DJing had changed almost unrecognisably over the past decade or two. Digital music files, powerful computer DJ software, music streaming services, even apps to put all the power of a DJ system into the phone in your hand… all of these things have not only opened DJing up to far more people than ever before, but fundamentally changed the way it’s done, even what it means to be a DJ.
But that doesn’t mean simple DJing with turntables has gone away. Just as the Kindle didn’t kill books, digital photography didn’t kill film photography, and digital art hasn’t killed the paintbrush, so turntable DJing has remained steadfastly a “thing” ever since CDs began the big switch to digital DJing back in the 1990s.
But why on earth would anyone want to DJ with records and turntables in the third decade of the 21st century? Well, if you’re a DJ who can’t turn off the “itch” to learn to DJ on turntables, you already know, and you’ll probably recognise yourself when you read the list below.
And if not? Read on! It may just trigger something in you…
7 Reasons DJs Still Use Turntables Today
1. They want to play old records the way they were always played
If you’re into 90s hip-hop, 80s house, 70s rock, 60s Northern Soul, the fact is that the DJs back then were using turntables to play that music to their dancefloors.
So if the reason you’re a DJ is to relive those days, to collect that music, and to maybe play gigs to people who share your tastes, it makes sense to do it on the same equipment that was used back then, and with the original records. It’s more authentic, and probably more fun, to escape back into the old ways completely this way.
If you want proof that this way of thinking is a “thing”, you only have to peek over the fence into the world of music production to see the passion for all things “analogue”, “vintage” and so on – authenticity when it comes to the past is, to many people, highly important.
2. They’re disillusioned with modern, digital ways and want to reconnect with a simpler, more purist method of DJing
Modern DJing, with its beatgrids, quantisation, sync, waveforms and so on, is far easier to learn than the old way, with vinyl and turntables. But for many DJs, it has lost something along the way.
There is an undeniable element of danger when DJing with turntables and vinyl that is somewhat lost with modern ways. You can’t press Ctrl + Z on a turntable to back out of an error!
On top of that, having fewer features available to you, fewer ways to create your sound and style, can feel more – not less – empowering to DJs who find the sheer scope of digital not empowering, but overpowering.
Read this next: The 13 Best Turntables For DJing
3. They want to stand out in the sea of digital DJs
I always tell a story about a wedding planner friend, who told me about the two DJs her company used for their clients’ weddings. The first DJ was, in her words, a “laptop DJ”. She told me he was great, and all the clients loved him. So I asked her about the second DJ.
“Oh, well he is for the high-budget clients, who want something really special.” she said. “He uses turntables, and so he’s more expensive, but for those who want to pay the extra for a real DJ, we use him.”
“Real DJ”?! Where to start with that? We all know it doesn’t matter one bit what you DJ on, it’s what you do with it that counts. But as long as some people perceive a DJ with two turntables and a box of vinyl to be “the real deal”, and as long as those people are prepared to pay a premium for that, there will always be DJs who make a decision that they will be the “vinyl DJ”, in order to stand out from the digital DJs, and snag those gigs. It’s a business decision.
4. They’re curious about how DJing was done pre-digital
Next, laptops meant they could use their turntables to DJ, but with digital files – incredible! It got better, because next, amazing controllers arrived that packed it all into one portable box. And finally, you could do it on your iPad, and even your phone. Amazing!
But Jeff and I also discussed another phenomenon. It’s one that as a DJ school, Digital DJ Tips has noticed a lot. It’s DJs who begin by playing with an app on their phones. They get hooked, so buy a controller to use with their laptop, then maybe a better controller.
Next, they realise that club DJs use CDJs, with no laptop. So they learn how that’s done, and dream of playing regularly in clubs on that gear. Some even end up buying a CDJ set-up so they can ditch the laptop when playing at home, too.
But it doesn’t stop there. The really curious thing is that we hear these same DJs all the time say, “I hope one day to buy some turntables, and learn how it’s always been done.”
In other words, they have such respect and curiosity for the roots of DJing, that they want to learn to do it like that, too. Their path is the complete reverse of the path taken by DJs who grew up with turntables, but it’s totally understandable nonetheless.
5. They want to challenge themselves as DJs
Arguably there’s no bigger challenge in DJing than learning to beatmix so you can play great DJ sets on two turntables with a box of vinyl. Are you up for it?
6. They want to learn to scratch, and would prefer to do so with turntables
You absolutely do not need to use turntables to scratch. As we’ve demonstrated countless times, and as we teach in our Scratching For Controller DJs course, you can learn to scratch on literally any gear with jogwheels.
But with two 12″ platters, using vinyl, on top of slipmats, with a real needle in the groove? Well, let’s just say that feels very different to doing it with a controller or even a DVS set-up, where you can set the decks to behave really just like big jogwheels, forgiving you if the needle jumps and all that.
Just like learning manual beatmixing with vinyl is a big challenge, so is scratching on a similar set-up. And for some, if they’re going to learn to scratch, turntables are the only way…
7. They’ve never stopped!
I spoke to a big-name 1990s UK DJ recently. He was asking about digital mixers that he could use with DVS in order to start DJing with digital music files and software, using his turntables.
“I’ve been DJing vinyl up until now,” he told me, “and I thought it was time I made the switch.”
Yes, believe it or not, there are still DJs out there who started on vinyl, and who still do it, and for whatever reason, have seen no reason to change. They don’t need to be the “dinosaurs”, either – a small number of DJs still choose to start on turntables and stick with them.
Read this next: 6 Reasons Why Digital DJs Should Learn To Spin With Vinyl
Watch the show
Prefer me to talk you through this? In this video, a recording of a live show from the Digital DJ Tips YouTube channel, I talk you through everything in this article, and we take questions from our community on the subject.
We’d never advocate switching to vinyl and turntable DJing 100%, not for anyone. The disadvantages – price and availability of vinyl, lack of features, price of gear, no longer an industry standard, the difficulty of moving the gear around – outweigh the advantages, and hugely.
But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t encourage any DJ with a reason to want to DJ on vinyl to go right ahead and do so. A vinyl DJ “in the zone” is something to behold, it feels wonderful to be DJing with records in a way it’s hard to describe until you’ve tried it, and for us, ANY kind of DJing has to be worth a go!
Learn to DJ with Digital DJ Tips: The Complete DJ Course
If you’re interested in doing this, we’d advise you to get a set-up that you can use with real vinyl and with your laptop, which nowadays simply means a digital mixer compatible with your DJ software of choice. That means you can DJ the “modern” way using your turntables and digital files, and whenever you want, switch to the “old” way with real vinyl – even in the same set. It’s the best of both worlds.
Do you still use vinyl and turntables? Do you want to? Why? Let us know your reasons below.