Commonly Overlooked Dance Music Production Techniques

Producing music is hard work – and even when it’s a daily routine, it can be easy to forget important techniques and elements that make a song a real winner. Today we’re rounding up a few lessons from a powerful discussion on Reddit, with some incredibly useful tips for avoiding overlooking key production techniques.

Music production is one giant rabbit hole, with so many facets that it becomes nearly impossible to keep track of everything when making a track. That is why having friends listen to tracks, collaborating, and even testing a track on a club’s sound system helps producers find aspects that were overlooked during the first production sessions.

A recent discussion in the /r/edmproduction discussed some important aspects that music producers commonly overlook. The whole thread is worth sifting through, but we’ve collected a handful of key tips that producers should think about next time they’re in the studio.

Don’t Depend on Percussion Loops

KLN_PRKR‘s initial post started the conversation with the advice to not get in the habit of grabbing a percussion loop and leaving the loop in the track. Oliie responded directly, noting about percussion loops:

Loops are great for sampling and ideas however it is going to take a lot of trial and error to find the perfect loop that fits the already written bass or synth line.The alternative is to get in the habit of creating percussion loops. This practice gives the percussion section the same groove as the rest of the track and expands a producer’s ability to create rhythmic patterns.

Speaking of rhythm, don’t let all the drum hits stick at 100% velocity. PSteak offered a great example of Nine Inch Nail’s drummer playing “Wish” live:

Notice how the pattern, if sequenced straight with a DAW, is just a bunch on 16th notes. Everything at 100% velocity would leave the drum pattern sounding like a machine gun stutter. However, a variance and accents on the one (this varies on the type of hit) give the pattern life through rhythm.

Reference Tracks and Learn From (Insert Favorite Producer Here)

Blooming producers have a lot to learn when it comes to music production and one of the most overlooked aspects discussed among producers is song arrangement. There are of course issues with standardized arrangements being used in every single track under the sun, but it is crucial to understand typical arrangements and why they work so well. For example, dance music’s most common song structure is a four to the floor beat filled within an intro, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, and outro. These arrangements are outlines for blooming producers and the best way to learn the outline is by referring to a track from a more established producer.

A technique that is recommended often is taking a track and dropping it into a DAW. Slice the track into different sections (intro, verse, chorus, etc.) and name each section appropriately. Then, build a track following that arrangement. Once the arrangement is dialed in, then feel free to innovate within.

Author’s Note: There’s a lot of room for debate here re:arrangement, discuss more in the comments about creativity, style, and standard sounds.

Spacing, Tension, and Release

As Claude Debussy once said, “Music is the space between the notes.” While some producers struggle with making their tracks sound “full” (more on this later) there is the other end of the spectrum full of producers with tracks that sound cluttered or lack the tension and release that make a track into a beast. All great tracks, ambient or powerful, play with space. This comes into play as space between instruments, space between FXs, and space between two parts of a track.

While it may be overkill for the average to producer to spend a year studying Ahmad Jamal like Miles Davis did, consider the following tips:

  • Get rid of the scraps and keep the meat. Less is more if there is enough space for every sound. – The_Real_dubbedbass
  • .5 to .1 second pauses can make a huge difference on a tracks tension and release. Play around with pauses between different sections of a track. – fambamusic

Tension and release can also be a huge factor when creating on-the-fly buildups when DJing – watch Ean’s advice on that below: 

Get the Audience to Hum the Track

A catchy song is commonly defined by the melody. It may be hard for the average DJ to admit they can hum the melody to Levels, but chances are they can because the melody isrepetitive (grabs the audience’s attention) and interestingly varied (keeps them interested / attentive).

Along the same lines, it is important to make the distinction that pleasure listening music and club music vary when it comes to melodies. Whereas pleasure listening music has interesting, complex melodies, club music melodies may be as simple as two bars of notes.

Humanize the Sounds

Music is dependent on rhythm and groove which can’t always be replicated naturally by a DAW. The liveliness of a track comes from the human touch producers give to tracks which can be done through a multitude of ways.

  • Automation is the key to making a track seem “fast-paced” while also keeping everything exciting.
  • Playing percussion patterns can turn a stale loop into a funky one. This also will help build a producer’s understanding of rhythm.
  • Melodies also can be humanized by playing notes almost on beat. The best way to get a good melody loop is by recording a producer playing the melody over and over again. Then go back and find the best version that sounds natural, but also is in-time with the rest of the track.

Sound Design

Sound design is a gnarly beast to conquer for a young producer however it is not all auditory science. There are a few tricks to incorporate that can make a track sound even better.

  • Maximize the signal to noise ratio by widening certain instruments and condensing the others. Research gain staging to help with this. Synths generally span over the entire track where as snares will hit directly in the middle. – yungsturHoly_City
  • Clipping (generally) shouldn’t occur anywhere in the mix. This means a producer should look at the levels within the effects in a chain as well as on each channel. – yungstur
  • “Stereo width. Mono your sub frequencies, don’t push out your high frequencies too far or they’ll sound disjointed and awkward.” – TheShayo
  • Pitching snares, kicks, and percussions can make a track sound even more harmonic although this isn’t always necessary depending on a producer’s genre and how low the frequencies are for each drum hit. This is a vital for trap and dubstep producers to take productions to another level. – cerulean94

There’s a lot to remember when it comes time to make a track in the studio. While we highlighted some of the important aspects that are overlooked when producing music there is still a lot to take into consideration such as FX (use them!), frequency competitions, and the importance of polarization. A producer won’t catch everything, but excelling with a handful of tools will compensate for any short comings.

Originally published here:

CHRISTMAS PRESENT! Free Audio Plug-Ins For Your Mix

Plug-in signal processing is the mother’s milk of creative in-the-box production. Unfortunately, it can cost big bucks to fill your glass. Thankfully, many manufacturers offer one or more plug-ins for free. I’m not talking about demo-mode free. I mean forever free, with absolutely no time limit or restrictions on use.

This article is your handy guide to some of the best free plug-ins available for mixing and mastering. And while “no cost” usually implies low quality, that’s simply not the case here. True, some of the free plug-ins detailed in this guide are lesser-featured versions of paid plug-ins offered by the same manufacturer. But while the freebies’ capabilities may be somewhat limited compared to those offered by their cutting-edge, commercial counterparts, their sound quality is just as high.

