Monday, February 14, 2011

Using JRiver as a DJ platform

For most of my DJ gigs, I use the program JRiver Media Center. I've been fairly happy with it, but there's definitely an initial investment in getting it set up how you like it. I recently upgraded to version 15, and had to fiddle for a quite a while with all the settings. Rather than allowing you to suffer through the same headache, I thought I'd record my process so you can just follow along. In what follows, I make a couple of assumptions about your equipment and how you're going to use MC. Specifically:
  • Since I manage my library using iTunes (I know, I know, not hip...), the steps below assume that you do the same.
  • I assume that you'll want to take advantage of MC's zones feature, so that you can preview in your headphones while simultaneously sending different audio to an external sound card. To do this, you'll obviously need to have an external card. Here's a cheap one; I'll leave it to you to research fancier gadgets if you are so inclined.
My friends Doug and Thea, both of whom are also MC jockies, were kind enough to look over this post and share some tips of their own. Thanks to them. Now without further ado...

Pusto's handy guide
to setting up JRiver Media Center (MC) for Swing DJing
  1. Install the program. (You can try it free for 30 days.)
  2. In order to get all your files from iTunes into MediaCenter's database, you'll need to use MC's import tool. Go to Tools -> Import... and point it towards the folder(s) where your music lives. If you have thousands of songs, the import process will take a LONG time. In the mean time, you can continue with the steps below.
  3. In order to get MC to play Apple's file formats (.aac and .m4a), you'll need to get the right audio codec. I recommend installing the Combined Community Codec Pack. Be sure to read the instructions first. Also, the JRiver wiki states that you should uncheck the option to install the FLV splitter.
  4. In MC, go to Tools -> Options -> File types. Select "AAC audio." In the panel below, set the playback method to "JRiver audio engine (using DirectShow filter)."
  5. Go to Tools -> Options -> Audio. Under "Track Change," set "switch tracks" to your prefered method. I use "Standard (gapped) - 2 seconds." (Unlike nightclub DJs, most swing DJs do not use crossfades between tracks.)
  6. Go to Tools -> Options -> General. Under "Behavior," set "Double Click" to "Add to Playing Now (to end)"; set "Play button," to "Play Playing Now"; and uncheck "Start playing when files added to playing now."
  7. Go to Player -> Zones -> Add zone.
  8. Close MC, plug in your external sound card, reopen MC. Go to Player -> Zones -> Zone 2, then select Player -> playback options -> Audio. Under "Audio Options," choose "Output mode settings." Change the device to your external sound card.
  9. In the upper left-hand corner of MC, click on the volume button. Be sure "Internal volume" is checked.
  10. Go to Player -> Zones -> Zone 1 (or hit control-T), then select Player -> playback options -> Audio. Under "Audio Options," choose "Output mode settings." Change the device to your computer's internal audio device.
  11. In the upper left-hand corner of MC, click on the volume button. Be sure "Internal volume" is checked (for zone 1). You now have two independent zones, each of which can play a different playlist.
  12. Configure the way that you view files and your "Playing now" playlist. Go to View -> Split view and choose "Show 2 views." Depending on your laptop, you may want to choose the split views to be in rows or columns. (I use rows, since I don't have a lot of screen real estate on my netbook.)
  13. Configure the track info display. Right-click on the display (top-center) and choose "Customize display." Select the fields you'd like displayed, for instance:
    Title: [Name] - [Artist] - [Album]
    Status: [Elapsed Time] // [Total Time] - [BPM] BPM [PN Position] of [PN Tracks] - [Zone]
  14. If you like, import your playlists from iTunes. I think you have to export them one at a time, but you can import them into MC all at once.
  15. Set some column presets. I use two: one for previewing while I'm spinning, the other for exporting my setlists (so that I can post them here). To set up a column preset, select a playlist. Right-click on one of the column headings (such as "Artist" or "Album"). Check the columns that you want to be visible, uncheck the ones you don't. Arrange the columns in the order you like. When you've got it how you like it, right-click on a column heading again. Go to Preset -> Save and give it a name.
  16. If you are interested in exporting your playlists to a blog and creating nerdy little charts, see this post for my (admittedly kludgy) method.
Please leave a comment and let me know how this worked for you!

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