I’ve been a vinyl DJ for a long time. I got my first decks in 2001, when vinyl DJing was still considered the only “real way” to DJ. (Pioneer had just released the CDJ-1000 with vinyl emulation that year; that was the start of the digital revolution.) I learned to beatmatch, mix and do all kinds of tricks on my turntables, and they have served me well over the years.
These days, my decks mostly gather dust, aside from the times when I need to digitize an old record or two. I spend most of my time DJing with my Serato controller, and I couldn’t be happier. Here are the reasons why I ended up ditching vinyl and went 100% digital.
- Vinyl is expensive – This is a real bitch. Record pricing totally missed the iTunes revolution that unbundled the $10 album into $0.99 tracks. You still have to pay around $10 for a new vinyl single, and what do you normally get? A track plus a couple of remixes, some (or most) of which you may not even like.
- Records wear out – Playing back a vinyl record is essentially a mechanical process where a needle traces the groove cut out in vinyl. Guess what – little by little, each playback damages the groove and degrades the record’s sound quality. Tricks such as backspins are particularly damaging to vinyl.
- Getting the music takes long – Unless you live in a big city that may still have a DJ record store, your only way to get fresh material is to order vinyl by mail. Aside from costing you extra, delivery takes time. So by the time you get that hot track on vinyl, your fellow digital DJs will have been playing it for weeks.
- Records are heavy – Don’t underestimate this. You need 50 to 60 tunes for a two-hour set, and hauling that much plastic around is hard. My back is eternally thankful now that I’ve switched to digital.
- You cannot store your cue points – The only way to cue a vinyl record is, well, to manually rewind the record to the spot you need and then stop the platter. You can’t save your cue points or jump between multiple cue points at will. Setting a cue point is a manual process every time, for every new record you put on the turntable. And when the needle decides to jump as you start the tune… that’s priceless.
- There’s no sync (gasp) – I’m long past a point in my DJ career where I need to prove anything. While I can beatmatch by ear almost instinctively these days, I still find sync useful, especially when mixing music with a live drummer (such as disco). Sync lets me make the transitions longer and worry about things that are more important than keeping the beats aligned.
- You need to set the gain every time – Unlike in modern DJ software, there’s no way to “attach” a gain level to a vinyl record. You have to set the gain on your mixer every time you put a new record on the turntable. Setting the gain is not hard but it’s another little chunk of time I’d rather spend doing more creative things.
What About DVS?
DVS (Digital Vinyl System) neatly marries vinyl and digital by letting you play MP3s on your computer while still controlling the process through vinyl decks. Instead of normal records, you “play” records with a special signal, or timecode, recorded on them. The timecode tells your DJ software what position the needle is on in realtime, letting you beatmatch, scratch, mix or do anything with your MP3s that you’d be able to do with normal vinyl.
DVS alleviates most of the vinyl pain points above. However, unless you’re a scratcher, the only reason I can see for investing in DVS (as opposed to using a native digital solution such as a controller) is being able to play your existing records alongside the digital tunes. I’m solving this for myself by buying digital versions of my vinyl tracks and digitizing the records that have never been re-issued digitally.
What’s your take on vinyl DJing? Does it still have place in today’s day and age, or is it a thing of the past? Leave your comment below!