You are at your gig playing the crucial first dance of a wedding, or the introduction song of someones’ Sweet 16, or smack dab in the middle of biggest dance set of the night. And then, the unthinkable happens! The power fails, or the drunk uncle spills beer all over the laptop, or something crashes into the setup. For a moment, all seems lost and out of commission. But are you? While these events are pretty rare, one should always plan for the unplanned and unthinkable. Instead of shrugging, pointing the finger and settling for disaster, the DJ can come out on top.
This is not my setup, but let’s face it we are all susceptible to these dangers
Before getting into the details, let’s consider the concept of redundancy. Redundancy can take many forms ranging from having a clone of your data available to having a backup laptop. While it is all well and good to make redundancy plans, these are always tempered with budget and time. There will be times when even the best laid plans fail and that’s when a good DJ knows when to call it a day. One of the goals in my redundancy plans is to still provide a quality experience during if the interruption is minimal.
As a DJ, one can never plan for every contingency. That is just not feasible. Recognizing your budget limitations will act as a framework for what your best contingencies are. In this piece, I will be posting contingencies that have worked for me in the past. As a note to this preface, I have been a professional DJ since 1988 and a IT Professional since 1996 and while I bring a lot of knowledge to the subject my opinions are anecdotal and from a certain point of view. Your own limitations, knowledge and experience should direct your actions.
When considering redundancy to your own setup, think in modular terms. Consider the role of each piece of equipment you are using. Can these pieces be replicated inexpensively and replaced quickly should one fail? Does every piece need a twin? Of course not. Just keep in mind which ones are most critical to your operation. Those are the ones to keep spares, or at least equivalents of during your performance. The real goal here is to find the least down-time for your guests if something happens.
If they can’t hear you, they can’t appreciate you. When shopping around for my speakers I considered overall sound quality, build quality, weight, size and, of course, price. The product I ultimately decided on was the Yamaha DXR8 top cabinets for my main system, sound reinforcement, cocktail, and reception duties. For subs I purchased a matching pair of Yamaha DXR12 subs. This setup is all about redundancy. Should the top cabinet fail, I can press an identical speaker into service and not worry about tuning the room out to compensate for the change. For the subs, I decided to go with a pair of twelve inch speakers instead of a larger 15″ to 18″ single sub. While this setup does not ‘hit’ as hard, the have phenomenal sound with the added bonus of redundancy- should one fail, the other can pick up the slack without notice. This concept proved its worth during an outdoor wedding gig in 2015. One of the subs failed due to the ambient temperature reached 96ºF. While it was disappointing that unit failed, it was reassuring to know that the wedding party never noticed. Concept validated!
Decks, Mixer, & Controllers
In keeping with redundancy and convenience, i use a pair of quality decks for my event. These take the form of either the Reloop RP-8000 turntables or Denon SC3900S ‘digital vinyl’ deck (read my review on the “battle of vinyl decks”). Whenever I schedule a performance, I always bring spare of one or the other decks I decide to use in case of a failure. There are ways around a failure in the Serato software where you can go into “INT” mode, go through the process of creating doubles, pass your live deck over to the ‘INT’ deck and then mix with the still-functioning deck. However it is preferable to swap out the failed unit if possible to make your job easier.
Another concept that often gets disastrously overlooked is that if you are spinning DVS or pure vinyl at a gig, never forget to pack an extra stylus or two. If you are doing any sort of manipulation, you are increasing the chance of the stylus breaking off. A great stylus is not cheap but it’s worth having the extra on hand.
Redundancy does hit a bit of a snag when it comes to mixers. It is all well and good to suggest having a spare at the ready, but considering a quality, professional grade mixer can top the $2000 mark, it’s a tough investment to swallow and many choose to skip it. In my business, I chose to purchase a spare mixer, in this case another Rane 62. This was a pricey choice, but it seemed to justify itself should the unthinkable happen doing a gig. Better to have the equipment at the ready than to risk having dissatisfied customers. Being a DJ is a business and in a business, it is best to keep the customer happy.
I have a bit of an unusual setup in that I run a post-mixer. Allow me to explain this decision. Instead of running the Rane 62 mixer directly to the speakers, I have installed a ‘middle-man’, so to speak, in the form of a Soundcraft Ui16 digital mixer (read my review here). I feed the Rane 62 into one channel (mono), the microphone into other available channels and then out to the speakers. Allow me to explain why I have this set-up: The Rane 62 has a microphone input and sounds great out of the box. But, in this case, I am using it to produce a final mix that combines the mics and music into many controlled outputs for my main speakers and auxiliary outputs. I can even have an XLR or 1/4″ output channel for a videographer.
