Want to give a DJ Anxiety? Have them take a gig where the crowd is a mystery and you just KNOW they'll be fielding requests all night. There's always gonna be that one person, who makes the one request, that draws the "I don't think I have that" response (cue sad trombone), and the odds of the encounter becoming a meme skyrocket. Working DJs, with modern technology and nearly universal internet access, should never run into this problem. The perfect solution: a live, online music "crate" that can be updated on-the-fly and source songs from a vast, licensed library so that the artists get paid for their work too. With streaming technology and cloud-based music solutions on the rise, it was inevitable that cloud-based music would be incorporated into modern DJ software.
These types of solutions have been available for a while, but professionals working in versions of Pioneer rekordbox or Serato DJ typically packaged with DJ controllers have been left out in the cold. That all changed with recent announcements and updates from Pulselocker, and the service could change the game for both DJs and artists.
Pulselocker is a very robust subscription-based music streaming platform for DJs. Founded by a couple of dance music industry veterans and backed by Ben Harris of Dirty Vegas, Pulselocker is the most DJ-focused of the current streaming media services. Since launching the platform, Pulselocker has brokered deals with hundreds of labels and boasts a vast library of music representing independent, underground and major labels. A $9.99 basic plan allows unlimited streaming from the Pulselocker library in 320kb audio quality. Step up to a $19.99 professional account, and your "crate" can be locally downloaded so that your songs can be played offline, sans internet connection. The professional account also explicity permits use in public venues and clubs. This is important because all Pulselocker tracks are licensed in a fashion that allows artists to get paid when their tracks are played on the platform. Tracks played from Pulselocker are 100% legal, legit, and properly licensed.
Pulselocker boasts integration with several popular platforms - most notably Pioneer rekordbox and Serato DJ, with Native Instruments Traktor Pro on the horizon. Here's how Pulselocker integration works with Serato DJ.
Pulselocker has been an available option in Serato DJ since version 1.9, though the latest revision solved many of the most glaring issues, and warranted this second look. This review covers the feature set available in Serato DJ 1.9.6, and assumes a basic understanding of Serato DJ and the installation process for your particular platform.
Running the Serato DJ installer was a straightforward process. Once the application is open, go to the “Setup” options and select the “Library + Display” tab.
Click the “Join/Login to Pulselocker” button and you’re in business. You’re given the option to sign in via email or with a Facebook ID.
If choosing an email account, a verification email is sent that requires a response. Once authorized, a free 14-day trial account was set up and available for use. Once your account is created, log int at pulselocker.com and choose a subscription plan. Account details will update to reflect any changes.
Right away, it's obvious that the Pulselocker web site takes a slightly different approach to the User Experience. While they implement some familiar features from other services, their interface feels less cluttered, simpler, and easier to navigate. If you’ve shopped online at Beatport, Traxsource, iTunes, or any other music retailing site, Pulselocker will seem even more intuitive. The tile-based layout feels familiar, similar to an app store or the layout of a modern computer OS.
After initially logging into the Pulselocker.com website, you’re given an opportunity to choose any of the 36 base genres to “follow” to help you populate your library. Changing the genres you follow is as easy as selecting a genre and toggling the Follow/Unfollow button in the upper-right. The genre listings are fairly well done - narrow enough to be useful but broad enough that listings don't get confusing.
Now, the fun part – digging into the Pulselocker library to choose some music to play. The breadth and depth of material available is impressive, from latest tracks to underground classics. That’s not to say that it’s perfect – as with any cloud-based media service, there are gaps due to licensing agreements with labels and distributors, and the additional logistic challenge of ingesting, processing, and cataloging all the tracks at hand. Deals with UMG, Sony, Warner and a slew of other independent and underground labels means that the available library is growing, and fast. As more deals fall into place and the library ingestion process streamlines, the Pulselocker library and user experience will continue to improve. After a couple of hours playing "Stump The Band" with the Pulselocker search algorithm, there were only a handful of titles that weren't available in the library. Impressive.
The search feature is straightforward, with options to search for tracks using title, artist, and label parameters. A “release” search field is about to be implemented to help filter results. More advanced search options to limit search results by specific genres, tempo, key and other track metadata would be a welcome addition for a future site update.
