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Beat Matching: Is It Still A Valid Skill?

If there is anything more boring than DJs arguing over beat matching and sync technology then we truly hope that we never have to hear it. It’s a subject that still seems to get some DJs so incensed that they post some really sarcastic memes on their socials. Beat matching and syncing technology is a subject that unites the dance music world in that it seems that everyone has a strong opinion on the subject.

There are two basic camps – first, those who think that beat matching is a vital part of DJing, and that  DJs who can’t/won’t beat match are somehow less ‘authentic’ than those that do. Then there are those feel that beat matching is an outmoded, and un-needed skill. Are either right? The truth, if there is a truth at all, is perhaps a little more complicated.

It is certainly true that a DJ doesn’t really need to learn how to beat match anymore to be able to DJ – the technology will take care of all that stuff for you. And true, for many people, beat matching was/is both difficult and boring to learn. (There are a few, rare DJs who claim that they learnt in an afternoon, but for most DJs, learning to beat match by ear was/is generally a challenging process). It could be argued, however, that learning to beat match, simply by virtue of the fact that it was difficult and time-consuming to learn, used to ‘weed out’ those aspiring DJs who didn’t have the requisite commitment. Thus, beat matching used to function as a gatekeeper, that ensured only the most committed and therefore potentially the best DJs, could join the club. 

The other side of the argument is that sync technology frees up the DJ to spend time doing much more important and interesting things such as concentrating on selecting the perfect tune, mixing multiple tracks together, using an acapella, utilising FX and so on. This is clearly true and it sometimes seems that the attachment to beat matching as some kind of art form to be treasured and preserved ignores this basic fact.

If there is a benefit to learning to beat match then it isn’t that it’s more ‘real’ or ‘authentic’. It’s simply that the process of learning to beat match – analysing two pieces of music at the same time and then adjusting their relative pitch in order to get them in perfect time – in some way ‘trains’ the ears of DJs. Learning to beat match develops the particular skill of being able to clearly discern two separate tracks at the same time, a skill which is still very useful when mixing in a live situation, regardless of whether you can beat match or not. Learning to beat match inevitably also serves as a great foundation for understanding the structure and timing of music too. And perhaps all that time spent practising and learning about your chosen genre contributes to a better understanding of what might work on a dance floor too.

So there is no inherent value to beat matching in and of itself. Any ‘benefits’ that are attributed to beat matching are simply the results of spending large amounts of time listening intently to two pieces of music at the same time. Equally, whether a DJ uses a sync button or not really shouldn’t be an issue; clearly it’s what they’re syncing – what music they’re playing – that is important.

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