How To Move Past “Select-Sync” DJing

Pioneer sync

If DJs needed any more confirmation that sync is now a legitimate tool, the fact that Pîoneer is including it in its DJ booth pro gear (this is the CDJ-2000nexus) is just that. But while we broadly think sync is great, it can be a trap for digital DJs who never learn to move beyond it…

I’ve recently come up with a term to describe the workflow of many novice digital DJs, who find themselves spending half of their time frantically looking for the next track to play, and the other half attempting to mix it into the current one using the sync button. I call it “select-sync” DJing. Maybe you’ve found yourself in exactly this position at some point, and if you have I don’t for one second blame you – digital DJing makes reaching this point so easy, but can also make it hard to move past it.

So today I want to explore why so many new digital DJs fall unwittingly into the “select-sync” trap, and offer some suggestions as to how to move past it.

Now don’t get me wrong: Digital DJ gear has given millions the chance to feel what it’s like to be a DJ, and even to play in public – and unlike many people, I think this is a great thing. But if you want to get on in DJing, you do need to move past “select-sync” – and today I want to give you some practical ways to do it.

1. Dealing with the “select” part

The reason so many DJs spend so long staring at their digital collections desperately trying to find another song to play (the “select” part of the above) is that they have far, far too many tunes in the first place. You need about twice the number of tunes you’re planning on playing for any given set, as a rule of thumb. (If you’re a mobile DJ, you need more, but I’d expect mobile DJs to be well organised anyway as the number of tunes you need to carry demands it.)

If you have a playlist with roughly twice the number of tunes in it than you need, a couple of things happen.

Firstly, you’re forced to spend a lot longer before the gig planning out that playlist. (What should I take? What should I leave out?) Secondly, you start to spot associations, favourite mixes, and natural DJ progressions through those tunes, which means they “jump out” at you when you’re playing.

Ultimately, this means you spend far less time randomly browsing through piles of unsuitable tunes hoping inspiration will strike, and get more time to do what you really should be doing: Watching the crowd, working out the very best tune to play next, and mixing. Double win!

But wait: For that to happen, we need to deal with the “sync” dilemma, too.

2. Dealing with the “sync” part

This is the part where the hapless digital DJ, without really knowing what’s going on, tries for a minute or two to mix into the chosen tune from the old one using the sync button, hoping at some point it’s going to sound good in his headphones, so he can complete the mix.

The sync button can hide a multitude of sins. Because it does a (normally) very good job of snapping two tunes together, new DJs can feel that if they can follow one or two easy-to-learn rules when using it, it’ll basically mean they can’t go wrong. But body language gives the game away: Glued to the spot and the screen, a slave to the controller and waveforms, the “select-sync” DJ is not confident, certainly not dancing and often not really having fun. Engaged with the crowd? No chance. It gets worse. For many types of music or even individual tracks, sync really doesn’t work very well in the first place. What this leads to is DJs starting to avoid the tracks they feel the sync is going to struggle with, and thus limiting not only the quality of their mixes, but also the breadth of music in their sets.

But I also believe that DJs who rely 100% on sync ultimately are missing out on a lot of the fun of DJing! DJing is about programming music to suit an occasion and then performing it with a bit of flair. If you believe loading a track, hitting sync, and gingerly mixing it in is how this is done (and the only way this is done), you’re missing the point by quite a wide margin. Ten years ago, remember, “sync” didn’t exist.

The good news is that just realising that mixing isn’t the most important part of your job, but that great music carefully selected is (and sometimes? Sod the mixing!) mean’s you’ve already won half the battle.

Easy techniques for escaping the “sync” button
So how can the novice DJ achieve good mixes without sync? There are lots of techniques available to you. You can practise “slamming” the next tune in at the right time, going straight from one tune to the next. You can drop the new tune in at a complementary beatless section. You can wait for the fade on non-dance music, and drop the new tune from the off. You can leave gaps. (Yes, that’s right – gaps. Done properly, a gap in a DJ set has immense power. Some of the most exhilarating moments I’ve ever seen in night clubs is where there’s been a power cut and the music comes back on. Smart DJs remember this stuff and use it!)

If using any of these techniques – none of which requires you use that elephant in the room, manual beatmatching, you’ll notice – means you can play the exact right tune for now that you might otherwise have avoided, it’s usually going to be better than being enslavened by your regimented “sync” style of mixing.

So you should at least try to do some of these things sometimes, rather than taking the easy road and just syncing in another bland, same-as-the-last-one tune.

How to move way beyond “select-sync”

So a DJ with a carefully chosen, manageable playlist, who still relies on his sync button a lot of the time but is prepared to mix it up a bit just to keep things interesting when the next tune requires it, is already moving past “select-sync”. Why? Because he’s now giving proper prominence to the most important of what I call the “timeless skills of DJing” – tune selection.

But what are the other “timeless skills of DJing”, I hear you ask? Well, for me, the biggest one is what I call “jogwheel literacy” (it would have been “platter literacy” in the vinyl days, except it was taken as read that everyone could do it).

Jogwheels

Controller manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make their jogwheels feel as faithful to vinyl as possible. It would be a shame not to use them – after all, they’re in front of you just waiting to be utilised whenever you use your controller…

“Jogwheel literacy” is getting used to the idea that those two things under your left and right hands “control” the music, and they’re there to stop the music controlling you! Jogwheels are your key to getting those carefully chosen tracks to do what you want, rather than you feeling tied down, scared witless, by the playing music.

“Jogwheel literacy” comes naturally when you practise and master various DJ techniques, including manual beatmatching and scratching. But a good way to start on the road to really using the jogwheels as was always intended (remember, the manufacturers of your DJ controller have gone to great lengths to make them feel as much like vinyl as possible), is to learn to cue manually.

