DJ’s want to DJ, not Troubleshoot?


I started DJ’ing because I love music, I recorded the BBC essential selection onto tape every week, I listened constantly to music, taking my radio/tape player everywhere with me. Music followed me around from the bedroom to the kitchen and even into the bathroom. I was always around music, it shaped my tastes and encouraged me to source more music and to develop my ear for “good music”.

Troubleshooting in the 90’s

I would head to by bedroom, put a record on my parents old hi-fi stereo and speed it up manually by hand to line up with the tape player, even though the turntable had no speed control.

As it was not possible to hear sound from both the tape player and the phono at the same time, the extent of my troubleshooting was to discover that, if I placed the slider switch half way between tape and phono, I could hear both. This is how I learnt to DJ.

Todays Troubleshooting

traktor error message 1As technology has developed and we are pulled into the marketing machines of the 21st century, we are tempted by all the new gadgetry, the slick systems and the shiny new computers.

A computer has become modern place for a DJ booth. This can be seen as a special time for music. The accessibility of music for all and the excess of choice for all of us to pick the format we prefer and to learn the simple skills of hitting sync and then waving our arms around in the air.

This “ease” however, is peppered with frustration at incompatibility issues and the all too often need for troubleshooting.

I am inundated with people asking me to help them fix this, or fix that.

“My widget isn’t working with my fandangle?”

We have made things too complex. To drive a car we don’t need to understand the combustion engine, so why should we need to delve under the hood of our computer before we can DJ?

DJ or I.T. Consultant?

runtime-error-440We seem to have created a school of technology rather than a school of DJ’ing. I am asked questions of how to fix something, not how to do something! The skills we need to learn now, is not how to DJ, but how to become a computer technician. The landscape has changed and the skills required have morphed.

Sometimes, hell, all the time; I just want to put some music on a play with it. I don’t want to have to go into the settings, or the preferences, scrutinize a plethora of digits and routings before I can hear some melodic sounds emanating from my speakers!?

We seem to have over-complicated an otherwise simple and pleasurable past-time into a painful and distracting mess of unnecessary tasks.

Choices are Amazing

Life has become very special, we are honoured to have such choice, but the excess does have it’s downside.

If I’m going to use a computer to DJ, I want it to work with no effort on my part. I don’t want to spend 3 hours looking for a how-to video online to achieve a degree in computer technology before I can spin some tunes.

Freeing up the time we spend troubleshooting would send you in a different direction creatively with music. We have to make technology work for us, not us working for the technology.

Keeping it Simple

I recently had the opportunity to hang out with my friend Subb-an and witnessing his methods and choices was eye opening. Whilst he has used Traktor in the past, travelling the world as a DJ is complicated enough, without the added complications of dealing with potential issues with technology.

Subb-an explained that he uses iTunes to organize his music, he worked out his sets before the gig, loading a USB stick with music for use on CDJs. He also carries a small selection of about 20 limited edition records with him. Knowing that the club will be providing technics and CDJ’s makes his set-up hassle free.

Whilst we don’t all have the luxuries of demanding a specific set-up for our DJ needs, we can certainly learn from the pros as a way of keeping things simple.

We must remember why we are in the business of playing music and it’s exactly that, to play music.

Simple DJing

Whilst sometimes it can be fun to look under the hood of our computer systems and tweak midi mappings to make things special, maybe we need to once again turn our focus onto the music and away from the magic that powers it. The information age is forcing us to become a jack of all trades and a master of none. In order to succeed do we really need to know everything about everything, or just a lot about something?

Simplify and amplify – Whilst I will always embrace technology and praise the advancements and wizardry of the brainiacs behind it, I will continue my attempts to simplify wherever possible.

I’m off to buy my first piece of Vinyl in 12 years……

What’s your experience been of the digital DJ era? Have you moved from Vinly to Digital only to go back? Are you always gonna be a tech head? Did digital DJ’ing change your life! Let me know your thoughts, I’d love to hear all angles on this!


