The following instructions have been designed for the novice mixer. These directions are based on my own opinions and experiences over the years. Keep in mind that what you are about to read is not the only way to mix. My way is only one example and is just meant to give you the basic skills to get you started. In most cases, you will notice I am talking about vinyl and turntables. This is just a preference, even though I do spin a lot of CDs now. The techniques presented here apply 100% to CD spinning as well as vinyl.I find these steps to work well in obtaining the “perfect mix,” if such a thing exists. After grasping the basics (Which may take longer than you think so don’t get too frustrated!) of mixing, you will find that there are many other ways of doing it. Every DJ has his/her own bag of tricks and yours will develop as you get better.
KNOW YOUR MUSIC
The first thing you want to do is know your music! This is the most important rule (not opinion) in obtaining a good mix. Without knowing your songs, you can not possibly mix them with your best ability. Sometimes, the best mixes can derive from mixing songs that you don’t know all that well. However, when it comes to playing live, it is not the time to experiment. When you are practicing, get creative and definitely try mixing something that you just bought before even listening through it. If you find that it works well, learn it and use it. When it comes down to the “perfection line”, you don’t want to be guessing what will work.
Another reason to know your music selections well is so that you can mix sections of other songs in throughout the current selection. Throwing in other songs for short periods of time sounds great when done properly and they also throw off your audience as to what is really coming on next. You will know where the breaks, fills, drop-outs and edits (edits are the hardest to mix over as they sometimes allow the beat to become non synchronized) are and this will allow you to maximize the expertise of your ‘remix’. Don’t get carried away though. It may sound cool but the people who are listening won’t find it too nice when it becomes so repetitive in the song that it sounds like a sample-fest. Also, if you are just starting out, don’t even bother trying to mix in samples of other songs. I just noted that part for when you are ready to step up a bit from just mixing records together one after another. Just get the song that you want to come in next on the turntable and match up the beats before you run out of time…. for now.
LEARN YOUR MIX POINTS (BREAKS) WELL
Just in case you don’t know what a break is (No, not the music style!), let’s begin with a definition. A break is the part of the song, usually at the beginning (referred to as the “intro”), middle or end (and sometimes at all 3 points), where it is most generous in allowing you to mix songs together without a clash of tones or vocals. Some breaks do have tones through them, (in other words, a bass line or higher pitch melodies) and they should be dealt with more carefully. Vocal tracks are either absent or vaguely sampled through breaks. These “breaks” are the best spot to mix in songs that start with vocals, if you so choose. However, sometimes even a sampled vocal can make your vocals coming in from the other record sound messed up, so be careful. NEVER mix vocals on top of vocals (full vocals, not quick samples). It is easier to just mix in a song that starts with only a beat. No melodies or vocals are present so they can mix on top of practically any song. An easy way to remember what will mix without a clash is by following this little rule: Other than the beat (Percussive Instruments), if a song has a vocal, bass line, sample, tone melody or other musical aspect, then the other song you are mixing it with should be void of those components. Of course once the one song drops out those parts, the other song may have them present. Don’t think about it too hard. It all comes down to KNOWING YOUR MUSIC. Remember, this is a beginner’s documentation! There are occasions where layering those aspects can give you great sounds and mixes but stay away from it for now.
KNOW YOUR RECORDS (or CDs)
After you know your music, KNOW YOUR RECORDS. Learn the Beats Per Minute. Before you mix songs live, it is a mandatory factor to know what songs will go with other songs as far as speed is concerned. What does this mean? Try mixing a song like Puff Daddy’s: Been Around the World with Sneaker Pimps: Spin Spin Sugar. If you do it and it sounds right, call me to let me know. You might want to make sure that I am still alive though, considering it will probably be years later when you do it right! Don’t quote that though, I just pulled two songs out of a hat. Some songs with such a great difference in speed will mix, but you have to mix on every other beat or 3rd beat, or 4th beat etc…don’t get into that now. That is much, much, much more advanced. It is possible to mix them with speeds that are as different as they are, but not by the average beat mix.
