Becoming a good DJ mixer can take practice, knowledge of sound structure, and the willingness to try new things.
With the right formula and a little know-how, you’ll be kicking out your own beats in no time at all. Since the rise of DJing, DJing and beat mixing have gone hand in hand, but some modern DJs tend to consider this an unnecessary practice. For the most part, most professional DJs are huge fans of beat mixing, a practice which is usually done live in clubs or at parties.
When you mix, you’re basically creating a sequence of tracks that are seamlessly mixed together. If done correctly, your set will sound like one long track. If this is something you’ve been struggling with, then you’ve come to the right place.
Learning how to mix well is definitely a skill all good DJs have, but in the beginning, even knowing how to identify the point in a track where a transition should begin can take a lot of practice.
Learning how to be a good DJ mixer involves:
- Choosing the right songs
- A familiarity with popular songs and classic hits
- The ability to identify different segments in a song
- Knowing all about song structure
- The ability to seamlessly transition from one song to the next
- How to implement certain mixing techniques based on the music and the energy in the room
When you’re working in a club you have to be able to think on your feet and change up the music based on the energy in the room. If the dance floor starts to empty, it’s your job to choose the next track wisely, transitioning it seamlessly from the last hit, and do so using a variety of DJ techniques that make two songs sound like one long song. It’s definitely a tricky skill for the beginner to learn, but if practiced regularly, mixing a variety of music genres together will feel more like second nature.
Learning how to mix tracks can be a challenge in the beginning, especially if you don’t know where to start, how to identify different types of segments in a song, or what types of mixing techniques you should use based on music type and length.
My guide will discuss some of the most commonly used mixing techniques that can help you to create the perfect set, and what you need to know in order to achieve that flawless transition from one song to the next.
As I mentioned earlier, mixing is often done in front of an audience, on the fly and it must sound stable, seamless, and endless. Of course, the main reason for this is to keep people from walking off the dance floor, since the music never stops.
But the types of methods used by DJs for mixing purposes tend to vary and are usually based on the type of music being played. If you’re spinning some dance hits, then the mixing techniques you use should be well-blended mixes, while when it comes to hip hop, a DJ will use more skilled methods including turntablism, scratching, and cutting.
Harmonic mixing allows you to further enhance a track. It focuses on using complementary keys and blending while avoiding clashing and dissonant tones.
In the end, mixing is a dynamic process of sorts. The type of songs you choose are often based on the energy of the crowd. When the dance floor starts to empty a DJ must use their best judgement in regard to the track they play next and what they think will get the crowd’s energy back up.
So basically, the song that’s chosen is based on what the DJ feels will please the crowd the most, whether it’s a slow song, a dance hit, or some good old trap.
Software for Mixing
Software programs can provide key detection, automatic mixing, and beats per minute, all of which will simplify the harmonic mixing process. In some circles, programs that allow for automatic mixing are frowned upon since it gives the software total control of a mix and lineup instead of the DJ. DJing is considered by many to be an artform of sorts, which is why handing over the process to a computer is a huge no-no for most pros.
Get More Familiar with Popular Music
In the scene, the main rule is to know your music and know the crowd. Knowing music will be your first priority. This is because the music you choose is the foundation for your set and will set the tone for the club. You also can’t expect to create a fluid mix if you’re not well-versed in the tracks you choose. You don’t have to know every track word for word, but being familiar with the basic structure of the most popular songs and crowd favorites will get you far.
You don’t have to be a musician in order to DJ, but you will have to have an ear for melodies and harmonies. You’ll also need an ear for symbiotic sonic characters and the sonic properties in general. Basically, know what tracks will work well together and which ones won’t. Focus closely on the structure and sound of each track, this will teach you a lot about it’s flow and melody.
In terms of structure, you’ll find that most songs consist of several segments of thirty-two bars. This includes the intro, first verse, hook, second verse, and so on. Once you’re able to recognize this pattern you’ll be able to manipulate it and break it down.
When you start mixing and layering within different segments of a song you’ll find that you can get really creative and experiment with new sounds, change up the tempo and really transform a song into something that’s more your own. This allows you to create a song that’s also more dance floor friendly.