This guide by no means covers all the gratis plug-ins available on the Internet. You’ll find an incredible bounty of freebies online once you start digging. (Better bring a backhoe!) Rather than fill this article front to back with a laundry list of all the software you can possibly hoard, I’ll focus on a core group of products and tell you what you can actually do with them in the studio. Happy shopping!


Fig. 1. The Blue Cat’s Freeware Plug-ins Pack II comprises a lavish offering of free plug-ins, including a flanger, phaser, chorus, 3-band semi-parametric equalizer, real-time spectrum analyzer, and master gain controller.

Blue Cat’s Freeware Plug-ins Pack II ( includes six free plug-ins in AAX, AU, RTAS, VST, and DirectX formats and mono, stereo, and (for some of the plug-ins) dual-mono configurations (see Figure 1).

Blue Cat’s Chorus includes all the controls you need to create lush chorus effects: delay time, depth, rate, LFO waveshape (sine or triangle), separate level controls for dry and wet signals, and (in the stereo version) a spread control that adjusts the stereo image. But you can also mangle sounds in really cool ways that go way beyond chorusing. For example, by switching the waveshape to triangle, cranking the depth control fully clockwise (to 100 percent), plunging the spread control all the way to mono and killing all dry signal, you can make a stereo synth pad pulse with a rounded at- tack to sound more like an electronic piano than a pad; adjust the rate control to determine how quickly the pulses repeat, making them synch with your song’s tempo.

Blue Cat’s Flanger provides two key controls for adjusting the depth and tonality of its flanging effect: Feedfwd (feedforward) and Feedback. Feedfwd sets the level of the effect’s delayed-signal component. (The Delay control sets the component’s delay time, which is modulated using the Depth and Rate controls.) When combined with the dry signal, the feedforward signal creates a comb filter.

The Feedback control sets the amount of effect signal that’s regenerated (using a feedback loop), adding resonance to the comb filter’s peaks and troughs, and intensifying their effect further. With each control, a setting clockwise from the noon position adds effect signal that’s in phase with the dry signal, while counterclockwise-from-noon settings flip the phase of the effect. Try adjusting either Feedfwd or Feedback—or both—to flipped phase settings to keep resonant bass-frequency peaks under control. To create warbling or downright bubbly, synth-like effects, use very high Rate settings.

The control set for Blue Cat’s Phaser is similar to that for the company’s freebie Flanger but uses a Stages control in lieu of a delay-time control. As you raise the Stages control, you increase the number of phase-shifting all-pass filters used, creating more notches and peaks in the resulting comb filter and intensifying the plug-in’s phaser effect. The Wet control adjusts the amount of directly phased (that is, not fed back) signal.

The Feedback control performs essentially the same level and phase functions as the control by the same name in Blue Cat’s Flanger. To make your guitar gently weep, crank the Stages control to its maximum value, set the Rate knob to around 3.64 Hz, turn off Feedback, and dial in roughly equal settings for the Dry and Wet controls.

Considering it’s a gratis offering, Blue Cat’s Triple EQ is a surprisingly flexible and potent 3-band semi-parametric equalizer. In addition to mono and stereo configurations—and a midside mode for the latter—a powerful Dual Channels configuration is also included on the house. With linking defeated between its two channels, the Dual Channels version can apply equalization independently to each channel. For example, you can boost the low end for the bass and kick (and other elements) in the mid channel of a stereo mix without blurring hard-panned electric guitars. And if one of those guitars is making the left channel sound muddy, you can cut low-midrange frequencies in that channel without affecting the clear-sounding right channel.

A Relative mode lets you link channels while preserving any pre-existing control offsets between them. These are advanced capabilities usually only found in the best equalizers on the market—and they’re yours for free! And when your tired ears can no longer decipher what you’re hearing, reach for the free Blue Cat’s FreqAnalyst. This real-time spectrum analyzer can display instantaneous and peak levels in turn or simultaneously for the left, right, or both channels.

Blue Cat’s Gain offers mono, stereo, and dual-channel configurations. Using its dual-channel form, you can separately control the gain of mid and side channels, for example, to widen or narrow the stereo image of a keyboard track or full mix. Multiple instances of the plug-in (having the same configuration) can be linked and controlled from one GUI. Imagine, for example, linking instantiations of Blue Cat’s Gain placed on all your synth tracks and ballooning the stereo widths of all the tracks at once using one side-channel gain knob!


Fig. 2. Boz Digital Labs’ Bark of Dog is a resonant highpass filter that gives bass instruments like kick drum extra punch.

Bark of Dog (AAX, AU, RTAS, VST, VST3), a resonant highpass filter (HPF) from Boz Digital Labs (, gives bass instruments such as kick drum extra punch. Dial in the corner frequency you wish to hype on your track, and adjust the plug-in’s Amplitude control to boost your selected frequency to taste (see Figure 2). All other frequencies below the corner frequency will conditionally be rolled off; if you want to more or less preserve those frequencies, lower the plug-in’s Mix control to add back some dry signal. Use the Trim slider to adjust the plug-in’s output level.


IK Multimedia ( is famous for its Custom Shops, online stores that allow you to buy add-ons to expandable pro-audio and musical- instrument software à la carte. The company’s T-RackS Custom Shop offers dozens of mixing and mastering processors, including compressors, equalizers, reverbs, and de-essers.

A free basic version of T-RackS Custom Shop comes both as standalone software and a shell for loading up to twelve processors at once—on a track’s insert—in your DAW (see Figure 3). The first eight slots for the processors are arranged in parallel configuration, four slots to each audio path; after submixing the two paths, four more slots follow in series. Along with the T-RackS shell, you get the Classic Equalizer and Metering Suite processors gratis. Around 30 other processors also come pre-loaded and operate in demo mode. All processors can also be instantiated as single plug-ins (AAX, AU, RTAS, VST).

Classic Equalizer is a dual-channel affair offering six bands: two of the bands use parametric peaking filters, while the other four bands feature respective low and high shelving and highpass and lowpass filters. You can EQ the left and right (or mid and side channels, in M/S mode) independently or link the two channels to apply the same EQ to both at once.

The T-RackS Metering Suite includes facilities for viewing peak and RMS levels, perceived loudness, phase and spectrum analysis. The perceived loudness meter combines averaging and frequency weighting to arrive at its combined volume display for both channels. Select a music genre (such as Funk Rock) from a pop-up menu to adjust the placement of colored bars underlying the meter; the bars suggest a range of target levels you should aim to achieve in your mastering for the selected genre.