Another method of mixing is to “bang” the other song in. This means that when one song gets to the end of the verse where you want it to end, you can hit stop on the turntable as you throw in the other record. The new song is then instantly started with the volume set at the maximum ideal level for sound, with no fade. One more way to mix is to turn the turntable off causing the record to gradually slow down. Throw the other record in while the one you shut off is in the process of stopping. There are other ways of accomplishing this but they require more skill.
One thing to remember is that if you are going to do something like what was just described, you must have “hand or finger control,” which comes from lots of practice. It allows you to know the exact amount of tension you need to put on the record so that when you throw it in, it comes in at the exact proper speed. Otherwise, it will either drag in and sound funny or come in to fast and sound like a bad scratch technique or a chipmunk for 1/16th of a second. Lastly, certain songs will not even sound right with this type of technique. Practice before you try it for an audience.
Once you know the B.P.Ms of your records you can easily tell what record will mix with what other records. The speeds have to be close. I try not to go outside a B.P.M. difference of +/- 5. You may think that it sounds good (And it might if you are lucky) but the speed is offset and the vocals and melodies will sound a bit too slow or too fast. Your listeners will notice if you are spinnin’ for a crowd who knows the music. I arrange my records in B.P.M. order, not by title or artist. This way, if I run into a last second mix situation (because I was distracted by a talkative friend or something), I can easily just grab a record in the same area and know it will mix. That is not the main reason of course. The main reason is to have your records of mixing potential in the same area. Mark the records with the B.P.M.s so that you can see them easily. Memorizing them is a bit hard for now. Once you have been doing it for a while, you may not even have to mark them. You just learn the speeds by hearing them. That is way down the road though. MARK YOUR RECORDS.
KNOW YOUR COUNTS (MEASURES)
When mixing the records you should know the measures. This is easy to figure out. Just listen to the song. Listen for the changes in instrumentation and vocals. Some songs do something different every 4 counts (beats). Some do it every 8, 12, 16, 32 etc. This is important because you need to match it up with the record you are going to mix in. If one record is playing at an eight count and the one you are going to mix is a 16 count then apparently the one playing is going to change twice as much as the record coming in. This can work most of the time but you have to be careful that new melodies or rhythms are not introduced that will clash with what you are mixing in. Clashing melodies can sound very dissonant and quite unpleasant to the ear. The mix should sound as natural as possible. Once again, if you KNOW YOUR MUSIC well, different measures can possibly mix correctly. PRACTICE!
TRY TO MATCH SOUNDS
Trying to pick a song to mix that has the same kick drum sound as the playing record also enhances the mix value. Different kick drums are most noticeable when playing together. By matching them, it seems as if the song that is coming in is part of what is already playing. If they are not the same sound, you will hear the fade of the old song much more clearly. That is not a good thing, but sometimes it can’t be helped. With the amount of music out there now, matching the kick drum is much more rare than it used to be. If you are staying strictly with one style of music, then it can be very easy to find alike kicks. If you can match other aspects of the songs, then more power to you. It is quite hard to match every song like that so don’t kill yourself trying to mix songs that have the exact same sound. It will sound the cleanest (as long as you are mixing on beat!) but it does not happen too often.
BRINGING IN A NEW SONG
Volume levels are another important factor. First off, fading songs in or out is the easiest way to segue from one song to another, but it is also unnatural. Beats DO NOT fade in and out of songs (other than the endings and special effects.) Why should they be in your mix? It just makes it more noticeable that you are mixing. Remember: The object is to make it sound like one constant song. If a song does not have a good drop-in or drop-out point, then by all means fade it. Even the best of us do it. It is a very common mixing technique. You should have no trouble however, “banging it in” as opposed to fading out. Most songs start with just a beat that will mix with anything in its B.P.M. range and therefore can be “banged in” (remember the definition: instantly turned on at with the volume set at the maximum ideal level for sound, with no fade). There are two ways to do this. The first is by throwing it in with the volume already up. If you are good at this then this is the best way. Don’t do it if you can’t do it in time with the record playing. If you throw it in wrong, you will have to make some quick pitch adjustments to make up for your inaccuracy and the crowd will hear the horse galloping sound of your mess up. The other way is by simply listening to the cued record in your headphone and when it is on beat, turn up the volume. Don’t just bring the cued song in anywhere you want. Make sure you wait until the end of the verse of the record playing, and then snap it on. Some people have a tendency to just turn it on once it is on beat in the headphones. WAIT UNTIL IT IS ON BEAT AND ON VERSE.
