Auto-sync; friend to new DJs, source of much disdain to veterans.  Most DJ software has it as a feature, but when is it appropriate to use?  There are a lot of strong opinions regarding the ease with which the inexperienced can get on stage with nothing more than an iTunes playlist and some DJ software and call themselves a DJ.

The first thing to consider when debating whether or not to sync is the software and hardware that you are using.  Obviously, if you are using nothing but vinyl there is no sync option, so you better practice your mixing chops.  For better or worse, this seems to be a dying trend among young DJs (at least in North America) and the subtle skills required to effectively spin an entire night in this fashion might soon become a thing of the past.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Ableton Live DJ.  One of the main features that draws people to use Live is its unique ‘warping’ function.  Warping is essentially mapping all of your audio to a beat grid so that you can play anything in your set at any tempo and it will all stay in sync and in key.  Since syncing is an inherent feature of Live, those who use it must find creative ways to perform live beyond the standard two deck mixing style.

In between these two lie the many different ways that DJs spin with Serato, Traktor and the like.  Whether using virtual vinyl or CDs, many DJs are using this style of digital/analog setup.  So, the question remains; when and where do you use auto-sync?

1.    New DJs
While it may seem like a no brainer to learn how to properly mix before you ever get on a stage, this is not always the case.  For all of you young DJs who might jump into the deep end in front of a crowd a bit too early there are certain times when it is acceptable to use auto-sync to get you out of a bind.  If everything is happening too fast and you need that next track RIGHT NOW, but it’s not quite ready, a little help in this area can go a long way.

2. You’re too drunk
Let’s get something straight, most professional DJs take their job seriously and they act accordingly.  That being said, everyone has a few too many now and then and auto-sync can be a lifeline in these situations.  No one in the crowd can see exactly what you’re doing on stage and most would rather not hear the dreaded ‘shoes-in-a-dryer’ disaster of an out-of-sync mix, so in these cases it might be best to accept a little help.

3. You’re using multiple tracks and/or loops
If you’ve gone beyond the basic two-deck style of mixing and are now incorporating a third or fourth deck into the mix, most would say it is acceptable to use some measure of auto-sync.  If you are only using two pieces of hardware (i.e. turntables) you will most likely be running the extra tracks straight from the software, so they will have to be synced since you have no physical control over them.

4. Other crazy things
If you are using external synths or effects, playing along with live musicians, or improvising original music on stage you might also want to use a sync function.  How you do this will be completely dependent on your particular setup.

A good rule of thumb for using auto-sync is this; only use it if it helps bring your performance to another level.  If you have to use it to cover up sloppy mixes or rely on it as a crutch for basic two-deck mixing, then you might want to go back to the drawing board.

If you want to learn more about DJing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin Academy.