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Articles May-June 2021

Pursuing the Pro Audio Trail

In conversation with Caroline Moss and Sue Gould

PT got in touch with the Pro AVL Asia magazine core team of Editor - Caroline Moss and Sales Director - Sue Gould, who between them boast of over three decades of experience in the pro audio industry..... read more

NJSM Marks a Milestone in the Business of Sound

From Rental Company to manufacturer and innovator, Nixon Johnny has guided and grown NJSM from a two-person company to a fifty-person company, continuing to expand into virtual events with NJSM Virtual Studio..... read more

Tech Savvy Environment for T-Systems

Eyte Technologies installs high-tech AV Solution at T-System’s Experience Center facilitating brand value and delivering superior customer experience..... read more

Conversations with SudeepAudio

Sudeep Audio, one of India’s first pro audio web store selling studio software and equipment online commenced its YouTube Channel, ConverSAtions, in 2011 to share the journey of Indian Sound Engineers..... read more

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The Indian History of Popular Media Players for DJing (Part One)

In 2018, we DJs are spoiled with choices as far as performing on various media players are concerned. However, it is important to know the journey, evolution and exposure of some of these legendary pieces of equipment within the Indian market through the decades (till date). Of course, the mother of all players is the infamous Technics SL 1200 MK2 direct drive turntable. Everything that has come out in the huge diaspora of players and controllers has taken (will take) cues from this mothership. So in our expedition, let us try and understand the times, technologies and various factors behind the popularity of various media formats and their respective players.

Vinyl vs Cassettes

In 2018, we have come a full circle in regards with this debate as vinyl now is more popular and available than through the 80s and 90s world wide. You need to understand that in the decades gone by, there were only a few night clubs in the country; which meant fewer turntables and fewer DJs who knew how to work them. I remember vinyl being sourced by the owners of clubs (personally) on their trips abroad - so that they could update the music collection of their venue - to be at par with current international charts. I remember venues having a monthly budget to purchase and acquire music for their club’s music collection. Yes. The club had its own music collection - a practice that even continued later on in the digital music realm - contrary to the idea now where the venue relies on their resident DJ to purchase/source out the music. So, if you get an idea of these times then you would realise that music was scarce but highly cherished. However, with the boom in dance music through the 80s and 90s it was really tough for local record shops to be updated with the latest dance hits as they totally relied on imports which would take months (and sometimes years) to hit our shores.

Now through the 80s and 90s another media format was wildly popular i.e. the music cassette. Everything about this format was futuristic & ground breaking for that era - primarily its size & the fact that you could record your vinyl collection made it a worthy new contender. The Walkman and boom boxes were the icon of the 80s & many brave DJs used to attempt mixing cassettes using two Walkmen and a mixer. However, in DJing it is important to work on a format that was quick to jump through songs so that you can be instinctive about your performance and its delivery. Compared to the ease of just lifting a tone arm and then just dropping it on any groove of a record, cassettes were not as tactile. Heavily relying on its mechanics, the process included endlessly hitting the dreaded forward/rewind button of a cassette player and waiting to reach the right cue point. Our ingenious veterans though beat this problem by carefully compiling and cueing cassettes (with a pencil and another cassette player) but this required too much of prep work before the event. Besides these problems, another major issue was the lo-fi quality compared to vinyl and long term storage (as they were susceptible to fungal attacks on the magnetic tape during monsoons). On the flip side, the sales of cassettes were beating vinyl in India. They were heralded as the next big thing, cueing the sad demise of record pressing plants and availability of vinyl in India.

Compact Disc - The new contender

The Compact Disc (CD) seemed to be the new format (& the answer) for issues related to the problems of its predecessors. It was the first proper digital format for consumer use. I mean, audio was digitised from sound waves into zeros and ones - which were written & read by high precision lasers - on slim plastic discs. Compared to cassettes, the sound quality was cutting edge. But the biggest convenience was the ease and quickness with which you could skip through tracks on this format. No more pressing the rewind, forward and play/pause buttons endlessly till you reach the cue point of your choice. Along with this, the size was something that was appreciated by all DJs. Compared to vinyl (due to its weight & size), collecting and traveling with your music collection on CDs was something that saved the spines of many DJs. Of course vinyl, did prevail the test of time and is still the medium most apt for DJs to play with, but its scarcity and the existence of lesser turntables in the sub continent made it something that could be afforded only by elite venues and DJs.

The popularity of CDs really picked up its momentum through the 90s. As music shops had now quickly adapted to stocking up cassettes, it didn’t take much for them to update their inventories with their CD counterparts. The availability and convenience of this media format turned out to be a curse and a boon for the Indian music industry. Due to smugglers & bootleggers, a lot of dance imports started hitting our shores almost on time with its global releases. Piracy was rampant, however due to easy availability of quality music, more and more people started to foray into DJing. It was no more a rich man’s game and in a way you could say that CDs democratised the art of DJing in India. In Mumbai, there were a few wee known music shops with fresh stock of cutting edge dance music every week and in turn these shops turned out to be buzzing day time hangs for all the DJs in the city.

New media = New media players

One good thing about CDs were that you could manipulate and get much required features in their players (compared to cassettes) through circuitry. A lot of companies really saw this as an opportunity to make professional CD players for DJs. Pioneer and Denon were the first to give it a crack in the 90s. A simple feature like a +/-8% pitch control (a la Technics SL1200MK2) could be implemented easily with R&D in the digital domain. You need to understand that globally, vinyl was still the weapon of choice for DJs. International DJs used to travel all across the globe with kilos of records. But it took a lot of time (almost a decade later) for them to adapt to CDs. Due to the scarcity of current music on vinyl, the advent of .mp3s available on the Internet (thanks to P2P networks like Napster) and the easy availability of CD writers - we Indians were one of the earliest adaptors of CD technology for DJing.

Now in this era, the cream of the crop were the Pioneer CDJ500 and CDJ500S players. They were top loading singular CD players with ground breaking features like Cueing, Master Tempo and Looping which are considered as staple DJ features in the current age. But they were very expensive due to which you could only find them in the most elite nightclubs in the country. By now having the latest music on a convenient format was the most important thing for most Indian DJs. Pitching and beat mixing came second as they could still keep the night going with the help of smart drop mixing - aided with deft track selection. So a majority of club and mobile DJs adapted to these times through endless trials & tests with good quality consumer CD players in comparison to the penultimate Pioneer and Denon players. Out of many of these models nothing was as solid and reliable as the Sony CDP-S45.

Popularly known as the S45s these players by Sony almost became a staple in India, before the advent of professional CD players for DJing. They were single loading CD players (with an ejecting tray mechanism) and came with an infra-red remote. Now you need to know that there were many Discmen available at that time too, however they were not as reliable as the S45s when it came to the lens quality and CD skipping due to low frequency vibrations in loud environments. Remember these were players not meant for DJing, so a lot of DJs used to use the Play/Pause button till they reached the desired point and un-paused it when they needed to drop mix. This could be done by using the buttons on the player and the remote as well. Using the remote was again tricky as one remote could control the functions on both the players at a party. So DJs had adapted to it by cheekily palming the infra-red sensor of one player, while operating the other through a singular remote. Also, these players were not as quick as modern ones. There would be a 2 second delay in pressing the button and hearing the music. Beat mixing was achievable (not impossible) provided you chose 2 songs with the same tempo, cued (paused) on the right moment and drop mixed by considering the 2 second delays. The art of DJing was purely reliant on instincts with these - learnt the hard way through many frustrating moments. But it was great fun - requiring time tested skill sets from a DJ - which made fortunes for many mobile and professional DJs all over India.