We’re fanning the dying embers of a mixed year in DJing, where much of it was like watching paint dry, and then we witnessed a few WTF moments just for balance, events that will doubtlessly shape the future of DJing for a few years to come. So in this piece, we’re chatting briefly about what we feel are the key moments of the year, and then will rub our collective balls (crystal of course) to attempt to predict just how much GAS you’ll all be suffering from in the next year or five.
For me, the biggest thing to hit the DJ scene BY FAR was when Pioneer DJ quietly walked into the DJ room, carefully placed rekordbox DJ on the table whispering “I’ll just leave this here”. BOOM — the whole game just changed for ever. That’s a big statement to make, but Pioneer DJ went from being a big Serato DJ customer to a major competitor, and at the same time having a huge slice of the market share pie already, and most likely to get bigger this year as the whole rekordbox DJ experience becomes available.
Mark my words — Pioneer DJ didn’t throw a pebble in the pond to make a few ripples. They lobbed a dirty great hand grenade into it. And there will be casualties.
Screens are nothing new, but 2015 was the year that they gained a wide acceptance because NI decided to base their future vision around them. The Numark NV in 2014 had them, then the S8, D5, and S5 controllers, followed by the NS7III (announced ages ago but only just available).
It’s a logical step, and one that does work well in practice. I’m still looking for some independence from what happens on the laptop screen as the two still seem to be quite linked. But having shown that the community is amenable to such things, I’m sure it will develop as a theme.
Much like screens, the concept of stems has ben around for ever. But it’s just this year that NI got together with a few of its industry buddies and made it into a real thing. It certainly has taken some time to make it out into the world, but we are now seeing a slow but steady uptake of the format. New Order’s new single is being released on Stems too.
Things don’t happen overnight though, and while the perception is that nobody is using Stems, it has been literally a matter of weeks since the Stems Editor was made available so that people could start to put music out in this new format. At the time of writing, Juno has 405 releases available, and Beatport lists close to 1200 tracks. So it’s hardly the flop that some would purport. And if back catalogues can be plundered, then Stems will boom.
The growth in DJs moaning online instead of actually DJing will continue. Be it a pointless meme, an established star having a pop at something, or just recycling the same old hate, the online DJ scene has become a black hole of negativity, pulling in anyone who gets too close. We all love a good moan, but it’s got so tired and boring. Take a hint from what you’re supposed to do and change the record, perhaps to something more upbeat, and remember that you’re supposed to be focussed on the music — gear is irrelevant.
Embedded Systems will naturally evolve from screens. DJs have looked and seen that they are good. It’s a matter of time before laptop-independent all-in-ones appear from major players.
Manufacturers will continue to attempt to reinvent and reimagine DJing into something that the majority couldn’t give a crap about in the name of the bottom line. Most DJs just want to play one track to another, back and forth all night long. It’s a vocal minority who want more, but complain when the price of said units is high, or the increasingly complex software needed to do it is unstable.
For many it came out of the blue, but Ableton’s second foray into the hardware market signified a different intent. Eschewed of the partnership with AKAI for the first Push they brought the fashionable coloured screens to their already popular controller/software hybrid.
It wasn’t just the small elements in the re-design that were so impressive, it was the complete rewrite of the Control Surface that saw Live users jump from downloading version 9.2 to 9.5 (I’ve no idea what happened the point releases in-between) that made the biggest impact. In use everything became that much more intuitive, yes some of the screen animations were at first jerky but with successive beta’s and a healthy forum of requests we’ve seen the controller become possibly the best composing tool yet on the market.
My first (many years ago) experience of anything production wise was a Korg Groovebox that I’d borrowed from a friend of mine, three weeks later I’d returned it not having the first clue of what to do with it.
Now it seems they’ve hit popularity again and I’ve been fortunate enough to have the Novation Circuit in my hands for quite a while now. It’s battery filled, turn on, sketch away approach has led to some pretty cool Eric Prydesque melodies that i probably wouldn’t have come up with if I’d been staring at the laptop screen. It’s piqued my interest enough to start seriously considering the Aira range although I’m not sure how that one will float past Mrs Cowley…
Ableton Link becomes the key to a proper integration of Live and Serato / Traktor with the release of Ableton 10.
Serato release Branches, their version of STEMS
More of a hope really, I’d love manufacturers to reserve some of their R&D budget for after release of a new product. That way that killer final feature could be properly implemented once the unit was in the hands of the end users!
S8 drama, still no Traktor Pro 3, but we got Stems audio
The S8 might have come out in late 2014, but the announcement and release of the S5 once again kicked the hornet’s nest and we saw plenty of back and forth about both Native Instruments’ direction and how important jogwheels are to DJs.
