Real DJ vs. Algorithm – Who Delivers Better Music?
Everywhere we look these days, it seems that automation is on the march – and now it appears to be headed straight for the dance floor. Music lovers who have been involved with Icecast hosting or SHOUTcast hosting are probably aware of the endless prophecies that new technology will soon make human DJs obsolete. Radio stations have faced rising competition as more and more listeners flock to automated music services like Pandora and Spotify. This begs the question: in an age where we can use algorithms to auto-curate our own unique playlists, do we need the steady hand of the DJ anymore?
Many commentators think so, but there’s plenty of room for skepticism. After all, are we really ready for robotic algorithms to start manning the decks? And can a robot possibly pinpoint something as notoriously finicky as a human being’s taste in music?
THE CASE FOR ALGORITHMS
People in the digital age love to have options when it comes to consuming their media. Automated music services give users the ultimate control: not only can they listen to any song they type in, but they can guide the algorithm so that it produces exactly the type of music they want to hear at that moment. The playlists produced are random enough that it still feels like old-school radio, even though the user and the algorithm are in control.
This is where it gets worrisome for DJs. When you’re listening to someone else’s playlist, it’s a powerless experience. The DJ is going to play what they’re going to play. You have the power to choose which station to listen to, but once you tune in, you’re in the DJ’s hands. In this sense, DJs are a bit like the rigid primetime TV blocks that people have been shunning in favor of DVRs and Instant Netflix. Many listeners want the power to curate their own musical journey. They want the classic experience of listening to the radio – but they want the radio to play according to their parameters. The algorithm allows you to sit back and let the music play, comfortable in the knowledge that you set the course of the journey and can change it up at any time.
THE CASE FOR REAL DJS
But what if having no control over the playlist is, in fact, the most valuable thing about radio? After all, DJs have been a crucial part of the music industry ecosystem since radio’s humble beginnings. So many genres, from psychedelic rock to gangsta rap and dubstep, might never have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for ambitious DJs who believed in promoting new sounds. Algorithms have no emotional attachment to the songs they select; this means that potentially groundbreaking music might get overlooked because there’s no DJ to champion their songs.
And say what you want about DJs, but they’re still making pretty good money in today’s increasingly digital, automated world. That’s because a DJ is, first and foremost, a curator of music for a specific audience. The DJ is an authority. A priest of sound, if you will. Their value lays not so much in their technical skills, which any computer will soon be able to match, but in their deep knowledge of the music they choose to play. A good DJ doesn’t just feel out an audience – they surprise, exhilarate, and energize them. In doing so, they’re performing a complex social function that no algorithm can fully match.
DJs are valuable for the same reasons that heart surgeons and electrical engineers are: they are experts. There’s a certain trend in this digital age that tells us we can be masters of everything, but is that always such a good thing? DJs are professional scholars of sound, and we shouldn’t be afraid to let them take us on a musical journey.
WHERE TO LISTEN
Thankfully, there are more avenues than ever for listening to radio DJs online. You can browse the streams for various radio stations online at Icecast.com and SHOUTcast.com. You can also search for independent cecast radio or Shoutcast radio stations that have built up loyal followings because they spin great music for a faithful audience. You can find hosting for your own channel here at Zencastlabs.
If you want to hire a DJ in the flesh, there are sites like Gigmasters, where you can browse profiles of DJs in your area and stream their sets online. We have access to a staggering quantity of music these days, and algorithms can be a fun, efficient way to navigate through the noise, but there’s always going to be a place for a real live DJ.