Why I Won’t Be Doing the Ice Bucket Challenge

ice water scamUnless you’ve given up social media, you can’t help but notice every other story is someone dumping cold water on their head in the name of charity.  Everyone is getting involved, everyone from school soccer teams to irrelvant celebrities are “taking the challenge”.   Not surprisingly, the ALS research charity has seen big gains in their donations.  Is this a terrible thing?  No.

Americans are pretty awesome people.  We love to be generous, and even though time and time again, we watch our well intended money being stolen by lowlifes, we continue to give. Even when we’re broke, we give.

However,  I won’t be doing any ice bucket challenges or anything like that.   And I’ve articulated why. I’m not discouraging you to donate to charity, however, I am encouraging you to think before you do it. In the end, it might end up being better for the people who really need help. This is just one man’s opinion.

Who Is Really Benefiting

It’s my opinion that a lot of these so called charities are nothing more than tax free business ventures that don’t benefit too many people other than some people who run it. Kinda like organized religion with slightly fewer insane beliefs.

Charities That Don’t Want to Share Generosity

I hear story after story of charity executives living the high life and they spend most of the their money on marketing and themselves. Also, they spend a lot of money on lawyers acting like greedy scumbags. Suing other charities. Copyrighting shit you don’t own. I’m looking at you, ALS Charity for trying to trademark the “ice bucket challenge” and Susan Komen Foundation for suing other smaller charities for use of the word “cure

According to some reports, many large charities are efficient, and I see a lot of figures saying that they are 88% or better at getting the money where it was intended. I don’t know if I totally believe it, though. Just me being skeptical.

I Don’t Like Being Guilted Into Anything

charity questionWhat do you mean I have to donate? High pressure tactics usually spell disaster. Whenever someone pressures me to spend money without proper research, it usually means there’s a scam going on.

Whenever I go to Petco, or Wallgreens, or Jewel, my checkout procedure is slowed down by them begging money for some charity. No man, I don’t want to donate.

What if I don’t see any proof that this money is going to help hungry puppies or sick children? Show me some proof that it’s not going into some account being milked to death by some executive who won’t face any jail time when they are caught?

No Accountability

I just want to see where all this money is going. I feel like there is literally less oversight into where people’s money goes than in the federal government, and we know that’s a total shitshow. I’m all for donating money directly to someone who needs it. Like a family of someone afflicted with a disease, or the legal defense fund for someone I feel being persecuted. Sure, there’s still potential for abuse, but it would seem less likely.

Asking for money is like a homeless person asking for money to feed himself. We all know it’s probably not going to eat with that money.

Or I’ll donate supplies directly to someone or an organization. Oh, you’re hungry? How about some food. You want medical supplies? Here, have some.

And before any of you complain I’m not charitable or that I am stingy, I challenge you to prove you’ve donated more to charities than I have this year.

Posted in Opinion

Why Being In the Red Makes You An Amateur

red line mixer lightsIt’s a pretty safe bet that when you see something red, it’s not a good thing.   Emergency lights are red. Pimples are red. Once a month, women HATE seeing the color red.   Ok, I didn’t mean to be vulgar there, but I’m trying to illustrate a point.   Red is primarily not a good thing unless you’re talking about the ripeness of a Washington apple.

Yet, I go to many clubs and other events where the music is so loud that I can’t hear myself think.  While it’s not OVERLY distorted, it’s certainly less pleasant than clean sound. And then, when I leave the club, it sounds like someone has shoved cotton in my ears because they are ringing so badly.  Is it too loud?  Yes.  Am I too old? No.

I almost never have a problem with this when pros are behind the helm. Maybe of the larger clubs have giant sound systems that never hurt my ears, because knowledgeable stage managers are keeping a close eye on the talent. It’s a problem with amateurs who don’t understand how it all works and/or believe that louder = better.

I recently attended a house party where an otherwise good DJ kept cranking the volume to the point that you could not speak to anyone at a normal volume anywhere in the 2 story house.  That’s just totally unacceptable.   I’ve been to concerts where I’ve stood near giant stacks of speakers and I can still talk to people next to me without shouting, and it’s still plenty loud.

