Vinyl versus CDs. CDs versus DJ controllers. Laptop versus laptop-free. Champions on all sides of the digital versus analogue and controller versus media player debates increasingly bleating to each ther in echo chambers, because we’re more than ever firmly in the realm of “post-format” DJing in 2018.
Think about it: you’ve now got turntables without a tonearm, DJ controllers made for phones and tablets, and even DVS control without the need for vinyl! Why should it matter what gear you’re spinning on, as long as you’re sharing music you love with an audience?
The truth is that whether you spin with media players, vinyl, or DJ controllers, what you spin with really doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as you may think.
Vinyl is now the biggest selling physical music format…
While not the saviour of the music industry that nostalgia aficionados make it out to be, analogue vinyl records have come back in a big way: it’s the number one most sold physical format today and it’s al;so spun its way back into the DJ booth in the last few years. Though niche, vinyl-only DJ sets are popular because of the scarcity of the music (how many pressings of a German minimal techno single are there?) and because of what being a vinyl collector represents for some.
There are festivals such as Dekmantel that encourage multi-format DJing: it’s not uncommon to see the newer breed of incredible DJs like Peggy Gou and Hunee spinning with both vinyl and CDJs in the same set, for instance. This gives the “feel” (and let’s face it, allure) of DJing with wax while having the convenience of storing productions, remixes and edits on a thumb drive to drop into the set.
While we’re talking about vinyl, let’s take a look at turntables: apart from Technics 1200s, there are lots of post-Technics DJ-focused decks in production such as the Reloop RP4000MK2, Denon DJ VL12, and Stanton STR8.150 M2. Next-gen controllers like the Rane Twelve marry the form and function of a turntable with the convenience of a DJ controller, leading to a deck that doesn’t need a tonearm and a needle (now you can scratch and spin right on top of a bass bin!).
What we’re seeing right now is a cross-pollination between the structure of something old (turntables) with the convenience and simplicity of something new (DJ controllers). This is the first real revolution in DJ turntables since the Technics 1200.
…but streaming is the most popular method for consuming it
On the other extreme, digital music streaming is how almost everyone listens to music these days. Whether it’s a music-only option like Spotify and Apple Music or a video site like YouTube (which at one point was the biggest music streaming service), the vast majority of people who aren’t DJs consume music through streaming. Streaming for DJs has had advancements and setbacks (Grooveshark and Pulselocker shuttering, Spotify only available in select DJ apps) but it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the de facto music option for DJs.
You’ve already got streaming options in some DJ apps: Virtual DJ 8 has ContentUnlimited, djay Pro has Spotify, Mixvibes has SoundCloud and edjing has Deezer. Serato DJ Pro and Rekordbox DJ currently don’t have streaming options, but it’s only a matter of time before another provider comes in (or perhaps Pulselocker makes a triumphant return, having recently been acquired by Beatport).
DJ booths are digital, and laptops are optional…
Beginners usually start off DJing with controllers and laptops because media players are expensive. In the past, controllers and laptops in the booth were looked down on by “pro” DJs who use club standard gear like a CDJ / DJM combo (because apparently computers “have no place in the DJ booth”. Have you ever looked at what’s inside a CDJ?) but thanks to professional DJ controllers like the Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000, DDJ-RZ, and the Denon DJ MCX8000, that stigma has faded. Some DJ controllers are even more complicated to use than a pair of decks (try spinning with all of the features of the DDJ-RZX and tell me that’s a “toy”).
A new breed of controller has taken the maturing DJ controller market though – the standalone all-in-one player. One of the past year’s best-selling controllers was the Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX2, and Denon DJ released its own in the form of the MCX8000 a few years back. Both units give you the option of spinning with a laptop or spinning with thumb drives. Again, the format argument becomes trivial.
…while software and AI continue to make strides in DJing and production
Software is another format we have to pay careful attention to: Automixed playlists are already a reality on Spotify. They’re not just lame blends too, but proper mixing that sounds like a DJ ius doing it – and they’re only going to get better.
If artificial intelligence in streaming services can mix just like a human (if not better), then a whole new breed of selectors who leave the mixing to the software but place heavy emphasis on music choices aided by data may be one of the many new ways of DJing.
Spotify playlist selectors are already a big thing – who knows what else they’ll be doing? You can look for the good in it or you can be carping at the edges if you want, but you can’t change it.
In the DJ/producer space, Ableton has led the charge in blurring production and DJing by taking the studio to the stage, blurring production and performance. Controllers like the Ableton Push 2 let you take control of your productions intuitively. Partnerships such as the one between Serato and Roland create innovations in DJing: the Roland DJ-808 makes it simpler to sequence on the fly as you perform. It’s also easier than ever to trigger high-quality samples and loops within your software.
The bottom line is this: However you want to DJ, it’s valid. We’re now at a stage where, whether you’re a bedroom DJ or a club / festival / pro DJ, you’ve got all sorts of hardware and software options at your disposal.
Here at Digital DJ Tips we’ve always said that, because we always believe in being format-independent and platform-agnostic. Art isn’t concerned with the format you’re using – art cares about the result. Vinyl / laptop / USB DJing – it’s all blurred now, meaning the format is optional, whether DJs like it or not. It’s impossible to ignore, and that’s a good thing because it means that DJing is moving forward.
Your choice of format shouldn’t dictate whether you’re a lesser DJ or not. While we’re at it, let’s not confuse medium with format: Turntables, media players DJ controllers are the formats. DJing, as in the act of playing music for people, is the medium. What you use to DJ (whether vinyl, digital, or laptop) is simply a means to an end, and not the end in itself.
We can get granular and talk about the “art of turntablism” or the “art of controllerism” or the “art of four-deck mixing” all day, but on a macro level, it’s all about playing and sharing music with others. That’s what DJing is all about, format-be-damned, and the more we think about DJing as a bigger umbrella of music curating, sharing and performing, the more it becomes elevated as an art form that is alive and constantly evolving instead of something that’s tied to traditions and conventions of its storied past.
And that’s the kicker: DJing as a whole needs to be elevated from a process (ie mixing two songs together) over onto artistry, and doing that means accepting new ways of DJing and the technology / formats associated with them (digital, DAW-based, sync / quantise, automated lighting and so on) and using them in a creative and artistic way, not as a crutch for poor mixing / DJing skills. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with analogue or nostalgia – they’re also tools – but when pining for the “good ol’ days” gets in the way of meaningful progress, then it could become a crutch in itself.
Legendary artist Pablo Picasso’s style evolved throughout his entire career. He was a brilliant painter as early as 10 years old, and he broke rules of classical style repeatedly. Evolution keeps an artform alive. In this example, the format is “self-portrait style” and the medium is painting.
Being open to new technology and new ways to DJ strengthen DJing as an artform and make it future-proof and anti-fragile (a term meaning something that gets stronger and more capable the more shocks it gets).
You don’t even need new gear to do that – the French novelist Marcel Proust said it best: “The real act of discovery consists not in finding lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”
What are your thoughts on this piece? Do you think formats matter today? Should your chosen format be more important than the act of DJing itself?