The curious case of Pioneer DJ’s new analog turntable

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Over the last 20+ years I’ve watched Pioneer work tirelessly to make CDs (and eventually MP3) the standard for DJ medium. Their own CDJs have become the main setup at every major venue and have essentially pushed vinyl out of the booth. And why not? CDs/MP3s are more convenient, less expensive, and provide longevity and the ability to replace lost music that scratched and skipping records cannot. So why now are Pioneer vinyl turntables about to hit the shelves?

Has Pioneer suddenly been stricken with remorse for its part in all but eradicating vinyl in the dance scene and now seeks penance? Has their corporate headquarters suddenly been taken over by old-school DJs who have had enough of controllers and the over-saturation of DJs? Are they tired of making fistful of dollars by selling the premier rigs? Not likely.

Why turntables, why now?

Pioneer is in business to make money. Businesses do not invest resources into projects unless they perceive there is profit to be made, even when producing a niche item. Simply put, they believe there is profit to be made. This is an interesting move considering more and more DJs turn to controllers and software. Even more interesting, the new decks do not contain any midi or digital interfaces, they are purely analog. Let’s consider this for a second; the most prolific DJ gear manufacturer, the one that spent over two decades pushing its digital gear so it would become the industry standard, believes there is profit to be made from analog turntables.

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We’ve all seen the reports that vinyl sales are up and that there has been a renewed interest in the medium, some artists even going so far as to release only vinyl, but have we really seen the difference in the booths? Not really, CDJs still reign supreme. Despite recent vinyl growth, the focus in the booth is still on the all too easily accessible MP3. So why is Pioneer even bothering? Are they just seeking market dominance and hoping to capitalize on a possible final surge of record sales before it completely disappears? Possibly. But with vinyl sales currently breaking records (pun unavoidable) it is not likely the medium will be disappearing anytime soon.

Could it possibly be that they are preparing their rekordbox software to be a stand alone competitor for DJ software like Traktor and Serato and want to provide their own analog controller option? Maybe. While I wouldn’t put it past them, it seems to me that there would be some kind of digital interface built-in to further integrate the tables with their other products, not to mention it would make the price point much more attractive for most.

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Speculation aside, I see a profitable option that I’m hoping Pioneer will take. I’m hoping that Pioneer sees a potential to create a symbiosis within the market place that will ultimately create more revenue for themselves while keeping a smile on the vinyl addict’s face. If they push their turntables even a fraction as hard as they did with the CDJs they will indirectly help drive vinyl sales up, which will naturally in turn drive turntable sales even higher, which will push vinyl sales even more, and so on. Preference and nostalgic desires aside, as someone who sees the financial benefits of a vinyl resurgence, I’m more than happy to see Pioneer put forth these little beauties.

What’s this vinyl business?

In the early 90s my DJ rig included pair of Pioneer CDJ-500IIs for no real reason other than most of the music I played was on CD. At the time I never thought that CDJs would become the industry standard, especially when taking into account all the grief given by my fellow DJs for using CDs (many of which now give me grief for preferring vinyl).

By the mid-90s I moved away from CDs to vinyl for three main reasons: I liked the feel, I preferred the sound, and vinyl was where it was at for underground music. Eventually, I also came to realize that vinyl ultimately made financial sense. It was better for creating a unique sound for myself, which from a business standpoint was imperative.

More so than CD, vinyl was often released in limited runs, making it easier to stand out by playing music that other DJs did not have. Nothing like the Beatport/Shazam everyone has everything instantly of today’s DJ world. Vinyl was also more expensive, harder to mix, and more of a hassle to maintain, which inadvertently provided the added benefit of keeping the total number of DJs entering the scene much lower. This increased the value of the DJs that were already in the market as a result of basic supply and demand.

Clearly, Pioneer does not profit from there being less DJs in the world, but the question remains: Will Pioneer push their gear and invite a further resurgence of vinyl bringing it back into the booths, are they just setting up a future release of an advanced version of rekordbox, or are they just OCD and trying to round out their DJ gear offerings? Let me know what you think. Are you happy to see Pioneer make some analog tables? Or is it a case of too little too late?