Fig. 4. Plugin Alliance, a consortium of pro audio companies, offers the Brainworx bx_solo and bx_cleansweep V2 (monitoring facilities and sweepable filters), SPL Free Ranger (a modeled passive equalizer), and elysia niveau filter (a tilt equalizer) on the house.

Four complimentary plug-ins—collectively from three manufacturers—are currently available from Plugin Alliance (; see Figure 4). The Brainworx bx_cleansweep V2 (AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, TDM, Venue 32-bit, VST2, VST3) offers continuously variable highpass and lowpass filters, each with their own bypass. Use both filters at once to discard boomy lows and brittle highs from electric guitar tracks, sitting them perfectly in the midrange pocket. Feeling more adventurous? Mouse-drag the GUI’s automatable joystick to simultaneously lower both filters’ corner frequencies from their maximum to minimum values and back again; this creates a bandpass-filter sweep that sounds great on full-bandwidth synth tracks and drum subgroups.

Every engineer should own Brainworx bx_solo (AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, TDM, Venue 32-bit, VST2, VST3), baby brother to the company’s outstanding bx_control V2 (which, incidentally, I use on every mastering session I do). The free bx_solo lets you solo in turn the left, right, mid, and side channels of your mix to hunt down distortion, clicks, and phase problems. (Hint: If you can hear your sampled kick-drum in the side channel, it’s out-of-phase and robbing your mix of low end.) Swap the left and right channels with one mouse click. Use the Stereo-Width control to widen or narrow full mixes, keyboard tracks, guitar subgroups, and tracks for drum-room mics.

The elysia niveau filter (AAX DSP, AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, VST2, VST3) uses tilt equalization to quickly adjust the timbre of your tracks. First, use the EQ Freq control to select the frequency above and below which you want the equalizer to act. Rotating the EQ Gain knob clockwise past its noon position progressively boosts frequencies above the EQ Freq setting while attenuating those frequencies below a commensurate amount.

Rotating the EQ Gain knob counterclockwise from its noon position has the opposite effect, boosting lower frequencies and attenuating higher ones with respect to the EQ Gain setting. For big, pillowy tone on electric bass guitar, set the EQ Freq knob to roughly 100 Hz, and turn the EQ Gain knob counterclockwise from noon.

The SPL Free Ranger graphic equalizer (AAX DSP, AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, VST2, VST3) features four fixed bands respectively centered at 40, 150, 1,800 and 16,000 Hz. Modeling the sound of passive equalizers, Free Ranger sounds particularly flattering on acoustic instruments and full mixes where silvery sweet and round tones are your port of call. Try boosting 40 and 1,600 Hz to add luxuriant weight and open air to the full mix for your ballad, then sign in immediately for EQ-addiction therapy at the nearest clinic.


Fig. 5. PSP’s PianoVerb, a stripped-down version of PianoVerb2, produces unique reverberation using twelve string operators tuned to different notes.

When I was a kid, I used to love sticking my head inside an open piano while hammering the keys with the sustain pedal depressed. Now this fascinating sound—absent the childish noodling—is yours for the taking! PSP’s ( PianoVerb (a stripped-down version of the company’s PianoVerb2, available in AAX, AU, VST, and RTAS formats; see Figure 5) produces unique reverberation using twelve string operators tuned to different notes.

Controls let you retune, transpose, and detune the string operators and adjust their damping and decay time. For a bright-sounding ’verb, raise the Transpose control moderately and turn the Damping control counter-clockwise to 0%. Discrete discordant tones become audible at very high Transpose settings, transforming acoustic snare and tom tracks into jarring electronic-percussion instruments. Cool!


Fig. 6. Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Rack (VMR) is yours for the taking at no charge. The virtual effects rack comes pre-loaded with the free Revival Sonic Enhancement Processor and demos of Slate’s compressors, equalizers, and Virtual Console Collection (VCC).

The Revival Sonic Enhancement Processor is a module for the Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack (VMR;, a closed-architecture effects- rack plug-in (AAX, AU, RTAS, VST2, VST3) into which you can load up to eight compatible Slate processing modules (see Figure 6). Revival and the empty VMR rack are both free, while the other modules compatible with the rack—currently including compressors, equalizers, and the company’s Virtual Console Collection (VCC)—must be paid for if you wish to continue to use them beyond their 15-day trial period.

Revival has just two controls: Shimmer adds air and brightness to the high-frequency band, while Thickness adds girth to the low end. Goose the Thickness control on kick and bass guitar tracks to fatten them up. Thickness and shimmer both sound terrific on full mixes, but be careful: A little goes an awfully long way in mastering applications.


Fig. 7. Softube’s free Saturation Knob modeled- distortion effect features a three-way switch, labeled Saturation Type, that lets you apply distortion to mostly the lows or highs, or to the entire frequency spectrum.

Saturation Knob (AAX, AU, VST) from Softube ( is a modeled-distortion effect that sounds great on a wide variety of tracks, from electric guitars to vocals to trap drums (See Figure 7). A three-way switch, labeled Saturation Type, lets you apply distortion to mostly the lows or highs, or to the entire frequency spectrum. On electric bass, select the Keep High switch setting to preclude adding fizzy high-frequency distortion to the track while enhancing girth in the low end. Conversely, the Keep Low switch setting is your ticket for adding sparkly highs to vocals without inflating bass frequencies. Try using the Neutral setting to add wideband distortion to full-range synth tracks. A solitary knob adjusts how much distortion is added to your track.


If you’ve ever been frustrated by overshooting your mark when mouse-dragging your DAW’s teensy-weensy faders, you’ll love the Sonalksis ( FreeG (AU, VST).

Fig. 8. Sonalksis FreeG provides a long-throw fader, peak and RMS meters, pan and trim controls, and switches to invert polarity, mute signal, and bypass.

This fantastic plug-in provides a long-throw fader the length of a bowling alley! Joining the fader are peak and RMS meters, pan and trim controls, and switches to invert polarity, mute signal, and bypass the plug-in (see Figure 8). Activate the Pre switch to view signal levels at the plug-in’s input for comparison purposes. When you want to make small, ultra-precise fader adjustments, turn on the Fine function to shrink the fader’s decibel range while preserving the length of its throw. Essential for both mixing individual tracks and use as a master fader, every engineer should own FreeG.


Originally published here:

How To Make Your Own DIY MIDI Controller

Short on cash, got lots of time, and want/need a new piece of DJ gear custom to your needs? It’s time to go DIY! For about $100 you can build your own MIDI controller. Watch the full how to video from guest contributor Kyle Mohr and read the full construction guide inside.

