We’ll close our NAMM coverage with a “state of play” article. Because bubbling underneath the relentless new product releases at NAMM 2015, deeper forces are at work – forces that are really going to shape the DJ industry over the coming years. We’ve spoken to face to face with over 50 companies over the past week, and trends are emerging about how this industry will look in one, two or five years’ time. Here are five big talking points:
Five NAMM talking points
1. Serato is dominating mainstream digital DJing
It’s true – Serato is everywhere. How Serato has achieved its current dominance is a product of clever partnerships and sheer hard work, but there’s a built-in fault-line that is likely to fracture, at least a little, at some point. Let’s dig deeper:
In DJ software, one extreme is Traktor, a more and more fiercely “walled garden”, whose software is increasingly intended for use with its own small choice of hardware (and an equally small choice of Pioneer pro gear). Hence no new “Traktor gear” as such on show at NAMM. Meanwhile, at the other extreme is Virtual DJ, software that work pretty well with absolutely anyone’s systems, with or without official endorsement.
Quietly up the middle has come Serato. Serato DJ software needs Serato licensed hardware to work. This is good: it allows Serato to control everything about how its software interacts with said hardware, giving a great experience for DJs. But so aggressively has the company courted hardware manufacturers – everyone from Pioneer at the pro end to Hercules and Gemini at the consumer end – that the power may have swung too far in Serato’s direction (against the hardware companies I mean, not the other software companies).
The most popular Serato controllers come from the biggest, most ambitious manufacturers – exactly the type of manufacturers who are maybe starting to sit uneasily with having to use third-party software on their devices, especially a software which now seems to be everywhere. And one or two of these companies definitely have the clout to come up with alternatives. Actually, one already has…
2. Pioneer’s Rekordbox has come of age
Pioneer is already the go-to hardware in DJ booths. Increasingly, the Pioneer hardware in DJ booths is Rekordbox compatible (Rekordbox is Pioneer’s own DJ software, focusing more on library management than performance at this stage, but increasingly less so). So more than ever, it makes sense for DJs who DJ in “real” DJ booths to organise their music within the Rekordbox ecosystem.
Now, Rekordbox was originally made for Pioneer by a third-party developer (the same developer behind Mixvibes), but since Rekordbox 3.0, it is in-house and so it’s fair to say the company is taking it seriously. Combine that with the fact that Pioneer has just launched the XDJ-1000 CD-free digital media player for Rekordbox (and yes, we thing the XDJ-2000 is around the corner, too), and of course has launched the XDJ-RX here at NAMM 2015, and the only conclusion must be that Pioneer is going to take this all the way.
For the first time, already Rekordbox is a viable choice for controller DJs, and arguably the best choice for those who want to DJ on Pioneer gear in DJ booths too. With thew XDJ-RX, DJs can have a DJ controller at home that lets them practise using Rekordbox; then, they simply take their music with them to the club on a USB stick and play on the club Rekordbox system, no hassle. It’s digital DJing but without the laptop in the club. But there’s more: Rekordbox with the XDJ-RX also lets you plug your laptop in and DJ direct, in a way that – to all intents and purposes – looks like any controller/laptop combo with any other software: The controller controls stuff, and the laptop is your hard drive and big screen. Software DJing, in other words.
So for the first time, any beginner who can afford the XDJ-RX (which admittedly is expensive) can “buy in” to a way of DJing that is genuinely being used by the biggest club DJs too, and thus the path from first controller to club domination can be trodden with just Pioneer DJ hardware and software. A smaller, cheaper Rekordbox-enabled DJ controller from Pioneer (say at $999) would really put the cat among the pigeons, and I wouldn’t write off a bigger one, too (DDJ-RZ?).
3. Numark is working on its own software solution
Judging by the “no comment” blank faces when I asked, I’m going to call that we can expect some kind of DJ software from Numark, or at least that they’re considering it. Think about it. There are three controller brands already in the roster of inMusic (Numark’s parent company): Numark, Denon DJ and Akai Pro, more if you include value brand Ion Audio. that’s a lot of controllers.
Unlike Pioneer, inMusic doesn’t have a presence in Pro DJ booths to speak of (Denon DJ has the gear, but it’s a tiny percentage of installations). But like Pioneer, Numark has some ambition and size, and is thus in a position to break free from third-party licensing agreements (such as that it has with Serato to put that company’s software on practically all its controllers at preset) should it want to. It also has several software technologies, not least old DJ platform Torq which it got (and closed) when it bought M-Audio, and which was well respected.
