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Tips for PC based KJs
by Bob Latshaw  / last updated 11-29-2013

Whether you're a new KJ just starting out or an old school KJ wanting to ween yourself from dragging your discs around to every show and switch to a computer based platform, the information contained here can surely save you a lot of trial and error.  There are plenty of good solutions for MACs and Linux based computers, but we're only going to cover the Windows PC platform.

All of the recommendations here are based on the premise that all KJ PCs should have performance, stability, and extremely low risk of failure, because the absolute worst thing that can happen to a DJ is for his or her system to fail, and bring the show to an abrupt stop.  You can piece together just about anything to work, but if you follow the recommendations, you will reduce your risk of problems.

PC Hardware

 You can use either a laptop or a full sized PC, but understand the pros and cons of each.  These days, laptops are starting to become the way to go for most KJs.  They have enough power and are light enough to make transporting them a lot easier.  Just remember to take care when transporting any computer.  Also, do NOT leave your computer in your vehicle or garage if you live in an area where the temperature can get below 50 degrees fahrenheit.  Computers don't respond well to cold, and if you bring a computer from a cold environment and then turn it on in a warm room, condensation can and will cause a short eventually.  I've replaced a few PCs for KJs who failed to learn this lesson.

Recommended hardware:

Processor - Multi-core Intel or AMD processor running at 1 Ghz or faster.

Operating System - Windows 7 or 8 is recommended.  Windows 7 (or later) video drivers tend to be less CPU intensive for running a full screen second display for lyrics.  Also, Windows 7 has a nice feature that automatically connects a second monitor as soon as you physically attach it so you don't have to go to the display properties and manually tell Windows its there.

RAM - 512MB minimum for XP, and 2GB for Vista, 7 or 8.  The more the better, but anything over 4 gigabytes is really overkill for DJ work.  The software required for playing music and karaoke actually uses very little RAM memory but additional memory enables Windows to "cache" (or preload) system files in memory so that when they're needed, they don't have to be "fetched" from the hard drive which in turn makes your system faster.

Hard Drive - This is where you need to emphasize on space.  To be a good KJ, you'll want to have a decent collection of music.  You'll want a good amount of space like a terabyte or more.  As of this writing, 1 Terabyte hard drives can be purchased for less than $100 and that's a good starting size.  That's enough room for about 200,000 MP3s or MP3+Gs.  Even if that sounds like more than you have now, never underestimate how fast your collection will grow.  Most KJs have all made that mistake and ended up buying larger hard drives mutliple times, but thankfully we've reached the age where digital space is no longer a problem or a great expense.

CD/DVD Drive/Burner - If your music collection is still in its starting stage and you don't download your tracks in MP3 format, you'll need a CD or DVD drive that can read karaoke discs so that you can rip existing CDs into your collection.  Most drives can't read karaoke discs, but as of this writing, Plextor, Sony, and HP are a few of the brands that have models that support CD+G karaoke discs.  Karaoke discs use a special area of the CD called the "sub-channel".  a lot of drives are capable these days, but look for this feature when purchasing a drive.  If you already have your music on a hard drive, this isn't an issue.

USB Backup Drive - You'll want to have a backup of your music and the best way to accomplish this is with a USB external hard drive.  Make sure the drive is large enough to hold either both of your regular and karaoke collections or get separate drives for each.  Also, make sure the USB interface on the drive is at least version 2.0 (it's 12 times faster than 1.x).  If your PC doesn't have USB 2.0 ports, you can purchase a separate USB 2.0 PCI card that will give you additional ports.  If you have multiple systems, your external drive is a good way to synchronize your music collections between systems.  If you wisely store your music collections in single folders, our free File Synchronizer program is perfect for synchronizing between your DJ PC and your external hard drive.

 

Setting up the PC

This section is for people with some experience in setting up a new PC, so if you're having your local computer store or a friend build your PC for you, you may want to give them these specific instructions.

1. Even if the PC comes preloaded with Windows, you're going to want to reinstall it from scratch.  Store bought PCs come with WAY too many extras loaded on them which almost always degrade performace.  You can uninstall these things one by one but you'll never quite get them completely off.  Loading from scratch will give you the best performance.

2. If you have two or more hard drives in your system, you need to pick one of them to install windows on.  If they're different sizes, you'll want to install windows on the larger of the two.  If there is more than one hard drive and they're equal size, you'll want to choose the master or lowest number in the SATA chain.

3. Boot to the windows CD and make sure you delete any partitions that exists.  If you already have a drive with information you want saved, either remove that drive (if it's different than the one windows is going on), or backup your info before you start.

