M i x i n g TT i p s

"Learn to mix with the upfaders first, and then proceed to the crossfader"

 
Paul Oakenfold mixes as DJ Timothy Heit gets ready to spin on his Rane 2016 mixer

Since the early-90's, It's been much easier for new DJ's to learn how to beat mix. This is because most of today's dance tracks have long intros, breaks, and outros with perfectly-synched computer generated beats (i.e., no live drummer). In addition, the increasing availability of DJ equipment at lower prices has made it easier for newcomers to get started.

Beat mixing on turntables was first introduced to the masses by New York's DJ Francis Grasso in the late-1960's. However, the concept of overlaying two tracks with one another can be traced back to the Musique Concrete movement that began in the late-1940's. By using special editing blocks, the followers of Musique Concrete could create a crossfade by splicing a reel-to-reel tape recording and pasting it to a second tape recording at a 45 degree angle.

Today, the "art" of beat mixing is utilizing several turntables (and/or CD players) and a mixer to blend pre-recorded sounds while maintaining a constant beat. Because a DJ can blend tracks in a way that may not be the original intention of the artist (i.e., taking the vocal/acapella of one track and overlapping it with the beat of a completely different track), a DJ can create new and unique versions of pre-existing songs (i.e., remixing on the fly).

While it's difficult to explain the "art" of mixing (aka "beat matching") on a web page, this section shall present the basic rules of mixing. A few suggestions regarding places to learn beat mixing will also be addressed.

General Beat Mixing Rules for New DJ's

* A DJ usually listens to the drum beat of the song (i.e., 4/4 time).

* Most dance tracks have an "intro" (where you mix into it) and a break and/or "outro" (where you mix out of it). An "outro" area on a track is often the final opportunity to mix out of the song; while a "break" may be an earlier opportunity to mix out of a song. A song can have more than one break, but will have only one outro.

* Be sure to read about "cueing" a record in the Scratching section. Cueing CD's is similar to the vinyl slip-cue method (you cue the CD just before [almost on] the first note of the song). You must have a professional disc jockey CD player with "instant start" (so the song begins exactly when you hit the play button).

* It's important for you to understanding the BPM (beats per minute) of a song. Here's how you determine BPM: (1) For example, play "Good Times" by Chic; and (2) starting with the first beat (a bass drum), start counting to the beat of the song; (3) After one minute on a stop-watch, determine how many beats you've counted. This song is 112 beats per minute (and you should write that on the cover). To save you time, some mixers have a BPM counter on the board. As a rule, most hip hop songs are under 115, most house songs are over 115, and most trance and hard-house songs are over 125 BPM. Drum-n-Bass and Jungle tends to be twice the BPM of hip hop tracks (160 to 200+ bpm).

* As you listen to the song being played (song one) on the dance floor, cue the song that you want to beat match (song two) through your headphones on the other turntable or CD player. When song one "breaks" to end in its outro section, start the new song at the first beat of its "intro" (thus, you're matching the "intro" of song two with the "break" or outro segment of song one). As you match the drum beats, place your hand on the turntable or CD player's pitch adjust to gradually adjust the speed. As one hand adjusts speed, place the other hand on the mixer and gradually slide the crossfader so that song one's volume declines and song two's volume increases.

* When the mix is finished, be sure that the new song's volume is exactly at the volume of the previous song. Even if the new song seems as loud as the one being played, watch the bass or high-end volume (of the song you're "bringing in") to make sure that you don't muddle-distort the mix. You should be aware that not all songs are recorded at the same volume level.

* When you're new, you should only attempt to beat match songs that are plus or minus three (±3) BPM from each other. Thus, you would mix Chic's 112 BPM Good Times into a song that's between 109 and 115 BPM, but not into a song that's 125 BPM (that would sound odd).

* Since every song is in the key of something (i.e., C-sharp), some DJ's only match songs with keys that compliment each other (in addition to matching BPM).

* A DJ should always keep his or her hand on the pitch adjust when mixing. As flashy as it may look, you may not realize that touching the vinyl may create swoosh sounds that only a trained (and sometimes untrained) ear could detect. Thus, avoid touching the vinyl/platter to adjust its speed (unless you're scratching or trying to manipulate the note).

Breakdown of a Typical Song

Perhaps the most important thing to know about mixing is the construction of songs (see chart below). You should know the song(s) you are playing cold, such as when the song begins, when the vocals start, when the song breaks, etc.

Typical Top-40 Song Construction (12" mix)

INTRO The Intro may begin with drum beats and gradually progress as instruments are added and the melody may be introduced. Begin mixing into the song here by cueing on the first down-beat (typically the first note of a 32-beat segment).

POST The "post" is a radio term. It's usually the part of the song where the vocals kick-in the first verse. It's where you want to end your mix (and be completely out of the last song).

VERSE 1 The first verse is the first vocal segment. It may be 64, 96, or 128 beats long. Do not mix (or scratch) over this segment.

CHORUS (aka the "hook") Chorus includes the melody (the part you hum along to). It usually is the subject of the song (like love, a girl's name, the name of a dance, etc.). Like the verse, DJ's generally do not mix (or scratch) over this segment.

VERSE 2 The second verse is the second vocal segment. It will most likely be the same length as the first verse.

CHORUS Chorus repeats the same exact melody and lyrics as the first chorus.

SOLO/EFFECT It may be a vocal solo, keyboard solo, break down/drop, or nothing at all. In the 70's, a guitar solo would go here. DJ's generally do not mix out of the song here.

VERSE 3 The third verse is the third vocal segment (In many cases, the words are more intense than the other verses).

CHORUS Chorus repeats the same exact melody and lyrics as the first chorus.

BREAK TO END/OUTRO The outro segment is when the song breaks down into simple beats so that you can begin mixing out of the song. It will most likely resemble the length of the intro. As the outro breaks down, it can be characterized as a reverse copy of the intro. Unlike the "break," the "outro" is the last opportunity to beat mix out of a song.

Where to Learn Beat Mixing

Finally, as stated above, here are a few suggestions regarding places to learn beat mixing:

* Obviously, if you're old enough, you want to visit nightclubs where you can watch the DJ from a distance. Avoid revealing your desire to be a DJ (until the DJ is finished) because s/he may spin differently if they know you're watching (i.e., s/he may be intimidated). Many raves also offer the opportunity to watch world-class DJ's. In addition, try nightclub afterhours and parties.

* Try a local record store that sells vinyl for DJ's. These stores often have a DJ mix set-up. Watch other DJ's until you feel comfortable asking someone for tips. Remember: DJ's like to help other DJ's.

* You may want to consider getting a job as a mobile DJ. Depending on where you live, these companies are often eager to hire and train new DJ's. If you choose this route, be sure to work at a company that teaches beat mixing and formatting.

* Get a job as a nightclub light-jock. While the pay is relatively low, a light jock is in the best position to watch a DJ's success and failure at getting a dance floor. You may also have the opportunity to practice during the off hours (i.e., daytime).

* You can also learn more by reading DJ books and viewing instructional DJ videos. Also see related reading links on the Links page.


Related Disc Jockey 101 Articles

Types of Mixing

Beat Mixing: Understanding Drum Beats

Beat Matching Tips

DJ History: How RPM Differences Led to Beat Matching

Background v. Foreground BPM

BPM and Genres: From Hip Hop to Break-Beat, Techno to Trip Hop

Crossfader Curve Settings

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