The History of the DJ Mixer

If you’ve ever thrown ’em down on the ones and twos or sang the praises of two turntables and a microphone, you gotta read this from Medium.com.

“Two turntables and a microphone,” might be the most famous saying in DJ culture, but what about the mixer? The mixer is the literal and metaphorical nexus, where sounds from a trio of devices come together to create a sonic alchemy that has moved dancefloors for more than three decades. And as those decades have passed, so too have multiple waves of technological innovation that saw the DJ mixer evolve from the bastard Frankenstein of live band mixers — MacGyvered together by early electronic enthusiasts — to a multi-billion dollar consumer electronics colossus of computer controllers competing for mass-market dominance and audiophile approval.

Through each iteration, the design of the mixer has been driven by the demand of the DJ, while allowing said talent to discover new levels of artistry that evolve from the tools themselves — a push-pull that has helped define each generation of devices. In what has become a quintessential study on the topic, “A History of the Development of the DJ Mixer: An S&TS Perspective,” Cornell University undergraduate David Cross makes the case that there are more than these two heavily-invested parties at play in the tale of the mixer’s evolution.

The story, in fact, seems to start with audio engineer Alex Rosner, who in 1971 built a primitive three-channel device with sliders and a cueing function called “Rosie” to allow DJ Francis Grasso to easily switch from one record to the next in his residency at NYC club Haven.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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