Is it possible to beatmix with only one ear?
January 23, 2009 2:25 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend wants to learn to DJ. The problem is that she's deaf in one ear. Any experience, anecdotes or advice about one ear DJing would be greatly appreciated.

So a little background. Since I've been DJing a while, we have all the equipment required (2x Technics 1200s, Vestax mixer, closed back Sennheiser headphones (HD25s), good monitor set up (Tannoy Reveals)). There's split cue on the mixer (splitting cue and master hard left and right on the headphones), but no way to mix incrementally between cue and master channels on the headphones. We have a stack of records with easily identifiable beats (techno, breaks, a bit of trance). My girlfriend ideally wants to learn basic beatmixing, to transition between 4/4 tunes in a mix.

The thing is, the way I've learnt to beatmix is the classic one-headphone-on-for-the-cued-track, one-off-for-the-monitor technique. This obviously requires two ears. And I suspect the only way I can actually get the mix working is by being able to process two different sounds as coming from two different spatial directions. If you only have one working ear, what do you need to do to be able to distinctly hear two different tunes at the same time?

Is it even possible?

On behalf of my other half, any advice is massively appreciated.
posted by iivix to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some of the DJ's I have seen use one can (to one ear, obviously) from the cue channel, to match beats. Seems like hearing the master in the other can is nice but not a requirement, unless you're in a sound-proof booth?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:13 AM on January 23, 2009

You could maybe try filtering the tracks for the headphones - low-pass filter one track, and high-pass filter the other track, then they will (hopefully) sound distinct in the headphone cans. You'd want a "bypass" switch so that you can hear how the track sounds normally.

This will, obviously, require a filtering box - another mixer could do it, but might be overkill - between your first mixer's headphone/monitor out and the headphones.
posted by cogat at 3:16 AM on January 23, 2009

Best answer: I wear my headphones on my neck and have both channels playing into the headphone (with the handy ability to switch it to one, via the mixer). I lean in on the right side to do the beat matching and just use the monitor to do my EQing. I have hearing in both ears, but I don't see why she couldn't use this technique as well. Just make sure her monitor is on the hearing side, obviously. I really don't see it being a problem, all DJs learn coping mechanisms to learn their craft- no two DJs mix alike.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:55 AM on January 23, 2009

For broader inspiration, I highly recommend Touch the Sound, the documentary about world-class musician Evelyn Glennie (featured in this TED talk).
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:55 AM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: PS- she will be able to separate the tracks in her one ear, while they play at once- with practice, and familiarity with the tracks. If she's having trouble, just turn down the cue for one while listening in the headphone.

I think she might benefit from the wide array of video tutorials available online, and feel free to memail me.

I really don't see anything getting in her way so long as she has patience in the beginning. Beat matching comes easily to some, but is often the first road block on the way to superstarDJdom. That's more a matter of being able to recognise a train wreck when you hear one though, and little/nothing to do with the amount of working ears you have.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:03 AM on January 23, 2009

I suspect it would be possible to learn to beatmatch from a mono source. It'd take lots of practice, for sure, but then so does "conventional" beatmatching. The headphone signal path is the only thing that would have to be mono.

If she doesn't mind not using traditional sources, programs like Live or Traktor would give her greater visual feedback, and in the case of Traktor, Serato or Ms Pinky, the use of your turntables and a piece of vinyl in each hand.
posted by Magnakai at 4:16 AM on January 23, 2009

Best answer: Back when I used to DJ, I'd have the phones half covering both ears full-time. I never did the can-on-the-neck sideways head lean, because after a 2 hour set, well, it effing HURTS. Half on, all the time. I don't see how this would be any different if you could only hear in one ear.

Stay far, far, far away from mixing channels in the headphone output. If your hands are free enough to bother with mucking around with the monitor channel mix, you're better off using those hands to do almost anything else, even if it's just moving the phone a little bit to change what you're hearing slightly or taking a sip of beer.

Don't rely on mixer features that all mixers don't have. Ever. If she gets used to playing on a mixer with the ability to mix the monitor into the live and she gets a gig on a mixer without it, she'll be boned.

She should only listen to the track she's mixing in through the phones, not the live one. Hearing the live track isn't something she's likely to have problems with. Quite the opposite.

