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Because I get this question all the time... | How to be a DJ in Second Life - from a professional. |
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Filed: Thursday, February 04, 2010 at 5:41:38 PM
Filed Under: How to be a Second Life DJ
How to be a DJ in Second Life - from a professional.
A while back I promised to share some "secrets" of being a successful DJ in Second Life... about being the one that people flock to and talk about. Here's the first installment of my thoughts on the subject. Warning: this is quite long, so get a beverage before you start.

A couple of disclaimers:

1. This is not meant to be an introductory lesson on how to be a DJ written for beginners. This article assumes that you have some experience, and are ready to commit yourself to making the jump from average to elite. If you need a step by step "how to", this will likely be more advanced than you expect.

2. As you know, I've been a professional DJ in RL for close to 30 years. I've won awards, been voted "most popular", had RL nightclubs bidding against each other for my services. It's not necessarily because of any talent I might have, but rather a set of principles I stick to. As such, my thoughts are coming from someone who is interested in doing things right... not in doing things "cheap" or "easy". While some of these points may come across as "nitpicky", there is a reason for each one. If you incorporate my principles, you are well on the path to success. They aren't hard... quite the reverse, they should be quite easy, but do require a certain level of commitment (as does any worthwhile educational endeavour). If you write them off as "too complicated" or "just not worth it" or "he takes this way too seriously"... well, that's your choice, and if you want to be just another of the nameless, faceless people who are "OK" at what you do, you might as well stop reading right now. This article is for people who genuinely want to be the best at what they do, and are willing to put the effort forward to achieve that goal.

Still with me? Good. Here we go... I've got several "bullet points" to go through. And you will notice that they are all numbered "1". There is a reason for that... it's because they are all equally important. You MUST have all of these in place to make the jump from "just another DJ" to receiving recognition as one of the elite.

1. MUSIC GENRE: KNOWLEDGE
As a professional DJ, people expect you to be an expert on the music. I'm known as an elite 80's DJ in Second Life specifically because that's where my experience lies... it's what I did in RL for most of the 80's. I know the music backward, forward, and sideways. Having said that, my knowledge of other genres is much more limited. Don't ask me about country music, or current pop, or 50's music... while I'm somewhat familiar with them as a listener, I definitely am not an expert.

In order to be considered an elite DJ, you must have as much knowledge of the music you play as possible. And no one, unless they are old enough to remember the music or have an encyclopedic memory (and too much time on their hands) can be an expert on every single genre of music. To truly be successful, you need to pick one genre and completely immerse yourself in it. Little tidbits about the songs, going far beyond "this is song X by band Y" mark you as someone who really knows the music. This includes the name of the lead singer, or which album the song originally appeared on, or what movie soundtrack it was featured in... the list goes on and on. Hint: while I do know most of what I talk about from memory, I'm not above Googling a band name to get more information about the band. It's like learning any other subject... the more information, the better... and part of the whole experience with a professional DJ is that trip down memory lane for the listeners. You need to convince them that they are back in that time, and you are there with them.

1. ROTATION OF STYLES
This is another art form that takes experience and knowledge. Again, because I come from a RL DJ background, I have the experience of having "real people" entering and leaving the dance floor. You really need to look at a Second Life club as being a RL club. While your style (or "sub-genres") can vary, don't jump wildly from one to another. Think of it this way: "OK, the people on the dance floor really like this song! I need to play another one like it!" Then, gradually shift from one sub-genre to another. You can't please all of the people all of the time, but you also don't want to try to please a different group of people every time you shift from one song to another.

