“A huge evolution in DJ technology coincided with us taking education online.”—Jamie Hartley
When you think about the most valuable gear in a DJ’s workstation, you probably picture the turntable and vinyl collection first. But being a DJ in 2021 is more complex than you might imagine. It’s not just the tools that are complicated, it’s life in the age of a global pandemic.
Touring is on hold, but the good news is, it’s inspired DJs and other artists to find new ways to connect with more fans they might never have been able to reach in the past. To help you navigate the new landscape and stay on top of opportunities, Dropbox is partnering with inMusic to develop a Denon DJ hardware integration that makes your job more streamlined and less complicated.
If you’ve been wary of using streaming music services during your set, this is a great alternative. The Denon DJ hardware integration makes it easy to stream from your Dropbox music library during live performances. It gives you the freedom to play what you want, collaborate with other DJs, take requests, and promote and distribute your work to a worldwide network of fans. And because this integration represents the first time Dropbox has been embedded into hardware, you won’t even need a laptop.
To learn more, we spoke with Jamie Hartley, founder of Crossfader, an online DJ school and community that teaches students how to use new software and tech tools. He took us through how he and his team have been using Dropbox and Denon DJ hardware, and how he got into the world of DJ’ing in the first place.
Dropbox: In the days before Crossfader, what sparked interest in becoming a working DJ?
JAMIE: It really originated from my dad who was a hardcore party animal before I was born. As his party days came to an end, he still loved music and had a lot of friends who were DJs.
My dad had some turntables at his house and I started playing around on them. He immediately saw the spark of interest in me, of being able to play with music.
From there, he put me in touch with one of his friends who was a DJ at the time, who showed me the basics. I was about 14 at the time, and as a young kid, I would get obsessed with something and feel like I had to master it.
Being able to manipulate and play with music became this obsession of mine, and stuck with me right through to when I started to go clubbing. I loved seeing how DJs would perform to a crowd and work that audience. It just gave me another level of passion for this art form.
How many years had you been performing as a DJ before you had the idea to start Crossfader?
JAMIE: I’d been working for a good 10 years as a DJ. I started working in clubs at 17 years old as a resident DJ, playing five or six nights a week at different clubs around the UK. It was something that fed my passion for music, allowed me to earn a living, and have fun at the same time.
Did you have mentors in those early days, people that introduced you to mixing techniques or showed you gear? Or did you have to do that mostly on your own?
JAMIE: Other than the guy my dad hooked me up with for a few lessons, I didn’t have any other mentors. It was years of trial and error, and figuring things out the hard way. This was a huge part of how Crossfader was born. Over the years, I'd made all these mistakes, and learned lessons from them which made me a better DJ. I realised, if I could share these lessons with other people, they wouldn’t have to make all the same mistakes I did.
So, I started packaging all of these learning points into a curriculum that I could teach, and that's how Crossfader was born. It began as a one-to-one DJ school in a small studio I set up. There was no plan for it to be online to start with. I was just using my local reputation as a DJ to say, “Hey, come and learn with me. I'll make sure you don't pick up any of the bad habits and mistakes I've made along the way, and you can learn to DJ much quicker than I did!”
“It's integrating and bringing the community together between producer and DJ as well. It's really exciting that that is a possibility.”
What inspired the idea to take the school online?
I'd been teaching people one to one for two years, and it reached a point where I was teaching solidly through the days and I was trying to slow down going out to clubs at night as my son was born. There were more and more people that wanted to come and learn, but I physically couldn't teach them as there were not enough hours in the day.
I kept asking myself “How do I take this further? How do I teach more people?” I toyed with the idea of getting more tutors in a bigger premises and expanding that way, but there was interest from way beyond just my local area.
That's what really sparked it, I realised there wasn’t much in the online DJ education space. I was starting to see guitar tutors and piano tutors putting tutorials together and thought “Why can't we just do this in the DJ space?”. Crossfader the online DJ school grew from that point.
Unfortunately, I had to stop teaching one to one because the online growth demanded too much
attention. It was a difficult decision to take that service away but I realised I had to stop serving the people that were close to me, in order to serve the larger population.
DBX: I'd love to hear about the evolution of technology and how that's influenced your work. The improvements in technology must have opened up a lot more possibilities for mixing and recording and performing. How has the evolution of gear influenced the way you work?
JAMIE: That’s a really interesting question because a huge evolution in DJ technology coincided with us taking education online.
For years, DJ’s required two turntables or players and a mixer, this equipment was very expensive and obviously limited the market of aspiring DJs. As we launched Crossfader online, there was a huge shift in the market as more DJ controllers became available which were a fraction of the price, and could connect to iPads, phones and laptops. This evolution has opened up a much wider market of aspiring DJs for us to help. These controllers came with a multitude of buttons and knobs and faders, so to a beginner DJ it can look like the cockpit of a spaceship!
