Going back to the 80s, after the Human League, OMD and other “Electro-Pop” bands had kicked off with the technology available at the time, manufacturers found ways of making that technology cheaper and more accessible to the masses.
The £50,000 Fairlight CMI Series III (along with the £40 an hour programmer) was replaced by the £900 Akai S900 sampler.
It was a democratisation of making music; anyone with an idea for a bassline and an ability to program a drum machine now had access to recording. They did not have to be a virtuoso pianist in order to make a great riff.
This did however bring controversy within what was then seen as the old guard. I remember vividly seeing Roger Daltrey present the Brit award for “Best British Band” to The Cure and, during his speech, he said “I’m so glad that a real band has got this and not a drum machine or a synthesizer”
I was quite incensed by this. Was the music that I loved as a 16 year old not relevant? Was it not music? What was the relevance of the opinion of a man the same age as my mother in the world of modern popular music? Surely its all about the “kids”….
Slow (not “Fast”) forward to 2014.
In the years since, DJ culture grew. And grew. And grew to a stage where turntables were out-selling guitars. Read that again; TURNTABLES WERE OUT-SELLING GUITARS. That old world order had died on its arse (actually, not true, but it felt that way at the time!), the democratisation first started in the early ’80s had come to fruition and anyone could be an artist, just as with punk in the ’70s. At the time, the truest lyric was from De La Soul; everybody DID want to be a DJ.
But back then there was an apprenticeship which every single DJ had to go through and that apprenticeship involved learning your craft, learning a technical skill and learning how to entertain. You had to physically know how to mix two records together and you had to have an ear for what would work on a dancefloor on a Saturday night; it was a two part course that without the corresponding piece would be useless.
Then came the technology.
Just like the S900 did years ago, Ableton, Acid Pro, Traktor and Serato have “democratised” DJing and anyone can do it. Remember “Everybody wants to be a DJ”? Well now everybody can! For £249 you can buy a controller and software that will make you a master-mixer within 15 minutes of picking up the manual. You have no records? No problem! Top ten charts on Beatport and a credit card mean you can copy the best DJ in your genre straight away.
You know someone who owns a bar, you get a gig, your friends love you and everybody thinks you are great!
BUT YOU ARE NOT A DJ. YOU ARE A MUSIC PROGRAMMER.
In the years since, music that has been programmed has learned to live side by side with the organic music created by musicians. I admire many artists; I admire Aaron Funk and Tosin Abasi equally even though one is a virtuoso guitarist and the other makes music by programming on a tracker, but I enjoy them at different times, in different ways and in different mindsets. In the years to come, people will learn to appreciate the Disc Jockey and the “Music programmer” in the same way, because just as the sampler and drum machine did not actually spell the end of the musician, so the automation software will not be the death knoll for the DJ; they will eventually live together but with different appeal to different people at different times.