Home Forums The DJ Booth Why is 'sync' a dirty word?

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    Tim Leavitt

    So I’ve been teaching myself to DJ over the past few years. I started with Traktor, and then, due to my frustration with NI’s inability to play nice with PC laptops without the help of an advanced degree in Computer Science, recently upgraded to Pioneer CDJ-2000 nexuses. For ages, I’ve been humbled by successful artists into thinking I’m not a legitimate DJ because I rely on a “Sync” button and can’t reliably beatmatch by ear well enough to play outside my bedroom. I occasionally turn off sync with Traktor and try to mix two tracks by ear with timecode vinyl on my 1200’s, and I fully understand the concept of it. However, I’ve been constantly frustrated by the fact that even when tunes would appear to be totally in sync, one would inevitably drift out of alignment part way through my mix, most likely due to mismatched BPM’s of a fraction of a beat. I understand that getting two tracks totally locked in by ear is something that takes years of practice. And yet I can’t help but think that this problem is almost completely, automatically solved by the Sync button, with two properly beat-gridded tracks. The tedious beatmatching step of DJ’ing, which has absolutely no payoff to your audience, can be completely automated with a Sync button, whether it be via software like Traktor or Serato, or even now with Pioneer’s advanced CDJ players. This leaves you to focus more mental energy on the *creative* part of DJ’ing, which is the whole point in the first place, is it not? And yet almost daily, I read disparaging comments from DJ’s I respect about sync button use. Am I crazy? Is there some vital part of beatmatching that will make me a better DJ that the sync button can’t do, besides mix two tracks that have variable BPM’s or live drumming? To me, all I see in the Sync button is a technological tool that flawlessly automates a needlessly repetitive, non-creative process of DJ’ing. While some DJ’s like to boast about being able to beatmatch two tunes with wildly different BPM’s in less than 10 seconds, all I can think of is “Why?” Can anybody on the dance floor really tell? The only time I ever notice beatmatching in a club is when two tracks start to slip out of sync and I think, “Man, this never would have happened with a Sync button.” Not to mention, Sync frees you up to do wild BPM changes while “in the mix”, all flawlessly. What am I missing? I liken beatmatching by ear vs. sync to driving an automatic car vs. manual. If you’re going to be a world class racing driver, of course you should probably know how to drive a stick, but does it really mean that the 16-year-old kid schooling everyone else with his automatic transmission doesn’t know how to drive?!


    First off, you can learn to beat match in one year. Beat matching is not scratching, it’s not difficult to do. I do feel that you should learn to beat match just to be able to at least do it. It’s something I feel every DJ should know how to do. I recently started reading the articles on this site & I’ve realized that many of them are about people talking negatively about something because they’re jealous of the person doing it. Don’t worry about the stupid negative shit that people are saying. Worry about being the best DJ you can be, rock the crowd, be loved, & have a great time doing it. So, whether you’re rocking the crowd with or without the sync button, the bottom line is you’re making everyone happy & that’s what matters.

    – Dom

    Elliott Kim

    Just like you, the sync haters had a hard time learning manual beat matching. Now many are butt-hurt that a machine can do it automagically. The sync button took down a huge barrier. I wonder how many like-new DJ rigs could be had for a good price because someone gave up when they got frustrated with beatmatching.

    The more valid reason to spew damning indictments against the sync button is that it makes DJs lazy. Also, many people buy a digital Dj setup, thinking it’s easy, and they inevitably meet up with a rude awakening – DJing takes skills that are learned through many hours of practice and dedication to the art.

    Even if you perfectly matched the BPMs of two tracks, they might still drift apart after a few bars due to human imprecision. That’s when you give the platter a little nudge.

    I started with the Traktor DJ app, then worked my way up through a Z1 and eventually the S2 mk2. I have to say, there is something very gratifying about beat matching and nailing it without sync. It adds the element of risk and just a tiny drop of adrenaline when you press Play on the incoming track.

    It also connects you to your music better. You really have to pay attention.

    If you play any non-quantized music, it’s absolutely critical to beat match manually and learn how to nudge tracks unless you want to be boring.

    I still use sync from time to time. Let’s say you get distracted and you barely have enough time to load the next song. I’ve been exploring the Remix Decks in Traktor and I do a couple of live mashups. Sync is very helpful there.

    To me, it’s just another useful tool, not a crutch.


    It’s only a dirty word to people who look down on digital as they don’t see what DJing actually is about… DJing is not what you play on or what with (IE turntables or cdj or laptop etc.), DJing is what you play, when you play it and how the audience reacts to it. Nothing more…

    Understand that and watch the “traditionalists” – many of whom are great DJ’s – there is nothing wrong with being stuck in the past.. but why spend all that effort getting something beatmatched perfectly when I can do it with a button and then concentrate on other things – improving my sound etc.

    On a different note though, you won’t find many people vouching for the traditional method on a Digital DJ forum.. 😉


    Elliott Kim

    Right on Bob! The average person is just happy to have good music to dance to.

    Manual beat matching is kind of like driving a stick shift. You don’t have to know how, but it’s a good idea to know how.

    DJ Vintage

    Ok guys, this IS Digital DJ Tips and we clearly do not have bad things to say about sync. As pointed out, sync is a valuable tool that can free up a DJs time and energy to be spent on other creative processes in the DJ Booth (if only interact with the crowd!). However, a 100% sync(able) environment is Utopia in most cases. If only in the simple example of being part of a line-up and not being able to take over from the previous DJ with a beat matched transitions going from one setup to the next without a sync option or having to throw in a CD in a player without sync (i.e. everything but the Nexus players) or a piece of traditional vinyl on your 1200s.