DIY MIDI Controller Shopping List

First you’ll need to purchase all of your tools and materials. I’ve found the best prices and parts are usually sold on eBay from retailers based in China, but they tend to sellout fast and shipping to the States takes 2-3 weeks (this will, however, give you plenty of time to get your enclosure ready and board programmed). But, to make things easier I’ve provided many links for Amazon and US retailers.

Click the below sections to expand the lists:

Parts Enclosure Tools



This is my awful drawing on a post-it note, but it suffices as an ideal layout and sketch. I followed it up using Adobe Illustrator to make a to-scale blueprint. Download the PDF and EPS files here. This was designed for 4 potentiometers, 4 faders and 4 arcade buttons, but you can certainly swap them out for other components.

For the buttons, you’ll need a 1 inch or 24mm spade bit and you should aim for using a 5/16 bit for the potentiometers. Make sure to leave plenty of space between your components and do not overcrowd the layout. This will result in broken enclosures and tight areas for soldering. You don’t always have to be this exact, you can always just take a marker and ruler, measure distance between components and make sure to keep the distance the same, and mark up the back or inside of your enclosure with drill/cut spots.

Case Building

Once you’ve finalized your layout its time to “build” or make room for your components. You can use anything for an enclosure: an old VHS tape; plastic lunchbox; retro video game cartridge; a wooden box; or even 3D print your own. The main point of DIY besides saving some money and learning what is really inside your gear, is to customize it to be truly original.

Before you start drilling holes be sure to measure all components and their clearance! 

When drilling holes for components in the enclosure, especially with thin wood and plastic, to keep it from cracking when drilling, make sure to choose about 6-7 drill bits from very small to your final size.

For LEDs I always use this guide (look under “Making holes if needed”). This will help you slowly get to your desired size without putting too much tension on the material causing it to crack, chip or break. The key is to drill at slow speeds, and gradually go up to the size you need. If something starts to crack or chip, quickly stop and put your drill direction in reverse. Try using it in reverse for a bit to clean up the cut.


Once you’ve drilled, cut and punched your way through the enclosure its time to clean it up. Don’t worry, it always looks like a hack job. The key is to take your time. Try to drill and mark up the inside (spots people won’t see) and even place a spare board under your enclosure that you can drill into. This also helps to reduce tension on the enclosure.

Now if you used plastic, you’re in luck! You’ve just saved yourself days, seriously! For plastic you can simply use the hobby files to file off any jagged edges, or frayed pieces of plastic, which are blocking the holes.


Want to make an awesome wood enclosure?

If you used wood, get ready to go all Ron Swanson on your project. Most cheap wood like we’re using here looks, well, cheap! So how do we class up that piece of junk to look like a custom cut piece of expensive furniture?…Stain!

  • I highly recommend pre-stain. It will help the stain spread evenly, especially on cheap/thin wood and prevents spots.
  • After 5-15 minutes it’s time to add that stain. Just take a rag, dip in stain and apply to your enclosure. I like to use Dark Walnut. Apply and then immediately remove, and repeat this process a few times. This will give it a more rustic/steampunk look, but if you want something more solid, don’t wipe the stain away, just apply a lot and leave it to dry.
  • After a day of drying, apply polyurethane with a brush. Fully coat all sides to protect your enclosure from scratches, and protect, and even strengthen the wood. I suggest brushing it in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Let dry for 24hrs, then repeat to your liking. I recommend 3 coats, 24hrs between each coat.
  • After the final coat, let dry for 72hrs before adding component parts! This avoids putting my components into a sticky polyurethane mess.


Now that you’ve finished your DIY MIDI controller layout and enclosure, it’s time to add your components to the faceplate. Buttons usually just pop in, but some will require a fastener or nut to be placed on the back to secure it (if there is a little resistance, don’t force it, just take your hobby files to it a few times then try again).


Potentiometer knobs will then be placed in with washers and nuts. These should cover any jagged edges you may have from drilling. Tighten with pliers. For linear potentiometers (aka faders) make sure you have the number 1 (power) on the top. This may vary depending on make and model (feel free to test using a breadboard). 2 is usually your signal, and 3 should be ground. Then secure to the faceplate with your M2 screws.

To protect the components, add your Chroma Caps to faders and pots now (or any off-the-shelf caps as well, we just like those the best).

To add the LED, flip over the faceplate or top of enclosure and put your LED into the hole(s) you drilled for it. You may need to use your hobby file again for this to make sure the LED fits just right. Afterwards, push it through just enough to see the tip on the other side. Using a toothpick as an applicator line the circumference of the LED with Gorilla Glue. Once hardened it will ensure your LED doesn’t fall back into the enclosure. Don’t use hot glue, it may melt the LED’s plastic.

Soldering Your Components

Once the glue on the LED is dry, start the soldering process. This make all of the connections from your components to the circuit board, which will then relay the message to your computer or iOS device (oh yeah, this will also work with your iPhone/iPad)!

First you’ll need your Rosin-core solder (way safer than lead-based solder) – I use and recommend .050”-Diameter 63/37 Rosin-Core Solder.

If you haven’t soldered before there is a wealth of tutorials on YouTube. Here are a few of my favorites. Trust me, its not complicated at all, anyone can do it. Just take your time and pay close attention to what you’re doing.


Turn on your soldering iron and let it heat up for a few minutes. Grab your jumper wires. I use these instead of your average spools of wire because they have a single pin at the end instead of braided wire that is quite difficult to push through a hole. They are much more efficient since with normal wire you have to cut, strip, and heat shrink it every time. I also tend to pre-bend them all at 90 degree angles and trim about ¼ off of them to make sure they fit in any enclosure and the Teensy board.

Let’s start from the top and work our way down. First make sure each of your jumper wires will reach from each component to the next, and matching colors is always helpful. I like to use dark colors (black or blue) for the ground line and bright colors (red, orange, yellow) for power while using mild colors (green or white) for the signal line. For D-Shaft potentiometers you want to be certain your pins are on the bottom, this will ensure your knobs fit and that once wired they will be going in the proper direction.


For potentiometers you have 3 lines, ground, active (your analog signal which identifies where the position of your potentiometer is) and your power. They also usually go in that order when looking at the pins, a 4th pin is usually just a dummy pin and will not be used for our project.

Since we only have 1 power and 1 ground point to solder on the Teensy board we need to chain all of our grounds together then all of our power together. Once complete, we need to run that power and ground from the last pot to the first fader, which is soldered and treated as if it was a potentiometer. Follow the guide below.


