It’s been a while since digital DJing has seen a bona fide major hit.

Traktor continues to dominate the scene. But Traktor is still software molded for the professional DJ, and particularly those in the club scene. When Traktor came to the iPad, it saw a significantly-streamlined interface, but the underlying functionality remains geared for the professional user – so much so, in fact, that it’s possible to exchange libraries and hardware interfaces between the two. That’s a good thing for Traktor’s intended audience, but it leaves open a window in the market. Even arguably more consumer-friendly software like Algoriddim’s market-leading djay still resemble DJ apps of old.

Pacemaker might not be who you’d bet on as the new major player. Founder Jonas Norberg has so far hit two strikes – an app for Blackberry Playbook (oops) and a pricey hardware gadget that failed to compete with laptop DJ solutions.

But Pacemaker for iOS has an ace in the hole: Spotify. And that could change DJ consumption.

It might also be disastrous news for producers who at least could rely on selling music to DJs. But more on that in a moment.

Let’s have a hands-on with the actual app. I’ll see if my colleague sitting in the same room does this:

Pacemaker is easily the friendliest-looking user interface in DJing yet. It strips away the user interface elements that might frighten and confuse new users.

The opening screen is almost blindingly spartan, featuring blank gray decks and triggers to add music.

Pacemaker won't scare away any new users.

Pacemaker won’t scare away any new users.

When you do tap to load music into your deck, you’re presented both with your iTunes Library and an option to log into Spotify. Sign into a Spotify Premium account (or sign up for a free trial), and your playlists appear in the library. You can also add any track from the entire Spotify library.

Pacemaker should soon find its way onto everyone's iPad for this feature alone: you can load up Spotify tracks as easily as iTunes. That includes both your own playlists and collection and anything else your Premium account can stream.

Pacemaker should soon find its way onto everyone’s iPad for this feature alone: you can load up Spotify tracks as easily as iTunes. That includes both your own playlists and collection and anything else your Premium account can stream.

This is, of course, the moment at which producers shudder. Pacemaker requires an active Internet connection, but assuming your venue has that, the previous major justification for buying tracks to use them in DJ sets may have just disappeared. That threatens the business model of the likes of Beatport on one end of the spectrum and countless independent labels and producers on the other. Even as the rest of the market has shifted to streaming, at least the DJ could be counted on to buy up lots of tracks before heading to the gig.

But wait a second – apart from requiring an Internet connection for streams, this also depends on how good a DJ app Pacemaker is. And there, the results are … mixed.

Ahem. Spotify in Pacemaker is probably not going to kill Beatport.

Ahem. Spotify in Pacemaker is probably not going to kill Beatport.

Pacemaker’s UI is nothing if not clean and attractive, a refreshing change from the industry norm. It’s also consistent with the brightly-colored, high-contrast, geometric look Pacemaker introduced years ago, long before these sorts of aesthetics became associated with iOS 7.

If all you want to do is mix two Spotify tracks together, Pacemaker will happily oblige. Amplitudes display in simplified vertical bars at the top, with indicators for position, as a touchable circular deck spins away at the bottom. The interface is partially skeuomorphic. The decks spin like records, including simplified turntable-style acceleration and decceleration and scratching behaviors, but without overly-slavish cosmetic icing.

Those decks are essentially digital hybrids, however. Tap one of the four icons in the center of the “record,” and you find modules for looping, pitch-independent tempo adjustment, effects, and triggers that jump around cue points in the song.

There’s also a big, friendly “SYNC” button, which works as advertised. The problem is, in comparison to Traktor’s clever synchronization, sync isn’t happening in the background. And Spotify’s library doesn’t present BPM information (at least not that I could find). So you’re left with a certain amount of guesswork and waiting. Ironically, that means something like Traktor is friendlier to new DJs who don’t beatmatch.

Tapping the icons in the center of the decks pulls up cleverly-designed, elegant interfaces for cues, beats, and effects.

Tapping the icons in the center of the decks pulls up cleverly-designed, elegant interfaces for cues, beats, and effects.