    The OP said that he got frustrated that two tracks that seemed in sync started to drift out of sync when doing manual beat matching. Surprise, they probably weren’t exactly matched and thus drifted. The closer you are to the match, the longer it takes before it becomes noticeable but meanwhile it IS drifting. The solution, as said my others, is to correct that while you are doing the transition, little nudging here and there.

    Not all music can be synced, it’s that simple. OP asks what benefit and necessitiy there is to the audience. Well, frankly, if you can only do stuff that is synced by a machine, it WILL limit your choice of music to play, in a sense lessening the creative opportunities. If you have a track that won’t play nice in sync and your response is ” ok, I won’t play that track then, there is plenty of others out there”, you are putting restrictions on yourself that other DJs, who can manually beat match and would just go “ok, this track doesn’t play nice, let met do it manually” will not experience.

    To stay with the car analogy, let’s say you always drive an automatic because you can’t stick shift. The cars with automatic transmissions are only suitable to drive on the the highways. 80% of the interesting stuff is on the highway, so your automatic car will do nicely. However, sometimes you see something off-road that seems interesting, but you need to be able to shift manually. What are you gonna do? Are you gonna say “too bad I can’t stick shift, won’t be going there” or do you learn to drive a stick so you can go wherever you like without limitations?

    If you are genre-specific, EDM-only, you can probably get away with a sync only set. As a mobile DJ, which I am, but really as any kind of broad range DJ, it’s just about impossible to get through a night without doing manual beat matching.

    Something else the OP said was about the only time noticing beat matching in a club is when it went wrong. His reaction was that this would never have happened with sync. Perhaps it was a track that, for whatever reason, wasn’t syncable. The DJ did it manually and unfortunately he wasn’t good at it (at least for that particular transition, who says he hadn’t been doing fabulous and yes unnoticed manual matches all night?!). Funny thing is that a big part of the audience probably didn’t notice the slip the way you did!

    Manual beat matching is not hard, it just takes practice and not “turning off sync occasionally”, but consistant practice over a period of time. It’s a skill that is well worth learning imho, even in the digital realm.

    So, by all means sync all you want, but cover all your bases by learning to beat match manually too.

    Dillon Mennie

    i have been having more fun when i beat match manually


    Honestly I have nothing against sync, but sync does have its downsides:
    It does not count bars for you, it does not quantise starting mismatches (except Ableton) and it wont save a trainwreck from happening.
    So the thing why I tell all students to learn to beatmatch manually is actually not because I think sync is bad, but so they learn something about the music they play. Learning to sync tracks, means very close listening to parts of the music and experiencing the “feel”. If you get to a point where you can beatmatch just by “feeling” (sorry for lack of a better word) it, you will be yourself much more in tune with your music.
    However I am no beatmatch learning “nazi”, so I encourage them to get the BPM right by simply looking at the BPM counters and then sync up the bars by nudging the platters first, before I throw them into blind mode. This way it is much easier to approach.

    If they have got this feeling right and can use it when reading the crowd to tune their music beat to the needs of the audience I do no longer care how they beatmatch.

    I myself simply do manual, because after 20 years I simply forget the sync button is there hehe

    Harold Tan

    I came from turntables and a standard mixer before the mobile DJ group hung up the headphones in the early 1990’s. I came out of retirement and was a resident DJ for a ballroom dancing place in 2002 and used a Dual DJ CD player or the type that was side by side with trays to load and eject, with pitch control (key lock was not available) and the jog wheels were miniature. It was not easy to use but I got by with a standard mixer that had no crossfader, only volume faders. And then went back to retirement. This thing called life interrupts by DJ career twice now.

    And then in 2013, I Googled across Phil Morse and his articles about Digital DJing. Well, I started with just a laptop (this one that I am using) and ran on Mixxx for 15 months. No real gigs came out of that except two reunion parties. I used sync a lot and it was fun for a while. Eventually, I realized that laptop-only DJing had a serious disadvantage. Sometimes, the software can still get the BPM wrong. I mean the DJ software will read the BPM say at 125. And here you have another song at 125 BPM as well. But even if I use the sync button, even if cued and timed properly, they drift after two bars or so. And nudging in a laptop-only set up is way too noticeable.

    In 2014, I got myself a Numark controller. And though I still paired it with Mixxx, it was a lot easier to mix on a controller. (Yes, Phil Morse is absolutely right about that). I still used sync a lot. And then I noticed Mixxx would a little more than occasionally freeze or crash. So I tried the Serato DJ Intro that came with the Numark. And Serato was absolutely more stable than Mixxx. There. I switched.

    And now that I have Serato DJ, I wanted to try beat matching without using the sync because of songs that even Serato can get wrong in terms of BPM. So I learned not to rely on Sync. And I did learn. But I also later learned I can visually beat match even if the BPM was wrong. No matter Mixxx or Serato, there are certain songs that both software will get the BPM wrong.

    Using Sync is OK. The crowd would most likely not notice it at all. I do agree it’s one of the tools a DJ Can use. But I have learned not to rely on the Sync button. And I feel I have improved my digital DJ skills without having to rely on Sync

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