Once that is complete, run the ground only from your last fader to your buttons. The other point on buttons is your active/signal line.


Solder the active line from each component, 1 single wire from each button, knob, and fader. The Teensy board has built in pull-up resistors that we will access using the Sketch we upload when programming the board so we do not need resistors soldered to the buttons active line.

Next, solder a 220 ohm resistor to the (+) powered pin of the LED, this is to ensure it doesn’t blow out from too much power. Then connect the other side of the resistor to a positive pin on the closest pot. We will then solder the short LED pin (ground) to the closest pots ground pin.


For the last bit of soldering, run the active line from every pot and slider to Analog pins A0 – A7. Where as the active line of each button will be soldered to the Digital pins on the other side of the board B0-B3.


Programming Your DIY MIDI Controller

Setting Up Teensyduino (Arduino + Teensy)

Teensyduino is an add-on for Arduino Uploading Software that enables the Teensy board to be used in the Arduino programming environment. Before we get started you will need to:

  • Download Arduino Software *Certain versions of Teensyduino are only compatible with certain versions of the Arduino Software. On the Teensyduino download page this is specified. As of August 2015, “Teensyduino 1.24 supports only Arduino version 1.0.6 and 1.6.1 and 1.6.3 and 1.6.4 and 1.6.5”.
  • Download Teensyduino + follow the install instructions on this page (be sure to install all the libraries!)


STEP 1: Plug your Teensy board into the USB port on your computer. After plugged in an orange light on the Teensy should be flashing on and off every second. This is called the ‘blink’ sketch – The Teensy board comes pre-loaded with it.

STEP 2: In the menubar, select Tools->Board->Teensy 2.0.

STEP 3: Also in the menubar, Tools->USB Type->MIDI

STEP 4: Open a sketch file (download mine here). This sketch is set to 8 analog pots (the faders are treated as a knob/pot when it comes to the code) and 4 digital buttons. If you have more knobs or faders, simply change the number here:


If you wish to add more buttons, there is a little more work, but it isn’t too complicated to fix.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at Aug 25.26.18 PM

STEP 5: Click the upload button (right arrow) to upload the new code to the Teensy. Since this is the first sketch you uploaded, Arduino will ask you to click the reset button on the Teensy. Click it (see image). After clicked, the sketch should immediately upload.


This code is based off a sketch I was given from fellow DIY MIDI engineer/Musician Otem Rellik. Click the button below to expand the code – it’s long!

The Code


Before we test our creation, we first need to clean up flux residue with a paper towel and/or Q-tip (for hard to reach areas) and rubbing alcohol. This will remove any materials which could overtime corrode your board and connections.

After that dries it’s time to cover your connections that could potentially touch another and cause a short. You have a few options here: simply tape up any loose connections of bare wire that could touch another or even a metal component part; cover them with hot glue so nothing moves or touches at all; use heat shrink tubing (which doesn’t always fit perfectly); or try liquid electrical tape which comes in a rubber cement style bottle and brush on (which makes covering tight areas a little easier). *If using liquid tape please do so in a well ventilated area.

When the bare wires are covered, plug in your fully-soldered and connected circuit board. The LED should light up and not burn out! Boot up your DAW of choice and make sure you see the Teensy recognized as a MIDI device. Try mapping each component to your DAW and see if a MIDI signal is sent, once you’ve verified, you know you have achieved success!


Lastly, it’s time to close up your MIDI controller so it looks less like Frankenstein’s monster. You can use many things to mount the board in your enclosure but I recommend a generous glob of hot glue on the bottom. After it is mounted, plug in your adapter which is mounted to the enclosure, close the lid and seal it up.

Final Product

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at Aug 25.29.55 PM

You are now the proud creator of your very first DIY MIDI Controller.

Originally posted here:

Doomsday Survival Tips for Live Shows

Three live performance experts share their deepest fears and how to avoid onstage meltdowns.

Tutorial: Mark Davie

Formula One pit stops are pretty much where the race happens these days. Whether or not a team is gambling on a one-stop, two-stop or really trying to keep tyres fresh with a three-stop strategy is mostly what the BBC commentators bang on about for the entirety of the race.

It’s so predictable that the only differential between drivers is how many points of a second the pit crew faffs about in a pit stop. One second longer than normal is a total disaster. And if a tyre wrangler drops a nut, it’s race over and you may as well drive into the wall at the exit of pit lane.

Amazingly though, some musicians have no idea how long it would take them to get their show back on track if everything went pear-shaped. They’re gambling with their livelihoods every day. I’m talking about DJs, producers, bands, solo artists, anyone who uses a computer in their live setup. Even mix engineers to a certain extent, who are using computers to trigger events or add processing power to their rig. There’s a growing population of artists who run their entire show off one computer, completely unprepared for when it all goes bad.

So, let’s get redundant, baby!

To help save us from the inevitable doomsday scenarios, I talked to application specialist Jason ‘DJ Shine’ Spanu, a Canadian techno DJ who has toured the globe setting up systems and running playback for Nelly Furtado, Drake, Frank Ocean, Broken Bells, and many more artists; Lynden Gare, production manager for Flume’s Infinity Prism tour was also kind enough to fill us in on how Flume’s MIDI is managed; and Danny Harley, the one-man show that is The Kite String Tangle, walked me through his journey to figuring out how to get redundant. So if you’re walking the high-wire without a safety net, here’s some practical measure to land softly when things go to hell in a handbasket.


Technically speaking, Jason ‘DJ Shine’ Spanu is on the Broken Bells tour as we speak. Except he’s not. He’s at home, having sent a sub to cover for him on the last two weeks while he looked after a family member. He also got a call to set up an interactive iPad jamming station for a kids science event. It was a month’s worth of touring for a day’s work that came at exactly the right time.

Spanu’s life is anything but normal. Whether he’s on the road or not, he’s still the guy you call if you’ve got a problem, at any time of the night. As well as putting together and running the playback systems for touring bands, he also consults for others. “My phone rings at stupid times of the morning,” he explained. “And it’ll be the guys from Metric calling me or some other weirdo indie band asking, “How do you do the thing with the…?”

At which point he’s already put them on speakerphone and logged onto their desktop with TeamViewer. Which saves him yelling, ‘No, click that button!’ down the line thousands of times.