Pacemaker is free, but even casual DJs will want to shell out for in-app purchases that extend these modes. The free app includes only the following features:

  • Jump +1 / -1 beat
  • Loop one bar
  • Adjust tempo
  • Three-band EQ (bass/middle/treble) and gain
In-app purchasing is executed just about perfectly here. You get complete explanations as well as live try-out modes, so you understand how the modules work before you buy. (You can't choose the music, though.)

In-app purchasing is executed just about perfectly here. You get complete explanations as well as live try-out modes, so you understand how the modules work before you buy. (You can’t choose the music, though.)

You have to pay to unlock other modules – US$1.99 a la carte, or $9.99 for a bundle:

  • Loop (1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, bar, four bars, eight bars
  • Beatskip (forward and backward 1, 2, 4, or 8 beats)
  • Echo
  • Roll (basically a beat-synced looper)
  • Reverb
  • Hi-Lo (a fixed-resonance filter)
A bundle covers all of the essentials. And the price is right - though competing apps Traktor for iPad and djay offer better sound quality and loads more options.

A bundle covers all of the essentials. And the price is right – though competing apps Traktor for iPad and djay offer better sound quality and loads more options.

Not Quite Pro

Access to Spotify is simply extraordinary. And here, I certainly have to utter a dirty word: “requests.” Sure, DJs generally hate them. But remember that “DJ” doesn’t just mean someone playing a club. For many, many iPad owners, wedding gigs and the like are bread and butter. And if it’s someone’s wedding, you don’t yell at them when they request a song. Spotify integration makes this quicker and more affordable.

But as far as the app itself, it’s tough to recommend Pacemaker over either djay or Traktor – yet.

Simplifying the user interface may be aesthetically pleasing, but there’s a cost in usability. The solid-hued rotating discs give you no actual feedback about the song, and as you can see in our screenshot here, the overview is all but useless. (You can see breaks and the beginning and end, but that’s about it.) Waveform previews, as found in Traktor and djay, make more sense. (djay, incidentally, is way more useful once you swap out the silly fake records for their reasonably-nice color waveform view.)

Some modules also work better than others. Looping and cue points are dramatically simplified, and executed in an elegant, obvious way that should appeal to the casual audience for which the app was intended. But again, even a fairly casual user can benefit from having additional visual feedback that keep them oriented. Beatskip’s “+8” is hard to follow because you can’t see what you’re doing.

And no matter how casual the user, sound matters. It’s nice to be Native Instruments and have genius, industry-leading DSP scientists in your office. The faux turntable effects on Pacemaker are simply awful: the pitch changes, but in an obviously-digital, distorted way. And that means you’re not rewarded sonically for touching the app. The filter sounds muddy. The reverb sounds glitchy and cave-like.

For wedding DJs, none of this should matter, and that’s a huge market that may find even djay too complicated. (You don’t want to add these sorts of effects or scratching at a wedding, obviously. And mixing works just fine.) Additional library navigation would make that even more powerful, and wedding DJs might still want offline access to their Spotify tracks – if Spotify would be willing to agree to such a thing. But the two-deck affair might not work as well as more advanced queuing in wedding situations.

Don’t get me wrong: Pacemaker has done a brilliant job of UI design. The interfaces are rewarding and clear. In-app purchasing is done nicely: there’s a ‘Try It’ mode so you can use a live demo before you buy. And pricing is reasonable.

I just have a sinking suspicion that Pacemaker’s over-simplification actually makes it harder to use. I’ll have to test it out on some non-DJs who have never seen it before and see what they prefer. But I think djay has risen to the #1 app because they strike a good balance between pro and consumer, and even Traktor is accessible enough to non-DJs by providing its feature set in a clear way. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either of these even to someone who just wants to DJ a friend’s party.

As a starting point, Pacemaker has a great, eminently-sensible first release. If they want to win over users, they’ll want to improve visual feedback and the sound experience, as these are likely to make the app far stickier.

In the meantime, my guess is, Spotify is the real winner here. Now the question may be, will another app sign up for a Spotify licensing deal?

Just hope that Native Instruments, Serato, and company never do, if dance music download sales have a future.

  • Freeks

    I’m a happy iPad1 iOS 5 user. There has not been any app that would have not run on iOS 5 that i would have wanted and not one time i have needed more CPU or screen resolution. Not until now. Spotify integration is simply genius! Since spottily came i have not played MP3’s anymore. Since i don’t own much music in MP3 form i have not needed iOS Traktor.

