DJ Technology: An Evolutionary History

Kristin Houser Writer & Editor, LA Music Blog

Ever-improving music technology gives DJs a massive toolbox that makes playing and making music truly innovative and interactive.

To say that DJs are reliant on technology isn’t a bold statement. After all, people have been creating music for roughly 50,000 years, but the art of DJing didn’t emerge until just over a century ago, when the first audio radio broadcasts came on air.

Our modern concept of the DJ, that person behind the decks keeping the party going, is an even more recent notion. DJing has been continually shaped by innovations in the world of technology, from early hardware devices to cutting-edge software applications to websites that help DJs know exactly which beats to drop.

The Technics SL-1200 series, the original “Ones & Twos,” secured its place as the most common series of turntables used by DJs soon after its launch in 1972.

It would remain the standard until two decades later, when the emergence of CDs would lead to the creation of Pioneer’s CDJ-500, the first CD player designed specifically for modern DJs. Using this piece of tech, DJs could now loop segments of music on the fly, and the player’s master tempo function made it possible to change the tempo of a song without changing its key.

With the new millennium came the rise of software-based music tech, and the art of DJing would never be the same. Using Traktor, Ableton Live, Serato and other packages, DJs could add a multitude of effects to their tracks, automatically match beats and set digital cue points, making their manipulation of music much more efficient and fluid.

Today, any amateur DJ with an Internet connection can access a wealth of forums, tutorials and downloadable apps online to help them hone their craft.

The software packages used by DJs are constantly improving (Traktor Kontrol S8 was just announced in September), and some DJs are even collaborating with tech companies to create entirely new software. At this summer’s Pukkelpop Festival, acclaimed DJ Deadmau5 performed live for the first time on Microsoft’s 55-inch Perceptive Pixel, an all-in-one PC with a touchscreen that was equipped with custom software his team created with Microsoft.

Perhaps the greatest impact made by tech on the art of DJing, however, is in the music itself.

While you’ll still find analog enthusiasts scouring milk crates at record shops, on the hunt for the perfect obscure sample, a DJ’s setlist is no longer limited by the amount of vinyl they can carry from club to club.

With a practically unlimited selection of digital files at their fingertips and the ability to almost instantly download even the most obscure request, today’s DJs are better able to cater to their audiences.

They can change up a setlist on the fly as the vibe of a room dictates, improving the listening experience for their fans, who can in turn download their new favorite tracks on their mobile devices without leaving the dance floor.

Of course, keeping up with the best in the world of electronic music in no small feat, but for the past decade, one website has remained the principal online destination for DJs and fans looking to stay in the loop: Beatport.com.

The site launched 10 years ago as a digital music download store for DJs, built by DJs, and its sales charts are considered the go-to source of information for what’s currently popular in dance music.

Lloyd Starr, COO of Beatport and president of newly created Beatport Pro, put it perfectly, describing Beatport as “a platform for all things related to electronic music culture—from artist services and tools for DJs, to news and information for fans, to talent discovery opportunities for labels.”

To kick off a second decade of electronic music domination online, the company recently unveiled a new logo and Beatport Pro (beta), an updated version of its music store. Key changes at launch include search enhancements, a new visual design, layout improvements, improved low-light functionality and mobile optimization.

According to Starr, that final point of making sure Beatport Pro was mobile/tablet-friendly was “extremely important [because] DJs are active people.” He said the updated site is “just as accessible and easy to use on a smartphone as a laptop,” but getting there took some work.

“We rebuilt the site from the code level up using an entirely new programming language, and emphasized responsive design,” Starr said.

This new code also results in “a far more flexible site” that will allow Beatport to respond more quickly to user feedback. “We launched this as a beta so the community could interact with it and give us feedback on what they’d like us to add or change,” he said.

As with other successful tech brands in the world of electronic music, Beatport’s willingness to respond to its users’ needs and wants is a key contributor to the site’s success. As the art of DJing continues to evolve with the latest tech, there is no doubt Beatport will evolve right along with it.


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