4. Tell the installation to create a partition for windows (minimum 20GB for XP, 40GB for Vista, 7 or 8).  You want to keep windows on a separate partition than your music.  The amounts recommended are plenty for windows and any software you will need, but if you have tons of extra programs that you'll be using, doubling the recommended size should be plenty.  Any more is a waste.  Choose "NTFS" as the file system.  It's much more efficient.  You can also choose the "quick format" option as it will save you a lot of time.  Keeping the operating system on a separate paritition is good for two reasons.  One, when defragmenting the music drives (which you should do whenever you add new music to speed up the time to read the folders), the drive access will be faster since all of the executable programs on the OS drive (among many other things like the registry) have "prefetch" files which take priority over other files in drive cache priority, and when your music files are on a separate clean partition they are all considered equal and are accessed much faster.  The second reason, which is even more important, is because should the power ever fail while you're in the middle of playing a song, the odds of the operating system partition being affected are cut down to almost nothing.  You may loose a song file or two, but as long as you can boot your PC back up when power is restored, odds are, the show can go on.

5. After installing windows to the new small partition, use the windows disk manager to create a partition out of the available space on the drive you installed windows on.  You may want to assigned it a drive letter of "M" for music.  If you have a second drive, make one large partition out of it and assign it a drive letter of "K" for karaoke music.

6. Make sure you have drivers for everything and go to windows update and get all of the updates available, including the optional ones like the .Net framework.

7. Create 2 new folders to store your music files.  Name one of them "MP3 Music" and the other "MP3+G Karaoke".  If you have setup multiple drives, one folder goes on each drive.  Never store your music in the root folder of a drive.  We highly recommend that you don't create sub folders under each music folder as this makes synchronizing files with other PCs a nightmare.  Every MP3 song should go right into the "MP3 Music" folder and every karaoke song should go right into the "MP3+G Karaoke" folder.

8. Defrag the windows partition after all of the drivers and updates are installed.  This will help it boot as fast as possible.

9. If you're running Windows 7 or Windows Vista, you'll want to turn off UAC (User Account Control) which is located in the User Accounts section of Windows Control panel.  This is a virtually useless "feature" and can prevent some programs from workin properly.

10. Now that you've got windows installed, and a separate partition (or 2) for your music, you're ready to install the software and add your music.

11. Anytime after you've added music to your music drives, or synchronized with an external drive, it is important to defrag your music drives as this will make reading the music folder much faster in windows.  When you have tens of thousands of files in a single drive, keeping the drive defragmented is a very good maintenance habit.  After you've installed Windows, all its updates, and all the software you'll need, its a good habit to defrag the C drive and it will help the computer boot a bit faster and slightly help files from getting corrupted under a heavy load.  If youre running Windows 7 (or vista), once you've defragged your drives after everything's installed, you shouldn't need to do it again as Windows sets the computer to automatically defrag every so often, but it never hurts to manually do it once a year.

 

DJ & Karaoke software

There are many free products like Winamp that are great for playing music and karaoke.  There are also many more professional products to handle more advanced functions for more advanced DJ and Karaoke work.  For karaoke show hosting, Karma is a good choice (of course we have to tell you that is one of our own products), but take your time and look for something that you're comfortable with because your DJ or karaoke software that runs your show should be something you're very comfortable using on a daily basis.  Most importantly, don't spend as much as you can assuming that it will solve all of your problems.  There some very complex DJ and karaoke products out there that are almost more complicated than they need to be, and sometimes DJs get so caught up in all the bells and whistles that that forget their main job, and that is to simply have a fun show and keep everyone happy.  Just remember that computers don't keep the crowd happy, the DJ or KJ does.

 

Dual Screen Display
(for having karaoke lyrics on a separate monitor or TV)

To setup a secondary display, you first need a second monitor or TV to connect to, and the proper cable depending on the type of connection.  If you have a laptop, most likely your only option is a VGA port on the laptop, in which case, you need to attach a VGA monitor or some type of converter device that uses a VGA port.  Some desktop computer's video cards have other types of connectors like DVI, composite, or HDMI.  If you're connecting to a TV, its important to use the TVs remote (or buttons on the TV) to tell the TV where its input is coming from before begining to setup the computer side.  For example, if you're using a composite cable connecting to the TVs "AV1" input, you need to go to "input" in the menu or panel and set the input to "AV1".  The computer needs to recognize that the secondary display is connected and on some TVs, the computer won't receive the signal that its connected unless the TV is first set to that channel as its input.

