Thursday, March 30, 2017

Skyscraper Remix Contest

Urban Francis and I recently produced another techno track together, which we've called "Skyscraper."  We're sponsoring a Remix Contest for this track (it can be any style, not necessarily techno), and you'll be able to see the details further down this page.  This contest ended on November 15th, 2017.  We are currently in the process of evaluating submissions.

Most importantly, for the producers, we've shared our entire Ableton Live project files.  Producers can download the full project, see how we put the track together, do your own remixes (which we highly encourage), or even use the project as a template for your own future projects.  All that we ask in return is that you spread the word about our track and video!  Here's our most recent version of the track:




The files that you'll need for remixing (either the Ableton project or the audio Stems collection) are now available both from Google Drive and from my public Dropbox account.  Let me give you the Google Drive links first, since there's no bandwidth cap on those, and since so many people have Google accounts:
The RAR and ZIP versions are different compression types, but the same archives.  ZIP files are universally compatible but larger than RAR.  RAR will be a smaller and faster download, but are only native to Windows.  If you're using a Mac, download a free app such as "The Unarchiver" or "UnRarX" to unpack them.

If you can't get the Google Drive downloads to work for some reason, my public Dropbox is a good backup option, and contains all of the same resources.  Just look in the "Bolivia's Remix Projects" folder.  My Dropbox also includes a lot of other stuff that people might be interested in.  Here's the link:

If you're interested in the stems, you'll be able to use them in pretty much any DAW or audio editor.  They're in WAV format, at 48000/24-bit.  If you're going for the Ableton project, you must have Ableton Live Suite version 9.7 in order to be able to open the project.  The only plug-in used in the project that isn't native to Ableton Live is Dadalife's Sausage Fattener.


Videos:


Here's an eight-minute video for the remixers, which covers an overview of how we have the project set up:




I'll be producing a music video for this track at some point in the next few weeks, and I'll post it here once it's online.



Remix Contest Details:

We're currently hosting a remix contest for this track.  I'm personally sponsoring the contest with a prize of $300 (in Canadian dollars) for the winning track.  That amount can be paid to the winner (in Canadian funds) as long as you have paypal.  If the winner is a Canadian resident, I'm also willing to mail a cheque if you don't use paypal.

In addition, a number of other randomly selected entries will be showcased on my website, in this blog post, on our SoundCloud accounts, and through other internet media, along with the contact info and/or a promo website for the producers of those remixes (if you want to share such info).  We also intend to publish the winning entry and perhaps a couple of other entries with a professional label release on Beatport and other sites, through Coldwave Records!


1.  You may share your remixes freely on any internet sites, in any file type(s), both before and after the closing date of the contest, as long as you name your remix according to the following convention:  Urban Francis & Bolivia - Skyscraper (YOUR NAME Remix).

2.  You should not attempt to register your remix with a professional label or publisher (due to potential copyright content clashes, which I'll explain at the end of this post).  So if you share your remix with the world, you'll have to do it through your own personal publishing efforts.

3.  Your remix can be any genre at all, of your choosing.  Obviously, it will be easier to produce your remix in a style similar to the existing original, ie. some sort of techno derivative.  But feel free to be creative.

4.  You may submit up to two separate entries.

5.  There is no restriction on the length of your submission(s), although we expect that the majority of submissions will probably be between 4 and 8 minutes in length.  Having a submission that is shorter or longer than that range will not handicap you when it comes to judging.

6.  The deadline for entries is 11:59pm (Atlantic Standard Time Zone) on Wednesday night, November 15th, 2017.  All judging will take place and winners will be announced within this post by December 10th, 2017.

7.  This contest is open worldwide where permitted, to entrants who have reached the age of majority in their country of residence.  Persons under the age of majority who create a remix may submit their entry through a parent or legal guardian as proxy.

8.  Notwithstanding the above, this contest is void in jurisdictions where prohibited by law.

9.  The prize for the contest winner will be $300 in Canadian dollars.  The Canadian dollar is currently weak, and is worth less than the US dollar.  This amount can be paid to the winner as long as you have Paypal or Interac Email Transfer capabilities.  If the winner is a Canadian resident, I'm also willing to mail a cheque if you don't use Paypal or Interac Email Banking.  I will not send a cheque or use any other type of money transfer service to non-Canadian residents.  The recipient of the winning prize is solely responsible for reporting and submitting any relevant income taxes that might apply to your prize money in your country of residence.  Canadian residents will not enjoy any preference in judging.  We want this to be a global contest.  Having said this, we do expect a number of Canadian entrants, so it's possible that the winner could be a Canadian.  Just rest assured that we definitely won't discriminate against non-Canadians!  The majority of the winners of our past remix contests have been non-Canadians.

10.  Judging will be done by a panel of judges including Urban Francis and other associate producer friends.  The judges' decision will be based upon the quality of music, production values used in making the remix, and possibly also on how innovative the remix is.  The judges' decision will be final, and the judges will not provide feedback on why they chose the specific winning track above any other specific track.

11.  You may share your remix publicly before the contest is over.  However, the popularity of any shared remixes will not influence the judges' decision.  The winner will be decided based upon the judges' perception of the quality of the submissions, not based upon a popularity contest.

12.  Your remix is permitted to include any additional vocal/sample material that you generate, although don't take this as a suggestion that we'd prefer that.  In other words, you may produce an instrumental version if you want, or you can add new vocal/sample material of your own.  You may also include new sounds/instrumentation of your own.  However, please do not include ANY samples or vocals that have been copyrighted elsewhere by another artist.  Any entries containing someone else's copyrighted content will be disqualified.  Any new samples, loops, or other audio materials incorporated into your remix must be royalty-free or exclusively designed by the remixer.

13.  Musicians or producers who are under an exclusive contract with a record label are ineligible.

14.  No purchase is necessary to enter or win this contest.  In fact, there is nothing that you can buy.  However, by entering this promotion contest, you agree that any costs that you incur in creating your remix are solely your own responsibility.

15.  Any potential copyright or other intellectual property rights that may potentially vest in your remix will be granted to Bolivia (Jonathan Clark) and Urban Francis (Francis Cormier).

16.  It is expressly agreed that no payment is due to the participants for the production of your remixes, even if any remixes are released professionally for resale or redistribution on any third-party labels.  Only one winner will receive a monetary prize.

17.  By providing your entry details to us, you confirm that you would like to enter the promotion contest and that you agree to be bound by these rules, terms, and conditions, ethics rules applicable on the internet, applicable laws and regulations, and all legislation applicable in your jurisdiction of residence.

18.  Your remix must not contain any illegal, obscene, racist, defamatory, or sexual material, or any material likely to offend any person or any material likely to infringe upon any person's rights of privacy.  The judges reserve the right to disqualify any entries based upon these or any other criteria.  Entrants represent and warrant that their comments or public publishing do not contain any harmful, offensive, or inappropriate content, or any other communications which might defame, disparage or reflect adversely upon the promoters or our goods/services.

19.  We reserve the right to disqualify any submissions that we believe to be the work of other producers.

20.  The winning prize is non-transferable.

21.  We accept no responsibility for entries lost, damaged or delayed, or for any inability to submit entries as a result of computer services, systems, software and/or server failure, error, interruption, defect or delay or any other technical malfunction, including problems with internet connectivity and/or filtering or content by any social media platform.  Entries which are late, incomplete, corrupt, garbled, inaccessible/blocked, bulk, automated, ineligible, suspected as fraudulent, do not comply with the rules & terms & conditions, or which in our sole discretion affect the validity or operation of this promotion contest will not be accepted and are void. 

22.  Except to the extent that they may not be excluded by law, no representations, warranties, terms or conditions that are not expressly stated in these rules & terms & conditions apply to this promotion contest.  We share no liability for any injuries, loss, or damage of any kind arising from or in connection with participation in this promotion (including any damage to entrants' or to any other persons' computer relating to or resulting from participation in, or downloading of any materials or software in connection with this promotion contest), or acceptance, use, misuse, or non-use of any prizes.

23.  We reserve the right to edit and/or augment the rules & terms & conditions at any point throughout the duration of this contest, in case we think of something that we forgot to mention.

24.  Your remix must not include any unauthorized samples or audio which have a copyright belonging to any other artist or entity.


Phew.  That was exhausting.