What does this mean? Well, it means that you need to play your songs in a certain order to get the "sine wave" effect of shifting from one sub-genre to another. I'll use this as an example: as an 80's club, we might have requests for the following songs, received in this order:
  1. "Into The Groove" by Madonna
  2. "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode
  3. "Talk Dirty To Me" by Poison
  4. "What I Like About You" by The Romantics
  5. "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure
  6. "Hard To Handle" by the Black Crowes
  7. "What You Need" by INXS
  8. "Word Up!" by Cameo
  9. "Heart of Glass" by Blondie
  10. "Sometimes a Fantasy" by Billy Joel
  11. "Looking For A New Love" by Jody Watley
  12. "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order
  13. "1999" by Prince

Here's the order I would play them in:
  1. "1999" by Prince (pop, kind of funky)
  2. "Word Up!" by Cameo (definite funk, same speed)
  3. "Heart of Glass" by Blondie (back to pop, could be either disco or new wave, a little faster)
  4. "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode (definite new wave, a little faster)
  5. "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order (more new wave, about the same speed)
  6. "What I Like About You" by The Romantics (from new wave to power pop, considerably faster)
  7. "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure (new wave but more goth/rock, similar speed)
  8. "Sometimes a Fantasy" by Billy Joel (back to pop but tending toward rock, about the same speed)
  9. "Talk Dirty To Me" by Poison (hair rock, similar speed)
  10. "Hard To Handle" by the Black Crowes (still rock but slower and less heavy)
  11. "What You Need" by INXS (good transition from rockish to more funky, similar speed)
  12. "Into The Groove" by Madonna (funkier yet but still pop, a little slower)
  13. "Looking For A New Love" by Jody Watley (even funkier, and a little slower)

What we're doing here is a deliberate transition of styles, speeds, and beats... not dramatically changing from one song to the next. We start off this hypothetical set of songs at one speed, gradually increase it as we go from one song to the next, and then gradually bring the speed back down to where we started. People who like one of the songs will most likely not be offended by either the song before, or the song after. And you want to sprinkle in a song that pretty much everyone knows at least every 3 or 4 songs. People should not have to wait an hour to hear a song they like.

Going back to the RL club analogy... in RL, you can't keep the same people on the dance floor for two hours. Nor would you want to... you wouldn't make any money because you have to give them the opportunity to go buy a drink on occasion. Keeping this same philosophy in Second Life ensures that over a couple hours, everyone hears some of the music they like. Of course, they don't actually leave the dance floor... but you need to treat it as though they do, to be replaced by different people with different tastes. You're "virtually" cycling different people on and off the floor. Trust me... it's a good thing.

1. NO DEAD AIR!
That's a killer. Make sure that the software you use (see below under "Hardware and Software") allows "song B" to start while "song A" is still playing. The 2 second gap between songs (like you get on your iPod) makes you sound like a jukebox. Having said that... there are occasions where it may make sense to stop the music for a few seconds... but those occasions ALWAYS involve a mic talkover. Silence is NEVER acceptable.

1. PROPER USE OF MICROPHONE
It amazes me how many SL DJs don't even use their mic. If they announce anything, it's in open text chat. That's not a DJ... that's a jukebox. By definition, a professional DJ uses his/her microphone almost like a musician plays an instrument... it's a vital part of the act.

There is a bit of an art to using the mic. Important things to consider:
  • A microphone is not going to make your voice louder, or sound different. It only reproduces what it "hears". If you speak softly into the mic, your listeners will hear you speak softly. You must speak with authority to command the attention of your audience. To accomplish this, you should be right on the cusp of "shouting"... definitely louder than a normal conversational speaking voice.

  • Microphone placement is also important. Most of us use headset mics these days, which simplify the process (though I can spot someone using a desktop mic a mile away... you can tell by the volume fluctuation as they lean forward and back). A headset mic ensures that you always have the same distance between the mic and your mouth. What should that distance be? Probably closer than you think. I use a fairly generic analog (not USB... the reason why is explained below under "hardware and software") headset with a boom mic, and it's right in front of my mouth, almost touching it. The worst mistake you can make is to speak into the side... these microphones are very specifically designed to be "unidirectional", i.e. picking up sound only from the front. You need to be directly in front of it and very close to it.