Spanu is a Toronto techno DJ who sort of fell into his current role as playback master. He moved in next door to where Nelly Furtado’s band rehearsed by fluke. The band got to know him as “the guy that used that f**ked up program Ableton Live,” and his roommate soon became their pot hookup. Spanu’s in with the band took a bit longer to eventuate — Furtado’s boyfriend also happened to be her DJ, thwarting any chance he had of cracking his way onstage with them.

So Spanu got on with making techno, and about three years later, they came back to him and asked him to show them that ‘f**ked up program’ again. Up to that point, they’d been using ProTools for playback, and the bass player/band leader was having trouble following Furtado when she wanted to stray outside of the bounds of a linear timeline. So the ability to time-stretch songs in one session, and loop and edit on the fly, had them in raptures. They were hooked, and asked him to join the circus at the height of her career in 2006. “On Day One we did every TV show on earth,” recalled Spanu. “All the different late night David Letterman-type shows. They had a variety show in Europe where they bring in all these international acts, and I realised I was the only one using Ableton, everyone else was using Digital Performer, ProTools or Logic. These days I don’t feel special anymore, they’re all playing Ableton.”

Spanu picked up Ableton at version five, and much of what he does stems from what he could do with markers back then. Depending on the job, Spanu switches between the Arrange mode and Session mode. If he’s DJ’ing, it’s Session mode, but if he’s just playing backing tracks, he sets up markers in the Arrange timeline at likely loop points, so he basically just has to hit a forward or back key at any time during the set. He uses the Arranger view because bands primarily know what note follows another, which part goes next, and the form generally stays the same. If he tried to get fancy by triggering sections in Session view, he’d likely stuff it up, or he’d have to program follow actions to progress to the next loop set… far too much hassle.



When Spanu first started out, the general consensus was that “computers were the devil, and you better hide that s**t. Don’t put it anywhere even near the stage!” Regardless of whether they made a dance album, and everyone knew where the sounds were really coming from, you wanted to look at the “hot chick, not the guy looking at a computer.” For some artists, like Frank Ocean, the whole band is under the stage, whether they’re tethered to a computer or not.

Artists tend to see Spanu more as ‘Wizard of Oz’ than DJ, so his ego has taken “more hits than it can handle”. It took years for him to finally make it up on stage with Furtado’s band. So when he got the opportunity, he carted his full DJ rig — two Novation Launchpads, an Ableton Push and two giant touchscreens — up onstage with him. Even then, for a show in Ibiza they still had a guy posing as the DJ onstage right next to him… At the end of the day, he gets paid the same whether he’s on stage or off.

For other bands, its clear what his role is. For instance, said Spanu, “Broken Bells came to me and said, ‘We need you to do this’. They’re not asking for ‘and be awesome’. They’ve got awesome covered.”


One of Spanu’s current clients is Frank Ocean, and the rig had to be scalable as required, but generally portable and fit for shipping. The rig comprises Ableton Live at its core, running on two MacBook Pros, with two portable MOTU Ultralite interfaces and a Radial SW8 eight-channel switcher between the two. He uses the seven-year old Ultralites because they fit in his hand, have 10 stereo line outputs — enough for any artist he’s working with — and are Firewire bus-powered. Which makes power supplies one less thing to worry about losing or going on the fritz.

When he first started buying gear for artists with a budget, he thought bigger would be better; more processing power would mean more stability. So he packed a MacPro tower into a foam-lined, touring rack so he could run 24 backing tracks. They went to play a show down in Mexico where the subs were plugged into the same generator supplying his computer. As soon as the sub kicked in he lost all power and his computer crashed. He soon realised it was dumb. “Who needs 24 tracks anyway,” said Spanu. “You might as well not show up.” Plus, when you’ve already got a 64-channel stage plot, no festival or TV show is going to give you 24 more lines to send to the computer guy.

From there it became, “What else can I erase from the equation?” Now the MacBook Pro runs itself and the interface from its internal battery. If everything else goes pear-shaped, he can still hit the next marker and get audio.

With eight tracks to play with, he usually divides his percussion up into frequency specific areas, so a stem of kicks, a stem of snares and other mid-heavy elements, and hi-hat loops on their own stem. Then it’s typically vocals and music separated onto their own stereo outputs, and two separate click tracks. One click goes to the drummer for the entire song, and the other one typically just gives the band a ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ count in. From there the drummer takes over, unless there’s a drum-less chorus breakdown or bridge.

Once he has the main markers in place, he then uses his experience to inform where other markers might be a good failsafe; places he knows he can loop if the artist decides to diverge into a 10-minute Kanye West-style monologue.

“Be aware that every time you put a marker down, you’re spending about a megabyte of pre-loading RAM,” said Spanu. “So when you’ve got 50 songs, averaging about 20 channels, and I put 10 markers into each song. Bang, I just spent some RAM. So I try to be a little sparing, but also not terrified about it, because it’s generally fine.”

Another thing he never does is upgrade straight away. “Live 8 came out and I didn’t even touch it,” said Spanu. “It was seven forever. When six came out I was like, five works, I’m not changing this.”




Once the audio interfaces are synced up, there’s the issue of syncing MIDI. Depending on the artist, he might set up an eight I/O MIDI patchbay. If a band has keyboard controllers all over the stage, he’ll build a MIDI web that does all the control changes for the different synths from his computer. Spanu: “As soon as I hit Play on a new song, the sounds are all ready. And in the middle you can take the keyboard player’s sound and do another solo with an arpeggiator, and it becomes this massive ballet of MIDI.

“The next level is adding in video. That’s usually a word that scares a lot of people, but it’s pretty simple. All you’ve got to do is run some SMPTE timecode. Live doesn’t natively produce SMPTE, but you can just record the audio file of it, run it as a separate output and shoot that to the lighting console so everything comes together.”


For Spanu, there’s no point in having redundancy if the changeover isn’t automated. Realistically, he says, if anything actually does go pear-shaped, it’s going to take him a second or two to notice, react and hit the ‘Oh s**t!’button. So he feeds one of the inputs to the Radial switcher with a separate VST test tone oscillator plug-in, set up in Ableton to continually emit tone whether he’s stopped a session or not. If the Radial stops seeing that tone at any time, it automatically switches to the inputs from the alternate audio interface.

The other issue is syncing his MIDI between the two sessions running on different computers. But rather than syncing MIDI timecode or having the computers talk to each other, he instead relies on control.

One of his associates, Matt Davis, who Spanu handed the Drake gig over to, programmed a mirrored Max 4 Live patch that allows one Launchpad to follow the other over MIDI. The Max patch waits to hear what button was pressed on the triggering Launchpad, tells the other Launchpad, and they both pass that information onto Live. It means that if the session stuffs up, the first Launchpad can still trigger cues to the second, allowing time for Spanu to shuffle over to the other system.