Learning to cue manually
Next time you’re practising, try this. Still use sync to get the tunes at the same BPM, but then, disengage it. Now, instead of using a cue point and the “play” button to start the new tune playing, use the jogwheel to navigate to the beat you want to start the next tune on, and “throw it in” using your hand. You do this by having the new tune playing (ie the play button has been pressed) but temporarily held at that first beat. It’s easy: just touch the top of the jogwheel in “scratch” or “vinyl” mode and the tune will wait for you to release it.

Jogwheel nudge

Just learning to manually cue your tunes is a great way to start to get more comfortable with the jogwheels.

When you’re ready, you “throw” the tune by hand (let it go with a slight clockwise “push”) to start it playing. It’ll probably be a bit ahead of or behind the other tune, so you use the “nudge” functionality of the jogwheel (ie the plastic edge rather than the metal top on most controllers) to pull the beats into time. You can look at the waveforms to help you to do this – that’s fine.

Only now should you re-engage sync, if you want; the point is to learn to “drop” the tunes by hand rather than by button, and to get them properly in time by nudging them manually. Do this for a whole set and by the end, you’ll be more comfortable using the jogwheels for cueing than practically all “select-sync” guys will ever be. The best bit? It’s the first step to a whole world of manual techniques…

Taking it further

Once you’re prepared to take even a little manual control back over your music, and to think outside the “synced infinite playlist” style that select-sync DJs are trapped in, you’ll find yourself naturally wanting to take it further. Of course, fully manual beatmatching is the big one to learn, but it can seem so daunting to the beginner – and you’d be forgiven for falling back on the old “but if the sync button can do it, why should I learn to do it manually?” argument.

Recently, though, we realised there’s another path out of this. We’re about to launch a video series called Scratching For Controller DJs, which has given us a lot of contact with beginner-to-intermediate controller DJs just like you.

And it turns out that scratching teaches you a whole load of the above skills, “by the back door”. Learning to scratch of course teaches you about “jogwheel literacy”, big style – and excitingly, that takes you a lot closer to being able to manual beatmatch. But more than that even, it teaches you to not be scared about making obvious cuts and changes in your music.

In a way, it’s the opposite of the rather apologetic “select-sync” style of DJing: If “select-sync” is “see if you can spot my mixing!” (answer: no, not most of the time, but that’s because we’re asleep… ;) ), scratching is saying “I have control over these tunes, and they’re doing exactly what I want them to do, so be prepared for some pretty bloody awesome song choices as this night progresses!”

Watch out for Scratching For Controller DJs soon, but meanwhile, if you’re one of the DJs who does sometimes feel stuck in “select-sync”, hopefully we’ve given you some food for thought as to how to start improve things for yourself – and having a little more fun with your DJing at the same time.

Do you recognise the phenomenon of “select-sync” DJing? Did you ever find yourself DJing this way when you were building up your digital DJ skills, and if so, how did you find a route out of it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. Great article. I was that kind of DJ for some time, but the thing that forced me ot move out of that was the change of genre. Traditional 4/4 EDM is just too sync-friendly; however, when you try to play funk, rock music, the genres that just can’t be put to a grid, you’re forced not only to learn beatmatching the hard way, but also learn more innovative ways to mix tracks.

    • Yes, absolutely. And let’s face it, EVERYONE is a DJ nowadays insofar as having great music collections is concerned. Everyone has a wide selection of music on their smartphones, or in their Spotify favourites, and it’s not all one genre – so today’s DJs need to be more and more comfortable with mixing all these different genres into something “greater than the sum of its parts”. And that takes a whole host of DJing skills, all of which are just waiting to be learned…

    • golergka is right.. with funk and hip hop with different drum patterns its hard to press the sync button. when i spin deep house i try to get the blend down with manually using my turntables to beatmash then when i get it as close as possible i hit the sync to correct me.

    • Agreed. I’ve played Latin Alternative Rock back on the CDJ-100′s and you had to babysit that pitch/tempo fader during your blends because the drums were usually recorded live and not digitally produced.

    • I feel like I am somewhere in the middle of this article. I am self tought until I landed on this website and about 2 years in. I practice scratching in my songs (in the que only since confidence is not there yet) and rely more on the wave (HEAVILY) to make sure they are on beat. I do not know how to use the actual sync button yet as I haven’t tried and really have no wish to.

      I am hoping that through reading on this site and trying to think outside the box that I will naturally progress. In the article it mentioned something very similar and I just thought to myself “thats me!”. Anyways, I will leave it at that and would like to say thank you for the positive energy and information you provide here!

  2. Well put!

    Lot of great information in there for sure. My controller has a sync button but I haven’t used it since I got it to get myself setup for the CDJs I use at the club I work at. I found a great method it to manually match the bpm and use Cue Points to start a song (can also be a neat way to segue into a song with vocal cuts or iconic samples of that song, especially combined with effects).

    I really like the section on music selection, and great thing to aim for to have twice the music you’ll need for a gig. I never thought of it like that, and it will definitely help me organize my tracks better for this weekend.

    Thanks!

  3. Gloomy Bear says:

    Fantastic one! Probably the best dj-related thing i’ve ever read. This will be very helpful once i get my gear (go behringer, go …)

  4. I regularly use the sync button. I know how to sync the beatmatching but i see it as an advantage in live DJing. Now we have more time to deal with the music, but sometimes when I play with turntables without beatmatching is not going anyware :)
    On the other hand I do not have any benefit in hip hop music, rock music, etc. of sync button.
    and what for the list and selection of music and songs. I just fix it before the party lists, decide what goes, what not goes, create backup folder (you never knows how the audience will react and to what direction the party will go)and just play and enjoy music

    • I regularly use sync in traktor because it allows me to be more creative seen that i am from the caribbean and plays multiple genres.I also could jump back on my cd’s and mix/beatmatch without a problem using my MEP 7000.I c it as a tool and i like been creative doing some crazy remixes.