Why is Redlining Bad

The electrical engineers at Pioneer didn’t put red lights in the level meters just because they enjoy the color. It’s there to let you know that your signal is deteriorating. A deteriorating sound signal is like when food goes bad. It stinks and no one should have it forced upon them. “Redlining” is just another term for Clipping.

sine waveThe Sine Wave
If you’re a DJ you have to be a real schmuck not to have heard of a sine wave.  Over on the right here, we see an example of one.  Notice how smooth it looks.  That’s exactly the kind of signal you want reaching your speakers.

Notice those little tic marks on the Y axis of this graph? Those represent the maximum level that that sine wave can be before it will start to distort.

Ok, What Happens When the Signal Clips

clipped sine waveOK, see that blue, smooth sine wave? That’s what it should look like when your levels are all green, or slightly flirting with the yellow.

Remember those tic marks from the other picture? They are represented on this graph by Vcc (Voltage Cycle Clipped)

Once you crank the gain on your channel, and bring those lights into the red, your signal is no longer a pretty sine wave, it looks like the green section of this wave, because the peaks of the sine wave are sheared off by the clipping limits.  What you see with the green part of the wave is a CLIPPED WAVE… and therefore… a distorted signal.

Now it looks like a cross between a sawtooth and a square wave, neither of which you want going to your speakers.

Quick Lesson On Equipment

Let’s explain quickly what equipment is in your chain and what it does, exactly.

Controller/CD-Player/Turntable : All this does is take the sound from the medium you have and convert it to an electrical signal. Some controllers have mixers built in, but for this I’m talking about standalone units. It doesn’t really amplify a signal at all. Even a Technics 1200 doesn’t amplify the tiny signal the needle produces by vibrating in the groove. Assuming your equipment isn’t made at Safeway, what should come out of your unit is a nice clean sine wave.

Mixer : There are several “points of gain” here on a mixer.  You can increase the size of the signal with channel gain (of course), with the volume faders, and even with the EQ potentiometers.  If any of those settings cause the signal to clip before it gets to the Master Volume knob, your signal will be distorted no matter what setting the Master is at.

That means you need to be conscious of what is happening with your signal at all times. Of course the signal will be smaller before the bass kicks in.  Be aware of it.  MP3s are also all recorded at different levels, you’ll need to adjust each track a little.

Amplifier : This is pretty simple.  All this really does is take the signal from the mixer and amplify it significantly for end use at the speaker.   If you put a distorted signal into it, you will get a distorted signal out of it.  You CAN actually damage the equipment by running it too hard with a muddy signal.

Speaker: This is the last link in the chain before your eardrums.  Again, if it gets a distorted signal, it can actually damage the speakers, not to mention your ears.

How Can I Be a Non – Sucka DJ?

too loud to hearThis is actually super easy.  There’s a couple things you need to be aware of.  Tracks are all produced at different levels, so yes, you will have to make trim adjustments all night, however it should be noted that you’re only adjusting so you can keep a consistent sound, not to make things louder.  Do that with your master (if you have to.)

The BEST and most responsible way to keep your sound perfect is to come out from behind the DJ booth and take a listen.  Stand in different areas of the room.   The sound will be different depending on the shape of the room and what it’s made out of.  How many bodies are in it to absorb sound?  If you’ve got an early set, there’s no reason to be playing peak hour volume early in the night.

It only takes a second to run out on the floor and in the back and see what it sounds like. Different genres have different sounds.  If you’re changing it up, make sure you check and see what it sounds like after you shift gears.

An even easier way is to look at your crowd. If you see them leaning into each other shouting, especially when they are no where NEAR the speakers, then it’s too loud. Dial it back.

joel quest
Joel Quest

Joel Quest has been involved with the underground music scene for nearly 20 years, and has a deep respect for at art of DJing.  Known for going on passion fuel rants. Doesn’t care for pickles or traffic.
joel quest soundcloudBesides wasting a lot of time on Reddit, he is a avid pilot, animal lover and trouble causer.

Posted in DJing

Why all the Hate for Trance Music?

WhatisTranceMusicIt’s been fashionable to hate trance almost since I started DJing 15 years ago.    I’m a DJ of many genres of music, I make my living playing music for people.   Although I can DJ a wedding just as well as a Drum and Bass party, I will always consider myself a Trance DJ first.   I started on trance and I’ll always consider it my first love, and the fact that everyone else seems to hate it for no reason makes me love it all that much more.