To Enter:

1.  Send a link to your track via email to Urban Francis in an uncompressed audio format, ie. WAV or AIFF format.  The best way to do this is probably to put it into a Dropbox account (you can get one for free if you don't already have one) and share the link to the file with Urban Francis.  If this isn't possible, you can find other services that would allow you to host and share your file.  But to be honest, Dropbox is probably the best and easiest by far.  An alternative would be to get a free Soundcloud account (if you don't already have one) and upload the file there, and enable downloads, then send that link to Urban Francis.

2.  You should not send your project/session files.

3.  You can produce your remix in the DAW or Audio Editor of your choice.  We'd like to know which DAW you used, but that's mostly just out of curiousity.  Also, although we haven't decided this yet, we might pick a couple of especially good entries to feature in our public dropbox (your entire project files) IF you're willing to do that.  But you don't have to, and that won't affect how we judge the entries.  Again, don't send us your full project/session files.  For now, just tell us which editor you used.

4.  We must have the following information:
     - Your full name.
     - Your producer alias, if you have one.
     - What country you're from.
     - Your email address (if unspecified, we'll assume that it's the one that you use to enter).

5.  You can optionally include a photo with your entry.  This is not mandatory, and won't affect your chances of winning.  We'll only use this if you're the winner and if you happen to want a photo published.

6.  In the event that your submission is randomly selected to be shared by us to a wider distribution, it would be helpful for you to tell us (when you enter) whether or not you want to share any promotional details with your remix.  Details must be limited to one email address and/or up to four website links (soundcloud, facebook, etc.).

7.  Urban Francis will reply to all submissions to confirm that they have been received.  If you don't get a submission confirmation email, please send a second email which is TEXT ONLY to specify that you sent a submission.  That way, if your original email (with links and/or attachments) got redirected to spam/trash, we can look for it.

8.  The email address to send entries to is:  
fcormier27@gmail.com

Good luck with your remixing.  And if you can think of any remix or production-oriented message boards where you could share the link to this post, I'd appreciate it.  Thanks!


Note:  We have copyrighted and registered the original work with SOCAN, the Canadian music licensing agency.  Although we are not pursuing copyright claims if the content is posted online, you should be careful if you do a remix and give it to a label that tries to enforce copyright claims on your own remix.  Since we've already registered the work, we'd be able to prove that we hold the original copyright.  In other words, make sure you don't get into a situation where you sell your remix to a label who then tries to use content-matching algorithms at services such as YouTube and Soundcloud to monetize remixes of your remix.  If such a content-match occurred with our original track (which is on both of those services, and other services) then you'd have a lot of hassle trying to remove your track from the system.  However, this shouldn't be an issue if you share your own mixes freely on YouTube, Soundcloud, and other platforms.  It would only be if you tried to share through a label that was trying to collect publishing royalties that you'd run into an issue.




Don't forget to follow Francis on his SoundCloud account, because he posts free tracks a lot more frequently than I do!  Here's the link:

www.soundcloud.com/urban_francis


Also, if any labels out there are interested in additional tracks similar in style to this one, let us know.  We have a few unreleased tracks that we might be willing to place with labels, although we would not be willing to sign an exclusive or long-term contract with any one label.  We'll do track-by-track one-off placements only.



Previous Contests

Here are links to pages with information about previous remix contests that we've hosted.  You might find some of the video tutorials on these pages to be useful, because they go into some of our recurring production techniques in a lot of extensive detail:






Thanks for stopping by.  Don't forget to bookmark this post, and come back shortly for more updates!  We'll be posting a number of the remix contest entries here throughout September.









Follow Jonathan Clark on other sites:
        Twitter: twitter.com/djbolivia
        SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/djbolivia
        YouTube: youtube.com/djbolivia
        Facebook: facebook.com/djbolivia
        Main Site: www.djbolivia.ca
        About.Me: about.me/djbolivia
        Music Blog: djbolivia.blogspot.ca
        MixCloud: mixcloud.com/djbolivia
        DropBox: djbolivia.ca/dropbox




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Learn to Start DJ'ing with Virtual DJ

Thanks for visiting my blog.  This post will be part of an extensive tutorial for beginners about Virtual DJ, a software package for both windows and Macs, which is suitable for both beginning DJ’s and professional performances.  If you want to watch the videos for this series, instead of reading this blog post, the links to the six videos are near the bottom of this page.

You may wonder why I'm qualified to teach this, so I'll introduce myself.  I’m Jonathan Clark, also known online as DJ Bolivia, and I’ve been DJ’ing both as a hobby and professionally for over twenty years.  I've played shows on five different continents.  I have quite a few different video tutorials on YouTube, about everything from DJ’ing to music production to audio engineering tutorials, plus a lot of fun stuff like music videos, performances by other DJ’s, and stuff like that.  You can find an organized list of all those videos on my website at:  djbolivia.ca/videos

Let me be very up front about something right away, because a lot of “professional” DJ’s who learned to beat-mix on vinyl and CD’s can sometimes look down on DJ’ing with software on computers or mobile devices.  They might say that only amateurs would use Virtual DJ.  I understand that mindset:  I played on vinyl at clubs and at warehouse parties for about fifteen years before I even touched a pitch-controlled CD player, and even then, with some reluctance.  I felt the same reluctance before I did my first live show using Ableton Live software to perform.  But having recently started playing with Virtual DJ (just for the sake of this tutorial series), I’m seriously impressed with its capabilities.




The equipment that you use as a DJ is just a set of tools.  Ultimately, although your dance floor does appreciate the technical skills required to mix songs together seamlessly as you progress through your set, the most important part of your performance is your programming, which refers to the music that you pick.  In my experience, ninety percent of what a dance floor judges you on is your programming, and only ten percent on technical skills.  Let’s be clear here … you DO have to have good flow to your set, with no gaps between songs, no times when two songs are playing simultaneously and clashing badly, and a consistent beat as you flow from song to song.  And you need to make sure you have a consistent volume as you flow through your set.  That’s what your DJ'ing tools help you with, and it doesn’t matter if you have turntables, CD players, or DJ’ing software.  After you control those things, what’s most important is the music itself.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not against learning the skills of beat-mixing on traditional equipment.  In fact, if you want to become a professional or even a semi-professional DJ someday, then I highly recommend that you DO eventually learn to beat-mix on CD’s player or turntables, or both.  However, I feel that most people reading this post and watching these videos are probably DJ’s who are just getting started.  If you’re in this “beginner DJ” category, you’re probably not going to be getting booked to play festivals or major clubs for a while.  You should assume that you’re going to have to devote some time at home to practicing the basics before you play your first public event.  And assume that most of the first dozen or so public performances you do might be at house parties and for friends, before you get your first booking for a public gig with an audience that paid to be at the show.  I want you to realize that if you’re going to try to become a professional DJ someday, then absolutely yes, you want to think about beat-mixing on CD players or vinyl within a year or so.  But using DJ software is a great way to get introduced to performing in front of people, and takes away some of the pressure of the technical aspects, so you can focus on learning how to read a crowd, knowing how to get through the difficult task of performing when you don’t have anyone on the dance floor yet, and dealing with people hounding you for requests in a dimly lit and noisy environment when you’re trying to cue (queue) up the next song.

Having set the scene, let me emphasize that this post and videos are for BEGINNING DJ’s.  If you already have experience as a performing DJ, and you’re comfortable with computers, be aware that you can probably figure the program out pretty quickly on your own.  The pace of this video series will be too slow for you.  I’m going to assume that the audience here is beginners, and I’m going to take my time and explain everything as clearly as I can, and try not to make any assumptions.  If you’re an experienced DJ and you want to watch these videos anyway, to make sure you’re not overlooking anything, well … I thank you for your patience.

The videos to accompany this post consist of a four-part series.  The first video is basically saying exactly what this post is explaining, so if you read through this whole post, you can probably skip the first video.  I’ll describe what I’m attempting to teach, cover an overview of what the software can do, and I’ll wrap up with a quick demonstration of installation and licensing (installation/licensing is in the video only, not in this blog post).  In video #1, I’m basically just talking to the camera.

