the airport? Beat-matching from the bathroom? Looping accurately
every time? Passionate product manager Adam Lawson says it’s
all possible, with PVDJ’s new DAI.
By John Landers
Adam Lawson is a man on a
mission. As product manager for PVDJ, the DJ-focused division
of Meridian, Miss.-based Peavey Electronics, Lawson has been
working tirelessly to make life better for the music-mixing
masses. “I am not a DJ,” he admits. “I’m
a guy who designs products that make sense
for people who work in this business.”
Lawson’s DJ-centric approach is reflected in PVDJ’s
entire product line. As part of one of the largest manufacturers
in the pro audio industry, the division enjoys resources that
independent upstarts lack, and was therefore able to bring
the Club Mix (a four-channel mixer with unique bells and whistles),
the Grabber (an on-the-fly sampler), and other fiendishly
clever products [see sidebar on page 26] to market in record
Since its beginning, Lawson has been determined to make PVDJ
successful by innovating rather than imitating. According
to him, the division’s goal “is not to go after
what other people are doing, but to bring DJs the things that
will further their careers.” The latest manifestation
of that mission statement is the PVDJ Digital Audio Interface,
or DAI, a hard- and software package designed for both mobile
use and permanent club installations. Compatible with both
Windows and OSX, the DAI allows operators to access music
via any available digital music source - including individual
CDs, and MP3 files stored on a club’s hardrive or a
guest DJ’s iPod - and manipulate it. All for a list
price of under $1,400.
Since its debut, the DAI has generated some serious buzz.
Even industry outsiders like occasional DJ Shaquille O’Neal
have been impressed by the unit’s ability to remix MP3,
WAV, and CDA audio files in real time. In order to understand
the capabilities and full significance of this bold product,
as well as the philosophy behind it, we interrupted Lawson’s
frenetic NAMM trade show schedule for an interview. He graciously
fielded our queries via
cell phone from PVDJ’s busy booth at the Nashville Convention
How did you become involved with PVDJ?
I came from a music store in New Jersey four years ago. I
headed up the power amplifier and mixer division while developing
some DJ products for Peavey. Two years ago, we put together
PVDJ as a product line, and we officially launched it in January
of 2003. The Club Mix was the first piece.
I actually reviewed that mixer for DJ Times. It’s
so versatile, I didn’t want to give it back when the
evaluation period was over. My comment to [Peavey
founder and CEO] Hartley Peavey when I arrived was, “we
need to show DJs props.” There were many companies doing
“me too”-type DJ products, but nobody who had
really thought about what a DJ needs. The Club Mix was the
first example of that. We gave [DJs] an effect loop for the
mic channels for karaoke. We gave them a cue mode select,
so that they can listen to the effects in the headphones on
either the cue or the main. We thought about the product before
we put it out.
What can you tell us about the Digital
Audio Interface? The DAI is a USB-1 or USB-2 soundcard
with four audio outs, two audio ins, plus a microphone input.
It has a touch-sensitive screen, jog wheels, and a bunch of
buttons. The icons on the buttons are Load, Search, Grab,
Cue, and Utility. The search button brings up an onscreen,
touch-sensitive keyboard pad, so you can type in the name
of a song. The jog wheels and other buttons are pretty self-explanatory.
I understand load, search, and cue,
but what’s the Grab feature? It’s a push-button
rotary encoder on each that provides push-button looping.
When you create a push-button loop, you can lengthen or shorten
it simply by rotating the data encoder; or you can move the
loop forward and backward in the song, without ever interrupting
the play of the song. It automatically syncs to the beat.
If you shorten to less than one beat, it will get out of it
on the four. If you go dum-dum-dum-dum [imitates techno beat],
wherever you hit it, it’s going to finish the four beats.
It’s absolutely idiot-proof.
That’s something a DJ can appreciate
at four in the morning. Speaking of that, the DAI
also has a function called Auto Pilot. In the last 15 seconds
of the song, if the DJ does not select a tune and Auto Pilot
is engaged, the software will automatically mix in the next
track. It will adjust the tempo to match, if the beats are
within ten beats a minute, and also sync the tracks. Auto
Pilot matches the last beat of the song that’s playing
with the first beat of the new song so that the beat is continuous.
It’s the only thing in the world that does that, besides
a DJ with a pair of headphones. It’s a very cool feature.
Especially for those mid-set bathroom
breaks. Also, there is an on-the-fly cue, so you
can punch in a cue point, hit play, and it will go right back
to that cue point. It has the ability to scratch MP3s using
the jog wheel.