  • When to talk? Well, this can vary. My experience is from not only RL nightclub work, but also Top 40 radio, so I tend more toward the radio side. The accepted time to talk begins over the end of a song, and ends before the vocal starts on the next song. It's NEVER acceptable to talk over a vocal, unless the song is fading out at the end. Some less experienced DJs will use "talkover music"... a generic "instrumental bridge" of sorts between songs so that they can talk as long as they want without worrying about when the next song is starting. When they finish talking, they start the next song. While this is better than talking over the vocal, it's still not terribly professional... it makes you sound tentative, like you're not sure of yourself, and is not something you would hear a pro do on radio.

  • "Hitting the post": this is an old radio term, and an art form in itself. To accomplish this requires an exceptionally good knowledge of the music you are playing. Basically, "hitting the post" means that you finish your patter at the exact time that the vocal starts on the next song... if done properly, it's almost like you are interacting with the vocalist, as though you were handing the mic to him or her as you finish. To do this requires the ability to not only think ahead about what you are saying, but be able to speed it up or cut it short without being obvious about it. If you can perfect this, it marks you as a pro. Hearing another DJ say "he really knows how to hit the post" is one of the highest compliments you can receive.

  • How about what you are actually saying? Well, of course, your "patter" is your way of interacting with the crowd. Go beyond the "this is song X by band Y". Talk about upcoming events. Talk about what happened to you at lunch that day. Talk about what you saw on the news. Get a list of the people in the club, and use their names when you talk. Talk to them as though you are in the same room with them... it's a conversation, not a speech. You should be talking TO them, not AT them. It's helpful if you can have both your broadcasting software window and Second Life visible at the same time (see below under "Hardware and Software" to see ways of accomplishing this). That way, you can welcome people as they enter (to do so requires a little bit of calculation to account for the delay between the time you speak and the time it actually gets rebroadcast into Second Life).


1. LISTEN TO YOURSELF
Any radio DJ will tell you that you need to hear yourself as others hear you. You need to keep in mind that there are two different audio sources you need to consider: your "live" speaking (what's happening as you actually speak), and your "broadcast" (what your listeners hear). Because of the nature of Internet broadcasting (between the analog to digital conversions, and the fact that your broadcast may potentially travel thousands of miles along the wires) there is a significant delay between the two. This will vary dependent on your Internet connection speed, among other factors. In my particular case, there is about a 20 second delay between the time I speak into the mic and the time my listeners actually hear it in Second Life.

So, which one do you listen to? The correct answer is "both". That's right. You need to monitor what you are doing in both places. You MUST have your "live" feed in your headphones while you are speaking... both to monitor how you sound, and also to know exactly where you are in the song so that you can "hit the post". However, you can't just listen to that feed... you must also monitor the stream from Second Life to make sure that it is broadcasting correctly. Keep in mind that there is a significant delay between the two.

How to do this? Well, you basically have two choices. One is to use two computers (which is how I do it as detailed below under "Hardware and Software"). The other is to mute the music in SL and unmute it in your broadcasting software when you are speaking, and then do the reverse when you are done speaking. This is cumbersome, to be honest, but if you only have one computer to work with it's your only choice. And no professional DJ would ever work without being able to hear both.

1. HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE
Of course, there are several ways you can stream music from your computer to the Web, and thusly into SL.

Obviously, you'll need a microphone and a way to hear what you are doing. I've tried a number of different headsets, and truthfully what I've found works best is an analog (not USB) stereo headset with a boom mic. It will have two 1/8" stereo miniplugs... one for the headphones and one for the microphone. You can buy these at Radio Shack for about $20.00. The mic quality is great, and the headphones are very comfortable and lightweight. I've found that USB headsets have way too much latency (delay between the time you speak and the time it comes through the headphones) and the sound quality is at best the same as the analog, if not worse. Don't waste your money on a pricey USB headset... it's not worth it.

From a software perpective, you will need a way to stream MP3s and speak through your mic at the same time. The best way to do so is to purchase a copy of SAM Broadcaster (http://www.spacialaudio.com) which is a very similar program to the ones used by broadcast radio stations. It's a bit pricey ($279.00 at the time of this writing) but you do get what you pay for, and if you want to be taken seriously, you need to commit to spending some money. There are other programs out there that do much of the same, but SAM Broadcaster is by far the best.

