“With great power comes great responsibility.” Yes it is a bit more than an overused Uncle Ben/Spiderman quote, it has actual application in the mobile DJ world, especially with wedding DJs. It’s the power to make or break a moment. As a Wedding DJ you only have one shot to get it right. If a first dance is ready to happen and say Serato crashes, what do you do? This article is dedicated to the art of backup and recovery as a mobile DJ.

So before we jump into this discussion we have to talk about a big factor in figuring out what you will or wont do. Risk. Risk in this case is a measurement of how much you are ready to sweat in a moment of failure. Some people will decide that any level of failure is too great and spare no expense, some will say they don’t want to invest in the possibility of failure, and many will meet somewhere in the middle.

To give a bit of background on myself, I spent years in the federal, public, and private space creating backup, disaster, and continuity of operation plans. I found it very interesting that I could apply some of that knowledge into the DJ world. Then again the DJ world has become so technology-centric that it’s almost a requirement to have some knowledge in the field.

First, The Sound Chain

We could talk about backups all day but first we have to understand the basics of where the sound is managed and where in the chain it goes. For some DJs they will plug a controller into their speakers and for many that is sufficient. Many modern DJ controllers have 1-2 mic inputs, but lack features like AFS or the ability to control away from the mixer.

So with that in mind I decided to create a sound chain that allows me to have finite control of each channel of sound remotely along with the ability to swap parts by having other like pieces interchangeable with each other. This is what my sound chain map looks like at the tail end of 2017.

The soundchain of my equipment circa 2017.

All of this works into my concept of modularity in one’s rig. Speaking of which…

Modularity

I touched base a lot on this article on the benefits of modularity in your system. Needless to say, having the modularity concept in your system allows you two more easily swap out faulty parts quickly. But there is no right or wrong way to do things, as long as you know the associated risk of how each piece of your equipment fits into the grand scheme of it all.

Laptops Galore

Visually the highest on the totem pole is your laptop, and honestly it’s one of your most vulnerable pieces in the mix. It can get bumped into, a bad update can create a bad day, screens can fail. So it is a no-brainer to invest in a second laptop to be pressed into service. Now I have seen some DJs go as far as having the laptop ready, application started, and simply a press of a button and it’s ready to go into service. Since I have another backup layer to help me out (the Soundcraft Ui16) I’ve opted to keep my laptop in my bag. It takes just over a minute to boot and launch Serato in the grand scheme of things.

Now I have two Macbooks Pros, one for my everyday use and it serves as my backup Serato laptop. My gig laptop is used, well, only for gigging and has just the bare essentials for me to work with (Serato, OneNote). This keeps the possibility of issues down to a bare minimum.

It’s important to note that during my prep for a gig that I make a clone of music from my everyday laptop over to my gig laptop using Carbon Clone Copier (CCC) for Mac but almost any quality file-level cloning application will work. For me it’s easier to work on my everyday laptop and only break out the gig laptop for gigs. This means cloning the entire Serato directory which also contains all my music. In the past I used to use external hard drives which I cloned. I found it easier to just maintain my library on the laptop itself (and gives me incredible SSD speeds and lightning cloning speeds as well). When I am done my gig I sync back over to my working laptop so I get all the history, any changes to music, every change. This helps keep everything in sync between both laptops.

Scenarios / Resolutions
Laptop fails to boot / Bring out second laptop
Serato crashes during gig / Play emergency mix on Ui16. Reboot and test Serato. If crash again, transition to backup laptop.
Serato freezes during gig / Play emergency mix on Ui16. Reboot and test Serato. If crash again, transition to backup laptop.
Someone spills a drink on laptop / Immediately power off. Play emergency mix on Ui16. Transition to second laptop.
Laptop gets smashed into and falls during gig / Play emergency mix on Ui16. Transition to second laptop.

Two Turntables And A Mixer

Working from the top-down you come across your mixer and decks. In my case I have my tank-of-a-mixer the Rane 62 which is an absolute workhorse. Along with that I have either my Denon SC3900s or my Reloop RP8000s. This is where you will see me take my first risk. Since space is a bit limited in my vehicle I don’t bring a secondary set of decks to a gig because I can mix with just one deck.

