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Essential DJ Tech: The Art of The Mix
Sara Simms on Tue, April 29th 0 comments
Are you preparing a new mix for your next DJ set? DJ and producer, Sara Simms, shares some sage advice on the art behind a good DJ mix.

The most important element in a great DJ set are the tracks that you choose to play. Once you've selected your track playlist, you'll need to get to know what's going on musically in each song, in order to decide how to mix your tracks together.

Music is Math

To successfully perform any type of mix, you'll need to know how to count bars and beats. The majority of electronic dance and urban music is written in 4/4 time (hence the term 'four on the floor'), and is organized into four groups of eight count (or 'beat') sections. Listen to your favorite track, and beginning on beat one, (called the 'downbeat') count the beats like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 

2 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 

3 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 

4 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 

You'll notice that new melodic or percussive elements in your track are introduced after eight beats, and major transitions in the song typically occur after the fourth bar of eight beats, i.e., 32 beats).

Use this knowledge as a guide to help you select where to place your mixes. You'll need to listen carefully to the songs in your collection, and analyze how long each section of the song is to discover the best places to mix. 

Analyzing Song Structure, and Where to Mix

Let's have a look at the structure of a simple track:

Pic 1

You'll see that the beginning and the ending of this track are percussive. In the simplest form of a DJ mix, you can overlap one track's intro with another track's outro to create a new percussive rhythm. They can be mixed together like this:

Pic 2

You can also perform shorter mixes like this:

Pic 3

Before you begin to mix, ask yourself:

'Does this transition make musical sense?'

When selecting where to place your mixes, it's helpful to imagine yourself as a dancer on the floor. If you're tearing it up during the chorus of your favorite song, you'll keep your feet moving if the next track begins smoothly when the chorus ends. As you're mixing, you'll always want to think about maintaining a consistent flow of tracks, and focus on establishing a solid groove.

As a DJ, it's essential that you learn different styles of mixing. The more techniques you know, the greater amount of variety and interest you'll be able to add to your sets. 

Basic Mixing Techniques

As a DJ, it's essential that you learn different styles of mixing. The more techniques you know, the greater amount of variety and interest you'll be able to add to your sets. Here are three types of mixing transitions you should focus on mastering. 

1. The Blend 

The blend is a fluid transition from one record to the next that creates a seamless mix of the two tracks. This is the simplest type of mix to perform and can be used to create infinite musical possibilities. You begin by playing a track on one deck, blending in the second track, and mixing down the volume of the first track. It works really well as a transition technique for most electronic dance music written in 4/4 time, especially house, techno, electro or trance.

Here's how to execute the blend:

  1. Start with crossfader in the middle of the mixer.
  2. Load Deck A (the deck on your left-hand side) with a track, and play it.
  3. Bring up the channel fader on Deck A.
  4. Load up Deck B (the deck on your right-hand side) with a track. 
  5. Cue up Deck B in your headphones, play it, and beat match or sync the track. 
  6. Slowly bring up the channel fader on Deck B.
  7. Enjoy the sound of your mix!
  8. Slowly bring down Deck A's channel fader to blend out the track.
  9. Deck B is left playing on its own.

2. The Cut

The cut (or 'drop mix') is a quick change from one record to another, and is most effective when performed without missing a beat between the two tracks. Cut mixes are traditionally heard in hip hop, dubstep, drum and bass, and breakbeat heavy tracks. The key to the cut is to have perfect timing, which takes much practice. Here's how to perform the cut: 

Preliminary requirements: Make sure your crossfader mode or curve is set to a 'scratch curve'; this means the channel volume will cut in as soon as you move the crossfader from one side into the center.

  1. Move your crossfader fully over to the left-hand side.
  2. Load Deck A with a track, bring up channel fader A and play your track.
  3. Load Deck B with a track, cue it up in your headphones, play it and beat match or sync it.
  4. Double check to make sure that your crossfader is securely on the left-hand side, so that Deck B does not bleed into the mix. Once you have checked this, bring up channel fader B.
  5. Count the beats in the track on Deck A, and prepare the track in Deck B by aligning it with Deck A at your chosen mix point.
  6. At the end of a phrase on Deck A, quickly move the crossfader over to the right-hand side. Deck B is now the only track playing. 

The keys to success with this technique are your timing, and choosing the right place in both tracks for the cut. You need to be right on time for it to work!

3. Mixing Into a Loop

Digital DJing software makes it easy to loop tracks; you can instantly create continuous new segments that are useful for mixing. If your tracks have short intros or outros, try looping these sections to extend them, and create instant remixes. You can even mix two or more loops together! Here's how to mix into a loop:

  1. Start with crossfader in the middle of the mixer.
  2. Load Deck A (the deck on your left-hand side) with a track, and play it.
  3. Select a part of the track to loop, and loop it (e.g. a percussive section). 
  4. Bring up the channel fader on Deck A.
  5. Load up Deck B (the deck on your right-hand side) with a track.
  6. Cue up Deck B in your headphones, play it, and beat match or sync the track. 
  7. Slowly bring up the channel fader on Deck B.
  8. Enjoy the sound of your mix!
  9. Slowly bring down the crossfader to blend out Deck A.
  10. Deck B is left playing on its own.

To achieve a perfect mix, you'll need to: 

  • Know the best places to mix the tracks together. 
  • Release the track that you're going to mix in at the right point in time.
  • Choose a mixing technique, and perform it to the best of your ability. 

It's a good idea to record your mixes, and listen back to them to evaluate your DJ skills. Keep practicing and creating mixes; with consistent practice you will improve!

Please note: All of the instructions are written for DJs who have their Deck A assigned to the left-hand side of the crossfader (and vice versa for Deck B). If you have your crossfader in 'hamster' mode (when the mixer is set up in reverse), you will need to adjust your crossfader movements accordingly in order to perform these mixes. 

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