Simon Cowell’s DJ talent show, its obstacles, and why it’s not the end of the world
This morning, a friend contacted me asking what I thought about this new possible Simon Cowell DJ talent search show, which has been the topic of much discussion lately, for an article he needed to write. I gladly shared the same thoughts that I had been replying to posts on Facebook and Twitter with for the past week or so.
That’s what led me to write this post, not only so that I’d have one place where I’ve stated my opinion on it, but also because today I’ve been thinking about it in more depth than I had been previously.
As you may have noticed, and it couldn’t have possibly been easy to avoid, this prospect has been met with much hostility. Lament, because they think it’s going to suck. Confusion, because they don’t understand how this show can come to fruition. Rage, because “god dammit electronic music is being commercialized!”
I can’t really comment on that first point because I cannot see into the future. This could be the sickest talent search show since Libya’s Got Talent.
The concern of whether this show is even plausible is a credible one. This isn’t American Idol, where you can get a good idea of someone’s singing talent from a roughly four minute sample. There are so many questions to be answered before this program can become a reality.
How are these DJ’s being judged? What is the criteria? Who determines song selection, the show or the talent? How long is each set? Who is watching each set? Can it fit in a 30 or 60 minute timeslot? How do you judge crowd reaction? How will the sound translate through crappy TV speakers? How do you recreate the club/venue experience? Is it based solely on technical skills? How do you define a DJ?
The list goes on. Cowell and the show’s team of producers will need to creatively answer these if we can have the show be even remotely watchable. However, that last question deserves greater analysis.
What the fuck is a DJ these days?
If you ask a turntablist who’s been spinnin’ since the ’70s, he’ll tell you that you’re not a DJ unless you’re using vinyl. Ask someone on CDJs, and they’ll say unless you’re beat matching without a laptop you can’t call yourself a selecta. Ask a controllerist, and they’ll probably bring something up about having to mix songs live. Ask someone using Ableton, and, well, they’ll just point out that at least they’re not using YouTube.
There are honestly countless setups that “DJs”, however you want to define one, use on stage in this day and age. Hardware can range from turntables, to CDJs, to DJ controllers, to launchpads. Hell, Paper Diamond performs his entire set on an iPad. Would he be eligible to compete on this show?
Software can be Traktor, Serato, or even digital audio workstation (DAWs) like Ableton that are intended to be used for production, not live mixing. Many don’t even use software and a laptop at all, and look down on performers who are “constantly staring at a laptop screen.”
With the variation that is inherent in each and every setup, and the fact that many of these different DJs battle each other like they’re engaged in holy war, how do you account for traditional vs. digital vs. Ableton spinners? I promise you that if someone wins using an APC 40 the old guard will have a panic attack.
Deadmau5, who actually discussed the prospect of a show like this at length on his Facebook page, uses Ableton and a hodgepodge of various midi controllers, vehemently states in interviews that he’s not a DJ.
So what exactly is a DJ? And if it’s a strict definition, then what do you call everyone else? I sure as hell have no idea. Let’s see if Cowell does.
Now let’s assume that this idea does become a reality, because none of these reports say anything concrete other than that it’s being developed and worked on. The biggest concern is that our lovely little genre of music, which has exploded into relevance the past couple years, will become overly commercialized and ruined.
What did you think was going to happen? Has anything ever gotten popular and kept its integrity? This happens every single time something becomes “cool”, we really shouldn’t be surprised anymore.
The thing is though, that unlike traditional live shows, causal fans are going to electronic shows and have no clue what the guy on stage is doing. Sure, not everyone who goes to a rock show knows how to play the guitar, but they have a basic understanding of the instrument. They recognize how it works. The same can’t be said about a set of decks, and due to their lack of visibility, even hardcore fans won’t pick up on it unless they decide to try their hand at the art themselves.
So what happens? You have a room full of people at a Skrillex show (don’t mean to pick on him but it’s the easiest example) losing their minds when he drops a remix of a popular song thinking that it’s some wild live mix. This is what pisses these grumpy turntablists off. Their audience rarely recognizes their talent.
Musically, I can’t see viewers walking away from this with anything monumental. But if done right, this show can help both new and grizzled fans alike earn a better understanding of what exactly is going on behind the DJ booth.
What I have in mind, is something like this video below:
DJ Sounds did some great work with those videos, and have many more on YouTube if you’re interested.
Sure, you’re not going out to Webster Hall tomorrow and start rocking a sold out crowd, but you begin to recognize how different interactions influence the mix.
Will they care? Maybe, maybe not. Plenty will be content just dancing away after half a bottle of Goose to a great sounding mix. Still, if an even mildly entertaining (albeit superficially) show can help educate people along the way, the result is a more knoweledgable and appreciative fan base.
For those of us who truly love electronic dance music and want to see it be a culture, not just a trend, isn’t that what we should want?
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