The Sync Button. The singlemost cause of animosity and controversy in the DJ world. Experienced DJs felt this new technology was killing the craft. This is such an exciting time to be a DJ. There’s so many ways to manipulate sound and indeed, create sound while live on stage. In the right hands, amazing things happen that humble many of us.
What is the Sync Button?
Knowing how to beatmatch manually automatically garnered a DJ at least some type of respect, and when Sync buttons were added to certain platforms, it was received very poorly by DJs who had taken the time to learn to do it by ear.
The Sync Button allows DJs to automatically beatmatch music whereas before they were required to spend countless hours learning how to beatmatch “by ear”. While some systems are better than others, most are very good at lining up the peaks in the kick, and will rarely have issues creating a seamless mix of two tracks. Some systems are nearly perfect, while others occasionally need some tweaking. Overall, its a handy too.
DJs Like to Live in the Past
I’ve been doing this for about 14 years now. My first piece of equipment was a Denon 1800F Dual CD player. CD decks were just starting to hit the market at the time, 95% of DJs still used vinyl. It had no looping functions or Sync or effects. The only thing that really separated it from a turntable at the time was the CUE button. But that didn’t stop every vinyl DJ I met from calling me a cheater or telling me I wasn’t a DJ at all.
See It For What It Is
One need not dig very deep to find a grumbling undercurrent of DJs who simply hate the fact the SYNC button exists. Opinions range from it being called a “cheat” and some DJs believe it will bring about the end of DJing altogether.
Why? The Sync Button is a tool just like the looping features or CUE button on any deck. I didn’t hear these same DJs complain about the quantize feature coming out, making seamless looping much easier. Learning how to create manual loops sometimes proved just as much a challenge as beatmatching.
As someone who can manually beatmatch quite well, I welcome the Sync button. Quite simply, it allows me more opportunity to do things. Even at my best, I might spend up to 30 seconds or more trying to “lock” two tracks together before dropping the next one into the mix. Even if I rush the track in and make adjustments to the pitch on the fly, I’m still going to be spending time making those adjustments to avoid a beat mismatch or trainwreck.
There’s a lot more to DJing that just beatmatching. There’s lots of fader cutting and EQ manipulation that can be utilized. Mixers are loaded with effects now. These aren’t automatic, they take skill to work. Even still, there’s showmanship. There’ programming and layering.
Having the sync allows me more time to work other exciting opportunities in my mix. Mixers and Midi controllers today have lots of effects and ways to modify the track I’m playing. Effects and Processing can be just as difficult to master because, like beatmatching, if you mess it up, everyone hears it.
And don’t get too worried about kids not having to pay their dues learning how to beatmatch by ear. Those that skip learning how to do it by ear may never learn some of the other valuable lessons that one will pick up while playing track after track for hours on end. They may miss out on understanding things like like phrasing, 64 counts or anything else that dawns on you when you become an experienced beatmatcher. I tell new DJs that learning how to beatmatch by ear is like going to college. Your goal might be one thing (mechanical engineering degree) but the experience of college will teach you so much more than that.
Let it Be
DJing is not just about beatmatching. If anything, Beatmatching as a skill come in a distant third to Programming and Mic Skills. Knowing how to read any type of crowd and having a collection of music to satiate them is exponentially harder than beatmatching, in my opinion. No one is going to care if you blend a bunch of lackluster tracks together smoothly. So ease up on the SYNC button and learn what it can do for you.
Putting together a set beforehand isn’t the worst thing you can do… but make sure you know how to read a crowd first before you do it. Your instinct will prevail.
And while we’re at it, it’s very hard for a DJ to have a totally unplanned set at a festival. Why? Those lightshows work best when there’s some coordination between people running them and the DJ. The music will impact the masses longer if what they are seeing matches what they are hearing. Besides, remember the 80/20 curve?