DJ mixing tips and tricks for beginners will help you become a better DJ fast. Before you can even identify your DJing equipment by name and function, one of your major attractions to DJing is very likely the art of mixing. How can you mix like a pro? How do you mix correctly? Stop, wait, learn about your DJ equipment and their functions! Done?
Great! You can consider mixing the holy grail of DJing. It most definitely is not the be all and end all of DJing, but it is an integral part of the process that is critical to all you will be doing as a modern DJ. Surrounded by folks ready to party, it is your duty to take them through the motions. Your duty involves steering your mix from high tempo songs that keep dancers moving, to downtempo songs that encourage dancers to go grab a drink.
Beatmixing typically involves switching from one tune to another seamlessly, by arranging them to play at the same speed. As a beginner DJ, this is one of the first skills you have to learn. If you already have an idea of the process of mixing beats, this will be a great post to get you ready with some more specific tips and tricks every beginner should know when starting to mix beats.
Keep the Volumes Level
If you’ve done your homework, you already know how difficult a task it is to find two songs recorded at the exact same tempo. But that is just one of the problem. You will quickly find that too many songs come pre-recorded at different volume levels, too! At the same volume level on your mixer, one track could be insanely loud and another soft and almost soundless. When mixing two songs, it is important to know the variation in volumes of both songs, and keep them level. You don’t want to stun your audience with a shrieking song when a comparatively mild one comes to an end.
Only Mix Two Tracks at The Same Speed
When mixing two tracks, you will have to play one over the other for quite a while – known as lining up – before letting the second tune take center stage unchallenged. To keep these tunes from sounding awful when playing together, align the speeds. You can always do this manually, but the “sync” button is faster. It adjusts the tempo of both tunes so that they play at the same speed.
Mix Up The Transitions
Transition styles is something of a stereotype in the DJ world. Beatmatching is associated with dance DJs, cutting with Hip Hop DJs, and fading with radio DJs. But you don’t have to box yourself into any of these stereotypical limitations. Some tracks fit better with a particular transition style than with another. More plausibly, varying your transition styles gives your performance an air of creative diversity and variety, making it that much more interesting for your audience.
Line Up The Kick Drums
Dance music is very well dominated by the sound of kicking drums, producing that familiar “thud, thud” sound. In your typical drumming kit, this sound is produced by the drummer’s kick. Even when both tunes are going at the same speed, out of sync beats leave your line up in disarray with a flurry of out-of-time beats. The “sync” button for most systems will get your music speed lined up. It also goes one step further to line up the nearest kick drums. You can also use the “nudge” function on your jogwheels to nudge one of the beats forward, or nudge it backward, thus lining them up.
Ensure Both Tunes Can Be Mixed
Perhaps one of your first considerations will be identifying songs that can be mixed. Tunes with steady beats, and long intros and outros give you just the right feel you need in a mix. Such tunes make it easier for you as you try to line up both tracks while performing. Otherwise, you could find yourself in possession of tracks that just refuse to line up properly despite your best efforts. As a beginner, watch out for the type of tunes you hear other DJs mixing. Tunes in the trance, techno, and house category, amongst others, all mix properly.
Read The Keys
The key to identifying two tracks that fit together can be found in the keys (no pun intended) of the tracks. Two songs that have similar notes blend perfectly when mixed, often appearing as though they were meant for each other. Some DJs have a gift that points them to songs that complement themselves, others don’t. Regardless, you will have to learn to identify complementary tracks. Two tracks in the same key or in a complimentary key make your mixing seamless. You will have to learn to read music keys, though, if you are not up to speed in that department. On the other hand, the software Mixed In Key keeps your library updated with the musical keys of each track, making your job easier.
Don’t be afraid to alter tracks to give your performance a touch of creative originality. No, altering the songs does not equate to ridding it of its purity. The filter, fader, equalizer, loop, and other effect functions are made available for you to shake up the music to your taste. With tons of DJs mixing the same track, there really is no difference between you and the next DJ mixing the exact same songs. Feel free to manipulate the song to make it your own. There’s no limit to the personalization you can make to a song without running the originality of the song. This is what makes you stand out. This is what makes you unique.
Select Tracks That Match Your Musicality
Every DJ is unique. Few things in DJing represent this fact better than the tracks selected by a DJ. With a wide variety of music styles and forms available, it is up to you to select tracks that you enjoy, tracks that represent the direction you want your music to take. The kind of tracks you select should be a factor of your personal taste and the kind of audience you want to reach with your performance. You do not have to go with the Hot 100 songs of the day. Songs well out of this list, new unpopular tracks, and old tracks that fit your style can all come together to make for a great night. Do not worry about connecting the dots.
Know Your Audience
If you are looking to become a DJ for a nightclub, your mixes will bear a marked difference from those performed for a dinner party. This also holds true for club DJs and wedding DJs, or house party DJs and exercise DJs (even yoga mixes will differ from those targeted at an aerobics class). The idea is to get a good knowledge of the kind of audience you are targeting, and learn to mix the right kind of tunes for that audience. Everything from your track selection to the energy level of your selected tunes, performance length, and transition styles will be influenced by your target audience.
