DJing today is so much different from DJing back when I first started. That said, when I first started was so much different from back when the first DJs broke onto the scene. That happens with everything, though, right? It’s called progress. Is it good or is it bad? Who’s to say? That said, everyone does say. And I’ll give some opinions on that too. But first, let’s just look at some things that have changed in the world of DJing.
When I first started, the only option was to get yourself a mixer and two turntables. In order to use these, you had to learn to beat match manually. There was no other option. And unless you knew another DJ who could mentor you, you had to figure out the skills on your own. There was no internet search you could do and wiki articles you could read. There were no YouTube videos to watch and cheap online courses to take.
A while after I got started, CD decks hit the scene. They were prohibitively expensive (and, let’s face it, they’re still ridiculously expensive today), but they made a much more wide selection of music available to DJs. Many tracks were no longer being pressed onto vinyl, so CDs were the only option. Modern CD decks also offered many features that plain turntables simply didn’t have. A lot of these features made life as a DJ much easier. One good example of this is the beat counter, which really helps when beat matching for those who never learned how to count beats (you really should learn how to count beats).
If you’ve ever used CD decks, they can be quite fun. I enjoy them, but I do prefer vinyl turntables. That said, I use neither these days. I have switched to a computer and controller. My controller does have little mini decks on it, to give me the feeling of still spinning. I don’t think I will ever go completely digital, by which I mean use only a computer. I know a lot of new DJs do that and then let the software do their beat matching and their mixing and pretty much everything for them, but I will never be able to do that. I need the tactile feeling provided by a controller. I use the software only to help out in certain areas, not to do my work for me.
And that has been the next great step, hasn’t it? Modern DJ software allows you to DJ, even if you have no actual skills. Just like robots build so many of our things and human manpower is no longer necessary, DJs really aren’t necessary anymore either. You really just need some guy who knows how to use iTunes.
And it’s gone even a step further. Have you ever wanted to produce? In the past, this was not an easy thing to do. You needed very expensive software or you needed access to a recording studio. You needed various instruments to play sounds, or a keyboard that would mimic them. Now there is cheap software out there. There’s even free software, but it’s not any good. Some of the cheap software is good, however. It will allow you to produce tracks like you had your own recording studio. You can make decent tracks without any kind of skill whatsoever. That said, if you want your tracks to actually be good, you will need to have some knowledge of musical theory. And many DJs are also learning to sing these days.
So, how do feel about this progress in technology? Well, I’m sure you can tell from the way I wrote this that I don’t like that it allows any idiot to be a DJ. It’s pretty annoying when a club will hire some guy with his Macintosh and iTunes and pay that guy almost nothing. The set won’t be great. He’ll just play some tracks he likes and none of them will fit together coherently, but the club owners are happy because the drunks are happy. So I do feel that this technology is diluting DJing as an art form.
That said, progress is inevitable and much of the technology has actually helped us a lot. That software mentioned above has helped me produce my own tracks. I have the skills and the musical knowledge necessary for this, but I was never able to do it because I couldn’t afford a recording studio or the expensive software. Now I can do it and in this way technology has changed my life for the better. So I feel it is a good thing, if you use technology to assist you and build on your already existing skills. If you use technology to make up for your skills, i.e. it is doing everything for you, then I don’t think it’s very good.
For more on the changing world of DJ technology, check out these Digital Tips.