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Wednesday 25th September 2013

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?In this job I spend a lot of my time writing articles and news blogs for getinthemix.com about the DJ industry...and I love it. I get to report the latest DJ news as well as try out and review the latest products before anyone else. I also get to share my (not insignificant) experience through wide-reaching articles and by providing impartial buyers guides for any DJ looking to upgrade their gear. Although I don't consider myself an oracle within the industy I hope my experience can help others become better DJs and make the right decisions when buying the latest DJ equipment.

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?On this occasion, however, I am writing this article with an entirely different agenda. I want to give my opinion on one of the most fiercely debated topics in our industry. As our loyal Facebook and Twitter followers will know (and if you don’t follow us already then please do) I regularly hold open discussions on various DJ-related topics and invite everyone to join in and comment. Anything that is vaguely related to playing formats, the introduction of new technology to DJ’ing or the use/relevance of vinyl always results in the same tired argument. Strong opinions, it seems, are rife when it comes to the use of modern DJ controllers and, of course, the, much-maligned, ‘sync’ button with a select few DJs still holding the belief that, in order to be a “proper” DJ, you need to be mixing on vinyl. I’d like to take this opportunity to give my opinion on this, firstly because I hope it will make for interesting reading, secondly, just because I can and thirdly, to sneak in some crafty links to cool products that you may want to buy (this keeps the boss happy!). I am NOT writing this article/blog/rant because I believe I’m the oracle (I’m not) or because I think my opinion is any more valid then anyone elses’ (it isn’t). I am simply writing it to provoke discussion (but mainly because I like to share my worthless and unfounded opinions with the world rather than sit here writing a review on yet ANOTHER LED lighting effect…yawn!).

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?I will give you a very brief background on my DJ career; I started doing houseparties in my early teens, mixing between two hi-fi CD players on a weird Maplins mixer (not a proper DJ mixer, I think it was for video editing or something). I had a couple of soundlab lights, I can’t remember the models but it was at that time when all the names began with “V” (Vernon or Veranda or something like that). I also had an Acme LightSplash, this was a coloured moonflower and the jewel in my lightshow crown. I had a small smoke machine and a PA system cobbled together from a chunky NAD Hifi amp and a pair of speakers I had modified with car-audio drivers. Yes, it was a very amateurish setup but I wasn’t charging for my services yet and it was enough for me to be bitten by the DJ’ing bug.

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?I am thankful for my humble beginnings as, by starting at the bottom, I learned a lot about track selection, playing to the crowd and avoiding the many common mistakes made by mobile DJs before I started to charge for my services. After learning plenty of invaluable lessons, I upgraded my setup with some new, semi-professional gear with the intention of finally taking my show on the road. I equipped myself with a proper DJ stand, a KAM KBCDKit (one of those all-in-one CD mixer kits in a chunky flightcase), a laptop running VDJ, some Acme Dynamo scanners and a ‘budget’ speaker and amp kit (which I’m ashamed to say I bought off a competitor before the days of quality ‘budget’ brands such as QTX and Lime Audio). From here on there was no stopping me, all the money I earned from gigs was going back into the gear and my setup was building at an absurd rate. By the time I turned 20 I was running CDJ1000 Mk3’s, a full moving-head lighting setup, Zoom Mood Bars (anyone remember them?), Ultimax stands (again, this was before the likes of Gorilla stands bought quality to the masses) and a Mackie powered PA. This was a good few years ago (certainly more than I care to remember) and, although I don’t DJ as much as I once did I still like to dust off the Sennheiser HD25’s now and again and get back on the decks (although it’s mostly work for other DJ outfits now). So that’s enough about me….let’s get back to the point.

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?At this point I have a confession to make, I can’t mix on vinyl. I’m sure I could with some practise but I’ve never built a music collection on vinyl and, with most of my work being mobile gigs, it never really made sense (let’s face it, vinyl’s hardly the most portable music format). In the eyes of many purists, my inability to mix on vinyl (or even the fact that I didn’t use vinyl at all) would mean I wasn’t justified in calling myself a ‘proper DJ’. I’ll be honest and say I don’t really care how I am perceived by anyone other than the paying clients and guests at my events but I do still disagree with this theory. Supposing you were to take up mobile DJ’ing today, I can see no reason (other than for personal pleasure) to select vinyl as your format of choice. It’s bulky, hard to buy, easily damaged and, ok I’ll admit it, most challenging to mix on (there are PLENTY of challenges faced by mobile DJs without adding to them). I, personally, like the idea of using Timecode vinyl to combine the convenience of digital-format music with the ‘feel’ of turntables and I may well experiment with this in the future but only as a challenge to myself and for my own pleasure. To summarise, unless you started DJ’ing at a time when vinyl turntables were the norm it would (in my eyes) seem foolish to select vinyl as your chosen format for any kind of mobile application.

