DJTechTools May 31, 2016

For years there was really no other option: DJs played on hardware exclusively. Turntables dominated the scene, with a few DJs using CD players. In the early 2000s, computer and music technology combined forces and there was a DJ software revolution that, in many ways, DJTT helped to grow. DJs around the world were switching from vinyl to the laptop, which promised a new platform of creative control. Lately, that trend seems to have reversed. Are DJs moving back towards hardware like CDJs, turntables, and standalone laptop-free solutions – or is it just a phase?

A Sign Of The Times?

kontrol-s4-2010

I noticed this trend big time last week when I started calling past customers to see how they were doing as part of a bigger DJTT outreach. The DJs I talked mostly had purchased Traktor Kontrol S4s when that controller was the central focus of the digital DJ world around its launch. The trend was surprising and stark: almost everyone talked about moving away from the laptop and controllers – towards standalone hardware solutions like the Pioneer CDJ/XDJs.

Photo credit: Rob Fisher

Photo credit: Rob Fisher

Even more surprising was the feedback that, in many markets, controller DJs are seen as ?amateurs or not serious? if they are playing with controllers. Is this 2009 all over again, I thought we settled that argument years ago!?

Share your thoughts in the comments – have you also seen a backlash against controller DJs recently?

On the production side, it?s hard not to miss the palpable excitement over a very real renaissance of analogue and digital hardware. Personally, I get it big time, and after using DAWs since the late 90s, I prefer to just run hardware sequencers for one simple reason:

It?s fun and limiting to the creative process, which can produce interesting results. Sure, doing everything ?in the box? offers a million more possibilities but usually it?s way less fun and significantly more complicated. This got me thinking – has digital DJing really become the same problem?

There is no question that a computer with controllers and custom mappings offers a much more unique palette of creativity. With these tools, many artists have even transcended the traditional idea of a DJ entirely, and evolved into a new class of performers. When you look at the way controllerists, live producers, and even some techno DJs perform, it?s very much dynamic creation and not simple audio playback.

A great example of live producers in this vein are Octave One – watch them play live in this Boiler Room set:

But besides music creation-oriented performers, it seems like most DJs just want to play some sweet jams, down a few cocktails, and have fun during the process. In that camp, hardware has admittedly done a better job than software solutions. It?s easy to use/learn, tends to be universally accepted, requires little setup, and works consistently.

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In the tech/startup world, there’s a phrase for the three hard-to-achieve elements of a big breakthrough, ?Better, Faster, Cheaper?. This is often followed by “you pick two” – meaning that it’s very rare to be able to get all three elements in a single project.

Software DJing (mostly) succeeded in being “better” by offering way better ways to mix music but they really have not made any progress on “Faster” and “Cheaper”. It?s still very expensive to have a truly professional digital DJ setup (including the cost of a laptop, controller, good quality soundcard, etc) and it often is more work to setup and manage.

Does The Data Show The Trends?

Going beyond pure conjecture, we want to find out if these trends away from DJ software are really substantial – so we took a closer look at the data for the last two years of gear sales. Based on industry reports, we’ve seen a slight drop year-over-year in units sold of MIDI controllers and an increase in CDJ/mixer sales, but not quite enough to yet confirm or deny these trends. However, our survey (see end of the article) has already shown some fascinating results:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at May 30.16.10 PM

As a website that embraces all tools, technology, and music styles, we try to stay platform-agnostic but in favor of technical creativity – thus our mission statement:

?To help, teach, and inform DJs and producers how to be get more creativity from their technology?

We’re advocates of any platform that helps to make it easier to DJ – hopefully while being affordable and offering great potential for personal expression and creativity. With Pioneer’s upcoming TORAIZ SP-16 sequencer, it seems that they want to provide tools beyond the ?one-size-fits-all? CDJ, but software still does hold the promise of infinite possibilities.

Today we have a handful of major DJ software platforms, among them Traktor, Serato, Rekordbox DJ, Virtual DJ, and a few others. Who is still using them? I invite you to answer the following questions, and please share this article with your friends. We will calculate the answers and publicly post the results, to hopefully answer the question: are DJs switching back to hardware en-masse?

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