Here's one for you fact fans: in the 60s a man called Francis Grasso invented a DJing technique called 'beatmixing'. People were leaving the dancefloor in the gaps between songs, so Grasso kept people dancing by matching the beats of two records so there was no silence, with tracks flowing together in one long set. This technique transformed clubs and created the mystical culture of the DJ. Now, thanks to a bit of software called Traktor DJ Studio, any idiot with a PC can start along the path to being a superstar on the wheels of steel.
Traktor 3.3 is from music software experts Native Instruments, and all you need to get started is a computer with a recent soundcard. From there, you'll be presented with an interface that accesses your MP3 library, a pair of 'decks' which show the waveform of whichever song is loaded and a crossfader. Just browse your music library, drag a couple of files on to the decks, and off you go.
If you've got all the musical talent of a monkey banging a tin can, don't worry -- Traktor can actually make a convincing mix almost foolproof. It does this by analysing the music you load and counting how many beats per minute there are. From there, it's able to adjust the pitch of a track automatically and even sync the two tracks together -- you sync the track you're cueing, obviously, not the one you're playing to the massive crowd of adoring dance fans. From there, as long as the two tracks have a similar sound, you should be able to adjust the crossfader and beautifully merge the two pieces of music.
Traktor also allows you to record your mixes to your computer, a really handy feature if you want to learn where you went wrong, or if you want to put your epic set on your MP3 player. There are also dozens of advanced features, including the ability to live stream your music to an Icecast streaming service -- it's just a shame the slightly more popular Shoutcast servers aren't supported.
In order to get everything working you'll need to make sure your computer is capable of outputting more than one channel of audio. That isn't a big deal -- most soundcards have the ability to handle 5.1 or 7.1 sound, and Traktor can use this to its advantage. We used our PC's digital audio out for the master out, and the analogue audio out for monitoring, which worked really well once configured using an ASIO sound driver.
If you want to go to town, there's a package available that includes a USB sound card with inputs for CD decks and turntables. This allows you to use timecoded discs to control the computer, essentially providing you with a full DJ system based on your MP3 collection, with all the control you'd get with vinyl.
Traktor 3.3 costs around £150, and is available for both PC and Mac. You can get a demo version from the Native Instruments Web site that will let you find out if your PC is capable -- and should help you decide if you're the next Armin van Buuren or just another Ian Morris. –Ian Morris