Technology Is Changing The Way We DJ, But At What Cost?
Any veteran DJ will tell you that there is an intangible feeling gained when you learn to mix music with only your ears and your hands. That little nudge that you give a track to make it sound just right is powerful, and it connects the DJ to the crowd through the music. However, you don’t get that same feeling through using the Sync button. Instead, a computer crunches the bpms, make a prediction, and then combines and redefines what the sound is; it’s pretty unnatural when you step back and think about it.
The increase in performance technology has helped many artists survive and even excel in the DJ community. The continuous technological improvements by companies such as Pioneer, Native Instruments, and more have undoubtedly changed the way we see djing. With such increased accessibility, people are learning to "dj" at the cost of really learning the trade, and gaining the experience from necessary skills such as beat-matching. I think some of these sync-DJs could really step up their game if they branched out of their comfort zone and increased their mixing skillset. What if, instead of relying on a computer to tell us what we should hear, more DJs went back to creating a new and interesting mix of sounds that people want to hear?
Part of the problem is that while technology makes it easier for people to DJ, it also sucks them in and prevents them from being what I would call a "present" DJ. We’ve all seen these before. The "present" DJ is up there dancing and rocking, with their hands in the air and eyes wide-opened. Combining their energy with the crowds' energy and giving back something new through the music. I’d say Boys Noize and Fedde Le Grand are fine examples of this, with Paris Hilton as a close third. Ok, so I obviously lied about that third one, but seriously, I always love watching those two perform because you can tell that they’re up there having so much fun. There is no question that they are "present," and that they are taking us on a journey in which we all are creating together.
When artists use sync technologies such as a computer, it can detach them from the audience. Generally speaking, they interact with the crowd less, and tend to be caught off guard easier when things go wrong. It’s the same sort of detachment that one can see when a friend is sucked into their phone screen or computer game; although they may be physically there, and they may respond with some degree of involvement, the focus and connectivity is lost. Eye contact plays a huge factor in performances, and because many sync-DJs are using laptops, eye contact tends to be much less frequent. And when you’re not looking at your crowd, how can you read them? If you’re not hyping things up with your energy, how do you expect them to?
Photo credit: Jenna Buckle
Finally, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a sync-DJ throw their hands in the air over a simple sound problem. Seriously bro, don't you understand how the fader works on a mixer? Or you’ll hear, "Whoops, my laptop crashed" as the sound cuts out. Were you too lazy to take the 15 seconds to learn how to insert a CD into a CDJ and play something while you reboot the machine that you need so bad? If you take the time to practice and learn DJing in a different way, it won't stop you from having things go wrong, but it will teach you to improvise solutions, and you will know what to do when sh*t hits the fan. How to save a mix, bypass a bad input, read that the crowd isn’t diggin you; these soft skills can only be gained through hands-on experience. The key word being hands-on.
Look Ma! I’m a DJ now!
To be clear, this is not directed towards producers that use pads and other MIDI devices to mix beats that they made, or even DJs using Serato or Traktor for logistical reasons such as space or lack of equipment. After all, I’ve learned both of these programs for those times when my standard equipment is unavailable. What I’m trying to say here is that sync-DJs should do the same to better their skills and further their performances. Take some time and learn the gear, learn to mix by hand, be caught off guard. There’s so much power in learning that tiny nudge, I promise you will gain much more from it than you think!
Cover photo credit: Danial Orchard, THEKNWLDG.com
Written by Mike Teez