Technology has changed the face of DJing. From the original days of mixing vinyl to the CDJ revolution all the way to the digital transformation. In that time DJ software has become an integral part of the DJ landscape. Software opened a whole bunch of new creative options to DJs. With these options, it also introduced the Sync button. Since its introduction DJs have argued whether using this function was cheating or lazy. In this article, I’ll cover both sides of the story. Giving you all the info you need when deciding whether to use the Sync button or not.
What is Sync?
Let’s cover the basics first. Modern DJ software allows you to activate the Sync button which will automatically beatmatch the songs on your decks. To do this the software analyses the song and sets a beat grid based on the kick drum. It can then assign a BPM (Beats per Minute) value. Using this value the software will then stretch or shrink the other track to match the BPM and also align both beatgrids. This function is now commonly found on DJ controllers. Even a cheap DJ controller will have this functionality. All you need to do is hit the sync button and voila your tracks are beatmatched. But is it that easy and straightforward? Let’s dive into the details to find out.
Why Some DJs Hate The Sync Button
Before the technological revolution hit DJing the skills involved in DJing were manual. The first skill any budding DJ had to master was how to beatmatch two tracks. This was a time-intensive process of understanding the music and understanding the gear. In the old days, there were no displays showing the BPM of a track. A DJ needed to use their hearing to adjust the tempo of the track to match the BPM. They also needed to align the tracks using their hearing.
Beatmatching is a difficult skill to learn and many beginner DJs gave up thinking it was too hard or too time intensive to learn. Of course many persisted and learned the skill of beatmatching. It’s usually these DJs who dislike the Sync button. In their minds, it insults the years of practice and hard work they have placed into learning to beatmatch. Having anyone be able to hit a button and beatmatch two tracks comes as a bit of an insult.
DJs used to not be front and centre like they are today. They were often in the corner of the room with nobody paying attention to them. It was all about the music. With the explosion of DJ culture, many DJs are idolized in the same way as traditional musicians. Some DJs use the Sync button to speed up their preparation time so that they can engage with the crowd. Traditionalist DJs see this as self-centered and taking away from the core of what it means to be a DJ. They feel it shouldn’t be about them and it should be all about the music. In their eyes using the Sync button only helps encourage other DJs to spend more time hyping the crowd or themselves.
Using the Sync button is also seen as lazy by some DJs and not respectful to the traditions of DJing. DJs were paid for their skills, one of which was their ability to beatmatch. Having a button that automates one of those fundamental skills opens up the door to more people. This has increased competition for traditional DJ’s.
Why Some DJs Love The Sync Button
Now that we have covered one side of the argument let’s go over the other side.
Some DJs don’t have a problem with others using the Sync button even if they don’t use it themselves. In their eyes, beatmatching is a skill and not a defining aspect of what makes a DJ great. They compare it to other advances or shortcuts that technology has improved. For example, we no longer need to pull out huge maps and plot our routes since GPS technology has changed how we travel. Technology continues to shortcut any process that can be automated. It was only natural that beatmatching would follow the same path so why not take advantage of this change.
Using the Sync button can also free up valuable time for a DJ to find the perfect track to mix in without fearing they will run out of time to beatmatch it. With the massive amount of music available at a DJs fingertips having that extra time can be crucial.
The Sync button can also open up a large number of creative options to DJs. Layering multiple tracks, adding acapellas and loops can create unique and engaging transitions. Having extra time also allows a DJ to focus on getting their EQs right. It also opens up the door to adding effects. Some DJs will even jump across a track using preset cues knowing that the Sync button will keep everything in line.
While some want to return to the days of the DJ not been front and centre it’s not what the culture is like now. DJ’s that can interact and engage with a crowd is not something to be frowned upon. When used correctly it will enhance the crowd’s experience.
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Does Using The Sync Button Make You a Good DJ?
So we now know the opinions of both sides. To be honest both sides make some good points. In the end, the most important thing to realise is that using the Sync button won’t make you a good DJ. It may help prevent trainwreck mixing but it doesn’t address all the other elements that go into DJing.
Learning to beatmatch by ear is a skill all DJs should learn. It will give you insights into song structure and timing that will be invaluable to you as a DJ. It’s also is a great backup. While Sync technology will get it right 95% of the time it isn’t perfect. There will be occasions where the beatgrid will not be analysed correctly and the Sync button will be useless. Knowing how to beatmatch by ear will save you in these circumstances.
Keep in mind that beatmatching is a skill that can be taught to anyone who has the patience. Even if you know how to beatmatch by ear it doesn’t mean that you are a good DJ. I like to compare it to an artist. You can be taught techniques on how to draw or paint and be provided with the best tools. Having this knowledge won’t automatically mean you can create amazing pieces of art. This comes from experience and a deeper understanding of the craft.
A good DJ will spend time building and crafting their sets. They will experiment with transitions and effects. The goal of any DJ is to create a memorable experience through the music. The goal is not to highlight that they can beatmatch one track to another. Knowing when to start mixing, layering and EQing your transitions are more important. Two beatmatch songs can still sound horrible if mixed at the wrong time.
Opening the door to more creative mixing options by using the Sync button is also something all DJs should experiment with. As a DJ you can’t stop others from using the Sync button. If you want to stand out you’ll need to learn other techniques to set yourself apart. Amazing track selection and seamless transitions are a good starting point. Layering extra effects and tricks will take your mixes to a new level. All these extras highlight your ability as a DJ.
If you are a beginner DJ I would recommend you learn how to beatmatch by ear. That way you have an understanding of this fundamental skill. It will also be great if you’re ever in a situation where you are mixing on gear without that function. Once you have mastered this skill don’t feel like you have to always beatmatch by ear. The Sync button is a tool on controllers just like hot cues, samples and loops. Feel free to treat it as such.
If you are an experienced DJ don’t feel like you are cheating by using the Sync button. You’ve already proven to yourself you have the fundamentals down. Take your DJing to the next level by experimenting with technology. People want to hear great mixes, they don’t really care how it happened.
If all you want to do is have fun there is nothing wrong with using the Sync button. You can focus that time and energy on improving your other skills. You can always go back and learn how to beatmatch by ear down the track.