Innovation II — the DJ industry standoff

Innovation II — the DJ industry standoff

Last week, I wrote a long piece about innovation and the lack thereof in the DJ industry. The thrust of my argument was that the core needs of the DJ are simple, and there’s only so many ways to play two tracks back to back, meaning that the likelihood of more game changers is slim. For the foreseeable future, we’re in for improvements and perhaps some innovation, but nothing that fundamentally creates a new paradigm.

But aside from the obvious technological reasons for this lull in advancement, there is another major reason that I started to write about, but thought it would make an article on its own.


We find ourselves in a very strange place right now, and it’s all because of Pioneer DJ. Having lobbed the rekordbox DJ stun grenade into the DJ room, the rest of the DJ industry has been left stumbling around in a state of confusion. It’s not like it exactly came out of nowhere — we predicted it some time before it happened, and I’m aware that it wasn’t exactly a surprise to the industry either.

But what it has done is deliver a state of paralysis — a DJ industry standoff where long crafted plans for their relative flavours of self-proclaimed game changers have been put on hold.

NI wanted to be the industry’s Apple. But the cool new stuff delivered inside their relatively closed ecosystem has failed to really grab the attention of the masses, while the core Traktor software has remained largely unchanged. So for most people, Traktor has ground to a halt, and NI seems to be in no rush to release the handbrake either.

As for VirtualDJ… after launching VDJ8 and proving that quality DVS isn’t just in the realms of the big two, things have gone quiet. There have been changes at the top, but outside of that progress seems slow. I’m sure that there are more conversations about market positioning than which bell or whistle to add in next at VDJ HQ right now.

But more so than any other, Serato has suffered the most. Having seen its biggest partner run off into the night with little more than a Dear John letter, and at the same time taking a huge slice of market share, it’s little wonder that Serato has been left in a state of shock.

And their plan for what to do next is considerably more complex than anyone else’s. Take on new partners? Squeeze more out of existing ones? Exclusive partnership? Try something new? Or just sell? I’m sure everything has been considered and time will tell what happens next. Just bear with Serato a little — they’re going through a difficult divorce right now.

So because of this reluctance to make the next move, and the industry’s progress depending so much on what these companies do, the impression is one of a lack of innovation. But it’s more about working out new roadmaps. Plans that had been made now sit on a shelf waiting to be dusted off at some point, while others have been tossed into the shredder. If we’re talking about disrupting an industry, Pioneer DJ has definitely done that.


While the rest of the industry is frozen to the spot looking at teach other for a tell or a tipping of their respective hands, Pioneer DJ is ploughing on regardless. They clearly have a product strategy with a defined timeline, and with the glut of new investment is capitalising on the industry paralysis that their rekordbox DJ stun grenade has caused. After all, investors want profit and have little need for a nice CDJ setup in the office.

Pioneer’s path seems to be filling in the gaps and dipping its toe in the producer market. There’s not a tremendous amount of innovation in their new gear, but features like sample sequencing indicate that some forward thinking is happening. But right now they are playing catchup, and it’s a game they’re playing very well indeed.

Innovation II — the DJ industry standoff


But we’re hungry. While technology does breed loyalty, it also induces hunger for more. And if Pioneer DJ continues to advance and innovate, the hungry masses will go to where the innovation is. Right now, we seem to be served with a sushi bar style conveyor of new shiny from Pioneer DJ — it’s a veritable carpet bombing of new toys to play with, designed to permeate the DJ scene with rekordbox, and it seems to be working. Pioneer DJ’s marketing game is very strong indeed, and is backed with a lot of cash.

Just two years ago, we foresaw a terminally boring future where Traktor’s eclectic workflow would be clashing with Serato’s via an endless stream of sausage factory controllers. And right now that’s pretty much panned out. But we wouldn’t even like to guess the next 6 months. But it does look like  the market is about to become more diverse than ever. We’ve been shown stuff, have been told stuff, and have shaken the grapevine hard to dig up stuff too. And the extended period of waiting will yield some very interesting things. And that’s coming from someone who no longer impresses easily.

In writing this, I’m still not sure if we’re witnessing a standoff or a game of poker. But whatever the outcome, the stakes are very high in this industry game. For some companies, these could be all-in times.


The lull in real innovation has been caused in part by the fact that there’s only so many ways to fulfil the core task of playing tracks back and forth, but also by the carnage created by the crater left by the rekordbox DJ grenade. Companies are recovering, regrouping, forming stronger alliances, and some with new strategies completely. The next 12 months are going to be very interesting indeed. I hope that this year’s BPM will be a key event with some much needed innovation too. And if you’re in the industry and reading this, and think I’m talking about you, then I probably am. Extract digits and get on with your game plan, otherwise you’ll be the ones playing catchup.