  5. Great article Phil! I remember hitting a select-sync rut a few years back when I first went all digital. It’s easy to slip into the mindset of finding similar BPMs and throwing them together, tossing aside the various other elements involved in music programming…but when it comes down to it, you have to feel out the crowd and play to them, not to the 4/4 beat of the drum.

  6. You have a point when talking about novice DJ’s, but from professional DJ’ng point of view I probably need to disagree with this article.
    In short
    1: Auto-sycning gives one the benefit of spending more time on other real added value like fx and track choice and using 3/4 decks and/or sampler/sequencer. You can not do that (in a good way) when syncing manualy.
    2: When having few tracks in your playlist the risc of getting lazy and playing all sets the same all tracks over again in the same orde, is a big danger. If you are a pro, you can handle big playlists and you will stay creative!

    • I’m not saying don’t use sync, just learn the skills so you’re not trapped by it. I love my sync button.

      Good point re “getting lazy” – I guess you should have a setlist which is as big as you can comfortably handle, and of course as you get more experienced that is going to grow, but I’m trying to correct the beginner mistake of packing their music folder with MP3s they’ve probably never even listened to half of, certainly don’t know well enough to mix creatively with, and really don’t want to have kicking around in a performance situation.

      • Well I did have that problem with “packed folders” when I restarted DJ’n back in 2006.
        I ripped all my cd’s (mostly compilations) I ever purchased and qualified all tracks on a scale from 1 to 5.
        Had a huge amount of 1 and 2 getting in the way and I did had a hard time to find a track.
        I resolved this problem simply with stop buying cd’s and purchase on beatport. Now everything has at least a 3 mark, because I would be really stupid buying tracks with a quote of 1 or 2 :-)
        Just saying. Be very selectiv in what you buy, will already resolve the clotting of your library.

  7. Great post… My favourite recorded ‘mix’ has only one beat matched transition in it. It’s a collection of old ‘Studio 54′ disco, funk and a bit of Latin stuff. I did it on the fly on an analogue set up with no real planning… just going with the feel. It’s wasn’t performed live, but the recording goes down well at parties. As a recent convert to this digital business, I feel I may have lost some of this buzz but focussing too much on the features (amazing as they are) of the software.

  8. Interesting article.
    Funny last section regarding using the platter’s on a CDJ to cue/start the tracks.
    Personally from a long in the tooth DJ who cut his teeth year’s ago and disliked, still do CDJ’s, this seem’s as though it should be completely natural to DJ’s.

    Maybe a better angle would have been to advise beginner (kids jumping on the bandwagon with EDM wanting to be ‘superstar DJ’s) to find any possible way to get their skills from a pure two 1210′s and a mixer setup.
    Phrases on tracks, counting and all the other skills required to DJ with modern equipment are inherently taught to you with this setup.

    Now I use a 4 deck setup with 2 Kontrol X1′s mixing externally. With this setup, it’s pretty essential to use the SYNC. No personal guilt here as if you put a pair of deck’s in front of me, easy as pie.

    • That’s just it – it ISN’T completely natural to many new digital guys, and they quite rightly feel like they’re “missing” something, but can’t quite work out what.

    • James Robinson says:

      Phil is absolutely right, why should it be natural when there’s a play button just sitting there!

      I’m with you on the vinyl learning in principle, I myself started with some cheap turntables and some 12″ singles I picked up at the local carboot a couple of years ago, and I’m only 18 years old. It taught me some good skills, but at the end of the day the turntables were cheap and crap, and I’ve never properly got on with them. I’m still looking for some 1200s to this day (I’ve got a lot of vinyl to play) but I’ll be dammed if I can find a decent set for under £300. This is fine for someone on a salary, but with most novices being about 16/17 it simply isn’t practical to expect everyone starting out to just get a set on a whim.

  9. Hey Phil,

    Interesting article though sync is slightly over demonized as being the root of all evil. In good hands that’s just a good tool as any.

    I agree with you that selection is the key to the whole thing, but mixing wise, even if people learn how to beat match manually it still doesn’t make them any better of a DJ.

    If the ‘Select-Sync’ generation really wants to progress they need to start to ‘understand’ the music that they play. Know how its build up, being able to feel the patterns, understand harmonics, understand energy. Once you understand those you have the creative tools to take your listener to an adventure in a mix that actually makes sense and is more than playing records with matched beats. That, at least for me, is the art of mixing, and all technique used is inferior to the eventual creative result.

  10. As already mentioned by other people in their replies, another approach to escape the “select-sync” mentality when you DJ with laptops is to “embrace” the technology (instead of feeling guilty using it) and take advantage of the extra comfort – time it provides you to utilize more sounds into your setup – whether this means playing with more decks, adding more effects or incorporating samples-loop triggering, live synth playing or whatever else.
    However, we all seem to agree that whichever “route” you choose to follow, it simply is lazy to just “select-sync”.

    • Tom Stroud says:

      I totally agree. I used to be a bedroom DJ years ago (before I had a family and time on my hands) I had a pair of vestax PDX 2000′s and a PCV 275 mixer and learned to manual beat match all by myself with a variety of genres including my preferred drum and bass. Some days I would start to have a play around and end up spending hours mixing all the records I had at the time and sounding great, other times it would be a struggle (just not in the right frame of mind). The big problem for me was that although I taught myself how to beat match and mi, the hobby, as it was to me, was not easily accessible. The equipment was expensive, the basic skills took time to learn, the records for me was the big problem as they cost a fortune and I had a very serious lack of good record shops anywhere near me. Eventually the gear got sold but the love of the music stayed.
      Now, 10 years on, I bought an ipad for the family and by complete accident came across the Djay app. I am loving mixing again! It is now suddenly so easy to access although I now use DJ Player the tunes and software are cheap. The sync button, for me, is a magic pathway to creativity not a cheats path to DJ stardom. The time it frees up is the key to a better performance giving time to think about samples, loops, loop bounces, effects and so much more! Basically I now feel the possibilities are endless rather than unreachable. It bring confidence to try new things and it has given me confidence to maybe become a proper DJ. I can manual beat match from before, which is defiantly something I draw on even now with those tricky tracks the software can’t work out but the sync is button is the gift of time! What you do with that time is the difference between a lazy DJ and a great one.

