Why You Should Stop Controller-Shaming (A Message to “Traditional” DJs)

Why You Should Stop Controller-Shaming (A Message to “Traditional” DJs)

This message is for all digital DJs who have been talked down to because of their choice of equipment, and the “traditional” DJs that do the shaming.

Let me start this post out by stating that I have no particular format bias.  This is quite evident by taking a glance at my homebrew DJ booth.  Starting from the (Traktor certified) mixer, you will see a pair of trusty Technics 1200 mk2′s.  Next, a pair of Pioneer CDJs.  Past that, you’ll see some controllers… namely, a Kontrol S4 and X1.  In my bag sits an audio interface for timecode use away from home.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about two things that really bother me: the attack on digital DJs because of their equipment choice, and the poor way digital DJs handle it.

It All Boils Down To One Thing…

Jealousy.

Bear with me, here. Before you close this browser window and never read my articles again, please realize that I’m not saying that old-school DJs are jealous of the gear that digital DJs possess.  Nor am I saying that one kind of equipment or approach is better than the other.  Remember: I DJ in pretty much every practical form that it exists in today. I guess I just have DJ A.D.D.

What I am saying is that there’s something worth considering here: the fact that fly-by-night digital DJs have it WAAAAAY easier than the old-schoolers did.  Well, at least at first glance.

The fact of the matter is that it’s not all that difficult for any random Tom, Dick, or Harry with a laptop and a $150 controller to be able to mix tunes and “play out”… officially giving themselves clearance to be referred to as DJs.  For those who invested thousands of dollars in turntables (and needles, and had to learn how to maintain them), slowly built up a meticulously-crafted vinyl collection, and had to learn all the technical skills of DJing manually… it’s a little hard for them to swallow the idea that pretty much anyone can accomplish the same thing these days with little-to-no investment.

I used the word jealousy, which is a pretty loaded term.  I hope that isn’t taken the wrong way.  I don’t mean for it to come along with all the negative connotations of that word.  How can those of us who took the time to do it “the traditional way”, and invested money in “real equipment“, not feel a little salty about someone who just jumps on the bandwagon because it’s cool and accessible?  I think it’s natural to feel a little bit torqued in this situation.

Round and Round We Go

Instagram is the Traktor of the photography world.

Think about it.  Instagram lets you take appealing photos, with cheap equipment that you probably already have, without learning any photography skills, and share them with an audience.

For an everyday, end-user… Instagram is a cool trick.  It’s a gimmick which (potentially) allows you to increase the appeal of your photos, without any real investment.  And that’s fine!  For a real photographer, however… Instagram is merely a tool in a bag filled with hundreds of other tools that she knows how to use appropriately because she knows photography.

Do you see what I’m getting at, here?  There’s a difference between a Traktor user and a DJ.  Traktor users know how to use Traktor, and DJs know how to DJ… possibly by using Traktor.  The method doesn’t really matter… it’s the output and the approach that truly determine whether or not a DJ is worth his salt.

The worst part about equipment-shaming is the fact that everyone has a different opinion on where to draw the line.  For some, laptop DJing with sync is cheating.  For others, you’re fine as long as you’re using a “pro-grade” controller.  For others, CDJs are for cheaters.  Some think using timecode is cheating.  If you go back enough, you’d find people that thought direct drive turntables with pitch control was cheating.

Further still, some people think DJing in general is “faking it”.  Live PA is where it’s at… DJing is just standing there while other people’s tunes play.

Want to keep going?  Electronically created music in general is cheating.  Software and drum machines are for suckers.  Learn how to play a real instrument!

Electric pianos and MIDI keyboards are cheating.  Save up for a baby grand piano.

You get the idea.  Everyone has their own idea on where to draw the line, but none of these arguments help to answer the question that’s actually important, here: how will any of these things make you a better or worse DJ?

Where it stops, nobody knows...

Where it stops, nobody knows…

Why It Matters

So if my point is to say that the output matters more than the medium, why do I care what other people think about the subject?

Because the shaming is destructive.  It forces people to ask themselves the wrong questions: “how can I be accepted without a set of expensive turntables?”; “how can I become a Traktor ninja so that I can prove people wrong?”; “do I not love this as much as other DJs?”.

And laptop DJs, you’re not exempt, here.  There are plenty of digital DJs who “call out” vinyl or CD DJs because of their choice of format.  (“Get with the times” talks ensue.)

Instead, users of all formats should be asking the same question: how can I become better at DJing?