16 thoughts on “DJ’s want to DJ, not Troubleshoot?

  1. Hi Al, totally with you on the tech switch off. Needs to be done every so often. (My name is Phil and I’m a tech-oholic 🙂 )

    Having made a living as an IT professional spending most of my life fixing computer / user issues, I fully understand why troubleshooting is such a pain. It should just work right, you paid for some piece of software to do a specific task and not fail on you. You should not have to waste your time reconfiguring things just to get it to work right.

    I always look at it like from this perspective. The earth is how old?, how long have humans been around?, how long have we been building buildings, bridges, cars? Well computers have been around for way less time than all those in history terms. So we still have a long way to go in getting it right.

    Computers are tools with so many things functions and options. Turntables / CDJ’s have just one primary function.
    So my advice would be if you want a computer to do just one thing, in this case playing music. Buy a machine for just that purpose. Set it up the way you want it, make sure it works and then leave it like that. Back it up so you can get it back if something goes wrong. Practically you can ignore all the updates that can potentially break the system, until such a time when you can set aside the time to update the system and thoroughly test it etc.

    it may seem like an added expense, but still a decent computer is still cheaper than a single CDJ.

    1. Thanks for your tips Phil. I hope many others find the advice useful.

      It is definitely worth keeping your DJ laptop separate to help reduce tech issues. Sometimes, for me though, it’s not even the issues that cause me to want to leave my computer out of the DJ booth. It’s often deeper than that.
      As you say, computers are a relatively new addition to the human evolution curve and whilst they have many benefits, the human body is not used to them being around. Whilst we have evolved to use computers now, our bodies may now be totally used to them and as such they often seem detrimental to our health. Sometimes, it just feels like my soul is being sucked into that screen, reducing my vibrancy, leaving me ungrounded and taking away from the music.

      It’s something I feel deep inside on a physiological and spiritual level. Music is for the soul and computers are in the realm of thought. The two oppose one another and it sometimes just doesn’t feel right.

      1. the two should compliment each other to my mind using the computer as merely a tool to further explore sonic possibilities. I practically use mine for track selection only or checking when something odd is happening.

        Anyway me and my big mouth. I updated my controllers firmware and Traktor recently and now the sound card in the controller is acting up. I can’t get any output from the cue monitors and the main output has noise at 44k, but not at 48. Anyway that’s life. I will either fix it or replace it.

        Make sure your soul stays put as we need people like you Al.

      2. fixed the controller issues, lost some traktor config on the update. All good, but I guess it validates your point more 🙂

      3. Thanks so much for your comment – I too hope that my soul doesn’t go for a wander either! 😉

        I couldnt help but laugh when you said about your update causing problems. Not out of spite, but just the irony of it all. We often jinx ourselves right!

        I’m sure you have the know-how and determination to get it all fixed up.
        Thanks agin for your support! It’s great to hear that kinda stuff! Cheers.

  2. Awesome article Alan. You touched on “marketing machine” and gadgetry. While it’s great that companies have given us all these tools to make/mix music, they’re often marketed as tools to give us unlimited possibilities and creative options. This is of course a double edged sword especially when you get into something as flexible as Ableton. The possibilities are so vast that it’s difficult to know where to start. This wasn’t as much of a problem back in the day of CDJ’s or turntables. A turntable played vinyl, not a lot of room for misunderstanding there.

    I think it’s important for people today to set their own limits. Even though Ableton can do everything it’s important to create a simple performance setup that get’s out of the way. Rather then trying to take advantage of every single feature that a software has to offer just get back to the basics, playing music out of the speakers.

    1. Very wise words Ryan!
      This is true, people like to venture down paths that are too advanced, but see others do it and then want to emulate them; trying to run before walking.
      Anyone can become a Pro DJ and they can choose any tools they want to get there, everyone can bring their own individualities to the table. This is great. But when the tools start to get in the way, it can slow down progress as a DJ.
      For me, I like to move away from technology when I “unwind”, if I’m around technology all day then at night I want to get away from it. My form of relaxation and enjoyment is DJing, not technology. So I need to separate the to from time to time, just to stay sane!

