In the era of auto-sync, just how important is it to learn how to beatmatch? Well, that depends on whether you see your career in DJing as one of those ‘quick shortcuts to massive international fame’ or a labour of love, for which your primary aim is to actually be good. Beatmatching is an essential skill to learn in order to stand out from the crowd of amateurs on your way to being a solid, tried-and-trusted DJ. Here are a few reasons why.
Doing Your Own Thing
From the 1980s to today, DJing has possibly been the most rapidly evolving musical art form. We’ve seen the evolution of chart-topping DJs paralleled by the evolution of technology itself, and the results leave very little room for innovation, particularly in the live arena. Vinyl DJs are far less common than they used to be, for obvious reasons. The barrier to entry for software DJing has hit the floor and it has become far easier to obtain music than ever before. But if you’re serious about a learning how to DJ, you need to be quite clear in communicating what makes you different to all of the first-timers. Spinning a vinyl-only set is one way to reclaim some street cred, demonstrate an appreciation for the history of the art form, position yourself above the amateurs and generally own your own show.
DJing on mobile devices is way less common than on laptops. Not only are mobile DJ apps pretty new and growing in popularity, but there’s always a market for stage gimmicks (giant mouse head, anyone?). We’ve all heard stories of the guy who saved the night by whipping out the music collection on his phone when one of the decks failed. It’s pretty realistic to assume that at least some cases of DJing in the future would involve two wirelessly linked mobile devices with sound outputs instead of bulky CDJs. But learning to DJ will teach you one thing: technology has a way of looping around and digging up the past as a source for its trends. You can only rely on software to make a name for yourself for so long before it becomes really easy, and you’re lost in the crowd. You’ll want to be first in line when beatmatching is back in, not trailing along being forced to learn from scratch as the next generation of DJs gets up and running. Besides that, your average club booker will have a dim view of MIDI controller auto-pilots should you need to get manual and aren’t able to. Think ahead and get good early.
Mixing It Up
Believe it or not, there was a time before house, techno and electronic music. Some of the most established names in music curation today are responsible for digging out old classics and reviving interest in them. Reissuing remastered vintage vinyl cuts is also a rising trend, and it’s been common for about a decade to deliver mashups of older music. The older a record is, the more damaged and warped it becomes. This can affect the stability of the tempo from start to finish, assuming that the musicians on the record played to a click track at all! And if there’s one thing anyone who takes DJ lessons online should know, it’s that computers don’t think very well for themselves. Inputting bad data can really screw up your timing, and software has a tendency to over- or under-compensate for unexpectedness. In brief, learning how to beatmatch is a good backup for when your sync software fails for any reason and you’re forced to switch over to manual. If you’re really good, they won’t even notice that something’s wrong. Not all heroes wear capes.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.