And learning to become a better DJ through passion and purpose is something that surpasses petty arguments over what kind of media player is cooler to you.

17 Comments

  1. Casie Lane
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 12:42:40

    Well said, David.

    I’m so over this nit-picking about formats, gear and what kind of clothes (or lack there of) people wear. Really, if it is buggin’ someone that much instead of complaining about it…take action to become better than them. Simple as that!

    Reply

  2. Joe Pardo
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 15:50:53

    Great article David! I love my turntables and it does give me a sense of validity. But I do feel that having 100% pitch control and effects and such that my ddj-sx affords me is so darn hard to give up in the name of ‘keeping it real’. I hope more people read your article and rethink about their skills rather than just the tools to do it.

    I will say that seeing any dj live is boring for me if they don’t seem like they are doing anything but checking email. And that goes for the likes of big name djs that just jump around on stag the whole time.

    Reply

    • David Michael
      Feb 05, 2014 @ 16:27:28

      Thank you Joe!

      And hey, I don’t have a problem with a sense of validity. It’s the shaming that I find ridiculous. At least, if that’s the best reason people have to do it!

      Reply

  3. FBK
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 20:38:33

    I only shame those who have a controller and don’t know how to set it up effectively. If you arrive to the gig like a ‘rock star’ (10 minutes before you are supposed to play) and you fumble around with all of the cords, cables and input/outputs…and you in some way interrupt the DJ who is playing before you-you’ll be shamed. If you decide that ‘the only way you’re playing’ is using YOUR controller (when someone else has theirs already set up and to switch would cause dead air in the club)…you are going to be shamed. If you are offered a second option (plugging in a flash drive to someone else’s computer, CD decks or the like) yet you believe that the ONLY way you’re going to ‘sound good’ is by taking 15-20 minutes setting up your equipment (yet you don’t bother to show up before the show starts to do so)-I will shame you. IF YOU DON’T ASK IN ADVANCE what equipment will be in the house…and you ASS U ME that whatever’s in the booth will be fine (and you don’t have the proper cables to connect into…you are getting shamed. IF YOU DON’T BRING YOUR OWN HEADPHONES AND EXPECT SOMEONE TO PROVIDE THEIRS FOR YOU-I will shame you…and pray you don’t get to play. In my bag, not only will I carry my computer, an interface, a controller (if necessary), my own traktor time coded vinyl, regular vinyl records, some CDs and also two flash drives. I come prepared and equipped. However-there is one other way I’m shaming the hell out of someone: If you’ve been booked to perform, go through all the trouble to set up your equipment to play…and you can’t mix Kool-aid (or you play music not appropriate for the crowd you’re in front of and totally lose the dancefloor).
    Other than that-bring what you got, and rock.

    Reply

  4. FBK
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 20:38:51

    Great article, by the way:)

    Reply

  5. DJ CB
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 21:21:41

    Good article but his pricing is all wrong $150 wont even buy a CASE for the TRAKTOR S4. The TRAKTOR S4 starts at $800.00 USD, and a laptop powerful enough to run TRAKTOR PRO as it was meant will cost you another $3,000.00 USD, (Macbook Pro Retina). Buying some technique turntables and a pioneer mixer is WAY cheaper lol.

    Reply

    • David Michael
      Feb 06, 2014 @ 10:27:01

      I never said anything about a Traktor S4, nor do you need anything near a Macbook Pro Retina, to play out. (It just happens to be the featured photo, so maybe that’s where that’s coming in). :)

      A cheapo Wal-Mart laptop and a MixTrack pro will get anyone started for a $500 – $600 investment, assuming they don’t already have a laptop.

      Thanks for your comment, DJ CB!

      Reply

  6. Vincent Latumalea
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 01:51:12

    There’s a huge difference between disc jockeys and sync jockeys. I can even learn my dad how to become a what you call a dj and he doesnt even know how a computer works. (If you want an example of how any retard can become a sync jockey well uh, Paris Hilton?) Traktor (or any digital software) is actually on the same level as a dj app you can download for your phone. (Not looking so cool anymore huh?) The thing is you can mix 4 decks at the same time without even needing a headphone. Just look at the screen. You don’t even need to memorize the structure of a track just look at the screen. (Which is also handy if you want to become a producer later) And most syncdj probably dont even know how the sync technically works, (which is the foundation of mixing.)
    Sure I use instagram, but I don’t call myself a photographer. Sure I can build a website, but I dont consider myself a webdesigner and sure I can write a big piece of tekst but I don’t consider myself a writer.
    But don’t get me wrong if you can create an awesome set as a laptopdj I will admire you. The thing is there aren’t a lot who do that. If you produce your own music then ofcourse it will compensate for your lack of talent. If you can do interesting things with 4 decks then ofcourse you will have my praise. but If you just use 2 decks tying tracks together with sync then gtfo. anyone could do that. Sure I’ll admit I use traktor to record mixes but only to the preserve soundquality (+ You don’t need those controllers you only need a mouse to do that) I think it’s a matter of perspective, lt’s the lack of respect that kills creativity and talent these days.

