With the advancement of technology we are seeing more and more DJs relying entirely on “sync” functionality and unable to actually beatmatch by ear.
Richie Hawtin famously explained how he takes advantage of automation when playing, using the sync option on Traktor to allow him to work on four decks simultaneously, layering loops, dropping multiple bass lines at once and playing materials that may not be ready to be played on its own but works perfectly with other sounds.
Although it can be totally understandable for an artist to forego manual beatmatching for the benefit of doing more behind the decks — especially if working with a live set-up — there are some important reasons why being able to beatmatch in the first place is still a vital skill for any DJ out there.
It won’t matter what equipment is in front of you or which impromptu party you will find yourself able to spin at — if you know how to beatmatch by ear you will be able to step up to the decks and deliver regardless of the circumstances. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that you will be able to perform if technology fails you right before or during your set — don’t be left found wanting when it matters the most. And this brings us to the second point…
We love technology until it stops functioning the way it should. Laptops fail, controllers break and Traktor software can sometimes freeze. Imagine being in the middle of your set in front of a packed room and experiencing any of the above, only unable to continue with your performance because you never learned how to beatmatch. Knowing how to beatmatch can save you from some pretty uncomfortable situations.
If you know how to beatmatch you’re openings your ear to recognize the small nuances in music you can otherwise miss. You are essentially constantly training your ears instead of relying on technology to do the listening for you. Soon you will begin noticing things you never paid that much attention to before, such as the rhythmic composition of tracks, percussion structure, distant snares or subtle hi-hats.
Not everyone is into back-to-back sets but, as Ben UFO recently stated, performing alongside another artist can bring something new to the table for both your career and your fans. If you only know how to DJ with one setup you are limiting yourself to the number of people you can play alongside with. Granted, there’s multiple ways to electronically sync multiple DJ setups, but it’s an unnecessary complication that doesn’t allow you to simply go back and forth with someone without the need of worrying about anything else.
Although it’s true that you can work around it even if you choose to never learn how to beatmatch by ear, this is justanother practical point that makes life easier. If you have learned the skill you won’t have to worry about any sudden BPM changes or songs that aren’t perfectly quantized.
This is not to say you have to beatmatch every time you play, but knowing how to connects you with the root of your profession. Learning how to DJ the original way gives you extra appreciation for the culture you are a part of and enables you to understand it more in depth.
Admittedly this follows right from what we just mentioned: knowing your roots is important, and whether you are looking for peer appreciation in your profession or not, it’s satisfying to know that people in your industry respect you for not solely relying on technology to mix for you.
It may be extremely subjective, but it sure does feel good to know you’ve done all the work yourself (or at least that you know how to) during your set rather than to have entirely relied on a Traktor set up with the sync button engaged.
Check out our article dissecting some of the most important qualities and traits of a successful DJ.
If you found this article useful, sign up for our newsletter to learn more and to stay up to date with 6AM’s news and features on the world of electronic music.