Understanding the Digital DJ Workflow and that Grimes Coachella thing

Understanding the Digital DJ Workflow and that Grimes Coachella thing 1

Something a little bit different from me today. If you follow the music industry or celebrities you may have seen, this last week, the controversy around Grimes’ disastrous DJ set at Coachella.

Grimes, Coachella 2024

Now there are certainly some lessons here about knowing your craft, staying in your lane, and relying on others.

Of course, as a business leader you should surround yourself with others who are better at certain things, be it SEO, programming, business relationships, creative content and so on. Still, you should also take it upon yourself to learn as much as necessary to understand the issues, you may not be able to fix them, that’s why we have specialists and experts. But if you can understand what the issue is, then you at least have the chance to mitigate or react appropriately. Hint: Swearing and saying you are experiencing a technical issue, or can’t do the maths, is not really going to cut it… especially with your paying customers!

Electronic music is one of my passions, and this spans music production and DJing as well as listening – I am not claiming to be any good at these things, (well I am pretty good at listening) but I enjoy them.

During my 9 years in Korea, my vinyl collection was disrespectfully stored on the bottom shelf of the veranda bookshelf, but luckily survived the humidity direct sunlight, heat and freezing winter – looking back, even though I got away with it -despite some faded sleeves – I am angry with myself for how I treated my collection, that is now valued at a couple of thousand pounds.

Anyway, on returning to the UK and settling in our current home, I rediscovered my love for all things electronica and re-elevated my beloved records to a deserving storage furniture and the odd spin on the same turntables I had 30 years ago! I did upgrade the mixer, bought an active speaker, a 2nd hand cheap DJ controller and more recently some media players. And this kind of leads me back to Grimes.

Last year I went to Spain to the Torre-del-mar Festival on the Beach, a 5-day festival with 3 large stages, and saw some amazing DJs (list of acts) and some not-so-great ones. At first, I was a little bit angry with the state of the house music scene. the low light for me was Miguel Bastida – All I heard from his set was 2 hours of the same techno kick drum with vocal stems and samples ranging from Shaggy to Kate Bush sync’d over the top
The highlights; Carl Craig, Nic Fanciulli, and Korolova.

Korolova is an interesting one for me, but she really gave me hope for the house music scene – on the surface she looks like one of the insta-famous influencer style DJ’s who are great at managing their social media, look great, but not so great at actually DJing – in fact if you look at her sets on YouTube, she is mostly dancing for an hour, doesn’t really seem to be mixing and there is not a single person listening to her set (Was the sound even on) However Korolova, really pulled it out of the bag with an amazing selection of tunes, influenced by 90’s classic trance and techno, she read the crowd, took us on a journey, and smashed it out of the park. Much respect to her, definitely one to look out for!

So anyway, what was my point? During this re-introduction to the scene and the technology, I have learnt a lot about the workflow of putting together a DJ set in 2024.

If you look back to the workflow for Vinyl it was just; select tunes, play tunes and you needed some core skills – a good ear for key, timing, and the ability to beat match (and the patience to practice) You had to really know your tunes though!

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Vinyl Set Workflow

And today it might look something like this

Understanding the Digital DJ Workflow and that Grimes Coachella thing 3
Digital DJ Workflow

When you drill down the steps and the tools involved there are easily 9 steps and 2 or more pieces of software required.

I am currently using

Audio ConversionSwitch – NCH Software
Track AnalysisV-CASE – Gemini
Grid AlignmentV-CASE – Gemini
Cue Point SettingV-CASE – Gemini
Export to USBV-CASE – Gemini

So anyway, that Grimes thing… there have been lots of theories about what went wrong, from ketamin to errors made with compiling the USBs. Funnily enough no one is citing Rekordbox software as the issue. I am not here to bash Grimes or anyone else. But it is madness that the so-called celebrity DJs are being paid thousands and they don’t know how to DJ or use the tools of the trade.

Recently I have had a couple of issues with pulling a set together while learning how to use the MDJ-500 players.

As I do this purely for fun, I was just chucking some tunes on a USB then playing around to mix. I specifically chose my media players rather than a DJ Controller, as I wanted an ‘as-close-as-possible’ experience to turntables – there is no sync button, no software (they can work with serato and virtual DJ – if you want, I just choose not to), but they do have some nice features like Key lock and BPM lock and looping. But I noticed that sometimes the Grid is misaligned. Here is what I mean:

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Beat Grid Misalignment (V-CASE)

So I realised how important this step is. For reference here is the same track after I aligned the beat grid correctly.

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Beat Grid Misalignment corrected (V-CASE)

Any DJ Software or a £4k Pioneer CDJ will allow you to fix this. But basically, as a DJ (especially one being paid) you should know how to do this and overcome the issues, and ultimately be able to beatmatch – it’s your job!