How to market to DJs – A guide for mi retailers

The DJ products business is exploding. Sales for the entire market, including CD players, turntables, DJ mixers, and special-effects lighting units, are up 22.7 percent since 1997. But while many music retailers would love to get a piece of the action, for some, the nascent mini-culture developing around DJ performance and technology represents strange, uncharted territory. Being hip (or faking it convincingly) to the ‘clientele in this decidedly youth-oriented medium could provide a material advantage in selling the gear, so Music Trades asked Tascam’s new DJ product specialist, DJ Davey Dave (a.k.a. Dave Arevalo), to help bring us up to speed.

Dave Arevalo was first drawn to DJ’ing when, at the age of 12, he saw a Malcolm McLaren music video that featured a group of New York DJs called the World Famous Supreme Team. “They were using turntables like a new instrument,” he recalls. “I’d never seen anything like it. I got my first turntable a year later, and since then I’ve never stopped.”

In the fifteen years that he’s been spinning, Davey Dave has established himself as a leading DJ artist. He was working on record label radio promotions for Geffen Records, doing studio DJ work with various artists, and producing records when he was recommended to Tascam in 1999. Tascam, the professional division of TEAC Corporation, was seeking the services of an expert consultant to develop its line of products for the fast-growing D Jmarket. Arevalo “proved himself” for a year by demonstrating equipment at NAMM shows and conducting educational clinics at retail stores. Then in January 2001 Tascam hired him as its full-time DJ product specialist.

Retailer education is one of Davey Dave’s primary responsibilities at Tascam. “I show dealers how the products work, give them tricks and tips, and get them excited about selling the gear,” he says. But the lesson that he is currently stressing is that DJs are not all alike. In fact, there are four basic types of DJs, each with distinct equipment needs.

“Scratch DJs use a turntable as a musical instrument, much like a guitarist uses a guitar,” he explains. “They use special `scratch sample’ records that contain popular samples and bits of music to create and manipulate sounds and create percussive rhythms. Dirtstyle Recordings is a popular brand of scratch record. Scratch DJs typically perform at hip hop events, DJ competitions, often within a band. The best scratch DJ right now is an artist named DJQ-bert. A performance/rave DJ uses both CDs and vinyl records in conjunction with other instruments such as a drum machine, a sampler, keyboard synths, etc. to create a musical performance. The style of music they create is referred to as `electronica,’ and their venues include raves and concerts.” [Although Arevalo was too modest to admit it, Uberzone, a duo featuring him and writer/producer Q, is considered a leading proponent of the performance/rave genre.] “A mobile DJ plays recorded music primarily for dancing at weddings and other formal functions. The musical styles they usually cover include current top 40 hits, oldies, or disco selections. And, as its name suggests, a club DJ might perform in nightclubs, playing various styles from electronica to rap depending on the theme of the night.”

Being aware of these distinctions is key to a retailer’s success in selling the right products, Dave emphasizes. “For example, you wouldn’t sell a mobile DJ’s CD player to a scratch DJ. A scratch DJ primarily uses vinyl, and he’ll want, say, a simple two-channel mixer, whereas a mobile DJ might not even touch vinyl. He’ll want a dual CD player. You have to know your customer.”

Tascam is in the process of expanding its DJ product lineup to serve all these categories, but it has already been especially successful in the performance/rave market with its CD-302 dual CD player and X-9 digital DJ mixer. Davey Dave comments, “From a dealer’s perspective, the performance/rave DJ might be considered the prime market, because he’s the one who’s looking to buy the most equipment, and the most high-end gear.”

Dave explains that over the years DJs have pushed the idiom’s technology envelope by demanding more functionality out of the gear. “It’s really taken off over the last three years,” he says. “Five years ago, who would have thought that you could scratch on a CD? And not long ago there was no such thing as a mixer with a built-in sampler. Now there are units with one or two built-in samplers, and more and more DJs are buying those mixers and using audio samples in their performances. In the future, I’m sure we’ll see more DJs incorporating computers and MP3 sets in their setups. I’m experimenting with that right now.”

Keeping up with fast-evolving DJ equipment technology presents a real challenge to retailers, but also an opportunity, since customers will be frequently stimulated to upgrade. Dave points to the advent of scratchable CDs spawning a new market sub-segment called digital turntablists who do vinyl-type scratching on CDs. “Even so,” he says, “CDs will probably never totally eliminate vinyl. First, there are certain specialized scratching techniques you can only do on vinyl. Also, vinyl scratching is just so imbedded in the market. But the CD provides its own unique possibilities, such as looping a four-bar phrase of the music on-the-fly. You can’t do that on a vinyl turntable.”

Tascam’s cutting-edge DJ product development is the factor that most attracted Davey Dave to the company. He is openly proud to represent products like its CD-302 and X-9 to music dealers. “They’re both high-end pieces aimed at the professional performance DJ market,” he says. And by performing year ’round–about every second night during the peak summer season–Davey Dave is a powerful emissary for Tascam’s wares.

“We’re excited to have Davey as one of our product specialists,” says Tascam Product Training Manager Karl Moet. “DJ products are becoming a crucial part of Tascam’s line, and with Davey’s background and 15 years’ experience, he’ll be a tremendous asset to our DJ products development process.”

Traditionalists might scoff at how the DJ equipment has “lowered the bar” for participation in music-making, but retailers would be wise not to. It is precisely because of the craft’s gentle learning curve that it is being swarmed by a previously unreachable population–customers who needn’t be whipped, tricked, or cajoled into practicing, whose motivation is not tied to the vagaries of publicly funded school programs, and whose equipment pricing is being fanned by their high expectations of a young technology.

“You don’t have to be able to read or write music to be a DJ,” says DJ Davey Dave. “When you want to play guitar, you have to learn how the chords and various playing techniques. In DJ’ing, the possibilities are endless. There are no rules; how you want to play the music or scratch the CD or record is totally up to you. You’re only limited by your own creativity. That’s why it appeals to so many people.”

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