A Breakdown of Trance (and a bad pun)

Trance is coming up on it’s 20th birthday.  It’s been around since the mid 90’s and is easily identified by it’s tremendous emotional overtones and energetic buildups.   Although it’s evolved somewhat over the years, spreading into subgenres like psy trance and uplifting trance, each very different from one another, trance still holds many of it’s core concepts true.. those being high energy crescendos and driving basslines accompanied my beautiful vocals and emotional synths.

A look at the top earning DJs over the years heavily favors the Trance genre… and maybe that’s what has sparked so much continual snobbery towards trance.  Europe has always been a hub for the genre, and in the US, it’s managed to hold onto many of the superclubs in major cities.  It’s never had to make a comeback, because it’s always been there.

So why all the hate?

Back when I lived in Philly, which is decidedly a House town, it was a tough job getting anyone to listen to me.   “Oh you’re a trance DJ?  Trance sucks.”  I heard this from a lot of veteran DJs too… the kind of people that have been doing it  long enough that they realize that there are different strokes for different strokes, and just because it’s not your taste doesn’t make it bad.  It went beyond that though.   Promoters and club owners simply didn’t want any trance in their clubs.

I never understood that.  One of the best parts about electronic music is how I can go hear 40 DJ’s and none of them will play the same music.   Or… I could go to a bunch of sports bars where the DJs play top 40 and hear the same tired shit ad nauseum.

destroy trance

We all dislike some genres of electronic music, but those of us with a mature attitude can still respect the talent the artists at the top of the genres we don’t like, even if we don’t necessarily “get” the music.   For example, I’m not into dubstep, but I can respect Skrillex for the tremendous talent he has.

The worst offenders in my experience has been the House music DJs… because for the most part, DnB, Hardstyle and other minority subgenre DJs were facing their own discrimination.  House has always had a firm grip on the USA, I get it, not sure where the hostility towards trance comes from. In terms of structure, it’s similar to house.

In fact, there was several people so committed to trying to tear down something that they didn’t like that they made a websites and tshirts emblazoned with the phrase “Destroy All Trance”.   Nevermind the fact that the clubs that did play trance were some of the most revered and most talked about clubs in the city.  There’s actually quite a few people out there that will go out of their way just to take a shot at trance whenever I post something about it on facebook.

What I Like About Trance

Trance is usually grouped into 5 year blocks.   Every 5 years, there’s a distinct aural signature to much of the music produced at that time.  I can hear a track from 2008 and know instinctively that it was produced around that time.  Same thing with trance from 2003 and 1999 and even trance produced yesterday… or me, it’s ALL good.   That means that every time I listen to trance, it’s the best time for trance.

Trance is also one of the few genres that routinely has very melancholy lyrics accompanied by high energy, uplifting music.  Oceanlab’s “Sirens of the Sea” is a good example of this. Although it’s several years old, and is a little lower key than most standard trance, its a good demonstration of how flexible Trance is.

And lastly, trance just makes me feel good.   The energy and layers of sound always know how to warm me up on the inside, which is something I wish more people would let themselves enjoy. Whenever I’m tired and ready to fall asleep, I can count on a good trance track to wake me up like it was 4 shots of espresso.  When I’m in my car, a good trance mix makes the world fly by faster.

And lets not forget the goosebumps. A phenomenon that occurs for me whenever there’s a crescendo or bassline key change after a climax. It’s a physiological reaction, which occurs when dopamine floods your brain in a similar fashion to when we’re having sex or the way a drug addicts’ brain lights up in anticipation of getting a fix. Yeah, I guess you could say the music is our drug.

Trance Community— Keep the Family Growing!

trance goosebumps

Trance heads and Junglists are the most closely knit crowds in the electronic music community. I know I can go to a club with an Anjunabeats shirt on and walk away with a brand new friend who respects trance as I do. There are Trancefamily groups all over the country that make extra effort to keep the community together and support artists.   There’s trance fans all over the globe making sure the community stays connected by setting up meetups and even arranging meet and greets with the bigger names. It’s good for the scene, it’s good for everyone. Get involved, you won’t regret it.

One of my favorite things to do is bring someone new into the trance family.   I often do this with co-workers or some other people I strike up conversation with.   I’ll send them over some entry level trance tracks usually with vocals (especially for the ladies) and based on their reactions to it, send them other tracks.  Maybe if they respond really well to it, I’ll take them Castle Nightclub and let them experience for themselves firsthand how awesome the music and the people can be.

