This article was originally published in October 2017 and was last updated in September 2018.
“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 VDJ/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 won’t 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.
My risk tolerance is pretty minimal. While I will try to incorporate solutions for issues that may happen once every 2-3 years, situations can come up that are more infrequent that it may warrant mitigation. I had such a situation in 2018 that I will talk about in this article.
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 wherein 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 in 2018.
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 to swap out faulty parts quickly. 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.
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 leverage my backup laptop as also my laptop where I maintain my notes (in Microsoft OneNote) along with acting as a spare control for my Soundcraft Ui16, and act as a VDJ/Serato backup as necessary.
Now I have two Macbooks Pros, one for my everyday use and it serves as my backup VDJ/Serato laptop. My gig laptop is used, well, only for gigging and has just the bare essentials for me to work with, VDJ/Serato and that is about it. This keeps the possibility of issues and conflicts 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 VDJ/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 the second laptop
VDJ/Serato crashes during gig / Play emergency mix on Ui16. Reboot and test VDJ/Serato. If crash again, transition to laptop #2.
VDJ/Serato freezes during gig / Play emergency mix on Ui16. Reboot and test VDJ/Serato. If crash again, transitions to laptop #2.
Someone spills a drink on laptop / Immediately power off. Play emergency mix on Ui16. Transition to laptop #2.
Laptop gets smashed into and falls during gig / Play emergency mix on Ui16. Transition to laptop #2.
It’s All About The Mix
Working from the top-down you come across your mixer and decks. In my case, I have my Numark NS7iii controller and at home, I have my Rane 62 + 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 second set of decks to a gig because I can mix with just one deck.
As for my controller, there are a couple of things I could have done with one extreme to carry a second identical mixer along. After some long thoughts about it, I opted for a less expensive option that does not take a lot of space to carry 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.
Some solutions may stay at home on a rainy day. Others stay in a bag and can be pressed into service right away.
Scenarios / Resolutions
Controller fails / Play emergency mix on Ui16, reboot, test, bring back into service if possible. Bring out AMX.
Someone spills a drink on my controller during gig / Immediately power off. Play emergency mix on Ui16. Bring out AMX.
Controller fails before going to a gig / Bring secondary system to gig.
“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 VDJ/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 the press of a 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 its 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 can swap with my ceremony system (and vice-versa).
Scenarios / Resolutions
Ui16 fails / Bypass directly to speakers. Swap out digital box 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 bring multiple identical speakers 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.
Scenarios / Resolutions
Speaker fails / Grab spare and press into service.
Both primary speakers fail / Grab Maui 5 Gos and press into service.
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 the corded mic or mic box depending on the scenario
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 on 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 the laptop and/or phone till iPad recovers
Don’t Forget The Power
I mentioned above that there was a situation in 2018 that hadn’t happened to me in my six years of starting Paris Creative, and it was a risk that I had considered but the solutions were not quite where it would be best to incorporate into it over the past years. And yes the image above has literally everything to do with the situation I am about to talk about.
Let’s set the stage. It’s April 2018 and I am getting ready to announce the wedding party in when an unexpected thunderstorm comes in. I announce the wedding party into the way-too-appropriate Back to the Future theme and Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News and start the first dance. About 30 seconds into the first dance, the building takes a lightning strike, the power takes a brief hit and everything comes down long enough that everything resets and it’ll take my digital mixer takes 45 seconds to come back up. Now I quickly get the crowd to clap away as the system comes back up because I know any of my backup and redundancy solutions would take about as long to come up as it would coming up on its own. The couple is crazy cool about the situation and rolls with it. I mean come on, a lightning strike right after playing the theme and main song from Back To the Future? What a coincidence!!
This is something that may never happen again. It took six years of running my company for this situation to occur. But for me, those 45 seconds seemed like an eternity, especially at their first dance. While this couple was unbelievably awesome, another may have had no tolerance no matter the rarity of the occurrence and my reputation is not worth that risk. With that, I have gone into a much further deep dive on battery backups over here.
The Wrap Up
I hope this helps to dive into the world of backups, risk assessments, and recovery. It’s not an easy task to consider and in some cases, it can get downright expensive and complicated. But knowing is half the battle. Do this exercise for yourself. Look at the possibilities and assess what will work best for you, and since 100% risk mitigation is virtually impossible it’s best to know them up front. With that knowledge, you can feel confident that you are prepared for nearly anything.
Biography: Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres and became a wedding DJ in 2012. 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 and if you find this content interesting contribute to my Patreon.