DJ And Lighting Retailers Adjust To Changing Technologies, Roiling Economy
By Brian Berk
Smartphones. iPads. Even mobile wallet payments at retail stores.
New technologies have left quite the impression in the past couple of years.
Technology has definitely affected what some would refer to as the music products industry’s most hip niche: DJ and lighting products. Whether those changes have been positive or negative is up for debate. However, there is one certainty: DJ retailers must quickly adjust to the changing times.
How big are the changes in the DJ industry? According to Bernie Fryman, President at Chicago area-based Audiolines.com, the changes are really big. For example, CD/DVD-operated DJ players are going the way of the dinosaur, he said.
“Everything is computerized,” said Fryman. “Every kid in the world—no matter how affluent they are—owns a computer these days. Those computers, even the cheap ones, are smarter than the best CD players we ever had. Therefore, only a minority are buying CD-based systems. The majority are buying mixers, controllers and sound card combinations. Dual-transport CD players used to be a [top seller]. Now, they are gone. Dead. You can’t give them away. Five years ago, you were considered a nerd if you used a computer [as a DJ]. Now, it’s the standard.”
Thus, Fryman advised DJ and lighting retailers to sell controllers, but he offered this caveat. “Don’t stock 300 [different styles of] controllers…or even 30 of them,” he said. “Stock six of them at peak price points like $299, $399, $599, $799 and $999. And make sure to learn those controllers. Because, otherwise, you’ll go crazy. You can’t know everything about everything.”
Fryman added that, when it comes to lighting, light emitting diode (LED) has become the number-one hot seller. Incandescent bulbs, for the most part, have been forgotten. “LED is the buzz word,” said Fryman. “Incandescent light bulbs don’t even sell below our cost.”
Even as Audiolines.com, which operates a 15,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar business in Lincolnwood IL, has found the right product mix to sell, Fryman told The Music & Sound Retailer that the rapidly weakening economy has been too staunch a foe to overcome. Although the U.S. economy appeared to stabilize early in 2012, it has derailed recently, led by rising unemployment and continued European uncertainty.
“The price of gas has killed people,” Fryman said. “When you have to put gas in your gas tank, you don’t have the money to buy a DJ system.”
Robert Marsh, President and Founder of Ronkonkoma NY-based I DJ Now, admitted the DJ and lighting market has been changing rapidly recently. But he added that that segment of MI often sees dramatic shifts.
Despite a weakening economic landscape, Marsh told The Retailer that DJ/lighting sales at his stores and Internet Web site have increased year-over-year. In fact, the company’s sales have increased in 22 of the past 23 years (with the flat year registering back in 2002).
“DJ sales are in-line with our projections, and have been consistent in growth,” he said. “Sales improved nicely in our retail stores, [as well as] our Internet sales [this year].”
Sales in the segment are also strong at Fort Wayne IN-based Sweetwater Sound, confirmed John Grabowski, the company’s DJ and lighting Category Manager. “DJ and lighting are both growth categories at Sweetwater Sound,” he said. “Business this year has continued on the previous year’s growth path, and we expect that growth to continue, especially as the DJ market moves even more into computer-based music production. Lighting is a newer category at Sweetwater, and the many choices in reliable, cost-effective LED lighting solutions are helping fuel growth there.”
As for Fryman’s assertion that DJs have ceased purchasing dual-drive CD players, Marsh admitted that a majority of DJs have moved away from buying them. “But there’s still a large portion of DJs using CDs when you consider a national customer base,” he said. “Of course, CD usage is shrinking as a whole. Many of today’s players still house CD drives to support a migration of the media transition, as many players still utilize CDs. The conversion to a completely digital format is obvious.”
Grabowski held a similar sentiment to that of Marsh. “Some DJs are still using CDs, and we still see steady sales of professional CD players like Pioneer’s CDJ series. But the market is definitely shifting more to media players that might have the ability to play an audio CD, but, more importantly, have the ability to play and control audio files from a variety of storage media, from audio files on CD or DVD-ROM, to USB thumb drives and SD cards, to internal and external hard drives,” he said. “Manufacturers have already answered the market shift with a variety of media players and well-designed hardware controllers for computer and laptop-based DJ rigs.”
Although, clearly, fewer CD-based players are sold by DJ retailers as compared to a few years ago, the President and Founder of I DJ Now said controllers, software, media players and lighting effects have been hot sellers at his stores thus far this year. “The trend in [DJ] products is in efficiency, size, speed and optimizing what you can do when you go to the digital media format,” Marsh said. “Now, DJs are uncovering how they can be even more creative and individualized.”
