To SYNC or not to SYNC?

To Sync or not to sync? That has become one of the hottest topics in the DJ world lately. With the advance of technology DJing has become easier. Even I agree that the art of DJing is nothing special nowadays. If people ask me about learning how to DJ I’ll say that “it’s easy, I’m confident that I can even teach a monkey in a couple hours to DJ on a laptop!” Yes, it’s that easy. Of course the next question is so what makes being a DJ special and isn’t using a sync button technically cheating? Before I put my own 2 cents on this matter, let me me give’s you a few examples for your thought.

Just like everything else in the world, technology constantly evolving and advancing and usually it’s for the better. Of course along with the advance of technology, there will be casualty. Old technology will be discarded and disappeared completely. One of the most obvious examples is photography. With the advance of digital camera, the film technology becomes obsolete. Of course there are still few pockets of resistance that insist that film is better. Well, that’s their choice and they’re free to stick with the old format. What I can’t stand is when these people start to talk down to photographers that start their photography with digital camera. Yes, I understand the benefit of learning by taking pictures with film. You learn to compose, control your light and all those things better because you don’t have the benefit of instant result and on top of all of that, film cost money. So you learn to be as good and efficient as possible with your shots. In digital photo you can just keep trying until you get the best result and it did not cost you any extra money. But at the end of the day, there are people who were so young and never ever saw films. Would you blame them for not learning with film? Even if they want to, they might not have the means to learn on it. Eventually, when all film stocks ran out and no one makes them anymore, those snobs will eventually have to join the rest of the world and switch full time to digital. That’s just how the world works right?

The same thing is now happening in the DJ world. New technology have allow us to do what used to take years to master. That skill is what we call beat matching. At one point, it was the ultimate skill that you must absolutely mastered before you even dare to sent out demo to get gigs. Why was mastering this skill important? Because that’s the only way to be a DJ. There was no technology that allows you bypass that process. With the advance of digital technology, now DJing no longer requires a pair of turntables. A laptop with the right DJ software will let you become a DJ and this software have the capability to beat match for you. Is that a bad thing? Just like in photography field, there are group of people that resist this change. And just the same, this so-called group of expert/purist usually talks down on this technology. Well, now that we see the parallel between photography and DJing in term of technology, let’s go back to the question that starts this article, to Sync or not to Sync?

Before I put down my 2 cents, let me tell you a little something about my background. I started to dabble in DJing in 1996. I started by using turntables. I learn it all the hard way, beat matching in a cheap mixers etc. I used to look down on DJs that play with CDJ (I was young then). I eventually move to CDJs in 03 – 04 when I found it getting harder and harder to find turntables at clubs (we eventually have to join the rest of the world). Around 2008 I go fully digital with Traktor Skratch using timecode CD & vinyl (was dabbling with Stanton Final Scratch way back but found it to be too unreliable). In 2011 I went completely digital with controller, ditching the DVS completely. This is when I started to use the SYNC button. At one point, I swear that I would never ever touch that button. In one gig sometimes in 2011 at a small town in the middle of nowhere, I was playing at a club with really terrible monitors. I was sweating having a hard time mixing on the decks. Luckily though, ever since I move to Traktor I developed habit of always beat griding every tracks that I added to my collection. After a very frustrating 30 minutes, I decided to switch on that SYNC button. That was an ear opening experience. Here’s a technology that has been available to me in the past 3 years and I’ve never tried it and wow, this makes my life THAT much easier.  I’ve never look back ever since. The SYNC button was literally a game changer for me. It allows me to be way more creative in my performance. Instead of spending the first 30 seconds of the track beat matching your next track, now I can just jam and play around with loops, cue, FX and many more. Did the SYNC button make me lazy? Yes. I’m occasionally guilty of just coasting through my set, especially when it was one of those gigs where you’re just not feeling the vibe. The point though, there’s nothing wrong with using that sync button. The crowds obviously don’t care how you mix. They just care whether your set is good or crap. Using the SYNC button doesn’t make you less of a DJ. So in my opinion, if you feel like using it then go ahead and use it. If you prefer to do everything by ears, then more power to you.

As always though, I still recommend that you learn how to mix with your ears. Learn with turntables if possible, or at least with CDJs. If you use controller, learn without the sync button on at first. It’s the best way for you to understand track structures; therefore you know when is the perfect time to mix in and out. After that open your ears to music, listen to what’s good, practice without the sync button at home. Practice makes perfect. If you can mix without the sync button then you will be able to mix in any situation. I always carry a back up music in the form of CDs or flash drive because with computer, you just never know. If something went wrong with your laptop you can still play with CDs manually (even though Pioneer’s latest CDJs have Sync button too). It’s always comforting to be confident in your self that you are capable of playing in any condition.

As a final thought, it’s your choice whether you want to utilize the SYNC button or not. Being a good DJ is not about whether you can beat match or not. It’s about the ability to create a journey or story in your set. To be able to do that takes years of experience in honing your skills as a DJ (The original idea of DJ is they are the track selectors. In this ever-evolving time, your taste is your most important asset, not your beat matching skills). So remember, just because you have 200 top EDM tracks of today and a laptop running Traktor does not make you a good DJ. As for those snobs that look down on you because you play with sync button ignore them. Maybe once in a while you can show up and play your whole set on CDs just to shut them up (that’s why always learn and practice without the sync button).


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