Is Apple’s cute, little, ubiquitous iPod doing to the city’s professional beat-mixing economy what outsourcing to India has done to Silicon Valley’s high-paying jobs? “It’s destroying the D.J. industry,” moans one D.J. with over a decade’s pride tied up in his obscure, extensive record collection. “It’s become a hobby profession.”
“The iPod is a little frustrating because it takes absolutely no skill at all,” says D.J. Jon Jon Battles, who plays at the Park and Opaline, among other venues.
It’s easy to “be a D.J.” now. Downloading has rendered the lifelong vinyl safari obsolete. “Anyone can have access to wider types of music,” says D.J. Adam Goldstone. “All these rare records, things which were promo-only, a lot of them are up on the Net now. But if you can’t use them effectively … ”
The difference is that, at least so far, there’s no pitch control on the iPod. That means the iPod-people can’t “beat-match,” blending songs rhythmically together into a seamless, layered flow, or deconstructing them into something new, unlike with a traditional twin turntable and mixer setup. Not to mention that to the sound-system cognoscenti, digital compression has noticeably lower fidelity—“fluttery” is what one calls it. “The novelty of the technology has clubs dropping their standards,” says Goldstone.
What makes the situation all the more galling for traditional, vinyl-carting D.J.’s is that it wasn’t so long ago that their skills were in high demand. Turntable culture went mainstream to the point of being compulsory in most bars during the boom of the late nineties. Then the recession hit and bar owners began to look to cut costs. Now martini prices are on the rise, but partly thanks to the iPod, happy days haven’t come back to vinyl land. According to Jim Dier, who D.J.’s as Small Change, the going rate at many bars, $150, hasn’t changed in a decade. “Why should they get a great underground D.J. with a moderate following,” asks Dier, “when they can get ‘Laughing Boy,’ who goes out with a model–movie star and has all his friends come?”
Partly this is a symptom of the anybody-can-D.J. craze of the past few years—remember the Soho Grand’s media-figures-spinning nights? D.J.’ing became a semi-skilled profession. “The bar is so low now that I no longer play in bars,” says D.J. Ulysses, who had to get a day job. “In fact, I refuse to.”
But nightspot owners are happy; guest-D.J.’ing is a great gimmick, made all the easier by the iPod’s all-in-one playlist. And not all the guests are so unskilled, either. “If the club owner has the right connections, it’s really smart [promotion],” says Alec DeRuggiero, who handles the “iParty” at APT. “If Beck’s in town, hand him an iPod.”