The next three videos are more technical.  They're not transcribed into this blog post, because they rely on visuals.  In those videos, you’ll be looking at screen captures most of the time.  Here’s what I covered:

          1 – Overview, comparison with other DJ software, installation
          2 – The console, controls, and the media browser
          3 – Basic mixing, using both mouse and controllers
          4 – Going through the settings and preferences

Above and beyond that, I have links to a couple of other videos.  At the moment, there's one video where I record a full episode of my weekly radio show (Subterranean Homesick Grooves) using just a simple Numark Mixtrack controller plus the keyboard and mouse, and a second video where I get a bit more fancy and use a full-fledged professional DJ mixer, the Allen & Heath Xone 4D, with integrated soundcard and controller panels.  I may add some more Virtual DJ performance videos in the future.

If you’re just starting out with DJ’ing, I’m going to try to keep things simple, but I’m going to have to make a few assumptions in these videos and assume that you know some of the basics already.  There may be parts where you’re confused about things that I’m talking about.  If you get to any point where you’re getting confused about what I’m explaining, I want you to pause the Virtual DJ video and do some side research.  I have a bunch of other videos already online that I think will teach you just about everything you need to know.  If you’re starting totally from scratch, you may need an entire weekend to watch them all, but they’ll give you a firm foundation about what you’re getting yourself into, before you learn exactly how to use Virtual DJ.  Basically, I have five other individual videos or sets of videos that will help you learn everything else you need to know.  Here’s what they are:

First, my DJ’ing for Beginners series is a set of four videos designed for complete beginners, which covers a complete overview of the basics of the DJ industry.  This series covers dozens of topics, including all of the following:  Different types of DJ’s, different ways to perform, equipment, vinyl vs CD vs digital, basic beat-mixing & turntablism, mixers, headphones, turntables, pitch control CD players, digital performance equipment, effects machines, controllers, amplifiers, speakers, subs, monitors, compressors, equalizers, lighting, microphones, licensing, programming, set flow, DJ software, Ableton Live, working with promoters, getting booked, demo mixes, producing your own remixes and original tracks, and more.

If you’ve never used a DJ mixer before, my UnderstandingAudio Mixers & DJ Mixers video will teach you about all the different parts and capabilities of a mixer, so when you first start using a real mixer, you won’t be intimidated by the dozens of knobs and faders and other controls.  Understanding this video will give you a very good understanding of how the Virtual DJ on-screen mixer works.

I have two videos about beat-mixing.  The first video is for CD’s and the second video is for turntables.  You only need to watch the first one, since that video is the one with all the theory you’ll need to know about counting beats, understanding phrasing, and knowing how to blend two songs together smoothly.  The same principles that I explain in that video are used in mixing within Virtual DJ, although the benefit is that Virtual DJ makes it much easier to match up the beats.

If you’re starting to use Virtual DJ at home, you may be doing all of your mixing with the keyboard and mouse.  That’s cool.  However, the one drawback with a mouse is that it only has one cursor, so you can only change one thing at a time.  That’s where a controller comes in.  A controller is a separate piece of physical equipment that you attach to your computer, and the controls on your controller can change settings on the laptop.  The two best things about a controller are that it’s very hands-on, and is more physically intuitive to use than a mouse.  You can also control more than one parameter at a time, because you have two hands.  While a controller isn’t necessary to use Virtual DJ, it’ll make your life a lot easier as a DJ.  There are hundreds of different types of controllers available these days, and my Using MIDI Controllers video will help you understand your options and how your controllers work with your computer.

Finally, I have a series about Mobile DJ’ing.  That seems somewhat unrelated to learning how to use Virtual DJ, but I know that after a month or so of practicing at home, you’re going to be really eager to perform in front of other people.  Playing for friends at house parties is a good start, but you may also be able to get some paid gigs, as you start gaining confidence.  I don’t think the two videos in my Mobile DJ'ing series are critical to learning about Virtual DJ, but I think they’ll be very important for you to watch during your first month after starting to use Virtual DJ.  These videos talk about things like types of events, vehicles, licensing, insurance, costs of gear, setting prices, accounting, marketing, contracts, deposits, competition, and a more detailed run-down of gear that you may need to bring with you to shows.


Why Use Virtual DJ?

Ok, let’s start to focus on the software.  Who is Virtual DJ good for?  Well, I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s just designed for amateur DJ’s.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve seen DJ’s do excellent performances with Virtual DJ at very large shows.  I know DJ’s who are professional turntablists and excellent at beat-mixing, who use Virtual DJ as a legitimate tool.  I’ve seen Virtual DJ being used in hundreds of performances at house parties, weddings, university events, clubs, and festivals.  Unless you’re a top tier A-list DJ getting paid tens of thousands of dollars per gig, or a highly skilled turntablist, Virtual DJ is professional enough to meet your needs quite easily.  Don’t judge it as being amateur software.  It may have been so at the start, but it’s come a long, long way in the past couple years.  It’s used by professionals, but it’s still simple to use and has a very easy learning curve.

Virtual DJ competes in a space with a couple of other well-known programs, especially Serato and Traktor.  Let me see if I can give you a good comparison about the strengths of these three programs, although all three are great programs that will cover all the basics.

Virtual DJ is a great all-around program, and perhaps the easiest for a beginning DJ to use.  If I’m talking to someone who has never touched turntables or pitch controlled CD players before, and they’re interested in DJ’ing with digital DJ software for the first time, I’ll usually recommend Virtual DJ to them, at least ninety percent of the time.  Even though it’s an all-around program, it can handle more complex tasks like integrating with traditional direct-drive turntables using time-code vinyl.

Serato is a system that’s fairly similar to Virtual DJ.  The on-screen display is slightly different, but the basics are the same.  Serato was traditionally viewed as being more of a professional DJ’ing platform, but Virtual DJ has really closed that gap.  However, a couple places where Serato might still have a slight advantage would be in the quality of in-house effects, and in ease of communications with various pre-mapped industry controllers.  Also, if you’re a music producer and want to integrate elements from Ableton Live, or integrate live performance aspects, Serato is especially flexible.

Traktor is the final package of the “Big Three” digital DJ’ing platforms.  Quite a long time ago, there was a package called Final Scratch, put out by Native Instruments in a partnership with Stanton.  That was really the first time-code vinyl experiment to merge traditional turntables with digital music.  I had a Final Scratch system in the early 2000’s, and played with it a lot.  Around 2005, Native Instruments and Stanton parted ways, and eventually Native Instruments moved forward with Traktor.  Although Traktor basically has a lot of the same capabilities as Virtual DJ and Serato, its roots were in the time-code vinyl ecosphere.  Any DJ whose main talents and intended use tend towards integration of traditional turntables with your digital DJ software will probably gravitate toward using Traktor.

In the fall of 2017, I'll be producing a series of videos about Serato, and another series of videos about Traktor (plus some advanced Virtual DJ tutorials).


Purchasing Options

Virtual DJ has a huge strength that other DJ’ing software packages don’t have:  If you’re a home user, using it without external controllers, it’s free.  Completely.  Forever.  That sounds too good to be true, but as long as you’re not using the software in a professional sense (ie. paid gigs), and you’re just using a basic computer system, you qualify.

Many DJ’s will want to move past that point, sooner or later.  If you start playing at paid shows, you’re supposed to upgrade to a professional license.  Is there any way for them to prevent you from using your home version at a paid show?  No, not really, although I’m pretty convinced that even though a lot of young DJ’s are perpetually broke, you’ll soon see the value in paying for a license.

The free home version does have one restriction that will affect some DJ’s.  It won’t work with any external controller unless you pay for software licensing in one of three ways.  Do you need an external controller?  No, you can do everything with a mouse and keyboard, although a controller is more convenient.  Naturally, a lot of people will want to start using controllers eventually, so you’ll probably want to pay for a license at some point.  This becomes almost a certainty once you start playing at paid gigs.  Even though you might feel that you want to try to save money by not buying a license, I recommend that you should get a license, and also step up your game by integrating a controller, to make it easier to perform.

Let’s assume that you’ve moved past the point where you can rely on the free home-user version.  You now have three options:  (1) Buy a per-controller license;  (2) Buy a full life-time license; or (3) Buy a monthly subscription license that expires 30 days after the start of your subscription, unless you set up a credit card to do automatic monthly renewals.

If you go with a per controller license, the cost depends on what controller you want to use.  Basically, the lower the retail value of the actual controller, the cheaper it probably is to license.  The cheapest controllers are $49 to license, and the most expensive can be as much as $199 USD.  Virtual DJ recognizes and has rates for just about every known controller produced anywhere in the world today.