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?I’d like to take a break at this point to add something I feel is important (only important in the context of this article but almost totally academic in the grand scheme of things). I love watching the DMC guys in action, real turntablism is an art and the skills these guys display goes well beyond what I can do on ANY format. However, simply being able to mix on vinyl doesn’t make you a turntablist. There is a small selection of vinyl DJ’s who seemingly try to ‘lord it’ over the rest of us purely on the basis that they can mix one track into the next on vinyl. Yes, it is more difficult to beatmatch on vinyl and well done for learning to do it well, however, I can guarantee that 99% of these self-styled “proper” DJs couldn’t do what the likes of Skrillex or Deadmau5 do in their genre. In the eyes of some, despite the sell-out festivals, arenas and clubs, the millions of fans and the prestigious awards, because these artists use laptops, Ableton, synths and controllers rather than turntables and analogue mixers their art is less valid. This, in my humble opinion is crazy, it’s a different art, a different skill, a different genre and a different type of music so why all the hate?

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?I’m going to go off topic for a moment but bear with me, there is a reason for it. I remember, when I was 17 years old, buying my first car. It was a Mk2 Vauxhall Astra special edition with a 1.4l engine and a 4-speed gearbox. It had no power steering, no electric windows, no traction control and basic drum brakes. Why do I bring this up? Well, I look back on that car with fond memories despite it being difficult to park, having a heavy clutch and lacking all the mod-cons of a modern vehicle. It was a lot harder to drive than the big comfy 4x4 I have now with its’ clever suspension, power-steering, ABS and stability programme. So here’s the big question; Because I now have a car which uses modern technology to assist me in my driving am I automatically a worse driver? (I would argue no). Another thing to consider is that, because of this technology, I can now drive off-road, in the snow and in ways that my poor old Astra would have never allowed. Finally (and the astute amongst you may now see where I’m going with this) thanks to cruise control, the car can maintain a consistent speed without my input. Far from making me lazy, this leaves me free to concentrate entirely on the road, the cars ahead and on my surroundings without having to glance down every few seconds to check on the speedo.

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?So…why am I rambling on about cars? (like I say, some of you may have guessed by now). In many ways, the evolution of automotive technology can be compared to the evolution in the technology we use as DJs. Like my Astra, turntables don’t assist the DJ in any way, they require a lot of input from the user and are generally more difficult to handle than the modern equivalent. Does this make the turntable user a better DJ than someone who uses a digital system with inbuilt DJ ‘aids’? In the same way that cruise control allows me to concentrate more on the road and less on the speedo, using modern BPM and ‘sync’ functions allow DJs to concentrate more on adding effects, creating more in-depth sets an interacting with the crowd rather than concentrating so much on simply beat-matching the next track. Obviously, if you use these functions and DON’T put the time/effort saved into improving other elements of your set then you are, in my opinion, cheating the crowd as you’re adding no value above and beyond what any ‘non-DJ’ could do. One of my favourite DJ quotes, which I believe sums this up perfectly, is from Ritchie Hawtin who says “Allowing the computer to do one thing is only boring if you don’t use the time that the computer saves you to do something else”…I couldn’t agree more Ritchie.

Vinyl vs Digital - Can't we all get along?So, where does that leave us? As I said at the start, I have never claimed to be the oracle and I accept that my opinion is no more valid than the next mans and I stand by this. However, I think it’s a shame that good DJs of ALL formats and genres sometimes feel the need to hate on each other based purely on the format/equipment they use. There is technology out there which allows the individual to carry out mixes and traditional DJ ‘skills’ without any real practise or ability. I believe that, as a mobile DJ, if the use of technology allows you to concentrate more on your music selection, lighting control and working your audience then you can still be a ‘great’ DJ while letting your equipment do the mixing and matching for you. In the club it’s a different story but I don’t see the harm in using DJ aids (including the much maligned ‘sync’ function) if it frees you up to improve your set in other ways. Again, this is only my opinion and, as always, we would always be interested in hearing yours. Thanks for reading….