As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve started to pick up on some interesting trends that seem to constantly occur throughout life. Lately one if these trends has dealt with the interaction of older and younger generations. Have you ever heard your parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, or anyone of an older generation share contempt for the younger generation? It usually starts out in the form of “kids these days…” Conversely, have you heard the younger generation criticize the older generation for their ways?
The obvious place to analyze the generation gap is probably politics, but no, we’re not going there today. We’re going to analyze the generation gap as it relates to something near and dear to my heart: DJ’ing.
The generation gap between DJs has been highlighted more than ever in the past decade because of the advent of Digital DJ’ing. The older generation argues that technology (computers, MIDI controllers, software) has made DJs too dependant on technology and that DJs are no longer the hard working people they used to be. The younger generation argues that technology has made DJ’ing more interesting and dynamic, in addition to the fact that more people now have access to tools that allow them to become DJs.
Let’s look at both sides of the argument in more detail.
The older generation of DJs had a lot to deal with when the industry was still growing. Using vinyl as the media of choice meant that you had to lug heavy crates of music everywhere. If one of your records was warped, you were in trouble. Furthermore, It may seem strange to some of the newer DJs, but having to beat match with poor monitoring conditions meant that your mixes always didn’t come out the way you wanted them to. Music couldn’t be downloaded, so people actually had to go to the record store to grab the newest track. If you wanted to practice DJ’ing at home, you needed to drop thousands of dollars on two turntables (or dare I say CDJs?) and a mixer to just get started. What about promotion? Facebook, Twitter, etc. didn’t exist, so you had to get the word out about yourself the old fashion way: by hitting the street. Want to get a promo out? Go burn a bunch of CDs and sit outside of events to hand them out to promoters or party goers.
In short, older DJs needed to make a career out of DJ’ing. It was a full time job. Forget the idea of a bedroom DJ, it took too much initial investment and too much time for someone to consider DJ’ing as a hobby. It was a no geeks allowed club and one that required it to be more than a hobby: it had to be a career. To make it a career you had to be truly passionate about it.
Now let’s cut over to the younger generation of DJs. These days DJs have access to a seemingly limitless supply of technology that allows them to mix and produce music. Digital DJ software has allowed DJs to mix songs together without having to beat match, thus cancelling out the need to have to monitor and adjust the tempo of your mix as you go. Its as simple as hitting the “sync” button and mixing the songs. Your mixes are tight and in time without really having to do anything. The record store is dead. Its now replaced by Beatport, iTunes, and Traxsource. You don’t even have to leave your house to grab the latest music being played all around the world. Social media like Facebook and Twitter means that you have an extra way to promote yourself without having to print flyers. Sites like Soundcloud mean that you can share your promo mixes with the world without having to burn physical CDs and hand them out. Its as simple as sending out the URL to your mix.
In so many ways, technology has given the new generation of DJs the ability to do more by doing less. Depending on your generation, this paradoxical statement can be good or bad.
So what’s the “right” way to think about it?
On message boards, forums, and comments I constantly hear the never ending bickering between the two generations talking about this exact statement. The older generation seems to think that doing more by doing less means that you’re lazy. The younger generation seems to think that you’re crazy to take the long road if there is in fact a shorter, faster way to get it done.
Well you’re all crazy.
All too often I come across younger DJs who have never touched a pitch fader in their entire life. They never learned to beat match. They don’t understand the concept of monitoring. Some of them have never even touched a CDJ. Not understanding the basic concept of beat matching and, more importantly, being able to execute it is terrible. I always use the “booth bitch” analogy when talking to friends about this. What if some trick finds his/her way into your booth, spills a drink on your laptop, and you have no digital set up? What are you going to do? Well, I always bring a set of back up CDs with me just in case that happens. But what if you can’t mix using CDJs? You’re fucked. Your reputation is done.
That scenario right there is one of many examples of why you need to learn the basics. But more important than saving your ass from the vodka/cranberry having been split on your MacBook Pro, is learning the proper technique. Why learn the proper technique? To pay homage to the DJs that came before you. Without them you wouldn’t be here. Don’t cheapen their hard work and struggles with a “sync” button. I am one of the younger generation of DJs. I can appreciate the arguments of the older generation because I’ve had a chance to learn from a few as I learned the trade. Pay respect to those who came before you, learn it the right way.
On the other hand I also read comments, postings, etc. on the Internet from older DJs who criticize the technology that is out there today. Its wrong to criticize this technology. You beat match as a work around to match the tempos of two songs that are not the same. Having an adjustable pitch fader allowed you to get those two tracks synchronized. Technology these days eliminates the need for that workaround. On a more technical level, the new technology now gives you the ability to ignore techniques like beat matching and to allow you to focus on making your sets more dynamic. Because you no longer need to worry about manually matching up the tempos of the songs you’re mixing, you can now use 4 decks, drop samples, set multiple loops, tweak your effects, and hit all your hot cues. Yes, superstar DJs can usually do this all manually, but unless you’re Axwell, Erick Morillo, or any of those guys, do you always have 4 CDJs and an EFX-1000 set up at your local lounge or club?
My father always told me “change is inevitable, growth is optional.” This is something that I’ve always tried to remember as life changes. Technology has changed the DJ game. You can go with the flow or get swept away by it. Its easy to discount the technology that is being used as something that is taking away from DJ culture, but the fact of the matter is that you’re witnessing the evolution of the scene. There is absolutely nothing to fear with technology, don’t keep it at arms length, take a chance, embrace it, you’ll never know what comes out on the other end. And remember, it wasn’t too long ago that vinyl gave way to CDs.
I know that my peers will read this and say that they don’t have any gigs or they just want to do this as a hobby so it isn’t worth it burn promo CDs and hand them out or drop extra dough on a set of CDJs. That’s perfectly fine! But should you graduate to becoming a professional DJ (earning money for your trade in live venues and gigs) you must learn how to do it the right way. Get your ass out there and promote, network, do anything outside of Facebook or Twitter. Learn how to beat match! As a professional you need to have a Plan B should your setup fail you.
Practicality aside, learning how to DJ the “old” way shows that you are truly passionate about what you do and it WILL make you a better DJ. Being passionate about a trade not only means that you embrace the present ways of doing things, but also understanding and respecting the methods that got the industry to where it is today. So no matter what generation of DJ you are, learn to respect the old and embrace the new.