Take a stroll through the DJ section of your local music store and you’ll find a seemingly never-ending array of all-in-one MIDI controllers ready to kickstart your future career as an in-demand club DJ at a reasonable price. Over in the corner, you might notice some analog mixers and turntables, but they’re too expensive, and who has a vinyl collection, anyway?
This has been the near-universal mentality of young adults emerging into the digital music scene for as long as I have been a DJ. The first DJs I ever saw perform were other college kids using Vestax VCI-100s and sometimes Akai APC40s. None of them had ever touched turntables or even CDJs, and so when I went looking for my first piece of gear, USB MIDI controllers were the only things on my mind. Luckily for me, they were also cheap and easy to find; I bought my very first MIDI controller for $40 at a department store. By the time I decided to upgrade, I was so used to the controller/software combo that turntables were not just out of my budget, but out of the question entirely.
Undoubtedly, most DJs starting out these days will find themselves in situations similar to my own. This means a lot of things for the future landscape of DJ culture. DJing will only increase in popularity and visibility as prices drop and budget MIDI controllers become widespread. On the one hand, the more, the merrier. In my experience, the DJ community has been nothing but universally supportive and admirably inclusive. I have found that veteran mixologists are often thrilled to be able to share tips and tricks with enthusiastic beginners eager to become the next Porter Robinson. With prices so low and options so abundant, it is true now more than ever that anyone can learn to be a DJ.
However, that does not mean that everyone who buys a MIDI controller is a DJ. That subtlety is a lesson that has gone unlearned by many across the nation, and the result is a legion of glorified iPods with legs taking over the nation’s frat houses. Whether this is a bad thing is up for debate; after all, the heart and soul of being a DJ is creating great playlists. Now, more people get to hear more music, human jukeboxes get the temporary fame and glory they desire, and the same four or five hot-new-remix blogs get huge boosts in traffic. The only ones left to suffer are dedicated Pioneer and Rane customers whose jobs are slowly being taken away by teenagers with $100 pieces of plastic. However, more discriminating (and higher-paying) clients should be able to tell the difference between an experienced and qualified DJ and someone who just bought their first piece of gear.
Nevertheless, everyone has to start somewhere, and I personally think the universal availability of MIDI controllers is a huge boon for people who have always wanted to be DJs (like my past self) but could never afford turntables, a mixer, and a crate of vinyls. From my humble beginnings with my ION Discover DJ, I’ve slowly worked up to more advanced 4-channel mixers and the occasional DVS system, and hopefully someday I’ll have my own pair of Technics SL-1200s. Call it the American Dream of digital DJing – it amazes me to think that only a decade ago, it might not have been possible at all.