    It would be great if you could use the offline tracks feature in spotify. Then you would not need online connection. But good thing is that in most places there is either wlan or solid 3G connection that you can share from iPhone if you don’t have 3G capable iPad.

    Now only if Apple would release the 13″ iPadโ€ฆ

    For normal DJ’ng all FX and such are nonsense. People really don’t want to hear those high pass filterings and flangers. Do you still remember the day when came first Pioneer DJ mixer with DSP FX? Every dj had to use the flanger fx all the time. It was terrible ๐Ÿ˜€ Now Traktor DJ’s are doing the same and it’s rather irritating. Yes, it’s just a phase, but still.

    I hope that Spotify connection comes to Traktor and such. I have rather massive Spotify playlist collection just waiting to get DJ’d ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Peter Kirn

      Fair enough – and I absolutely agree on effect overuse. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I still think the library management is deficient here, and the inability to access tracks offline could still motivate you to buy tracks.

    • DJ Hombre

      Try DJ Player. Most recent beta (currently being tested) has not only Key Lock but Pitch Shift functions on older iOS devices too – as well as a stack of other great features. All brewed in-house, hence older device support and less reliance on quicker processors.

    • Rod Viriato

      Hombre is (always) right. DJ Player from iMect has a sweet integration with Deezer library, which covers about 90% of the Spotify so-called 20 million tracks. And their support is great as well.

      About the Pacemaker app I think the UI is a little toyish. And the effects aren’t pro oriented – pitch changes are terrible. But the integration with Spotify is definitely a huge step.

  • Ashley Brown

    Actually the non tempo beat matching isnt a killer for wedding djs as such as mostly they have to play a huge variety of tracks to cater for wide tastes which dont always match up anyway, if they are of the type that want a full on set then you tout yourself as such and im guessing would use traktor loaded with tunes for that specific fix of genre.

    I use traktor and dj dubstep / drum and bass but recently did a friends kids party and also my cousins wedding. With the massive requests of tunes i literally turned to spotify and paid ยฃ10 for premium for the month and got every track they asked for in a playlist. Then i offline downloaded and was able to literally play the music through a playlist rearranging the list as people wanted certain tunes.

    Awful experience!!! and i really hated this method of djing, and i hated the non flexibility of even crossfading to a new track playing as tbh i really didnt need to be the dj, i was the track chooser just clicking.

    I can see how there is totally a market for a spotify enabled simple dj player on either iOS, Android or just mac/pc for laptop use… but would need to enable offline playlists for it to be stable enough (and a device with a large storage area too) and you can only get this by being a pro user so yes it would damage download sales from direct sites but would keep spotify sales up so its about labels and artists finding alternative distribution channels to enable to stay afloat and make sales as for those offline playlists to work you need to keep the pro account open each month.

    Its not perfect or ideal, im just responding and adding 2 pennies into the mix

    • Peter Kirn

      Absolutely, and I agree here.

      Now, you do still have to do some playlist arranging beforehand, but you can do that even on Spotify. But the offline playback support is still a concern.

      Spotify is definitely a winning feature, though.

    • Peter Kirn

      Heh, just as I suspected. You can’t record, either.

  • tassock

    Great looking app. I’m very surprised by the Spotify integration. I talked with employees at Spotify a couple years ago about a DJ app they indicated they didn’t have the requisite licensing from record labels. Apparently that’s changed?

    • Peter Kirn

      I think they don’t. ๐Ÿ˜‰ See the “offline” message.

      So long as the music is streaming, I don’t know that there’s a licensing issue. Oooh – I didn’t try one obvious thing, recording a mix with Spotify.

    • Freeks

      At least here in Finland it is illegal to play Spotify in public places. When you listen spottily it is for private use only. If it would be ok to use it on public spaces then Spotify would need to pay license fee to copyright control and they would charge you for it. It’s not one or few times that i have been in some shop and heard after song:”It’s Jonathan from Spotifyโ€ฆ” ๐Ÿ˜€

      It was just while ago when it was still illegal to play MP3’s in public spaces. The thing with MP3’s is that you don’t BUY the track, You pay for personal license to listen the track, Most (if not all) don’t know that. Last year Copyright Controll and Police raided night clubs here to find DJ’s who use Traktor/Serato. All who got caught got fined. It made no difference if you owned the tracks on CD’s or vinyls.

