It’s hard to imagine worse timing to launch a $2,300 turntable, other than perhaps hawking them at your grandmother’s funeral… to your grandmother.
Which is kind of what’s happened. Because at a time when DJs’ income is reduced to pennies on the dollar — and for many, literally nothing — Pioneer announced the new CDJ-3000, the latest iteration of Pioneer’s digital DJ line.
Pioneer launched the CDJ-3000 in September — a time we might now look back on nostalgically as a period when at least a few people could fit into a few bars to listen to a few records for a few hours. Today, with 10pm bar closings ordered in New York, Chicago and other cities around the world owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, you might wonder what the market for a new $2,300 turntable actually is.
In normal circumstances you could imagine this being targeted to DJs. And if not DJs, then clubs that are undergoing a periodic upgrade of their DJ booth. But what club (most of which haven’t had a paying customer in over six months) is seeking an upgrade right now? And for $2,300 each?
Pioneer is just straight up buying coverage on the world’s leading dance music websites. Unfortunately, the paid coverage is all that there is.
If it’s not clear who’s supposed to be buying these things, what is clear is Pioneer has taken a novel technique to marketing. Rather than relying on demos, seeding reviewers and publications with access, buying ads and shooting celebrity DJ testimonials, Pioneer is just straight up buying coverage on the world’s leading dance music websites.
First came Resident Advisor, with their story modestly titled “Understanding the CDJ-3000.” There is no byline on the story, though it is published as a “feature” along with their artist interviews and scene reports.
The story consists of 5 short videos demo’ing the CDJ-3000, though we are advised that “online pictures and videos don’t do the 150 percent brighter, 720p screen justice, while testing improved audio fidelity and processing power is difficult to communicate with an online video.”
If that sounds like canned ad copy, it kinda is. You might have missed the blue-on-black text on a laptop or desktop computer (it’s more visible on mobile) but the entire piece is “sponsored by Pioneer DJ,” a disclosure which has been included on an image file and not in the text of the article itself, rendering its origin as paid-for content blind to search engines.
It’s actually pretty good sponsored content, in the sense that the real goal of most sponsored content is to be confused with actual editorial content. The article is also mostly written in one of RA’s distinctive voices, which might be compared to a 3rd year philosophy student explaining what he studies to his dumb parents. Who wrote what, who filmed what and how much was exchanged for what ends is not disclosed. The timing also wasn’t great — just a few days later RA revealed to have been awarded a $1 million grant on behalf of the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport and a shitstorm broke over that.
They took the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and Twitter shade alone until today, when Mixmag posted a feature called “7 DJs Tell Us Why They’re So Excited About Pioneer DJ’s CDJ-3000.” As you may have guessed, this article has also been posted “in association with Pioneer DJ,” though it’s maybe a sign of how anemic things are that you can’t really tell a sweaty and over-excited sponsored Mixmag headline from a real one.
The worst part of dance music churnalism isn’t what’s copy/pasted. It’s what gets left out.
In this paid-for article (undisclosed on social media), DJs including Honey Dijon, Benji B and Eats Everything answer fascinating questions such as “Touch preview and touch cue features have been added thanks to a bigger screen than the CDJ2000-NXS2. How will this help?” and “To what extent do you think Pioneer DJ has changed the game with this new model?” (Monica Kruse answer: “It is definitely next level and should not be missed in any club.” On brand!)
The funny thing about this is most of these sites (and this one too) would normally print something about Pioneer’s products for free. Product announcements are an indispensable part of the churn of online journalism now, and the stories are guided almost entirely by the industry that we’re covering. Wake up at 4am and you’ll see the press releases swim into your inbox and then start popping up as “breaking news” a few hours later. A large portion of these stories are copy/pasted — and at most lightly-reworded — directly from the press releases. PR people know this and tailor their PR copy to get as much of the company’s pitch into that Control+C/Control+V as possible. They usually do.
But the worst part of dance music churnalism (that’s an actual word) isn’t what’s copy/pasted. It’s what gets left out. Here’s an example, and it’s relevant to Pioneer DJ:
When Rekordbox 6 came out in April 2020, all the sites that copy/pasted Pioneer’s press release failed to mention the most crucial change — that Rekordbox 6 users would have to buy an entirely new license, pay a monthly subscription and Pioneer discontinued their one-time upgrade fee.
Users of Rekordbox were up in arms. The dance music press didn’t notice. Resident Advisor’s news post on Rekordbox 6 made no mention of the license change or the controversy which turned Pioneer’s official forums into a warzone, including commentary from a particularly obnoxious employee of Pioneer. Nor is the license change (or even the word) mentioned in the feature “Getting The Most Out of Rekordbox.”
It seemed weird to me when I wrote about the license change and user anger over Rekordbox 6 that no other press mentioned it. But RA’s piece on Rekordbox 6 was “sponsored by Pioneer DJ” too:
With that in mind, what isn’t being mentioned in the sponsored posts appearing everywhere about the CDJ-3000?
First off, there is no mention of the price. $4,600 for a pair of turntables is a fortune, especially when practically no working DJ can actually, you know, “work.”
Secondly, Pioneer buying coverage of their new products has apparently driven out critical discussion of them. I don’t make this charge casually, but if critical (and not merely negative) coverage of any kind exists on these websites where Pioneer has paid for coverage, I can’t find it. A search of Resident Advisor shows that the initial churnalism news piece and the post paid for by Pioneer itself are the sum total of RA’s coverage of the CDJ-3000. Apparently the only coverage of the “industry standard” is a 200 word churnalism piece and one paid for by the “industry standard” itself.
In the case of Mixmag, this is actually the second sponsored post by Pioneer promoting the CDJ-3000. The first back in September read like straight ad copy. From a site search, these two stories paid for by Pioneer are the sum total of Mixmag’s coverage of the CDJ-3000.
And finally, there’s the question of what Pioneer is actually doing for their primary customers during a time of massive unemployment and club closures. Maybe nobody expects them to do anything, but “doing nothing” would be an improvement over what Pioneer’s actually done. Since the pandemic and associated COVID-19 lockdowns began in March, Pioneer has added a new monthly subscription charge to users of its software (required for some of its hardware) and offered up a $2,300 turntable. And apparently managed to convince some magazines starved of advertising revenue to further blur the line between ad and editorial.
So what’d you do during the pandemic?
In case readers are interested, this was 5 Mag’s coverage of the CDJ-3000s launch from 5 Mag’s digital edition, a few sentences of which show up in this article you’re reading now. (Click to Enlarge.)