  11. Great article – as always!! I fully agree with learning to start the tracks by hand & getting more control of the music under your fingertips. Practicing the start of your tracks by scrubbing the first beat over the 1,2,3 & letting go on 4 is a great way for beginner dj’s to get a proper feel of being in control and getting away from falling into the “sync trap”

  12. Great article, I use custom mappings on interactive controllers mf3d multiple button.commands like hot cue effect launch on the same buttons while gating or xfading on both tracks with good equing. A good understanding of song structure and phrasing leads to great vocal.mashup possibilities for harnonically in tune tracks and some others, but cue juggling beginning and when its high risk quantized advanced or true test and speed no quantizing or speed limit on launch buttons, good samples and practiced accapellas can vs used. And probably the best, a good delay, or t case scenario echo freeze. I actually first.learned the slam with roll loops
    Learn how to count music and your genre well, if you can learn harmonys and practice that way because it will.build confidence and develop your harmonic ear naturally, then practice without it, or moving up 7 keys to test possibilities and move on from your eyes and trust your ears and subconscious memories about songs. And lastly practie a distinct skill, controllerism, scratching, mixing mashups, custom vocals, anything. I got a bit carried away but, I thought it was a helpful sequenceh

  13. Also buy a midi controller, with 8 pads and 2+ knobs, teach yourself

    Mappings
    Filters on the knobs
    And hotcues at least four, to learn cue jumping until your comfortable or have the proper tools to scratch, and don’t forget it, good hotcues can make a song an incredible remix or mash up very fast in.a practiced hand

  14. SpecializED says:

    Ive been at this DJ game since 1985. Before alot of you were even born. I have more wax collecting dust in the basement than I care to mention. I havent touched my 1200s in 10 years.

    I feel i paid my “dues” and guess what I love the sync button. I dont have anything to prove, my music sets speak for themselves. Long gone are the days of train wrecks dirty needles, heavy milkcrates, etc.

    What people seem to forget is the sync button doesnt make you a great dj. Hell you dont even need to mix to be a grear dj! With a great song selection the crowd will always dance!

    • Totally true. What we are fascinated with the most here at Digital DJ Tips is distilling what’s REALLY important about what we learned in the 80s, 90s and 2000s and offering that in easy to learn nuggets to the new generation, so they can build on it.

    • Spot on.. Music makes the DJ; not his equipment.

    • just some notes….

      as a beginner I find out some interesting stuff.

      The most important things are (for me):

      music feeling,
      creativity,
      individualism (maybe most important)
      music selection!

      I use Traktor (and there a lot other similar and good software outside). The first stepp was to map my own working structure. This is my individual way. I have jogwheels, but they are relatively uninteresting for me (I use endless rotary knobs for beatjumping (4 bars)… I’m so fast and so exsact whit that.

      For me individualism is: select my songs, be different than other DJ with my music. Use my equipment in an individual way. Use my effects…. I must learn more, but sync, cueing, song searching. takes max. 30 sec for a song.

      ok good day

  15. I think for me, limiting my folder of tracks helps with the “select” part. I do spend too much time digging.

    As for sync, I still live by the idea that if you want to be a “real DJ” then you can’t have excuses. You find what you want to play, sync doesn’t work, go manual.

    Can’t go manual…learn and practice.

    I just think the idea of “well, I won’t play this tune because sync won’t work with it” isn’t a good way to live as a DJ.

  16. For any dj REALLY wanting to learn I would suggest the following when practicing:

    1. AVOID using the the SYNC button to begin with.
    2. Cover up the bpm’s on your screen with a piece of black tape or small post it note.
    3. Change the display to NOT show your waveforms. You will get spoiled and mix visually.
    4. Even if you know how to beatmatch on a controller you may consider doing #2 and #2 once in a while.

    As a person that started on turntables, worked with the first CDJ’s and later came back to DJ on a controller I will say that the visual cues provided by software will spoil you so once in a while just practice beatmatching without them. It will make you better. Then use the visual cues in your software as an aid allowing you to do MORE in your sets and to grow away from the typical back to back blending that any dj can do once they can put to beats together.

  17. I was stuck with this problem on Traktor Pro. Something I found very usefull was to eliminate the waveforms and the mixer on screen, I only leave the track decks on “small” layout (no waveform shown) and the “gain+filter”. This makes me concentrate more on the controller itself rather than on the screen, also this forces me to use my ears to mix instead of my eyes watching the waveforms.
    If you want to use your ears more when you’re mixing I suggest you trying this out.

    • Trouble is…the sound out of my headphones is a bit behind the master speakers. is it normal due to latency or fixable? my only way around this so far is to have the “old” song playing with the “new” song in the headphones.

  18. Good article Phil! Playlists and/or crates are definitely the way forward. i dont stick to them 100% but they are a good guide to where i want things to go. I am mobile so i do have a large collection in case people ask for things but i use playlists for what i really want to play.

    i do the cueing/nudging with the jogwheels only when people are watching me and i want to look busy lol. its easy, especially if the new song has a long intro and the bpm counter is right. ill be honest tho id be a bit lost with no waveforms and bpms. actually which dj program/app do you think is the most accurate as far as bpms go?

