Spinning on the 1s and 0s: Traktor, Ableton, Serrato, Rekordbox - the digital DJing thread

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Wasn't sure which board to put this on, but I thought we could do with a general thread about DJ controllers and software.

Forgive my noobness, but I thought I'd start with a question.

For ever, I've made mixes using an ancient copy of Acid Pro, spending painstaking hours beatmapping and then arranging tracks, then hoping no one notices I'm not really mixing them live when I play out.

Obviously, this has got to stop, and I'm now determined to get myself into the 21st century, buy some equipment on tick and start playing out commercially for money and in more of the kinds of venues I want for fun.

I don't mind spending a little dosh on this, and there's a decent DJ shop that does finance deals on hardware. That said, speaking to friends and fellow DJs, no two people agree on what is best. I've never really mixed vinyl, and always needed a visual element, plus I like the idea of being able to get creative with mixes rather than just mixing tracks into each other.

I saw an Ableton demo a while back and it looked straightforward, but I'm told you generally have to spend a while prepping tracks before you can play around with them. I want to be able to mix non-grid music (i.e. disco, reggae) as well as house and bass music, so being able to just pull them out the bag is important.

I was given a demo of Traktor and Rekordbox. Both seemed a much of a muchness - both very cool. The Traktor controller I saw was enormous - I'd never fit it on my desk, let alone be able to cart it around on my bike. Probably surplus to my requirements anyway. But these seemed good.

Then there's Serrato, which a friend uses. One thing I'm unsure about is compatibility - what happens if I get asked to DJ and I just want to rock up. Would I need to bring all my equipment with me if they don't have what I use? Are they all roughly the same? If I learn to mix on Rekordbox, would using a Serrato set-up be completely alien? What are the advantages and disadvantages to these different setups?

Shat Parp (dog latin), Monday, 17 July 2017 14:18 (one year ago) Permalink

It depends on what you know how to do and what you need.

Ableton is the best for live djing (meaning you don't have some pre-mixed intros and outros) it's the easiest one to use for making edits in the spur of the moment as it's more of a production tool than a dj tool. it has thousands of cool features but it's probably the hardest one to learn. The best djs I've heard - at least the ones with the most impressive tricks and transitions - use ableton.

I think Traktor and Serrato are pretty much in the same level, I personally find Traktor much better but Serrato is slightly easier to configure and use. There's also one advantage that Serrato has over Traktor at the moment: it allows you to mix using videos, depending on the venue you're playing some places like top 40 clubs or weddings prefer that you use music videos. Afaik you shouldn't have any compatibility problems using any controller with Serrato you can just google and download the appropriate mapping. Of course you'll be missing some features between controllers depending what software they had in mind when designing it but you have pretty much all your basic djing tools.

VirtualDj is used by many as it's easy to use and configure and has all the basic features including video mixing. I don't like it much but you should learn its basics as its probably the most compatible dj software.

This is all in my own experience.

dance cum rituals (Moka), Monday, 17 July 2017 15:31 (one year ago) Permalink

thanks Moka. Yeah Ableton seemed like the obvious choice to start with, and from what I've seen it's not all that different in theory from Acid Pro. I like the idea of getting creative and doing live edits but I just don't really fancy having to prep tracks for hours. I might end up having to do some commercial gigs (weddings etc) but I doubt I'll need to mix video. That said it would be useful to dig out the latest Now! mix (or what have you) and just play a track on request without having to worry too much about warping it or whatever. Still, I used to have to do that with Acid anyway.

Shat Parp (dog latin), Monday, 17 July 2017 15:41 (one year ago) Permalink

I'm very happy with my Pioneer DDJ-SB2 + Serato. It does everything I need it to do, and I went with Serato because it seems like the most common dj program, and I wanted to be able to sit in on a friend's gear.

But I really want to get comfortable on CDJs, and get better at beatmatching without sync or a bpm indicator. Y'know, just in case I end up on a house setup someday where that's a necessity.

change display name (Jordan), Monday, 17 July 2017 19:04 (one year ago) Permalink

Ableton's requirement to warp tracks before using them is what turned me off too. I use Traktor, and have done for about 7 years now. It's really good software. They do make much smaller controllers you can pair together and pack in a backpack. I haven't used the competition but I can say I love traktor and was frustrated with the time required to prep tracks in Ableton. You can also grid tracks in Traktor but it's not required.

brotherlovesdub, Monday, 17 July 2017 19:27 (one year ago) Permalink

Ableton is the most amazing piece of software you can use for dj'ing (even though it is not really designed for this and could definitely do with more features dedicated to this). most people i've seen use it for dj'ing seem to use it in a deathly boring way but if you delve into it you are only limited by your imagination / creativity. you can mix anything with anything and edit tracks live on the fly as well as do myriad other crazy stuff. BUT, as previously mentioned it involves a LOT of prep (something i like doing so not an issue for me). i use it in conjunction with vinyl so not sure about the experience of only using ableton in a dj setting but it is also incredible for creating mixes. imo 100% worth the prep time and endless fun (i've been using it for 15 years and still get a massive kick out of it), but really depends on how much time you want / are prepared to dedicate to it.

