Are you a DJ if you don't play vinyl?

Posted On:15.11.2015

I think it’s important to define what a DJ is, before exploring what it is to be a Digital DJ.

A disc jockey (abbreviated DJ, D.J. or deejay) is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘a person who plays recorded music for an audience’.

It was American radio commentator Walter Winchell coined the term "disc jockey" (the combination of disc, referring to the disc records, and jockey, which is an operator of a machine).

DJ technology has evolved, and discs are no longer the only means of play recorded music to an audience, in fact, most club systems feature CD players (CDJ’s) that feature a USB port so music can be played direct from a memory stick.

The Jockey part still holds true however there are many types of machines these days.

The purists still favour vinyl, turntables (decks) and a mixer, preferably with variable cross fader so they can cut, scratch and transform. My viewpoint is that if you are scratch DJ and have an existing vinyl collection, then decks is the perfect option for you. People seem to have more respect for vinyl as it’s the traditional and familiar medium, the artisan’s choice.

Then you have the Wave or MP3 variant of this setup where the turntables or CDJ’s are a control device for software like Serato Scratch on a computer. This setup is a hybrid which provides all the benefits of digital DJ’ing while being able to play analogue records. Most DJs take this route as it’s a control method they have grown used to, it also provides the audience with a familiar representation of the DJ.

Given the cost of the decks, mixer, and CDJs people may want to opt for a dedicated DJ controller option. Through a single console that provides multi-channel mixing, they can interface with DJ emulation software like Traktor. This option will deliver comparable results to the deck setup. However, it has not got the kudos that decks have. So this would be the option for you only if you’re not bothered by image or don’t have much cash.

DJ’ing is all about image, and the perceptions or should I say misconception is that you can only be a DJ if you use decks. Let’s return to the dictionary definition a person who plays recorded music for an audience’. If we decode this definition, it’s the art of playing music to an audience, I think we have become too consumed by the medium and need to refocus on the media.

For me a good DJ knows what record to play at any given time, how often have you been at the after party and some wannabe has played ear bleeding techno when we all wanted to hear some deep chilled grooves. Knowing your tunes, knowing what your audience wants and knowing how to keep their interest for the length of your set is the real skill, everything else is gravy.

The final option for DJs is software like Ableton, which is music production software that can be manipulated by DJs to play sets. Whereas all the other methods discussed in this article can be performed without any pre-production, Ableton is all pre-production.

You the DJ has to manipulate every song you wish to play, quantize and time stretch every beat, program every effect and then map it all to buttons that can be triggered during the live set. A complex live set that will play for two hours can take ten times that time to create, it’s very similar to creating a record, where the artist will labour over every sound, EQ every beat and program all the effects until that final mix down is flawless.

There are obvious disadvantages with this method of Dj’ing: It requires a lot of up front effort, you have to be able to preempt what will work on the floor, and it’s not something your average clubber understands, so they think you’re cheating. However on the plus side, you can create sets that are flawless and play them time after time, you can introduce more sonic layers, and you can sync your music with Video and lighting.

I still romanticize about vinyl from time-to-time, however I would never go back, just ask yourself if you would want to give up your computer for a typewriter or a Digital camera for a film camera, of course, you wouldn't so, please cut us digital DJ’s a break when we try and push the boundaries.