The Modern Art of DJing

As Uchenna Anyanwu gets ready to head to work, he makes one last check to be certain he has not forgotten any of his equipment. Laptop, check. CDs, check. With a final zip of his backpack, Anyanwu, more commonly known as DJ Uch, has everything he needs to do his job at 105.3 PartyFM, a Long Island radio station where he plays all the top music records weekly.

“As recently as 10 years ago, deejays had to carry crates of records to parties and purchased a lot of music on a weekly basis in order to stay current,” said Anyanwu, a professional deejay for six years who started his career after being inspired by his love for music. “Today, with the internet and laptops, anyone can download music off the internet from their home and show up to a nightclub with everyone’s favorite songs ready to be played.”

Ever since deejays were introduced in the 1960’s, the art of mixing records has evolved tremendously. When they first started playing at clubs, parties, and radio stations, they would undergo many obstacles that limited their selection to about a hundred songs they could play for a crowd.

Even at the record store, they would find themselves limited to what records they could buy because of the prices of records and the realization that they could only obtain songs that the artists were releasing.

“With the technology of mp3s and computers, the variety is endless,” said Stephen Saccente, another local deejay as he sat in his home studio with hundred of records in stacks around him. “The music that we could play, we could also be remixing, sampling, looping. It just allows us to be more creative.”

Saccente, or DJ Degree, and many other deejays now use software-based systems to play their sets. Technological improvements in digital media allow mixers to spin their records more efficiently with fewer disruptions, such as records skipping. Various programs for deejays, such as Scratch Live, are then downloaded on these laptops.

Scratch Live created by audio research group Serato, is the most popular application that is used for mixing, whether it is in the club or on the radio. The program consists of a set of conventional turntables that are complemented with audio files, such as .mp3 or .wav, from a laptop.

The songs and beats that are played from the laptop can be mixed, scratched and altered from the turntables. These programs are also able to hold and organize thousands of songs that allow deejays, like Anyanwu and Saccente, to manage their music library and find specific songs in just seconds.

The easy access of Scratch Live also makes it easier to become a deejay since the basic commands of the program are not difficult to learn. As a result, the competition for deejays in New York’s music scene is increasingly high, which ultimately affects how many jobs are accessible to deejays.

Therefore, some can only afford to do it part-time, like Saccente, who owns property and collects rents from tenants in order to provide extra income.

One solution to this problem is simple marketing skills.

“There is a lot of competition in the deejay game these days, but the ones who are winning are the ones who are marketing themselves well,” Anyanwu said, who constantly updates his Twitter account with upcoming appearances. “You can be the best deejay in the world from a skills perspective, but you must know how to market yourself to get into the driver’s seat.”

Upon his arrival at the radio station, Anyanwu begins to plug in his laptop’s cables into the system atPartyFM as he explains how the essence of deejaying has changed substantially because of the reasons why some people pursue it.

“Exclusive music is so accessible because of the Internet. Gone are the days of digging through records at a music shop, now you can go to iTunes or Beatport Top 100 and cherry pick,” stated Anyanwu, who within a couple of minutes is ready to go on the air. “I always encourage people to become a deejay if they are very passionate about it, because the more the merrier. What I dislike are the people who start doing it because ‘it’s easy,’ or they need extra money, or even for fame. It should always be about the fervent love of music.”

Anyanwu is not alone. Many deejays that have been mixing for years believe that the newer deejays abuse the privilege of the current mixing equipment by only utilizing the audio files instead of using both components of Scratch Live.

Despite the attempt to incorporate traditional vinyl turntables with modern audio technology, many times a deejay will only use the digital domain aspect of Scratch Live, or even make prerecorded mixes that are played during live sets.

Since everybody is basically using the same equipment, it is harder to stand out and more difficult for deejays to create a name for themselves when everybody is playing the same hit records. Plenty of deejays think this doesn’t propose such a big problem because to them, part of being a great deejay is selection and how well you know your crowd.

“The decrease in skills delineates the craft as easy and an everyman sport.  Yes, it’s easy to get started and anyone can do it, but skills are what make the deejay craft special,” explained Anyanwu. “Technology has helped make the deejay market so saturated right now with mediocre and average, that outstanding skills stand out even more today.”

As digital media continues to advance before individuals could even understand the latest new products, it becomes impractical to abide by traditional methods.

And where does this leave the deejay market?

The progression from crates and vinyls to laptops and mp3s formulates speculations on possible devices in the future that could change and reshape the art of deejaying even more.

“I see the deejay game going to a point where someone will deejay a party while walking around with a small wireless handheld device in the palm of their hand,” states Anyanwu, who moments away from airing worldwide, puts on his headphones and adjusts the microphone to accommodate his tall stature. “In fact, I’ve read about products that do this right now and are on sale! It’s both a remarkable and jarring image to see, but it encourages me to sharpen my skills everyday.”