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DJ Mixing: Auto Sync - Automation of an Art, Loss of an Art - By Brent Silby

DJ Mixing: Auto Sync - Automation of an Art, Loss of an Art - By Brent Silby

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Published by Brent Silby
Article argues that the trend towards DJs using autosync in their mixes results in a reduction of the artistic merit of their end product, the mixset.
Article argues that the trend towards DJs using autosync in their mixes results in a reduction of the artistic merit of their end product, the mixset.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Brent Silby on Apr 29, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/29/2013

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DJ Mixing: AutosyncThe Automation of an Art, The Loss of an ArtBRENT SILBYaka DJ Maestro BThere is a split in the DJ world between the traditionalists, who mix manually,and those who use computers to autosync their mixes. It is incredible thatsuch a minute detail has caused so much controversy since laptops startedmaking their way into DJ booths. In this article I will explain my reasons forpreferring manually mixed DJ sets.Before proceeding, I need to make clear a distinction between
DJs
and
controllerists
. Controllerists use laptops and midi-controllers to rapidly createnew tracks on the fly. They loop sections of music, drop in samples, and cut-uptracks in real time to build new compositions. This article is not directedtowards controllerists. My focus is on DJs and the process of DJ-ing in thetraditional sense of the word.The DJ mixset as we currently understand it originated in the late 1970s. DJssuch as Francis Grasso discovered that by placing a slipmat under a vinylrecord, it was possible to hold the record in place while the turntable continuedto spin beneath. This allowed the DJ to release the record on beat, and have itstart at virtually full speed. By gently nudging or dragging the record the DJwould then ensure that the beat of the incoming record aligned with the beatof the outgoing record. Adjusting the pitch tempo on the turntable wouldensure that the beats of the two records remained synchronized and thus theDJ could slowly blend the two tracks together.Beat mixing soon became the central mechanic of the DJ’s craft and thetechnique remained unchanged even as vinyl turntables gave way to CDJplayers. During the mid 2000s, however, DJs started to turn their back on vinylrecords and CDs, favoring instead the use of a laptop. When laptops firststarted to appear in DJ booths, the advantage was nothing more than
 
practicality. A DJ would be able to bring his or her entire music collection on asmall device rather than carrying crates of records or endless CD folders togigs. DJ software allows the DJ to mix traditionally by interfacing the laptop toa pair of turntables or CD players via timecoded vinyls or CDs. Relativelysimple in concept, the timecode control record contains data that indicates theposition of the needle, which the software uses to place the position of the MP3being played. Changes to the pitch of the timecode through manipulation of the turntable (or CDJ) pitch control directs the software to increase ordecrease the tempo of the MP3 as required.Early DJ software was primitive, but it did provide the DJ with usefulinformation about the songs they play. Waveforms and BPM informationbecame guides for DJs to plan better mixes.DJ software quickly evolved to include the most controversial feature that hashit the world of DJ-ing. This feature is known as
auto-sync 
. When a DJactivates the auto-sync feature, the software aligns the beats of the two tracksbeing played to ensure a perfect beat-mix. This releases the DJ from the time-consuming task of manually beat-matching, but removes a significant part of the DJ craft. This is where the controversy arises. Purists believe that the art of DJ-ing requires manual mixing, while embracers of technology believe thatremoving this task frees the DJ to focus on the real art—song selection.I have used both manual and automated systems and I’m going to boldly statemy position. Auto-sync mixing
does
diminish the art of DJ-ing. There are twoaspects to art: the end product and the
 production
of the end product.Autosync supporters focus much of their argument on the end product. Theybelieve that the means of production is not as important as the end product initself. The idea is that the real goal of a DJ is to read a crowd and select songs.Those song are to be delivered as a seemless mix, but how that mix istechnically implemented is not relevant. Furthermore, auto-sync supportersargue that the crowd doesn’t care about the implementation of the mix, solong as it is tight and delivers the songs that take them on a journey.
 
I am sympathetic to this position. Having watched many dance floors as a DJ, Idon’t think the audience has any idea what I’m actually doing in the DJ booth.Many of them are not interested in the technical aspects of what I’m deliveringto them. They just want the result. However, I get the feeling from someaudience members that they expect that something
is
happening in the booth.After-all, there is a person standing there, wearing headphones, pushingbuttons, moving jog-dials or record platters. They can see that someone isdoing something. When DJs are mixing manually, the audience may sometimeshear a track drift slightly out of sync before being immediately corrected. It’s alive experience. I wonder if there would be a feeling of disappointment if it wasrevealed to a crowd that the DJ was merely selecting songs on a playlist andletting the computer sync the tracks—something that everyone can do at homewith no special skill or talent.At this point the quite legitimate objection can be made that selecting songsthat move a dance floor
does
require special skill and talent. Not anyone cando it. There are many empty dance floors out there with DJs selecting all thewrong songs. This is a fair point. But what I’m trying to suggest is that theaudience want to see someone doing more than they could do themselves.Philosopher Denis Dutton (2010) argues that art requires the combination of the following criteria.Artistic work must:1. gives direct pleasure;2. exhibits skill and virtuosity;3. exhibit novelty and creativity;4. demonstrate style;5. have the ability to evoke criticism;6. be a form of representation;7. have a special focus;8. expressive individuality;9. evoke emotional saturation;10. be intellectually challenging; and follow artistic traditions; and12. be an imaginative experience.

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