DJing with the SYNC Button: What’s All The Fuss About?


You may of seen that little button on your DJ equipment called ‘SYNC’. Now if you’re a more established DJ the you’ll know what is does I’m sure. If you’re read up on the DJ scene then you’ll also know that there’s positive and negative chat around the topic of using SYNC.

When Do DJs Use Sync?

Established DJs use the sync button to allow them to do more complex and creative mixing and mix transitions, for example adding FX, 3 deck mixes, mixing vocal acapellas. Beginner DJs can use sync to help them create DJ mixes, however should not rely on sync for beat matching. Sync can support DJs where there’s technical issues with equipment.

In this article I’m going to distill together the practical uses of the SYNC button and reveal how to achieve a balance from its use. First of all, to get started lets look at some basics surrounding the SYNC button.

What is the SYNC Button?

The SYNC button allows DJs to automatically beatmatch two tracks together using the DJ software or DJ equipment.This means the DJ can achieve a near perfect beatmatch without having to manually use the pitch shift with adjusting the jog wheel and listening in the headphones and speakers.

Where Do I Find The SYNC Button?

DJ Software

As you can see the above image, I’ve opened Rekordbox. In this DJ software it’s easy to set the ‘BEAT SYNC’ feature. Simply clicking on the function will highlight the words to show that it’s activated.

This means that BEAT SYNC is activated, but what is the audio track going to beat syncing to? This is what the MASTER feature helps with.

You’ll notice the word MASTER beneath SYNC, so in order for both tracks to SYNC you will need to highlight MASTER button to make sure the other track you want to beatmatch with has a BPM reference point.

Once you’ve achieved the above you can simply crack on and use the SYNC functionality to mix away. Hopefully without judgement from other DJs. 😂

CDJs

SYNC functionality can be seen to the left of each jog wheel when it comes to the CDJs, particularly in this case a Pioneer CDJ shown above.

You’ll notice that there’s also a MASTER button too, next to it on the right hand side, which has the exact same purpose as the MASTER button on the DJ software discussed above.

DJ Controller

Finally to highlight again that SYNC is featured across all levels and physical formats of DJing based equipment and software.

DJ controllers, but more regularly on mid to high end range controller, SYNC is a regular feature.

A DJ controller does work in tandem with DJ software such as Rekordbox so it does makes sense that there’s a button available on it for DJs to use.

How & When to Use Beat SYNC?

Technical Issues

Picture this, you’re a regular DJ at a club but there’s an issue with the CDJ tempo control, or the CDJs are simply aren’t letting you control pitch.

In this scenario the solution could be to use SYNC. If you’ve got a laptop connected to the CDJs then you can utilise SYNC on the DJ software. Also in this scenario you might still have control over the SYNC feature on the CDJs themselves via the digital display controls.

So I feel SYNC functionality can come in very handy when there could be a technical issue with your DJ equipment.

This is only one example, but I’m sure there are multiple issues that could arise where the beat match functionality could help you out.

Beatmatching Music with Different BPM

SYNC can really help you out by mixing in tracks together that have different BPMs. Sometimes music tracks are similar-ish in BPM (115-130) and SYNC can massively help you out by instantly locking those beats together helping you mix.

Struggling to Hear the Beat Through Headphones

Another thought about using SYNC could be when you’re having a tough time hearing the audio coming out of the booth monitors. The club could have an issue with the booth monitors or the quality of the audio is simply clipping.

Why is this a problem? Well you might not be able to hear the beat as clearly as you like or need it to beat match by ear. In come SYNC as the solution.

The goal of a DJ is to please the crowd and make sure the transitions from amazing track to amazing track is going all night. No one wants to listen to two clashing beats in the mix.

Turntablism and Scratching

DJs that are into scratching and the technical side of DJing e.g. beat juggling etc do like the SYNC button from what I’ve seen online.

I get where they are coming from, because using SYNC reduces the time it takes to get to the technical aspects of impressing the crowd with some awesome scratching and technical performances.

It makes sense for DJs to utilise SYNC in this aspect because the crowd benefits by hearing amazing DJ skills and musical mashups. Also the DJ is more than likely to benefit and have a load of fun in the process.

Why is Beat SYNC Bad?

Since SYNC button has been around, it seems DJs do feel somewhat undermined by the technology, especially DJs that have been DJing for years who have spent countless hours (out of passion for mixing no doubt) to beatmatch by ear.

Personal Opinions

My personal take on it is that my emotional brain does say to me, “well if technology can beatmatch tracks together then surely anyone can DJ now?

The logical part of my mind says “embrace the functionality and use it to your advantage but where needed“.