stirmonster, Monday, 17 July 2017 21:50 (one year ago) Permalink

How do you beatmatch from vinyl to Ableton? By ear or are you sending some midi signal from your Turntables?

brotherlovesdub, Monday, 17 July 2017 22:28 (one year ago) Permalink

by ear. i mix ableton in the same way i'd mix a record in. when the tempo is highlighted, the cursor up and down keys will lower or raise the tempo so i use those exactly the same way i'd use a pitch control. it's a bit fiddly until you get used to it but once you are it is just like mixing a turntable and once the track is in time you can micro speed up or slow down as required simply by increasing or decreasing the tempo for a fraction of a second.

stirmonster, Monday, 17 July 2017 22:52 (one year ago) Permalink

Thanks everyone. I noticed that some Pioneer controllers come with Serato and others come with Rekordbox. A lot of friends seem to use Serato, so I'm starting to consider this, but I was led to believe it's more geared towards DJs who are used to mixing vinyl and want to DJ mp3s. I'm probably wrong about that. Not really that interested in using timecoded vinyl, but might be an option in the future.

I want to mix everything from disco to afrobeats and outernational rhythms, also the usual house and techno. I like the idea of constructing and layering rhythms and sounds on the fly. Ableton sounds good in this respect, but again it's quite a different beast and I'd rather be able to shove a USB in my pocket and set up on anyone's equipment if I get asked at last minute. I used to have to prep a lot and I'm therefore used to doing it, but I'd rather get away from that, tempting as Ableton is.

Shat Parp (dog latin), Tuesday, 18 July 2017 09:05 (one year ago) Permalink

I think all 4 programs work for mixing whatever you want you just have to work on your beatmath and transitions.

dance cum rituals (Moka), Tuesday, 18 July 2017 15:19 (one year ago) Permalink

And lots of people (most?) use Serato without the vinyl controller these days.

change display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 18 July 2017 15:31 (one year ago) Permalink

yes - i didn't realise you could do that. One option I'm considering is Serato using Pioneer controller. Now it's a matter of choosing the right controller of course - they range quite widely in price. I don't mind splashing out a little and making sure I have the right thing, but also don't want to be overrun by features I won't use, or a massive controller that isn't practical or portable.

Shat Parp (dog latin), Tuesday, 18 July 2017 15:38 (one year ago) Permalink

Like I said I really like the DDJ-SB2 in terms of features for the price, but it's on the big side. It's kinda nice that it doesn't look too chintzy/toy-like, but it's too long for any bag I have that closes, so I've had to haul it around sticking out of a big ol' tote bag.

change display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 18 July 2017 16:01 (one year ago) Permalink

I use the Traktor Kontrol S4. It works out of the box and is a fantastic all-in-one mixer. My friend uses the separate components from NI, but he loves those too.

brotherlovesdub, Tuesday, 18 July 2017 22:20 (one year ago) Permalink

four weeks pass...

Hey - so I go the Pioneer DDJ-SR with Serato and I'm really happy with it. Still working my way around it and figuring out how it works. I've managed to segue a few tracks together, although I'm not really sure what to do if it analyses a track at the wrong speed and how you're meant to correct it, especially if it's wildly wrong and the pitch adjuster doesn't go that far. Guess I need to watch some more tutorials

Shat Parp (dog latin), Thursday, 17 August 2017 14:59 (one year ago) Permalink

I've also been organising my music into 'crates' and it's pretty arduous. I've noticed that on rebooting, Serato sometimes decides to rearrange the order of my crates which is weird and frustrating. I'm sure it shouldn't be doing that.

Shat Parp (dog latin), Thursday, 17 August 2017 15:01 (one year ago) Permalink

I put the bpm in all my file names, because I know there are some tracks it can't analyze. That way I can at least remember the starting tempo and adjust it manually.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 17 August 2017 15:13 (one year ago) Permalink

but how do you adjust it manually if the pitch slider only goes up (or down) to a certain level? i realise that's a noob question. I can hit the sync button and do that, but I feel a bit like that's not the right way.

Shat Parp (dog latin), Thursday, 17 August 2017 15:15 (one year ago) Permalink

I'm confused, because the pitch slider should be adjusting it based on the actual tempo of the song, not the calculated one? You'll have to turn sync off so it doesn't start by jumping the incorrectly-analyzed track to some nonsensical tempo.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 17 August 2017 15:29 (one year ago) Permalink

not sure about serato but in traktor preferences you can adjust the range of the pitch adjuster

the late great, Thursday, 17 August 2017 17:16 (one year ago) Permalink

for example i can set my pitch adjusters to +/- 8% as normal or i can adjust them to +/- 100% if i want

the late great, Thursday, 17 August 2017 17:17 (one year ago) Permalink

Oh huh apparently you can do that on the Pioneer controllers by holding shift and the 'Tempo Range' button under the sliders. Never messed with that but I'm certainly going to now.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 17 August 2017 17:24 (one year ago) Permalink

ah thanks I will try that!

Shat Parp (dog latin), Thursday, 17 August 2017 18:21 (one year ago) Permalink

two months pass...

