This blog will henceforth be hosted at damaged.fm. I will continue to write the DJ tech articles (I know I have been slacking on it a bit…) on this site. Also be sure to check out the other AVLiens’ blogs and the whole AVLien site! We also run a weekly stream of local DJs and producers on Wednesday night starting around 9 pm (EST)
There are a plethora of “hacks” that one can use to get their event or page in front of a great many Facebookers out in the interwebs. The problem is that many of them are violations of the Facebook terms of service (TOS). Even if the particular method you may use to “trick” Facebook into putting your promo in front of more people isn’t a policy violation , it may well be extremely annoying to your fans. Let’s get you sorted, read on. Continue Reading
This is a tutorial on how to use a smartphone (or cell phone) to record any performance for which the phone’s microphone is inappropriate (as is the case with DJs, live electronic music, or really anything that is amplified). You may have tried this before & found that the result is an unintelligible noise, this happens because there is no gain control between your source & the recording, as there would be with a multitrack or other professional recording system. To circumnavigate this problem you will need a few things…
Things you will need:
- A smartphone or cellphone or even an iPod. The important part here is that 2 requirements are met:
- The device must have a 3.5mm jack (a headphone jack) that accepts a pair of headphones with an inline mic (a hands-free wired headset). The reason for this is that a standard pair pf headphones has 3 contacts on the plug while a hands-free headset has 4. The extra contact routes back into the phone.
- Your device must also have the capability to record from the mic input. This sounds obvious, but there is often no way to know whether this will work without trying it.
- A 3.5mm Plug (4 Pole) To 3 RCA A/V Cable.
- A suitable cable to connect one of the RCAs to your source. The most common connection I see is 1/4″, so a 1/4″ to RCA cable will do in that case.
- Adapters to plug it all in together. This is an optional accessory depending on the cables you have. If the 1/4 to RCA or the 3.5mm to RCA A/V cable has female RCA connections you will not need the adapters otherwise you will need a female to female RCA coupler (most commonly available at Radio Shack or any home theater distributor) to link the two cables together.
- An audio source. Ideally this will be a mixer that has a record out or booth out if you are recording a DJ or, if you are recording a band (etc), you will pull your source from the front of house mixer.
- Something to hold your phone to record the video. This seemed pretty obvious & self explanatory, but it is a DIY tutorial, so there. I actually saw a retailer recently that was offering small brackets meant to hold an iPhone for video recording (which even had tripod threads on it).
The procedure is quite simple, you only need to connect the source to the RCA that connects to the contact normally used for the microphone in a hands-free headset (which I believe is the yellow if you have a standard color coded A/V cable like the one shown above), the other RCA connections will only output sound & not accept an input, so this will only produce a monaural recording, but most phone’s video software doesn’t record stereo anyway. For this reason, if possible, you will want to connect to an output that combines the two channels into one signal stream (not possible with most DJ mixers, but possible with some FOH mixers).
A few notes:
- Connecting this apparatus is an exact science, the recording itself is not. When I say that I simply mean that you will need a bit of trial and error to get the levels right. When in doubt, record a few seconds and listen to it before your friend, the headliner, whoever, plays their set. This is not something you will get quality audio out of if you are in a hurry (unless you are incredibly lucky or know the mixer’s output levels well and have recorded it this way before), the reason for that is you will (typically) not have a meter for the audio levels coming into the phone so you won’t know if the output of the mixer is coming in too hot without a bit of testing.
- The RCAs on the cable you end up using for this may not be color coded the same (or the pinout may not match the standard if you scrounged a cable that came with someone’s camcorder) so test that as well before you need this to work for you.
- When in doubt about the recording levels, run it lower than you think you will need. This a basic concept to studio engineers, but it may not be as obvious to someone who hasn’t done it a lot. The reason for this is that once you clip a signal the sound is completely lost, whereas if your signal is a bit too quiet you can always amplify it in post-processing.
- While it is possible to span long distances with an RCA cable added into the middle of the connections, it is not advisable. The more adapters & connections used reduce the signal quality of the final recording & for that reason the shorter the distance the sound has to travel in the cable the better it will sound.
- While it makes more sense to plug this apparatus into the venue’s mixing board if you are recording several different artists who are running separate inputs, it may be much easier to do this using the booth out connectors on the DJ mixer (assuming they aren’t in use) if everything is running through that mixer.
- This entire article can be applied to recording with a laptop as well as long as it has a line in or mic connector (if it is a dedicated mic port & cannot be switched to a line level input remember that a mic is amplified more than a line level input).
I cannot possibly relay how important this subject is. This can be the difference between a dancefloor full of people & everybody who came to hear your music outside for a smoke. Why? Because failure to properly set the amplification at various levels of your signal chain will ruin the sound of your music. One caveat I will make is this: with analog gear, you can push the boundaries of optimal volume settings & produce favorable results sometimes (guitar distortion is a perfect example). With most dance music however, distortion is already provided by the producer or not intended at all in a track, so its addition is usually not an improvement to a track save a few very specific scenarios.
Before we begin the procedure, one note: you should never see a red light on a level meter. This is a clipped signal & reduces the amount of sound your audience hears. It does not add anything, it only detracts from your music & its ability to communicate with your audience.
To set gains on your mixer (or controller, as it were):
- Start with everything turned down all the way (-∞ or the gains turned as far as possible counterclockwise) & the EQs flat (at 12 o’clock).
- Raise the gain of the track until:
- The average level is 0dB (usually the last green LED on the channel’s meter).
- The transient (usually the kick drum) hits around +3dB or +4dB (usually the second or third yellow or orange LED on the channel’s meter).
- With analog gear you may be able to comfortably push this as far as +6dB without losing an unflattering amount of sound, but I’ll still try to avoid hitting that high just to ensure I don’t clip a signal anywhere in my set.
- Once the level is set for your track, you can bring the volume fader up completely in order to send the full signal to the master output (remembering that it is still turned down completely).
- Now all that is left to do is set the master output volume using almost the exact same procedure we used on the channel. Raise the volume until:
- The average level of the master output is 0dB (between transients).
- The level of the transient is around +3dB to +4dB (potentially as high as +6dB on an analog mixer).
- The signal chain then is: Input gain (the level coming from the audio source CDJ, turntable, etc) →Channel fader (not the master fader, if you have one)→Master output (sometimes this is a fader, sometimes a knob, sometimes both, depending on your make & model of mixer)
A few things to know:
- While the output & channel levels on a digital device may be labeled as +2dB, +4dB, etc they are not in fact sending anything over 0dB unless they are clipping. A digital signal cannot surpass 0dB, therefore to push it beyond that point is completely useless & only makes music sound worse (because the sound is lost completely beyond that point).
- When dealing with some sound engineers, you may have to actually explain to them that you know how to properly set your levels in order for them to properly send your signal to their amplifiers. I’ve had to do this more than once. There is a lot to being a skillful musician & some artists do not focus on the finer points, therefore when you are confident in your ability to control the volume of your output, you may have to actually convince the engineer you are able to do so. This isn’t a “sound engineers hate DJs thing” but you must understand that a club sound system is a large & very powerful device that can be easily damaged if not cared for & fed properly. Do not rush into this!!! Many DJs seem to have it in their head that being louder makes their music sound better. This is only true of really really bad music. When you amplify a signal past its clipping point you are essentially producing volume by hammering the sound out of it. Think of a wet clay sculpture being forced through a tube too small for it, the same thing is happening to your sound when you clip the signal. The tube (in this analogy) is the signal path & the sculpture (your tracks) must be made small enough to fit through the tube or it comes out the other end mangled & damaged (©;).