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…


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.