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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The sync button strikes again

Pioneer recently announced their new CDJ-2000nexus which, not only adds a lot of new (if not gimmicky) features to its industry standard player, but also adds the ever controversial sync button. CDJs have now officially bridged the gap between traditional hardware technology and current DJ software and controller technology.

To sync or not to something something

For those of you living under a rock, one of the biggest beefs CD-jockeys have towards software/laptop-jockeys is the availability of the sync button which allows for one-click beat matching. CD-jockeys cite (often unknowingly ironically) that they are keeping it ‘real’ by not using this automation and relying on skill and art to mix tracks. Meanwhile software-jockeys claim (ignorantly so) that beat matching isn’t really a skill, that the sync button is just a tool that opens them up to be more artistic in other areas that actually matter, and that if you don’t like it don’t use it. Vinyl-jockeys just shake their heads at everyone. So who is right?

First, I think it is important to clarify the huge difference between getting two songs to be at the same tempo for a 16 count transition and riding the pitch in order to keep two or more songs sync’d up for several minutes. The latter takes a tremendous amount of skill and practice over the former. Not to mention the fact that how the artist approaches this task will give create a unique sound and style. Automating this process removes the human element and creates a more sterile feel and experience. Proponents of the sync button argue that beat matching isn’t really an art to begin with and is only a minor part of the DJ process at best, citing that selection, presentation, and other qualities are the true art form. This isn’t quite correct as they are all components of a bigger picture. You can pull out and focus on several aspects of DJing and defy that they have any artistic quality when in actuality it’s how they all fit together as a whole. It’s like saying the stroke of a paintbrush is just a quantifiable ratio of force and requires no real skill and has no real bearing on a painting. If we were to automate the brush stroke process of a painter we would reduce the artistic quality considerably, despite the fact the artist still having to know the placement and kinds of paints used.

Yes, automating the beat matching process saves time and can allow one to focus on other forms of expression, but at what cost? If someone is doing their own beat matching and are able to do these other tasks, isn’t there a higher artistic value? Does a painting with automated brush strokes have a higher or lower artistic value than a hand painted one? There is value in effort alone, the doing something in a way that is the unique result of that manual labor itself.

The “don’t like it then don’t use it” argument

“Keep up with the times, besides, if you don’t like the sync button you don’t have to use it.”  A common argument that sounds fairly straight forward, but like much else in life, there is a deeper issue.  DJing and dance culture as a whole are already saturated fields where quality is being replaced by quantity in every aspect. Making tasks easier at the expense of artistic expression and skill only makes things worse. There isn’t much quality control going on to begin with, so how many more overpriced headliners that are faking their way on stage do we have to endure? Why are we making it easier to flood our lives with the mediocre? I’ve always been a proponent of art over convenience and this is no different. Even acknowledging that a some people will use the sync button to expand other artistic areas (and I suspect people profoundly overestimate this number) the flood of people using the sync button to achieve status as bookable is just not worth it. Even those of you concerned with money over art should at the very least be concerned for this reason alone as a flooded market drives prices down.

Realistically, love it or hate it, it seems the sync button is here to stay. With any luck however, we can shame people away from using it and keep the art alive and well in what we do.