Here’s some helpful links to some trance communities

Trancefamily Chicago (facebook page for the local Chicago TranceFamily)

Chicago Trance Formation (meetup group)

joel quest

Joel Quest

Joel Quest is a lifelong lover of music, and has been a part of the underground scene since the mid 90’s. Joel holds onto a niche market in Chicago as a wedding DJ for upscale and unique joel quest soundcloudcouples. In addition to music, he is a avid private pilot, animal lover and trouble causer.


Posted in Opinion

The Truth About the SYNC Button

The Sync Button. The singlemost cause of animosity and controversy in the DJ world. Experienced DJs felt this new technology was killing the craft.  This is such an exciting time to be a DJ.   There’s so many ways to manipulate sound and indeed, create sound while live on stage.   In the right hands, amazing things happen that humble many of us

What is the Sync Button?


Knowing how to beatmatch manually automatically garnered a DJ at least some type of respect, and when Sync buttons were added to certain platforms, it was received very poorly by DJs who had taken the time to learn to do it by ear.

The Sync Button allows DJs to automatically beatmatch music whereas before they were required to spend countless hours learning how to beatmatch “by ear”. While some systems are better than others, most are very good at lining up the peaks in the kick, and will rarely have issues creating a seamless mix of two tracks.  Some systems are nearly perfect, while others occasionally need some tweaking.  Overall, its a handy too.

DJs Like to Live in the Past

I’ve been doing this for about 14 years now. My first piece of equipment was a Denon 1800F Dual CD player. CD decks were just starting to hit the market at the time, 95% of DJs still used vinyl. It had no looping functions or Sync or effects. The only thing that really separated it from a turntable at the time was the CUE button. But that didn’t stop every vinyl DJ I met from calling me a cheater or telling me I wasn’t a DJ at all.


See It For What It Is

One need not dig very deep to find a grumbling undercurrent of DJs who simply hate the fact the SYNC button exists. Opinions range from it being called a “cheat” and some DJs believe it will bring about the end of DJing altogether.

Why? The Sync Button is a tool just like the looping features or CUE button on any deck. I didn’t hear these same DJs complain about the quantize feature coming out, making seamless looping much easier. Learning how to create manual loops sometimes proved just as much a challenge as beatmatching.

As someone who can manually beatmatch quite well, I welcome the Sync button. Quite simply, it allows me more opportunity to do things. Even at my best, I might spend up to 30 seconds or more trying to “lock” two tracks together before dropping the next one into the mix. Even if I rush the track in and make adjustments to the pitch on the fly, I’m still going to be spending time making those adjustments to avoid a beat mismatch or trainwreck.

There’s a lot more to DJing that just beatmatching. There’s lots of fader cutting and EQ manipulation that can be utilized.  Mixers are loaded with effects now.  These aren’t automatic, they take skill to work. Even still, there’s showmanship.  There’ programming and layering.

Having the sync allows me more time to work other exciting opportunities in my mix. Mixers and Midi controllers today have lots of effects and ways to modify the track I’m playing. Effects and Processing can be just as difficult to master because, like beatmatching, if you mess it up, everyone hears it.

And don’t get too worried about kids not having to pay their dues learning how to beatmatch by ear. Those that skip learning how to do it by ear may never learn some of the other valuable lessons that one will pick up while playing track after track for hours on end. They may miss out on understanding things like like phrasing, 64 counts or anything else that dawns on you when you become an experienced beatmatcher. I tell new DJs that learning how to beatmatch by ear is like going to college. Your goal might be one thing (mechanical engineering degree) but the experience of college will teach you so much more than that.

Let it Be

sub focus bass pod stage

DJing is not just about beatmatching. If anything, Beatmatching as a skill come in a distant third to Programming and Mic Skills. Knowing how to read any type of crowd and having a collection of music to satiate them is exponentially harder than beatmatching, in my opinion. No one is going to care if you blend a bunch of lackluster tracks together smoothly. So ease up on the SYNC button and learn what it can do for you.

Putting together a set beforehand isn’t the worst thing you can do… but make sure you know how to read a crowd first before you do it.   Your instinct will prevail.

And while we’re at it, it’s very hard for a DJ to have a totally unplanned set at a festival.  Why?  Those lightshows work best when there’s some coordination between people running them and the DJ.    The music will impact the masses longer if what they are seeing matches what they are hearing.   Besides, remember the 80/20 curve?

Posted in DJing


Tech House Mix (May 2014)
Psytrance Mix (March 2014)
Electro House Mix (March 2013)