How To Avoid Serato Face: Solving DJ Screen-Gazing
As laptops grew to be commonplace in the DJ booth over the last decade, many DJs have become screen-locked throughout their performance. As a famous Tumblr blog has chronicled, staring at a computer screen often creates a disconnect between performer and audience, making phrases like ”Is the DJ checking their email right now?” commonplace on the dance floor. In today’s article, read our techniques to avoid Serato Face and improve your performance.
Serato Face noun a blank or inappropriate facial expression worn while staring at a screen at a dance party or social club.
–(definition from the Serato Face tumblr)
It might be about the music, but with the rise of electronic dance music and DJs as headlining acts, audiences (American crowds especially) are often watching the person behind the decks just as much as they’re listening to the playing track.
But Serato Face isn’t just about what a DJ looks like they’re doing from an audience perspective. If you’re behind the decks and you’re spending more time staring down a computer screen or a CDJ’s LCD panel, you could be missing out. Your screen might be giving invaluable information about the track that’s playing and mixing the next track in, but only looking out at the room and the crowd will help tell you how well you’re doing and the next direction to take your set.
TECHNIQUES FOR DJING WITHOUT THE SCREEN
In the last few years we’ve seen more new DJs than ever before. One of the primary reasons has been a significantly lowered cost associated with purchasing starting equipment. Most “modern” learning DJs are already computer-focused because the screen familiar territory – perhaps significantly more so than being a performer at the center of attention.
Like in the tweet above, some DJs suggest taking some time at home learning and practicing mixing without a computer at all. Cutting out the computer entirely is one approach – but for many DJs the computer is fundamental to their entire workflow.
#1: MOVE YOUR LAPTOP
The most common suggestion from our followers on Twitter when we asked for their best advice to avoid Serato Face was simple: move the laptop out from the center of your setup. In doing so, you can emulate the behavior of more traditional DJing – turning away form the decks and the crowd only to select a record or CD. Keeping your laptop located front and center means that you’ll default to looking at it, like in the photo at right!
We like this idea a lot – and it also means that as a DJ you’re less likely to use your computer for waveriding (see below) if the waveforms of your tracks aren’t right in front of you. It’s worth noting that putting your laptop on the floor or below the booth level could be dangerous – read the “Elevate Your Gear” section in our articleProtecting Your DJ Gear to find out why!
#2: USE YOUR GEAR INSTEAD
Great news, there’s a useful reason for gear lust besides just getting the shiniest gear! A well-constructed personal DJ rig should have all of the digital controls that you use in regular performance mapped out on a piece of controller hardware.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make an assessment as to how well your controller and other hardware are fulfilling your DJing needs. Here’s a great exercise to help plan your next gear purchase or clever new MIDI mapping for your controllers:
- Put a sticky note next to your computer
- Have a 20-30 minute practice session on your setup
- When you have to touch the keyboard/mouse, mark down what actions you’re triggering
- Assess your list and re-map or pursue new gear based on the most common noted.
For those of you into getting especially performative with your DJ gear, it’s worth considering controllers and effects that really allow the audience to experience what you’re doing live. The RMX-1000, Korg’s Kaosspad units, Maschine, and the Midi Fighter 3D are some of the most recommended gear that work in this capacity – just be sure that your audience can see what’s going on. Consider holding up your gear for everyone to see, like Bass Kleph does (at right).
Bonus Gear Tip: try to find DJ equipment that you don’t need your eyes for. You should be able to do it by feel – allowing you to look up and make eye contract with your audience while you’re rocking the house.
#3: USE YOUR EARS INSTEAD
One of the best parts about DJing on a computer is that you get to see computer generated waveforms of the tracks that you’re mixing in, allowing you to watch for changes in the tracks and making beatmatching and phase syncing easier for many learning DJs. Even experienced DJs get stuck on their waveforms as a simple crutch – with some DJs mixing without headphones and just matching waveforms (waveriding). As helpful as this heads up display might be it’s time to actively practice not doing it.
The main path to breaking the umbilical cord to waveforms is to learn your music. If you’re well-acquainted with the tracks that you’re likely to mix into a set, you’ll be familiar enough with each song’s structure and evolution to not need to reference the screen to see what will happen in the next part of the track.
#4: MAKE GREAT PLAYLISTS
This is the natural follow-up step to learning your music: building playlists and sets that you’ve carefully crafted. This helps keep the amount of time you spend in front of the screen trying to figure out what to mix in next to a minimum. We’ve had a number of articles on DJTT that focus around the art of building efficient playlists and DJ libraries. Check out:
In a similar vein, if you’re building a playlist for a more fast-paced routine, you’ll be able to quickly dial down to the next track and load it in with just a quick glance to your computer screen. In Traktor, you can even set the preferences to automatically load the next track from a playlist when one finishes (see below).
#5: HIDE / ACCEPT YOUR SERATO FACE
There’s no doubt that staring down the screen works well for many DJs, but it’s really up to you to determine if you’re doing it to excess. Some DJs (like Ryan) feel that laptop gazing shows that you’re working hard. This holds some truth with some larger DJs as well, where instead of trying to modify their behavior, they incorporate visual elements into their show that gives the audience something else entirely.
Case in point, Amon Tobin (pictured below) likely does a lot of staring into his computer screen in the booth during his wild ISAM tour, but he stays hidden for almost the entire show, instead relying on the impeccable visuals to speak as his outward face.
