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How to Sync Visuals Using MixEmergency and Traktor

Whatever style of music you play as a DJ, whatever kind of crowds you play to, visuals will always be a big part of the experience you present. That doesn’t have to mean video—a blacked-out room with a solitary strobe provides as much of a visual statement as a 40-foot video wall—but a well crafted video and graphics show can be breathtaking if done well. Today we’ll show you how to get started with MixEmergency and Traktor.

For a long time (about four years) I was a video DJ—specifically, a DJ who played music videos. I would spin h.264 video files in Scratch Live, playing back the visual aspect via Serato’s Video SL (now Serato Video) or Inklen’s MixEmergency plugins. Dropping a big new track while the video plays on a massive screen, or a clutch of flat screens, felt rather cool, especially as I was able to cut, mix, and blend the videos in exactly the same way as regular audio. Where there was no video for a track, I had a brace of visual loops to play alongside the audio.

For a multitude of reasons, I recently moved over to Traktor Scratch, and went back to spinning audio only, but sometimes I do get a yearning to bring a visual aspect back to my sets. With that in mind, I started to investigate my options.

WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?

Unless Native Instruments brings out something of its own, a direct video plugin for Traktor seems very unlikely to appear. So a third-party, standalone solution is required. At the simple end, there are visualization options, some of which we covered last year here. They can do a great job if you want something basic and cheap that relates, in some way, to the tempo and intensity of the music you’re playing.

In fact, there are lots of options if synchronicity is something you can live without. I’ve been very impressed with Hexler’s TouchViz on iPad, which is basically a portable version of a full VJ platform like Resolume. It works very well, provided you’ve got enough storage on your tablet for plenty of content.

Speaking of Resolume, a full-scale VJ application like that, or Arkaos GrandVJ, will of course do a great job of providing whatever kind of visual splendor you could ever dream of. They’ll also sync to Traktor via MIDI, to keep everything in time (more on that later).

There are some downsides to those: They tend to be pretty demanding on a system (especially one already being used to mix audio), they are expensive (Resolume Avenue is around $400), and their interfaces are designed to take up a whole screen on your computer. If you’re into the idea of running a dedicated machine for visuals, maybe syncing with Traktor over network MIDI, or external hardware, they’ll be great. But for someone like me, who wants to keep everything in one (not immensely powerful) box, there is something that has the potential to work a little more smoothly.

IT’S A MIXEMERGENCY!

Inklen’s MixEmergency (ME) plugin has been the solution of choice for many Serato users ever since its debut. It costs $199—around half the price of Resolume Avenue—so it offers good value if you will get sufficient use from it. ME has a massive amount of features, is highly customizable, and not too demanding on system resources. It’s still recommended that you use a Macbook Pro (MBP) with a dedicated GPU; you won’t get very far with an old white Macbook with 64 MB integrated graphics, but my 2011 13” MBP works pretty smoothly.

The bad news: MixEmergency is only available for OSX. It would be great if it were also available on Windows, but sadly it isn’t. (If you know of any equivalent solutions for Windows users, please let us know in the comments below.)

MixEmergency is a very DJ-focused design—the video equivalent of two decks and a crossfader. I won’t be doing a full breakdown of its features here, but instead focusing on the aspects of the latest version of the software which I’ve been leveraging to make it work alongside Traktor.

One of the key factors is the malleability of the interface; each element has a panel of its own, which can be closed or positioned as you see fit. It will also float above the Traktor interface, so you can mouse around in Traktor without the ME interface disappearing.

TAKE IT TO THE BANK

1100clips

The software has two modes—one which ties the software to the playback of files in Scratch Live/Serato DJ, and a standalone mode, which plays back video files loaded directly into ME.

For my Traktor setup, I use that standalone mode, and rather than dragging and dropping video files straight in from the Finder, I utilize ME’s Media Bank. The Media Bank is a repository for a bunch of clips (previously 12, now 16), which, when activated via either with the mouse or MIDI, will load to whichever deck is not currently playing back on your output screen.

That was okay in older versions, but obviously a 16-file limitation was not very conducive to using the application on its own. What version 2.5 brings with it is the ability to save an entire media bank as a preset, which you can load, again, via MIDI. There are 72 preset slots available, each able to hold 16 files, so you now have access to over 1100 video clips at the push of a button or two.

CAN YOU FEEL THE BEAT?

send-midi-clock

The second big change in ME 2.5, which has opened up its potential as a Traktor companion, is MIDI Clock Sync. The application has long since had very flexible MIDI mapping, including MIDI output lighting, but in 2.5 it also has the ability to synchronize to the MIDI clock sent from Traktor (or any other app with that function).