    Reply

  7. DJ Brian B
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 18:17:43

    Bam!!! Perfect subject! I am 43 and I am an old school DJ. Lugging the speakers, amps, milk crates of records, and turntables. When the digital age of dj’ing hit, hell yes I was like hell no I am not going over to that side. Real dj’s use a mixer, turntables, and records!! But when I finally made the move to Traktor and still use records, I was hooked. Then I upgraded to the Numark NS7FX. Still got my turntables, per say! No more transporting crates of records in and out, back and forth. But my point is this, technology is forever evolving, and has made some very good changes for the DJ world thus keeping DJ’ing current with the times. Now with that said, yes it has made it easier for anyone to download a remix and pawn it off that they did it by putting in a drop with there dj name. Or using the sync feature to keep songs on beat when so called mixing. (Which some people don’t realize makes them stay in the same bpm song after song per there song list that is organized by bpm…lol. Love it when I notice that happening in a club!) What do you do when you get a request and the bpm is way off?! For a seasoned dj this is a regular task that can be handled easily. My thing is this, take your time to learn the craft before coming out and saying your a dj.

    Reply

    • Casie Lane
      Feb 14, 2014 @ 10:17:29

      YO yo yo! DJ Brian B, have you noticed your arms not lookin’ as good as they used to now that you don’t have to carry those crates? ;)

      Reply

      • David Michael
        Feb 17, 2014 @ 13:01:38

        Prob not, he says he’s got an NS7. Have you SEEN those things? ;)

        Reply

  8. DVDJ CJ Styles
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 10:26:31

    I have been spinning since 1976. I started on QRK Radio station turntables with no pitch control & had to “Arp” to slow or speed up the record. My ascension through all the formats have come through time & technology advances. I used 1200′s for years & did all the crate carrying that it all entailed. I graduated to Denon dual CD players to use along side my 12′s but stopped using 12′s because of the loss of accessible vinyl. CD’s could be duplicated & used much easier. I no longer had to carry crates & crates of heavy records. Then graduated to Denon CDJ’s then to the Serato DVS. Ive used all of the DVS stuff, Traktor, VDJ, Serato etc & Have loved the way I can access my music in a heartbeat. I now own a DDJ-SX & love it. The amazing advances in tech are thrilling to me. I can spin on anything but choose to be lighter & easier on my setup for each gig. I can mix without using sync or watching wave forms because I am a real DJ. Thats all that really matters. Your skill set. How you perform. Shaming is for assholes. But I have to say that the abundance of non skilled “DJ’S” have flooded the market everywhere. Its up to the pro DJ to shine through regardless of equipment. The cream will rise. The better DJ will get the gig.

    Reply

  9. Don Stone
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 10:43:38

    I’ve been through it all and have recently gone back to tables and traktor scratch. Let me tell you it’s actually made DJing fun again. Yeah it is a little fun to sync and play 4 decks with effects. But honestly it becomes boring and a chore after an hour or so of djing. If I had to move gear to a different venue every night, no way I’d be spinning vinyl now, but I’m in a perm location so I have the luxury of not moving gear. The only suggestion is get a REAL mixer. Yes you will notice the difference between an actual DJ mixer and a S4 or mixtrack or whatever.

    Reply

  10. HSN
    Aug 02, 2014 @ 05:45:04

    I’m a drummer turned DJ and I can assure you that product preferences are a matter of discussion on every field of music. But, as it’s well put, it’s not actually the gear that makes a musician or a DJ, but his/her knowledge, discipline and experience amongst many other things. I own a ddj-sx, but I’m a vinyl junkie at the same time and it’s my personal choice not giving up on my turntables while following at the same time the technological developments.

    Reply

    • David Michael
      Aug 02, 2014 @ 17:04:05

      Yup… just like owning a pencil or a copy of Photoshop. You can be an artist with either one, but neither MAKES you an artist.

      Reply

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