SYNC – the DJ's big red button

dj sync button

It’s easy for me to gauge public opinion by the comments and retweets that my own published opinion gets. And yesterday’s CDJ-2000nexus post seemed to hit the right note with people regarding Pioneer’s somewhat controversial addition of syncing. It also seems that the way I put across my point about the issue seems to have made a lot of sense to a lot of people. So for those who have zero interest in CDJs, or simply cannot be arsed to wade through a whole story, please allow me to state my own opinion on the subject in isolation. Yep – I’m pressing that big red button one more time.

I preface this with some context. I’m a time-served vinyl DJ of some 3 decades. I started on pause button tapes, migrated to belt drives and a mixer without a crossfader, and honed my craft using gear that would be classed as prehistoric by today’s standards. Indeed, my career has seen me in roles based around automating mindless tasks, so that people can do their job more effectively. I’m exactly the kind of DJ that you might expect to take a particular anti-sync stance. By my career leads me to state this:

Sync is good.

It’s important to realise what sync actually is and does. Music has a BPM, and sync’s job is in its rawest form to match BPMs across 2 tracks. Think of it as MIDI clock – a pulse sent out to connects keyboards, drum machines and sequencers to keep them all in time. Nobody has an issue with that, and that’s all that sync is – a simple button-push to change pitch to keep things in time and nothing more.

Beatmatching is an easily learnable process, and indeed easily automated, and as such cannot be classed as a craft as it requires no human element. It is a task – a process that has to be done. And in the digital age of quantised music, beatmatching is even less of a skill than it ever was.

But let me state this plain and clear – sync is not mixing.

Mixing is the all encompassing true DJ craft, and goes way beyond the chore of locking 2 beats together. This involves listening to thousands of tracks over many years, knowing that music inside out, understanding song structure and BPM. It’s about knowing and reading the crowd, understanding moods and feelings and knowing which track to play next, when to mix it in, for how long and how exactly to achieve the perfect mix with faders, EQs, effects and filters.

None of the above can be automated. You still need hard earned human skills to mix successfully. Sync will not fill a dancefloor – that takes and always will take a skilled DJ, regardless of if they use sync or not. Any 2 tracks in the world can be beatmatched, but mixing them successfully is an entirely different matter.

The level of feeling on this subject is understandable, but I feel it’s misplaced. There have been many landmark moments that have allegedly meant the death of DJing – CDJs, DVS, controllers, iPads, the end of Technics and now sync on CDJs. Funnily enough, DJing is still here and more popular than ever. And when Serato finally add it to Scratch Live, that won’t be the end of DJing either, nor will people put down their headphones in protest. DJing is more than a sync button.

And here’s the thing – nobody is forcing you to use it, nor does its use make anyone better than another DJ. See the section on the real DJ skills for evidence.

SYNC - the DJ's big red button

None of this is the end of days, but is the dawn of new ones. Sync is nothing more than speed dial, satnav or a pocket calculator. You still need to know the basics, but they just speed stuff up. Just to repeat this one last time – sync is not mixing. And while you’re getting hot under the collar, remember that loops and hots cues can’t be done on a turntable either. So an anti-sync stance if you use everything else in the digital arsenal is quite illogical.

I hope that with Pioneer manning up and finally making sync happen, that we’ll see much less pointless resistance to it. Once people can rationalise automated beatmatching from skilled mixing in their minds, then perhaps we can all get on with what we’re supposed to be doing – mixing great music for our audience. They don’t care if you use sync – they just want to dance.

To recap:

  • Sync is not mixing, but is automated beatmatching
  • Sync is not the death of DJing
  • Sync will not make you into a DJ
  • Sync will not fill a dancefloor
  • Sync will not get you gigs
  • Sync will not get you laid

Having read how I feel, what do you think about sync? I’d truly love to know, even if you hold a diametrically opposed opinion. We’re all about thrashing out these issues in an intelligent and informed way. “Sync sucks because it’s not real DJing” won’t really get you anywhere, but if you genuinely feel strongly for or against it, let’s hear it.

The DJWORX newsletter rounds up all the latest DJ tech news, features classic stories from or archive and is the best way to keep up to date with DJWORX. Subscribe here