If you start using more than one controller, your cost may start getting pretty high.  For example, I currently have six different controllers that I want to integrate with Virtual DJ, plus a seventh that I’m considering.  Most of these are between $99 and $199 apiece.  Here’s a list:




Whoa!  That’s super expensive.  But don’t worry, Virtual DJ has a deal for you.  If the cost of the different controllers that you want to use comes to more than $299, you can buy an all-inclusive Pro license which is good for all time, and lets you use ALL controllers with the software, with no restrictions.  Therefore, $299 is the absolute maximum cost to buy a full pro license for the Virtual DJ software.  When I have the $299 full pro license, I can use all seven of the controllers that I listed above, plus any other controller available on the market.

A final option, if you don’t have enough money to pay for your controller license or a full Pro license up front, is that you can pay for a monthly pro subscription.  It runs for 30 days from the time you start it, and you can keep renewing.  This subscription costs about $19 per month in USD.  I'm in Canada, and rather than bill in USD, they bill me $27.99 per month in Canadian dollars.  You can turn it off if you don’t use the software for a few months, then turn it back on when you need to use it again.  The best thing is that Virtual DJ keeps track of how much you’ve paid in monthly subscription fees.  If you eventually reach $299, they give you a full permanent pro license.  The monthly subscription is a good way of letting you test the software for a while with no restrictions, and it’s also a good way of financing the cost of the program if you can’t afford to pay for it up front.


Content Subscriptions

The final thing that I want to talk about, before we go into a run-through of setting up and installing the software, is content licenses.  A content license is different than your software license.  The software license, which I already talked about, is related to your permission to use the software professionally or with controllers.  A content license is completely separate, and it is NOT mandatory.  It’s just convenient for DJ’s who need a lot of music for their performances.

DJ’s can sometimes need hundreds of songs every month for their shows.  It can be extremely expensive to buy all this music outright, especially since you’ll sometimes play a particular song at only one show during your entire career.  This is a really prohibitive cost for anyone considering a career as a DJ.  So certain organizations have come up with a solution, and Virtual DJ implements what’s called a “Content Unlimited Subscription Plan.”

Virtual DJ has three separate Content Unlimited Subscription Plans, as follows:


If you subscribe to one of these plans, you’re allowed to download/stream content from the Content Unlimited organization for a full month, and have access to pretty much any music in the world.  The Audio Plan has literally millions of songs available in every genre, with tons of different remixes, and everything is in appropriate quality for you to play at a gig.  Obviously, the karaoke and video plans are different types of media, but the concept is the same.

Imagine that.  Ten dollars per month and you have legal access to a global catalogue of content, with absolutely no risk of running into copyright issues for playing music at public performances!  Well, depending on what country you’re in, you may technically need an annual performer’s license for your country, just for the right to earn money at public performances.  But this Content Unlimited Subscription through Virtual DJ ensures that you’re not going to get into trouble for the specific music that you’re playing.  What a time to be alive!  I can’t emphasize what a great deal this is for DJ’s, and many DJ’s won’t appreciate the challenges that myself and other DJ's had in building our music collections twenty years ago, before the internet and digital music even existed.  I won’t go into these plans in any more detail here, but if you need a broader selection of music, you can look at the details on the Virtual DJ website.


Installing the Virtual DJ Software

I’m not going to go through the steps required to install Virtual DJ in this blog post.  You should be able to figure it out, and get things up and running on your own.  If you need help, I did demonstrate the process of downloading and installing it onto a Windows system in the Part 1 Overview video.  Basically, the steps that you need to follow are:

1.       Set up a free account when you go to the Virtual DJ website.  You’ll need this if you eventually do any software or content licensing.
2.       Download and install the software on your computer.
3.       If you’re going to play professionally or use a controller, pay for one of the three types of licenses to get you up and running (monthly subscription, permanent pro license, or per-controller license).
4.    [Optional]  Start a Content Unlimited subscription, if you want to use one.


By the way, if you DON’T have one of the three software licenses that allow you to use a controller, you can still make the controller work temporarily in a basic “demo mode.”  When you connect your controller without a license, it’ll work for ten minutes before Virtual DJ shuts it off and reminds you that you need a license.  The only way around this is to reboot the software, which obviously can’t be done in the middle of a performance.  So if you want to make sure things are working properly at a public gig, I highly recommend that you just accept the fact right now that you’re going to want to buy a license.

The information that I've talked about so far can be found in the following video, if you'd like to review it again.  But if you've read this far, you can skip this Part 1 video:



Tour of the Console/Controls, Basic Mixing, & Settings/Preferences:

All of the rest of the stuff that I want to explain can’t be done very easily in a blog post.  So at this point, if you’re set up and ready to start learning how to use the software, I’d recommend you watch the following three videos:








Ok, that pretty much summarizes things.  At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what Virtual DJ is all about, and how to mix music with it.  The best way to get better is to practice, so if you’re trying to prepare for your first gig, I’d recommend that you try to set aside 30-60 minutes per day to play with the system at home, until you’re completely comfortable with using it.

If you want a “hot tip” on how to become a better DJ, I recommend that you record some of your practice sets, and then sit back and listen to them with a critical ear.  Were the volumes consistent from track to track?  Did you avoid any dead air between songs?  Did the mixes sound smooth when you were transitioning from one song to another?  Did the “flow” of the set (your programming of music choices) seem logical, or were you jumping rapidly back and forth between genres?  Weak programming might clear your dance floor, so pay a lot of attention to that.

If you find the time to practice for about an hour a day on average, I don’t see why a new DJ wouldn’t be ready for a small public show in less than three months.  I’ve occasionally seen someone pull off their first show in just a few weeks, in an emergency, especially if they already knew a lot about the music that people would want to hear, and can practice for several hours each day during those few weeks.

I’m going to leave you with a couple of demonstration sets that I recorded.  These were a couple different episodes of my weekly tech-house and techno radio show, Subterranean Homesick Grooves.  For the first set, SHG 351, I used just the mouse and a Numark Mixtrack controller during my performance.  For the second set, SHG 352, I used an Allen & Heath Xone 4D mixer/controller.  I also have a popular Xone 4D Tutorial Video about how to use that mixer.









And in the meantime, here are the Soundcloud links for the two mixes that I created with Virtual DJ in those two demo videos.  SHG 351 is tech/house/techno, but with an emphasis mostly on upbeat house and tech.  SHG 352 is a slightly darker and more techno-oriented mix.



You can find track listings for each of those mixes in the description on SoundCloud, and you can also see them track-by-track as you watch the two videos.


Thanks a lot for your interest in my Virtual DJ tutorial series, and best of luck with your DJ’ing!  Again, if you want to find more of my tutorial videos, visit djbolivia.ca/videos


Jonathan Clark (DJ Bolivia







Thursday, March 9, 2017

Understanding Gain-Staging

If you don't understand what gain-staging is, it refers to the process that audio engineers and producers and DJ's deal with in order to ensure that when they're playing audio through a system with several different places to change the volume, that the final signal that comes out of the system is as clean and strong as possible, without exceeding the "maximum" 0 dB level that marks the beginning of distorted audio signal.

Putting this another way (from Wikipedia):  "Gain staging is the process of managing the relative levels in a series of gain stages to prevent introduction of noise and distortion.  Ideal gain staging occurs when each component in an audio signal flow is receiving and transmitting signal in the optimum region of its dynamic range."




The 0 dB level confuses many people.  That sounds like it should be a level with absolutely no signal, not a level with a high amount of signal.  Well, that's a long and complicated topic, so you'll just have to trust me on this for now.  Think of 0 dB as being the highest "good" signal strength, and signals that are weaker than that (or "quieter") have negative numbers going down as they get even quieter.  If you want a detailed explanation of that, and have some time, you can watch this video that I produced:



In some systems, moderate amount of distortion isn't bad.  A bit of warm distortion on a nice crunchy electric guitar can sound pretty good.  But in other situations, especially when dealing with a digital audio signal, distortion can sound bad almost immediately.

