While equipment doesn’t make a good west coast swing DJ, it is important to the overall experience of the dancers. West Coast Swing in particular places a heavy emphasis on musicality and phrasing. Without good quality audio, this becomes increasingly difficult. In addition, when listening to music at high volumes for many hours, the quality of audio reproduction is directly related to the amount of time one can listen and dance without growing fatigued to the music.
Below I have listed the equipment I am currently using, and some of my personal notes as to why it was chosen. The PA equipment that I have is available for rent for your West Coast Swing dance events either in addition to my DJ services, or independently.
Please note that I rely heavily upon my friend Alex Kosiorek for advice and recommendations on my audio equipment. He is one of the most knowledgeable Audio Engineers around, and I highly recommend him to anyone looking to get the BEST sound at an event. You can learn more about him or contact him through his website at: alexkosiorek.com
For more information on any of the products below, I have included links to Amazon with each item. I do receive a small commission on any sales from these links, so if you find this information useful, please use the links provided.
Virtual DJ Pro
Virtual DJ Pro is the default DJ program for many of the professional west coast swing DJs on the circuit. I’ve found that it offers the best music file browser and playlist management features in a very simple to use, yet powerful program. It is cross platform between Mac and PC, and is controllable remotely via iPhone or iPad. It is also well known for being the best Video DJ software currently available. For those who are just getting started DJing, there is a Home version available for free from the Virtual DJ website that has all the features necessary to learn to use the software. Unlike iTunes or many other “home” media playing software, Professional DJ software allows you the benefit of changing tempo while maintaining pitch, previewing songs in your headphones, interfacing with high quality audio interfaces, determining BPM, tracking your playlists in real time, amongst many other benefits and features. West coast swing djs Victor Loveira, Katie Fallon, Ruth Gilbert and Myself (Mineh Ishida) use this software.
Traktor Pro 2.5
Traktor Pro v2.5 was released in May of 2012. Many pro DJs around the world trust Traktor for its amazing flexibility and powerful mixing features. I use this software when I need to create a live mix. It has many more features and is much more powerful than Virtual DJ Pro for this application, but when doing West Coast Swing events, I’ve found that Virtual DJ’s file browser is superior for playlist management. As such, I keep it in my toolbelt for the type of events that require it, but most of the time you’ll see Virtual DJ on my laptop. Last I checked, west coast swing djs April Prince and Chris Bacon are using Traktor.
Mixed in Key 5
My latest experiment is harmonic mixing. Many DJs have used this technique to ease the transition between songs by following the last song with a song that is harmonically compatible with the previous one. They use the Camelot Chart to determine what keys to play next after a given song. The biggest holdup on this process for me was the fact that Virtual DJ’s auto key finding software is pretty much useless. DJ Bacon recommended Mixed in Key. After doing some preliminary research, this program looks promising, and I plan to test it fully in the next few months.
M-Audio Fast Track Pro
M-Audio Fast Track Pro 4×4
While searching for good quality sound, I realized that many of the audio interfaces on the market today were a compromise. The audio from the laptop itself was absolutely not good enough for professional applications. While at home, it may sound good, when putting that sound through high end PA speakers, the difference in quality became very discernible. Ultimately, I settled on the M-Audio Fast Track Pro for its high quality sound output and balanced audio outputs. It allows me the peace of mind knowing that the sound coming out of my computer is not only high quality, but also, the cables carrying that sound to the mixing board is less prone to electrical interference. I’ve also found that having a dial to control volume on my headphones directly on my sound interface to be very useful during live west coast swing music performances. If you purchase this unit, make sure to get the latest drivers from the M-Audio website.
Numark DJ I/O DJ Audio Interface
Prior to upgrading to the Fast Track Pro, I used the Numark DJIO. I found this to be a very capable audio interface at a very reasonable price. It’s a good entry level unit suitable for a west coast swing dj that will give you RCA output and a headphone jack, with good sound quality. I still carry it in my gig bag as a backup in the event that there should be a problem with my m-audio. For mobile DJ’s starting out, this is a good option to get you going. If you purchase this unit, as with the M-audio, make sure to get the latest sound drivers from the Numark website.
Yamaha MG102C Stereo Mixer
Yamaha MG102C 10 Input Stereo Mixer
Most west coast swing dance events involve mixing applications that only involve a few channels, so a small mixer is a great choice. Regardless how simple the setup is however, you’ll always want first-rate audio quality and processing capability. The MG102C are the ideal choice for this application, offering quality that will satisfy the most critical listener, surprising flexibility and ease-of-use, and some advanced features you normally wouldn’t find in this type of compact mixer. Alex Kosiorek turned me on to this value gem, and I couldn’t be happier with it!
Behringer XENYX502 Mixer
This mixer is SMALL! I mean about the size of my hand small! I keep it in my gig bag and carry it with me to gigs where I’m not supplying the PA system. This way if I end up with a bad sound board or a situation where the added flexibility of controlling my own mixing board is desirable, I am prepared. It also offers me the ability to play with another DJ in the event that the sound system where we are playing is not setup for 2 DJs. A very handy unit that I recommend as a backup or portable mixer for mobile west coast swing DJs! Alex warns that the audio quality of this unit is not as good as the rest of the products listed on this page, so it should be relegated to it’s intended use as a backup unit.
EV ELX112P Powered Loudspeaker
Electro-Voice ELX112P 12″ Live X Two-Way Powered Loudspeaker
Ever been to a west coast swing event where the music wasn’t loud enough? Or worse yet, where they turned the volume up and you could hear the crackle of the speakers desperately trying to keep up? This happens because many powered speakers do not have the juice to fill a large ballroom with sound. Many loudspeakers on the market are designed for small restaurants or rooms, not to fill a large venue full of dancers with clear clean sound. These speakers do not have this problem. At 1000 watts each, they offer high quality sound and they have enough power to deliver quality audio at the levels required of large venues. 4 of these together will fill your ballroom with wonderful music, without the crackle. In fact, at a local west coast swing dance, we recently replaced a ballroom studio’s under powered speakers with these, and all of a sudden, people stopped complaining about the music. Turned out that their complaint wasn’t with the songs, but the quality of reproduction. Most people can’t tell whether they dislike a song, or the quality of the song until they hear it the way it was meant to be played. Don’t run that risk. Use the right speakers. Brendan Smith, a DJ here in Tampa turned me on to these, and Alex Kosiorek verified that the sound quality would be great. They were both very right!