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Does switching to Vinyl make you a better DJ? Vinyl vs Digital DJ

vinyl dj vs digital dj
17th June, 2020
Does switching to Vinyl make you a better DJ? Vinyl vs Digital DJ

Digital DJing VS Vinyl DJ’s. Does switching to vinyl really make you a better DJ? This debate has been thrown around since the introduction of the very first digital DJ decks, and it seems like just about everyone in the industry has their own opinion. But is there a cut and dry answer to settle this argument once and for all?

In this blog post, we go through all the pros of cons and give you our take on whether switching to vinyl makes you a better DJ.

vinyl dj

Pro’s of being a Vinyl DJ

Authentic Feeling

There’s something about pulling out a vinyl record, placing it onto your turntable, and putting the needle down that you just don’t get with digital DJing. It’s the same reason that vinyl has made such a comeback for general listening as well. Because pressing play on an MP3 file has somewhat of a robotic feel, whereas playing vinyl gives you a much more immersive experience.

One of the reasons for this, in particular, is the fact the turntables motor spins the platter and gives a sense of fluctuation in terms of BPM and overall feeling. Something you’ll never get from a computer that’s always going to give you a constant BPM. As a DJ, being able to hear and understand these differences is going to make sure you’re always in tune with your mix.

Spend more time listening

With so many options available for finding DJ music online, it doesn’t take an expert DJ to quickly whip up a playlist for a set. Anyone can jump onto Beatport or their favourite DJ Pool Subscription and quite easily download the hottest tracks of the minute. Play them in the club and you’ll be sure to have the crowd dancing well into the night.

If you’re a Vinyl DJ, you’re faced with a much bigger challenge. Having to “dig through the crates” to find those classic tunes that nobody else has in their collection. This forces you to listen meticulously before you choose your tracks and find pieces of music that truly speak to you and your music tastes!

Above all, being a Vinyl DJ forces you to take a step back from technology and truly appreciate the music you’re going to play in front of your crowd!


Sampling

As we just touched on, Vinyl DJs are likely to spend a lot more time digging in the crates and finding new music. So if you’re one of those DJs that also doubles as a producer, your time searching for songs to play is also going to give you a great resource for finding production sounds.

Sampling has been a key element of music for many decades, particularly within the Hip Hop genre, and there’s no doubt one of your favourite songs includes a sample from another.

So while you’re sitting there searching for new songs, you’re guaranteed to come across some gems that have been untouched by other producers! Therefore, giving you just another way for you to stand out from the crowd!

Scratching

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely possible to emulate scratching techniques using your CDJs, DJ Controller, or your Laptop.

But at the end of the day, your plastic jog wheels are never going to come close to the authenticity of scratching a record using a turntable and a mixer.

Depending on the type of DJ you are, some people are going to appreciate the ability to scratch a lot more than others. Hip Hop DJs by nature will be scratching a lot more than their EDM counterparts, so this is going to make a lot more sense if that’s you. But no matter what kind of DJ you are, learning to scratch is a great skill set to have up your sleeve.

Not only does it look super impressive when you see a DJ perform crazy scratch routines. But it will also help you learn to properly cue up your mixes while adding some extra flair to your sets at the same time!

Respect the history

Before Rekordbox, Serato, CDJs, and DJ Controllers, Vinyl DJing was the only option. There was no magic website or software like Mixed In Key to automatically detect the key of your songs either. Nor did you have access to visualize the waveforms and quickly find where vocals start and stop to plan your transitions. On top of that, rather than organizing convenient virtual crates, you’d have to slap your records with coloured stickers to represent mood. Then mark your cue points on your records with tape. You can forget about beat-sync too, that was never a thing. If you were a Vinyl DJ you’d never get away with not knowing how to beat match like some of the Digital DJs of today.

Not only that, but you’d also have to have enough records on hand to cover your entire set. So if you were booked for an hour-long set, you’d probably wont to bring two hours of music just in case. And if you didn’t realise, records can get very heavy! Especially when you have to carry so many of them around!

So whether you choose to DJ on vinyl 100% of the time, or just learn the artform; its a great way to show respect to those who came before you and learn the roots of the turntablist artform!

Cons of being a Vinyl DJ

Lots more equipment

If you choose to go the digital DJing route, in many cases you can get away with just having a portable DJ Controller, Headphones, and a pair of Speakers. Of course your music collection, but that can very easily be stored on your USB or portable hard drive and stored in your pocket.

If you’re a Vinyl DJ, things are going to be a lot less portable, and you’re going to need to worry about a lot more equipment. Rather than just having an all-in-one controller, you’re going to have two turntables, a mixer, speakers, headphones, stylus, slipmats, the list goes on. And of course, you’re going to need a record collection!

