With the profusion of music streaming services available today, it is an exciting time to be a DJ as new mixing softwares are starting to include streaming capabilities that can be used for performances. This has many benefits to the modern day DJ, providing a large quantity of music libraries that can be used in your DJ sets. Streaming is particularly useful for new DJs who have not yet found their preferred style or genre.
With streaming, you can mix tracks across techno, drum and bass, house and garage without having to commit too much of your hard-earned paycheque towards a new library. If you are a commercial events DJ, streaming makes it far easier to take requests from your audience.
Furthermore, it becomes possible to access and dismiss tracks without taking up space on your hard-drive or clogging up your playlists.
However, once you are settled in your sound and ready to start performing as a DJ, streaming can become problematic and should be used with caution. Here are a few of the principal problems with streaming for DJs:
Firstly, having a collection of mp3s efficiently arranged in a playlist ready for a performance is far less likely to go wrong compared with streaming. Dependent on the software that you use, streaming options may differ, but Spotify, SoundCloud and Deezer remain the most commonly integrated streaming platforms that can be used alongside mainstream DJ mixing software.
For streaming to work with any of these platforms, you'll need constant internet access. This shouldn’t be a problem if, for example, you are performing in a hotel events room with dependable Wi-Fi access, but issues will start to form when a performance venue has unreliable internet connectivity options. You will seldom find a festival DJ to be streaming their tracks, since finding a connection to the internet in the middle of an enormous field is something of a sisyphean task.
Having a playlist of mp3 tracks ready on your device means you will always be able to play the music that you want, no matter where you are.
The Importance of Knowing Your Library
Secondly, and this point may seem a little old-fashioned, but it is far more intuitive and generally wholesome having a physical music library at your fingertips. Disc Jockeys emerged spinning boxes of 12” vinyls throughout their sets, dragging around countless records from venue to venue. Although this may seem vastly unappealing in today’s culture, it is far easier to have a real connection and understanding of your music library if you have committed your tracks to vinyl or mp3.
To actually own a copy of a track means you should know the track inside-out and have the ability to make it an integral part of your performances. With streaming, it is more likely that a DJ might call upon a track that they are not familiar with or particularly well-suited to. This will result in unusual track choices, sub-par mixing and unorthodox cuepoints; all of which can ruin a performance and alienate a crowd.
Reliability and Availability
Another major problem with streaming is that, unlike mp3s or vinyl, the tracks that you are using may not be constantly available. Artists consistently find themselves submerged in visceral debates and legal battles with streaming services, sometimes outright refusing to release their tracks for streaming access.
So if you are reliant on a backlog of music only accessible through streaming, there may come a day when those tracks disappear and you are just hours away from your next DJ set. It is undeniably safer to have your music library committed to mp3, CD or vinyl, as they are much less likely to disappear unannounced.
The music industry can be a legal minefield at times, with common subjects such as sampling, copyright law, remixing and creative credibility often entering the legal agenda of musical artists.
Streaming has recently become a hot new topic widely debated amongst the discourse of music law, and the rules vary across countries and regions.
Before you DJ in a public place using a streaming platform, first check the legality behind this, you may find yourself in trouble if you are live streaming from a particular service in a country that has not yet commissioned the use of that streaming platform.
For example, some SoundCloud content partners have the ability to choose which territories they would like their content to be available in, so the licensing rights differ across regions. This may result in a track you have been using becoming unavailable if the licensing agreements do not cover the region you are in.
With electronic and dance music, it is commonplace for artists to produce varying versions of their tracks, such as a club mix, extended mix, jungle mix, acid mix and so on.
Furthermore, some remixes are only available for download directly through an artist’s profile on a platform like Beatport. So if you are more inclined to the bohemian tracks and niche mixes, don’t count on these being available through a streaming service.
In order to have definitive access to a particularly rogue track, make sure you own it as an mp3 or physical copy to avoid any creative constraints during a performance.
The Moral Debate
As with any debate, we must sometimes consider the moral implications before making a final decision. Streaming has long been contested as detrimental to the music industry and the artists who exist within it. In the past, listening to the work of a musical artist meant buying an mp3, CD or vinyl record, which directly compensated an artist financially for the public enjoyment of their work.
Today, streaming services offer artists somewhere between 0.002 and 0.006 pence in compensation for the enjoyment of their song. By purchasing the mp3 versions of your favourite artist’s music, you are offering them much more financial support than you would be through a streaming service. Although it is about the music, and not the money, an artist can continue to produce and expand their studio setup if they are reimbursed for their hard work. This is certainly something to consider when curating playlists for you next DJ set.
In conclusion, the streaming debate is a complicated and evolving one with many convincing arguments coming from both ends of the spectrum. Streaming can be a beneficial tool when starting out as a DJ, but if you are looking to take your DJing seriously, perhaps pursuing a career as an artist, then streaming will be far too problematic for you. Follow in the footsteps of all other successful DJs and build your own music library - but don't forget to back it up!