Scratching On Controllers: 5 Myths Busted

scratch2go

No, this isn't a mock up - you can actually buy this stick-on scratch set for your iPad. And while I wouldn't recommend it as a serious options for digital scratch DJs, it does work!

As many of you will unfortunately be only too aware, there’s a whole army of haters out there, continually bashing digital DJs and controllerists because they don’t use vinyl or didn’t “come from” vinyl. And nowhere is this more true than among a certain section of scratch DJs.

As a scratch DJ myself since the late 1980s, I’ve never understood this. I earned my stripes in the vinyl days, and yeah it was cool - but you want to know something? It wasn’t cool because we used vinyl, it was cool in spite of the fact we had to use vinyl! We had no choice other than to deal with ridiculous prices, warping, jumping, hissy sound, the weight, the size, the excess luggage costs, the risk of damage or loss. If it could have been as simple as digital “back in the day”, would we have wanted it? I would have - in a heartbeat.

Just recently house legend MK laid into "DJs who've been playing 20 years who look down on anything else but vinyl", in a promo video for Native Instruments. It's what we at DDJT have always believed: that far from holding you back as a DJ, digital can make it all more exciting, interesting, creative and fun for you.

But what about scratching? You have to learn to scratch with vinyl, surely? Wrong... as someone who's taught thousands of DJs to scratch in our Scratching For Controller DJs course, I know this to be untrue, and this is what I want to tackle today. Too many DJs feel restricted from getting started learning to scratch on DJ controllers because they think "you have to learn on vinyl first”. So, let's deal with the most common misconceptions about scratching using DJ controllers:

5 Myths busted

1. Scratching on a controller doesn't sound the same as on vinyl

Actually, that’s correct to a certain extent, but not for the reasons the purists believe. When you scratch on a controller the sound doesn’t jump and, assuming your track sounds clean to begin with, there are no hisses or crackles. The sound you are scratching will not degrade in quality the more you scratch with it, and you don’t get any bass rumble or feedback through the system (all these issues are common with vinyl).

So yes, it’s true, digital scratching doesn’t sound the same as vinyl - for all the right reasons. So what do the naysayers mean when they say this? They’re referring to the “warm” vinyl sound as opposed to digital, about how the digital processing takes the analogue identity out of the sound. Well, if using digital source material is good enough for Qbert, Craze, DJ Angelo, Shiftee and Jazzy Jeff, then this myth is most definitely busted. Check out scratch legend D-Styles using a Vestax Spin and Djay4 in a head-to-head battle with a vinyl DJ:

2. Latency means you can't do really fast scratching

Digital latency can be an issue when you are using a controller that was not designed to be integrated with a particular software application, but if you’re using a controller / software combination that was designed to play nicely together, chances are this simply won’t be an issue for you.

For example the Traktor S4 or S2 paired with Traktor Pro 2 software has incredibly tight integration for super-fast scratches and cuts, same with the Reloop Terminal Mix series and Serato DJ - you get the idea. Put bluntly if your scratches don’t sound right, it’s because you’ve either got the settings wrong or you need to practise! Check out these scratch DJs from San Diego putting the S4 through its paces and ask yourself if you still believe this myth. As DJ Happee says himself: “I guess live shows will never be the same again...”

Also, check out this dude on the DDJ-SX:

3. You can't scratch on cheap gear and/or small jogwheels

This myth applies to DJing overall, that you won’t be a “good DJ” if you only have entry-level gear. The manufacturers are clearly not going to do anything to talk you out of this mindset, hoping you will continually upgrade in the quest to be taken more seriously. I have found some of the best controllers for scratching to be some of the least expensive, the Mixtrack Pro 2 comes to mind as does the Denon DJ MC2000 with its small jogwheels.

As we saw when we busted myth #2, small jogs, like those on the S2 and S4, are no barrier to being able to scratch like a demon. If you’ve got a controller with jogwheels, you can scratch with it - period. Check out this guy scratching, cutting and chirping away on a Mixtrack Pro: You can pick these up for US$50 on ebay and the Mixtrack Pro 2 is also fantastically capable at around $200:

4. You can't beat juggle without spinning visual cues

Beatjuggling is tricky, whether it’s on vinyl or not, it takes incredible coordination, rhythm and practice. When DJs beat juggle on vinyl, they use marks on the record labels to be able to give themselves a visual cue of the position of the record. And those records are constantly spinning. In general this is not available to controller DJs, it’s replicated on some DJ controllers, like the LED lights on Vestax VCI-380 and the spinning platters on the Numark NS7II, but is not the norm, and is mostly only available on more expensive units.

So can beatjuggling, and the more advanced techniques like “chasing” be done on a normal controller? You guessed it, absolutely yes, and DJ Wreckdown is going to bust this myth for us in the following video, with his awesome routine on the Denon MC3000 and Traktor (also proving that some non-native controllers work great with Traktor too!):

5. Scratching on a controller is not like “performing” on turntables

The extent to which you are “performing” depends entirely on you... it doesn’t matter what set-up you’re using. One of the best party-rocking performance DJs out there is DJ Angelo, and as part of his role of brand ambassador for Reloop he puts together mind-blowing routines using controllers that showcase not only his own abilities, but the capability of the gear too.

This landmark demo he did for Reloop at Musikmesse in 2013 is an absolute masterclass in music programming, scratching, beatjuggling, controllerism and DJ performance, not limited in any way by using a controller, or indeed limited in his mindset. His enthusiasm (even in the sterile environment of an exhibition hall during the day) is as infectious as his skills are impressive:

A word on DVS...

So what about DVS (digital vinyl system)? This is vinyl, right? Well yes, but with some significant differences that only digital can bring. Most of the top-flight scratch DJs use this system by default now, and why? Because they only need carry maximum of four records (one timecode vinyl for each deck, and maybe two spares), and if they get scratched, warped, broken or stolen, they are easily replaced while the music collection is not compromised in any way (always back up your music!) DVS even deals with jumping needles - the needle can be jumping all over the place but the audio stays solidly locked in the groove, opening the artform up to faster and faster techniques.

Another reason DVS is so widely used is it means the DJ can continue to use the medium he or she learned on. Think about it, if you drive an automatic car all your life, you can’t just jump into a stick shift manual car and expect to nail it straight away. DVS is "digital in the comfort zone" for scratch DJs, but as DJ Angelo (who also uses DVS) proved earlier, the skills are totally transferrable to controllers.

Check out Qbert & Revolution’s mastery of DVS here:

Finally...

For those DJs that want to be vinyl-only, who love vinyl and all its history… If it feels more “real” to you, that’s cool, follow your heart and spread a positive message about the thing you’re passionate about. If people concentrated more on loving what they do, and less on hating what others do, then a common respect among DJs would exist that’s sadly sometimes lacking.

And if you want to learn to scratch, but can only get your hands on a $50 controller and intro software, get started today... you have no excuse not to, especially now you know there’s nothing stopping you other that your own fears and the attitudes of a small number of "vinyl snobs" who will probably always be there. Why let such things hold you back?

Are you a controller DJ who's learned to scratch having never touched vinyl? Or have you made the switch? Or, are you a vinyl DJ who never wants to stop using the "real thing"? Wherever you stand on the matter, let us know your thoughts in the comments below...

Comments

  1. such a good article

  2. Hey there. This is Antony from Greece. I’ve been DJing (small time) for the past 15 years or so, only in digital media (cdj & controllers). Don’t have any skills at scratching but I’d like to say a few things about all of those who dislike the whole digital movement. My feeling is that all of these “haters” are mising the point. DJing is a performance. And how a DJ has performed isn’t judged by the medium he is using, but with the satisfaction he has filled his crowd with. It doesn’t matter if you are using a 200D set or a 5000D one, you can use prerecorded set (if you are a reatrd), you can even use a drumstick as far as I am concerned. If you can make your crowd happy it’s fine by me. What digital mediums have brought to the game is ease. Which means practically everybody can grab a laptop and be a DJ. To quote Heavy Rock’s “Drummer”, my d!ck wants to be a DJ. This is what haters dislike. They are (most of them) skilled at DJing and scratching since they ‘ve been using the hardest (analog) form of DJing. So they hate having to “compete” or even compare with a less skilled digital DJ. But they lose the point as I said before which is how many smiles you’ve put to your crowd! So either if you are using vinyl, CDJs, or controlers just make your crowd happy. To quote myseld “It doesn’t matter how you f@ck as long as you f@ck good”. Technology has always been an asset to the musical industry.

    p.s.: I bet somewhere a gramophone DJ is mocking a vinyl one…

  3. err yeah I want to learn to sratch so baaadllly, when the DDJT Scratch Class for contoller open please???

    • Check out dj Angelo scratch tutorials on youtube. It’s working really well for me.

    • As longs as you are on our mailing list you will know when it’s available again :-)

    • There is a lot of material on youtube to help you learn scratches. It takes time man and really just getting in there and figuring it out for yourself. I can scratch on controllers no problem, but honestly it’s much tighter and feels a lot better to me personally when I use my tt 1200’s with traktor or serato. Butt the ddjsx I have is pretty close, just takes a while getting used to making the movments small. Just practice practice practice

  4. Hi nice article. I have used all formats over the last twenty years but I’m now yearning to use vinyl once again alongside DVS and digital in my setup. I like the “feel” of it, the sound of it, and also believe my mixing is much, much better using vinyl but hey- the keyword is scratch. I’m no scratch DJ myself so the issue is irrelevant to me.

    • That’s cool Ash, if you love vinyl then go for it! The point here is just because you believe in one way of doing it, don’t dismiss other people who maybe believe in a different way. This is not just scratching, but all DJing.

  5. Dude, you are showing controller usage examples of guys who aquired their skills nowhere else than on turntables. And this article show digital DJ’ing and scratching like ’tis no big deal. It’s freaking hard to learn to scratch on a controller, and even harder on a cheap one… I started on a VCI-300 but, despite it’s nice responses etc etc, I moved to vinyl’s and DVS pretty quickly.

    • That’s totally true. So we set out to teach people to scratch using ONLY controllers. Over 1200 students have been through our Scratching For Controller DJs training, the overwhelming percentage of whom has never touched vinyl. That’s the real story here – and why we’re confident that with or without vinyl/turntables, scratching has a great future.

  6. mindfunker@hotmail.co.uk says:

    I entered a DJ competition last year and all the DJ’s that entered used vinyl or CDJ’s to do there thing. When it was my turn I walked in with my Mixtrack pro under my arm and all the other DJ’s laughed at me, so I just got up there and done what I wanted to with my mixtrack pro and out of 30 people who entered (all using vinyl or CDJ’s) I come 3rd. The look on there faces was priceless and that feeling of changing there minds with my mixing skills was the best. I know of a few of the “haters” who have now gone out and got controllers for themselves now. I now have the MixTrack Quads and they are an amazing controller for the money you pay.

  7. I’m not a scratching dj but i mixing vinyls since more then 15 years now (House and drumnbass) and i use the classic vinyl set and DVS too, i love it to mix both. I think about to buy a controller and having fun with. As you can see, i have fun with all of them :) ah sorry forget my ipad with traktor dj app :D

  8. Rowf The Beat Bender says:

    I’d love to learn to scratch on my Mixtrack Pro 2 but I cannot find any scratch material on wav or mp3! Where can I download some scratch songs or battle vinyls ripped? Thanks

  9. I’m totally on the side that vinyl isn’t everything…even though I started on it. however, when teaching ppl how to scratch, it’s hard to get people to understand the concept from a point of view you never experienced. The idea of knowing the motion of rotation is helped better by learning on vinyl first. I’m not saying you have to start on vinyl to learn how to scratch, all I am saying I’ve had more results from people who learned on vinyl first, when it comes to scratching.

    • Thanks for sharing, that sounds understandable. For me though, there is no reason to teach the concept of motion of rotation to a DJ on a controller who has never touched vinyl, because that motion doesn’t exist on a controller (except a Numark NS7).

      • That’s not true though, the virtual rotation is still based on the idea that something is rotating at 33 RPM. I spin on CDJs, but being able to understand the rotation speed is key in scratching. I’m not saying someone cannot learn with vinyl. But I have yet to meet person trying to learn how to scratch and is able to judge speed and distance on a jog wheel alone. All I am saying is, learning on vinyl is a bit of a short cut to understand virtual rotation.

  10. Bill Russell says:

    I began to spin records in 1988. As mentioned above, vinyl was all we had. Not very long after I got started not came the compact disk and the eventual disappearance of vinyl from the shelves at my local record store. Eventually the record store itself too disappeared . I ended up makeing the switch to cd . Hated it at first , but then got acoustome to it. I went digital in about “02” or there about. One of the first in the area to do so. I still have my vinyl and cd collections and related gear. From time to Tim I do break them out at home for a throwback , nostalgia and all. That all said I started out on PCDJ red. The original one , not the VRAM version. And have tried out most of the major software that has come out mostly demo versions , but also bought a few of them . I have found that virtual Dj works best for my style , and could not imagine ever having to drag crates of vinyl or several huge cases of CDs to a gig ever again. I have not found anything that I am able to do with a record or cd that I cannot do digitally and with digital media thing like loops and cues are easier than ever.

    • Thanks Bill, we’re always looking forward not back to improve our lives and make things easier… I don’t want to swap my car for a horse anytime soon either! :-)

  11. As cool as Dj WreckDown’s video was, that’s not beat juggling. He was just triggering cue points , aka Pressing buttons. Not the same as Beat Juggling.

  12. Or do the following:

    1) Obtain controller and a laptop
    2) Download “vinyl_scratch.wav”
    3) Drop and sync into either side
    4) Scratch
    5) Profit

  13. I started on a controller before making the switch to dvs and I can say it’s more enjoyable in my opinion. DVS for me is where serious takers should be looking into.

  14. DJ Vtrakz says:

    I’ve used Vinyl and cds for a very long time. I just recently bought a DDJ SR so I can use it for mobile gigs. Carrying 2 turntables and one mixer inside heavy flight cases really hurts my back. I am still able to scratch and do tricks on the DDJ SR because of all the time I put in practicing on turntables. When I have a club gig, I always look forward to using their Technics and DJM 800/900 mixers.

  15. djshaw 1 says:

    Very informative, good post!

  16. Love the mixtrack pro vid..
    http://youtube.com/djshaw01 reggae dancehall mixes

  17. Outstanding article. It’s always amazing to me that most DJs use new tools to look backward (to perform “tricks” that older tools do well, i.e. turntablism) rather than developing new techniques that would make the older skills irrelevant.

    I say push the envelope by creating more new techniques that older gear cannot do. THAT is how artforms stay fresh (see what I did there?)… Ahhhh… (I’m on a roll)

  18. Anything is possible. With hard work, practice, determination and some choice other elements. But I have to say, as someone who has written entire dj course syllabuses and taught countless classes on the subject, finding the top tier performers, I dare say “the exceptions” and posting them gives new guys a bit of an unrealistic path to model their goals after. It’s like someone posting a video of someone juggling 4 running chainsaws, see it can be done, now go buy your chAinsaw and get practicing! And don’t let these 3 ball jugglers hate bring you down!
    Posting realistic videos of mid tier guys, or even your friends might be more helpful. ie, “see this is Dave, this is where you might expect to be after 2 years.”
    Of course everyone wants to lead with the best possible example for their argument. But 9/10 times it’s a complete anomaly. As an example. A-trak/qbert & traktor. Both guys I’ve admired hard for almost 2 decades, and I have nothing but love for traktor. But these are the examples people are quick to bring up when trying to validate the software (just like one might mention jazzy Jeff for SeRato). validation of a software, hardware, or a style should never reside in the face piece who convinced you to buy it, but the result you produce with your desired dvs. I don’t buy Jordan’s and show up basketball courts arguing the merits of the guy who wears the same sneaker I wear to validate my skills on the court! So why do DJs feel the need to do this. I don’t get it. You want people to understand that you can rip a set proper on an iPad. Great.. Post a video of you doing it. Don’t post a video of the top 1% of the people in the game doing it.

  19. I’m not much more than a novice when it comes to scratching but I started on CDJs so when I moved to a controller I wanted to use something I was familiar with. I bought a Vestax VCI-380 because I was used to the LED movement. If I had learnt on vinyl, I imagine I’d want to have used something like an NS7/V7 or DVS to replicate what I was used to. I do sometimes wonder whether it’s worth picking up a vinyl turntable as well, so it’s reassuring to hear that it probably isn’t really necessary.

  20. Should be noted that the best scratchers in the videos shown, like D-Styles and Angello, started on vinyl. I’m not saying you can’t learn on a jogwheel, but the only example I’ve seen so far is Laidback Luke, but his scratching isn’t the best either. I use CDJs and I love it and I am very pro controller but I can’t deny the way a moving turntable causes little unpredictable blurps in the sound just from the relation of a moving platter to the slipmat that gives it more of an “organic” sound. Yes on paper, they both can be sped, slowed, and reversed just like vinyl, but its the unpredictability of a moving object that makes the difference.

    Also its not noted that scratching a digital file is not always perfect either. On vinyl, the capability of the cartridge very high frequencies when in high speed “filter” the signal from uncomfortable sounds. With the exception of the Pioneer CDJ, DVS software do nothing to filter those sounds either.

    I am buy no means a vinyl purist, I am simply pointing out a few flaws in this article.

  21. Hey there made the jump from vinyl when Pioneer introduced the first CDj-1000s….I love the 1200, but I don’t see a need for it exclusively anymore… I beat juggle all day on my Pioneer ddj-t1 see for yourself… (and scratch as well) http://youtu.be/wfSFA8Aadhg

  22. DJ Hombre says:

    Great article Steve, the biggest jump for DJs who have been used to vinyl and going to digital is the non-motorised platters. It takes a little getting used to, but the benefit is that the track can playback immediately, no reliance on torque of the platter.

    That said, a few controllers do have motorised platters – most recently the Numark NS7 II. I tend to hedge my bets – with a vinyl only setup, a DVS setup via SD card & a pair of Technics SLDZ1200s or an iOS setup with a Numark iDJPro! Not much space, but all good fun.

  23. Terry_42 says:

    Outstanding article.
    Well I have done the route back in the days vinly, then CDJs and now controllers.
    I have to admit I hated scratching on vinyl back in the days, I had bad turntables, the DJ booths were bad structure wise, so when you only slightly bashed into the booth with your feet or belly the head would jump and all vibrations would translate so you have to cut the base all the time etc. etc. etc.
    That is I think why I never invested enough time to get good at scratching back then, as I really did not like the whole vinyl feel actually…

    Actually what brought me back to try scratching again was my Terminal Mix and your scratch course. Now I am having a total blast scratching away, I learned scratch moves I did not think I would ever master and have total fun with it. I love controller scratching and have even done a few scratch routines to genres people say you cannot scratch to, like a trance scratch with some F/X ;)

    All I can say, scratching on controllers is not only as good, it is absolutely awesome!
    And if you have an awesome scratch tutor like you Steve it is even possibly for previous scratch haters like me to pick it up and learn it on a controller :)

  24. I sense the Scratching for controller DJ’s Course relaunch near future…
    Anyway, warmly recommend.

  25. I’m not a scratch DJ, but this article is right on in saying I should start now and try it at least…my decks are just scrubs or beatmatching currently

  26. bkbikenerd says:

    Feels to me like a lot of people on controllers feel insecure around DJs that use vinyl and DVS to me.

    “For those DJs that want to be vinyl-only, who love vinyl and all its history… If it feels more “real” to you, that’s cool, follow your heart and spread a positive message about the thing you’re passionate about. If people concentrated more on loving what they do, and less on hating what others do, then a common respect among DJs would exist that’s sadly sometimes lacking.”

