Pitch Prison – The Curse of Master Tempo?

Ok, i’ve been in discussion with a few of you about something interesting. This is not the first time it’s been investigated so I can’t take credit for this at all but i’m on it now and going to experiment. Before I get down to the details I want you to have a think about something that is a direct result of the digital music world.

Widespread usage of master tempo and other timestretch/compression methods

We all know that DJs these days are mainly using CDJs or Laptop Solutions. We all know DJs want to syncronise the speed of two tracks. So how do they do this? The pitch slider right? Under normal circumstances this would increase the speed if you increased the pitch and decreased the speed if you decreased the pitch. Simple. But in the middle of the mix, if you need to make an adjustment to the speed at some point people will hear the pitch shifting and for many today this doesn’t sound good. So the digital solution is timestretch/compression, where the audio is broken into tiny chunks and manipulated so that the pitch stays the same. If you play something faster than the original tempo it cuts chunks out, if you play something slower than the original it duplicates chunks to make the track ‘longer’ You’ll see this as Master Tempo for example on a CDJ. So you gain pitch smoothness in the mix at the potential loss of audio quality and maybe something else.. something with deeper meaning….

The loss of ‘interesting’ pitches

If you use one of these modes you are keeping the pitch exactly the same as it is on the original track. Now I don’t know about you lot but I remember in the vinyl days loving adjusting the pitch of a track up or down by just a little bit. This was abusing the original musical key.. placing it’s centre different to how it was intended. Often I preferred how i’d set the pitch slider. With these modern digital methods we are losing this effect, sanitising the process of the mix from a pitch perspective. Are we losing a deeper experience of music appreciation because of Master Tempo and similar? Let me know what you think people..


One thought on “Pitch Prison – The Curse of Master Tempo?

  1. Back in the day I was (before the CDJs were the industry standard CD players on the booth) using a Denon 2600F which had a “Key Lock” option that claimed to do what the CDJs and laptop solutions do now with the Master Tempo, but wasn’t even close to it.

    I think that people nowadays tend to use the Master Tempo feature because of the Harmonic Mixing fever. With the raw pitching altering the root note of the tracks, DJ’s can now play one track pitched up or down by (going extreme on this example) 10 BPM without having it heavily decharacterized.

    Back in the day most of the non downtempo house tracks were in a BPM range from 124 to 131, so we had (almost) no trouble at all with excessive pitching.

    Nowadays it’s the opposite, we have stuff from 110 to 124 BPM, and there’s no way we can mix from one slower track to a faster one and make it sound good, and there’s where the Master Tempo feature comes in hand.

    To be honest, unlike most of the technology that has been introduced into DJing lately (the stuff that does the work for you, if you know what I mean) I welcome this feature.

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