Last week, we saw adversarial giants of the DJ world take aim at the rapidly growing entry level DJ market – Pioneer with their DDJ-WeGO and Denon DJ’s MC2000. Both are better know for their high end pro level offerings, but the market is such that the real fun is happening far lower down the DJ evolutionary scale.
Entry level however is a fluid term these days, as the craving for features is stronger than ever, thus you’ll find buttons on each unit that were unheard of just a few years ago. Entry level used to mean lower quality and less features. If we take Numark’s DJ in a Box as an example – this used to shift in ridiculous quantities back in the day, and could do little more than mix one record to another. Nobody had any expectations that you’d be able to do little more than that, nor did anyone have expectations of it lasting very long either.
But times have changed, and even beginners have huge expectations of being able to emulate their superstar DJ idols, for little more than a few hundred notes. And it’s not hard to see why – those previously mentioned buttons such as loops, cues and samples are more or less standard on what is classed as beginners gear. In times past, you were lucky to get EQs on the mixer, let alone anything as luxurious as fader curve control.
If we were to try to emulate the barebones basics of DJing, then you’re looking at units like Numark’s DJ2GO or Gemini’s FirstMix. Now I know what many of you are immediately are saying – cheap plastic toys not suitable for pros. But anyone who calls themselves a DJ should be able to rock a party with them. These units go for a handful of peanuts in real terms – a mere fraction of the gear that is now classed as entry level. So why is a new line being drawn somewhere above the basics that beginners really should nail first?
It’s called feature creep – the constant tinkering and adding of features that go unnecessarily beyond the basics. Generally it’s the cool stuff that keeps getting added – hit a button or twist a knob and something funky happens. It’s dead easy to smack a sample button and get an airhorn, or to twist a knob and hear your music disappear up its own arse in a reverb nightmare. We seasoned pros think it sounds terrible, but the noob loves it. And there’s every chance that while they’re doing this that they have no idea about song structure, or how to use EQs to get a smooth mix.
Let’s take an imaginary noob DJ called for argument’s sake Mark. He’s seen his favourite DJs on MTV and wants to be just like them. He puts on his best “aw but muuum” whine, steadily breaks down his parents’ resistance, who then trot off to their nearest DJ boutique in search of the latest beginner shiny (this worked for me with skateboards). What they’ll be confronted with is “beginners” gear that confusingly has the feature set of considerably more expensive gear. Do beginners need effects? Samples? Loops? No of course not. But do they want them? Of course – everyone wants the bells and whistles, even if they can get in the way of learning the basics first. Yay – Mark can now twist a filter knob and sound just like Guetta, even if he has no idea what a filter actually is. Somehow, I still couldn’t skate like Tony Alva.
But perhaps the basics are becoming irrelevant. Sync will automate the mindless task of beatmatching, but will not achieve the highly skilled craft of mixing. Modern digital audio tech means you can redline your audio but it still doesn’t distort. That’s a couple of DJ foundations covered right there. It’s something that new DJs don’t need to learn anymore. So what’s left? The bells and whistles I guess, which when you look beyond the utilitarian features with a steep learning curve are just plain sexy and offer instant engagement and gratification.
So you understand my frustration when DJs see some of the new stuff that we post on DJWORX and simply dismiss then as toys. They’re not – they have functions on a par with what you might class as pro level. They’re just smaller and of a lesser quality, but they do all share a very common feature set and are easily capable of filling a floor in the right hands. All DJ gear is capable of making people dance, but it’s actually nothing to do with the gear. That’s simply a tool to broadcast the music. As ever, being a DJ is about your skills, your music choice and your ability to read the crowd. As long as you have the right tools to play the right track, at the right time, and on beat, then you have everything you actually need. And you get those tools on just about every piece of DJ gear out there.