Laptop vs CD DJing: Is beat-matching important?

I thought I’d do a follow up post to Mr Robot’s great review of the Traktor S4 DJ gear.

I was having a debate last week that I’ve had many times before – is laptop DJing really DJing?

There is a lot of animosity towards laptop DJs here in the US (the medium is gradually becoming more accepted in Europe, although it has taken a long time for this adjustment).  I can actually understand this, because a few years back I took a similar stance.

I’d been DJing on vinyl for about 6 years when CDJs became very popular and I thought it was all nonsense.  People could just download or rip tracks from sets, burn to CD, and play them in their mixes – it felt like the scene was being bastardized.  You should have to wait for vinyl to become available at your local store, or sort out direct imports from foreign distributors to get hold of the hot tracks ahead of the crowd.  Now anyone could get hold of what the top DJs were playing!  I didnt like it.  And then software that beatmatched for you??  That was cheating!  Beat-matching is an ancient artform that takes lifetimes to perfect!😉

But after kicking and screaming for a while (and listening to Sasha’s sets on Ableton Live and his Maven controller) I started to think…  maybe this is a good thing.  It is all about the end product – who cares how it is made, if technology can allow you to be more creative then why not embrace it?  Whenever someone’s world-view is challenged their natural reaction is to defend and reject, but the sooner you get past that the better.   I used CDJs briefly and, after realising they lacked the pleasure of vinyl and the freedom of software, quickly switched to Ableton Live (sometimes alongside vinyl simply to abate the hate from “purists”).

Only high profile DJs can really get away with CD to CD mixing these days – and this is often because their hectic global gig schedules dont leave them with much time for set programming.  Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, Mark Knight etc can get away with it because, let’s be honest, they could fart down the mic and the crowd would go nuts.   But, to their credit, they can fill a set with their own productions if they so want.  Eric Prydz is a CDJ user, but often his shows include so many reloops and re-edits that it feels like a live show anyway.  Then there are guys like Funkagenda, Dubfire, Guy Gerber, Adam Sheridan and Deadmau5 that have embraced the technology.

DJs should ask themselves: why should anyone choose to book me as a DJ over someone else?  If all I do is beat-match other people’s records, how can I stand out?  The answer is that you cant, your only ally is a large group of friends willing to come support you and keep the promoter happy.

So the take home message from this rant is:  embrace the new technology – but use it to it’s potential.  If you are just mixing the last minute of a track into the next, then maybe you should be on CDJs.  Conversely, dont go crazy with all the new toys – it’s the end product that matters.  As impressive as it may be to mash up 17 tracks simultaneously layered with loads of homemade fx, if it sounds shit was it really worth it?

I have a gig this weekend for a great promoter that is an advocate of CDJing.  Instead of conforming I will be showcasing exactly why laptop DJing is the future to a CDJ-loving crowd – I like a challenge, it makes me up my game!  It seems fitting when DJing in the Lumonics modern art gallery full of space-age sculptures and light shows.  I’ll record the set live and post it on here for you to check out after the gig🙂

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  1. #1 by David on March 31, 2011 - 9:24 pm

    I mixed vinyl for 10 years and moved over to Traktor a few years back. I couldn’t believe the animosity I faced from vinyl playing friends :O(

    To be honest when I go out dancing I go to dance to the music, not to see some DJ beat mix. The DJ has become too much the star. WHY DOES EVERYONE DANCE FACING THE DJ WHEN THEY SHOULD BE DANCING WITH EACH OTHER TO THE MUSIC ?

    I was pretty good on the dex. When listening to mixes now I expect it to be beat perfect and with the mixes happening in the right place – so much vinyl mixing sounds a bit random now. You can download classic mixes from the big boys and some of them are all over the place !

    There’s a great quote by Sasha in ‘The Record Players – DJ History.com’ he says “I guess DJing is an artform, but I wouldn’t want to shout about it”

    I say it’s about the music and dancing with your friends – if you’re so het up about how much skill it takes you should probably go and see some live music performed by musicians – That’s skill

    Peas

    dB :O) x

    • #2 by lostinmusik on April 4, 2011 - 8:40 pm

      There’ll always be haterzz! ha
      Yeah, definitely all about the music, not the format.

      Fully agree with Sasha’s comment. I’d like to see someone get good at playing the violin in one week!

      Cheers for ze comment🙂

  2. #3 by Chubbs m on September 24, 2013 - 1:28 pm

    I play vinyl at home. CDs when I dj (only because 100 discs cost 9.00 and because I don’t want my 2000 pound laptop to be nicked while playing in some shit club somewhere.

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