As for the mixer, it would be a challenging night if the mixer died and had no replacement. It would also be an expensive proposition to lug a whole second battle mixer like another Rane 62 or a Pioneer S9. After some long thoughts about it I opted for an inexpensive option to help keep the party going, an Akai AMX Pro mixer. Yes I lose some functionality like cue points, but it will still get me through the night. I keep it in my bag along with RCA > XLR cable converters so it’s a quick changeover and I am good to go.

Scenarios / Resolutions
Deck fails / Work with Serato INT mode and doubles
Mixer fails / Play emergency mix on Ui16, reboot, test, bring back into service if possible. Bring out AMX.
Someone spills a drink on mixer during gig / Immediately power off. Play emergency mix on Ui16. Bring out AMX.

“Play Emergency Mix On Ui16”

You’ve seen me mention it a few times and I have written extensively on it. My digital mixer in the chain not only serves as a mixer between my mic channels and my music channel, not only serves as AFS to make sure feedback is kept to a minimum, not only allows me to record my sets, but also serves as an immediate go to if something fails. First I make a USB stick up of all my crates for the night (simple drag and drop from Serato to USB) plus I have some pre-made mixes and other favorites on that stick. I then clone the stick for good measure. At a gig I have that stick loaded up on the Ui16 and during critical parts of the night like First Dance I have the song ready to go in case of a failure. It is literally press button, make sure levels are up, and it’s running. It’s saved me on a couple of occasions over the years and has proven worth it’s weight in saffron (yep more valuable than gold).

Now not everything is perfect, and while the Soundcraft is a tank now, in previous years it had some occasional random failures. With that in mind I drop down two XLR lines off the Rane 62 (which I run in mono) and run one into my Ui16 panel. If the Ui16 fails I can quickly take the second line and go directly to my speakers, and then swap out the first line to the speakers as well. And while I have never had to swap out the Ui16 during a gig, I always bring my second one that I can swap out if necessary.

Scenarios / Resolutions
Ui16 fails / Bypass direct to speakers. Swap out if necessary.

What About Your Speakers

So the night is cranking along and all the sudden one of your speakers fails. What do you do? Well in my case I bought identical “top cabinets” so if one does fail I can quickly grab the cocktail speaker or the extra one in my van that I tend to use for ceremony and swap that out. If a sub fails I am not overly concerned since I come with a pair of subs. I do have a spare at home that I can use if need be for the next gig.

Scenarios / Resolutions
Top cabinet fails / Grab spare and press into service.
Subwoofer fails / Continue on. Replace with spare at home for next gig.

Microphone Check

You may have noticed that I only have a single microphone attached to my main setup. If that happens to fail I do have two alternatives to work with. I can grab a corded mic right from my bag and finish out the night if need be. Otherwise I can grab my “mic box” and work off one of those mics if say speeches still need to be done.

Scenarios / Resolutions
Wireless mic fails / Replace with spare wireless mic
Wireless receiver fails / Replace with corded mic or mic box depending on scenario

OneNote

Oh OneNote and the iPad. Normally a great combination. But I had an instance where the iPad crashed, right during introductions. I had to rely what was in my brain and almost got everything right (mispronounced one name). But it got me thinking of a backup solution to that.

And it was really right in front of me. Having OneNote on my laptop would ensure that if my iPad failed I had a place to go to, with the same notes, just in case. I could use paper but I have run into so many times a number of people changes at the last second, and relying on my not-so-great handwriting or worse, relying on someone else’s is nerve wracking.

Scenarios / Resolutions
iPad or App Crashes / Change over to laptop till iPad recovers

The Wrap Up

I hope this helps to dive into the world of back, risk, and recovery. It’s not an easy task to consider and in some cases it can get downright expensive. But for me at least knowing that I can run a show with little to no interruptions is a piece of mind that has a pretty high tolerance for price.

Author - Lou Paris

Author Biography: Lou Paris of Paris Creative

Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres. Coincidentally Lou is also a successful 20+ year IT professional and has merged many technology concepts to ensure a successful night of entertainment. Click here to learn more about Lou's background.