Once your monitor or TV is on and attached, the next step is to make sure its properly setup in Windows.  If you're running Windows XP or earlier, you'll need to wait until everything is hooked up before even booting the computer, or you'll need to reboot after hooking everything up because windows XP only checks for additional displays when booting up and if it doesn't sense them attached, there is no way to force it to recognize the additional display.  Windows Vista, Windows 7 and later automatically sense a new monitor the moment its attached and also turns it on, which is very convenient.

Instructions for Windows 8 or 7. Right click on a blank area of the desktop and choose "resolution" and you should get the following window:

Display Settings

You should see two displays as shown above.  If you don't see two displays then the computer isn't sensing the second display and most likely its not hooked up properly.  Sometimes clicking the "detect" button will work in forcing windows to detect the secondary display.  Once you see two displays, make sure the "multiple displays" setting is set to "extend" as shown above.  This makes the secondary display an extension of the main display instead of simply duplicating it.  Windows should keep monitor 1 as your desktop (where the taskbar is and where you see your programs run).  If the second display is set to be the main display you can switch it back by clicking the appropriate monitor and choosing "set as my main display".  Its also a good idea to set the secondary display to the lowest possible resolution.  This reduces the amount of workload on the computer in scaling the small lyrics display to larger sizes.  Do this by clicking the secondary display and then choosing the resolution.

Instructions for windows XP.  If you're running Windows XP, there is built in functionality for "Split Screen" mode for video cards that have multiple outputs.  Right click on a blank area of the desktop and choose "properties", then click the "settings" tab.

Display Settings XP

Once at this screen, follow the same instructions for Windows 7 above.

 If you're running Windows 2000, the dual monitor capability usually comes with the drivers from the manufacturer and is setup via the "Advanced button" in the lower right, but not all windows 2000 video drivers have this capability so if you can, upgrade to Windows XP or later.

 

  

CD ripping software

CD ripping software is used for converting your regular CDs and karaoke CDs to MP3 and MP3+G format.  If you're just getting started and all of your music is on CD, you have some work ahead of you and here are some programs to get started.  We don't recommend zipping karaoke files, and although most karaoke rippers support this, its not a good idea, and the reasons are explained below in the zip section.  When ripping, most programs give you an option for setting the "bit rate" of the MP3.  Basically, the higher the bit rate, the higher the quality of the MP3, but the file size does increase the higher you go.  Hard drive space is very cheap now, and with that being said, we recommend ripping MP3 or MP3+G tracks to at least a 192kbps bit rate. 

- Audio Grabber - Great free CD ripper for regular music CDs and now supports karaoke CDGs as well.
available here>
http://www.audiograbber.org

- Power CD+G Burner - This program is for ripping and burning karaoke discs.
available here>
http://www.powerkaraoke.com/src/prod_powercdgburner.php

- Easy CD-DA Extractor - This is a great program for ripping regular music CDs but will cost you $24.95 to register.  When ripping regular MP3 music, remember to rip in the "<artist> - <title>" format as this is the standard format for regular MP3s and will enable you to use them with virtually every program out there.  Connect to the internet before using this program as it will automatically download the artist and track names for just about any CD by looking them up in a public database.  It also has a built-in audio converter program that has a great feature that will normalize the volume on mp3 tracks that were recorded too softly or loudly.
available here> 
http://www.poikosoft.com/

 

Karaoke Zip Files

The MP3+G standard was a great blessing for karaoke. It allowed for putting all those CD+G discs on our computers for easy access and completely trumped the whole MIDI karaoke idea with actual real background music. Of course, once the music was in this new digital format, it made copying it and sharing it on the internet just too easy. The idea of zipping the songs came soley from the people who began organizing the MP3+G karaoke channels on the internet. It simply made it easier to send a single file instead of two files for every song (which is what MP3+G is). Initially a few people defended the zip idea saying that it also saved hard drive space. It didn't really save that much space considering the MP3 file is already compressed, and now that hard drive space is dirt cheap, that argument no longer holds any weight. Basically, there is no longer a single reason for keeping your files zipped, and many reasons to keep your entire collection unzipped, and here they are....

1. The zip standard isn't as "standard" as you'd like to think. A zip file can use one of many different compression schemes, and they are inventing new compression schemes every year. Why is this a problem? Its a problem because the people sharing the zip files and even the companies offering zip downloads legitimately tend to always use the latest and greatest compression scheme and most of the zip engines out there aren't up to date and have problems unzipping them. Just to prove this, if you have a zip file that doesn't open on your favorite karaoke program, try unzipping it in Windows and rezipping it in Windows. Odds are that it will now work. Why? Because the folks at Microsoft are bright enough to know that it only makes sense to create a zip file in its most compatible format. I only wish everyone else did.