2 Years on: The Post-Technics Age
Just about 2 years ago, the DJ world was rocked to its core with the news that the founding father, indeed the corner-stone of the DJ scene was shutting up shop. Panasonic had kept things going for as long as they could, but with the global economy being in the toilet, and the continuing onslaught of digital technology hammering nails in the coffin each day, the decision was taken to retire the mighty Technics brand.
After a flurry of online activity, with alleged confirmation coming from diverse sources all over the world, it was only after prompting Panasonic UK via Twitter that finally saw official confirmation appear on the Panasonic site. This was greeted with a wide range of responses – some emotional, some practical, and some knee jerk proclaiming the end of DJing. So what has really happened in this post-Technics world?
Why did Technics have to die?
Firstly, we need to understand the non-romantic hard-nosed business process behind the decision to close down Technics brand. If we look back 10 years, every DJ worth their salt was buying turntables. And then CDJs came along, thus turning the previously vinyl and turntable dominated DJ world on its head. Slowly but surely the hot release images in DJ Mag turned from record labels to CD covers, clearly indicating the way things were heading. And the sales of turntables reflected this too.
And then came controllers. Turntables were struggling to hold their own against CDJs, and the entry-level market had no reason to “keep it real”, especially as their whole life and music collection was in the modern form of a download. And while DVS systems kept turntable sales just about ticking over, it was clear that some cold hard decisions needed to be made. And that’s what Panasonic did. If even they couldn’t sell enough decks to be profitable, then nobody could.
So despite the iconic image, the heritage and outright cool factor of the Technics badge, at a time when people were losing jobs and more profitable divisions are being closed down, there was little business sense in keeping the brand going. It’s not like there’s a big Technics machine where you type in a number and out the other end comes another 1000 spanking new 1200s – there’s a whole world of production concerns such as renewing expensive tooling, setting up a production line to run another batch of decks, as well as making special orders for parts, and we also have to factor in the spiralling increases in raw materials and shipping around the world. And although many of you wouldn’t think so, the exchange rate makes a big difference as well.
There are no economies of scale when it comes to knocking out a the limited quantities that the market was wanting. So the advance of digital technology and the global economy meant that it simply wasn’t feasible to keep Technics going.
Where are we now?
Looking over a 5 year period, we can paint some broad strokes about trends. Despite the demise of the mighty 1200s, nobody has really picked up the slack. Sales figures for other brands look pretty consistent, but still a fraction of their heyday. From an all brand turntable perspective, over a 5 year period we’re talking about dropping to an estimated 3K units globally per year, and that includes all the USB types as well. So post-October 2010 (the alleged end of days), sales have dropped overall, but people are still buying turntables, just not in the quantities they used to.
Media players continue to sell well – again, not quite in the numbers that the original CDJs did, but good enough for companies to keep making them. I see this as users having dropped quite a lot of cash on the original ones, and not having a compelling reason to upgrade. Indeed, I’d say many are not even looking to upgrade their OG CDJs and are migrating to controllers.
And this is where the real eye opener is – sales figures for controllers are insane. Over a 5 year period (probably from the start of the Vestax VCI-100), sales have exploded by 500%, and currently outsell all other major product groups put together. It would be indiscreet of me to highlight brands and actual sales numbers, but it goes without saying that controllers are where its at these days.
What of Technics in the market place?
There are still some in the retail chain, albeit in single numbers, but selling for hugely inflated prices. I did come across a picture of pallets of Technics, and after some detective work contacted someone who knew about them, but the people allegedly in possession of the pile of raw turntable Gold didn’t seem keen to offer any more information. So I’m calling fake on that one to be honest.
What people thought would happen didn’t. It was expected that second-hand prices would boom, giving owners a nest egg and pension all in one. But when you consider that there are an estimated 3 million Technics decks in circulation, there’s more than enough to satisfy the ever falling demand, even if it is just to butcher to get spares. Indeed one retailer I spoke with has found that there’s more money in picking up cheap 1200s on eBay and refurbishing them than stocking new turntables.
And this prettying up of old gear has seen a number of individuals and small businesses pop up with the sole intention of keeping old Technics going, as well as taking a raw turntable and making into the JD equivalent of a hot rod custom car. There are some quite stunning examples of pimped decks out there, but you’ve got to have deep pockets to do some of the custom jobs available out there.
Where is the DJ scene now?
Despite the Mayan style prediction of the end of the DJ world as we know it, we’re all still here. DJs are still making people move every night of the week, and those who were using Technics before are almost certainly still using Technics now. I’d say that the DJ scene is more vibrant and exciting than ever before.
But I would say we’re in a state of flux at the moment though, where the walls between hardware styles are broken down, and all DJs are open to using all DJ gear. That said, controllers have all rapidly evolved to a point of parity, where they’re all coming out with much the same units, and it’s proving very hard to pick standout units anymore.
Bar some new products, I’d say that we’re in more or less the same place as we were 2 years when the news dropped, and I don’t see anything really changing from a turntable perspective either. There’s no financial incentive for any manufacturer to drop R&D into a product group that is shrinking each month. As a product, the turntable has reached its evolutionary pinnacle, and there’s nothing that could be done that will make them sell more.
For those who have used them, there is an undeniable and untouchable feeling about working with turntables. Perhaps the cyclical nature of life will see some people return to them, and others to discover them for the first time, and for them to continue to play a key part in not just the history but also the future of DJing.
So there really was no need for apocalyptic prophesies based on romantic notions of what the DJ scene is about. It’s about the music and the people – the gear is a part of it, but a tiny part in the whole scheme of things. And the DJ scene is most certainly bigger than any one brand.