The Ever Changing Role of the DJ

Robot DJBeing a DJ is not what it used to be. Technical advancements have made it a different game altogether. Sure, it’s an advantage to have the basics; a love for music, good sense of timing, an almost eerie sense of knowing what it takes to rock your listeners. Nonetheless starting off as a DJ is a different enterprise than it was just a few short years ago.

Spinning and mixing sounds from mechanical turntables was no easy task. Learning the art and discipline of being a DJ was akin to mastering complex riffs on a guitar. It took time, effort and skill to get really good. No longer does the DJ have to seamlessly meld two recordings, matching beats and different keys by ear, to get the sound of a professional.

The art of pruning sounds from scratch that complement each other was like running a tree service, knowing which branches to keep and where to direct the new growth of music. The days of mixing “ones-and-twos” in your bedroom on Technics 1200 turntables has gone the way of the last century.

Since digitalization, the job has taken a different spin. The “ones-and-twos” have been traded in for ones and zeros. These days knowing how to mix digitally means you understand how to program a computer deck so it calibrates to the software package you purchased.

I don’t mean to slight the new generation of DJs, but it can go without saying that there is a skill to admire from the old school mixers who could keep a party on their feet for hours without missing a beat.

All things evolve and even for those reluctant to embrace change, not every change is a bad thing. Imagine instead of lugging heavy record boxes and clumsy audio decks from gig to gig a DJ could lighten their load considerably. For example, the CDJ digital software when first introduced at the turn of the century, was a DJ’s dream come true. It presented an easier option with CD wallets containing hundreds of tunes instead of album boxes holding just a couple dozen vinyl discs.

At this stage of the game, however even CDJ is nearly unheard of anymore. A DJ with relatively few technical skills can arrive at a club with nothing more than a USB stick. So, I ask; with the mixing and matching, melding and formatting already set to play, has the art of being a DJ been digitized off the charts? Is it to the point that it no longer takes the human touch?

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts you may remember my article reporting on several DJs who are still highly sought after, earn annual awards and are paid very well for their work. It seems there is still admiration and respect for the pros in the profession. The human touch hangs in a little longer. The days of robotic and digital expression may be taking over to a certain extent, but the traditional DJ has not vaporized in favor of the ethereal. Is it safe to assume that as humans, no matter how much technology enters the picture, we still like the fact that we are being catered to by another human?

I for one would like to keep the human touch as part of the party. What’s your take on the subject? Does it really matter as long as we get what we want whether technology is spinning the tunes? Does it matter to you if it’s a compilation of music on a USB stick, or if someone is actually running the deck? Is it important that some with a musical mastermind gives it his or her personal touch? Who knows, it may all come down to a matter of pride in continuing a craft that has been around for decades.

What are your thoughts?