SYNC is not a solution to your not knowing about beatmatching ability. It’s not something that you should rely on as the primary skill. SYNC is a secondary feature that you can utilise when needed, with beatmatching by ear is the primary and dominant skill that you have.

SYNC usage can get DJs into bad habits I suppose. Especially if they become too reliant on it. You never know there could be a technical issue with the SYNC button even working, then what are you going to do if you don’t know how to beatmatch by ear?

Incorrect Beat Grids

In DJ software, e.g. Serato or Rekordbox, beat grid mapping and correct tempo numbers can be incorrect which actually renders the use of the SYNC functionality redundant. Fortunately you can prepare your music tracks before gigs or playing live somewhere by setting the beat grids correct to the audio wave and also edit the correct number for the BPM.

Doesn’t DJ for You

SYNC can be great in certain situations, but it doesn’t DJ for you.

Let’s be clear here, DJing is not all about beat matching, getting the trim levels correct, using EQ to mix and blend, picking the right song next. All of these areas of DJing show the SYNC should not be hailed as a saviour.

Not Great for All Genres

Old school genres such as Funk, Soul or Motown with drum sounds recorded live by an actual person (not a DAW) then the beat grids are likely going to be out of time naturally.

Therefore this pretty much reduces the quality in which SYNC can be utilised and activated.

Why is Beat SYNC Good?

Confidence

SYNC gives new DJs the right and the ability to gain confidence getting on the decks in front of people.

In many ways SYNC is great because DJs can take their mind off of beat matching for a while and focus on developing skills in EQing, mix transitions and using FX for transitions too, also phrase matching.

Embrace Technology & Focus on Tune Selection

The technology in DJing equipment has evolved massively over the last 30 years. All DJs have chosen their specific equipment setup so it doesn’t matter if you use SYNC or not.

Embracing the SYNC functionality can benefit in long gigs that you play, for example 3 to 5 hour DJ set. Wedding DJs or mobile DJs will likely be able to relate to this point.

Especially if you’re beat matching all of that time, SYNC can help give you some head space and save some energy, giving you the ability to focus on selecting the right tracks for the crowd to keep dancing.

That’s the goal at the end of the day, keeping the crowd happy and dancing.

Backup Plan

As mentioned above, if DJ equipment is being an issue that SYNC is great as it provides a certain level of back up or fail safe to support you mixing tracks together.

Recording Mixes or Podcast Radio Shows

Quick mixes that are required to a highly accurate beat match can be enhanced with the use of SYNC. The areas that I feel SYNC can massively help out are recording mixes for promotional purposes and also your podcast if you are creating one.

There’s been times in the past when I’ve been using my Serato Digital Vinyl setup and got the mix slightly wrong and have got angry and stopped the mix. The SYNC at this point could of helped me out massively, especially from a quality and time saving point of view.

Regarding podcasting or a radio show, SYNC can help you focus on talking on the microphone. Therefore giving you the room to put your focus and energy into presenting a show instead of mixing.

How to Beatmatch by Ear?

The basis of beatmatching by ear is by listening to the live track that’s currently playing to the audience in the speakers.

Then listening to the new track in your headphones in the ‘Cue’.

From there you need to catch the correct phrase of the live music track and drop the new music track in your ‘Cue’ in the headphones on the one (first beat of the phrase).

Next up, you will be focussing on matching the tempo using the ‘Pitch Shift’ on the turntable, CDJ or DJ controller.

I tend to move my body to the rhythm of the live music track and adjust the tempo of the ‘Cue’ track in line with that. Using my ear to hear whether it’s slower or faster to eventually beat match.

This can take a lot of practice to hone your skills. It’s not impossible, learning the essential building blocks of music theory (beat counting, phrases, song structure, song key) is key to beat matching.

If I can DJ and beat match by ear, then I fully believe you can too. Don’t be put off achieving your DJing dreams. Having the ability to DJ in all aspects, SYNC or no SYNC, will give you great joy and happiness. DJing is amazing regardless of how you achieve a beat match.

Related Questions

Do Pro DJs use Sync?

Pro DJs do use sync to beat match, not all Pro DJs, but some DJs use the sync feature. The benefits can help DJs implement more technical and creative mixing where more time is required to achieve this type of technique.

Do DJs still Beat Match?

DJs still beat match, even if they are a professional or DJ enthusiast. Beat matching is one of the core fundamentals of DJing and mixing music.

What Does the Sync Button Do On a DJ Controller?

Sync on a DJ controller works with the DJ software to match the BPMs of two tracks, saving a DJ time in having to use the pitch shift to match the BPMs, also known as tempo.

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