One of the most common issues with newcomer DJs is the inability to mix properly.
For starters, mixing is a wrong term used by the general public. In fact, the art of transitioning smoothly from one tune to another is called “beat mixing”. It consists of synchronizing two tunes to play at the same tempo so that you can move seamlessly from one to the other.
There are tons of other aspects to consider as well, such as how is the crowd reacting to the atmosphere you are creating, is the volume or EQ properly set, and if the tunes are right for each other.
We are here to introduce you to some of these aspects and prepare you for your first crowd. By the end of this article you will confidently know the fundamentals of mixing (or beat mixing). So, let’s get started!
Key Takeaway: Learning how to mix like a DJ is all about layering a few tracks together in a manner that will create a smooth flow. When you’re thinking about creating a new set, considering layering percussion together and matching bass lines so it creates a type of vibe that will keep the energy up.
You can use software programs for this, but ultimately, you need to learn how to do this by ear. There are many techniques you can use that will help you learn how to layer like a pro, but for the most part, practicing and listening to pieces made by established DJs can help guide you through the creative process by giving you a closer look at how each track is expertly and seamlessly put together.
Continue reading to check out some of the best mixing tips and tricks the pros are using.
Choosing Your Tunes
Just like mixing and creating a traditional piece of music, as a DJ, your style and mixes will be a matter of personal taste and can be influenced by your favorite DJs and music genres.
Our tips and tricks on how to mix these tracks can guide you through the process, but the resulting sound will be dependent on the type of sound you want to achieve. However, if you want to avoid many of the common mistakes the beginner makes, keep reading.
To get you on the right path, we have created a checklist that, if followed properly, will ensure a proper experience for everyone enjoying your music that night. It consists of these simple steps:
- Choosing the right tunes for the occasion
- Synchronizing them
- Lining up their kick drum patterns
- Evening out the two volume levels
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of those four aspects…
Not every single song is suitable for beat mixing. Songs you pick should have long and monotone intro and outros. When mixing two tunes they will run simultaneously for a bit, so you need them to have steady beats in their beginning and ends.
If you are picking your songs only, try looking up their extended or club versions. They are typically mixed differently and have prolonged intros and outros. All the electronic styles work perfectly here.
If you are DJ at a metal gig, that would be a bit harder, since some progressive metal bands have odd time signatures and really dynamic outros. It’s safe to say that even an experienced DJ can mess things up there sometimes.
Still, there is nothing wrong with playing a song right after the other if the crowd allows it.
In general, your one and only guidance during a gig is the crowd. See their reactions, observe what sort of music they prefer more by the number of people dancing, cheering, etc. Your role there is to make the night better for everyone and this means that sometimes you have to adjust a bit mid-gig.
Synchronizing The Track Tempos
Before you start fading the first song and raising the levels of the other make sure you get them both up to the same speed/tempo. Different speeds means that your tunes will practically never line up properly. Most good DJ controllers have a sync button for this but there are still DJs who prefer doing it manually.
That button basically changes the speed of the ongoing song so that it matches the next one.
Lining Up The Kick Drum Patterns
If two songs are running at the same speeds but don’t have their kick drums synchronized, it will just sound like a random compilation of noises to your crowd. This is why you have to either manually sync the kick drum patterns with the nudge button next to your jog wheel or simply use the sync button again.
It not only synchronizes the speeds but also adjusts the last and first beat of the songs to make them transition into each other flawlessly.
Pro Tip: You can use visual cues in order to sync the beats better observing the parallel waveforms on your turntable or software.
Evening Up Both Volumes
Once again, there is a function for this in almost all DJ software programs – the “autogain”. Keep it turned on just in case. Your turntable will have manual volume controls for both channels either way, so you will always have control over what is going on.
There are level meters for both songs on your screen at all times and you should be keeping a close eye on them. Keep your low, mid, and high knobs flat (or at 12 o’clock) unless you have to tweak something. Once all this is set you can use your crossfader to transition from the first tune to the second.
Pro Tip: Keep the second kick drum turned off (by having the lows turned all the way down) until you phase to the next song almost entirely. Count to four or eight (most modern songs are made in a set of four beats) and turn the low knob to 12 o’clock.
That will make the transition ever so smoother and nobody will realize you just changed from one kick pattern to another.
The Right Way to Use EQ and Effects
The most valuable tool for the pro DJ is the three band EQ. When you’re using an equalizer there are some basic rules you need to follow.
First off, the equalizer sounds better at unity gain. Next, don’t boost the signal. The signal should be cut. This type of approach can require some planning ahead. As an example, if you want to turn up the highs and mids you need to lower the bass, in addition to turning up the channel gain.
When you’re mixing, you should only use one sub-bass source. When you play a couple of tracks that both have heavy sub-bass this can create a muddier sounding mix which won’t sound good when it’s played on a large sound system. In situations such as these, the equalizer can be a great solution.
All you have to do is turn the bass track down on just one of the tracks when you’re mixing them in order to keep the sound tight and punchy. You can also use the crossfader to mix between the tracks or you can keep swapping the bass lines back and forth. To sum it up, for the best sound quality you want to stick with just one bass source.
In terms of effects, most DJs will have their own style. But whatever your style may be, when you’re mixing, just make sure you don’t go overboard with the effects. Most pros will use some effects in order to promote a smoother transition from one track to the next, or they’ll use effects to enhance their performance.
While both reasons to use effects are perfectly fine, make sure you don’t rely too heavily on them. Instead, use the equalizer and levels to create interest before you resort to using effects. When you’re mixing, tracks that are heavy on the effects tend to sound annoying and redundant.
Only you can decide whether two tunes mix up together well. For that you have to know the songs well and understand all their individual elements inside. Furthermore, different songs have different energy levels that correspond to different moods and are adequate at different times of the night.
It is your responsibility to match them ideally to the crowd’s liking. The best way to learn how to mix beats and tunes is to record doing that and play it back to yourself as often as you can.
This will ensure an even amount of progress in your work and will make you learn from your mistakes. If possible, play it back to other people and see their reactions.
One last thing you have to understand is that DJ software is meant to help you but you need to know the basics of your DJ turntable and how to do read simple information out of your instruments (waveforms, EQ, volume levels, etc.). The key is to keep reading and keep practicing!
Once you feel confident in your mixing abilities you can start experimenting with other DJ techniques, one of which is scratching.
Find out more about this topic in our dedicated article on it.