“How can we create high quality, easy-to-use software for both professional and novice DJs?”
That’s the question that inspired co-founders Karim and Christoph to make Algoriddim’s djay, the award-winning music production software. At the time, DJ software was extremely expensive and complex, but the pair were determined to create meaningful change in an industry they were both tremendously passionate about. While they both enjoyed the art of scratching, in between attending classes and studying for exams at college, the two had vastly different skill levels.
Karim was the expert. With ten years of experience under his belt, Karim had his fair share of knowledge about the industry and had used some of the most popular DJ software available. But with every gig he played, Karim found each solution clunky and downright confounding. He could manage, as digital software proved to have a superior functionality compared to his old analog favorites, but the situation wasn’t even close to ideal.
Christoph, on the other hand, had an extraordinary admiration for DJing, but didn’t have the experience or expertise of his buddy Karim. No matter what software he tried, Christoph was often puzzled as most professional software featured an overwhelming set of controls and required an insanely high level of manual skill, which made performing all the more difficult.
As such, the duo wanted to make something new; software that they and similar people could both use.
Enter 2006, a time when the iPhone and iPad were nothing more than mere prototypes in Jony Ive’s top secret design laboratory. Back then, all the hype surrounded the iPod, which was fantastic for playing music but incapable of creating it. But there was iTunes on the Mac, which was immensely popular with DJs as it was one of the only legal platforms to digitally download and collect music. Songs could be purchased from the iTunes Store and then transferred though a series of processes to DJ equipment for mixing.
Unfortunately, music purchased from iTunes was still DRM-locked, limiting the amount of options professionals had to convert and transfer their library to other platforms. The process of playing purchased songs anywhere other than an authorized Mac, PC, or iPod was laborious and forced many to abandon the process altogether. That’s where Karim and Christoph saw potential. With time, they knew they could create intuitive DJ software that lived on the Mac so that beginners and experts alike would have the ability to plug directly into their iTunes libraries. The two whipped up some freemium software to cater to their shared desires, and soon after, djay became instantly popular.
Professionals applauded djay’s customizability and wide range of features while newcomers appreciated its stunning ease-of-use. Macworld famously heralded the software as “the DJ app missing from iLife” and soon Apple took notice of Karim and Christoph’s innovation. They approached them asking if they could sell copies of djay in Apple Stores and the two agreed so long as the price was appealing enough for anyone to give it a try.
Managing the retail and marketing of one of the most popular Mac apps was an intense process, but when they saw their software on a whole bunch of colleagues’ machines during WWDC, they knew they were living their dream. ‘Top Selling’ and ‘Most Downloaded’ became the norm to them, but the humble pair used the accolades as fuel to publish an app for Apple’s most user friendly platform of all time: iOS.
djay for iPad and iPhone
At the time, the iPhone and iPod touch were too small and underpowered, and thus the pair decided that the experience would be too compromised to warrant an iOS app. But Karim and Christoph were excited by the interactive capabilities of the iPad and immediately started brainstorming ideas for djay once the device was announced in 2010. “We knew the iPad would be the perfect platform because DJing is all about quick multitouch actions. Everything is constantly moving when you’re in the middle of the process and you need to have your hands on all of the controls to make sure everything plays well,” Karim said.
But the device wasn’t without its tradeoffs. While the iPad featured a great 9.7 inch touchscreen, it lacked the RAM that made djay run so smoothly on the Mac. Additionally, while the Mac could run multiple processes in the background at once, the iPad was limited to running one third party app or process at a time.
Fortunately, after a large engineering effort and some major multitasking improvements introduced to iPad with iOS 4.2, djay could run smoothly and the two began to finalize plans to ship the app with the iOS update in fall of that year. Much like its Mac counterpart, djay for iPad went on to become the number one top paid music app in almost every country. Soon after, while iOS was continuously improving and the iPhone’s screen got larger with the introduction of the iPhone 5, Karim and Christoph decided to make an iPhone app to complete the djay ecosystem. “We wanted each app to act together and complement each other. And were able to add features like iCloud sync so that the apps would work across all platforms.”
“App of the Year” and an Apple Design Award later, the two were inspired to continue growing the immensely popular djay ecosystem. They wanted to reinvent what they started from the ground up so that the software was even more innovative than before, but still catered to both professional and novice users. But Karim and Christoph encountered a “fortunately unfortunate” problem: any major changes made to djay’s design or functionality would cripple existing users’ workflows as many have become comfortable with the software’s traditional, but simultaneously modern, appeal.
After two years of intense research and development, Karim and Christoph are confident that they’ve created the
next generation best version of djay. It’s called djay 2 and while in many ways its an evolution from the greatest DJ software on the planet (as indicated by its name), it’s also a revolution in the way beginners and experts alike will create music.
“The challenge while designing djay 2 was about asking ourselves, ‘how can we take it to the next level and give the professionals even more tools and more options while not breaking the experience?’ Our customers are all different ages and have all different levels of skill, so how can we make an app that works for both of them?”
djay 2 features a redesigned interface that highlights a nice blend between ‘flat’ and necessary skeuomorphic elements. “Skeuomorphism can be an extremely controversial design element, but we believe we’ve used it right so that it provides a natural benefit to the user,” says Karim. As such, the turntables and vinyl records are here to stay, but many of the app’s ‘heavier’ textures have been replaced with simpler one’s so as to give djay 2 a fresh, fast, but traditional makeover. The new design is also a fair compromise between a complete overhaul and a subtle nip-and-tuck, which will certainly please both those comfortable with the software in its current incarnation and those looking for a bit of a refresh.
