Vinyl or Digital DJing: Which is Better?

It’s the age-old argument among electronic music artists, vinyl vs. digital? Frankly, we’re sad to se the scene so divided. We’ve heard all of the complaints about new-school kids button pushing followed by the counterargument that old-school cats can’t update their sound to keep up with today’s trends.

Each argument holds little water, but either way, that’s hardly the real point at hand.

Vinyl or Digital DJing: Which is Better?
A bit of a bridge between the old and the new, George Evelyn AKA Nightmares On Wax uses both old and new technologies to create his signature sound. Photo – Nightmares On Wax – Facebook.

There are some DJ’s out there who are content to just push a few buttons during their sets, adding little more than effects or the occasional, “How are you feelin’, (name city)!?”. They do exist. But in all honesty, that’s not half, or even the majority of electronic artists today.

While advancements in music production software and technology have made it easier to produce music and DJ than it previously was in the analog, vinyl only days; that doesn’t mean that today’s scene is devoid of talent. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

To put it into perspective, is a horse jockey different than a NASCAR driver?

Of course they are. Do they use different technology? Damn straight. Does that make one better at racing than the other? No. They’re entirely different skill sets. While both are forms of transportation, they’re completely different ways to get to the same endpoint. Cars can go faster and farther than horses do, but horses can go places that cars can’t.

They’re the yin and yang of the same argument. Different sides of the same coin.

21st century production software does allow for artists and musicians to take some shortcuts in their productions and mixes. Example: the sync button. Whereas beatmatching mastery was a required skill for old-school DJ’s, the advent of the sync button has changed the landscape dramatically for their new-school counterparts. Does that mean that new-age producers don’t have talent? Absolutely not. What it does, in the hands of true musicians, is free them up to do different things while they mix. DJ’s and producers are adding live instrumentation into mixes, throwing never-before-heard effects and breaks, and flowing faster than ever before.

Vise versa, if you toss some of today’s headliners onto some turntable decks, give him/her a couple crates of vinyls, and tell them to get to work; well, that might end with some less than stellar results. Can some of the top dogs in the game today run both vinyl and digital sets? Hell yes they can, but that’s hardly the standard. While some skills from either art are completely complementary, others rest areas that are entirely their own.

For another side of the argument, just take look at Dave Tipper’s work. Do you think that his discography would be the same in the analog-only age? No f***ing way. But, can most Ableton-only, clip launch style DJ’s, scratch and bend beats like an old-school vinyl mixmaster. You’ll find the same answer.

What it truly comes down to is how you use the tools in your bag.

Going to the analog side of things, vinyl DJ’s are the forefathers and the founders of what we know as EDM today.

They created this entirely new style of music, pushing it and expanding upon it so that newcomers could pick it up and run with it. Does it take longer to sit down and learn all of the nuances of a vinyl rig to be able to put together a solid mix. Yes, I do fully believe so. But even that’s just an opinion.

We’ve seen this same exact argument take place before, back in the 1960’s. When musicians, especially folk musicians like Bob Dylan, went electric – the universe went berserk. Shows were boycotted, records were destroyed, and Dylan was denounced by many of his fans. So what happened? He continued to be Bob f***in’ Dylan, that’s what.

He kept doing what he does best, writing songs and creating music.

Although the platform was different, the true goal of the process was the same, and he created timeless material as both acoustically and electrically.

So vinyl vs. digital, it’s all really an opinion. In essence, that’s what music taste is anyways, personal preference. Just because someone can pick up a guitar and let some classical flamenco music explode from their fingertips while someone else can take the same guitar and annihilate the world with some gritty, earth-shattering metal riffs, does that make one better than the other? No, and it shouldn’t discount either side’s work, either.

Vinyl or Digital DJing: Which is Better?
Blending the old and the new, this setup combines both hardware (analog) and software (digital) components. Photo – Ableton – Facebook..

Different strokes for different folks, that’s what it’s really all about.

In short, in the world that we live in today, there’s room for understanding and respect for every serious musician’s craft. Yes, there will always be musicians who hop on the bandwagon to try the ‘get rich quick’ scheme, creating subpar music while they’re at it. That will exist until the end of time and in every musical medium. But we don’t have to blame each other for it.

Instead, we can focus our energies onto sounds and artists that truly resonate with us, focusing on things that wow us and add that extra excitement to our day rather than things that make us angry and miffed. Celebrate the diversity of the music that we’re lucky to have in our lives, and take something from everything that you hear so that you can create the next conglomerate love child of the musical world.

That, my friends, is what it’s all about.


photo credit: Mat Zo in Boston via photopin (license)

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