Imagine this situation that a DJ might face:
- Sound signal comes out of a piece of line level equipment such as a pitch-controlled CD player.  Or it might alternatively come out of a turntable, which will mean that the signal will need to be boosted by a pre-amp before being processed through a mixer or mixing console (usually, this is built into the console).
- Entering the "back" of the mixing console, the usual path for signal flow is "top to bottom" or "back to front" (although not always).
- The signal coming in from the equipment goes through a "gain" or "trim" knob on the channel strip.
- The signal then gets affected by the position of the Volume Fader on the channel strip.
- The signal then leaves the channel strip and goes to the Master Bus (often just called master).  The signal might get borrowed on the way by booth monitors, headphones, etc.
- On the master, the signal can be amplified (increased) or attenuated (decreased) by the master volume fader.
- The signal then leaves the mixer and often goes to an amplifier, which has another volume control.
- The signal leaves the amps and goes to the speakers.

Incidentally, sometimes the signal leaving the mixer will go straight to a speaker, because some speakers are called "powered speakers" and have their own amplifiers built right in to the speaker.

At any place that the signal is "low," there's a greater amount of background/system noise being introduced to the signal, RELATIVE to the overall strength of the signal.  This is called the Signal-To-Noise ratio.  Higher numbers are useful, because you want a greater amount of signal compared to the background noise level.

Of course, if the signal is too high and exceeds the 0 dB level, distortion can be introduced, so we try to avoid that.

Although different engineers and producers and DJ's and musicians will have different views on the matter, which can legitimately vary depending on the work that they're doing and the system they're using, a good general rule is that a signal should be moderately close to 0 dB at its peaks, but to still leave a gap.  This gap is called the Headroom.

If I'm producing music, I often try to have the smallest headroom gap (the peaks of the audio signal) to be several decibels (dB) below the 0 dB mark, but the valleys where the signal is weaker can be much lower than that.  So my average signal strength may end up being possibly at -12 dB or -10 dB. It varies.

If I'm DJ'ing and paying attention to the signal levels flowing through my system, the same approach is valid.  My peaks will be close to 0 dB (which is sometimes indicated by a red light on the VU level meters of the equipment).  My average will be a bit below that, but not too low.

As your signal passes through each of the various volume points in the system, it's great to have them all consistently treated roughly the same.  I'd rather see a lot of "strong but not too strong" signals at different points in the system, rather than some extremely weak (low/quiet) and some extremely strong (hot/high/loud).  The end result may be the same in both cases, but in the system which has a lot of "too weak" and "too strong," there's going to be more background noise AND more likelihood of distortion.  It's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  You don't want your porridge to be too hot or too cold ... you want it to be "just right."


Ok, now that you have a basic understanding, here are links to several pages which will give you more information:

  Sweetwater:
www.sweetwater.com/insync/gain-staging

  Sound On Sound:
www.soundonsound.com/techniques/gain-staging-your-daw-software

  Home Studio Center:
www.homestudiocenter.com/gain-staging

  Gearslutz:
www.gearslutz.com/board/rap-hip-hop-engineering-production/589213-proper-gain-staging-thread.html



And finally, here a video about Gain Staging that seems to have gotten a lot of positive comments:




Good luck with your DJ'ing, audio setups, and production projects!

Jonathan Clark (DJ Bolivia)
www.djbolivia.ca


For a complete list of my own tutorial videos about music, DJ'ing, production, audio engineering, and recording, visit:




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

SHG Radio Show, Episode 350

Welcome to this week's edition of Subterranean Homesick Grooves™, a weekly electronica-based radio show presented originally on CHMA FM 106.9 at Mount Allison University in Atlantic Canada (but expanded to distribution on other terrestrial and internet-based radio stations), and also distributed as a global podcast through iTunes. The show is normally programmed and mixed by Jonathan Clark (as DJ Bolivia), although some weeks very occasionally feature guest mixes by other Canadian DJ's. The show encompasses many sub-genres within the realm of electronic dance music, but the main focus is definitely on tech-house and techno, and a small amount of progressive, trance, & minimal. Due to the mix of styles, you may hear combinations of tracks that wouldn't normally be featured together in a DJ's live set, but this show is intended to feature various styles of electronic/dance music. Liner notes for this episode (SHG 350) can be seen below.

Para la información en español, vaya aquí.

I should point out that when I make these shows, I mean for them to be a journey. I pay a lot of attention to the programming, and to the development of energy levels. If you're a first-time listener, you might think that the start of the show is quite tame, on the slower and "deeper" side of house or techno. However, give it time. Pay attention to how the styles change throughout the mix, and how the energy builds. Sometimes, I'll be very erratic and jump around between several genres, just for fun. Sometimes, I'll do a particularly dark show, with a heavy emphasis on techno. Most of the time however, you'll find a mix of mostly deep house or minimal or deep techno for the first third of the mix, building into a more upbeat section of tech-house through the middle, perhaps building up to some energetic tracks at the end, which often trespass into the realm of more contemporary house. Don't treat the show as a collection of individual tracks ... think of it as a cohesive experience; an hour-long aural journey of reflection and beats.

By the way, if you're looking for DJ mixes in styles other than progressive/tech-house, check out www.djbolivia.ca/mixes.html. That page has a number of mainstream/top40 dance mixes (the "Workout Mix" series), as well as some deep house, drum and bass, and other styles.




Here's our Podcast Feed to paste into iTunes or any other podcatcher:
http://feeds.feedburner.com/shg

Here's a Direct Link to this week's show:
http://www.chma.fm/Bolivia_-_Subterranean_Homesick_Grooves_350.mp3


Older episodes of the show are not directly available from our main servers anymore, to conserve space for more recent episodes. However, all older episodes have been posted individually on SoundCloud, and also in archives of 25 episodes apiece (convenient for bulk downloading) from DJ Bolivia's Public Dropbox folder. That Dropbox link also has folders for individual tracks and remixes, project files and stem collections for producers who want to make their own remixes, videos, and other material. You don't even need to have a Dropbox account to download files from it.


Here’s a link so you can listen to the show or download it from SoundCloud:




Here are Track Listings for episode 350:

01. Alex Raider - The Ancient Code (Original Mix).
02. Zapotec - Ayahuasca (Original Mix).
03. Jean Agoriia - Code Genesis (Original Mix).
04. Jay Lumen - Warehouse Trip (Original Mix).
05. Robin Fett - First Floor (Original Mix).
06. DRK Bannoxx - Forever (Original Mix).
07. Ivan Hoob - Now (Uranobeat Mix).
08. Lars Horton - Resonatory Aspects (Original Mix).
09. David Pareja - Burn (Original Mix).
10. Sunshine Disco Kids & Kenji Shk - Get Out Of My Head (Original Mix).
11. Overtracked - Doozy (Back & Forth Remix).
12. UMEK - Mechanical Blade (Original Mix).





Here are links to either personal websites, Facebook pages, or [usually] the SoundCloud pages for a few of the original artists and remixers/producers listed above.



Alex Raider (Italy)
Jean Agoriia (France)
Jay Lumen (Hungary)
Robin Fett (Netherlands)
Ivan Hoob (Mexico)
Uranobeat (Colombia)
David Pareja (Unknown)
Overtracked (Netherlands)
UMEK (Slovenia)



Subterranean Homesick Grooves is a weekly specialty EDM music show with a basic weekly audience base of about 1500 listeners per week through podcasting, direct downloads, and distribution on a small number of internet-based radio networks, plus another hundred or so listeners through SoundCloud, and an unknown number of listeners through terrestrial FM broadcast. If you're a radio station programming director, and would like to add Subterranean Homesick Grooves to your regular programming lineup, contact djbolivia@gmail.com for details. We currently release SHG as an advance download to a number of stations globally on a weekly basis (at no charge), and we welcome inquiries from additional outlets.

