ll sometimes put them in a folder specific for that set.  In this case, it is w:\music\DJ Sets\MoodForARainyDay.

As soon as you copy the file in, you need to get it into MIXXX and the crate.  In MIXXX, open the Mood for a Rainy Day crate by clicking on it.  You’ll see a list of all the songs in that crate.  Then drag and drop the MP3 file directly from the Windows File Explorer into that song list.  This will accomplish two things for you: it’ll add it to the crate and it’ll add it to the MIXXX Library.

Once you’re done, you’ll have nothing in the processed folder, all the new songs somewhere in your Music folder (w:\music) and everything in MIXXX’s Library and your new crate.

Checking the Crate

For the next steps, I don’t like to use MIXXX.  MIXXX doesn’t work very well with playlists.  I’ve also had MIXXX throw up on me before and lose all the data, so I like to keep backup copies that I know I can re-import into MIXXX if I have to. Perhaps someday you’ll want to move to a program other than MIXXX.  Because of this, we’re going to export the crate and work in WinAmp.

We’re done with the crate and don’t want to make any changes to it.  In MIXXX, right click on your Moodfor a Rainy Day crate and select LOCK.  Then right click and select Export Crate.  Navigate to your Documents\DJ\MoodForARainyDay folder and save it as MoodForARainyDay-crate.m3u.

Open WinAmp and open its Playlist panel.  Drag and drop the MoodForARainyDay-crate.m3u file into WinAmp main window.  This will remove anything currently in its playlist, open this new playlist, open all the files, and read their metadata pretty quickly.  Go down the list and look for any where the title looks strange.  Double click to play it, then double click the scrolling title in the WinAmp main window to bring up its metadata.  Edit it here until it looks good and save it.  This way all the titles you’re using will have correct metadata in the file itself.

Why is this important?  MIXXX has made the decision that they will never do anything to change your music files.  If you edit the metadata in MIXXX, it changes the entry in its database and nowhere else.  By changing the data in the MP3 files themselves, anything will be able to read them, including MIXXX and other DJ software.  This makes it really easy to move to a different computer, operating system, or other DJing software.  (Later on, select all the tracks in the crate, right click and click Reload Track Metadata to get the changes back into MIXXX.)

When you’ve finished, have WinAmp save the playlist as “MoodForARainyDay-playlist.m3u”.  We’ll never touch the “MoodForARainyDay-crate.m3u” file again.  Why?  So we can import that crate to other DJ programs.
Categorizing the Playlist

Now you have a list of songs to work with.  You not only have to cut it down for time, you have to make it into a cohesive flow that might even tell a story!

Open the MoodForARainyDay-playlist.m3u file in your favorite text editor.  You’ll notice that it’s just a regular text file.  Every track has two lines, the first starts with #EXTINF and contains the metadata.  The second is the raw filename.   Delete every line that is not a raw filename and save it as “MoodForARainyDay.txt”.  This is your working notes file.

If you’re a Unix person like me, you can use a very simple string of commands to do this for you.  Fire up your Linux computer (or Bash in Windows 10) and save the file somewhere that Linux can see it.  Then use “cat MoodForARainyDay.txt | grep “w:\music” ” and it will spit out just the files from your music catalog.  Since every file is in your music directory, this should be a snap.  Cut and paste it back into your MoodForARainyDay.txt editor.

Now you need to listen to every song in the playlist and mark them up in your working notes file (MoodForARainyDay.txt).  I create a section for each major song style and cut and paste the song underneath it.  You don’t have to be 100% accurate with your style names so long as you know what they mean.  I commonly use names like straight rock, hard rock, electronic rock, dark electronic, chillout, folksy, cinematic, and so forth.  After each song, I’ll put some notes about the tempo and the general feelfor the song.  My tempos are generally: slow walk, walk, fast walk, and run.  My general feel notes often come from the lyrics.  Googling for “lyrics artist title” is a great way to get this in a hurry.  If you hear a song that sounds like it might be a good Introduction or Finale, make sure you make a special note of it also.

Here's an example of a section from Mood for a Rainy Day:

     --Straight Rock

     W:\Music\ELO\Electric Light Orchestra - Rain is Falling.mp3 (walk) (Rain is falling. Sad. Missing you. Love) good fit

     W:\Music\Compilations\Grand Theft Auto_ Vice City, Vol. 3 - Emotion 98.3\02 Africa.mp3 (fast walk) (Love. Go to her. Haunting vocals. Chill. Almost sad.)

I’ll also create a few special sections at the end for songs I don't use: Weak, Off Topic, Wrong Tone, and Cut for Time.  If I know that a song is too poor compared to the others or just isn’t going to fit, I’ll move it to one of those section and immediately delete it from the WinAmp playlist.

By now, you should have a good look at what you have and a decent idea for the feel of the set.

Building the Playlist

The next step is trying to put this collection of songs into a cohesive order and cutting down to a final play time.  This is the hardest step and I can only give some guidelines here.

If this is a set I’m doing about a particular band, it’s often easiest to do this chronologically.  Have MIXXX display them in chronological order in the crate and go by that.  For the Weird Al set, I tried to have at least one song from each of his albums and go from album to album.  The story I'm presenting to the audience is how he progressed through his career.

If it’s a topic that has a beginning, middle, and end, try to group it that way.  For Dreamland, I grouped the songs into Soothing You to Sleep, Free Into Dreams, Electric Dreams, Insomnia, Nightmare, Return to Dreams, and Finale.

If it’s a topic that has categories, try to find something with an intro, go dark first, move on to something more positive, and have some fulfilling sort of finale.  Audiences like ending on a positive note.

For the vast majority of sets, I won't have one of these patterns to follow, so I end up using a pattern thatI call the Double Crescendo.  The point of this is that audiences like it when you give them something good, but you’ve got to follow it up with something better.  I divide everything up between Rock (folk, vocal rock, harder rock, etc), Comedy, and Electronica.  I start with the Rock.  I’ll do the lightest ones first and move on to heavier stuff.  This means folksy, light rock, mid rock, straight rock, dark rock, then hard rock.  Within each style, I’ll start with the slowest tempo and move to the fastest.  The back half is my Electronica where I’ll do the same thing.  This means chillout, mid, happy, dark, then intense electronica. If you have to make a hard transition, it is better to make it abrupt because the audience will notice it. You want them to think that you meant to do that.  A good way to do that is to stuff a comedy break in the middle.  It gives them a chance to catch their breath and have a little chuckle after hard, dark rock before going up the crescendo again.  If you can find a good finale, stick it at the end.  Often it's the most intense electronica song, but sometimes I'll want to bring the energy down a little for something that feels good and is a nice summary or conclusion to the whole set.  Lastly, you want to find a good opener to promote to the Intro song, something to set the mood for the entire show.

Even if you have an overriding theme, keep thinking of the crescendo.  Within a sub-topic, you’ll often want to keep building, then have a drop to the next topic.

I’ll think about all this and move the stuff around in my notes file (MoodForARainyDay.txt).  I’ll move around the overall music style blocks first, then move the songs inside them.  Once you’re done, you have a first draft of your set.  Usually it’ll still be too long.  For me, it’s often 2:30, but sometimes as much as 3:00.  Now you’re ready to start listening!

Continued in Chapter Two Part Two.

Tantari Kim

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