Master Your EQ Controls
You can always use the crossfader to transition from one track to the next. It is simple, and seemingly effective. But it simply doesn’t come close to what you get from your EQ controls. The equalizer is by far the most versatile and effective transition tool in your arsenal. Used properly, it produces flawless, smooth mixes. It can also limit the range of buttons you use when mixing. Rather than having to deal with the volume controls before fading, you can transition using the EQ controls, altering the song’s frequency levels instead. Adjust the low EQ, mid EQ and high EQ until the transition is fully achieved. Of course, you do not have to adjust all three for the same transition. The tracks in play will determine which of these will give you the ultimate transition.
Time Your Tracks To Perfection
Perfection may be an illusion but you can always come close enough. You must have learned by now that the next track has to start playing before the current track comes to a halt. This will help you properly introduce the new track, allow both tracks play together, gradually fade out the current track, and correct any initial errors in your headphones. To get your transition as smooth as possible, you need to carefully time your introduction of the new track. Most dance tracks come in 8-bar phrases. Start the new track on the first beat of the old track’s phrase. This will mean starting the new tune at the start of an eight-bar section of the outgoing tune.
Use The Hotcue Buttons
Your goal when mixing is to “line up” the song to make for a better, smoother and longer beat mix. The “hotcue” button helps you achieve this goal. It lets you put a “cue point” in your track. Use this button to place the cue point at the start of an eight-bar section – in your free time. You can always assume this section to be the first kick drum of the new song. You will also have to spot the start of the eight-bar section on the outgoing tune. The hotcue buttons allow you jump back to these points when cueing up your song, taking the work out in the heat of the moment.
Always Record Your Mixes
There is so much to learn as a beginner DJ. The art of DJing encompasses a bunch of skills and actions, but mixing is at the heart of them all. However, mixing itself is a bevy of skills coming together to ensure that transitions from one song to another are smooth and seamless, almost appearing as though both tracks were always meant to be played simultaneously. One way to ensure that you are on the right track is to record your mixes and listen to them at a later time. There is no better way to learn your errors and areas for improvement as a beginner.
Use Your Headphones For Transitions
Two tracks cannot stay lined up forever. Over time, even when you get your beat lining correctly, they begin to drift apart. If you can hear the records only like the rest of the crowd (from the boom of the speakers), you will likely not identify this drift until it is very much noticeable. And sharp ears in the audience might have picked it up too. You can easily correct one of the drifting tracks if observed early. Use your headphones when you begin any transition. It keeps you one step ahead of the listening audience, and allows you to fix any errors in the records early before they manifest on the speaker.
Know Your Tracks
Overlaying two tracks will always pose a problem when you do not know the composition of these two tracks. You run the risk of starting the new track too early or too late, thereby creating an energy lull. Knowing how the one track ends and the other starts allows you start the songs in a way that compliment themselves. Review your tracks before you begin. Identify the drop points and peak points of each track. This will be an important key to phrasing your songs properly.
Create Your Own Rules
There are simply no rules to mixing. There are no tunes made for each other. There is no exact or perfect mixing point. Your duty is to learn the basics of each mixing skill, identify the elements of each tune, and judge which tunes complement each other. Of course, this is no walk in the park. As you learn and perfect your skills, and practice more regularly, you gain the requisite experience needed to identify great complimentary tracks. This wouldn’t be an easy journey – definitely not at the beginning. As you learn, you will gain the confidence needed to create your own rules.
Look Under The Bonnet
The modern DJ equipment is tuned to “improve” your performance as a DJ. Sync buttons, BPM analysis, key compatibility systems, waveforms, etc…. these are all beautiful functionalities that make your job easier. No, you are not cheating when you make use of these aids and tricks to improve your performance. You can achieve a whole lot by keeping things simple. Still, it would do you a world of good to get a full understanding of how your equipment and its various functionalities work. This would add a touch of versatility to the kind of equipment you can use (and you would find yourself before a good variety of equipment over your career). Looking under the bonnet ultimately helps when those “fancy” buttons are missing.
Have A Progression Plan
Dance music feeds on the different energy levels of each song. You cannot play only high intensity tracks through the course of a performance without wearing out your audience and losing them along the line. Use your track order to control the energy levels in the room. A good progression plan will be to start the night with tracks with a slow rising BPM, before hitting steady peak levels towards the mid-point of your performance. Vary the intensity to allow dancers catch their breath during the performance.
Having Fun Is All That Matters
It really is. You just cannot be at the height of your powers without enjoying yourself while performing. You will always have high and low performances. Sometimes you will sound great, and sometimes you won’t. Enjoy the highs, celebrate them. Do not let the lows weigh you down. Learn from them. Always play with a smile on your face. Get in on the act and dance to your tunes. This will keep up the fun for you, and get your creative juices running over.