Spanu: “A simpler way of doing things is to get a MIDI splitter and a MIDI keyboard, map the names to certain notes, and by hitting that note it will split to both machines at the same time. You don’t want sync. Because sync relies on a relationship and if one of those things goes away, then what happens? There’s no point getting anal about phase, because at the time you have to switch between one and the other, whether or not it was on by a frog hair is not going to make any difference.

“I made a bunch of how-to videos with the Metric guys, and one of them was literally walking up to the computer and yanking out the Firewire cable. He didn’t even notice it switch, it was amazing.



Spanu also DJs on stage for Toronto R’n’B artist Julie Black. He has a lot of fun with, four iPads running a TouchOSC patch, Lemur and TouchAble. But his problem is always the network. “It’s the radiation soup of signals floating around us all the time,” reckons Spanu. “Cell phones, radioactive crap… Fukushima. Any of those things interfere with my ability to make a network a foot away, even via a simple connection — it’s stupid! I’ve got 100,000 people in front of me, and I can’t do any of it.

“The new version, TouchAble 3, will finally have a connection from the phone jack. So I intend to split the workload up between things I know are simple and stable, and things that are awesome and fun. TouchAble lets me adjust every parameter on the fly really quickly without messing with a mouse. But it’s all going through digital wonky wi-fi so it may go out at any moment. If I put a filter effect on each of the vocal tracks and control it from my iPad it better be a very stable connection, because if I pull it all down then go back up, and it doesn’t go back up… disaster!

“It happened to me the other day in a small theatre with 400 people. Everything was fine and all of a sudden the connection went bad. It’s all fresh gear, a new iPad Mini, but something is freaking it out. In-between sets I had to reprogram it all. Luckily, I always bring a hard-patched MIDI device with me — something with knobs. If I was hiding behind a curtain I wouldn’t care. Just hit spacebar and f**k off, but on stage I want to interact and not be the guy faking it. I’m of the generation that doesn’t do jumping jacks when I perform.

“I generate my own network, because generally you need a really high-powered transmitter to rise above everything. The problem is all those phones’ default channel is the same channel I’m using, so there’s all this crosstalk and inter-modulation frequencies shooting around. And if I go to a lower channel it doesn’t have enough power. The wi-fi world is a pain in the arse.

“Generally I’ll do things like mixing, sends, throws, and any automation that I want to have control over. I’m not doing too much, but if I want it, I know it’s there. I’ve simplified my interface because we’re all smart, but when something goes wrong on stage our IQs drop to single figures. you’ve got to build your system to be run by a baby who just got ran over.”


When Danny Harley (aka The Kite String Tangle) first thought about making his live system redundant, he really struggled to find any information on how other artists were going about it. Eventually he was given a leg up by Rufus, who in turn pinched their main ideas from Cut Copy’s stage setup.

“Laptops freak me out, I never liked performing with a laptop because I was scared it was going to screw up, that’s why I desperately wanted the redundancies. I moved completely over to hardware for a little while and then moved back again.” That’s right, to get around his fears of running a laptop, Harley carted around all his hardware synths and samplers. “It was a lot harder because you had to bounce everything over to the samplers and make instruments. It ended up taking too much time because if I wanted to tweak anything in my live set I had to re-bounce.”

After frustrating himself for too long, he eventually moved back to the laptop and vowed to figure out a redundant system. In the end he ended up with a similar system to Jason Spanu’s — two laptops, two MOTU Ultralight interfaces and a Radial SW8 switcher. He also uses a MOTU MIDI Splitter fed by the outs of a MIDI XT to connect his MIDI instruments to both computers, but steers clear of any auto-mapping features. “The stuff that throws me off the most is when a parameter will be auto-mapped and you spend an hour trying to undo something that’s supposed to be intuitive. Everything is mapped from scratch, it leaves less margin for error.” Also like Spanu, Harley doesn’t clock anything from the laptop, relying instead on the MIDI event triggers to keep both sessions in sync.

It was a bit of work for Harley to get his system together, but now he’s got a svelte, racked, flyable setup that was worth every penny. “It was expensive,” said Harley. “Because you have to double up on some stuff and your switcher but for me the peace of mind was worth it.”

No tangles here — Harley’s rig is controlled by a Livid Ohm controller, Akai MPK49 keyboard and MPD pad controller, and Edirol keyboard. His effects chain includes a Line6 DL4 delay, an Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb, and a TC Helicon Voicelive.

No tangles here — Harley’s rig is controlled by a Livid Ohm controller, Akai MPK49 keyboard and MPD pad controller, and Edirol keyboard. His effects chain includes a Line6 DL4 delay, an Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb, and a TC Helicon Voicelive.

 64-BIT, BUT NOT 24

When most people start using computers live, they’re petrified to do anything more than hit the space bar. “It’s shut up and hit Play, because everyone is still terrified and thinking we’re running it on a Commodore 64.”

But more than user error, the times Spanu has seen everything go wrong is when artists ask too much of a system. Like running 118 tracks, or insisting the tracks have to be in 24-bit. “I’m like dude, we’re not performing at a DVD authoring factory,” laughed Spanu. “We’re out in this gross s**thole and I’m one of 60 tracks on stage. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have the depth of a 24-bit dynamic range. Let’s pull back all those numbers and be cool.”

Other times, he just can’t explain what’s wrong. The Broken Bells session is pretty elaborate, they have four keyboards on stage all running internal Ableton soft synths in the one session, with lots of tracks playing as well. But they’re running it at 64-bit with 16GB of RAM, on solid state drives, using UA Apollo Quad interfaces with 16 outputs. The system is completely stable, but for some reason, one file is causing the whole session to “eat a dick in one spot that we can never fix no matter what we do.”

Other than the odd voodoo moment, it’s mostly “buffer overruns or disk overload messages where I’m trying to pull too many things at once, or fighting for RAM allocation with drivers,” said Spanu. “That’s why I tend to stick with what works. I don’t know what a Focusrite Saffire will add into my equation until I’ve had a couple of weeks personal experience running the thing.

The last time I did a massive upgrade, I stayed home for a week and just left everything running for 12 hours. I looped this massive two-hour show six times while another machine was recording what was happening. Once it passed that test, then it was alright to go out.”