The other not-so-shocking news from NI is another year going by and still not a peep about the next version of the Traktor software (As an aside, it took Rockstar Games less time to produce Grand Theft Auto V from start to finish than the gap between Traktor Pro 2 and 3). I have no doubt that some of the delay is down to the pressure of delivering something truly modern DJ software, but that’s not to say they haven’t innovated at all: this year we saw the launch of the open standard Stems file format,
Oh no dey di’n’t: rekordbox/Serato
The tail end of this year required a fair bit of popcorn while some serious jostling happened between Serato and Pioneer. The latter totally threw a spanner in the works by (seemingly completely out of left field) breaking away and updating their music management software into a full-blown digital DJ system. This was made all the more impressive that it was off the back of a relaunch as an independent company rather than a division of Pioneer. The industry is no less exciting for it.
Moving away from trade show announcements
It’s been slowly happening over the last few years, but BPM this year finally spelled it out: Manufacturers don’t use trade shows for unveiling their gear anymore. Not only do products get media-launched weeks ahead of big events, I noticed a definite change in what people came to see. The shift away from huge stands showing off the latest gear to more exhibitions and demos of products means the punter wants to learn more about the products from the experts. This is quite possibly a reflection of the changing habits of shoppers from store to online. There were also a lot less ‘show deals’ available at the event.
Are the days of the trade show numbered?
Product of the year: Stems audio files
This is a choice that’ll certainly bring out the complaints, but I stand by it. Stem files are a step into a much more exciting future than anything else that came out in 2015. There are a lot of “if”s and “maybe”s, but with the wind in the right direction, a bit of luck and the right push from interested parties, the potential is mind-blowing. The fact that NI decided to develop it as an open format that anyone can use makes it an all-the-more interesting juxtaposition to Pioneer battening down the hatches and closing up their ecosystem.
How times have changed!
DVS arms race
Following the rekordbox/Serato discussion to its logical conclusion, Pioneer look set to shake things up further in the coming year once their software is fully released and feature rich. It might take a few versions before it is able to stand on its own, but the only glaring omission is vinyl timecode control. They could even rub it in by having Serato Noisemap compatibility.
Down the line, we’re going to see some serious competition as the rest start to feel the heat of the mighty Pioneer marketing machine. The pressure’s on both Serato and Native Instruments to modernise their platforms, even down to details like high resolution monitor support and decent hardware GPU acceleration and right through to bigger additions such as Stems audio support. It’ll also be interesting to see what the hardware will look like.
Time to stock up on popcorn!
Stand-alone hardware and embedded software from the big boys
The last couple of years, we’ve had a further revival in dedicated hardware for production. From the Roland Aira stuff and Korg Volcas, to this year’s Novation Circuit, there’s some great stand-alone gear out there, but the DJ industry has yet to do anything more than dip their toe in the waters. Previously, we had things like Stanton’s SCS.4DJ or this year’s Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX, but nothing which we could call a trend. Next year, I predict a push from the major software developers to produce a truly embedded version of their software. No more hacked in screens or laptops. We’ll see Serato, rekordbox and Traktor on its way to living inside your controller.
That’s my hope, anyway.
iPad Pro and Surface push for portable
The mobile revolution ended up a bit of a damp squib for DJs, namely because people wanted more features than the platform could offer before it even got started, but with the bigger screens and extra power of the likes of the iPad Pro from Apple and latest Surface products from Microsoft, the laptop as it is now could be disappearing from the DJ booth. I’ll be honest and say that this is not the most likely prediction to come true, but wouldn’t it be handy?
The Year Gone
I tried very hard to think of the gear that got released this past year that I got excited about, and came up lacking. Pretty much the only two products that got me excited were the MP2015 and the Kontrol D2. In fact, my ideal rig right now, if could afford that damn mixer, would be the MP2015 and 2 D2s. And that would probably keep me set for a long time. Beyond that, everything else felt very “me-too” and, well, I’ve been pretty bored with the gear itself. Software provided a few changes, with Traktor FINALLY supported 64-bit (and causing quite a bit of ruckus because god forbid Pioneer move their drivers into the modern era), and Serato pushing out a very large update with lots of bells and whistles. And we can’t forget what will probably become the biggest shift in the software world for us, Rekordbox going stand-alone. In my humble opinion, that action right there is going to reshape the DJ industry in very complicated ways that we will be dealing with for months and years.
The news surrounding what we do, regarding technology and musical shifts, though, has been anything but boring. Personally, I think this year will mark the real beginning of the end for most streaming companies. Pandora and Spotify are holding it together strictly by VC funding, and have never once made anything that resembles a profit. Watching this has been very fascinating. Artists have shunned advertising based streaming, and yet those major artists turn around and sell massive amounts of music. The growth of bandcamp.com has, for me, shown that the underground is very much alive and well, and we can easily find new, good, unique music, and don’t ever need to touch top 40 if we don’t want to. Or at least I can. But I’m weird and dislike most things.