So how does this help me in redundancy? Allow me to explain: I am getting ready for the introductions and the first dance, I have the first dance cued up on my Soundcraft via a USB stick and ready at the touch of a button. If something failed up top, say my laptop, my decks, or my mixer, I simply press play and I am back in business in a mere couple of seconds. This goes for any special dance for the night, or a default go-to floor filler if something goes terribly wrong in the dance segment. I have purchased two Ui16’s, one for my ceremony system and the other for receptions. I have a spare unit as well that can be swapped quickly should the primary fail.
Laptops and Storage
One piece of advice that I can offer is that if you are a DJ that depends on your laptop, you must have two. End of discussion. The heart of your entire operation is stored on that machine and like any machine it can fail. That is why this is the biggest redundancy you can have. Of course, if you have planned carefully, there are solutions you can use as a work-around, but who wants to mix with a Post-Mixer all event long? In my setup, I utilize two MacBook Pros, but that isn’t to say a quality PC laptop cannot be substituted. By the way Serato has some optimization tips listed here for both Macs and PCs.
Storage is key and in that respect, I chose military-grade, shock resistant external USB 3.0 drives clocking in at 2TB a piece. These drives are cloned before each event using Carbon Copy Cloner so the music and ‘crates’ are identical. In my experience, the external hard drive is the best route to take since either your master or spare hard drive can be used with your primary or backup laptop in any combination. Again, redundancy to the rescue!
I also utilize a pair of 16GB thumb drives but as a primary storage device for my ceremony system since I do my mixing off of that, and as a secondary storage device that can be plugged into my Denon SC3900s or my Soundcraft Ui16.. By using these as in that role, I can have multiple ways to access the more critical music for the event. It may be overkill, but I would not have it any other way.
Bypassing Components & Scenarios
There are times where even the best laid-out plan can have a kink in its armor. You may not have time to swap out a component, your backup component is too far away in your vehicle, etc. So what do you do in these cases? You best have a Plan B, and even a Plan C or Plan D if possible.
Let me throw a few scenarios and their possible solutions:
Issue: Laptop Failure
> Solution 1 – Play off Ui16 and swap laptop. Playback time, 5-10 seconds, turnaround 2-3 minutes, best option.
> Solution 2 – Play real vinyl and swap laptop. Playback time 15-30 seconds, turnaround 2-3 minutes, limited music but good option.
> Solution 3 (double laptop failure) – Play purely off SC3900 and thumb drive. Playback and turnaround 5-15 seconds, slightly more difficult to playback for the entire night.
Issue: Mixer Failure
> Solution 1 – Play off Ui16 and swap mixer. Playback time, 5-10 seconds, turnaround 5-7 minutes, best option.
> Solution 2 – Play off Ui16 and bypass mixer with cable & play off laptop. Playback time, 5-10 seconds, turnaround 4-5 minutes, not ideal but will work.
> Solution 3 – Play off Ui16. Playback time, 5-10 seconds, turnaround 4-5 minutes, least ideal but will work when all else fails.
Issue: Soundcraft Failure
> Solution 1 – Bypass Ui16 with cables, play off Rane 62, swap Ui16. Playback time 2-3 minutes, turnaround time 7-10 minutes, best option.
> Solution 2 – Bypass Ui16 with cables, play off Rane 62. Playback time 2-3 minutes, loss of multiple mic channels and AFS.
There are of course so many other scenarios that could come your way, and each one needs to have it’s risk and associated costs evaluated.
And lastly, we cover redundancy in power availability. This is an something often overlooked but should at least garner some of your attention. Consider that as a DJ, most work takes place during the late Spring and early Fall months, months that do have a tendency to see extremely unpleasant weather. During this weather the power can fail. Does that mean that the show has to stop? No. For a small investment, you can keep your guests entertained and dancing despite the power outage for short periods of time. UPS modules and battery packs are available for a modest cost. These can keep your system operating anywhere from 10-120 minutes depending on the total load of your equipment. You may want to consider if you are going to be running off batteries for an extended period of time that you unplug your subs. Yes it will not hit the party as hard but you will extend the life of the battery considerably. These batteries also add flexibility to your business as you can perform for ceremonies in the middle of a field, lakefront, or other locale that has no power available.
As a professional DJ you should consider not only the typical elements of an event, but you should also try to incorporate the ability to recover from the unexpected. For some people that might mean a couple options to fall back, for some others that may be much more. You have to evaluate the risks of not having redundant pieces of equipment and what the costs will be to have something that simply many not happen. But if it does happen, you can come out on top of a bad situation.