You set it up very simply; enable MIDI clock sending in Traktor, and add a generic MIDI output via Traktor’s Virtual output in the Controller Manager, exactly the same as if you’re sending clock to Ableton Live or Maschine. A tick-box in ME’s MIDI settings tells it to read that clock.

While that MIDI sync doesn’t change the nature of the actual file playback within MixEmergency, what it does is allow all of the effects to sync with the BPM from Traktor. As I demonstrate in the video, that can be as simple as a Brightness effect which flashes in time with the beat, or the most complex arrangement of multiple effects, created with ME’s FX Sequencer.

What that means is that you can take any footage you like, throw it into ME, and have it play back in a way that makes it work rhythmically with your music from Traktor. Even the simplest of videos can become a full-on beat-synced monster.

ON THE QC

cubes

I won’t lie—Quartz Composer (QC) confuses me. A lot. It’s a programming language, part of Apple’s Xcode developer package, that allows people more clever than myself to leverage all the graphical abilities of the OSX operating system.

If you are really smart, you could create your own visualizations using QC alone—beat- and volume-reactive stuff, which can look amazing. But there are two ways we can utilize them in MixEmergency.

Firstly, you can load up Quartz Compositions as overlays, so you can have your main video clips playing underneath, while a composition plays over the top. As with the media bank, these can all be saved as presets, meaning you have the ability to have dozens available at any time.

Secondly, you can load them to the decks in ME. In the video, I show a simple QC of a cube, which rotates in time with the BPM; start adding some sequenced FX, and you’ve got the makings of some seriously impressive beat-synced visuals, starting with a truly simple source. I’ve asked Inklen to put together a folder of beat-reactive Quartz Compositions for DJTT readers to play around with, which you can grab here.

WRAP-UP

I haven’t really scratched the surface of all the features in MixEmergency here; there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t even mentioned, like Image, Text, and Camera overlays, just for starters. But hopefully this article might inspire you to try playing around with it yourself. At this point, I’m still experimenting with exactly how I’m going to use ME to add visuals to my Traktor sets, but I’m confident it’s going to be very workable.

Using video in a live setting can be quite tricky, and you’ll want to do some reading up on the subject before you dive in too hard. I’ve included a few links below for you to check out, to that end. There’s a demo version of MixEmergency available to try, so it’s definitely worth getting that and giving it a go.

If you have any other solutions for combining Traktor and visuals, please let us know in the comments below, especially if there’s anything that will do a similar job on Windows. If Native Instruments won’t give us visuals, maybe we can do it ourselves…

FURTHER READING AND WATCHING

Tell us about your experience with mixing audio and visuals in the comments below.

  • Harry Bengin

    Incredible article, thank you very much for sharing! And what about the creation of green screen footage ?

  • Alois Pumpernickel

    Here’s a suggested work-around for combining Traktor and VJ-Software (like Resolume): Set your Z2 and/or your other Traktor Controller(s) into Midi Mode, remap all your customary Traktor actions. Quite annoying work, I must confess. I’m still busy with it. Then you map all your Faders, Knobs and Encoders to Resolume’s own commands (velocity, looping, efx, etc.) Combined with Traktor sending Midi Clock Out and Resolume’s Audio Reactive Effects and Autoplay / Randomplay Functionality the results should be quite accurate. Using your Controller(s) in Midi Mode might also result in recording your mixes in Ableton and reworking / refining them afterwards (using virtual audio cables, another suggested work-around, compared to Serato and The Bridge). This is only a proposal, not a bullet-proof solution. Both DJ and VJ applications should work with one singular well-epuiped windoze-based daw.

  • Feel

    Youtube suck now, I can’t see this tutorial. Go on Vimeo Chris 😉

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  • TJ

    I wish there was a way to use these visuals and just ‘marry’ them, or almost record them, to the song so that when you load it up and play them, they play with the song and when you remix or beat mash the visual does exactly that because it is part of the song. Any thoughts?

  • sixfootsix

    erm… Video has been taken down due to a copyright issue? Any chance you (DJTechTools, I’m looking at you!) could provide a text transcript of the critical MIDI connection bits?

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  • shufflesam

    Awesome article! I have a problem that I have not been able to figure out on my own: When running Traktor with a external audio card ( such as my Trakot A2 or My Vestax VCI 400) I get some weird and loud buzz when i hook any sort of monitor/TV or projector to my mini display port (with a HDMI adaptor). I have tried different adaptors and HDMI cords as well as audio cards TV’s and projectors. And its always this very loud buzz as soon as I plug into the mini display port. However there is no buzz if I run out of my system audio, but that just doesn’t work for Djing on many different levels. I have a 2010 13″ macbook pro, with 16 gigs of ram, 250 gig HD, and a 250 gig SSD (In my optical drive slot). Any advise would be super helpful this problem has been plaguing my video djing dreams for a while now…

    • Joseph Wilk

      Sorry, this is long overdue but I was re-reading this post and saw your comment. I find it really strange that you’re getting that kind of noise with digital audio interfaces. Try investing in a ground loop isolator and seeing if adding that to your signal chain helps at all.