Go to the Mix Downloads page on the main DJ Bolivia website if you'd like to check out a number of our older shows, or visit our SoundCloud page for individual tracks and remixes. And if you're interested in learning more about DJ'ing or music production, check out Jonathan Clark's extensive and very popular series of YouTube tutorials. There's a full & organized index of all the videos at:
djbolivia.ca/videos.html

We also have a file containing complete track listings from all of DJ Bolivia's radio shows, studio mixes, and live sets. The PDF version can be viewed from within your browser by clicking directly. Both the PDF and the Excel versions can be downloaded by right-clicking and choosing the "save link as" option:

View as PDF file: http://www.djbolivia.ca/complete_track_history_djbolivia.pdf
Download Excel file: http://www.djbolivia.ca/complete_track_history_djbolivia.xlsx









Follow Jonathan Clark on other sites:
        Twitter: twitter.com/djbolivia
        SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/djbolivia
        YouTube: youtube.com/djbolivia
        Facebook: facebook.com/djbolivia
        Main Site: www.djbolivia.ca
        About.Me: about.me/djbolivia
        Music Blog: djbolivia.blogspot.ca
        MixCloud: mixcloud.com/djbolivia
        DropBox: djbolivia.ca/dropbox



You'll notice a Facebook comments box at the bottom of this post. Let me know which tracks you liked best from this mix, or give me any other feedback! It's always nice to hear from people who are listening to the show from around the world! Here's a map showing all the places where people have listened to Subterranean Homesick Grooves in the past month:


Friday, March 3, 2017

SHG Radio Show, Episode 349

Welcome to this week's edition of Subterranean Homesick Grooves™, a weekly electronica-based radio show presented originally on CHMA FM 106.9 at Mount Allison University in Atlantic Canada (but expanded to distribution on other terrestrial and internet-based radio stations), and also distributed as a global podcast through iTunes. The show is normally programmed and mixed by Jonathan Clark (as DJ Bolivia), although some weeks very occasionally feature guest mixes by other Canadian DJ's. The show encompasses many sub-genres within the realm of electronic dance music, but the main focus is definitely on tech-house and techno, and a small amount of progressive, trance, & minimal. Due to the mix of styles, you may hear combinations of tracks that wouldn't normally be featured together in a DJ's live set, but this show is intended to feature various styles of electronic/dance music. Liner notes for this episode (SHG 349) can be seen below.

Para la información en español, vaya aquí.

I should point out that when I make these shows, I mean for them to be a journey. I pay a lot of attention to the programming, and to the development of energy levels. If you're a first-time listener, you might think that the start of the show is quite tame, on the slower and "deeper" side of house or techno. However, give it time. Pay attention to how the styles change throughout the mix, and how the energy builds. Sometimes, I'll be very erratic and jump around between several genres, just for fun. Sometimes, I'll do a particularly dark show, with a heavy emphasis on techno. Most of the time however, you'll find a mix of mostly deep house or minimal or deep techno for the first third of the mix, building into a more upbeat section of tech-house through the middle, perhaps building up to some energetic tracks at the end, which often trespass into the realm of more contemporary house. Don't treat the show as a collection of individual tracks ... think of it as a cohesive experience; an hour-long aural journey of reflection and beats.

By the way, if you're looking for DJ mixes in styles other than progressive/tech-house, check out www.djbolivia.ca/mixes.html. That page has a number of mainstream/top40 dance mixes (the "Workout Mix" series), as well as some deep house, drum and bass, and other styles.




Here's our Podcast Feed to paste into iTunes or any other podcatcher:
http://feeds.feedburner.com/shg

Here's a Direct Link to this week's show:
http://www.chma.fm/Bolivia_-_Subterranean_Homesick_Grooves_349.mp3


Older episodes of the show are not directly available from our main servers anymore, to conserve space for more recent episodes. However, all older episodes have been posted individually on SoundCloud, and also in archives of 25 episodes apiece (convenient for bulk downloading) from DJ Bolivia's Public Dropbox folder. That Dropbox link also has folders for individual tracks and remixes, project files and stem collections for producers who want to make their own remixes, videos, and other material. You don't even need to have a Dropbox account to download files from it.


Here’s a link so you can listen to the show or download it from SoundCloud:




Here are Track Listings for episode 349:

01. Phonista - Palindrome (Original Mix).
02. Riffle Shuffle - Middle Distance (Original Mix).
03. Nino Bellemo - Pete Sellars (Gianni Ruocco Remix).
04. Eric Sneo & Christian Smith - Loaded Dice (Original Mix).
05. D Deck - Cobalto (Original Mix).
06. Christian Smith - Blast Off (Victor Ruiz Remix).
07. Diego Lima - MadaFuckers (Original Mix).
08. Luca Lento - Hip Pump (Jose V Remix).
09. Majesty - 27 Club (Original Mix).
10. Sammie J - Keep On Dancing (David Sainz Remix).
11. Johan Muller - So One (Original Mix).





Here are links to either personal websites, Facebook pages, or [usually] the SoundCloud pages for a few of the original artists and remixers/producers listed above.



Nino Bellemo (United States)
Eric Sneo (Germany)
Christian Smith (Sweden)
D Deck (Italy)
Diego Lima (Brazil)
Luca Lento (Italy)
Majesty (England)
Johan Muller (Spain)
Gianni Ruocco (Colombia)
Victor Ruiz (Brazil)
Jose V (Unknown)
David Sainz (Spain)



Subterranean Homesick Grooves is a weekly specialty EDM music show with a basic weekly audience base of about 1500 listeners per week through podcasting, direct downloads, and distribution on a small number of internet-based radio networks, plus another hundred or so listeners through SoundCloud, and an unknown number of listeners through terrestrial FM broadcast. If you're a radio station programming director, and would like to add Subterranean Homesick Grooves to your regular programming lineup, contact djbolivia@gmail.com for details. We currently release SHG as an advance download to a number of stations globally on a weekly basis (at no charge), and we welcome inquiries from additional outlets.

Go to the Mix Downloads page on the main DJ Bolivia website if you'd like to check out a number of our older shows, or visit our SoundCloud page for individual tracks and remixes. And if you're interested in learning more about DJ'ing or music production, check out Jonathan Clark's extensive and very popular series of YouTube tutorials. There's a full & organized index of all the videos at:
djbolivia.ca/videos.html

We also have a file containing complete track listings from all of DJ Bolivia's radio shows, studio mixes, and live sets. The PDF version can be viewed from within your browser by clicking directly. Both the PDF and the Excel versions can be downloaded by right-clicking and choosing the "save link as" option:

View as PDF file: http://www.djbolivia.ca/complete_track_history_djbolivia.pdf
Download Excel file: http://www.djbolivia.ca/complete_track_history_djbolivia.xlsx









Follow Jonathan Clark on other sites:
        Twitter: twitter.com/djbolivia
        SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/djbolivia
        YouTube: youtube.com/djbolivia
        Facebook: facebook.com/djbolivia
        Main Site: www.djbolivia.ca
        About.Me: about.me/djbolivia
        Music Blog: djbolivia.blogspot.ca
        MixCloud: mixcloud.com/djbolivia
        DropBox: djbolivia.ca/dropbox



You'll notice a Facebook comments box at the bottom of this post. Let me know which tracks you liked best from this mix, or give me any other feedback! It's always nice to hear from people who are listening to the show from around the world! Here's a map showing all the places where people have listened to Subterranean Homesick Grooves in the past month:


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

CBR vs VBR Rendering in Adobe Premiere

I do a lot of video editing, and as I was sitting waiting for a project to render last week, I was thinking about the various encoding settings in Premiere.  They're pretty confusing for some home video producers, so I thought I'd try to write a post to simplify your understanding of the different main settings.  In particular, it is the different types of VBR (variable bit rate) and CBR (constant bit rate) compression that confuses people.  Let me apologize in advance that "simplify" and "simple" are not synonymous.  I had to go into more detail than one might expect, while writing this post.  If you want to go straight down to CBR vs VBR, skim through until you see that section header.

But first, here's a screenshot of the project that I was working on when I decided to write this post:


I also have a video link to a YouTube version of this information, which you can find at the bottom of this post.


First, I'll assume everyone understands what the bit-rate is (but I'll explain it in more detail below).  It's the bandwidth, or amount of data that a piece of video or other types of media takes up, expressed in units of time.  If a piece of video or audio streams at 20 kbps (kilobits per second) and another streams at 40 kbps, and the two items are the same time length in duration, then the second file will take up twice as much space on your hard drive or other space as the first.