  3. I think first we have to take into account the term DJ doesn’t mean the same thing it meant 10 years ago or before…. It has grown, morphed, or mutated, however you choose to describe it, the change was inevitable and you either rode the wave or stayed on the shore complaining about the wave.

    Everything is choice. you still can rock a full DJ set without a computer, or any digital gear for that matter. At that point, its all up to you. If you feel comfortable taking on you computer and custom mappings or what not, it will allow you to do some custom things that might be impractical otherwise.

    The complaint of over complication seems to unnecessarily draw another line between DJs. Is technology making stuff easier and harder at the same time? Yes. Are advancements allowing some new DJs to skip steps they would of had to learn without the newest technology? Sure. But who cares? My point is this…. what’s the difference as long as the party gets rocked?

    I own both analog and digital gear, tho digital gear is my choice, but that’s a personal choice made to amplify my playing style and to take advantage of my own knowledge base. The DJ community needs more LOVE in it and less lines of separation.

  4. This is why I feel my years spent learning hardware and software diagnostics were well worth it.. While I couldn’t afford any of the expensive DJ hardware all my friends seemed to be able to acquire so easily, I was definitely learning good skills. Technical issues are nothing to me but interesting puzzles.

    1. I hear you here! I do love ‘tinkering’ but sometimes when I’ve been tinkering on my website, fixing lines of code and making things work, I want to relax by DJ’ing, but then I am thrust back into the realms of technology! It’s tiring!

      1. Hehe, I stopped messing about with websites years ago for the most part.. I know enough to be able to clearly express what I want when I can afford to invest money into that area.. webdesign and back end maintenance became instantly tedious when money came into the picture.. I was mostly referring to the kind of issues that DJ’s came across on their gigging computers.. Those don’t really occur to me anymore for two reasons.. I have amazing diagnostic skills and I switched to mac to minimize the technical headaches I would have to deal with.. The kinds of tinkering I do these days is configuring midi katapult for my launchpad to have all the controls my Z2 doesn’t have.. That and shoehorning zoom, zoom reset, tempo, and nudge into my griffin powermate.. No decks? no problem. Dogmatic dislike of sync? Still not a problem.. These are the kinds of technical issues a lot of DJ’s would lose heart in.

      2. It’s great that you can ‘cap’ your technological experimentations. For me running Traktor Tips, I am constantly asked many technical questions, which I enjoy answering. The issue then comes when I want to step away from tech issues and am once again presented with my own.
        Had an awesome technics CDJ mix this afternoon and fully loved that there was no computer in sight! 🙂

  5. I embrace all forms of musical listening. While there are two very distinct groups who cannot play nice together typically, I myself walk the tight rope between the two. I embrace technology however I also embrace simplicity. I performed my first mapping of my X1 Mk1 last Friday night and I enjoyed using the controller editor. It is a bit tedious however the end results made the time spent worth it. All I had to do was watch a Youtube video that someone posted showing a basic tutorial and then I was off and running into Traktor land. Everyone has likes, dislikes, expertise, and short comings and this is why you have these two very distinct groups of Old School Versus New School. Vinyl rocks and nothing can match its warm, deep sound quality however I myself refuse to carry flight cases and records. Just personal preference. This is why digital is my weapon of choice. Does this make me better or worse than any other DJ? No. Throw vinyl, CDJ, Controller, or whatever in front of me and I’ll make it shine. This is how versatility is a DJ’s best friend. If you like driving a Model T then that’s your thing. If you can’t stand hand cranking an engine to start it and prefer to have collision mitigation and all kinds of blind spot monitoring and safety features in your car versus simple more traditional automobiles then have at it!

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