      • shufflesam

        Word! Thanks for getting back to me! I will try to get a hold of a ground loop isolator and see if that helps! Thanks again!

  • Djravenkl

    “If Native Instruments won’t give us visuals, maybe we can do it ourselves…”

    Words. Heard that NI?

  • Great article Chris!
    A point that a new club vdj should take into consideration is outboard hardware. Not simply about the platform you are running your chosen program, but think, “Into what and how will I be connecting my mind-blowing visual show?”
    You will be surprised by how many different in-house AV hardware structures exist in different clubs. Some are integrated; some are completely separate, some are Frankenstein creations added after the need for club visuals became necessary; and some were put together by the bartender’s old roommate who once hooked up a projector to his Xbox. There are three solutions to this problem.
    (1) Scope out the setup beforehand. I realize this may be difficult if you are traveling to a location outside your normal stomping ground, but at least call. We ended up at a club where the wall monitors for the ‘club sounds’ room were actually controlled out of the customer service office…by the main entrance…three rooms away at 200 meters.
    (2) Bring your own setup. This does not need to be a complex setup. A portable quality projector that can be flown with a projection surface…done. Easier if you can do geometric editing (but that is another topic).
    (3) Work with a VJ! There is so much I could write here, but it should be a separate thread. There are extremely talented vjs out there also looking to showcase their work.

  • Juicy Jane

    2 bad MAC only

  • J.sto

    Awesome article, but even more awesome white Traktor gear. That’s fly as hell

  • chris

    a very nice tutorial.
    maybe you need a sound for testing different spheres of VJing

    http://youtu.be/-ZTg_gBEu5s

  • Kosta X

    Really enjoyed this article and video. I’m experimenting with similar stuff but with VDMX: http://kosta-x.com/vdmx-the-visual-performance-midi-mixer/

  • Vanholsaet Chris

    I use QC on my 2013 Macbook but the image is delayed when I use traktor. I will try MixEmergency…

  • going to make a plug here for VDMX. It’s a modular layout program like MixEmergency, but it has loads more options for FX and MIDI mapping and routing. it can take in the MIDI clock from Traktor or Ableton Live, audio in with adjustable bands that can be routed to every parameter in the program. If you really dive into it, it’s practically limitless on what you can do with the program. you can download the fully functioning demo (minus saving layouts) for free as well http://vidvox.net/

    • CodeE

      Dan, why am I not surprised to see you here.

      I’m hearing things that Traktor is jumping into video with another Video software.

  • Mutis Mayfield

    Virtualdj? The new CrossDj? Vjay for ipad? Even Ms. Pinky has visuals from her begginings (maxipatch AV) and Ableton live maxforlive with vizzable or v-Module…

    FLStudio has plugin for video composition visualizarion based on open source zgameditor soft.
    http://www.image-line.com/plugins/Tools/ZGameEditor+Visualizer/

    Also there are alternatives to QC in windows (or linux) such maxmsp (jitter) with their runtime (no need to purchase the whole package if you find an abstraction who works for you) and pure data with GEM which no need runtime (it is open software, you could install entire package)

    At last it is a matter of time for NI releasing video manipulation… They announce it in the last S2/S4 mk2 ads more or less… And you know it so I supose this blog post is a “getting ready the target” third step (make the numbers including the earlier blog post and the video…)
    http://youtu.be/3ZYiOV9g6aA

    The question now is: it will be before the video integration or the secuencer (upgrading the F1 in the same way you did with Twister/Digitalwarrior)?
    Because Traktor has Remix decks (half of the Bridge) but still needs Serato Video and Mixtape features and Maschine/Battery 3 are good candidates to share/integrate features… Ah! And for maxforlive users NI has Reaktor…

    Close the circle.

    • Ezmyrelda

      Yes, but Ms. Pinky was one of the first, and has always been the most open option for tinkerers. I don’t think there is any other timecode format that is as open source on the software side and open to multiple software vendors as Ms. Pinky.