Get used to the record handling. Every one is different. Scratch back and fourth the note that you are going to start mixing with. Get a feel for it and how much pressure you need to use when throwing it in so that it is up to speed immediately. All records take very little pressure to throw in when you use the right kind of turntable. If you know the pressure level you need to use, then you can always bang records in perfectly on time.
Be careful with your volumes. Do not over power one record with the other. Sometimes you may not be able to tell by ear that one is way to loud. The easiest way to see your levels is by using your mixer meters. Every time I mix, I watch the VU meters. I bang in my records and then watch the meters, being careful to adjust the volume so that the meters read the avg. signal input, which is 0 dB. When the meters jump up a little bit higher than they were for the past few minutes, I know my approaching record is audible in the mix. Once I see the change in VU, I lower the last song’s volume (not the new song coming in) down to make up for the difference. Now, it is back at the same volume that the one record was playing at before I mixed in record two.
Due to a wonderful thing called “Phase” (no need to discuss this), the volume during a perfectly beat matched mix will fluctuate drastically if the kick drum in each song has frequencies present that interact with one another. Phase is much more technical than what I just stated but there really isn’t any need to bring it in to this discussion. When I have songs that phase, I try to off set the kick drum of each song by a couple milliseconds so that this does not occur. Instead, by offsetting them, you get a highly undetectable reverb (a delay of sorts) that keeps your levels where you want them. If they do phase, you will see it in the VU meters and most definitely hear it too! This can also be a good thing when trying to obtain special effects in your mix but for our purposes, it just makes the volume go nutty. LOWER the master volume during unwanted phase until you pass the effect. The bass can double at times and even blow a speaker if you don’t know how to control it. However, that is only if you mix at a speaker’s highest output to begin with.
USE THE PITCH CONTROL! After you throw the record in, make good use of the pitch controller, unless you already have matched the beats perfectly (which is not too often.) Throughout the mix the songs will fall off from each other. If you can get the 2 records to stay on beat for an average of 8-10 seconds, then you have a good pitch lock. You can get different records to lock for a whole song sometimes but a 10-sec. average is awesome. If the beats fall off under that length of time, then re-adjust. If you can match the pitches for ten second intervals, it gives you the time to take off your headphone and listen to the actual mix and maybe even switch and monitor the other record (which can be confusing). With your headphone on and monitoring the song you are mixing in, you can tell which way it is falling (fast or slow). You can then speed it up or slow it down to correct it faster than the audience can detect it. Without the headphone on, it is harder to detect the minuscule changes (my opinion). Some people may feel otherwise, but I find it easier to hear the differences when the song I am monitoring in the headphone is at a level where I can just barely hear it. The louder it is, the more it floods out what you hear with your other ear.
Do NOT use your hand along the side of the turntable platter or record to slow it down. This causes warbles in the sound unless you have a bionic hand that can apply a fixed amount of pressure. The pitch adjuster is the only thing you should use. Nowadays, I see more and more people doing this and it works sometimes, but it is still easier to adjust by the pitch. It is much more accurate than you at speed changes and is certainly smoother. Learn to use it right and it will benefit you as the most important tool of the turntable.
Another bad part about slowing a record down with your hand is the fact that if you do, it is only temporary. You may get the records to be on beat with each other but, when you remove your pressure, they immediately fall off again! If you had to slow it down to begin with because it was too fast, it is still too fast! USE THE PITCH. Again, unless you are doing some kind of effect (scratching, cueing etc..) NEVER USE YOUR HAND ON THE SIDE OF THE RECORD AS A MEANS OF PITCH ADJUSTMENT.
If you are good, then you may switch the record you are monitoring during a mix. Do this only if you have an acute sense of hearing. I say this because when you switch the monitor to the opposite record in the middle of a mix, you tend to lose your perception of what is what and/or will make pitch changes that are in reverse of what you wanted to do. If possible, stay with the record you started with (the new one coming in of course.) If I can’t tell what is happening, I first try to listen harder. When I have no other option, I will switch the cueing monitor, but only briefly. If the new song coming in is at a point that is louder than the other song, then it will be easier to switch the monitor to the lower volume record without getting confused.
