In many way, 2011 was a watershed year for digital DJing. Software and hardware grew up. One significant manufacturer, that had hitherto resisted, finally waded into the arena.
And with the help of DJ Hero, the iPad, YouTube, free DJ software (Virtual DJ Home runs at a million downloads a month) and the relentless march forward of digital music in general, this was they year that – love it or hate it – you couldn’t ignore digital DJing. So let’s look at what we have learned in the past 12 months:
1. Digital DJing is now mainstream
Pioneer’s DJ-ERGO-V is not aimed at the kind of DJs and DJing we and the rest of the DJ press have traditionally covered. It is a brash device that would look out of place in any serious DJ booth – and Pioneer knows that. The company is trying to tap into what it sees as a new type of DJ – the consumer DJ, who DJs as a way of consuming music, not necessarily as a way of entertaining other people.
And whether or not the rather overpriced ERGO-V manages that is beside the point – the truth is that there is a new type of DJ emerging. You only had to wander around the BPM Show this year to see that. New DJ controllers were on display like this year’s latest mobile phone models, ready to be bought, used and tossed aside as next year’s models appear. Groups of schoolkids and younger children with their parents in tow set the tone: DJing has gone mainstream, and digital is what’s pulled it there.
Beginner controllers, beginner software (Serato Intro is cut down, simple to use, and free; Virtual DJ Home is downloaded 250,000 times a week) – it’s a far cry from the pro scene just a few years ago.
2. Most people are quite happy with two decks
Decks seemed a bit like blades on disposable razors this year; more meant better. DJ-Tech even went as far as releasing what must be the first (and will probably be the last) “six deck” controller, the Reloaded!
But as your answers to a Facebook question we asked earlier this year prove, most people aren’t bothered by four decks.
DJing is fundamentally about removing the gaps between tunes, and let’s face it you only need two decks to do that. Hence we saw the Denon DJ MC3000 two channel DJ controller come along, to accompany the four-channel DN-MC6000; the Traktor Kontrol S2 released to sit alongside the four-channel Kontrol S4; and the continued buoyancy of two-deck controller sales (the Mixtrack Pro is still your favourite controller, and that’s resolutely two deck).
3. DJ controllers still don’t sit happy in DJ booths
Whereas “acts” who play with samplers, grooveboxes, their own mini-mixers and so on can make a better case for DJing with their own gear in DJ booths, there is still resistance to DJs playing with DJ controllers when all they’re doing is mixing pre-recorded music – and that means 90% of us.
OK, DJ controllers are perfect for playing in bars, lounges, at parties, at home, but in DJ booths that are already fitted with perfectly decent DJ gear, many managers are still utterly resistant to DJs turning up with semi-pro or consumer DJ gear and expecting to be accommodated.
The smaller your gear, the better – but we still don’t have an emerging happy medium for digital DJs who want to play in cramped DJ booths using their own stuff. Maybe the Kontrol X1 and a small audio interface has come closest, but any manufacturer who cracks this conundrum will make a killing.
4. Jogwheels aren’t really necessary for digital DJing
Novation released the Twitch, which with its innovative touchstrip (that was still “weighted” so you could “throw” it like spinning a piece of vinyl) proved once and for all that jogwheels aren’t needed for digital DJing. But many DJs knew that already – from Richie Hawtin to myriad house jocks who for reasons of space prefer to DJ on jogwheel-less X1s in DJ booths rather than “real” controllers, digital DJs have begun to move away from jogwheels.
It may be alien to jocks brought up on spinning things (and also, it seems, to DJ hardware companies, whose controllers still 99% of the time have jogs on them), but the emergence of jogwheel-free DJ controllers is a sign of things to come, for sure.
5. SoundCloud is a terrible place to host DJ mixes
We love SoundCloud – for individual tracks. For DJ mixes, it’s a complete no-go.
While some mixes remain there happily (the more underground, the better), as soon as a track that catches the attention of a number of the major labels is identified in your DJ mix, it’s likely to be unceremoniously removed from the service – or you won’t be able to upload it in the first place.
Thus unfortunately, relying on SoundCloud to expose your work to the wider world is a bad idea. Luckily we identified several alternatives to SoundCloud to help you get your mixes out there.
6. Music piracy is no longer acceptable
Frankly the music industry had its head where the sun don’t shine for too long. Meanwhile DJs needed the music, and if we couldn’t get it legally, we sure as hell didn’t think twice about “by any means necessary”.
And while the transition to hassle-free legal digital music is still happening (notably, geo-restrictions on buying music still send many an exasperated DJ straight back to the P2P networks), stealing music is – like smoking indoors – now becoming socially unacceptable.
With decent online stores, new ways to pay and play, cloud services, “loss leader” deals from the acts themselves (giving away some music and charging for other tracks), and other digital music ownership models emerging, the music industry is once again learning how to monetise its content, while providing value to consumers.
Artists deserve to be paid for their music, and for the first time in a while it looks like the music business, technology and consumers are successfully aligning behind this basic tenet.
7. The laptop is not necessary for digital DJing
Laptop and digital DJing are not the best bedfellows. Laptops are expensive, fragile and prone to failure when you need them to remain reliable the most – right in the middle of a gig. When did you ever hear of a CDJ failing (yeah, of course it happens, but you get my point).
This year saw manufacturers begin to try and break free from the laptop. Stanton was the most ambitious, with its SCS.4DJ. Coming complete with in-built software that had waveforms, library management and more, it was a bold attempt to toss the laptop out of the equation (although the company has since had to release tune analysis software that runs on, ahem, your laptop, in order to fix to the slow pace that the SCS.4DJ’s limited processor analyses music).
As well as that, we have seen myriad iPad programs such as DJ Player, djay and Mixmo DJ with their own solutions to addiing digital to your workflow without you dragging your computer along. Come in laptop, your time is up? We shall see…
What did you learn about digital DJing in 2011? Do you agree with our analysis above? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.