She may want to make the output mono with a cheap radshack adaptor. Different people mix by listening to different parts of the track (kick, snare, whatever) and those parts are sometimes panned left or right. A lot of people I know mix by listening to kicks, but I've found that to be kind of inaccurate, especially if you're 3 feet away from the monitors and 10 feet away from a set of huge woofers. The low frequency of kicks are harder to focus on and tend to get muddier in really loud environments, but hey, that's just me.

Fair warning: I lost a chunk of my hearing from years of DJing. I'm far from deaf, but I find myself asking people to repeat themselves far too often.
posted by onedarkride at 4:34 AM on January 23, 2009

I have no experience with what I am about to suggest, although I occasionally DJ in my spare time. What about using bone conduction headphones together with the Sennheiser headphones? You can patch the house mix over to the former and the cue to the latter.
posted by preparat at 5:49 AM on January 23, 2009

All the deaf people I've known/met who are into clubbing feel the music through their bodies so this is the way to go I think.

Try setting up one of the monitors so she can feel the sound (mainly the drums & bass) through her body, e.g. directly behind her back so she can feel it in her torso leaving her hearing ear for cueing.

Not sure how you could replicate this away from your home set up, especially as DJ booth set ups can vary (i.e. fixed monitor speakers), but it's worth asking around a few places. Being able to take a single active monitor to jack into a club system could work.

Note for all DJs: If you are serious, get some made-to-measure ear plugs from an ear doctor. They're not cheap (GBP 150 & up in the UK) but will be well worth it. I'm on hiatus but will always take basic earplugs with me when I'm going to clubs & gigs as I do value my hearing and I'm pleased to have kept it after years of bass.
posted by i_cola at 6:38 AM on January 23, 2009

All the deaf people I've known/met who are into clubbing feel the music through their bodies so this is the way to go I think.

I notice how you didn't say deaf DJs. I can feel the music in my body too, but not well enough to mix. It could be argued that the senses of a deaf person would be heightened in this respect, but I think she'll do just fine with her good ear.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:47 AM on January 23, 2009

Didn't see it clearly mentioned above, but does your mixer have a way of mixing the headphone output between the cue and master? My vestax has a way of assigning more than one channel to the headphones, but there are also models that have a knob that mixes the master&cue. She could get accustomed to mixing the two in her one earpiece. Plenty of dj's mix within the headphones when dealing with a lousy monitor at the club.

Another (slightly more expensive) alternative is to look into digital DJ interfaces, such as Serato. You can mix visually by watching the waveforms and pitching accordingly. After setting cuepoints on your files, you can often get by without using headphones at all.
posted by stachemaster at 7:46 AM on January 23, 2009

I'm too damn old to know anything about DJing, but as a point of encouragement, I can cite Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who created some of the most beautiful harmonies ever heard in pop music & who was (...well, still is) deaf in one ear thanks to an attack, during his childhood, by his monstrously abusive father.

This won't help with technique, as I've read Wilson recorded in mono due to his condition, but it at least demonstrates the surmountability of the problem. Bon chance!
posted by Forrest Greene at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far - some interesting stuff. I think perhaps saying she is deaf in one ear is a little bit of red herring, as she can hear fine from the other, so I don't think things to do with feeling the sound at all is going to work since she won't have developed any of those skills in the way that a properly deaf person will have. Also, I'm not sure that you can feel the sounds like that with the precision you need.

> PS- she will be able to separate the tracks in her one ear, while they play at once- with practice, and familiarity with the tracks.

I think that's kind of what I'm after, some indication that it's going to be possible. At the end of the day, we both know that it'll take practice (after all, I know from my own experience that you've got to just keep at it until it clicks), but I want to be able to tell her that it will work in the end, so when it's frustrating there's some light at the end of the tunnel.
posted by iivix at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: preparat:
> What about using bone conduction headphones together with the Sennheiser headphones? You can patch the house mix over to the former and the cue to the latter.

This is also a very interesting suggestion - I'd never heard of bone conduction headphones before, and I'm definitely going to investigate them further if just because it sounds like such an eerie concept.
posted by iivix at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2009

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