When you recognize the structure of a song you can create new intros and layers so that the vocals will work with the intro of the upcoming track. However, you must be careful that there are no vocals in the upcoming track’s intro, otherwise, the two tracks can clash. Some DJs will even avoid playing dance mixes because they have trouble recognizing the song’s breakdown.
The breakdown usually comes in right after the intro and before the initial verse. Essentially, it’s the part of a song where the track becomes more ambient and stripped-down. These portions of a song will give the DJ more control over transitions if the DJ is skilled enough to recognize it.
The Importance of Practicing Your Mixing Techniques
In order to be any good at DJing and creating unique mixes, you have to practice. While it’s true that mixing is a creative process, practicing using different types of mixing techniques and experimenting with new sounds is crucial if you want to learn how to identify certain parts of songs, how to seamlessly transition, and how to make a track your own.
Every major DJ has their own specific style that’s easily recognizable in the club, and that’s what you want to shoot for. You want to be known for your sets, unique mixes, and perfect track choices.
If you want to take your DJing to the next level, then you need to become familiar with song structures, learn how to identify breakdowns, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Beat mixing involves take at least two pieces of music and combining them into one piece. Beat matching is considered the principal technique used and it involves synchronizing the beats of a couple of songs. It’s commonly used to align the beats of a couple of songs in order to sync them with each other. However, in order for this to happen, the songs must share the same beats per minute and tempo.
This technique will be used to transition one song to the next during a mix. When done, there will be one song playing while the DJ slowly eases the second song into the mix, combining the two for a period of ten to thirty seconds while slowly fading the first song out until only the second song remains.
When done correctly, the track should sound flawless, like one long piece. This technique is done with the use of a crossfader which is basically a slider that changes the volume between a couple of audio channels. In this case, it will control the volume for the current song playing and the song that’s next in line.
As I mentioned earlier, in order to choose the right mixing point, it’s important to pay attention to the structure of a song in order to align two songs together correctly and seamlessly. So, when you’re mixing, you’ll align two sections of two songs, fading out the first gradually while bringing in the second song stronger, at a gradual pace.
A cue point can be created in order to pinpoint the mixing points for each song. A cue point can be used as a trigger that will allow the software to play the song at a specific point for proper alignment.
When a DJ loops they’ll choose a section of a song they want to repeat. Looping can give the DJ the ability to get really creative and change up the vibe of a song. It can also be helpful when a song doesn’t have a section that’s long enough for a seamless transition.
What’s the Best Reasonably Priced Pro-Quality Mixer?
If you’re on a budget, then dropping a lot of cash on your first mixer just isn’t an option. However, there are nightclub quality mixers out there that you can rely on in the club scene that can deliver the type of sound you’re looking for. I recommend the Roland DJ-808 Mixer, which is offered at a decent price and comes loaded with some great features that both the beginner and pro will appreciate.
To learn about mixers, how they work, and which models are currently dominating the market, read my buyer’s guide here.
Do I Need to Use a Mixer to DJ?
No. If you normally use a controller and your laptop to DJ, then you don’t have to use a mixer. However, if you want to use a couple of turntables when you DJ, then a mixer will be necessary, especially if you’re playing in a club or at an event. For more information about DJing in the club scene and the gear you’ll need, check out my ultimate guide to becoming a DJ.
Do I Have to Go to School to Learn How to be a DJ?
No. Although there are music schools that do offer DJing programs. These programs are usually a few months in length and will also include important basic courses such as music theory and music appreciation.
But if you know someone in the DJ scene who is willing to mentor you, then you can easily learn about the important mixing techniques the pros use, the right type of gear to use, how to create your own set, and how to switch up the music based on the vibe of a crowd.
How to be a good DJ mixer is all about knowing your music and the crowd. But more importantly, it will involve paying close attention to the structure of each song and knowing the perfect point in a track to begin transitioning to the next or to incorporate looping or another type of mixing technique.
The art of mixing itself is what allows the DJ to go from a slow song to a fast-paced dance song, in a flawless manner that makes both of the songs sound like one long piece. Learning how to mix can involve listening to the most popular tracks or classic hits over and over again until identifying the different segments in a song seems easy.
This is obviously a learned skill and one that will take some time to get the hang of, but once you do, mixing on the fly will be a piece of cake.