So what's the practical purpose of those laptop stands...is it just to make it eye-level, or to keep drinks from getting spilled on your computer? Because I just, like, put mine on the table and it works fine.

change display name (Jordan), Sunday, 22 October 2017 17:24 (eleven months ago) Permalink

both, and sometimes because there isn't room in the booth for a laptop otherwise. i find them annoying and also like to have it on the table.

stirmonster, Sunday, 22 October 2017 17:56 (eleven months ago) Permalink



the late great, Friday, 3 November 2017 18:26 (eleven months ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

I've been really enjoying my Pioneer DDJ and using Serato. Gonna be playing a relatively high-performance (for me) show on NYE.

Got another couple of questions maybe Ilxors can answer:

1. What's the skinny on using other people's equipment? So I've got my track info, hot cues and other stuff set up at home. If I don't want to bring all my equipment to the club with me, is there an easy way to get this info and the tracks onto a stick? Someone mentioned Rekordbox but I didn't know where to start. It looks like Serato. Do I need to start over again? I hope not.

2. My computer desk is quite low down and I like standing up when I DJ. This is starting to give me a few back issues. Is there a reasonably cheap and efficient solution like an adjustable desk riser for DJs out there ?

Fox Mulder, FYI (dog latin), Tuesday, 21 November 2017 13:27 (ten months ago) Permalink

https://m.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/spr/29084966/ ?

El Tomboto, Tuesday, 21 November 2017 15:26 (ten months ago) Permalink

2. My computer desk is quite low down and I like standing up when I DJ. This is starting to give me a few back issues

dig a hole in your floor and stand in that

damian green is people (NickB), Tuesday, 21 November 2017 15:33 (ten months ago) Permalink

might not work in an upstairs flat though

damian green is people (NickB), Tuesday, 21 November 2017 15:34 (ten months ago) Permalink

Just put them on cases/boxes imo.

I think if you're using Serato on someone else's computer, you can copy your stuff to usb and preserve hot cues etc (w/out Rekordbox).

change display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 21 November 2017 15:40 (ten months ago) Permalink

I recently djed somewhere where I could have used nice CDJs, but chickened out and stuck with my controller that I'm super comfortable with. I think I'm going to have to go to the dj store and figure out an arrangement to practice on their CDJs though, it would be really nice to have that option.

change display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 21 November 2017 15:43 (ten months ago) Permalink

one month passes...

So I played out on someone's lovely £1500 all-in-one system. Great club, great soundsystem.

To my horror when I transferred a crate over to USB and plugged it in, none of the track information appeared and I ended up having to mix completely blind (couldn't even organise my tracks in order of BPM, they came up alphabetically).

Turned out okay in the end, but having painstakingly analysed all my tracks, set cue point information and gotten used to mixing in key, it kind of messed my flow up a bit. I was told that you have to use Rekordbox to get all this information on another system. Seems like a longwinded way of going about things and I'm not sure exactly where to start. I downloaded the free Rekordbox programme but it looks like another Serato-style mixing programme. I realise that this is what Rekordbox can be used for, but all I want to be able to do is transfer the info I've already fed into Serato on another person's version of Serato. It doesn't feel like too much to ask really?

FREEZE! FYI! (dog latin), Monday, 8 January 2018 10:51 (nine months ago) Permalink

haha, i read that whole forum and commented on it in the end. seems to say the track info is locked into the mp3s so it should just transfer over when you save the files to USB, but that's not what happened when i tried it, so I've no idea what I did wrong

FREEZE! FYI! (dog latin), Monday, 8 January 2018 12:53 (nine months ago) Permalink

Well, if you just copy the mp3s from your folder, the info will be lost. But as long as you copy it from within the files section in serato itself it should work just fine. At least it does so for me.

human and working on getting beer (longneck), Monday, 8 January 2018 13:22 (nine months ago) Permalink

I did it in Serato, but now I come to think of it, I originally put it on a folder to a portable powered HD, which didn't work when I plugged it into the controller. So I ended up transferring the folder onto a borrowed laptop and then onto a USB stick. That last step was done outside of Serato so maybe it was that.

FREEZE! FYI! (dog latin), Monday, 8 January 2018 13:31 (nine months ago) Permalink

So apparently all CDJ systems use Rekordbox. Bugger, so why did I opt for Serato again?
Another thing I noticed is they don't really like FLAC files. So why did I download all those tunes on FLAC again?


Badgers (dog latin), Thursday, 18 January 2018 10:14 (nine months ago) Permalink

obv they're not pioneer but numark cdjs are mostly serato compatible iirc

faust apes (NickB), Thursday, 18 January 2018 10:20 (nine months ago) Permalink

it's more the compatibility issue with other people's systems. Twice I've been asked to play and been told 'you just need to bring a USB with your tracks and everything's set up for you', only to discover that a quarter of my tracks won't play and the rest have all their cue, bpm and key info missing.

Badgers (dog latin), Thursday, 18 January 2018 10:25 (nine months ago) Permalink

it's just useful having all that stuff in there if I want to do fast cuts etc.

Badgers (dog latin), Thursday, 18 January 2018 10:25 (nine months ago) Permalink

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