Bits & Bytes

Let's talk about bits & bytes comparisons for a minute or two (you can skip this section if you want).  I didn't want to confuse you, but I guess this is important.  Generally, you should assume that there are eight bits in a byte (alright, computer scientists might argue about the exceptions).  Small "b" refers to bit, and capital "B" refers to byte.  Kilo is generally a prefix that means a thousand, and mega is generally prefix that means a million, and giga is a prefix that means a billion, and tera is a prefix that means a trillion.  Keep adding three decimal places.  But ignore the fact that a billion can mean different things in different parts of the Commonwealth, etc.  Now, alter the previous statement because computer stuff is expressed in binary at its heart, most of the time, and kilo is actually just shorthand for 2^10 or 2 to the tenth power, most of the time.  And 2^10 is actually 1024, not 1000, which throws off the numbers for mega and giga and terra and so on (peta is next) because they're all just adding additional powers of two, not decimal multipliers.  Except wait, some manufacturers (especially of hard drives) use the SI system (decimal) to skimp a bit, which means that a 2 terabyte hard drive is actually only 1.81 TB.  Hm.  I think I'm going to abandon this part of the discussion for now, and maybe make a separate blog post about it.

1 KB = 1 kilobytes = 2^10 bytes = 1,024 bytes = 8,192 bits
1 MB = 1 megabyte = 2^20 bytes = 1,024 KB = 1,048,576 bytes = 8,388,608 bits
1 GB = 1 gigabyte = 2^30 bytes = 1,024 MB = 1,073,741,724 bytes = 8,589,933,792 bits
1 TB = 1 terabyte = 2^40 bytes = 1,024 GB = 1.0995 x 10^12 bytes
1 PB = 1 petabyte = 2^50 bytes = 1,024 TB = 1.1259 x 10^15 bytes
1 EB = 1 exabyte = 2^60 bytes = 1,024 PB = 1,1529 x 10^18 bytes

If you really need to go higher on that chart, Zettabytes (ZB) and Yottabytes (YB) are next, and the next order of magnitude after YB's hasn't been determined yet.  Of course, at the moment (early 2017), petabytes are the stuff of dreams.  However, Seagate did announce a 60 TB SSD drive in mid-2016 (which would probably cost about $50,000) so the concept of a drive that holds 1 PB probably isn't that far out.  Maybe by 2021-2022?  Then a 1 exabyte drive by 2030, and a 1 zettabyte drive by 2040?  I'm not sure what you'd store on that.  Perhaps a 3D holographic 240 fps full dolby stereo video diary of your entire life.  And the cable connection to the drive to handle the bandwidth stream would probably need to be a fiber optic cable bundle with the thickness of the Mississippi River, transmitting fibre optic data in full spectrum.  Thankfully, by the time people are worrying about that technological hurdle, my time will have come.




Bit Rates

The Bit Rate refers to the amount of information being processed per unit of time.  Imagine this: let's say that each pixel on your screen can have a color depth represented in 16 bits.  Be aware that 8 bit and 24 bit are also common color depths (more so in digital photography & graphics editing).  Also, there's a HUGE difference in range between those types.  The number of bits means a power of two since it's a binary system, so 8-bit is equivalent to 2^8th (or 256 different choices to represent ever type of colour known), 2^16th is 65,536 choices, and 2^24th is a number that I don't actually know off the top of my head, but it's a lot larger than 2^16th (which is a number that I memorized as a small child math geek, because it was the addressing range of the memory available in the Commodore 64).  Let's also assume that we're working with a hypothetical screen size of 100 pixels by 200 pixels.  This is 20,000 pixels.  If each pixel is expressed in 16-bit resolution, then you need 20,000 x 16 bits to show each frame of the video.  That works out to 1,200,000 bits per frame.  But 100x200 pixels is not a common screen size, so it's a poor example.  Let's look at some common sizes:

SD (old):            640 x   480 pixels = 307,200 pixels
SD (other):         720 x   480 pixels = 345,600 pixels
HD high-def:    1920 x 1080 pixels = 2,073,600 pixels
4K:                    3840 x 2160 pixels = 8,294,400 pixels
UHD 4K:           4096 x 2160 pixels = 8,847,360 pixels

I'll bite my tongue and refrain from going on a rant about standardization for now.  I'm sure that 8K video will have problems too.  Incidentally, on a positive note, 8K video is the approximate point where there are very limited returns in going with a higher pixel density (based on standard viewing distance) thanks to limitations in the average human eye.  This is good because it will be an eventual limit on the nuclear arms race that is video resolution.  I mean, sure, maybe someday someone will build a 2500K video camera to be able to broadcast video on a 200 foot wide by 20 foot high screen where they want the resolution (pixel density) to be "equivalent to real-life" for anyone standing four feet away from the screen, but thankfully, 8K should be a reasonable limit for our basic needs on desktop monitors and regular televisions, I think.


Color Depth (Bit Depth)

A few moments ago, I talked about 16-bit color depth.  Well, Premiere works with 16-bit (ie. it allows you to import video files that were recorded at 16-bit) but it only outputs 10-bit.  What!?  Yeah, it's complicated.  There's a link at the bottom of this post that goes into this issue in more depth.  Even though things like PhotoShop & AE & Speedgrade can output up to 32-bit, Premiere is 10-bit.  But that's fine for broadcast quality final renders.


Frame Rates

Ok, let's talk frame rates for now.  Are there different standards?  Of course there are.  24p, 25p, 29.97i, 30p, and 60p are some common ones.  For broadcast in North America, most of South America, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, 30fps (NTSC) is usually the standard.  For broadcast everywhere else, 24fps (PAL) is usually the standard.  I won't get into the difference between the "p" and the "i" (progressive vs. interlaced scan) so if you don't know this, look it up.  From my point of view, 30p is a decent frame rate, and 60p is a great frame rate, which means that there are 60 full frames of "photos" per second in the video.  Unfortunately, at the moment, the technology in the cameras that I own isn't sufficient to handle 4K footage at 60p.  But that's another story.  I'm sure that 4K 60P cameras (probably even in mobile phones) will be common within 12 months.


Bandwidth & Compression

Alright, so currently I'm editing at 3840x2160, 29.97i.  Let's call it 30 for simplicity.  So we need approximate 3840x2160 pixels per frame, or 8,294,440 pixels per frame, and 10 bits per pixel, which means 82,944,400 bits per frame, multiplied by 30 frames per second, which is about 2.4883 billion bits per second, or 2488.33 Mbps.  That is a lot of bandwidth.  Let's convert that from megabits to megabytes, which makes more sense when thinking about disk storage, so we divide by 8 and we get 311.04 MB/sec.  Yup, a lot of bandwidth.  I'd use a gigabyte in approximate three seconds, or 20 GB/minute.  I don't have the storage capacity for that kind of data.  That's where compression can come in.

Compression means that an algorithm or CODEC (compression/decompression module) trims down the size of the video stream by throwing away some unnecessary data.  I have links to a couple articles about compression at the bottom of this post.

For the sake of experimentation, I tried rendering some 4K projects in the very highest, most space-consuming h.264 output possible in Premiere:  300 Mbps.  That's excessive.  Be aware, that YouTube itself recommends a maximum bitrate of about 50 Mbps for this type of footage, so I'm definitely using more bandwidth than necessary, although this was for the sake of education and experimentation, and for maximizing quality when I had no storage space restrictions.  Incidentally, YouTube also currently has a cap of 128 GB per video uploaded, although I'm sure that will increase within a year or two.


CBR vs VBR

This was the original point of this post, before it got wildly out-of-control.  CBR stands for constant bit rate.  VBR stands for variable bit rate.  How do you know what settings to use for compression?

Constant Bit Rate means that EVERY part of your video will get compressed at the same bit rate.  If your video is similar throughout, this is fine.  If parts of your video are very static and unchanging, while other parts are very "busy" with a lot of movement, then this is not necessarily fine.  You're probably "wasting" bandwidth in the static parts that are being compressed, and you're probably not getting enough detail in the busy parts, because you're limited in how much bandwidth you are using.  Busy video with a lot of movement requires more information in a compressed codec.

Note that if you're using uncompressed video, where you store/save/transmit every bit of information associated with every pixel of every frame in the video, then CBR is just great.  But if you're editing anything larger than HD at the current time, you probably aren't working with uncompressed video (unless you're in a professional cinema/broadcast situation).

Variable Bit Rate means that different parts of your video are compressed more or less than other parts.  This can be useful.  As implied above, it might be helpful to use a lot of compression in a sequence without much movement (perhaps an eight-second title screen) and then to use less compression (retaining more detail) in a sequence with a car chase.  Rendering your project with a Variable Bit Rate setting can help with that.  With VBR, Premiere would allot more bandwidth to that busy sequence, and less to the static sequence.  To understand this, we need to know the two key bitrate settings.