Along with that, software has become more and more complex which opened up an opportunity for Crossfader to teach people not just how to creatively mix music, but how to understand this DJ software, and the technology that comes with DJing.
“With this integration, they can just use a file request and drop their latest song straight into Dropbox.”
DBX: Could you tell us about your experience using the new Dropbox integration with Engine OS and how it changes the way you use Denon DJ hardware?
JAMIE: I've been using this integration for a little while now, I've made a mix using it recently. It’s as simple as taking some music, and just dropping it into Dropbox. I can then log into the Denon DJ hardware, and I've got my pre-prepared set of music in the folder on the hardware. It's so simple and efficient.
I was then able to go and record a mix, all from the cloud. I no longer have to think about exporting music onto an external drive or an external stick and then plugging it into a different piece of hardware. With this integration I can work on a set wherever I am—if I'm at home and I've got an idea, I just drop some tracks into this folder, then when I go into the studio the next day, I don't have to take my laptop or a hard drive, I can just login to the hardware directly in my studio. So it creates a seamless workflow for me and the Crossfader team.
I'm really excited for future possibilities when clubs reopen again—when people can get back behind DJ booths at festivals, at nightclubs, and even the local DJs that work in bars and much smaller venues—the ability for them to turn up to that venue and simply login to access their pre prepared music will be amazing. Especially at events where multiple DJs are swapping over throughout the night, there’s no need to swap and change equipment with this integration.
The other thing I love about it is the way producers, people who make music, can very quickly and easily send their music to their favourite DJs. The most common practise currently is for producers to email their latest music out to DJs, who then need to download the track, import it to DJ software then export it to a USB and then plug that into DJ hardware. With this integration, they can just use a file request and drop their latest song straight into my Dropbox. Next, I simply log on to my Denon DJ equipment and immediately start mixing. It's integrating and bringing the community together between producer and DJ as well. It's really exciting that is now a possibility.
DBX: After the pandemic closed venues and canceled shows, did you see a surge in interest from people looking to do new things and learn from home?
JAMIE: Yes, 100%. There was a massive surge in April 2020 when the US, UK & Europe got
locked down. As all of the clubs shut overnight, and everything came to a halt, it gave people the opportunity to think “Ah, that thing that I've always wanted to learn, the thing I've always wanted to do, but I've never had the time to do, I now have time.”
As people chose to take up DJing as a lockdown hobby, we were there to help educate them in their first steps and beyond. We witnessed the ripple effects of lockdown throughout the DJ industry. It started with DJ equipment selling out, and people having to wait for new releases. The same thing quickly happened with live streaming, because DJs had to take their performances online, all the equipment associated with live streaming started selling out.
A part of lockdown I personally enjoyed was the fact every single night there was an abundance of live streams from DJs around the world. I was able to watch DJs that I'm very fond of which I’ve never been able to see play live in a club. Now I can watch them at home and still feel a connection, all thanks to the entire DJ industry adopting live streaming nearly overnight.
“Now I can watch them at home and still feel a connection, all thanks to the entire DJ industry adopting live streaming nearly overnight.”
DBX: How have you had to adapt the way that you worked? Is there more remote collaboration?
JAMIE: Before the lockdown happened, we were using Dropbox, but simply to create backups and to store files. As soon as the first lockdown hit and the team were working remotely, we relied heavily on Dropbox and integrated it with monday.com to ensure we could communicate about projects and keep track of all the files and updates.
The content will be filmed by one person and uploaded into Dropbox. It’s then pulled down and
edited by somebody else, and re-uploaded. Dropbox integrates into Monday, so that everyone in the team can access the same project and communicate in one place. I can then access the file and give notes on it, someone else can upload it, another person attaches their thumbnail to the same project. We all add our own pieces to create this jigsaw of information.
I didn’t realise at the time, but we definitely had issues in our workflow before the pandemic hit. By all separating, it's allowed us to focus much more on our own tasks. I’ve realised that we don't need to be in the same room, the cloud allows us to still collaborate no matter how much distance is between the team.
To learn how DJs can now sync their Engine PRIME collection to Dropbox, then access it remotely on any Engine OS device from anywhere in the world using the Dropbox Personal Cloud Integration (Engine PRIME, Engine OS), check out dropbox.com/apps/engine_os
To celebrate this integration, Dropbox and Denon DJ are giving all Engine OS users a free 6-month 25GB space boost. Register your Engine OS product today (denondj.com/register) to unlock this exclusive promotion.