Is a DJ a Musician?

Technology has ‘blurred the lines’ …by Ryan Ulbrich

In 2011, producer Will Wiesenfeld (aka BATHS) recorded the track “Exit the Mine” to one day be played at his own funeral.  He composed the song on the iPad app Beatmaker 2, and plays it live through the device. A few months before, classical composer Alexander Van Ingen crushed a live piano solo on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon also on the iPad, this time using Pianist Pro.  And Björk just made the world’s first “app album,” Biophilia, a partnership with Apple where the tracks were released in the form of individual apps.

Newbies and pros alike are using consumer products to create and perform music more seamlessly and creatively.

Not only this, but the genesis of groups like SoundCloud epitomize one thing — nowadays, anybody in the world can be a DJ (myself included).  The Berlin-based company has grown quick like wildfire from a million users in 2010 to more than 15 million today.  It’s a global community for audio creators, and through unique following and sharing features it’s made the likes of now-ancient MySpace obsolete.  Most importantly, it gives out two hours of free recording time for any average Joe.

And take The Hype Machine, the blog of all blogs, an aggregator that collects and assorts tracks from more than 1,500 other individual sites.  It was created by a computer-geek-turned-millionaire (aren’t they all) at Hunter College and has created a new underground pop culture, turning the traditional “Top 40” on its head.  Any kid in any basement in any city in any country can now produce the next hot track or remix.

But what does this all mean for the integrity of music? Well, more people can make more art, and that is a good thing, and that’s all there is to it.


If companies want to push innovation to improve my experience of it, now giving me, the listener, the power to create something for myself then so be it.  Fine by me!  Plus, anything to challenge traditional pop ratings is up my alley.

The stigma of electronic music and using technology to create sound is almost always due to people’s doubt of its authenticity.  It goes like this:

“Dude…you’re just pressing buttons.”

“That’s not your music; please don’t take credit for playing it.”

“Do you ever work with anybody but yourself?”

Egregious attempts to sell the image of being a DJ don’t help either.  Rap star Flo Rida just made BeamzbyFlo, a measly thing with pathetic lasers that simulates scratching a vinyl and switching tracks.  But it’s invisible (no, actually, it is) and markets to our culture’s yearning to “be a star.” Go figure a guy who doesn’t actually DJ is launching it.

Meanwhile, there’s an entire community of DJ’s and producers whose talents are unprecedented, and they get drowned out by crap. Watch Cut Killer, RJD2, Araabmuzik — these guys clearly get it. They use gizmos and gadgets to arrange their sounds…but thats just it, they arrange their sounds. It’s their art because it’s unique, regardless of its origin. That’s what’s most important, taking that ownership.  Most of us don’t do that.  Most of us have something to say, and most wish they could say it somehow creatively, but we don’t.  Now we can.

Don’t get me wrong, my first concert ever was Paul Simon opening for Bob Dylan. I remember thinking to myself at the ripe age of 9, “who’s the guy with the really annoying voice?” Since then I’ve collected a shameless amount of Dylan’s Basement Tapes, and today, he’s one of my favorite artists of all time. And that’s the most moving, complex rock-folk-country-blues that’s ever hit my ears.

But my fingers were always too small to play guitar.  I tried a few times and my hands hurt for days, so I put it down. I gave up on piano lessons at an early age, waiting for the day to pick it up again.  Today, software and tech products allow me to create an experience of music for people, not necessarily the music itself.  And it’s fun and I enjoy it and (hopefully) so do others.

So why not?

While there’s a place in my heart for Bob, there’s also a place in my heart for artists like BATHS, using technology to say something to be played for his own departure.

Say what you will through music of any kind, made any which way, and take joy in it.

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