With CBR, it's simple, there is one bit rate to set.  With VBR, there are two.  There is a "target" bit rate and a "maximum" bit rate.  These are pretty easy to understand.  The maximum is the biggest temporary time-based bit rate that Premiere will allow.  The bit rate of the rendered project will never exceed this amount.  The target bit rate is an intended average bit rate.  So if the VBR target was 24 Mbps, and your video project ended up being 10 seconds long, with 5 seconds rendered at 20 Mbps and 5 seconds rendered at 28 Mbps, your final "average" would be the target of 24 Mbps.

In that example, if your maximum bit rate was set at 30 Mbps, you'd have no problems.  Your video would have topped out at 28 Mbps, and thus never would have exceeded the maximum.  In a different situation, if your maximum bit rate was set at 26 Mbps, the sections that needed to be encoded at 28 Mbps wouldn't be ... they'd be capped at 26 Mbps.  So maybe your busy section of the video wouldn't quite end up at the quality you want, but as a consolation, at least that would have left more bandwidth for other parts of your render.

In theory, if you have a CBR set at 24 Mbps, and a VBR set at a target of 24 Mbps (the maximum shouldn't matter), then both renders will probably come out to be the same file size.  The only difference is that the CBR file will be 24 Mbps the whole way through, and the VBR will have different rates in different parts but will average out to 24 Mbps overall.  The advantage of the VBR is that when your scenes are busy, you'll get more detail than you would with CBR, because your peak bit rates during those busy sections will be allowed to exceed the bandwidth for the CBR file.

Can you use this system to produce smaller sized renders with the same approximate quality?  Yes.  For example, if you have a CBR set at 24 Mbps versus a VBR set at 18 Mbps target with 24 Mbps maximum, then your VBR should only be three quarters the size of the CBR file (18 divide 24) yet since your peak bit rate of 24 Mbps will be the same in both files, the quality should look the same.  There is a caveat though:  this works best if your video has a lot of sections of varying complexity, ie. some sections that are really busy, and some that are mostly static.  The static scenes will give you the cushion you need for extra bandwidth in the busy sections.  If the video is busy overall, there might not be enough bandwidth even with VBR, so you might have to set a higher target rate.

Now what about the difference between 1-pass and 2-pass?  Well, they're sort of similar.  Both are VBR as explained above.  However, 1-pass rendering is roughly the same speed as CBR, because in both cases, the amount of time required to go through the file is the same.  2-pass rendering is often a lot slower (think twice as long, although the relationship isn't always that simple) because it goes through the file twice.  In 2-pass, the first pass is simply to analyze the file and decide how much bandwidth will be needed in each part.  This improves the quality in the end.  With 1-pass, the editor is unable to look ahead and estimate the complexity of the rest of the project, so it has to make estimates about bandwidth as it renders, therefore, it's a bit less efficient.

So, what's the take-away lesson here?  I'd say that you should make sure you understand and remember these points:

1.  If you have all the time in the world, and you're not in a rush to render the project, and you also have unlimited storage space, and you're not worried about how long it will take for a file to upload to a content distribution site such as YouTube, then you can render as CBR on the highest possible (logical) setting.  It doesn't matter that the end file will be huge, and will take forever to upload, because in this situation, you're not in a rush.

2.  If you have lots of time, but are constrained on space, 2-pass VBR with the highest possible maximum bit rate and a target rate that is lower than a CBR rate will still give you the best possible quality, but will reduce the file size somewhat.  This is important if you have limited storage space, OR if you're worried about the amount of time that it will take to upload.

3.  If you're in a rush to finish the render, but you're not worried about size or upload time, CBR is still the way to go, because it's a fast render method.  And you can constrain the size and upload time with a lower bit rate.

4.  If you're in a rush to finish the render, AND you're worried about size or upload time, 1-pass VBR will probably be your best option.


Some Examples

I did a short test render on exactly 5 seconds of "busy" 4k video at 30fps, to test both the speed of the render, and the output file size.  The test file was from one of my tree planter training videos, which can be found at www.replant.ca/training

For the VBR test, I did a 2-pass test only, simply because I never use 1-pass VBR.  I always make sure that I have enough resources (time and/or storage space) while working on projects to be able to choose CBR or 2-pass VBR.  I picked 300 Mbps as a maximum bit rate, and 240 Mbps as a target bit rate.  That file turned out to be 149,366 KB in size, which extrapolates to a requirement of approximately 1.71 GB per full minute of footage.  The render took 7 minutes and 55 seconds (475 seconds).

For the CBR test, I rendered at 300 Mbps. That file turned out to be 140,453 KB in size, which extrapolates to a a requirement of approximately 1.61 GB per full minute of footage.  The render took 3 minutes and 54 seconds (234 seconds).

CBR was the clear winner in this case.  It took only half the time required for a 2-pass VBR (actually, 49%).  But what's interesting is that the file size did not correspond at all to expectations.  This file should have been larger than the VBR, by 25% (300 Mbps vs 240 Mbps target).  Instead, it was actually 5.97% smaller.  I DO NOT KNOW WHY!  I noticed with subsequent testing that whenever I was setting up renders in CBR, the "Estimated File Size" reported by Premiere always turned out to be a significant overestimate, often in the range of 25% to 35% higher than the actual rendered output.  I won't complain, although this confuses me.

Most notably, you are probably asking if the quality was good.  It was.  I was just as pleased with CBR renders at 300 Mbps as I was with 2-pass VBR at 240/300.  Of course, your results will vary based upon lots of factors:  the type of footage, the footage dimensions (pixels), the frame rate, the bit rates that you use for comparisons, the source of your footage (some cameras automatically compress the video as it is recorded), and a host of other minor factors.


The Take-Away Lesson

Having read all this, you've hopefully learned a few things, but you're probably also screaming, "Why can't this be a straightforward topic!?"  Why can't there be a cut & dried, black and white answer?

Video editors will have hundreds of different circumstances that they're dealing with, so the answer can't be consistent for everyone.  Therefore, the best way for you to determine the best way to encode your footage is to do comparison tests on your own.  Do the tests on small sections of your video, to speed up the process.  Do test renders with lots of different combinations of settings, until you decide what approach is going to be best for you.  Make sure you test both busy and non-busy examples of your footage, preferably in the same rendered snippet.

Don't get hung up on technical specifications.  If you're reading this post to clarify technical questions, let me reassure you that your best tool is your eyes.  If you like the look of the footage that is produced by a particular set of rendering options (and the file size isn't too large for your storage capacity or bandwidth capacity), then go with it.  Trust your eyes.


Good luck with your video editing, and thanks for being patient with my "home enthusiast" explanations.

- Jonathan Clark (DJ Bolivia)
www.djbolivia.ca

PS:  For more tutorials about audio and related work, visit djbolivia.ca/videos, but please don't judge.  I'm really unhappy with the quality of a lot of my work before 2017, and wish I had time to re-do everything in 4K with nice lighting, and a current understanding of my rendering toolkit!



Some Extra Links

This page has quite a bit of discussion about bitrates to use:

http://www.ezs3.com/public/What_bitrate_should_I_use_when_encoding_my_video_How_do_I_optimize_my_video_for_the_web.cfm


Understanding bit depth.  This page suggests talks in much more professional terms about Rendering at maximum quality/depth, different bit rates for different work flows, the use of AE (Adobe After Effects) and Adobe Speedgrade:

http://wolfcrow.com/blog/how-to-handle-bit-depth-in-adobe-premiere-pro-after-effects-and-speedgrade/


Understanding basic video compression:

http://nofilmschool.com/2014/08/heres-what-you-need-to-know-video-compression


Video codecs, containers, and compression:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/all-you-need-to-know-about-video-codecs-containers-and-compression/


Best video export settings for YouTube:

http://www.4kshooters.net/2015/07/28/best-video-export-settings-for-youtube-in-premiere-pro-cc/


Video for CBR vs VBR




Semi-Related Video

Here's a video I did a couple years ago that seems to have been pretty well-received.  It's about sample rate, sample size, binary, and a few other topics.  Although it focuses on these topics in the context of audio recording, it's useful for videographers to understand the content.



Here's a link to a blog post with more information about that video:



Thanks for your interest, and if you want to check out other video tutorials that I have online, visit this page:



- Jonathan Clark (DJ Bolivia)
www.djbolivia.ca



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