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How to Become an iPad DJ in 5 Easy Steps

Rana Sobhany had no experience as a DJ when she bought her first of two iPads less than a month ago. But today the experienced guitarist, producer and veteran computer-based songwriter is also known as the world’s first iPad DJ, packing a professional-quality arsenal of beats into two tiny, easily portable tablets and dreaming big about the future of music and technology: “If I can play some good music for an hour using only ‘stock’ applications, then imagine what will happen when I can load in my own sound libraries and loop them on the fly,” she says. “Or when I can download application right from the gig I’m playing on my 3G iPad and play from it seamlessly.”

We were curious about how Sobhany (who will soon be announcing some upcoming live gigs) learned her enviable skills so quickly, so we asked her to give us a quick tutorial. After the jump, read our email interview with this musical pioneer, watch a video of her in action, and check out her five-step instructions for becoming a master iPad DJ.

Why did you decide to try iPad DJing?
I wrote a book about marketing iPhone applications late last year, so I was really excited when the iPad was announced. I was in the thick of things when mobile application downloads and usage skyrocketed, and I really believed in the potential of this platform. But it wasn’t until I was in line waiting to pick up my iPad that I had the idea to create music on the iPad…

When I got my iPad home and started loading up the [music] applications I’d purchased… I was instantly hooked. Not only is making music possible on this device, but it’s fun! I think that there’s an analogy between what happened in music when Apple started pre-loading GarageBand onto Macs and what’s happening here now. Any college kid who purchased a Mac instantly had access to relatively powerful recording software, and this inspired a generation of people to try their hand at making music. Lots of great bands and artists have come from the “GarageBand generation” of production, as I like to call it. With iPad, I think that a lot of people will start downloading music apps and learning to play instruments from them. Music programs are being cut in schools, and record labels are suffering. It seems like there isn’t a future for music, but I disagree. I really hope that this project will eliminate barriers and inspire people to play music.

Was teaching yourself to DJ on the iPad easier or harder than you thought it would be?
It was a little of both. It’s hard enough to mix beats together when dealing with laptops. Now imagine that with two independent computing platforms with no ability to sync. The lack of multitasking in the OS makes it really hard to transition quickly between apps. There really is no room for error. There are so many things happening at once that it can be dizzying when you consider the timing and rhythmic elements to making music on iPad. That being said, the iPad handles a lot of the grunt work when it comes to aligning rhythms and matching tempos. Having the ability to monitor sounds through the mixer I’m using also makes it easy to experiment with sonic ideas on the fly and iterate as needed. I haven’t stopped playing music on the iPad since I got it, so I think that’s a testament to the fun-factor of it.

What do you envision as the future of iPad DJing?
This is where I get really excited. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about it: this thing has been out for two weeks and it’s already this great… The iPad will quickly evolve into the ideal device for music creation and DJing. Loop libraries will get better. Hardware will get better. More hardware and software companies will build mobile apps, and the users will become more savvy about what they want from the iPad. There will be peripherals that support inputs like USB and Firewire. Video remixing will be possible. The iPhone OS is powerful, and I think that people overlook that. This is not just a consumption device. You can create really amazing media with the iPad.

Rana Sobhany’s 5 easy steps to becoming an iPad DJ

Step 1: Buy two iPads
Two “turntables” are standard in any DJ set-up, so be sure to purchase a pair. It will cost you ~$1,000.

Step 2: Buy a mixer
Choose a basic mixer. Nothing too fancy here. I use a Numark M3 because I like the ability to use the kill switches in case I don’t like parts of the beats I’m mixing together.

Step 3: Get connected!
My set-up currently consists of three RCA to mini-jack cables (Monster). Two of the mini-jack inputs go into the iPads, and the RCA cables get plugged into the back of the mixer. The third cable is for audio out, and I always keep a 1/8-in. to 1/4-in. adapter handy in case the speaker system requires a different-sized cable.

Step 4: Pick your poison
Decide what kind of music you want to make and download the apps that correspond to that. Fortunately, there are about 5,000 apps available for download on the iPad store and most iPhone apps work on the iPad as well, so the possibilities are endless. If you’re into hip hop, for instance, you may want to download the IK Multimedia Groovemaker Hip-Hop app and start from there. You can always download and install new apps, so get creative with your arsenal of sounds and loops.

Step 5: Practice, practice, practice!
If you’re already a DJ, practice using the touch screen and adjust to the lack of hardware controls on the apps. If you’re a beginner, learn timing and matching BPM between iPads. Becoming familiar with the sound libraries is paramount to controlling the sounds you’re creating. Spend the time incorporating various elements and testing out different apps. Then, you’re ready to flex your iPad DJ muscles!