Are CDJs still relevant in today’s dance music culture?

Recently, Pioneer release a video to celebrate 20 years of Pioneer DJ. The video talks about how CDJs change the whole industry and interestingly, this coincide with an article I’ve been wanting to write on how I love to DJ with CDJs.

Before Pioneer entered the DJ industry, we DJs used to play vinyls using turntables. That was basically the only way to do if you want people to take you seriously. Back in my days, we always wait for Thursday or Friday. In California, those are the days when new records comes in at your local record stores. You don’t want to miss those days because once those new records are gone, the chance of getting them again are pretty slim. I used to spent all my money on records and nothing else. If I have to choose between eating out or saving my money for records, the records will win.

CDJ-500II_thumbIn 1994 Pioneer announce the CDJ 500. I got excited about it because now we can burn CDs. But, at the time when you DJ on CDJ people will not take you seriously and CDJs were not a common setup at most clubs. Most of them still stick with the more traditional set up of a mixer and a pair of turntables. Plus, CDJ 500 was pretty clunky to use. When we play vinyls, we are able to tell where we’re at in the records by looking at the groove. With the 500 you basically flying blind, not knowing where you’re at. Most of them still stick with the more traditional set up of a mixer and a pair of turntables. In other word, the CDJ 500 didn’t catch on.

stanton-finalscratchAround 1998, there was this new technology that allows you to use your laptop and use vinyl as your controller. It was called ‘Final Scratch’ and it was the first time code technology that we are now familiar with. Around that time I started to produce music and the prospect of being able to play my own track  is great. Prior to this, if we want to play out our own track we have to cut a dubplate (acetate) that cost you $40 and you can only play them for about 100 times before it deteriorate.

Prior to this, if we want to play out our own track we have to cut a dubplate (acetate)

Final Scratch got bought by Stanton and it became widely available for about $500. I jumped into this technology because I figured if I cut 10 dubplates I’d spend the same money as buying Final Scratch. I and looking forward to converting my vinyl collection into mp3 and starts playing out wthout carrying those heavy record crates. Of course as it turned out, Final Scratch was not that great. Setting it up before playing is a pain in the ass, it was not reliable and you need to run it of Linux.

cdj1000mk3In 2001, Pioneer released CDJ-1000. This was a game changer. Suddenly DJing on a CD player feels like playing a vinyl and this time the CDJ 1000 was adopted in no time at almost every clubs out there.  As soon as I tried it out, I ditched the Final Scratch and starts playing with CDJ. Of course my problem with CDJ 1000 was its price, therefore I never got around to buy them. Eventually though I started to get disillusioned with CDJs.

Now we’re not forced to go to records store because now we can just buy our music at home, download them, then burned them on CD.

Now we’re not forced to go to records store because now we can just buy our music at home, download them, then burned them on CD. But I have new problems. I’m one of those DJs that never remember the tittle of a song. I used to rely on the artworks of a record. When you started to carry 100 cds with 10 songs on each, it becomes impossible to find a track quick.

ableton-live-sessionAround 2004, Ableton live started to mature and several premier DJs like Sasha and Richie Hawtin started to play out using Live. I tried my hand on Live and it was fun that you’re able to manipulate all those tracks live. Basically the possibility were endless. But, just like everything else, it’s not perfect. To DJ with Ableton Live requires you to do a lot of preproduction. Mainly, you are required to warp all your track in order to take advantage of Ableton’s time stretching capability. And those warping takes a lot of time.  Also, when you DJ on Ableton you ended up staring at your laptop 90% of time.

traktorscratchpro1Also in 2003, Native Instruments partnered up with Stanton and they developed Taktor DJ to be used with Final Scratch. With this partnership, now you can use Final Scratch on Windows and Mac. In 2006. This partnership ended and Native Instrument renamed their latest software Traktor DJ Studio 3 into Taktor 3. In 2008, Traktor Scratch Pro were released and this have support for both Vinyl and CD time code. I was hesitant to try it out until a friend give me one as a present. This time around I was sold on the DVS system and decided to ditch the CDs. Traktor Pro is very stable andd they have simplified the setup process.

cdj2000_large2In 2009 Pioneer released the CDJ-2000. This is a game changer because now you can DJ of a flash drive and you can include artwork for the tune. Around this time though, I’m a 100% Traktor user. by 2010 I’ve ditched the DVS system and starts to use controller. It was easier to set up and I started to rely on building playlist. It took my laptop died at a gig for me to start reconsidering using CDJ again.  It started with me bringing a flash drive to a gig as back up to my laptop. Then I discovered Rekordbox. With Rekordbox, you can tag, set up cue points and do basically anything that Traktor can do. Eventually I started to play out using my flash drive and have my laptop as my back up.  I must say, going back to using CDJs (without the CD) is probably one of the best thing I’ve done. I rediscovered the joy of DJing. I stopped relying on playlist, I don’t really rely on key detection. My sets suddenly become more spontaneous. And the best of all, I stopped using sync button. And that was somewhat feels liberating.

Ultimately though, it’s a matter of personal choice on how you want to play out. So choose your own poison.

I’m not knocking on people who used DJ software. Even till today, I still use them. I can’t afford a pair of CDJ 2000s and mixer. Therefore, I use Traktor at home to try out songs. Traktor or other software like Serrato have their advantages. You can carry as many song as your hard drive allowed and the best of all you can type a song to search. When you’re playing at a club with dodgy monitors, those sync button will save you. If you’re the creative kind of DJ, there are way more possibility on how to go crazy on your set with Traktor. Those Remix decks are awesome.   At the moment, I really enjoy going back to basic and DJing with CDJs (If there’s a vinyl revival at clubs maybe I’ll join that too) .Ultimately though, it’s a matter of personal choice on how you want to play out. So choose your own poison.

 

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