Music is such a common element in our everyday lives that we often lose track of the vital role it plays in deeply connecting people. Back in the day, the main bridge for such connection was that of the DJ, whether via radio or at a party. Yet even with the advent of streaming technology, social media and more, somehow the DJ not only still plays extremely vital parts as both disseminator of music and overall tastemaker but is now increasingly playing a stealth and impressive role in driving actual consumer sales in real time. If we are truly in the era where nearly every consumer brand is feverishly chasing the experience economy, then get ready because the DJ is at the forefront of one of biggest, new experience trends to impact culture and wielding it all backed by state-of-the-art technology.
RETAIL DANCE FLOOR
If you want to know about the business of DJing, Rob Principe is a more than worthy tour guide-of-sorts meets impresario. He is the founder, along with the late Jam Master Jay of the legendary rap group Run DMC, of Scratch which offers not only the leading academy offering the ability to learn the art of DJing but also Scratch Events, the stealth power behind an increase in sales and branding which just might be one of today’s best kept marketing secrets.
To understand this growing phenomenon through which you’re about to wade, it’s first helpful to understand a bit about the intersection of music and human activity. Music drives our emotions and behavior in ways that are so complex that the inner workings have even been studied by MIT. Essentially, music ramps up and or deepens an experience in mysterious and intriguing ways.
That’s why years ago you might have heard some bland music piped through speakers at a local mall or ‘80s pop at a cheap gym chain. But tweak this recipe a bit and fast forward to today, and insiders are beginning to realize that the human brain activates in ways that deeply increase business if a live DJ is present playing music in real time and, if you’re lucky, with flair.
Principe’s locked into such understanding back in 2003 and has been a pioneer at painstakingly carving out a new industry which drives that of a number of other industries ever since. Indeed, chances are if you’ve seen a DJ lately at your local H&M, Crunch Fitness and/or Samsung Experience, Scratch Events has orchestrated the appearance along with the brand. The company is now expanding into stadium presence and hospitality. In fact last year, the company helped drive the experience economy via DJing that it executed more than 12,000 different placements and says that in one day the company even did a record 450 various, national DJ placements within a 24-hour period, including the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
“Though we still have to educate about this,” explains Principe, “innovative marketers are beginning to understand that this is not just about a cool factor. DJs actually drive revenue. All the data shows that when we have a DJ in, for example, a retail outlet, the consumer stays longer and the spend increases. They start to get lost in the experience of the music, lose track of time, and next thing you know, they are at the register buying more than they had originally intended. Each of our clients shows the same data over and over.”
Indeed, record labels, genres, distribution formats all may fade, but music itself is only gaining in popularity. The intriguing thing is that the DJ remains a constant primarily because he or she controls the experience, facilitates the sharing and drives the emotion in a way that we mere mortals can’t given the equipment and expertise. And if the the click-and-mortar trend that, say, companies such as Casper and Samsung have ushered in continues to build as many believe it will, the DJ will be become even more vital in creating an ambience that is saturated in experience that is intended to drive sales.
Scratch has been so busy as a such a supplier that the company event built its own tech portal to schedule, manage and handle accounts payable and receivable. When asked further about technology and the DJ world, Principe muses, “Well, tech has both helped and hurt the DJ industry.”
Let’s talk about how it’s helped.
TWO TURNTABLES AND A MICROPHONE, VERSION 2.0
DJs are massively reliant upon their ears as much as they are the technology that powers nearly everything they touch while creating “experience.” Nothing happens without the equipment, aka gear, and for those who may not know, the entire proposition has evolved massively from just a couple of needles and two turntables like back in the day.
DJs may drive many industries, but in fact they also contribute heavily to a relatively hidden but massively powerful one. Indeed, the DJ Equipment market was valued at $410 million in 2017 and is projected to reach an impressive $680 million by 2025, at a CAGR of 6.6% during the forecast period.
