A key focus of DJ culture is the constant evolution of sound and, of course, the equipment that delivers it. Jimmy Savile launched the world’s first DJ dance party in 1943 in Otley, England, and his creativity later resulted in the first known simultaneous use of two turntables to create continuous playback of records.

6_AkshenSince then, the evolution of DJing hasn’t stopped. DJs graduated from turntables to CD players, CD players to USB flash drives, USB flash drives to DJ controllers—paired with laptop computers, of course—and, now, even on to smartphones, tablets and DJ software that stream music during a performance. Alongside these new music-delivery methods came new product categories, which supplement the party experience: equipment like DJ mixers that aid in the smooth blending of multiple songs, special headphones that allow a DJ to hear upcoming music inaudible to the dancefloor, lights that rotate, flash and twinkle in a wash of color and haze, and an array of speaker-system combinations that provide the perfect sound for any room imaginable.

This technology revolution has also fostered career evolution. A new genre of dance music flares up every few months, grabbing hold of the dance music consciousness; accompanying these musical tides are waves of superstar DJs like Calvin Harris, Tiësto, Steve Aoki and others.

But not everyone can be a superstar DJ. Thankfully, low-cost, high-quality gear exists in today’s market, and plenty of non-rock-star DJs can earn a respectable living working for DJ entertainment companies. For some mobile DJs, gigs serve to generate supplemental income, whereas, for hobbyists, DJing is an escape that distracts from the day-to-day grind. Regardless of where a DJ or lighting engineer fits in, MI retailers are primed and ready to serve these unique segments.

In order to get more information about the DJ and lighting components of the industry, The Music & Sound Retailer reached out to Randy White, Senior Buyer of Pro Audio, Lighting and DJ at Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center in Wheaton MD and Jeff Kwan, General Manager of Canal Sound & Light in New York NY. As you read this story, keep in mind that we’re simply taking the pulse of the DJ and lighting segments from a birds-eye view. This piece is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all notable companies, brands, products and technologies. Instead, it’s meant to encapsulate the opinions and expert analysis of these industry insiders who work “in the retail trenches” every day.

As we reported in last year’s feature, sales of once-dominant tabletop CD players continue to taper off, with their original function—playing CDs—only being utilized by a tiny group of jet-setting superstar DJs who still carry CD booklets and CD burners in their travels.

Over time, most superstar DJs have moved toward carrying USB flash drives that plug into hybrid tabletop CD players. As the dominant CD player manufacturer for many years, Pioneer DJ anticipated this shift and, in late 2014, the company announced the XDJ-1000: a USB-only tabletop player very reminiscent of the venerable CDJ-2000 (which includes both CD and USB options). Pioneer has continued the USB-only trend this year by releasing the XDJ-RX, an all-in-one DJ controller that works with USB flash drives only—no laptop or CDs.

In several ways, the XDJ-RX’s design incorporates the same layout as the CDJ-2000—another unsurprising fact. When asked about sales of the unit, White said, “The XDJ-RX is on fire, but you can’t really talk about how great it is because its demand far exceeds availability. At Washington Music Center, we’ve only seen five or six pieces all year. I think they really underestimated what the sales were going to be.”

3_Boris_TherapyBut let’s toss those USB drives aside…the controller and the laptop are the real king and queen, nowadays. When probed about what’s hot right now, Kwan simply said, “Pioneer DJ controllers.” When asked about what’s grabbing all the attention on the sales floor, White also responded by saying, “All the Pioneer controllers.” You can see where this is going.

There are two new Numark controllers in the mix now, as well: the Numark Mixtrack Pro III, a two-channel offering that’s “too new to have very much sales history,” according to White, and the Numark NV, an innovative four-channel controller. He added, “We thought the Numark NV controller would be really strong this year, but, surprisingly, it hasn’t delivered so far.” That’s unfortunate for Numark, considering, as White said, “The Numark NS6, a four-channel controller, was killed off by the Pioneer DDJ-SX in 2013. Current sales of Numark’s NS7 II have cooled off, too, because DJs are waiting to see what’s going to happen with the upcoming NS7 III.” Kwan said he thinks the controller will be out at the end of this month.

What else is new? “The Denon DN-MC6000 controller has also sold well,” White remarked, “but the DJ mixer market has been kind of spotty.” Rane introduced a new two-channel mixer for Serato DJ users—the TTM57mkII—that, according to White, “has sold decently this year.” Rane also introduced its new MP2015 Rotary Mixer, but Washington Music Center hasn’t seen many come off its shelves quite yet.

“I sold the MP2015 to a pretty well known DJ/producer…a guy who was involved in a lot of big records in the 1990s and early 2000s,” White noted, “but the problem is that a lot of DJs don’t know how to use it. They’re afraid of it.” He continued, “A lot of guys are used to running their mixes into the red with the Pioneer mixers. So, when you crossfade, it doesn’t really matter. But, with the Rane MP2015, which has no crossfader, you really have to learn how to mix your levels and how to gain structure properly.”

Relative to DJ product that isn’t moving well, Kwan said he thinks that DJ manufacturers haven’t gotten wireless audio right yet. “We’re based in New York City, so we’re tougher on the product and run into some difficult scenarios,” he explained. “Wireless audio might work in the suburbs, but it doesn’t seem to be working in the cities.”