    A lot of the time i’m tempted and use the effects so that keeps me occupied instead. if not its teasing with the new track/ setting the loop in the intro of the new track etc
    sometimes i do the odd mistake on purpose tho to prove that this is live and not a recorded mix. i get a few stares so i can smile back lol.

  19. Robert Wulfman says:

    and sometimes the sync button breaks off (all three of them) and you’re forced to learn manually!

  20. I did the “select-sync” style of DJing for a little bit. An I found it very limiting even for the tracks that were of the same BPM. I was usually like that when the tempo of the songs was the same, but the rhythms were clashing. I got out of it by practicing some of these turntable techniques when I was recording my sets. This way I could listen to it later and really hear how the transition went.

    On the other hand, My first paid gig really drove home the importance of song selection over mixing technique. I was still very much a “select-sync” style DJ and it showed. The dance floor, and by extension the room cleared out way early in the evening.

  21. DJ Forced Hand says:

    I just don’t think that because something is easy to do it shouldn’t be done. Manual beat matching is considered the “pro way” of doing things, but the reason the sync button was made was to help the DJ sync two tracks faster, allowing the DJ to do some amazing things in that time they saved. If they don’t they’re doing a dis-service to themselves and their audience.

    RE: Sync
    I’d like to point out when it’s really dumb to manual beat match… 1) When you’re doubling a song to apply effects. Can you think of any reason why the crowd needs to know you can do it old school when tweaking doubles? I’d prefer that two simultaneous tracks were synched (to whatever offset I set them to) whenever I did something to one of them because of the nature of playing two of the same tracks at once… especially when scratching. 2) When you’re beat juggling, how do you propose to do that without some form of synch? 3) When you use heavy effects on tracks (such as echo or delay) and you only have the ability to hear post-fader effects.

    If a DJ is using the sync button as their crutch to play only songs that are say… 120 b.p.m. throughout their set, then yes, that’s kinda’ dumb, but let’s not discount the value being able to have two tracks play in time with each-other and not fall out of time.

    RE: Select
    If a DJ is scrolling through countless titles looking for the next track, they obviously haven’t prepared their set tracks folder… or their alternate tracks folder… they’re lost in the forest and can’t see the trees. There are times when it’s cool to drop in stuff out of genre that just plain works with the current song on the fly, but that takes a practice. Most DJs can fill up a folder with more than 4 times the music of tracks they’d love to play than they have a time slot to play in… why search through everything? Serato DJ and Traktor make setting folders rather easy while still allowing the DJ to go back into the main collection and search through everything. This is one of the reasons ID3 tags “Genre” and the “5-Star ratings” were created.

    RE: Scratching
    I don’t agree that scratching is the ultimate form of DJing (I’m not great at it, but I’m not bad either). Scratching completely ruins the dance vibe if it’s not used sparingly … and most scratch DJs love to push too much of their “flavor” into a dance club night, ruining the vibe.

    • Yes you re right about scratching. it’s like a rockstar doing a three minute solo. gets too much after a while. still wish i could scratch tho and i promise id only do it sparingly

      • I think the thing with scratching is that it shows mastery over your music – I mean, most guitarists can do 5-minute screaming solos if they want to, but of course that’s not something they do as part of a bigger whole (a band) very often. But it’s good to have it “in the bag”…

    • Great comments. Agree with all of them. Sync is great, unless it’s a crutch that limits song choice and mixing style. The more experience and organised a DJ gets, the more he can have a bigger collection and intelligently and quickly navigate it.

      And scratching is great – if used in context. If used out of context, it can of course be highly irritating – just like controllerism or overuse of FX can be. It’s all about a balance, and never forgetting your audience. But let’s not forget performance – a DJ who can perform, in whatever way, is always going to be more entertaining than a statue.

      • DJ Forced Hand says:

        Yeah, I’ve never personally seen a DJ scratch well, only on videos… like Q-bert. I see these DJs scratch as though they’re doing something ultra-cool and impressive, but I have yet to see it do anything but sound bad and interrupt the flow… and when the DJ goes on and on making bad scratches further interrupting the flow, it’s just as bad as a train wreck or a DJ not recognizing their Record is skipping.

        Maybe we need an article on how to approach people who aren’t doing as good a job as they think they are in some constructive criticism manner?

        I have discovered that Maschine has some pretty nice scratch clips and that’s all I’m really interested in doing to a song anyway… just enough to interrupt the flow to keep people on their toes, not take over the sound with my “Leet Scratchin’ Skillz.”

  22. Good article Phil!

    Narrow down your playlist for sure.
    We have those “what ifs” songs but they never get played.

    Would depend on the type of event or gig, but most times we play the bangers or the crowd pleasers.

    Love sync, and my cue points, but like you said not using sync is so fun, bring out the innovative side to drop a track!

    For the jogs part I’m out of loop for that since I use a Twitch ;)
    If it’s not vinyl I hate the feel of jogs, the NS7 2 “looks” hella nice though, but too rich for my blood

    Touchstrips are perfect for nudging though!

  23. As always Phil, very insightful and most importantly very helpful. I’m a semi-novice myself with two years under the belts (pun?) and I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this and similar challenges for newbies. I thought I’d add my tiny insight: in my case this is due to the combination of two things – impatience and the fact that mixing even at a low level is too damn fun. This means that it’s comfortable to stay within what I know and have immense fun with, and the thought of pushing it further sometimes feels like more of a chore and being an ADD-bastard child I rather just jump right into the laughs. This being said I’m one of the Ableton+NK2+Launchpad guys and it seems to me that Live has a much steeper learning curve. Which doesn’t help at all. Don’t get me wrong – I try to learn new stuff every day and improve all the time, but this situation might explain some hesitation for newbies and novices alike.

