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Should DJs Use Sync Or Is It Cheating?

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The vinyl purists among us will always say that using any kind of digital DJ equipment is cheating, but with technology advancing all the time, I think that sometime in the not-too-distant future, even they will start to incorporate some kind of digital technology in their sets.

Should DJs use sync?

Personally, I have no problem with a DJ using the sync button. Almost every DJ software on the market will analyse your library and give an accurate BPM reading. I understand that some DJs will still choose to manually beat match by ear, but if the tools are available, why not use them?

My opinion alone is only a small part of the wider debate that will surely see people argue for many years to come.

Using technology to do more, or to do less?

Wherever you sit on the vinyl vs digital debate, there is no denying the fact that the technology now available to us as DJs can make our lives easier.

I started DJing in the late ’90s, mixing trance on vinyl. In those days, when every track was a minimum of 6 minutes long, I would spend at least 2-3 of those minutes perfectly beat matching my next track. Fast forward to the present day and I can instantly achieve the same outcome with the touch of a button.

While I am not the most technically gifted DJ, I do like to experiment with loops, acapellas and samples during my sets. I would never have had the time to be able to do this while manually beat matching on vinyl, so the time that is saved by using sync can now be put to better use and allow me to make my performances more creative.

On the flip side of this, I have noticed a lot of DJs who are using the tools available to simply do the job for them. They will turn up to a gig armed with a USB flash drive containing 50 floor-filler tracks that have been analysed by their software of choice, fade in and out of tracks every 3-4 minutes and spend the rest of the time on their phones, not engaging with the crowd in any way at all.

While the average length of a track has become shorter, there is still plenty of time to be taking care of the other fundamentals. I mentioned loops, acapellas and samples earlier, but they are not well received in every venue, nor are they to every DJs liking.

With that said, the extra time can still be put to good use.

You could venture out on to the dance floor from time to time and check the sound. Just because the MP3 sounds crystal clear through your headphones does not mean it sounds perfect to the audience.

Alternatively, you could spend a little more time reading your crowd to make sure you are taking the music in the right direction.

This attention to detail will not only be appreciated by the venue management when they notice that the profits start to increase, but also by the people on your dancefloor who start to visit the venues that you play in more regularly.

Is technology discrediting the DJ industry?

When I first started going to nightclubs, the DJ had a certain “status”. They were seen as a master of their craft, the person who could be relied on to deliver an unforgettable night of good music.

Back in those days, the barriers to entry were a lot higher. To be a DJ, you needed to have mastered the art of beatmatching, which could take months, or even years in some cases.

In addition to beatmatching, you also needed to be able to get your hands on the hottest tracks quicker than anyone else which, at $10 or more per record, very quickly amounted to big money.

The introduction of the sync button removed the need to learn how to beat match and the adoption of digital music as good as spelt the end for vinyl.

This led to anyone being able to purchase a basic controller for under $300, then download the chart recommendations from one of the major download websites and labelling themselves as a DJ.

While these developments have certainly created more competition within the DJ industry, I wouldn’t say that they have necessarily discredited it. 

Technology has definitely lowered the entry barriers into the DJ industry and we have seen a change in what is now required of a DJ.

Previously, it was someone who was technically superb and had a vast record collection. More recently it has shifted towards how well they are able to market themselves and subsequently create value for the venues that they are going to play at.

The world is constantly changing. If you fail to keep up, you will get left behind. If you don’t believe me, just ask MySpace, Blockbuster or Yahoo.

Should I still learn how to beat match by ear?

I would encourage any DJ, whether they are new or experienced, to learn how to beat match by ear if they don’t already know how.

You never know when you will need to beat match manually and I have personally seen DJs caught out many times.

Remember that none of the software on the market is 100% accurate. I know for a fact that the Serato DJ analysis sometimes has problems with tracks above 130bpm that have an off-beat bassline.

Similarly, if you rely on Mixed In Key to provide you with your BPM figures, this can also run into difficulty on occasion when analysing tracks around 100bpm, also with an off-beat bass pattern.

Imagine your horror, and that of the crowd, when your previously flawless set gets tarnished because of a trainwreck of a mix, caused by your software displaying incorrect BPM information.

Don’t take the chance of that happening and learn how to beat match by ear.

Should I feel like I am cheating?

I don’t know why so many people have an issue with DJs taking advantage of the tools available. Some people like to drive automatic cars, while others like to have electronic gates at the front of their house. Do people who drive manual cars and have traditional gates criticise them?!

Grandmaster Flash used to perform some outstanding routines using vinyl, while the late DJ AM could do some incredible things using time-coded vinyl on Serato Scratch Live.

In the modern era, one DJ who never fails to impress me is DJ EZ, who comfortably rocks each and every gig on CDJs via USB.

In addition, we already have a new breed of DJs who are taking creativity to the next level with some spectacular routines on a combination of decks, controllers, laptops and keyboards.

What each of the above have in common is that they pushed technological boundaries in their own eras. Anyone doing this should be encouraged to push further without fear of being accused of cheating.

Better DJing Top Tip

I am not the type of person who normally shares quotes, but whether a DJ is just beginning their career or are a seasoned professional, I believe they should consider this:

The DJ Is Only As Good As The Records They Play

What I mean by that is that you can play music from whatever format you like and use as little or as much technology as you like, but if you don’t play good music, you will find it hard to progress.

Sync Conclusion

I think that the DJ community will remain divided on this topic for a long time yet.

Play the music that you love, work with the equipment that makes you feel most comfortable and allows you to maximise your performance and ignore the comment of other people. What they think of you is not your business.

I hope that this article has helped you in some way. If you have any further questions or suggestions about whether DJs should use sync, please feel free to leave a comment.

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