The "cheap" way would be to use Winamp (free) but then you've got the issue of how to talk over the music... not possible with Winamp. If you're interested in just being a jukebox, and don't mind being labeled as an amateur, this is for you.

You could, if you have access to a small mixing board, use your iPod and your headset mic, plugging both into the mixer and then plugging the mixer into your sound card input and using Winamp to stream. This is actually similar to the way I do my live guitar performances, plugging both the guitar and the mic into the mixer... but from a DJ perspective, it's clunky at best.

Once you have a way to broadcast, you need access to a Shoutcast server to broadcast to. Basically, what this does is receive your broadcast from your computer and rebroadcast it to your listeners. I'm not going into a whole lot of detail here about this as there are tons of resources available via a Google search on Shoutcast.

The good news is in the hardware area. You all know how much of a drag Second Life is on your computer (basically if you have a sub $1000 computer, good luck) but SAM Broadcaster (and for that matter Winamp) are incredibly stingy as far as the resources they use. Neither one requires much power to run. Basically, if you have a computer that's less than 7 or 8 years old, it will work fine for broadcasting (our "autopilot" stream is generated by a second licensed copy of SAM Broadcaster running on a Pentium III 800 MHz computer circa 2001). Of course, if you are running SAM Broadcaster on the same machine that you are running Second Life on, it's not an issue since Second Life has infinitely higher system requirements than SAM does. And you won't even notice a difference performancewise in Second Life while running SAM at the same time.

Having said that, there are logistical issues with running both on the same machine. For a couple of reasons, it's much better to run SAM on a separate computer than the one you're running Second Life on. How do I do it? I run Second Life on my main computer (a rather powerful HP laptop) and I then run SAM Broadcaster on my Acer netbook. What this allows me to do, among other things, is to leave my headset plugged into the Acer netbook (so I can monitor my live feed as I talk) while having the Second Life stream coming through my laptop speakers. That way, I can hear both at the same time, and I just take my headphones off when I'm not talking. Plus, I can see both the Second Life screen (on the HP laptop) and the SAM Broadcaster screen (on the Acer netbook) at the same time. Another reason this is a good solution is that, to be honest, SAM Broadcaster kind of sucks on a PC running Vista... there are serious issues with the latency settings for the mic (the solution is to increase the packet size and latency, which results in your hearing yourself talk in the phones about a half second late). My netbook, running Windows XP, doesn't have these issues. If you're serious about running SAM, I'd suggest poking around to see if you have an older XP-based computer (or go buy one at Goodwill or whatever). Any computer that can run XP is more than capable of running SAM Broadcaster... you could probably pick up a used 5 year old machine for $50.00 if you look around.

I'm sure this isn't everything I have to share, and I'll update or add to this post as I think of more. It's a good starting point though, and I thank you for reading this far... it shows your level of commitment to working on becoming an "elite" Second Life DJ.

Filed: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 5:48:33 PM
Filed Under: How to be a Second Life DJ
Because I get this question all the time...
Here's a post to alert you of a future post.

Apparently I've become recognized as somewhat of an expert on the art of being a DJ in SL. Because I'm such an open guy I'm compiling a tutorial on what's made me a successful DJ, and how you can do the same. I have no problem sharing my secrets, because (as anyone who knows me can attest) I have no problem talking in general, and about myself specifically. So, watch this space over the next couple of weeks, and I will share everything I know about being a Second Life DJ.

If you're looking to get into the field, this information will be very helpful to you, and I promise to go much farther than the typical "how to set up Winamp to connect to a Shoutcast server" crap you'll find if you Google for "how to be a DJ in Second Life". It goes much farther than that... I'll explain my philosophy behind music selection, the order in which you play the songs, and the importance of picking a genre and targeting that specific market.

Woo, huh?

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