Spanu always has the artists buy the kit needed to run the show, rather than operating on a loan-hire system. It’s part of the redundancy package; he doesn’t want the whole show to go down even if he decides to call it quits. But before he buys anything, he picks through what they already own, because “a lot of these bands have a courtyard worth of crap you could put together,” said Spanu. “Once you’ve picked up random cases and other bits and pieces, you budget it out and let them go to town.

“I like to buy three of everything in case one goes down, so it’s a redundant system. I try to roll like an Apple store as well and bring a couple of all the connectors you need. I also try to keep my spare systems small enough to carry them on. I don’t mind shipping the big rig, but if the plane crashes and I get out, I’m grabbing that bag and we’ve still got a show. I’m that stealth dude who ninjas around airports. I take up like nine bins, and put a 60-pound bag in the overhead — if that falls out it will kill someone.

“Everyone else can just get a guitar and plug it in, or a keyboard and find some stupid sound and play it and you’ve got a show. But if the computer guy has lost his Mr. Wizard box, then you’re crying.”


Lynden Gare has been Flume’s (Harley Streten) production manager ever since he took off a couple of years ago. Back then, Streten was touring the world, running Ableton Live out of his MacBook Pro through the measly 3.5mm minijack, into a DI. His sole backup was a spare cable in his Sportsgirl kit bag.

Since then, the production has moved through sitting a spare laptop under his main one, to having a second laptop networked with the first with the same show file running. They’ve got it down to about a 10-second changeover time, before Flume is back into a fully-featured show.

The reason the changeover isn’t instantaneous is sort of a redundancy issue in itself. With every piece of gear comes an extra point of failure, so a fully redundant system has to be replicated or triplicated. But Flume’s workbench isn’t off stage, it’s his trademark ‘Infinity Prism’, which isn’t really big enough to hold pigeon-pairs of every controller he uses to run his show. As well as the laptops and soundcards, he’s got two Novation Launchpads, a keyboard and an Akai APC40 running via USB, and a Roland SPD effects pad outputting MIDI to the soundcard. It’s a full deck. All the USB items are running into a server-grade USB KVM switch, which basically lets Gare switch all the USB inputs from one computer to the other.

Once the big red button is hit, Gare does an encoder pickup on the APC40 because the backup computer doesn’t know where the faders are in relation to their range, so you have to manually move them through their range so Ableton can pick them up. It’s not ideal in the sense of two systems talking to each other, but because most pieces are running over USB, Gare would have to convert the signal to MIDI, then MIDI back to USB on the other end to keep every controller in sync. And that would be a lot of MIDI flying around. Streten doesn’t have to sync up with anyone else, so the team figured simple is best.

It’s a choice related to the type of act Flume is. Flume is one guy, so it’s not about having him control absolutely everything at once in his session, he’s usually only playing or manipulating one instrument or effect at a time. The attention is on what he’s doing, not what he isn’t. “We didn’t want to try and replicate the full-featured show,” said Gare. “We just wanted a back up. The analogy I use is likewhen you’re in a motorboat and the motor cuts out, at least if you’ve got a sail you can still get to your destination. That’s what we’ve gone with, rather than try to have a secondary motor that’s going to add time, risk and other points of failure.”

The complete failsafe is returning back to Flume MkI — the 3.5mm jack into a DI already plumbed into front of house. To cover any gaps, Streten has strategically placed stretched-out transitions in his session that he can trigger at any time. At the end of the day, if he has a session on a working computer, people are still going to have a good time, and it buys the team enough time to get the main system up and running again.

There is a third audio laptop offstage, said Gare, “In case the roof opens up and 10 litres of water fall onto the stage and destroy both laptops.”

Like Spanu, any failures are likely going to be caused by heat. Gare: “In the sun, the MacBook reduces the amount of processing available to try and restrict damage to the computer itself. So we had a couple of shows where CPU usage shot through the roof and we got pretty close to using the backup. But we ditched it at the last minute and put a little sunshade over it.”

All in all, the show carries nine laser-cut, foam-lined Pelican cases with six MacBook Pros to run audio, video and the Infinity Prism. It all stems from the single session running on Streten’s main computer, with the others providing the processing grunt. Like everything else about the Flume show, the cases are a big upgrade from Streten’s ‘Sportsgirl backline’. Once, to get out to a show on an island off Corsica, the transport boat stopped 10 metres shy of the shore, forcing them to float the waterproof Pelican cases out to the boat. Needless to say, they paid for themselves right then.

While Gare has put a lot of effort into making sure the Flume show runs seamlessly, Ableton whiz Alex Alexander has now joined the team, and Gare reckons he’s been instrumental in ensuring the stability and security of the system, especially through the upgrade from Live 8 32-bit to Live 9 64-bit.



Spanu: “There’s been four times when I’ve had issues running Ableton and all four times were to do with one issue. I was on this big tour with Nelly and it was heat. Heat is a bitch. Computers do not like heat!

“We played in a hot steamy Parisian club and towards the end of the show the computer just went to grey screen. It was the first time I’d hit the ‘Oh s**t!’ button in two years.

“The next time was in New Jersey, again in a hot steamy club. I was like, “Yo Apple Store, fix my s**t, Nelly Furtado, let’s go right?’ And then the next time was in Denver. Same thing, hot sweaty club and by now someone else is like, ‘Dude, it’s the heat!’

“The last gig we had was in Las Vegas at 8pm, which means soundcheck at four in the blistering sun. We got industrial-strength fans and I duct-taped them to my computer at both ends and turned them to stun. Towards the end, one of them died. By then it was like, I’m just gonna use laptops and keep it simple.”

Why laptops? Not because they don’t get affected by heat, but because they’re mobile. You can move them to a cooler spot if you really need to. He’s seen people use computer gel packs to cool down their machines before, but Spanu puts beating the heat down to two things — circulation and decoupling. To get his computer off the deck, and keep air all around it, he wads up a few gaffer tape balls and sits his laptop on those.

The tape balls also help minimise vibrations getting at your hard drive (less important these days with SSDs) and your audio interface connections. He was DJ’ing for hip hop artist Socrates one day, and when the first beat dropped at full volume, the computer crashed and the audio interface got stuck on the last number it was making… at full volume.

Thinking about redundancy amounts mostly to common sense, before getting on stage. Because when you’re up there, if anything goes wrong, the only thing you’ll be able to do is hit the ‘Oh s**t’ button and hope for the best. As Spanu puts it: “You’ve really got to plan for the worst and expect the best. Somewhere in the middle you’ll have a good show.”


Originally published: