How To Earn Your DJ Stripes, Part 1: Know The Enemy

| Read time: 3 mins
beatmatching beginner tutorial
Last updated 5 April, 2018

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Respect by Philip Fadul
If you want to become a great DJ and get the vinyl and CD DJs to respect you, you\’re going to have to understand where they\’re coming from and learn some of the things they had to learn along this way. This series will help you to do both. Image: Philip Fadul

This is the first part of a fortnightly guest series by Chris Cartledge of ohdratdigital.com.

All the abilities that new technology is affording us make it feel like the possibilities when DJing are greater than they’ve ever been – and they are, so why are there so many stick-in-the-muds when it comes to digital DJing? They’re everywhere, and I imagine you’ve been the subject of a backhanded compliment, flat-out insult, or, worse still, a torrent of self-righteous indignation.

You know the kind of thing – stuff about about how DJs are no longer DJs, a trained pet could push buttons, any skill requirements have long since been thrown out of the window, and how the art of DJing is a pale, diluted mess. And to them, it’s all your fault!

Are they right? Of course not! Well, not totally. Maybe a little bit. (They’re not really “the enemy”, either – it just made for a good headline 😉 – Ed)

Technology cuts both ways

It’s no excuse for rudeness, of course, but put yourself in the shoes of a DJ who, even as recently as 5 years ago had to spend months of abject frustration waiting for their neural pathways to finally fuse and allow them to split their concentration between 2 different sound sources, so that they could master the rudimentary task of beatmatching (that’s really how it works). Go back 10 years when the only music distribution methods were physical and not only would you pay through the nose for each single song but break your back taking them to a venue. It’s not surprising then, really, that some of the DJs who’ve been around the block are now sucking on lemons.

Beat matching
Beatmatching takes skill, but it\’s a science, not an art – after all, how hard can it really be if a computer can do it perfectly for you instantly?

Paying dues is an oft-heard term, and some people will say that in the world of digital DJing, with our terabyte disk drives, lightweight Midi controllers and virtual studio software, new DJs are getting their payments underwritten by technology. And in a way, they’re right.

The skill of beatmatching is fairly rudimentary – more a science than an art. The only thing that defines how good your beatmatching is is how quick and accurate you are; if you use vinyl you might get it down to the 10 to 20 second mark, if you use Traktor it takes roughly the amount of time it takes for your finger to depress the sync button.

The real reason beatmatching is important

For such an arbitrary task it seems mad not to save those 20 seconds – but of course, the difference isn’t 20 seconds, it’s the hundreds of hours the vinyl DJ spent hunched over the decks, the scrunched-up faces, balled-up fists, and cries of frustration underneath the din of 2 mismatched records galloping apart that makes the difference. Hundreds of hours of trying to learn one thing – but really learning so much more.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of every exciting new development the digital DJing world can throw at you, and I imagine you wouldn’t be here if you’d let any luddites persuade you otherwise. There is, however, much wisdom to be gained in learning exactly what you’re sidestepping with that shortcut – after all, it’s not the end result, but the journey that teaches you the most.

Over the next couple of months we’ll start to learn about the nuts and bolts of some of the key things that you may take for granted with your digital system, and you should pick up some skills that might otherwise have passed you by along the way.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the actual process of sound as it makes its way around the system: the signal chain.

What to do now…

Until then, though, here’s a couple of things you can be doing now that will help you as you progress through the articles:

  1. Take the time to sit and really read the manual for your equipment – It might hold some secrets that could be key to developing your style, and it’ll help you to tie in the forthcoming lessons to what you’re working with
  2. Start to make a playlist of favourite tracks – Be somewhat eclectic, but with a mind to their relationship. Don’t go too big – about 10 should suffice – and make sure you really know them inside and out

Check out the other parts in this series:

Chris has been DJing and producing for nearly 15 years and teaching for 5. He runs www.ohdratdigital.com, an online magazine dedicated to great new music and the hardware and software needed to produce it, featuring news, reviews, interviews, podcasts and more.

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