Turntables, mixers, controllers, monitors, headphones and more make up the DJ’s toolkit. In fact, a quick, helpful 101 about the vital place of gear is nicely explained by a company called QY Research:
DJs use equipment that can play at least two sources of recorded music simultaneously and mix them together. This allows the DJ to create seamless transitions between recordings and develop unique mixes of songs. Often, this involves aligning the beats of the music sources so their rhythms do not clash when they are played together, either so two records can be played at the same time, or to enable the DJ to make a smooth transition from one song to another. An important tool for DJs is the specialized DJ mixer, a small audio mixer with a crossfader and cue functions. The crossfader enables the DJ to blend or transition from one song to another. The cue knobs or switches allow the DJ to pre-listen to a source of recorded music in headphones.
And it’s now the production innovation around much of this equipment that is driving sales in the industry. Randy White, senior buyer at Chuck Levins, a leading retailer in the space explains, “Technology now creates the opportunity for entry level or bedroom DJs to come into the market place at a reasonable cost so we’re seeing even more demand.” Indeed, products like the Hercules Jogvision controller (think: digital hardware version of turntables with a ton of bells and whistles, more or less) provide access at budget-friendly prices enabling the rise of entrants into a world of opportunities. White continues, “The most important thing with technology innovation is the ability to bring to market incredible upgrades to products that will increase the DJ performance. The biggest draw generally is new breakthrough product like with Pioneer DJ’s launch of a brand new product, the DDJ-1000SRT.
What a new iPhone release is to the mobile phone junkie, is this Pioneer DJ’s controller product to many in the DJ community. It has been a massively unexpected hit for the company kinda like what Game of Thrones was to HBO. The company knew it had something good, it just didn’t know how good. Pioneer DJ says that the DDJ-1000SRT is nearly sold out in retail stores since it’s very recent release because the product is selling twice the amount per month what Pioneer DJ expected to sell causing the company to rush to continue to whip up more, and in doing so, the 1000SRT is breaking all sales records.
John Powell, President of Pioneer DJ Americas told me, “We’ve been making controllers for years. We first created our own software called Rekordbox, not to compete with [leading DJ software company] Serato, but simply to facilitate our company’s goals.” Thus, this product actually existed about a year ago as a Rekordbox product but consumers saw it, thought it was great and asked if Pioneer could re-create it with Serato software inside, which was no easy feat.
“You have to understand,” Powell says, “There is tons of engineering behind it something like this so it never seemed like an ideal time for Pioneer DJ to collaborate with Serato to create such a product, but their engineers’ time freed up a bit right while we had the most advanced controller in our line, and it all just clicked. The result is a product that is, therefore, both evolutionary but also revolutionary.”
The 1000SRT is now the only controller of its type with maximum offering of hardware from Pioneer DJ with that of Serato’s leading software infused. It is coveted because it completely disintegrates the need for a DJ to be reliant upon his or her computer to access software to manipulate music and effects while spinning. And that makes this product very sexy, in fact so sexy that it sold out in 20 minutes during its red carpet premiere-of-sorts at the recent DJ Expo.
ANNUAL TECH, DJ CONVERGENCE
According to Jim Tremayne, editor in chief at DJ Times and who also oversees much of the content for the annual gathering produced by Testa Communications, the DJ Expo, which launched as an annual event in 1990, was America’s first trade-show to specifically identify DJing as an actual market. Before this event, DJ-related gear was often regarded with disdain. Tremayne says that buying DJ gear wasn’t as easy as, say, buying a guitar or professional loudspeaker. Some pro-audio shops wouldn’t even carry it.
“We believe DJ Times and, specifically DJ Expo, helped change that,” says Tremayne. “It identified a market that was previously undefined and it gave DJs the respect they sought.” With its exhibit hall and educational seminars, it’s where mobile-DJs, that is DJs who bring their gear from gig to gig as opposed to, for example, resident DJs in Las Vegas who shows up at an impressive device set-up, clamor to see the latest in DJ gear innovation. While the conference rooms are hushed as DJ take notes during panels and workshops, the exhibit floor is a veritable massive nightclub-of-sorts with stands, lights and volume levels thought to be impossible.