Following up with that, Stems went live and has changed literally nothing. But it hasn’t been very long. It took years for DVS to really enter the mainstream of the DJ market, and then the same for controllers, and CDJs, and this will be one more unique tool that can change the way we approach music. And realistically, that has the potential to be absolutely awesome. But, much like remix decks, it hasn’t been met with any real excitement. While remix decks partially failed because they were never explained well, Stems is suffering a similar fate without much support, out of the box at least. There’s stuff there, but people really want stems of classic tracks, and getting the rights to do that is, well, daunting to say the least.
Looking back at this, it sounds really negative. I want to make something very clear, though. This negative tone is directed strictly toward the DJ industry. DJing, this past year, has still been exciting. With the DJ XFactor getting canceled (thank the gods above), and more ways to find good music, I have been happier being a DJ than in a long time.
The Year Ahead
So, what do I see coming this year? My first instinct was to say “Traktor Pro 3.” But I said that last year, and it didn’t come. I’ve had many conversations with very knowledgeable people at NI, people whom I would even go so far as to consider friends, and they are so tight-lipped it’s infuriating. I can’t even wink and nudge that something is coming. But the reality is it needs to. Traktor needs a refresh of some sort. The audio engine getting updated last year saved them, and 64-bit support was key. But that browser is terrible. And the preferences/controller manager is garbage (and has been a long time). And the GUI needs to be refreshed. NI has been putting out fantastic hardware, but Traktor is so far behind what it should be.
I think streaming services are going to start collapsing under the weight of the copyright system. Spotify and Pandora can’t hold this together forever, and eventually investors are going to want return on their money. It will leave us with Google Play, Apple Music and Microsoft Groove almost exclusively, which isn’t bad (I use Google Play, personally), but more competition is infinitely better than less. The reality, to me, is that there’s no money in streaming for artists and the companies creating the streaming services. That doesn’t matter for megacorps like those previously mentioned, but it does when that’s your only market. Maybe a service like bandcamp, or beatport, will dive into the streaming business to augment their current services. I think they should.
I’m hoping we see better product at NAMM. I want something to get me truly excited again, for the industry and its direction. I will be happy with my S8 for a while, and when I eventually bite the bullet on the MP2015 I’ll probably not want for anything for a while. But I want to see exciting things happening around me.
I think Rekordbox going solo is going to put the screws to Serato in a very important way: they lost their most important hardware partner. Now I don’t have numbers because they aren’t public and I haven’t asked because why would anyone tell me (note to anyone reading this: I’ll gladly have an on-the-record conversation about this), but this is how I see it: Serato loses Pioneer, leaving their only other hardware partners as Numark, Akai, Rane, Allen & Heath, Denon, Gemini, Korg and Reloop. (CAUTION: Analysis and strong opinions ahead).
While those brands are mostly strong, I’m skeptical it will be enough to carry Serato along. Rane integrated the MP2015 with Traktor as well, and it’s likely that with their unique relationship with Serato ending that we will see a broader design scheme come from them, possibly embracing their roots in a way that the MP2015 points at across more of their product range (which would be awesome). A&H is fine, but I think their products have slipped in the last bit, and aren’t nearly as exciting as they once were. I remember drooling over the Xone:4D back in the day, and I haven’t over anything new they’ve released. Numark, Akai and Denon are all, really, the same company. And while they are probably Serato’s strongest partner(s), I am not sure they will move enough against the behemoth that is Pioneer’s market perception. Reloop and Gemini make good entry level products, and I’ve been really intrigued by the drastic improvement of Gemini’s gear in the last two years, but I’m not expecting consumers to be forcing their way into stores to buy the next Slate or Terminal Mix.
All of those fun words are to simply say: I think Serato’s position is much more tenuous than it was before. They aren’t failing, but without hardware manufacturer’s making products that people want, people are going to naturally be pushed away from their software. Rekordbox has that aspirational thing locked down tight, and Native Instruments, while lagging in a lot of core places, is an extremely strong, self-contained brand, with their fingers in almost every music-related product pie. This is not to say I don’t like Serato, or that I want them to fail, but they really need to shake up the industry something fierce real soon, or I think consumers are going to naturally move toward other options.
And there’s more that’ll happen next year. We’ll keep yelling about what “real DJing” is while gigging DJs keep DJing, regardless of what anyone says. People will dance, and tracks will be played. Faders will be pushed and pulled, knobs will be turned, and crowds will be sweaty. Regardless of the trends and movement of the industry, the product that gets released, and whatever else the internet can throw at us, we are going to keep dancing, and we are going to make sure our crowds keep loving music.
Well done if you made it this far. It’s fair to say that 2015 was a tad quiet on the hardware front, but the software world saw quite a shakeup. And this will shape 2016 in ways that will be revealed in due course.
Outside of congratulating you for wading through the longest of long forms, there’s nothing left but to wish you a happy new year and see you in 2016, fit and refreshed for the NAMM onslaught at the end of January.