      Now there is option for DJ’s to pay yearly license fee 212โ‚ฌ to Copyright Control for digital dj’ng, but i doubt that the license includes spotify. I just tried to read the long license text and it might be that you can only DJ tracks that you have ripped from cd/vinyl and not bought as MP3’s. I might be wrong as it’s legal mumbo jumbo,

    • Peter Kirn

      Wait, really?

      Normally how performance licenses work is that the venue is licensed. So in that sense it’s illegal to play recordings without a license, but Spotify would be subject to the same rules as anything else. (And that’s true internationally … sort of. Copyright is still sort of country-by-country in the absence of unified international law. But it is *fairly* normative, this assumption.)

    • Freeks

      I tried to read the legal text again and it goes like this: Venue pays for the license to play music. If DJ play cd’s it is ok, but he rips the cd to mp3 and plays that then he breaks the law. So it’s about the copy license. So you pay the 212โ‚ฌ/year for the right to copy the files to your HD for DJ’ng. That covers also bought MP3’s. For personal usage (home listening) you can rip and copy all you want. Weirdly enough, you can buy cd (or borrow free from public library), copy it and share those to all your friends legally, It get’s illegal only if you share those to people who you don’t know ๐Ÿ˜€

      Spotify in public spaces is still not legal. That is about the deal between spotify and copyright control.

    • Ben Neill

      I had always heard that’s why a DJ app could not be made for Spotify, that their licenses don’t cover performance, only private listening. I wonder how Pacemaker got around that?

    • dave chappelle

      from the libspotify TOS under restrictions:
      “attempt to embed or integrate the API into any website or otherwise allow access to the Service via the web rather than via the Application.”

    • Peter Kirn

      Yes, but that’s a Spotify document. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Pacemaker specifically licensed the Spotify app.

      As for the labels, the offline restrictions obviously skirt that. Honestly, I never really understood how Spotify could have any offline mode at all.

  • Yanakyl

    Not for me but good idea.
    Plus the guy dancing in the video makes amazing faces!!!
    So those are the same people that did the pacemaker dj mp3 player/weird stuff?

  • Dave

    I can’t believe no one’s brought up streaming bitrates. I’m guessing Spotify is below 320kbps. Even if it were 320, I’d never play those in a club.

    • Straker Carryer

      Spotify does do 320kbps.

  • Neb

    It seems a bit ironic to release an audio app that looks better than it sounds. To really match two tracks closely it takes subtle tone tweaking, precise rhythmic accuracy, and careful fx work. Traktor DJ can do that, and I definitely don’t hear quality in Pacemaker’s promo vid. If they’re betting the house on Spotify, it might do them a heap of good to drop some licensing cash and make those mixes share-able, so they can at least beat quality with quantity.

  • Kechuan

    Wasn’t there an app that did this about 2 months ago and then it got pulled down almost the next day? Pacemaker probably payed for the rights to be the first to promote the integration of Spotify!
    Anyway, like the hardware I found the app a bit awkward for mixing. The sync feature appears mainly suited for straight 4/4 house as it struggled with drum and bass bpm detection. Also, from the quick play I had a couldn’t find a way to zoom in to a specific cue point, so if the tracks doesn’t start with a beat then it might be tricky + I found the vinyl speed up sound when you press play a bit gimmicky (I imagine this can be disabled but I couldn’t find where).
    What I would love Spotify to provide is the facility to download and buy a track. I pay for Premium at the moment, but there are some tracks I would be happy to purchase so I can keep as my own copy and transfer to other devices that don’t support Spotify. Wouldn’t this be a great option for artists?

    • regend

      Yes…i forgot the name but there have been several playlist based online music databases that have come and gone. anyone remember Launch via Yahoo? although it was random jukebox their playlists were good.

  • Dan White

    Here’s our overview + video review on DJ Techtools:

  • Leonardo Tovoli

    as a dj app it just sucks when compared to Traktor for IOs

  • SaintMarx

    “…DJs who donโ€™t beatmatch…”