Drawing on the detail and clarity of the Retina Display featured on most models of the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, djay 2’s old school turntable now shows precise virtual grooves, which are individually mapped and rendered for each song on the app’s virtual records. The unique peaks and valleys are visible much like they would be on a traditional vinyl, which allows users to quickly identify breaks within a song. It’s a nice proof of concept, but the added detail isn’t so useful in practice. Moreover, while the individual grooves are easily distinguishable on the iPad and even iPhone’s Retina Displays, they’re not as obvious on the iPad 2 or iPad mini’s regular displays. It’s a nice change that adds an even greater sense of purpose to the deck, but it won’t fundamentally change the way in which you interact with each record.
In addition to the turntables, djay 2 features a new, top-down view called HD Waveforms. You can easily switch from classic turntable platter to the new HD Waveform view by tapping on the wave button in the middle of the app, which will slide the decks aside to reveal the new view underneath. You can switch back at any time — even while playing a song — but I much preferred the HD Waveform view as I found it gave me finer control over what I could do with the song.
The new view will be instantly familiar to those that have used Traktor DJ, which just recently make its way to iOS. Like Traktor, djay 2’s spectral timeline allow you to interact with two decks simultaneously so that you can slice for temporary hot cues and scratch right on the waveform using what djay 2 calls “Slip Mode.” You can also cue and beat-match each song in the waveform view with Beat-Grids. The layout is vertical, compared to Traktor’s horizontal layout, which feels slightly more natural when scratching, but might feel strange to those used to tracking from left to right.
While the new HD Waveforms are a massive improvement in their own right, djay 2’s all about color, and that’s what makes the app an order of magnitude better than its predecessor. The new design gives users precise visual cues that highlight similar sounds with similar colors. The Algoriddim team found that while certain colors are best associated with percussion sounds, others a best matched to vocals. As a result, djay 2 features this sound-to-color metaphor throughout the app and across every song, serving to make mixing and matching even easier than before.
When a song is imported into djay 2, the song is scanned for musical patterns using a new analysis technology which are then interpreted with color, so that sections of the song that sound the same are are indicated as such using the same color. Tapping on waveforms with the same color while a song is playing will result in a similar sound (i.e., the same chorus, verse, or similar sounding part) that can then be ‘stitched’ together on the fly to create mixes that retain the same beat. It’s one of the most intuitive and ingenious changes in djay 2 that users will understand immediately when they get their hands on it.
The new analysis technology also now better detects BPM, beat grids, loudness, and frequency information with more accuracy than ever. These improvements not only serve to better match each sound with its appropriate color, but also to introduce a completely redesigned sync feature now known as Perfect Sync. As indicated by its name, djay 2 allows users to seamlessly blend songs together with the tap of a button. The feature was available in the previous version of the app, but would often only sync songs for a few seconds if at all before they transitioned out of sync. In my testing, Perfect Sync proved accurate with every song I threw at it, ensuring that both songs were always beat-synchronized for a smooth transition or mash-up.
djay 2 also has an all-new built-in sampler that allows users to trigger sounds and create drumbeats on top of their music. There are only a few built-in sounds to play with and they’re mostly what you’d expect — snare drums, hi-hats, and even the infamous foghorn — but it’s nice to see them included anyway. I would’ve liked to have seen a few more sound effects in addition to the Essentials, Sound FX, and Dubstep packs (even via in-app purchase), but I can live with what’s already included. Thankfully, in addition to the included sound effects, users can sample their music from iTunes to create and save their own sample banks that can be quickly loaded during a performance.
Speaking of iTunes, djay 2 also features a redesigned music browser that makes finding and queuing songs a bit easier than before. You can now swipe on the music pop-ups to build playlists based on song requests and upcoming tracks on the spot while music still plays in the background. Music can be purchased from the iTunes Store right from within the app to add a song to your library (and mix) on the fly, and much like the iTunes Store, there’s a history playlist that automatically tracks played songs, allowing users to recreate mixes based on what’s already played during that session.
What do djay 2’s enhancements mean for the future of the platform and profession itself? First, djay 2’s color-to-sound paradigm is simply brilliant and will make scratching not only a delight, but a drop-dead simple action than anyone who uses it will be able to understand. Second, the enhancements to djay’s analysis technology will not only make future mash-ups easier to mix and record, but will encourage those perviously thwarted from the difficult task to give it another go. Third, djay 2’s refreshing design answers the long-debated ‘flat’ versus skeuomorphic design argument simply and concretely with a resounding, ‘both’. If djay 2 is any indication, apps need not choose one design trend over the other but instead incorporate what’s necessary so that design is neither obtrusive nor overwhelming. If that means combining both flat and skeuomorphic elements, so be it; it’s for the better of the experience and thus the user.
“We put years of experience and input from millions of fans into every detail to create the best possible DJ experience on iPad and iPhone,” says Karim, CEO of Algoriddim. “We are thrilled to bring djay 2 to market and can’t wait to see how our fans will utilize the new app.”
djay 2 is will only available for the iPhone and iPad for the time being, so those looking to get their hands on it for Mac will have to wait a bit longer. I’m frankly a bit disappointed that Algoriddim’s not shipping the iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions all at once considering the company’s push to position djay as a comprehensive ecosystem, but Karim and Christoph were sure to let me know that they “care about the Mac a lot,” so hopefully we’ll see something in that department soon.
djay 2 is an absolute steal for its one-week special introductory price of $0.99 on iPhone and $4.99 on iPad. Grab them now before they revert back to their regular prices of $1.99 and $9.99, respectively.