Those are the features, and many more, because it’s
software. It’s unbelievable what we can do within that
software. The most important thing, though, is this: The DAI
will not crash. It is crash-proof. If you ever see me do the
demo, I unplug the USB cable in the middle of a song and plug
it back in. The computer goes “Ta-dah!” and the
song comes right back where it was. It is absolutely rock-solid.
The second thing is, a DJ who is performing…excuse me.
[Lawson turns his attention to a NAMM attendee who has
been furtively fiddling with one of the PVDJ displays.]
PLEASE DO NOT DO THAT. Thank you. Now, where was I?
The second thing. Yes. The
other point is that a working DJ does not need to carry a
computer screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. That is the one
fundamental problem with all systems that currently exist.
A DJ cannot show up at a gig with all of that. He doesn’t
look like a DJ.
I see you appreciate the aesthetics
of DJ culture. It’s my job, and, as you know,
I take my job very seriously. I am not a DJ. I am somebody
who listens to all DJs. I’m not a scratch DJ who hates
mobiles. I’m not a mobile DJ who hates hip-hop DJs.
I’m a guy who designs products that make sense for people
who work in this business. I probably take it more seriously
than anyone else you’ll ever talk to. I’m accused
of being too passionate by the people I work with. DJs are
artists; they’re musicians. They work really, really
hard. They deserve the props that PVDJ brings to them. The
DAI, even more than being a phenomenal product, is an example
of how much PVDJ cares about furthering this business. These
people needed something that would enable them, in real-time,
to manipulate MP3s. If they can manipulate MP3s in real-time,
you can also help them simultaneously sync the beats. You’re
in the digital domain now: There’s no limit to what
you can do there. The DAI just puts it all at your fingertips.
Speaking of fingertips, tell me about
the control panel. The DAI has a 3-D, molded, cast-aluminum
faceplate. It is aesthetically beautiful. There’s very
little nomenclature on the unit; it only says “Digital
Audio Interface.” We used icons because, if you think
about it, you’ve got a touch-sensitive screen here.
What is on the touch-sensitive screen is controlled through
the USB. There is the opportunity to use this with many other
types of software, and Peavey will be working with software
companies to develop the next level of what this product can
do. The application that ships free with it is the best DJ
thing currently out there, but we expect to be working with
other companies to enable their software to be used with this
phenomenal soundcard interface system.
It’s not a closed system? So
anyone can write a custom application for the DAI?
That’s the reason for the icons. Search could also be
Zoom. It’s an open platform, and Peavey is very interested
in working with software companies to provide applications
that are the quality that we would expect. But they’re
going to have come talk to us to work with it. They can’t
just get into our screen. Our screen is proprietary. I expect
a bunch of them to come over at this NAMM show.
So, you expect the DAI to be permanently
installed in DJ booths? Correct. Absolutely. Install
it and [have DJs bring their] hard drives. Now you’re
at the point where you can get 80 GB of audio on an iPod.
Eighty GB of MP3s is about 900 records, is it not? So, you
bring your iPod to the gig, plug it into the computer that’s
there, and there’s your entire collection of music.
Whatever you can rip to an MP3. Whatever
you own. Be careful with that one - you don’t want to
provoke the RIAA. Honestly, though, we think that most professional
DJs are going to want to own one of these things.
Really? Remember I told you
that the DAI has four outputs and two inputs into the digital
domain? You put it into what’s called mix mode, so that
both players come out of one side. You plug a microphone into
the mic input. You’ve got your Macintosh or PC laptop
and you’re sitting in the airport waiting to go to the
gig. All you have with you is a suitcase that contains a DAI,
your computer, a pair of headphones, and your cell phone with
Bluetooth, which is what I have. I don’t know how you
do it, but I have Internet access remotely.
And you’re on the way to Miami
Beach . . . All right, the plane’s late. So,
you plug the DAI stereo output into the computer’s digital
input, and the microphone into its input. You start doing
your mix. All of your tunes are available to you. You mix
it down into the computer, convert that to an MP3, and email
from the airport to the gig, along with your announcements
saying, “I’m sorry that I’m late. I’m
in Chicago right now, snowed in, but I expect to be there
in two hours. Meanwhile, here’s my latest mix.”
See what I’m saying? That little scenario is absolutely
possible. You can email your gig from the middle of the Sahara
desert to the club, including announcements. Your entire mix.
You can save it as an MP3 and shoot it out.
How do you expect this technology
to effect the future of DJing? I think that digital
DJ-ing is going to be taking over, once people realize the
possibilities. Having said that, there are guys with enormous
collections of CDs, and they need CD players with better features.
There’s a hint for you.