I’ve been DJing for about four years now, and I’m proud to be able to say that I’ve even been getting paid for the last three. It’s still a hobby that I combine with my band and my real job, but I get a couple of bookings a month, and more importantly, I’ve been lucky enough to attend some excellent parties. After all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Like most semi-professional DJs, I’ve spent a lot of money on equipment, and I’ve had a lot of different bits of gear. My current setup (two Denon DNS1200s, a Macbook Pro, and a Pioneer DJM-250) is my all-time favourite and I won’t be changing it anytime soon. I love the security of having two controllers that also play CDs and USB sticks, because if my laptop has a breakdown, I’m covered. Even if one of my controllers gave up the ghost, I’d be able to soldier on. And my mixer… well, it’s a mixer. And it’s Pioneer. So nothing could go wrong there – right?
Very, very wrong. This is a story about why I was so wrong to assume my gear would never let me down, but really, it’s a story about a transformation that humbled me, and made me realise that something I thought was important really doesn’t matter at all.
A man walked into a bar…
I want to take you to a very small bar on the south coast of Spain, at the start of this summer. It was only a Thursday night, but the city centre was busy, and the bar had very good air conditioning (something which really counts where the mercury can stay in the mid-20s well into the night). I’d been travelling all day, and it’s fair to say I was pretty sweaty when I arrived, so I was ecstatic when the barman offered to get me a drink while I was setting up my kit as mentioned above.
I was so ecstatic, in fact, that before I had even taken a sip, I up-ended my glass, liberally coating myself (and more worryingly, my mixer) with liquid.
My first reaction was to swear, as loudly as possible, which doesn’t generally help, but it did make me feel better. After that, I unplugged everything from my mixer, turned it upside-down – and started panicking. It was too late to go to a DJ hire shop for a spare, and the barman had already told me there was no in-house gear. But, after giving me his commiserations, he told me that a friend of his had a controller he could let me use. He couldn’t remember the brand, but he was pretty sure it was either a Pioneer or a Denon. That felt good.
Only, it wasn’t a Pioneer. Or a Denon. In fact, I’m not sure what it was, because it didn’t seem to have any branding anywhere. It was small, plasticky, and the jogwheels were so hard to turn that I initially thought they were stuck on for display purposes only. Luckily there was a separate Numark USB interface which plugged-and-played very nicely with my laptop, but I’d be lying if I told you I was looking forward to the gig. Staring at my screen and testing the laughably small controller (and gingerly sipping my beer as if it contained liquid nitroglycerin) I felt like a beginner again.
Mostly everything worked; the faders were more than a little sticky and the play button on the left deck needed a firm whack to get it into action, but I decided if I kept my head down and got on with it, I would at least make it through to the end. It was definitely just going to be a “work night”, rather than a “fun night”, though. Quite apart from worries about the gear working, I couldn’t shake the irrational fear that everyone would see my equipment and laugh at me.
The show must go on…
But, as it turns out, it was a fun night. It was a very fun night. Despite the fact that plenty of people came to say hello, nobody even noticed that I was DJing with a controller that would have fitted into a generously sized back pocket. The bar was buzzing. The dancefloor was moving. People asked me for the names of songs. People high fived me. It was one of those nights where every song seemed like a hit single.
And I did it all on a controller that looked like it was bought from the reduced section of a Toys ‘R’ Us.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course, if you’re getting paid to DJ, it’s important to have gear that works, and that you know how to use it. Anything else is unprofessional. But this night changed me – a lot. It made me wonder why I’d spent so much money (and so much time) on equipment. I love reading reviews and watching YouTube videos from NAMM etc, and whenever I can, I’m always on the lookout for gadgets that might make my mixing better, or my sets more entertaining, or improve my life generally. But I realised if I’d have spent as much time practising as I spent shopping, today I’d be a much better DJ than I am; and several hundred pounds richer!
So I resolved to be stricter with myself in the future, and set some rules. I want to share them with you now, in the hope that it doesn’t take a day’s a spilt drink, a ruined mixer and a gig with a Toys ‘R’ Us controller to help you learn what I now know.
Three questions to ask yourself before buying a new controller
1. Do I really need to?
Has your controller stopped working, and you need something new? If so, congratulations! Check out our DJ controller guide (yours for nothing when you join Digital DJ Tips) and buy something new and shiny. However, if your controller works but there’s something you don’t like about it, it might be worth thinking twice before you spend a lot of money. Do you really need to? Would it be better to learn to love what you already have?
2. Do you know what you’re buying?
It’s easy to be dazzled by YouTube video demonstrations of new gear and gadgets you didn’t realise you needed until right now, but take a step back, and ask yourself; am I going to invest the time it takes to learn how to use this properly? And more importantly, have I already exhausted the possibilities of my current controller?
3. Could I spend the money elsewhere?
I bought a camera a few months ago, and I’ve started taking photographs of the people I DJ with and the parties that I do, and it was a truly great investment that I’m grateful for every day. Being able to look back at things I’ve done in the past is a huge inspiration. It’s helped my DJing, but it’s not DJ gear. So instead of a better sound card or controller, you might also consider buying some of the less exciting necessities. Do you have a decent flight case? Would you benefit from having some promo photos taken? What about doing a digital DJ course to improve your skills? You could even invest in some PA or lighting gear to open up new gig opportunities for you. Just be aware that a shiny new controller might not necessarily be the best use of your money. It’s not, after all, what DJing is really about.
Your Rogue’s Gallery
To end this story, here’s a rogue’s gallery of least favourite DJ controllers, as chosen by our readers over on the Facebook Page of Digital DJ Tips. Click on any photo to leave your comments underneath it…
Have you ever suffered from Gear Acquisition Syndrome? Are you guilty of buying DJ equipment you don’t really need? Do you turn green with jealousy when scoping out other people’s setups? Let us know in the comments section below!