Your Questions: Why Is Sync A Dirty Word?

Read time: 3 mins
Last updated 4 April, 2018

Oh really? Can the whole art of DJing really be reduced to this? Some would have you think so...
Oh really? Can the whole art of DJing really be reduced to this? Some would have you think so, as this example of the many “sync” memes circulating the internet indicates…

This weekend’s big question comes from member Tim Leavitt. He says: “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 beatgridded tracks.”

“To me, the tedious beatmatching step of DJing, 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 DJing, which is the whole point in the first place, is it not? And yet almost daily, I read disparaging comments from DJs I respect about sync button use.”

“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 BPMs or live drumming?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Tim, you’re touching on a deep and sensitive topic for the DJ community, as we’ve all seen this debate probably from the moment beatsync was put into DJ software. What you’re mainly seeing out of the “opposition” are levels of fear and disgust on how one of the key skills of DJing has been made easier thanks to technology.

Back before Serato, Traktor, or even Final Scratch, DJing was more or less a home for those willing to put the time in to manually match beats as well as learn music and build a style and technique. In many ways, nothing has changed, except in most cases the software can help prevent you from trainwrecking the beats.

However, that’s all it can do. The software can’t tell you what tunes to play next, or when to drop in a new tune so things musically work together, or even how to tweak the volumes and EQs to make your blend smooth and seamless. All it can do is keep your beats together… most of the time.

You notice I said “most of the time”, because it’s the truth. Sync will fail, and every DJ who wants to use it must accept that. The reason it will fail is because not every piece of music we will use as DJs will ideally work in sync. For sync to be perfect, the music must be mathematically perfect with no factors that would deviate from the normal phrases of 32 beats.

If you look at disco from the 70s, there were no drum machines. It was all live drummers who didn’t make perfectly mathematical drum riffs that could blend seamlessly without some work by the DJ. A lot of old school house has issues with syncing mainly because they used analog machines to produce the music, often using analog samplers playing imperfect drum loops.

Now, I use sync and I love it. It’s been a wonder for me when I arrived at gigs that had no decent monitor, or a sound system that made live beatmatching a challenge. However, I’m honestly thankful I did learn to do things manually. That old school house mix I recently posted had to be done manually, not out of some “keepin’ it real” ethos or idea of “tradition”, but because much of that music doesn’t beatmap very well, thus making sync useless.

Personally, I think you do yourself a disservice by not pushing to learn to manually blend music, and you should take the time to craft that skill. The difference between “decent” and “great” is when you can go manually when you need, as opposed to skipping certain tracks because they won’t sync. I won’t tell anyone not to use sync, but I will tell everyone not to rely on it. A great DJ would never trap themselves by the limits of technology.

So practise, ask questions, even take some of our courses if you need deeper understanding. Eventually your ears will be trained to discern the kick drums and other rhythms, and you’ll get tempos matched up faster. Before you know it, you’ll be holding blends for several minutes with ease.

As for the opposition, ignore them. Focus on you, and make yourself a better DJ. The winners in this game are those who build scenes and sounds that bring in a large following.

• Want to know about our DJ courses? Find out more here.

Do you think “sync” is a dirty word? Do you rely on it totally? Or is it merely a tool that is useful, but not totally reliable? How would you advise Tim on better learning manual beatmatching? Please let us know in the comments.

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