    • Good point! I think this one is solved by getting in front of an audience – it trains the mind on the bigger game, rather than the definitel thrills to be had going over the same old stuff in private… :)

  24. I know how to manual beatmatch but I don’t really enjoy it (I find it a little bit backward-minded that you don’t consider it DJing). Besides, it’s more cumbersome doing it in a midi controller, where the pitch fader is usually tiny and you can feel the latency.

    Regarding interaction with the people I don’t see how a DJ that has to beatmatch everything manually will have more time to do it rather than one that does it automatically. If that’s the case then the DJ is probably mixing intro/outro and then waving at the crowd the whole song… which I couldn’t do it, it’s just too boring.

    I like to spend my time doing stuff, say finding the great mix spot, throwing FX, mashuping, whatever.

    I play in psytrance parties where people don’t care about the DJ doing the jesus pose… everyone is in their own trance with the music. It doesn’t really matter if the DJ is looking at his screen, his mixer or the ceiling.

    And let me tell you man, I love wave-riding, I find it pretty useful in psytrance where lots of producers doesn’t respect the 8 bars per phrase “rule”. It would require a hell of a memory to remember which part of which track has a 9/10 bars phrase. It’s a lot better for the audience that the DJ re-aligns the phrases looking at the waveform than not dropping the first beat in time (which I’ve heard a lot in psytrance traditional DJ sets).

    At the end my mixes sound better than most CDJers and that’s what matters. We, as a psytrance crowd, don’t really care much about the DJ’s technical skills as long as the mix sounds smooth and doesn’t disrupt your trance.

    But you probably don’t get my point cause I highly doubt there is a good number of psytrance djs here.

    I would spend the time writing interesting digital-djing articles rather than saying over and over again “learn to manual beatmatch, do not rely on sync”.

    Don’t take it bad, I find manual beatmatchers highly skilled, and more if they mix sounds well. But as I said, we don’t care about the DJ’s ability, we care about the music, the set, the trip.

    Peace!

    • I was with you up to the “you probably don’t get my point” bit. Of course I get your point, although you kind of missed the point of my article (to master your gear, and get to know fewer records but better).

      Also, remember this isn’t a psy-trance mixing site, it’s a site for digital DJs of all types – and for the vast majority, being able to manually beatmatch (alongside all the other DJing skills) is a great thing to have. I’m not saying you have to do it all the time, or even very often at all.

    • I think manual beatmatching is overrated. A lot and i mean most of CDJ i know in the psytrance scene have no idea what correct phrasing is while they talk about the importance of manual beatmatching.

      Having a visual cue of the structure of the song is WAY more powerful than what your memory. You can figure out where the melody drops, place a cue point, rewing 32/64/96/128 beats before puts another one and then you can have it so as soon as the melody drop you can bring in the bass from the other song. Funny enough i don’t see a lot of article on that even though it’s the thing that affect people the most on the dance floor (after track selection of course)

      Btw, syncing doesn’t prevent you from changing the BPM. With SYNC, bringing 2 tracks to a higher/lower bpm together at the same time is possible. If you do it properly (ie: small increment .05% every 4 beats) it’s almost undetectable and you can increase the intensity of your mix. Good luck trying to do that manually.

      Beatmatching? not worth the time to learn as far as i’m concerned.

      Funny enough, techno DJs i know don’t think like that, they’re all jumping on sync button so they can mix with 3 or 4 decks, adding layers, loops and all.

      • Yes, thank you. Most CDJs here in Argentina are the same. They have a high ego cause they “know” how to beatmatch, but then they drop the new track 1 bar soon/late.
        But again, they are just too “oldschool” to accept DJing with a computer… “It’s cheating”.

  25. This issue plagues a few of the local jockeys, one put it this way “I’m tired of hitting play, cue and play again”

    There’s a lot more for them to try and get into, but not everyone has that drive to get better.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      I’m right there with you…

      As a long-time advocate for DJing on a computer and getting a lot of flak for ripping songs to MP3s, not being a real DJ because I use a computer (because the computer does it all for you) and such, I’ve seen most of my one-time adversaries move over to the Computer DJ world without so much as a “sorry for calling you names.” I don’t mind the name-calling, that’s part of growing up (getting a thick skin), what bugs me is that these DJs are doing NOTHING with the time the computer saves them with song selection and synching… no wonder they’re bored, they’re stuck in mediocre CD/Vinyl world where all of their time WAS spent looking for the next track to play, not even thinking about how the freed up time gives them the opportunity to be even more creative. They converted because they could be even lazier about being a DJ. They’re laxidasical when it comes to their craft… they put in just enough to get a “C-” and it shows. It makes me believe that these DJs were never into the music for the passion, instead they were into being a DJ for the local fame (and all that gets them).

      If you’re not constantly excited about how to do things, striving to see how things would work together or for some new way of doing things, you have no passion for the craft. I wish there was a way someone would tell these people to follow their passion wherever it leads them… it’s obviously not in DJing.

      • For me a really good indicator of intentions is when the sets are pre-planned (no CD changes, sounds like the same set from the week before, no headphones, etc) and the mixing/transitions are still off; there are a few locals who do this (the one I quoted included) and it really is noticeable to anyone with an ear for music.

        I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned people being in it for the fame.

  26. Mickey Disco says:

    Great article Phil. I think a lot of people are missing the point and jumping straight into arguing over the dreaded sync issue. I believe Phil is saying that anything that helps you master your control of the medium is worth having in your repertoire. Scratching, while not universally considered the utmost display of a DJ’s ability, does exemplify one thing, that the man behind the decks controls the decks and not the other way around. Phil’s not advocating scratching and other manual techniques nor is he denouncing the sync pushing DJ’s of the world. He’s proclaiming one consistent philosophy: “The software should be a tool used to broaden horizons and not a hard nosed format that limits them. “

  27. For me much of the art of Djing comes from much time spent baby-sitting the pitch fader in order to prevent the beats from drifting. By having an intimate knowledge (and love) of your tunes, you’ll remain in control of your set. I think you can’t better the initial experience of beat matching with vinyl to appreciate and master the art of mixing.

