There’s no denying that your ears play an integral part in DJing, however with laptops and built in displays that show waveforms it is becoming more frequent to see a DJ performing without headphones. Using visual cues given by the waveforms makes it possible to line up songs and drop them in time without having to cue the upcoming song. This may save time during your sets as it eliminates the process of headphone cueing, but you do have to take the time to prepare your songs before your performance, marking them with the appropriate cue points.
Using visual cues may help with dropping songs on beat and when combined with headphone cueing can be very effective. When you completely remove the headphones then you potentially lose some musicality as you can’t hear if two tracks are harmonically in tune or out of tune. Your DJ software or display may even give you the musical key, but even so that is the programs interpretation of the key. The human ear will be your best friend when determining which songs sound best together.
Visual cues have been used in DJing since it’s early beginnings as DJs would spend hours placing stickers or other visual labels on vinyl records to mark when a song or sample would begin. A DJs workflow has to account for the rapid pace that music is released so spending time setting cues points may add to your preparation time, but it also may shorten your transition process while performing. There are certainly pros and cons to both styles of mixing but as long as you are performing to create an experience you can’t go wrong.
Part of the experience of being a DJ is connecting with your audience and auditory cueing allows you to keep your eyes on the crowd. Observing how your crowd reacts to each song, transition and scratch allows you to learn and grow with them throughout your set. Yes visual cueing may give you some extra seconds to interact with the crowd as you don’t have to pick up your headphones but there is still a reliance on watching waveforms. There is nothing like listening to the potential next song and deciding whether or not it’s the next piece to your party puzzle, then changing it to another song with only 8 bars left in the current songs hook (we’ve all been there). Keep yours eyes on the crowd and your ears to the music.