“Where’s the innovation?” is a phrase often bandied around in comments when a manufacturer dares to release something fresh without creating a fundamental change in the DJ game. You can sense the collective disappointment that their hefty investment in hardware is safe because the game changing update isn’t enough to warrant selling their first-born to finance a lump of gear with yet more features that won’t get used either.
WHAT IS INNOVATION?
The word itself has a broad meaning in different contexts. But I feel relatively safe in saying that in DJ technology terms, innovation means a major leap forward is required i.e significantly better than before or just plain new but importantly valid.
The last decade or so has seen quantum leaps in DJ technology innovation. From CDJs to DVS to controllers to mobile devices, the game has been changed many time over. And along with the way music is distributed and played, we’ve gorged on every course at the digital DJ table, and kept going back for more.
But there is no more. The cupboard is bare. And we are still ravenous.
We are at peak DJ, where every avenue of software, hardware, and music for DJs has been exhausted. New product is little more than a remix of something before it — everyone is copying everyone else, because in the strictest DJ sense, there’s only so many ways to play tracks from one to another. And the reality is that the core process was nailed decades ago with the humble turntable and basic mixer. It took the digital age to make loops, hot cues, and samples a practical reality. The other scary reality is that it can all be done on a smart phone, which in itself gives context to just how much evolution we have witnessed.
WHEN INNOVATION HAPPENS
When the industry doesn’t innovate, the community complains. But when it tries, the same community views them with suspicion or plain savages them for trying. Native Instruments dared to be different when they introduced Remix Decks. To this day, I’m not sure it really took off. Be it a lack of explanation, of just being too niche, it hasn’t changed the game, but merely added a little something for a small sector of the market.
Stems is another technology that is slow in gaining traction. Personally, I believe this is a genuine game changer, but for whatever reason NI has still not released the SDK, a vital element in making Stems into a widely supported reality. And no Gabor, reverse engineering isn’t the same ;). Perhaps they’re once bitten twice shy. Or maybe they’re holding it back for themselves to make it a key element of whatever is coming next, whenever that might be.
Another example — Serato Flips arrived with a fanfare, and on paper had the potential to be big. I’m sure that some people are using Flips to death in their sets, but as a feature it seems to have gained little support.
So damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But perhaps these genuine innovations ably demonstrate that the vast majority of people just want the core features of DJing and nothing more. Anything new is likely to have niche rather than mass appeal. And mass means money.
At DJWORX, we have the role of sanitising the fantastic claims from the marketing blurb into a more honest version for you to understand. We make a point of publishing the whole press release because we feel it’s important to see both sides of the announcement. And with increasing regularity, those press releases are exercises in fanciful hyperbole. They build up incremental updates into being more than they are. Littered with “the first” (but probably not), “game changer” (please stop using this), “revolutionary” (evolutionary at best) and other grandiose words, every fresh lump of new tech seems to be the second coming of DJ gear.
And this in part is why the lack of innovation is underlined. The new thing is built up to the point of inducing geargasm, only to be brought crashing down to earth when DJs get their hands on it. But I guess it’s too much to hope for a realistic description of the new product from the industry. That’s where we come in, and we’re just not buying it anymore. Expect to be called out if your claims get too exotic.
The lull in innovation is not the fault of the manufacturers — they have done the best they can with each wave of genuine change. And some have had their fingers burned when they have tried to push boundaries too, But the fact remains that the process of playing one track to another until silly O’clock in the morning has been done and nailed before many of us were born. The digital age brought some new tools, but there really are no new ways to play floor fillers back to back in a DJ format. Sure, they can make iterative improvements, and cram more producer-like features into the workflow. But the chances of genuine game changers for the DJ masses any time soon are very slim indeed.
Looks like you’re going to be hungry for a while. Get used to dieting rather than all you eat feasts. Perhaps you should learn to love what you’ve already got, and not lament what has yet to be.
OVER TO YOU
Are you one of those people who usually responds with epic fail, yawn, or express disappointment at a lack of innovation? If so, what exactly are you looking for from the DJ industry? Is your expectation realistic? When you want more, is it features or quality?