I first encountered Serato Scratch Live
at a house party a couple of years ago. I had lugged in a stack of about thirty records—the other DJ lugged in his laptop, this little box…and his entire rig. My first impression of the device basically amounted to, “That’s neat. Looks simple enough and it’s obvious that things have come a long way since Final Scratch. But, hey, buddy! Your 128k constant bit rate MP3s sound like shit!”
Last Sunday, however, I saw the same gear in the hands of someone who actually had decent, recently-downloaded tracks instead of a scattered collection of crappy dance music remixes from the late 1990’s. Lo, I am impressed!
This got me thinking about some of the excuses I’ve given myself in the past for not “going digital.”
Excuse #1: Vinyl sounds better than MP3s.
This used to be true. It’s not anymore.
Let me be clear about one thing: I am not a digital DJ and never have been. I’m a purist by habit, not by any perceived moral standard or whatever, but all my tracks are vinyl—straight up.
But let me be clear about something else: every time I hear some self-proclaimed audiophile go off the handle about how vinyl sounds better (“warmer, richer!”) than MP3-encoded tracks, I start to get just a little violent. Like okay, if I had gold-plated RCA connectors, quadruple insulated cables, and a five thousand dollar stereo system with a preamp built in, then maybe I would be interested in listening to this attitude. Just because you spent $150 on a pair of Skull Candy headphones doesn’t mean you are allowed to talk hard about recording quality.
Anyway, it’s called variable bit rate, y’all. MP3 encoding has made leaps and bounds over the past decade. I can record a vinyl track to my computer, and if I use the right software and compression, you will not be able to tell the difference between the original vinyl and the MP3 when I play it back for you. Seriously. Try it yourself. Amaze your friends.
For the curious: I record using a Behringer USB audio interface to Adobe Audition (I’m a CoolEdit 2000 user from way back) and compress my mixes to MP3 using variable bit rate compression with an average bit rate of around 128kbps since they’re for download. The occasional track I produce, I try to keep at 256kbps average.
Anyway, MP3s sound just as good as (and, in some cases, better than) vinyl these days. And with all the online services out there who use good encoding (GigaCrate for instance, but even Amazon.com and the iTunes store are up on that), the primary reason most DJs give for staying pure and not going digital goes right out the window.
Excuse #2: I don’t want to lose my old school cred.
Your big stacks of wax say that you have pushed, struggled, and worked hard to get your hands on the tracks you’ve got. You have spent countless hours diving into crates, your head down among the cracks and dust. There’s an art to that, a sort of craftsmanship, and you’re proud. And these newbies just…download MP3s?
I’m with you, brothers and sisters. So what? Don’t stop buying vinyl. Don’t ever stop. When you’re in the booth, and you throw down some honest vinyl, and you prop the sleeve up behind the decks so everyone knows you’re for real, you will not lose any traction with your emo/indie rock fanbase just because you’re sharing space with a Macbook.
Take some of the time and effort you already spend all upside-down in the bins at Waterloo Records or whatever, and consider how much more effective your musical prowess could be with the entire Internet at your disposal. Drop the puritanical attitude, and you could be dropping the KEXP Song of the Day at the club tonight.
Imagine all the stuff you hear on stereogum that you wish would come out on vinyl “one day.” Oops. It just did. All of it.
Excuse #3: I don’t have the money for new gear
Check out the marketing material for Serato, TRAKTOR, etc. and what you hear repeated a dozen times is, “you will save hundreds on vinyl because you buy only the tracks you want!”
To which I say, “Nooooooooo! My life is enriched in myriad, deep, meaningful ways by paying full price for a whole album even if all I want at the time is the single!” Seriously, you will save money is about the most backwards reasoning I can think of as to why you should throw five Benjies at a new piece of equipment.
If you’ve been DJing for any amount of time, you’re already in the game for over two thousand. If you pick up a digital DJ rig today, and you’re like me, then you know you will spend hundreds more on MP3 downloads in the next year than you ever have. And, if you’re like me, you will continue buying complete albums even though you know you’ll only ever play out two or three tracks from each one.
Money is about the only reasonable excuse I can come up with for not owning Serato (or something like it) myself right now. It’s the excuse I’m sticking to. But when I manage to scrape it together, you better believe I’m getting my hands on the thing. I’ll let you know what I think of it once I’ve been living with it at home for a while.