Being A DJ with New Technology

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Thanks to the invention of MP3 technology in the past ten years, a new brand of DJ has risen, who call themselves “MP3Js.” Instead of using vinyl or CDs, they use their computer laptops or their MP3 digital audio players (most likely iPods) to play the music. Most likely they’ll be wedding DJs or mobile DJs, but they also are starting to get into the clubs as well. And with the new computer technology it makes it easier for someone to learn the art of DJing. But is that a good thing? Or was it better when the budding DJ had to lug around his or her 12” records or CDs?

To get my answers I talked to a few local DJs on the subject. I asked them two questions: With the rise of the new technology, is it good or bad for DJs? And has it made it any easier for new DJs getting into the market?

I’ve first interviewed DJ Robert Drake last year when he was taking part of WXPN’s The OutSpoken Project, but he career-wise he wears quite a few hats. He also spins monthly at Sex Dwarf, a 80s new wave party at Fluid:

“Personally, I spin a mix of CD and vinyl. Having spun in Philly for the past 25 years, I prefer CD over vinyl–yes, I get the ‘vinyl rules all’ argument from some other DJs, but the fact is most mixers can compensate for the tinny sound that digital music (CDs) can at times deliver. Plus, the older I get, the less I want to carry crates of 12-inch singles to a gig

”Now, there’s the new technology; laptop mixing, Serato spinning and other computer DJ styles. I’ll never cross over to that, as long as using CDs are an option, since I personally like the touch and experience that one gets flipping through their music to find the next track.

”As for taking out the skill, some might say yes. But I think what its doing is creating a new form of DJing–no longer do you need the ear to mix–now you can spend time being ultra-creative in your overall audio soundscape for the night. You don’t need to limit yourself to finding the right BPM to get you out of a track; some of the craziest mash-ups have come from the land of computer DJs. So for that alone, I’m grateful.

”But, when I enter a club and see a DJ working two turntables and a stack of old-school 12″ vinyl, my heart leaps. There’s nothing like an old-school DJ. And no computer program can ever truly replace that.”

DJ Tek E is a regular fixture at 12th Air Command and XO Lounge in Philly, as well as Club Lime in DC:

“It’s both good and bad in my opinion. Technology up to a point is good. But then it becomes to the point where anyone can do what used to take a lot of talent. For example (Beat matching) I still use vinyl and CDs. I still have to match the beat manually using the pitch controls. With this new technology you do not need to do this. The Computer has an AUTO BPM feature which takes that entire skill out of DJing. I don’t mind technology used such as Serato or some of these programs where you use a controller with because you are still manually beat matching and using the same skills as with vinyl or CDs. DJing is also a style. When I was younger I loved watching the DJ put the record on moving his hands and spinning the knobs. I don’t want to go to a nightclub and see someone clicking a mouse. Using technology all the way just makes it way to easy and makes anyone who has a laptop or IPOD a DJ. Soon they will just have a guy choosing songs and pressing one button to mix it. In my words, “Jukebox.”

“Several occasions people stated they are good DJs and I see they use laptops. Then when I see them spin on real club DJ equipment, they cannot mix what so ever. There is more to DJing than just picking songs and letting technology do the rest of the work.

“However technology is good for Wedding DJs, Radio DJs, Mobile DJs because its compact and you can store a lot of data on a hard drive. Also, most in these DJ fields don’t mix so there are basically no skills involved besides playing one track to another and being friendly. In my opinion keep the clubs real. I want to see DJ’s “disc jockeys”–not CJ’s “computer jockeys”.

DJ Stephen Durkin regularly spins in nightspots like Woody’s, Shampoo, Pure and Bump in Philly, as well as out-of-town places like 59 Lake in Rehoboth Beach DE, Rainbow Mountain in the Poconos, and G Nightclub in New York City:

“New technology, is it good or bad for DJs? It’s good!

“There is a lot of opinion these days with so called “Purists” who think using a laptop to mix music is taking the easy way out. I have to disagree with them and here’s why.

“Digital DJing is not the wave of the future anymore, it happening right now and will be the way all DJs manipulate music sooner than you think.

“I started DJing with a laptop in early summer 2007 and it’s been the most exciting and creatively rewarding experience I have had since I started 12 years ago. Mainly because there are so many tools to make my sets really unique. I can do things now “on the fly” that I used to have to do at home in my recording studio prior to a gig. Lets face it, I know how to beat match to songs together, I can do it with my eyes closed, and beyond that there is not much else you can do with vinyl or CD.

“With a laptop, a DJ Controller and DJ Software, I am able to spend more time using things like VST & Synth Key Effects, and it’s not uncommon for me to have four tracks rolling at the same time. Plus having my ENTIRE music collection easily accessible at my fingertips is extremely helpful. You simply don’t have the time or resources to do these kinds of things in a live DJ environment using only CD or vinyl.

“Sadly, many digital DJs just “play the tunes” with their little mouse and keyboard and don’t really care much about making it exciting; but I’ve never really been that kind of DJ, as I am always searching for better ways to express myself musically through the latest technology. It’s up to the DJ I guess.

“There were some issues with sound quality in the early days of digital DJing, which have all been worked out thanks to the high quality sound cards that are on the market today. With these sound cards the music actually sounds better coming from a laptop then it does a CD player or vinyl.

“Has it made it easier for new DJs getting into the market? No. I don’t think this is an easy market to begin with, so I don’t see how a laptop would make it any easier.

“Sure, there are DJs who will cheat and setup the laptop to do Auto Mixing and such, but Auto Mixing is not very accurate. Plus formatting is really important to work a big room. Beginning DJs usually lack in this department, which eventually reveals itself to crowds and club owners alike. Thankfully you can’t teach a laptop how to format a set. It takes YEARS of hands on experience.”

Maria V. spins regularly at Shampoo, and she also DJs at the various Gay Pride events here in Philly, including the upcoming OUTFest street festival on October 7:

“The answer to the first question? I think that any technology that advances our intelligence is a good thing, especially if it allows you to be more creative..

”As for the second, I definitely think that the advancement of finding different ways to be a DJ (ex. laptops etc.) has certainly made it easier for people who want to DJ But I question the commitment that new DJ’s might have. It seems as though everyone wants to be a DJ. The days of constant practicing and commitment have gone by the way side..

”I currently use Denon CD players. Very basic and simple. But my preference by far is turntables. There is something about feeling the vinyl with your hands that gives me more satisfaction then any other technology.”

DJ Michael DeCero can be heard at Woody’s and Pure, as well as the Stonewall in Allentown, PA:

“It’s so much easier to have all your music stored on a PC and be able to have thousands of titles available at a glance. And since most DJ’s download music from online it’s already compressed as a mp3 file and that’s what they are playing on CD anyway. I rip most of my music direct from CD to 320K bit rate so it’s CD quality. What a pleasure not having to carry all those CD books around with you and thumbing through and then forgetting what you were looking for.

“Also, if there is something in your online mailbox you forgot to download that night you can just do it while you are on the job. The downside as I see it is that most DJ’s are afraid of converting to PC, but eventually they will. Most traded in their vinyl for CD’s right–same concept different device!

“I don’t know if it has made it easier for the new DJs or not. But it is always better to be up to date with the current technology!”

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