Is DJing just about beat matching?Written by John 00 Fleming
When it comes to the digital age of the modern DJ, you'll always find comments from a select few suggesting the accolade of being a 'real DJ' is rewarded to the few that can beat match two tracks together, the others are looked at as fakes? But is that really true? I've experienced both, a big bulk of my career I mixed vinyl/CDs and I've fully embraced this new digital era, so feel qualified to answer this question.
Beat matching two tracks together is suggesting this is the main and most important skill required to be a DJ? Believe me, I've seen many, many DJ's that can beat match but also clear the dance floor! I personally believe beat matching is the least required skill of being a DJ. Just because today's modern players sync tracks in time doesn't instantly make you into a DJ, in the same way pressing autopilot in the cockpit of an airplane doesn't make you into a pilot, there's a hell of a lot more involved:
Years of training,
1500 hours of flying
Flight simulator training
Basic flying skills
It's no different in the DJ world, to become a good DJ you have to undertake a lot of training:
Reading the dance floor
2/3 Years experience playing to live crowds
For me, beat matching is the very least important thing on that list. So is it just nostalgia from those who grew up in the vinyl days? Most probably yes. It was very challenging trying to keep two bits of plastic in time, especially when neither had a constant BPM due to it’s archaic nature, most of your time was taken up working on this rather than being creative. The beat matching argument simply doesn't stand with the introduction of second generation of DJ CD players (over a decade before sync was invented) because an accurate BPM was displayed on the screen (due to it being a digital file), therefore all you had to do is hit play and quickly match the BPM 'number' of the corresponding track and they will stay in time infinitely. As you can see from my insight, I feel this is where the skill of beat matching got superseded by the more technical skills the DJs performed due to the extra time bought in the booth due to not having to worry about holding the tracks in time.
Today's digital DJ's are bought up in a completely different technological environment/era than vinyl DJs. Vinyl DJs were just that, and very few produced music due to expense of studio equipment, cost of hiring studio and pretty much no form of tuition. Today's DJ's are also music producers that have music production tools in the palm of their hands and in laptops, therefore they want to use those same musical tools and skills while performing. Unfortunately those days of having those rare one off vinyl white labels have gone due to technology. Hold your phone up to the track currently playing, and you can add it to your own Spotify playlist in seconds. We need to use the same technology to be creative in order to make our sets special. Mixing one track into another doesn't seem so special now, because anyone can get those tracks, but making a live edit, bootleg or mash up or seamless long smooth remix suddenly lifts the dance floor and becomes unique because you're giving them a version of track and set that they've never heard before. It becomes your brand/trademark, it's a totally unique experience. It's almost like you’re performing a multi track sequencer in the DJ booth sometimes with 8 channels running and the only way to do this is by hitting the sync button. It should be celebrated and not frowned upon because that DJ could be undertaking a very challenging task live, that can go horribly wrong at any moment.
Remember that sync button doesn’t suddenly make everything magically happen, I’ve heard plenty performing abysmal mash ups completely out of key, timing wrong, harmonics clashing and frequencies phasing. You need to use the full power of your production knowledge, and have the balls to do this because it's really challenging under the pressure of playing live knowing that anything can go wrong at any point. It’s very demanding and certainly gets the adrenalin pumping.
I often fully embrace the sync feature on the CDJ’s, and you’ve heard the rewards of it when many ask what was the remix played of certain classics I’ve just played, these were created live on the fly when I’m in my musical zone. You’ll never hear them again, as they weren’t recorded and never will be, they were created for you, at that one show making this a very special memory for all of us…of course until the next time when I get sudden inspiration.
It’s music for all of us to enjoy at the end of the day, not matter how it’s performed, we should simply rejoice that we are all part of this musical family, sync or no sync.