“The strongest product category for us continues to be well-integrated hardware/software solutions for DJs, like Native Instruments’ Traktor Kontrol,” reported Grabowski. “These integrated hardware/software solutions require minimal setup and offer complete hands-on control of the DJ software via the hardware controller. They are extremely flexible, allowing mixing between as many as four ‘turntables’ and triggering of sampled clips, as well. Features like automatic tempo control and beat matching are commonplace now, as are independent manipulation of pitch and tempo.”
Grabowski continued, “One very exciting trend is blurring the line between traditional DJing and live performance. Using software like Ableton’s Live or Native Instruments’ Traktor Pro, along with hardware controllers like Novation’s Launchpad or Native Instruments’ Traktor Kontrol F1, DJs are triggering and mixing together a variety of samples, loops and individual parts of songs in real time and applying effects, essentially performing a live remix for their audience and more directly performing music than if they were simply playing back and mixing together full songs.”
If the economy continues to stumble—as compared to the economic strength exhibited earlier this year—all MI retailers are sure to feel the pain. Fryman pointed out that consumers have reverted to buying food and gas at the expense of musical instruments. But, as has been mentioned in several of our DJ/lighting update stories, when economic times get tough, there is a silver lining for DJ retailers: Some consumers forced to seek secondary income—and, for some, primary income—return to DJing. In addition, couples getting married during tough economic periods often look to cut costs, with many choosing to switch from bands to DJs as a form of entertainment.
‘Five years ago, you were considered
a nerd if you
used a computer. Now, it’s the
Grabowski said that Sweetwater serves those income-seeking customers, but there are plenty of dreamers, as well. “I think there is as much of a ‘DJ dreamer’ market as there is for any other instrument, especially with younger customers who view DJs and people who use these tools for live music performance very similarly to instrumentalists,” he said. “I think the potential for income is also similar, with many people enjoying DJing and DJ-based music production as a hobby, and some of those people finding ways to make money by DJing. Historically, performing as a hired mobile DJ at weddings, events and parties has been the most sure-fire way to earn income as a DJ, much as playing in a cover band might have been the most reliable income source for an instrumentalist, and I think that’s still the case.”
“Unfortunately, for some, DJing takes a back seat to life,” commented Marsh. “However, when the economy changed, yes, many people who were DJs years ago for extra money came back to the market to use their craft as a necessary supplemental income source and, for some, a primary source of income. We saw a similar trend in the early 1990s when the economy was changing then, as well. Certainly not to the level of today, but definitely similar. We recognize the trend of some customers who take their DJing commitment to different levels. Some visit our stores monthly; some visit us annually. Some will visit for a few years and then you won’t see them for another few years. In the end, they do come back in some fashion.”
Fryman said Audiolines.com has also served customers who are seeking income that only being a DJ can provide. However, he pointed out that the sheer number of DJs has risen dramatically in the last few years, meaning competition for gigs has become fiercer than ever.
“From what I’ve seen, a lot of guys who get gigs have the best personalities,” said Fryman, “not those who have the best gear, the best music or the best ability to mix.”
Looking forward, Marsh understands that the DJ industry faces challenges, as it always has. But he’s ready to face those challenges head on and is very optimistic about the DJ and lighting industry.
“We’re seeing plenty of revolutionary products continue to come down the pipeline from intuitive manufacturers of all sizes,” he said. “We’re seeing a wider base of customers use DJ products for various reasons, and we’re seeing a global push toward creating and playing music in all sorts of markets. You really can’t go anywhere without hearing music. Certainly, the DJ market has changed over the last couple of years. But that’s actually the DJ market in itself: a constantly changing market.”
Marsh continued, “Something more to be optimistic about is the industry itself. The recognition of being a DJ and the level of professionalism you can aspire to take it to is huge. Take a look at what David Guetta and Deadmau5 have done for giving DJs global attention. They, among many others, have brought DJing to the popularity level of movie stars and professional singers. The DJ can now be the artist featured on a number-one hit song, they can now be the featured person playing at the Grammys and they can now even be a reason to buy a video game! This is the real trend in our market. Did you hear about Simon Cowell’s new reality talent TV show underway in his search for the ‘World’s Greatest DJ?’ How’s that for optimism?”
I DJ Now’s President and Founder also points to new technologies that will allow customers to make return store visits. “Certainly, I see wireless becoming popular, from Bluetooth speakers and controllers to battery-operated lighting effects,” he said. “I think it’s the next ‘turn’ in the market.”