Search results are returned in table format, and the inline player appears at the bottom of the screen to allow you to audition tracks. Clicking a track loads it into the player, with a time-scrubber at the top and a blocky waveform preview as the window background. Preview playback files stream at 192kbps sample rate, giving you an accurate representation of the audio quality of the master files.
Pulselocker tracks are managed in “Playlists”. Adding tracks to Pulselocker playlists makes them available for playback in the SeratoDJ application. To the right of tracks in the search results are options to mark tracks for inclusion in Playlists, Favorites, or to make a playlist Available Offline. Selecting “Add Track to Playlist” brings up a dialog box that allows you to create a new playlist or add to a current list.
It’s important at this point to talk about the difference between a playlist marked as “Available Offline” and those set to “Online Only." When you make a list available offline, those files are encrypted and downloaded to your PC for playback via SeratoDJ’s Pulselocker integration. These are 320kbps MP3 quality files, complete with any metadata tagged to them by the label or distributor. “Online Only” lists stream from the internet via your Pulselocker account at 192kbps quality (same as the web preview). While not ideal, the 192kb streaming rate is good enough in a pinch, and won't stress lame internet connections quite as much as a 320kb stream would. More on that in a moment.
Now that we have tracks added to a playlist, how does it work in Serato DJ? Opening up the Serato DJ application gives you the familiar interface with an added addition to the library pane. Your Pulselocker playlists and included tracks are available for selection from this menu. SeratoDJ’s search function catalogs these along with all of your other tracks in the library.
If a situation arises and you need access to a tune that's not in your downloaded Pulselocker library, simply enable Pulselocker cloud search to find tracks to play and stream. Click the cloud icon next to your library search tool and search terms are used to filter your local library AND Pulselocker's list of available streaming tunes.
Search results are returned with matches from both the local Serato DJ library and the Pulselocker cloud library. The same cloud search indicator from the search tool shows up next to tracks that can be streamed through Pulselocker integration. Loading tracks from the cloud is as simple as using a shortcut to load a deck or using drag-and-drop. There was no discernable difference between loading local vs. cloud-based tracks.
More impressively, Serato DJ operates flawlessly, whether tracks are stored offline or streamed from Pulselocker. Serato cue point data is stored separately from the audio data, so custom cue points and other Serato-specific settings are available on a track-by-track basis. All in all, for a first-run feature integration into a partner product, the entire Serato-Pulselocker system is impressively well thought-out and executed. Internet via standard WiFi or 4G hotspot from a cell phone showed no difference in performance, though more stable connections are preferred to prevent dropouts. The 192kb stream rate was consistent and sounded fantastic on both regular WiFi and 4G hotspot.
Having a library of tracks available that are platform-agnostic is the "killer app" feature. If you were to lose your luggage or your laptop/USB sticks freak out when heading to a gig, having a cloud-based backup of specific sets or a larger library available via Pulselocker-Serato DJ on a secondary computer could be a lifesaver. As more and more vendors implement Pulselocker's API, it should be possible to head over to a mate’s house, log into your Pulselocker account through the DJ software set up on HIS computer, and play music from your playlists on whatever DJ setup is there. For DJs using less-than-saintly methods to augment their libraries, Pulselocker offers a very fiscally reasonable legal alternative to piracy. Artists also benefit by getting paid for tracks played out via Pulselocker via the label agreements set in place when label libraries are added to the product. All in all, a pretty sweet deal for everyone involved.
There are some caveats depending on your specific workflow for DJing. If you “sweeten” your tracks before importing them to Serato DJ, you’ll NOT be able to do any file processing on any of your Pulselocker tunes, streamed or downloaded. The metadata for the tracks I tested was complete and accurate, though your results may vary.
Spotify is making inroads into this market space, but Pulselocker's tight integration into stable, well-developed, industry standard DJ software gives them a tremendous advantage over their competition. Additionally, the user experience with both the web site and the in-software add-on is simple, seamless, and of exceptional audio quality. The library of available tracks is vast, and growing daily. It's very reasonably priced. Simply put, the brains at Pulselocker have developed an outstanding product for "DJing in the cloud.