    Even before I can talk controller DJs always feel the need to bring up that fact i use turntables.

  27. DjDaveyGravy says:

    If you can’t afford a controller, scratching is possible with a mouse and a keyboard. http://youtu.be/1UuQo_53h6I as seen here.

  28. I come from the vinyl and now I’m using CD turntable with Traktor. I try to play with a controller but that doesn’t fit my need (mostly because all the good one are on Serato and I don’t like their crate system). At home I use a Denon 3700 and a good old CDX, they are booth CD player with motor, like vinyl. I also use CDJ at work.

    All what you say in this article is true, but there is just one thing you don’t really show, it’s that you can’t do the same with a turntable/controller with a jogwheel as with a motorized turnable. There is some vinyl technique that use the motor, we don’t see them in all those demo, they are fine, but they don’t show every technique, they just show what you can do with it, which is fine. But those DJ do lot more with vinyl (or controller like the numark NS7).

    Those brand need to build more controler with motorized wheel like the NS7. Stanton try with a controller that look like a turntable but it was a fail because it wasn’t USB (firewire I think). But now they only build controler with fix jog, and turntablist adapt themself to that. They create lot of effect and fonction to fit the need of house/electronic DJ but they don’t do that much for turntablist. The technology is there, but it’s like no brand (except Numark) have the “balls” to do a controler build for turntablist. The new Reloop RP8000 is fine, but it’s not a controler, it still a turntable.

    As a DJ who live in my time, I want to be able to play on whatever I want, but without having to “forget” some technique I can do on vinyl with the platter. A “NS7 like” for Traktor would be perfect. For now I stay on my Denon 3700/3900 :)

    And also, this is another point, but the crossfader is also a bad point in lot of controller. But for some of them, you can put an Innofader and that’s perfect :)

  29. “If people concentrated more on loving what they do, and less on hating what others do, then a common respect among DJs would exist that’s sadly sometimes lacking.”

    I couldn’t have said that better myself!

  30. I grew up on vinyl and learned to scratch on vinyl as well but I have respect for any DJ whether they use vinyl or a controller. It just comes down to performance. Just because a DJ uses vinyl doesn’t automatically makes him/her a good DJ. A “GREAT” DJ brings a great performance on whatever tool they use. I have switched from vinyl to a controller (NS7II) and I still have the same fun.

  31. I have a question: I have a Vestax VCI-300MkII and this weekend I was recording a mix and I noticed that when I was transitioning from 1 song to another & scratching the volume on the track I was playing would lower it self. then once I mixed in the other track, it would level it self out. I gues what I’m triying to say is when the 2 tracks were beingng mixed in, the volume would go low. what am I doing wrong?

  32. i’m with you i’ve been djing since 1983 but when i dj now with my numark mix deck, certain people give me dirty looks. they don’t know my past but judge me now. i djed on belt-drive turntables, technics 1200s, cds and now my controller. people need to get over it and move on, it’s not going anywhere.

  33. Thanks guys for remembering there are more then just EDM DJ out here. Great article. To make my MIxtrack and now my Mixtrack II look more impressive. I got a flight case. It made it so heavy, and cost more the the controller. But I dont get funny looks anymore.

  34. If you want to hear a real heavy weight turntable wizard the look no further than http://www.djwelly.net. His built from scratch sessions are outstanding truly outstanding.

  35. Nice article, that DJ Angelo video was/is some great inspiration, and he’s proof that you can most certainly “perform” and scratch on a controller, or DVS, or whatever you prefer.
    Thanks for bringing him in on the scratching course, can’t wait to see what he brought to the table, even though I’m nowhere near ready for those lessons just yet. Keep shining people…..

  36. How can i organize my pioneer dj ergo for scratching?? I m french,so excuse my english.thanks a lot for your answer!!!

  37. >> ” It wasn’t cool because we used vinyl, it was cool in spite of the fact we had to use vinyl! We had no choice other than to deal with ridiculous prices, warping, jumping, hissy sound, the weight, the size, the excess luggage costs, the risk of damage or loss.” <<

    *LOL* True, true, true, so very true! ☺

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