Beatmatching By Ear

Timmy Richardson aka TOT Deejaying 11 Comments

The social networks often have debates about how you aren’t a “real” DJ unless you have spun on vinyl and never use the “SYNC” button. I for one don’t agree with this. I believe we should embrace the technology. I don’t think it is fair to tell a 19 year old ┬ánew jock, who can’t purchase vinyl or turntables, that he isn’t a DJ unless he does. That being said, if you can learn to mix without syncing, it would be to your benefit. The article 10 Reasons Why You Should Still Know How To Beatmatch By Ear, outlines several scenarios in which you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the SYNC button. Feel free to let us know your thoughts on the subject below.

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Timmy Richardson aka TOT

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Timmy Richardson aka TOT is a veteran DJ of the NYC underground dance scene. He has been spinning for 37 years and offers valuable knowledge gained from that experience.

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Comments 11

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    There’s a truck load of ignorance kicking around amongst current ‘strictly vinyl’ pushers. Sometimes it’s just Luddite and sometimes it’s part of a retro/nostalgia thing that also encompasses exclusive pushing of analogue synthesis and recording as well. Hybrid digital/analogue setups are best in my view – digital technology is fascinating and in the case of most aspects of digital audio, generally it only sounds bad if you don’t know how to work the gear properly, except for some early digital equipment which is best left obsolete. That said, if you learnt your craft with a particular setup a long time ago, it’s still working for you and you’re not constantly having a pop at new generations of people then there’s no problem. Collectors aren’t really the issue, people who have a room full of vinyl or analogue equipment they’ve been collecting for 40 years will educate you and should be appreciated.

    DJs’ ongoing involvement with vinyl is often because that was the format historically in the club music scene, but the principal reason for this is that it’s really bloody hard to beat mix with tape and early digital media. It’s only really since the late ’90s that you could comfortably even beat mix by ear with anything other than vinyl let alone use sync, but now you can do a whole load of great things with digital DJing setups that are impossible with vinyl or even with older CDJs, like decent pitch shifting, beatjump and the like. Sync is only one fairly minor aspect of a digital DJ rig. Digital setups allow you play your own unreleased material without massive expense too, which is great.

    It’s fairly ironic that vinyl purists are often so ignorant about the technology that they think ‘anyone’ can operate it successfully. Surely if digital DJing and production are easy, all the digital DJs and producers would sound good? But the ‘real DJs’ think they sound bad and in many cases they do. Guess there must be more to it then.

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    This is not directed at anyone so don’t take this personal- I am simply speaking out loud and in somewhat absolute. So with that said;

    We can all do as we please. We can all create anything or start any group or culture and slap a name on it. But what we can’t do is cling on to the advancement of technology and claim to be within the parameters of a culture of which is not properly represented. Unless enforced, no matter the art form that has stemmed from hip hop, there shall always be parameters, tradition, and in keeping with it’s history. This is how culture works. As it is with rap, b-boying, and djing, none of these will have any parameters unless it is enforced by the true OG masters and not by the individuals that share falsehoods or continued to be perpetuated by veterans that “need to stay relevant”. In b-boying, many are changing tags left and right as Mr. Wiggles discribes in the video…

    You can use technology to your advantage but you will never, I repeat never, substitute technology for raw aptitude. Today, we allow everything but this isn’t the correct approach. Djing by ear is an essential basic skill. It’s the fundamental of all things djing as an entry level. If you are not able to beat match by ear, and so long as the standard equipment today continue to have manual beat matching features, any dj worth his or her salt shall find a way to learn. It’s not a matter of whether you agree or not. We don’t make up rules simply because we choose to cut corners and forgo the foundations. A great cook doesn’t use a microwave to warm up pasta. And if he/she does, they most certainly know how to create pasta out of dough, a basic knowledge. It is in the case of self worth and integrity that guides them.

    Djing by ear is not only for show or a way to waste time. Mixing by ear is essential to actually learning music and understanding the audio properties of pairing music. It allows you to better connect with songs on a deeper intellect and it also allows one to tap deeper into core music notes. It’s way beyond just riding the pitch. It provides balance and a sense of awareness while conditioning and recruiting your ability to be subconsciously aware of your surroundings.

    Below is an email from one of my students who has just recently switched over from a sync controller as it brings an entire new experience for those that are really into the game of djing, not just showing up:

    “Man, I had my first time experience mixing on a CDJ last night and I totally dig you on the issues with sync…Being able to DJ in front of a crowd and knowing your music is a whole different experience! I not only had fun I didn’t feel so pressure to find new songs…I just let the music carry the vibe. I had organized my music in rekordbox earlier, so when I was in the mood to go in a new direction and pump the audience up, I just went straight to the song because i could find it! This DJ stuff is a science and I am really enjoying it”!

    1. Profile photo of Timmy Richardson aka TOT Post
      Timmy Richardson aka TOT

      I agree with you that anyone wanting to get into the game should learn the basics. I took photography in high school (1982) and I wonder if they still make the students develop film with developer and fixer. I doubt it.That being said it’s just a different game these days. We basically only had to be concerned with keep two records onbeat and in the right place. Now they have looping, effects, filtering, sampling on-the-fly, 4 channels at once, etc. It would be impossible to do all that while worrying if the song is onbeat.

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    Richie Hawtin, who toured with 2 turntables and a 909 for a while, does not actually completely sync his complex traktor setup.

    I think, on a theoretical level, it is good to be able to beat match at home/studio as it forces one to analyze the essence of rhythm and groove. However, in practice, at the party, it is not important to me as a dancer whether the dj or an algorithm is lining up the beats. Use that time to do something new with the music.

    I agree with Marshall Jefferson that there could be a bit more diversity in any given set, but I dont think beatmatching was hte cause of musical homogenity, especially hearing the hot mix 5 sets. Subdividing genres is useful for recognizing regional movements. Take new wave and neue deutsch welle as examples, both of which contributed towards the proto-house sound that he and his associates in chicago perfected. New wave could mean almost anything, but both the talking heads and new order were described as such despite the latter being much more synth oriented. German new wave had a totally different language and local cultural history (ww2, the wall) to contend with and developed its own sound within similar parameters. House itself has had regional variation in america, with west coast offerings having a different feeling than windy city or east coast, what with the weather being much better, and all those hippies.

    I think subgenre name classification works at the micro level, it is simply mismanaged at the macro level. We can still have variety and not necessarily require transitions to always be beatmatched, but it does make sense to maintain consistent tempos in the context of a set to maintain a buzz and vibe.

  7. Chris Wood

    There seems to be a link between people using controllers and people automatically assuming they use the sync – I’ve used a controller for 5 years and not once touched the sync button!

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    Mike Johnson

    Hey, the technology allows it, so why not use it. Personally, I haven’t leaped to embrace the technology (still using egg beaters to mix and mash – haven’t even graduated to food processors lol!) But so long as a set is programmed (right (open to interpretation), the listening crowd isn’t really going to care.

  9. Profile photo of Marshall Jefferson
    Marshall Jefferson

    If the technology is there, why not use it? It’s like somebody back in the day telling us not to use a pitch control. I personally don’t use sync because people are always watching and analyzing me.

    My way of thinking is beat matching and key matching has ruined dance music and separated the dance floor into hundreds of sub genres ANYWAY. Remove beat matching and pressure to mix and maybe we can regain variety and diversity

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