  28. i got an idj2go last night and can already beatmatch manually….

  29. Another great article! I change between using and not using sync simply because I rarely get to play just one genre these days and can’t rely on beat grids being reliable enough across the tempos.

    I was surprised to see the methods used to escape ‘sync’. Slamming, fading into non-beats and spin backs are things I’ve been doing for years but never considered them as techniques.

  30. Sync and waveforms are tools for the modern DJ. As such, there is nothing wrong with using them. You may rely on them rather heavily starting out, but at a certain point, you owe it to yourself to try DJing without them. You might surprise yourself with how well you actually know your tracks, with how good your rhythm and sense of natural mixing and cut points are. Phil’s point is not so much not to use these tools, because that’s what they are there for–to be used to make things easier. But when you rely on them too heavily, it definitely stifles your creativity and your own fun.

    Personally, I find that when I mix without the aid of waveforms and sync, I get into the music more–I dance, or bob my head more, I interact with the mixer and jogs more– and it becomes more like playing an actual instrument, which all equals more fun for me and translates to the crowd taking my lead. The performance becomes more organic, less “technologic”.

    Never underestimate how much the crowd takes their cues from you to have fun, dance, and party. And even if the crowd doesn’t care about the mixing and other technical skills, whether you have those skills or not, you always look more like a DJ when you don’t have to stare at your monitor for long stretches. Staring at the monitor only perpetuates the “anyone can do that” mentality that many people have about DJing.

    • “Never underestimate how much the crowd takes their cues from you to have fun, dance, and party.” – these are very true words.

    • Electricbloom says:

      I completely agree with JR and Phil on this. While I never used sync in the first place, I did get pretty bored quickly when using phase meters and waveriding. I’m starting to use the jogwheels nog to ‘scrub’ in the tune and I find it way more satisfying. Same goes for manual beat matching, I get into the music way more. I bought a pair of cdj 800s to practice this on, and I love them to be honest. Still the price and portability of a controller is unbeatable I love the whole going back to basics thing. Of course I might delve in to 4 deck mixing on a controller and then I definitely see sync’s potential. It all depends on the situation and what works for YOU, I don’t believe there is a good or a bad way, as long as the crowd and you are happy.

      That being said, thanks for the article Phil, definitely helpful and inspiring! i love these kind of articles :)

  31. Im not sure if the DJing for Controll Users is going to address this issue; but some of us dont have jog wheel controllers. I have 2 X1 Kontrol’s so scratching and such isnt an option for me. I prefer to loop 4-8 bars of one track and lead into the next track. If there’s a tempo change, once the new track is going I’ll adjust the tempo up or down relative to what the third song is going to be. I use Sync if the tracks are locked together well but this isnt always the case. For the most part I try to get thru a night without using it though. I’m transitioning to using 4 decks and my Audio Kontrol 1 soundcard has the fat knob which is midi programmed as my cross fade.

    I dont think anyone has mentioned this yet but I use Beatunes to help create playlists before gigs. The only hunting I do for songs is requests. Otherwise I have maybe a dozen different playlists prepared for different moods or genre’s that cover a night. This way I mix in key and color which the program provides.

    DJs may complain that you need to know your music and blah blah. But Im in a record pool and download 500+ songs a week to keep current. Its impossible to know everything outside the typical top 40 songs. I consider myself a mobile/club DJ and need to have ‘everything’ for various occasions. Beatunes is an invaluable tool.

  32. In my opinion sync is great, but to use sync in a good way you should know how it works manually. But anyone who will be a master dj someday should be wanting to learn that!. Some find out when they learn styles like hip hop & dubstep (big bpm differences) and some because they are just curious. When i was 18 i baught the traktor kontrol s4, the most easy controller but the coolest at the same time. But when i knew the ins and outs of that i wanted to master pioneers. And now my conclusion is that track selecton in probably 80% of being a good dj or not! Anyway this is a great article!

    • I agree, track selection is 80% (probably more) of the job. Also I agree the “manual” skills of DJing are worth knowing. But they shouldn’t stop people playing “live” – there’s time to learn :)

  33. My overall opinion of new technology is that it has helped the DJ become a better artist. But it has its drawbacks. More DJs to compete against. More DJs who are more concerned about how many tracks they have on their hard drives than “learning” their music or educating their crowds. I’ve also seen more DJs not using headphones to listen, but instead looking at the waves to mix their tracks (waveriders). The “Sync” button is another tool that helps the DJ be creative, but if you don’t know song structure or how to count beats or even how to program to a crowd, all the technolgy in the world won’t make you a better DJ.

  34. In my quest to find a good controller to use on my mobile gigs, I’d like to know, which controller has the best feel and latency that can be used by a “master mixer” who’s used to the feel of turntables?

    • You know, most modern controllers are excellent. I moved fro vinyl to Vestax (VCI-300), and loved it. It’s a matter of personal choice, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by most modern controllers.

  35. I think the sync button is a great tool for Djing. I understand that some people think using sync is cheating, however if that is the case then people should not use dj software, waveform visuals, cue points…,etc and go back to using vinyl. Pete Tong, Swedish House Mafia and other other Dj’s have expressed that there is nothing wrong with using the sync button, to which I agree.

    Ableton software also syncs songs and clips so live performance is more fluid.