      • Mutis Mayfield

        Agreed…? Well in the same line there is a Serato option with QC, check.
        http://mansteri.com/2009/07/serato-video-sl-quartz-composer/

      • motosega

        ms pinky is a very nice thing, but it’s NOT open source. and it runs on max/msp. which isn’t open source either.

        ms pinky is Closed source, you can buy the source, but you can’t distribute it.

        if your looking for open source DVS you should look at xwax, it IS open source. (it can use serato/mixvibes vinyl) and there is even a PureData external.

        i’m in no way hating on ms pinky, ms pinky is beautiful, and they were probably the first dvs video solution.
        i’m just being pedantic because i don’t want even more people wandering around with the wrong idea about open source software.

        • Ezmyrelda

          You are correct.. It itself is not Open Source with capitals. Perhaps I should have been more precise by saying that it is one of the easier options to obtain working examples of code that you can work with and use in your own artistic endeavours.. I am in fact not looking for open source DVS.. and were I.. I’m not interested in linux until the os.. Well.. What I want from linux is never going to happen.. Which is why I went from PC to Mac.. But I digress..

          Perhaps it would have been better to say if you can afford to purchase the entire Ms.Pinky package.. (Which I did when I purchased it) you can use it in your project without having to start from 0. Assuming you have Max/MSP..

          I think that making sure people know that XWAX and MIXXX exists is a good thing.. (I was aware of it.. I obsess about developments in this field and without money self education is the only thing available.) I thank you for bringing them up so other people can be made aware of them.. I personally have never found the UI interface elements in any *nix package up to my personal standards.. Though this is coming from a person who spent probably ten years toying around with Shell customization software on Windows and Linux.. enlightenment, Litestep.. that kind of stuff.. I think KDE and Gnome leave a lot to be desired and essentially just gave in and settled.. Same with the rest of the linux dev community.. no flair for visual interface…

          Pedantry is very well acceptable when its for the right purposes.. Thanks for your reply..

  • Tom Wenger

    awesome video ! realy interesting too bad that software is 200$ :/ that’s expensive for a software

    • Ezmyrelda

      Most good software is expensive..

  • Ezmyrelda

    Awesome video and dope Z2 skin.. I was thinking of doing this but I just went the cheap route and carefully scraped the crappy white silkscreen off everything I could to give mine a piano black effect.

    • stefanhapper

      The white Z2 + X1 where the first things I noticed. Seeing this I wonder when NI will introduce a white edition of their DJ products. They do it for Maschine, so why not for the Traktor Kontrol series too. I’m sure it would sell well.

      • Ezmyrelda

        That’s a good question.. Though hard to speculate on.. I haven’t even heard anything about them starting to sell replacement face covers. I’ve been thinking about purchasing an aftermarket skin.. But I am kind of fond of the shiny glossy super classy piano black thing I have going on.

        • Chris Brackley

          I’m rather disappointed that NI haven’t at least released different coloured faceplates for the Z2. It feels like it was designed for that purpose… 🙁

          • Ezmyrelda

            That was definitely implied when it came out.. Although I think the skin printing companies stole a bit of their thunder on the idea.. Nevertheless. I would rather have a nicely silkscreened coverplate set than a sticker that would eventually start to look ragged.

  • killmedj

    Dope!

  • Marco Antonio

    This is an excellent write up! I too started off with Traktor 6 years ago and Loved it… However 3 years later I found myself a bit bored with audio-only mixing, so I made the jump to Serato & Mix emergency… I miss Traktor, however Traktor is VERY Flaky with Mp4 Files… Especially Music Videos… I’ve experienced the following with tractor:

    1) Can’t write / read Tags
    2) Artwork is too Big
    3) File is not Found. (Even after I completely clear my collection, and RE-ADD it, I have problems locating several video files). I have to manually drag and drop the Mp4’s from iTunes. Using the built in “iTunes shortcut” within traktor gives me the same problems.

    Traktor REALLY has to step up their game in this aspect! Makes Traktor a PITA to use.

    **Quick question… If I were to use Mix emergency with tractor with either a DVS or Midi controller (i.e. S2/S4), would the video “scratch” if I were to scratch on the controller / DVS?

    • Ezmyrelda

      Doesn’t sound like it in as far as what was covered in the video.. It’s receiving a midi clock which is translated to a 4 beats to a bar sync.. Unless it was also able to receive a timecode signal somehow or use the HID info from traktor there doesn’t seem to be a way for the video to read what traktor’s playhead is doing.. As least as far as I can figure out..

      • Chris Brackley

        Yes, that’s right Ezmyrelda, there’s no way using midi clock alone to synchronise back and forward motion, although you guys should check out the link from Digital Dj Tools at the bottom of the article where they achieve something like that.

        Marco, I found similar issues with using mp4 video files in Traktor. What I ended up doing what using the free app MPEG Streamclip to extract the audio portion of my video files as AAC audio, and just used those in a fresh Traktor library instead.