Getting out of a song can sometimes be as hard as mixing into one. You have to listen for the right time to drop the first one out. Although I told you earlier in this document that you should avoid fading a song in, it is more acceptable to fade a song out. When you do decide to fade a song out, you must once again know where the song that will continue to be playing has drop-outs. If you are fading a song and it is already halfway faded out, make sure you know what is coming up in the other record. If the song mixing in decides to drop it’s beat out for a moment, you will hear the faded song at a half volume (or however far you have faded) in the background. This sounds very unnatural. To get around this problem, either quicken or lengthen your fade to match up to the drop out of the other record. In other words, if “song A” has a drop out that is about to happen in 20 seconds, make your “song B” fade complete by the 20 second point. If “song A” has a drop out point in 40 seconds, then either lengthen your fade or, fade closer to that point. Wow! That explanation even confused me!
Another way to end a record is to just hit the stop button, which will stop the record (on a good turntable) practically instantly. If you do it at the right time, it will also drag the note you stopped on for a fraction of a second. A final option is to turn the turntable off, which will cause the record to gradually slow down and stop. The only time you should practice this technique is when the song you are stopping has no beat or, the song that will continue to play has no beat for the duration of the gradual stop. Otherwise, the beats will clash and sound terrible. There are additional ways to mix out of a song and by practicing, you will find your own creative ways to do accomplish this.
Watch out for drawn out songs, unless you are making house music sets. House music seems to be one of the few formats in which lengthy versions are acceptable. If the song is really working the crowd, then by all means let it play through. Most crowds tend to bore easily of instrumentals and vocals that play too long. Bored people dancing quickly leads to a big empty space on the dance floor.
A lot of dance mixes start out with a long intro before vocals are ever heard. This is done with the DJ in mind. It is good but don’t get trapped in mixing songs from the beginning all of the time. Some of the intros can last as long as some full-length songs. Once again it brings you back to the boring factor. To stay away from this, mix the long intro under the other song playing right up to a few verses or closer before the vocals start. Then start mixing out the first song. This way there is minimal time between the two vocal tracks. Another way is to cue the incoming record to right before the vocals. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Instrumental selections are much more acceptable to the masses these days so the above statements are partial. Use your better judgment.
DO NOT MIX VOCALS ON TOP OF VOCALS! Vocals clash no matter what key they are in. You can’t understand what they are singing/saying. Just don’t do it! It sounds horrible. You can get away with samples under vocals sometimes but I don’t recommend it.
Remember that the ultimate mix is a mix the listener did not hear. There are three things that you should hear through a mix:
The Song playing
The mix of the two (or sometimes three for advanced DJ’s) songs that sound like one
The song that was mixed (Now the song playing).
Every DJ has his or her own tricks. This is what separates them from the rest. After you learn the basics of mixing you will develop tricks of your own. Listen to others and hear what they do. Incorporate them into your style. By combining styles of others you will learn limitless techniques and know how to do practically everything. After you know all you can (which is probably impossible), what separates you from the rest is how well you can read the crowd. Can you tell what they want to hear? After all, they give you your reputation.
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
Use good slip mats. The original rubber mats are no good for mixing. They are made to grip the record for minimal slippage between the record and the mat. Get DJ mats that loosely hold the record to the platter. This will allow you to manipulate the record much (cue, spin back, stop, etc..) easier. When you stop the record, the turntable platter will keep spinning allowing you to throw the record in without having to let the platter pick up to normal speed.
Don’t scratch the hell out of records you think are going to be your most classic. After all, records start losing their sound quality after just 10 plays! Imagine how bad they become when they are back cued, scratched etc… over and over.
Don’t get into the habit of listening to a record in the headphone to get it on beat with the other one for a long time and then spin it backwards to the beginning. Pick up the needle and start it over if you went real far into it while matching beats. It saves lots of time and wear and tear on the records and needle.
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