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DJ schools and other scams

Over the years quite a few people have offered me money to teach them how to DJ, a few have even suggested that I start my own DJ school. My answer is always the same, I can’t in good conscious charge people money to teach them what they should teach themselves for free. Now that DJing has saturated the mainstream there have been an abundance of people looking to learn the trade and an increase of organizations willing to take their money. In theory, DJ schools seem to have value, but in reality they are generally not worth the money they extort from eager would-be DJs.

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Why you are wasting your money

DJ schools are exploiting the belief that you will get at least two things of value from attending. One is exposure and time spent with gear, the other is having someone to walk you through the basics (assuming you lucked out and actually have a competent instructor who has a successful DJ career). Sounds like a great deal, especially if you aren’t quite sure if DJing is right for you or if you are looking to fast-track your way into the spotlight, right? Wrong. They are ripping you off. Even if there is a promise of some sort of fancy certificate or a “live gig” at the end of the course, you are being charged for a short period of time that will not allow you to obtain a skill level worthy of a paid DJ. Unless you happen to have unlimited funds for hundreds of hours of training, you are better off saving your money. You’d be hard-pressed to find a successful DJ that attributes their success to a DJ school.

What you should do instead

If you are unsure of whether you want to be a DJ, then go do something else. Don’t waste your time, effort, or deal with the unlimited hassle of the lifestyle. Download a fun little DJ app and have fun with your friends. If you are stubborn and still want to see if it is for you, throw a rock, you will hit a DJ, ask them if you can check out their gear and if they will show you a thing or two. Stroke his or her ego a little bit and you can guarantee they will give you some dedicated attention that you wont find in any classroom setting.

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If you know with obsessive certainty that you do want to be a DJ, invest that money you would have spent on classes and get gear. Then use that gear a lot. Play with it, explore it, record your work and listen to it. Go out, watch other DJs, watch videos, documentaries, absorb everything you can, and practice some more. If you want to DJ, you need to spend a lot of time on that gear, more time than what any DJ school will offer as part of their “curriculum”.

Your desire to DJ should borderline obsession, not some casual hobby you want to do now and then. If you put in the effort that comes with obsession versus throwing a few bucks at a hobby, you will develop your own voice and your own style which is way more valuable than sounding like someone teaching at a DJ school. Don’t pay for what you can get for free, or could put toward the cost of your own gear.

Competitions

Another scam that preys on eager young DJs and producers are competitions. While some competitions offer some actual value to the participants, ultimately they are all asking a large group of people for free work. Even if there is a monetary prize for the winner, think of all the unpaid hours of work the host of the competition is receiving and is not accountable for financially. There is a wide spectrum of ethics when it comes to competitions; from the whole thing being rigged and there is already a winner in mind before it starts (which is more common than you may realize) to an actual weighing of skill and talent where someone will actually be awarded something for their efforts. Make sure you really look into the specs of the competition, never be afraid to ask questions. Never fall for any prize that is based on notoriety, there is no one gig or competition that will make or break you. Competitions are more about ego than anything else.

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Even in the best case scenario that your work is judged purely on its merit, who are the judges? Competitions are decided purely on a subjective basis (even with point-based guidelines) and are dependent on what the judges are feeling at that exact moment. This is of course assuming it is a judged competition and not a vote-based system which is nothing more than a popularity contest and has little to do with actual talent other than talent at self-marketing. Overall competitions aren’t inherently bad, just make sure the prize is something of actual value to you in exchange for your efforts and not just appealing to your ego with the promise of being your big break.

Have friends, will book

There has been a disturbing trend of promoters expecting other people to do their job so they don’t have to. If you are looking for a non-headlining booking and the promoter asks how many people you will bring right off the bat, find another gig. Or at the very least arrange a deal to get a percentage of the door based on head count and have your own person at the door to monitor the numbers. Yes, a promoter should be concerned with how many people come through the door, but as a non-headlining DJ it isn’t your job to fill the club, it’s your job to play to the time slot you are in and support the vibe of the night. If you are being paid a flat rate, there should not be any major concern with how many people are coming to see you. That’s what the headliner is for. That is what the PROMOTER’S job is. Somewhere down the line the job of promoter has been confused with talent booker.

In short, if you are going down the DJ or producer path be an educated consumer, think about what you are putting in, in relation to what you are getting out. If you are new you will have a lot of dues to pay as it is, don’t tack on unnecessary ones.