I know we've covered djay quite a bit this year but this update, coming soon, is a pretty huge one. We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at djay 4. I happen to like djay, which is available for iOS and Mac, because it reminds me of when I first used Premiere -- version 4 on an 8500. Except instead of going from cutting film on a big machine to editing video pixels, you're taking physical vinyl record spinning and scratching and translating it to digital audio. Djay takes a complicated setup and physical skills and turns them into a software interface, with digitized shortcuts for dummies like me. Djay, as a simulation of a dj's turntables, is nearly perfect. There's no substitute for actually touching vinyl, of course, especially if you've seen masters of the art and I'm not saying djay is magically going to make mashups. Djay does have its place for pros and amateurs alike, with some practice (and natural talent, one hopes). The tools, already strong to begin with since launch, just got a lot better in version 4.
Check out our previous coverage of djay to get the basics. The new features are impressive for live and recording artists. Here's a look at some of them.
Updated UI and Lion, iCloud integration
The UI looked great already, but now everything is on one screen, easily accessible, with better graphics than before and fullscreen support in Lion. There's a light and dark library mode so dj's don't go blind queueing up songs. iCloud support is for the Mac App Store version and iOS versions of djay, allowing sync of all user generated metadata like cue points, edited BPM, etc...Harmonic awesomeness
One of djay's coolest features has been the ability to analyze a song and match another's beats for mashups. Version 4 for the Mac adds impressive key detection that can distinguish between major and minor keys. You can even filter your entire iTunes library by key so it's easier to make a mashup to begin with (see the photo below, which allows you to pick a key). Note that this will take a while depending on your iTunes library, and crank your fans up depending on your Mac, so djay allows you to limit the analysis to a single playlist if you like. Further, you can adjust a song on the turntable, pressing a button to match the key of song A to song B just as you would the tempo.
While no harmony matching is perfect, I found the results were more than acceptable. Provided you know what you're doing, djay is a powerful mashup generator. There's a built-in recording manager, but the .m4a files djay creates can be accessed in Finder and simply added to iTunes so you can play your music on your iDevices.
Live dj's are going to love djay 4 even more. There's a full "MIDI learn" system now so you can program djay to work with your gear, enhanced controller support (you can tweak just about everything), and you can export play history as PDFs. There's also more control over pre-cueing, and a mic with echo and pitch controls... But that's not all!
I could see using djay just as a replacement for iTunes if you routinely dj parties at your pad (bachelor or otherwise). The Automix feature was great before, allowing djay to choose songs, spin them up, crossfade between them or match on beats. Now you can manage your queue as well -- which is also handy if you have to take a break as a dj. Just line up what you want in the queue window and djay will handle it. When you want, you can drop easily into another playlist and keep going.
But if you are a real dj that likes to spin records and uses samples and effects, djay has improved support for both. There's a handy sample manager which allows you to sort and use them on the fly, and there's a Live Sampler. The Live Sampler allows you to record a sample any time, just by holding down the mic button in the in the sample bank's sample list. As you have six sample banks available at once (and practically unlimited samples behind each button, although you'll need to toggle between them) this give you ample opportunity to play around. Or be annoying, depending on your expertise level.
The Live Sampler section of the UI switches around, depending on what you need. There's also a bounce loop mode that lets you set up simple repeating sections which are easy to toggle on and off by using a button up top near the record button. New to version 4 is the enhanced bounce loop mode which is basically a set of shortcuts for 1/16 up to 2 second loop times. If you've ever heard what sounds like a record skipping? Well now you can do that in easy increments by just pressing on a button. It's great.FX control
djay 4 adds some awesome realtime audio effects to your arsenal. These aren't replacements for a full keyboard or sampler, but they are super handy and fun to use. Standard FX include a couple of effects banks, which each have the requisite flanger, echo, reverb, phaser and whatnot. Then there's the Instant FX, which are presets like Twist which back the music up while applying audio effects or crush which sounds like a bit crusher with added effects. Then there's my favorite, the 2D FX pad which allows you to control multiple parameters in realtime, with your finger. Whatever you chose in the fx bank earlier will appear here, and you can tweak the parameters by sliding around a small box with your finger (trackpad) or mouse. I'm sure a real dj could do amazing things with this.
As with any proper dj software there are shortcuts for just about everything. There's even multitouch trackpad control, with keyboard modifiers to do things like pitch-bending on the fly. Not only that, but the trackpad is 1:1 multitouch, so use two fingers and where you touch it mimics on the screen.
What's exciting about apps like djay (and why I like to cover them) is that, like Premiere once did for me with video editing, they make a formerly cumbersome and complex method of expression slightly more accessible. Of course, Premiere and other digital NLE's didn't make one a better video editor, just as there were plenty of desktop publishing atrocities in the 80s (thanks, Print Shop!), but programs like djay make the tools of aspiring dj's more accessible, more affordable and in some ways more powerful than their real-world counterparts.
A dj that I know (who has a fancy music degree as well) saw djay and remarked that it was all too easy for kids to just pick it up and make simplistic mashups. I argued that this was a good thing, in the end, because just as with video, people will tend to watch (or listen to, in this case) what they feel is best. If they like sucky mashups, have at it. By contrast, the guy behind this saw djay and immediately saw how he could incorporate it into his musical workflow.
I think any tool that gives you this much power but makes using it fun deserves a look. Djay 4 is an impressive app on its own. Couple it with the iOS versions and you've got even more fun, and both are what I would consider pro-level tools at a great value.
If you're itching to get your hands on djay 4, you can sign up here for updates. Djay 4 is now available!