Expensive

Following on our last point, not only does being a Vinyl DJ mean you need a lot of equipment. But that equipment is also generally a lot more expensive than that of a Digital DJ. You can pick up a cheap DJ controller for only a few hundred dollars, but if you want to be taken seriously as a vinyl DJ, you’re going to be spending a lot more money on said equipment!

Takes more space

Another drawback of being a Vinyl DJ, is the fact it just takes up SO much more space. You can’t quickly pull out and put away your DJ controller when you want to practice, and there’s going to be a lot more set-up and pack-up time before and after your gigs. Not only will your equipment take up more space, but you’re going to need somewhere to store your records too!

On the other hand, digital DJs will find it much easier to quickly set up their equipment. Then when you’re not using it, it’s going to be a lot easier to store and transport as well. When it comes to music, your USB sticks & computer hard drives are also going to take up a hell of a lot less physical space than a vinyl collection with hundreds of records.


Vinyl is HEAVY

There’s no question your back will definitely forgive you if you decide to go the digital route. Vinyl is amazing, but don’t underestimate how heavy your collection is going to be to transport. There are plenty of options for making it easier to transport & carry your favourite records, but it’s always going to be more of an effort than bringing a single USB to your next gig.

It’s harder to find music

If you’re a digital DJ, there are endless outlets for finding new music for your collection. Whether you turn to Beatport, iTunes, Soundcloud, Digital DJ Pools, or even use music streaming services to stream directly to your controller.

Trying to find the same music you want to play on vinyl will traditionally be a lot harder. You’re going to have to spend hours searching online, listening, and digging in the crates to find the classics you really want to play. This can be an advantage, as you’re going to find you know every record you own back to front, and you’ll appreciate it that much more.

But in saying that, it can also take away from the time you could have spent further perfecting your set.

You cant set cue points

Another downside to being a Vinyl DJ is that you can’t set your cue points! Unlike Digital DJs where you have your favourite cue points loaded up, the only way to cue your vinyl is to turn it back to the spot you want, then stop the platter. There’s no saving cue points, or jumping between different cue points with the touch of a button. It’s going to be manual, every time. For every record. Some DJs like to add tape to their records at their favourite cue points to help familiarise themselves with the record when they load it up. But again, it’s a manual process that’s going to add lots of time to your preparation.

There’s no sync button

There’s no sync button! Yep, that means you’re going to have to learn how to properly beat-match! Many DJs, especially those who spend most of their time with vinyl, will argue that you’re not a real DJ unless you know how to beat match by ear. Although there are probably countless DJs who’ve gotten to the main stages using the sync button; it’s definitely a good idea to know how to beat match properly. Because when things go wrong, you’re going to end up looking like a fool if you don’t have a backup plan!

In saying that, the sync button definitely has its place in the world of DJing. But just because your controller has it, doesn’t mean you need to use it every single time. It can free you up and give you time to make longer and more creative transitions without having to worry about keeping the beats aligned.

What about DVS?

DVS (Digital Vinyl Systems) seamlessly fuses Vinyl DJing together with the advancements of the digital DJ. Allowing you to use your favourite DJ turntables together with your digital music collection. Giving you an authentic vinyl feeling as well as the ability to perform extensive scratch numbers.

Instead of traditional records, you’ll use your DJ Software combined with special records that have “timecode” recorded on them. This works by telling your DJ software what position the needle is on, allowing you to beat-match, scratch, mix, and do anything you’d normally do with vinyl. Timecode vinyl is also available in a number of different designs and colours, so you can bring your personality to your DJ set! You can even get special sticker vinyl with designated stickers for helping to set your favourite cue points on your tracks.

If you’re using DVS, you’ll alleviate many of the vinyl pain points we discussed above. So especially if you’re a scratch or battle DJ, DVS is going to be a fantastic solution to your vinyl woes. All while maintaining many of the elements of traditional DJing. Otherwise, you might as well just stick to your DJ Controller or CDJs!

Vinyl DJ vs Digital DJ: Who wins

So does switching to vinyl make you a better DJ? That’s up for debate! Sure, it could be said that it requires a higher level of skill to DJ with turntables and vinyl. And almost everyone who DJs with vinyl will tell you that there’s something particularly satisfying about using it. On top of that, if you can mix with vinyl, you’re going to find it so much easier when you start digital DJing. But the same is not always true the other way around. Many digital DJs will struggle to mix with vinyl!

But at the end of the day, if the technology is there, and it’s going to make your life easier, why not use it? Regardless of the medium you’re using, becoming a great DJ requires skill and countless hours of practice. So nobody in the industry should feel less of a DJ for using one over the other! But whichever method you choose, I highly recommend you learn the essential skill of beatmatching!

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