DJing vinyl is an artform that has, over time, been relegated to the realm of film photography and classic cars. But besides the obvious difference in analogue and digital sound, what other changes should the contemporary vinyl DJ be prepared for before entering the world of screenless mood curation? Here are three quick tips if you’re considering a course in DJing on vinyl.
How Much Are You Packing?
The core difference between a vinyl DJ, CD DJ and USB DJ is the volume of music that they’re able to transport. Ten vinyl 33RPM records weigh about 22 lbs (or 1 kilogram), so once you start carrying around more than 150 records, honestly, your back might start to hurt. Digital is clearly little more forgiving, with thousands of tracks now fitting in your pocket. Another major difference is the contents of the record, disc or folder. That giant folder book of CDs you’ve seen on older DJ setups are often compilations burned at home, with various artists hand-picked and grouped together around a theme, like ‘tropical house’. By contrast, vinyl is seldom manufactured by the DJ and typically only contains a few tracks by a single artist. While vinyl compilations aren’t rare, they’re really limited to the heyday of vinyl music publishing by artists back in the 1950s and 60s. The ‘Biggest Christmas Hits’ album from 1964 probably doesn’t contain anything you’re going to want to play out other than as a palette cleanser or some kind of experimental mashup. Which is all fine, so long as you’re not forced to fly your collection of B-sides along with you every time.
The Pitch Fader
The mechanics of vinyl DJing changed pretty radically when CD and later digital playback took over. Some features were adapted, others abandoned. The pitch fader is one example of a feature that is now far more powerful. Vinyl turntable pitch faders are pretty limited, offering only an average of 8% increase and decrease on the audio. By contrast, CDJs and DJ software offer a much greater range, often assignable and offering a ranging up to 600%. While this extreme is practically useless for DJing tracks (unless you enjoy sounding like either a chipmunk or a demonic curse), it does allow for more creative expression. Early hip hop DJs found new expression by switching the playback speed from 33RPM to 45 RPM to influence musical styles such as jungle, drum and bass and dancehall. Experiment with fast and slow speed in your mixes. You’ll be surprised when you discover that the awkward compatibility you encounter can work and make your sound seriously original. DJ lessons will enable you to familiarize yourself with the different mechanics of different controllers.
Set Your Boundaries
Learning to DJ online empowers you with theory, but sooner or later you’ll have to actually start attending some parties. When DJing vinyl in a club or at a party, don’t allow people near the table or into the booth. Not just to avoid distraction while you’re beat-matching by ear, but for another simple reason: any floor shake means your needle is going to bounce. Letting friends, fans and others into the booth who aren’t aware of this means you’re one excited stamp of the foot or pat on the back away from your needle flying out of the groove and possibly causing a riot. Same goes for letting them slam drinks down on your table. Find some sort of physical buffering if you can; a stage, recess in the room or obstacle to the table are good ideas. While inconvenient, having to be meticulous only adds to the finesse and allure of vinyl DJing. Vinyl DJing is a sought-after profession for a reason. The vinyl DJ must, by necessity, be an extremely focused caretaker for an event to run smoothly. Without being rude, remind drunk fans that you’re working and if needs be, get an enforcer from the venue to keep an eye on the booth entrance while you play.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.