2. Keeping your files zipped slows down whatever karaoke player you use. The program has to take the time to unzip them, and on a slow computer, it could be a full second or more before the file actually starts playing.  Also, with all the different zip compression schemes, there's a chance your player may not even be able to unzip the file.  You may even delete the file thinking its bad, when in fact, you could have simply unzipped the file in Windows and solved the problem.

3. Maintenance.  No music collection is perfect and everyone has different ways of naming different artists and songs.  When your entire karaoke collection is in zip format, any changes you need to make also need to be made to the files inside the zip file as well.  Our KJ File Manager program can aid in this process, but even then, the program itself still take siginificantly longer to rename zip files due to the time it takes to manipulate the compression in the zip file.  If your files are not zipped, this processs is virtually instantaneous.

If you have a large collection that is zipped, here is a free program you can use to unzip all of your files at once.

http://www.extractnow.com/

If you have WinZip, here are instructions for unzipping multiple files at once.

If you have WinRAR, here are instructions for unzipping multiple files at once.

Even if you like keeping your files zipped, but still seem to have some zip files that won't open in certain programs, you can use this program to unzip all your files, and then you can use another program to rezip them to a much more compatible format.  Its up to you, but you will save yourself a lot of future headaches if you simply leave the files unzipped.

 

 

Music Downloading

There are virtually an unlimited number of places on the internet to download regular music and karaoke music, ranging from paid legitimate sites like iTunes to shady illegal sites.  iTunes Plus is great for original artist music because anything in the "plus" is DRM-Free (they're copyable).  For karaoke, a lot of new manufacturers are providing downloadable karaoke in MP3+G format.  iCroons is a new search engine we've developed for searching multiple karaoke download sites at once and is a great place to start.  If you're concerned about the legalities of purchasing and playing music in public, we've created a new article on the subject of karaoke & music licensing.

 

 

Electrical Protection Tips

DJ and KJ work will take your system to all sorts of places, all with varying voltages and electrical conditions at each electrical outlet.  Some locations will have a weak power output at their outlets and your amplifiers can cause quite a drain.  Because of this, it's important to always turn your amps on before your PC.  If the PC is booting when you turn your amps on, the sudden draw of electricity or spike associated with it can be disasterous.  I've seen it happen before to two different DJs.  Once we implemented this method, it's never happened since.

Surge protectors are also important.  UPSes (uninteruptable power supplies) are great surge protectors but their ability to help in a power failure is pretty useless unless you bring enough of them to power your amps, lights, etc..  I don't recommend this.  Even small UPSes are quite heavy and you surely don't want the many extra pounds of battery backup to carry with you to each gig.  The odds are that if the power fails at your gig, the show is over anyway.

A lot of bars have neon lights plugged in all over the place.  I once was at a show where the DJ's CD player kept failing.  Once the DJ removed its power plug from the same outlet that a neon light was plugged in to, the player worked fine.  Neon lights can cause a lot of "line noise" and interfere with other sensitive electronic equipment so keep this in mind when setting up your show.

  

Virus Protection

 This section has been completely simplified thanks to Microsoft.  As of late 2010, Microsoft now offers FREE anti-virus software called "Microsoft Security Essentials" and for users of Windows 7 or earlier we highly recommend it.  Unlike a lot of other third party anti-virus programs, Microsoft has solved the problem of anti-virus that slows your machine down and best of all its free :)   As of Windows 8, third party anti-virus programs are not needed as windows 8's built-in "windows defender" is now what used to be "Microsoft Security Essentials" and protects your machine from all forms of viruses and comes included.

 

The Golden Rule
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

So many DJs and KJs cause their own problems by not understanding this simple principle.  Once your computer is setup and working well, don't continue to tinker with it.  Don't use it for your daily personal use and don't install additional software that isn't needed.  In fact, don't install anything else.  If your computer is setup to run your shows and is working perfectly, don't do anything to it and you won't have any problems.  I can't tell you how many times I get emails from people saying "I just installed something new and it isn't working and I have a show in an hour...please help".  Never tinker with your computer when you have a show only hours away.  You're just begging to tempt fate and asking for problems.  If you have new software or any change you want to make to your system, do NOT wait until just before a show to install it, and just because there's a newer version of something doesn't mean you have to have it right away.  Any time you want to make any change to your system, make sure you have at least 24 hours before your next gig and also be sure you know what you're doing.  When in doubt, do nothing!

 

 

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