If you take a quick glance at the chart presented later in this story, you might be fooled at first. Perhaps you believe sales of DJ products in 2011 are break-even or even negative compared to last year. However, that's not the case. The DJ market is in transition. Meanwhile, it's also one of the hottest MI market segments. Call it a case of "out with the old and in with the new."
According to MI SalesTrak, DJ sales have been red-hot this year. DJ products as a whole are ringing the register to the tune of a 10.8 percent increase for the first five months of this year, compared to the same period in 2010. (Editor's Note: We are referring to dollar sales, not unit sales.)
DJ software, interfaces and controllers (all considered one category) rocketed 50.1 percent from January to May, compared to 2010, said MI SalesTrak. Digital media player sales rose a robust 20.7 percent for the first five months of this year. "DJ products rank among the fastest-growing segments in MI retail so far this year," said Jim Hirschberg, Co-Founder of MI SalesTrak.
DJ mixers, turntables and "traditional" CD players are the laggards compared to 2010. Mixer sales dropped 8.8 percent. Turntables were upended to the tune of 24 percent. Traditional CD players were crushed the most; sales plummeted 50.2 percent.
The figures certainly don't lie. They do, however, raise a lot of questions. Are we seeing the death of traditional CD players? Are turntables turning in the wrong direction? We went to our best source, the retailers, who are making those sales and hearing their registers ring.
"We're definitely selling more and more computer-based controller systems and less CD and turntable systems," said Seth Berman, Manager of pro audio, live sound and DJ products at Alto Music's Airmont NY store. "We have especially seen that in the past year to year-and-a-half. It's all about technological advancement. Customers have finally discovered the convenience of owning a computer-based system. They know that, with a computer-based system, they are no longer limited by what they brought with them on CD or vinyl. Before, a DJ had to bring a huge crate of music with them and they still didn't have enough of a music selection on a given night. Now, your laptop has all of the music you own. You are no longer restricted by types of media that hold limited amounts of data, like a CD."
Berman added that tons of customers now ask for computer-based DJ products, a relatively new phenomenon. "It's so much easier for DJs now. You don't need to bring separate turntables, mixers, cues and other items to your gig. Now, you only need one piece that requires one cable to hook up to your computer and another to hook up to your speaker. That's it, and you're ready to go. For most people, it is the best choice economically. It's the right way to go and the smart way to go."
"Many new DJs we see in our store are familiar with digital downloads," added Bob Savarese, Owner of Music Trends in Levittown NY. "So, it was a natural progression from the compact disc. More and more DJs are replacing compact disc players with digital media controllers."
The DJ sales executive at a large west coast retailer wasn't aware of MI SalesTrak's exact numbers, of course. However, he did say DJ sales are up overall at his store. When The Music & Sound Retailer cited the research firm's figures, he completely agreed with the assessment on all counts. As for the rise in DJ software, interfaces and controllers: "We're really seeing electronic music take off," said the executive, who asked that his name not be printed. "I've seen it grow in the past few years, but electronic music has really risen in the past year. I've gone to a lot of parties and festivals in the past year, and it seems every DJ is drifting toward electronic music."
The sales executive added that most people who come into his store want to be producers because they also often see "cool" shows, are inspired by them and believe they can replicate another DJ's performance. "We are really selling a lot of controllers," he said. "That's because they are easy for consumers to use because of the quick 'cueing' function. You can just cue up everything and the controller does it for you."
DJ software, interfaces and controller sales are up 50 percent this year, he added, because, "anyone can become a DJ. All you need is a laptop. You can use music you've accumulated during the years and it's easy. Instead of burning the songs onto a disc and putting the disc into a CDJ, you can already have your playlists set. All you need to do is 'drop your tunes in.' Software and controllers get the job done so quickly."
Berman held a similar sentiment. "We often see 12- and 13-year-old kids come into our store with their parents to buy their first DJ system," he said. "You can buy low-end DJ systems for much less than you could in the past. We are seeing a lot of people who feel they can become future professional DJs."
According to our respondents, ease of use was only one reason why software, interface, controller and digital media player sales have skyrocketed this year. Although there's always an excellent market for people who dream of becoming the next guitar god or drum deity, not many climb the mountain to stardom in those arenas. However, when it comes to becoming a DJ, there's a belief you can become a professional—not just dream of hitting it big. "There are tons more jobs out there for DJs than there are for bands. There are lots of different areas you can specialize in, such as electro and house," said the west coast DJ sales executive. "But it's not just the belief you can become a good DJ. There's a belief that DJs will get paid much more money than if they were in a band."
"Music has become very easy to manipulate," said Savarese. "You can move music quickly, easily and portably to many different devices. DJs can now play music from their iPods, iPads, iPhones, digital media controllers and laptops. Music is now in more people's hands. Another thing I've seen is DJs are now becoming recognized professionals and artists."
The Owner of Music Trends did add that, although customers do think they can become professional DJs, consistently entertaining a party crowd is not easy. "It's not for everyone," he said. "You have to really love the music and love DJing to become successful. [Becoming a great DJ] is not as easy as one might think."
DJ Products Lag
While sales of technologically savvy DJ products head skyward, DJ mixers, turntables and "traditional" CD player sales are declining, according to MI SalesTrak data. The decline can be attributed to one main factor, said the prominent west coast retailer's DJ sales executive. "People want the easy way out," he said. "That's not to say nobody ever buys traditional DJ products. However, I go to a lot of parties each year. To be a DJ takes a lot of skill. But everyone wants to be a DJ, it seems. And these people truly believe they can do it."
Savarese said he rarely sells traditional CD players and similar products anymore. "I remember when we used to sell many different models and brands of dual CD players," he said. "Those used to be the key product for any DJ, especially a mobile DJ. All of those DJs who bought dual CD players at our store now buy digital media controllers. The only traditional CD players we still sell are equipped with digital capabilities."
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