As the market matures and consolidates, if Numark is to keep up with the hardware/software leaders of this world, it surely recognises that it needs to build its own ecosystem in both areas. It has a very strong production brand in Akai Pro, and so could attempt to forge its own route as a complete-solution DJ/production hardware/software company. The closest it’s come DJ-wise is dabbling a few years back by licensing and rebadging Virtual DJ, but it has to do better than that if it is to compete with Pioneer in the coming years in the DJ sphere, or with that other big name, Native Instruments, which – unlike the others – was conspicuously silent at the show:
4. Native Instruments wants to be the go-to brand for DJ/producers
Native, despite not showing at NAMM 2015, is being nothing if not bold at the moment. A company for whom music production is at least as important as DJing, it has a roster of hardware on both the DJing and production side that already comes tightly integrated with its own software, all “in house”. It has clearly pulled back from licensing its DJ software to other manufacturers, and is focusing on taking things down a different path, proprietary path.
I think Native’s challenge this year is to further cement this DJ/producer space that it champions with hardware and software products that don’t compromise on its view of how DJing and music production are melding. It isn’t for everyone, for sure, but as a production-focused company, this is Native’s natural path.
There are two things that will help or hinder its success in achieving this. The first is in how well it integrates the production and DJing sides of its business. If it can merge further the software platforms and hardware it has (remember, the Traktor Kontrol S4 and S8 have had Midi sockets on the back since birth…), and provide a more seamless experience for DJs who can’t leave production alone, or producers who see DJing at the heart of what they do too, it has every chance of succeeding at this.
The second thing is to get some of the new technologies into the DJ booth. Traktor plugging in to Pioneer gear is OK for straight DJing, but nobody apart from artists with specific types of DJ show is habitually going to hike the Kontrol S8 into the DJ booth (and fewer people hiked the Kontrol S4 in than Traktor might have imagined, important a product though it was). We’ve long been predicting smart, new takes on NI’s modular gear (A “Traktor Kontrol J1” modular deck was our last guess, kind of like an F1 Mk2, with a screen and – an outside chance – maybe a jogwheel built in) to appeal to DJs wanting to integrate Traktor’s exciting new DJ technologies in the DJ booth, and we expect to see something along these lines this year.
5. Virtual DJ continues to disrupt
Virtual DJ is a software company with no aspirations to ever make hardware. It is similar to Serato in that respect. But unlike Serato, its approach has been to ensure its software works with any hardware, whether or not the manufacturer of the hardware endorses it! After all, despite what manufacturers would like you to believe, most DJ hardware is similar under the hood, so there’s no technical reason why Virtual DJ (or any other software) can’t work with most gear. In a world where Serato is the go-to licensed “in the box” solution, and Traktor offers a serious DJ/producer platform, Virtual DJ is there, lurking in the wings, saying: “Plug me in! Have a go! I’m pretty good too, you know!”
And indeed it is. It’s particularly strong among mobile, video and karaoke DJs, but it also has a DVS engine as good as anyone’s, so works fine with “real” record decks too. And Virtual DJ 8 is a real leap forward, correcting most of the issues with Virtual DJ 7 and offering some innovations all of its own. Likewise, the gear it works with is getting more ambitious too. Indeed, while NAMM was on (although Virtual DJ didn’t have a stand), Virtual DJ cheekily announced that its software is now plug and play with the Rane Sixty-Two club mix, as well as just-released Akai and Reloop accessories for controlling mixer, sampler and FX functions.
In a rapidly consolidating environment where certain brands are building walls and suggesting you be “in” or “out” of their particular visions, Virtual DJ is setting itself up as the capable outsider. While there are always going to be (usually smaller) manufacturers not “in” with Serato, who are happy to use Virtual DJ on their controllers, don’t make the mistake of thinking this software is a second choice for the second rate: The recent announcement that it comes in the box with Pioneer’s flagship DDJ-SZ controller, alongside Serato, should be your proof of that.
Ultimately, though, whether being a disruptive software company is enough for the future when you’re being squeezed by hardware/software conglomerates and formal licensing deals left, right and centre remains to be seen, although the fact that 30% of our audience happily uses Virtual DJ is a vote of confidence right now.
We haven’t had time to mention what’s going on in iOS DJing (less than we thought might be, actually), or the burgeoning Android DJ scene, or to discuss whether Mixvibes with its well-liked Cross DJ platform will find a way to gain more traction, or to examine whether hardware companies may get behind Algoriddim’s Mac-only djay Pro, or talk about the exciting things going on around the fringes in software with the likes of Mixed in Key and its Flow platform and The One with its increasingly powerful alternative take on DJ software, or the mini-reemergence of turntable that Reloop is talking full advantage of, or, or… phew!
It’s clear you really don’t have to look far to see innovation going on in digital DJing in 2015. Looks like it’s going to be another interesting year…
Would you like to comment on any of our talking points? Are we right, or wide of the mark? Are there trends going on in 2015 you’d like to mention that we haven’t? Please share your thoughts in the comments..