  36. I have been DJ-ing for almost a year now. I actually think of selling my Traktor s2 + axiom 49 to get a less expensive keyboard and cdj-350′s + mixer. I hate mapping Traktor, I hate the latency my laptop has to cope with and 95% of the gigs I get are on CDJ’s and I’d be to lazy to bring (my precious) laptop and be setting up for 20 minutes instead of having a drink and relax so I could analyse the crowd.

    I’ve used the Beaubryte mapping for a while and while I really liked it, I knew I wasn’t going to use it live anyway.. Same with my axiom 49: filled with buttons/knobs/faders I would never use within my DAW so I’d rather sell it and get a cheaper keyboard.

    I’d rather be good at standard things like beatmatching and phrashing the old way as oppose to “rocking” the crowd with effect chains that they don’t care about. I tend to find myself staring at the laptopscreen (getting blinded) for 2 min finding a song on my hdd.

    Besides I like the beatgridding option, Traktor is way off in a lot of my songs (that go from house bpm to moombahton bpm and back). While with rekordbox-analysed files i could enter every club in holland I’d like and start to play. So I’d rather invest time beatgridding one time only so I could have it ready whenever.

    I think most normal (beginning) club dj’s are putting to much effert into using effects, cool mappings and stuff. Instead of just playing your best music and enjoying. At the end of the night you go home alone forgotten and they go home with their friends, drunk, drugged and fullfilled.

  37. Read the first few paragraphs, looked like the article was finished.

    I was already satisfied.

    Scrolled down a little more, and things got even more helpful and specific. Brilliant post, and site.

  38. I’m going to be honest I have sold myself to sync now with my Xone: K2 :) there are no jogwheels! On the plus side I now have 4 decks at my disposal. I am trying to perfect my eq’ing and phase matching at the moment and then I will add another deck to the mix and start messing with loops.

    I am about to relocate towards the end of 2013 however and I have promised myself that when I am settled I will by some vinyl decks and a mixer and teach myself the old school way!

    IMO vinyl is back in and will sit alongside digital which will slowly see the CDJs die out. Why would you go to the hassle of downloading music, buring a cd and then playing on some expensive CDJs which are now mimicking all the best midi controllers?

    • Thats a good point. Vinyl will never go away, you’re right, but also, vinyl techniques (scratching etc) still have a place – we actually see this as a growth are (hence our Scratching For Controller DJs series).

  39. I tried “throwing” in a new track manually and didn’t like it one bit and won’t be persuing it. I think I am from the future and my DNA is digital, probably colour coded in RGB. I don’t doubt learning to beatmatch manually benfits a DJ, but I think anything that can be done manually can be mimicked digitally. Want to “slam” in a track using sync? It’ll probably work better than dropping it in manually, especially if you’ve cue points in all the appropriate places. “Drop a new tune in at a complementary beatless section”, again, this can be done digitally with sync and cue points. If a DJ can get two tunes in sync, in tempo, volumes levelled manually, so much the better, but for me, this what the new paradigm is all about, these are jobs for the machines, leaving the creative intelligence free to make decisions machines can’t make. If someone can calculate any sum using pen and paper or in their head, great, but I’d just rather use my virtual calculator

  40. B.B. Koning says:

    One thing I have found when trying to use the sync is that Traktor seems to make a horrible mess of it.

    I have sort of found a middle ground: Using the Pitch controls, viewing waveforms, keylock, BPM counting and the behind/ahead meter on the Traktor display.

    I’ve also found that Traktor can make a mess of beatgridding a song, so it is a good idea to listen with my ears to and using the ahead/behind. I.E.: not relying on the waveform alignment.

    Can I fully beatmatch manually with a degree of perfection? Not at all.

    Fortunately, I seem to be getting closer to being able to handle it by instinct using these tools.

    I’ve also found that I prefer playing in a ‘live’ environment when practicing vs. playing around with manual beatmatching with nobody listening.

    Am I wrong? Maybe. But this is what keeps me interested, and it is always nice to have the live feedback while I practice amongst friends.

  41. This is an excellent piece that should be required reading for all new DJ’s.

  42. I started with vinyl, did the beatmatching thing, it’s just a basic-basic skill for keeping the groove going non-stop. What separated me from others was my choice in music/songs, how I layered and my flow throughout a night. The people on the dance floor don’t care if you manually beatmatched or not. They DO care if you manual beatmatched and screwed it up. Now I use Traktor, and yes the sync button, why? Because it frees me up to do 100 other things like various FX, remixing on the fly and creating new tracks on the fly via Traktor’s Remix Decks. In fact sometimes I think I do too much :p

  43. DJ Hystyra says:

    I miss beatmatching. I’m saving the $4000 for a couple CDJ-2000nxs’s just for that. And because I really like the feel of Pioneer gear, ever since I tried out the 1000mkIII’s.

    I hate sync, cause the beatgridding on old EDM is off by a huge amount, especially Showtek’s “Seid Irh Bereit (2007 Mix)”.

  44. Best article I’ve read on the subject that actually helps by giving suggestions for making that move towards manual beatmatching and not completely trashing those of us who sync….. like most articles. I am also self taught, been recording sets for internet radio for 2 years now and I love it!! I use Tracktor with a Pioneer DDJ-ERGO controller and have always used sync. It’s just what I know from coming into the game as a digitial “DJ”. It is my ultimate goal to back away from sync and be able to claim the title as a true DJ. Unfortunately you just get too comfortable and everything is sounding awesome, people are liking what they hear and giving great feedback, so it’s hard to switch gears. I would almost need to take a break from my mixes and spend the time practicing my manual skills, but I do think at the end of the day it is worth the effort, and just knowing I can do it like everyone else would bring a great sense of accomplishment and acceptance. I am definitely saving this one to refer back to and going to try some of the tricks, specifically using my jogwheels, which I never do! :( Thanks for the great article again. Keep the music flowin’ and stay Underground!! ♥ Cheers!

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