Why DJing is Getting “Gadgety”

There’s no shortage of experienced DJs that hate the digital age.

This is often attributed to the whole “barrier of entry” thing (i.e. – “nowadays, anyone can grab a controller and call themselves a DJ”). But there’s actually more to it than that. It’s that DJing means something entirely different to one person vs. the next.

LCD screens, beatgrids, MIDI maps… why do you need all that?

The Purpose of the DJ

This is what it really boils down to, doesn’t it? A very minor difference in the way people view the DJ’s purpose.

Historically, a DJ was meant to play music for people. That’s essentially it.

A DJ’s collection was what made the DJ. Over time, DJs developed their own styles based on the music they would play for their audience… whether that was at a disco, over the radio waves, at a skating rink, or whatever the case may be.

Old School Radio DJ

But in the Internet age, we all have access to the same music.

Rarity nearly doesn’t exist in this field. If you can discover that song on Spotify, so can Sarah that works at the bakery. If you can download that track from SoundCloud, so can Steve the electrician.

Over the decades, many began to view DJing as more of a performance than a service. This is especially true now that one’s gear and music collection is not enough to set someone apart.

So, with a desire to perform comes a need for the means to that end: modular controllers, software updates, LCD screens, buttons.  You know, gadgets.

Where does the art come in to all of this? Is it in the modification of existing music in a live context? Or is it the selection and programming?

Which is a sufficient display of creativity: live remixing on-the-fly, or A – B mixing with an emphasis on context and progression?

The answer is both. Or neither. Depending on who you are.

Why does there have to be a disparity? There are plenty of kinds of DJs, and plenty of contexts in which those DJs can make sense.

Get Off My Lawn

Decades ago, the only DJ “techniques” that were ever really employed were meant to do things like extend the length of a song, or keep a dance floor moving… not necessarily to create something new. The song itself was always the main focus.

Look, we all like what we like. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what surprises me is how much I see people complain about technological developments in the realm of DJing, as if it takes something away from them.

Yeah... I WISH my lawn still looked like this.  Damn you, February...
Yeah… I WISH my lawn still looked like this. Damn you, February…

And, conversely, digital DJs complaining that people with a more traditional approach are “dinosaurs”, or pointless because they aren’t doing what essentially equates to producing live.

What it comes down to is this. It’s not that gear manufacturers have forced DJing into a direction that furthers their interests. It’s that the market evolved on its own, and manufacturers have understandably moved towards filling those demands.

Innovation is Good (and Necessary)

“Who needs screens on a controller?”

“Who needs 4 triple-chained FX channels?”

“Who needs a sync button?”

“Who needs pitch control?”

Look, innovation is the sign of a thriving industry.  The fact that companies are exploring new ways to make DJ gear appealing to people is a good thing, even if they don’t always get it right.

Is it necessary to have anything more than two decks and a mixer?  Or even just a laptop?

Perhaps not.  But some people like their toys, and they like features on their toys.  Ever go shopping for… well, anything related to home theater with… well, any guy?

Lack of progress in an industry is a good sign that industry is having some problems.

If the toys get too ridiculous, the strategy is to ignore them and use what serves your needs as a DJ.