Harold Heath makes the case that “streaming won’t kill the DJ star”.

There’s a sense in most parts of the music industry that this is it now: we had the digital revolution, file-sharing, torrenting and the near-death of the physical medium, and now it’s all settled down and streaming is the default format for music consumption. Personally, I’m not convinced that the current streaming model is sustainable for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here (if you’re interested, Liz Pelley has written some great stuff on streaming), but let’s just say for the sake of argument that streaming does become the de facto method of music delivery/consumption for the DJ community – what might this mean?

Well, it means that digital mixers and players will be able to collect and collate information from DJs about what they play, by whom and for how long. So this could mean that rights-owners will receive correct remuneration in a timely fashion when their compositions are played in public. And it’s also likely that DJ setlists will become way more accessible, enabling fans to find out exactly what their favourite DJ played last night. All good so far yes? Still, waiting for the DJ ghosts part though right? Bear with me.

One other consequence could be that digital mixers will be able to harvest every single piece of information from their actual front panel controls. So for example, aside from collecting data on song choice, a digital mixer would, in theory, be able to gather information on how the DJ actually DJed. How the crossfader was used, when the track volumes were used, how fast were they moved, how and when the different EQ channels were manipulated, when the filter and effects get used and in what way and so on, all the little tweaks that a DJ does during the course of a set could be stored as data.

Now imagine a well-known DJ – let’s say Sherelle – imagine that every club and radio set she plays for the next year is analysed and every piece of data from the mixer and the decks is harvested, each mixer tweak and adjustment is collected. After a while, any self-respecting Artificial Intelligence with access to all that data would easily be able to learn exactly how Sherelle DJs. Were you then to give the A.I. a bunch of relevant tracks, it could do a pretty decent impression of her mixing style. In fact, if it had all her playlists, it could probably pick the tracks itself. We’re only a couple of decades into the digital revolution and we are about to invent DJ ghosts; virtual spectres made of zeros and ones on the ones and twos.

...people have been predicting the end of DJing pretty much since the beginning of DJing and they’ve not been right so far.

Perhaps in the very near future, you’ll be able to pay to stream tracks from Sherelle’s latest gig. If she uses cue-points or loops on any of the tracks, if she pitches them up or down, that info can be included too. And then for an additional fee, you’ll also be able to download her Easi-DJ Style Template™ ® and your streaming platform will mix the tracks together, Sherelle style, with all the beat-matching, quick-mixing, filter sweeps, EQ tweaks and reloads that may entail.

Is the idea of a corporate algorithm perfectly imitating your favourite DJ worrying? Is it creepy, depressing, is it symptomatic of the relentless drive to digitise and commoditise every single aspect of life? Maybe a bit. Does it even signal the end of DJing? Probably not; people have been predicting the end of DJing pretty much since the beginning of DJing and they’ve not been right so far. Anyway, best not to concern ourselves with larger existential questions, no doubt soon enough they’ll be an algorithm that can deal with them way better than we can.

If there’s some kind of endpoint, some inevitable conclusion that we’re headed towards, it might simply be this: in the future everyone, even A.I.s, can be a DJ.

Harold Heath is a journalist based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter.

14th February, 2020

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