Seeing Red

So the other day, I was in a club on a night out and got a nice peek into the DJ booth. Beautiful gear, some good tunes. And then I saw it. Red. Red everywhere. Red on every channel. The DJ in his ultimate wisdom was running his entire gear in overdrive. This is so incredibly bad, not just for the reputation of the DJ but for the club as a whole.

Let me just say one thing, the very peaks of kicks can often touch the red LEDs with little effect, this is not the worst scenario in the world and I'd forgive any DJ for doing it. It is easily resolved by turning the gains down a small amount.

The DJ in question however, was permanently in the red. In fact he was so high in the VU meters that there was no movement, meaning that the quietest parts of the song were still in the red.

So, why is this bad? I suppose the main reason is that it sounds awful. Most people realise this. The issues comes when people walk into a club and judge the club for having a truly awful sound system (as I did). This may not be the club's fault at all. In fact, their sound system may be brilliant.

If you are destroying your audio at any stage along the line, it is irreparable when it hits the speakers, good speakers will only detail out the issues more. You will look bad in the eyes of the management, as well as in the eyes of anyone who can see your mixer's LEDs.

LEDs are bright and easy to see, you won't get away
with it.

Whether you are an expert in good sound or not, you can hear a bad sound system. You may not be able to put your fingers on why it sounds bad but you will surely want to leave earlier than if it sounded pristine. Think about your standard loud pub sound system, it sounds awful, people know it sounds bad and get tired ears more quickly. If you ruin your audio, you will sound like this.

Look at the reviews of good venues and you will almost certainly see praise for their good sound system, something many people use as a decider on where to go for a night out. If a person visits a club and the DJ is destroying the audio, it is still going to seem like the speaker's fault. Don't mess about the venue that's providing you with sets by ruining their reputation.

Don't ruin a good sound system.

Secondly, even if people don't know the issues regarding going into the red, it is a commonly known bad habit. If your promoter or manager sees this, they could question your ability as a DJ and favour a more conservative DJ in terms of gain staging.

Turn your gains down. If you are too quiet, there is always the master volume. If there is a sound engineer, he can always turn you up. Since most clubs have a limiter in the chain, you won't be able to push the volume too high anyway and so pushing the limiter and  saturating your audio will only make your set sound awful.

The other thing is, software often has a limiter too. Serato's limiter is indicated by a red light in the top. If you are going into this, your audio is already crushed before it's even been put into the system mixer. Sort that issue out first and you will hear more dynamic range, which can be turned up further downstream. This will sound better than trying to turn up a heavily limited signal.

The best thing to do before and during a set is to check with the management if you are at an appropriate volume, if they want you louder, make sure it's possible first. Find a volume control that has room to be turned up instead of boosting the input gains, sometimes all you need is to boost the mid EQ a bit above 12 o'clock, other times you'll see that the master volume still has plenty of room to go up.

Don't end up being the DJ where someone has to point out where you are doing it wrong. You look bad, and they are clearly very unimpressed with your sound to go out of their way to tell you.