BPM is how we indicate the tempo of modern dance music. It stands for Beats Per Minute. A BPM of 120 means you have a beat every 0.5 second. Every musical genre has a typical BPM. Hiphop is around 100, EDM is typically around 130, trance can go up to 140, while harder genres like hardstyle and drumnbass like it at 160 and upwards.

Beats, Bars and Phrases

If this concept of BPM is really foreign to you, put on your favourite dance track. Wait for the part where the beat kicks in. Now you'll hear this distinct pattern that the kick drum makes: dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum. You're probably nodding your head along to it right now.

Every 'dum' that you hear is what we call a beat. Depending how fast the music is, you will have more or less of these in a minute. Hence the name BPM or Beats Per Minute.

Now in dance music, every 4 beats make up a 'bar'. In turn, every 8 bars make up a 'phrase'. For a more in-depth explanation of these concepts, check out the video below.

Okay, with that theory out of the way, let's get back to Resolume! Resolume makes it easy to sync your content to the BPM that the DJ is currently playing. These BPM controls are so important to VJ'ing, you can find them on the toolbar in the center of the interface.

Setting the BPM

There's a few ways you can set the BPM.

On the off-chance that you know exactly what BPM the DJ is playing at, you can set a BPM directly by clicking the BPM value and typing it in.

Now let's say you don't know the DJ's tracklist by heart. In that case, by far the best way to get the BPM is to just use your ears and tap along to the music. You do this by clicking the 'Tap' button a few times to set the tempo. Tap the button in time with the beat. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. After you've done this for a few beats, click the 'Resync' button on the first beat of the new phrase. When you press 'Resync', everything in Resolume that is set to BPM Sync will jump back to the first beat of the first bar of the first phrase.

Now keep your eye on the blue square moving clockwise around the slightly bigger blue square. If your BPM is on right on point, it should hit the top left corner on every first beat. To give you an even better indication, this square will light up with a little outline every 16 beats, so you can check if you're still in sync with the phrasing. 

When you find the blue square is arriving a little late, it means your BPM is set too slow. At first the difference won't matter too much, but you'll get further and further out of sync as the song goes on. You can fix it by increasing the BPM slightly by hitting the 'plus' button a few times. Of course, you can hit the 'minus' when it's arriving early, or just tap out a new tempo if you're really, really off. 

Now hit 'Resync' again on the first beat of the phrase, and see if it drifts again. Repeat till you get it right. This is how DJs beat match records as well, and after a little practice, you'll be able to dial in on the correct BPM very quickly.

If you don't like the hard cut you get from pressing 'Resync', you can also press the 'Nudge Up' and 'Nudge Down' buttons. These will temporarily speed the tempo up or down while you have the button pressed, and set it back to where it was when you let go. This will let you catch up to the music, or let the music catch up to you.

If you're playing a video only set, you can also send out a metronome to your headphones, so you can beat-match your visuals using audio.

Later on we will see how we can use MIDI clock or Ableton Link to synchronise the tempo in Resolume with another program or piece of equipment.

Rhythm in Visuals

"But wait," I hear you yell, "what does all this rhythm stuff have to do with visuals? I'm a VJ, not a DJ!"

Well, you're right. You don't necessarily have to beat-match all your visuals to be a good VJ. If you're playing tunnel fly-throughs that don't really have a visible rhythm, you're fine with the basic speed controls.  But if there's anything obviously rhythmical in your video, it makes sense to have that match with what happens in the music. And one obvious way of doing that is beat-matching.

For instance, imagine you're playing a short walk-cycle animation of a big Mecha at a dubstep party. If you hate dubstep and Mecha, that's cool. Just bear with me for a second and pretend you're one of them annoying kids that need to get off your lawn.

Of course, it makes sense that every step of the Mecha coincides with a kick drum hit. When you play the video like that, it will look as if the video was made for that track. This is why beat-matching is such a powerful tool.

So first of all, make sure that every 'event' in your video happens in multiples of 2. So make the robot take 4 steps, 8 steps, 16 steps, 32 steps etc. This way, Resolume will correctly guess the beats for you when switching the clip playback to BPM Sync. Then all you need to do is keep the BPM in sync, and all your videos will follow along.

The video linked here is actually a bad example. The robot takes 12 steps, which is great for getting rid of its alcohol problem, but really bad for syncing. When you download that video, you should either set it to play back in 12 beats, or trim it so it only takes 8 steps. Or better yet, don't download videos from Youtube at all and learn to make your own awesome Mecha robot content, with exactly the right amount of steps.

Of course, this doesn't just work for big Mecha's and dubstep. It also works with steampunk machines pulsing and blowing steam on dark techno tracks, or strange alien creatures emitting telepathic pulses from their third eye on goa trance music. It even works with abstract animation on big room EDM. Rhythm is life, and life is rhythm.