Signaling that the DJ industry is still in a state of flux, White also remarked that the turntable market hasn’t taken off “like it was supposed to” after Pioneer introduced its new PLX-1000 turntable. Vinyl has remained “segmented to certain parts of the country, with the rest proving pretty weak,” he remarked, pointing to New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago as pockets of strong vinyl sales. “It’s nowhere near what Pioneer had been expecting when they made the effort to bring the turntable back,” he concluded.

8_ZTripWhen pressed for insight into why few new DJ products have been introduced so far this year, White mentioned, “You typically see new DJ products released around DJ Times’ DJ Expo, a conference that takes place in August every year. Sometimes, products will launch before; sometimes, they’ll launch afterward; sometimes, they’ll launch during the Expo.” [Full disclosure: the publisher of DJ Times also publishes The Music & Sound Retailer.]

An unfortunate development this year for the DJ industry was the “mad dash for all of the Vestax product,” spurred by the Japanese company’s bankruptcy filing in early December 2014. “Once people figured out that Vestax was going out of business,” White began, “there was a huge rush on the remaining stockpile of product.” In the short term, that has been great for retailers with remaining inventory. However, in the long term, it’s a respected manufacturer that’s now out of the running.

When probed about what happened to Vestax, White posited, “We’ve heard a lot of different stories, but they’ve never been a company that was very liquid, money-wise. As good as the product was, they had issues with distribution from day one, and they had to move manufacturing from Japan to China, struggling to stay competitive in the end.”
Speaking of the competition, Pioneer Electronics spun off its DJ division in late 2014 in order to focus on its car audio business. The Retailer was unsure of what ripple effects this might have on the DJ segment of the MI industry, but, so far, Pioneer DJ’s flag has remained firmly planted at the top. White estimated, “They have 75 percent of market share across the board, if you consider controllers, CD players, mixers and turntables.”

“Pioneer really has the DJ controller market under their thumb,” White continued. “They’ll bring a DJ in at an entry level with an iPod, iPhone or computer, and then they can graduate them from one controller to the next. So, once a DJ is a core fan of the brand, they’ll go from a DDJ-SR to a DDJ-SB to a DDJ-SX2 to a DDJ-SZ.”

Light It Up


As The Retailer reported last year, incandescent bulb sales have nearly dried up, although White noted that Washington Music Center is “still seeing a little bit of PAR activity, selling a few 64514 ELCs because there’s remaining product out there.” Kwan reported that Canal Sound & Light rents out occasional “old-school pinspots” for “venues that want an old-school ’70s look.” But, by and large, the lamp business is gone, with the exception of ellipsoidal bulbs.

When asked about what’s hot this year, Kwan and White both mentioned uplighting, moving heads, LED and beam fixtures. Battery units are big right now and, according to White, when it comes to battery-powered uplighting, Chauvet is “winning the war” with its Freedom PAR Quads and Hexes.

When asked how DJs can use lighting to complement their craft, White was quick to point out that, today, “Anybody can be a DJ.” He also asserted, “Everybody in the world now offers uplighting,” so DJs really have to “up their game” because some “have everything battery-powered,” whereas others “have wireless DMX, or even complete color palettes.” Kwan recommended that DJs get an edge over the competition by using tricks like projecting a client’s name, color scheme or logo onto the wall by using a gobo projector or a laser.

As far as how the lighting industry “feels” out there, Kwan said he thinks that things are heading in a good direction, considering more and more DJs are experimenting with lighting by “starting out simple and graduating from product to product.” In order to make room for this new gear, Kwan noted, “DJs are shrinking their DJ setups in favor of adding lighting.”

Kwan remarked that the laser fad has died down this year, with sales having fallen quite a bit, but he isn’t sure why. He stated, “It may have to do with the fact that hazers aren’t allowed in a lot of venues,” a limitation that, according to White, is a huge frustration for many. “That’s the bad side of LED,” he said. “A lot of venues don’t allow you to use fog or haze, but it’s misguided. If you get the right unit, it won’t set off fire detection, and it’s not an issue for asthmatics.” Kwan added, “These venues are moving away from oil-based fog in favor of water-based fog.”

For better or worse, most of the lighting gear is, in fact, LED when you’re dealing with dance music. Because of this, White said, “when you buy a dance effect unit like a Chauvet Swarm 5FX, GigBAR or ADJ Aggressor HEX LED, what you see is dots because you can’t perceive the beam development.” So, DJs, take note: a lot of wedding planners and photographers don’t like LED because the dots show up in the wedding pictures.

As we head into 2016, Kwan thinks DJs and other lighting engineers are going to start adopting more software that pairs with control surfaces, which is a sentiment that White echoed. “Clicking on buttons within software is not as fast or as fun as using a controller,” Kwan noted. White said he views the most underserved segment of both DJ and lighting as the lack of dedicated video-mixing controllers for video DJs. “At a bare minimum,” he said, “manufacturers should change their templates to add certain VDJ presets to the buttons that already exist.” Kwan pointed out the Martin M-Touch as a new, powerful control surface that lighting guys can use with any compatible DMX device.

Kwan got heated during our interview, passionately explaining why he’s concerned by DJs heading to Alibaba to import Chinese knockoffs that have been reverse engineered from American products. When asked why DJs should choose product distributed in the U.S., Kwan said, “Why trust that inferior product? Why import over domestic? It’s a cheaper, copycat product with no support and no parts if you need them.”

Taking a look at the DJ and lighting segments from every angle, it’s clear that, although the DJ and lighting categories are experiencing some growing pains, they are powerful components of the MI industry that will continue to allow retailers to fatten their bottom line for many years to come.

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