Tremayne adds, “Tech has driven the DJ market the same way it impacts other markets. Innovation has made DJing more streamlined and efficient, so those new products become must-have. Not only has digital playback affected the market, but we’ve also seen dramatic impacts on the mobile-DJ sector from innovations like active loudspeakers and mobile app-activated actions.”
FROM DIGGIN’ IN THE CRATES TO SEARCHING FLASH DRIVES
If the DJ is creating a powerful experience around many businesses today thanks to such gear and skill, naturally, the art form is nothing without the recording artists who create the music. That recorded music, which was once the exclusive realm of vinyl in terms of DJing, is of course now very much shared with the digital download realm to which DJs subscribe and in doing so has created a sub-industry enabled by tech that helps keep the DJ current on the latest releases.
Enter, BPM Supreme the leading music digital subscription service for radio DJs, radio programmers, club DJs and professional DJs across the globe and the largest service of its type in the world both in terms of subscriptions and traffic, according to the company. They have managed to capture such market share by tirelessly focusing on strategy over the eight years since the company’s inception. With a team of only 40 people, BPM is actually physically curating music hourly in a number of genres to keep subscribers to the tech platform happy.
DJs find every digital version they need on BPM Supreme. You name it: the clean version, dirty version, acapellas, radio edits, intros, exclusive edits, and remixes. This past January, the company also launched the BPM Supreme mobile app, which acts as a streaming discovery tool for DJs to find all the music they need on the go. Both versions feature a nice, clean user-interface.
“The digital age allows people to release more music so it’s much harder to curate,” explains Angel “AROCK” Castillo, the founder and CEO and a DJ since 12 years of age. “We take a lot of pride in doing this ourselves, but we definitely use artificial intelligence when it comes to better understanding the end-user and helping them select trending songs, for example.” And while streaming is a nearly everyday occurrence in the average consumer’s life, most DJs have shied away from actually DJing a set from streamed music unless the connection is absolutely reliable.
But this could change soon.
Adds Castillo, “Through R&D and strategic partnerships, BPM Supreme has plans to introduce solutions to this such as offline download modes, streaming integrations with popular software, and cloud storage for music files. Our goal is to change the DJ industry and set a new standard for how people everywhere find, create, play, organize, and perform with music.”
With the upcoming advent of 5G, Castillo just may find himself reaching his goals even more quickly and, as an FYI, Pioneer DJ is already testing such capabilities via its DDJ200 which runs off an iPhone, is a 12x18 device though intended, at this stage, more for get-togethers than a pro gig.
HEY, DJ JUST PLAY THAT SONG
Indeed, reliable connection, the right gear and more is truly everything to the DJ powerati. In fact, I experienced what it’s like to become a DJ firsthand at Scratch’s Academy arm. While one may be able to actually accomplish a few simple things within a couple of weeks, the whole art becomes complicated very quickly, and is nothing like most have ever experienced. It has been described best to me as something that is like learning a musical instrument, and it’s true.
These DJs, well, the good ones, are actually counting bars of music, analyzing music structure, commanding Serato technology, analyzing beats per minute and more to exceed listeners expectations and sometimes create spectacle, simultaneously. It is extremely challenging but on the rare moments it all actually synched for me, it’s kinda like a fleeting moment of nirvana.
Bring this all together, and it’s an intoxicating mix that is creating a dynamic impact on our culture and business today. The DJ is not only driving a new level of experience and sales but, because of their tight-knit and extremely influential community, are definitely tastemakers at a level that can be deeply potent due to their profound passion and often times, impressionable fanbase.
Says Tremayne, “See, this is a market with a growing base, and it’s powered by tech. It’s not a fad. It’s here to last. DJ culture is everywhere in America.”