How To Craft A DJ Mix: 10 Tips For Success (DJ TECH TOOLS)
When setting out to craft a great DJ mix, there’s no reason to do it off the cuff without thinking about a few key elements first: Who will listen? How will it be structured? How will you mix it? Today, guest contributor Chris Alker brings ten poignant tips for DJs crafting a new mix – with a number of great examples to listen to.
Working from the booth surrounded by a sea of party people, a good DJ steers the energy of a room by playing right songs at the right time. If he hits a groove that creates a stir, he will follow it to its logical conclusion. If the dancers are looking tired, he may cool it off and play a downtempo track to encourage people to grab a drink. Such is the nature of playing to a live audience.
On the contrary, making a DJ mix for a demo, podcast, radio show, or for that special someone you want to impress, is a different animal altogether. There is no immediate feedback loop and you have a lot more time to prepare, but before you hit record, here are ten helpful tips to keep in mind:
1. Mix A DJ Set Live Or In Ableton?
The answer is simple, purpose. If your mix is going to be used to get a gig, mix it live. You want the mix to represent what you can do live. If you spend hours in Ableton making insane filter envelopes and delays that you can’t recreate with a mixer on the fly, you will be misrepresenting yourself and possibly kill your chances at a future gig. If you are making a mix for a podcast or sale, using the computer to control every aspect of the mix is ideal for producing the most polished product.
Sometimes recording live sets is the best way to promote a great party. Mister Sunday’s Eamon Harkin records live party sets by combining the sounds of a live mic near the dancefloor and the master feed from the mixer to give an accurate feeling of how it will sound should you attend. Here is 4-hours from the latest party at Industry City:
2. Know Your DJ Set’s Audience
The mix you make to get a DJ gig at a nightclub will no doubt be entirely different than the mix you make for a dinner party of your closest friends. Knowing your audience is a helpful tool for narrowing track selection, determining the appropriate length, and energy level. For example, if the mix is for an aerobics class, you will want something high energy (130bpm+), with seamless transitions, and an upbeat feel for people looking to burn calories and have fun while doing it. If it’s yoga, think downtempo breaks (90-110bpm), with melody and ambient flourishes that reflect the slow focused pace of the workout.
Psychemagic’s “Canyon Haze” DJ mix is a super mellow psychedelic set that is great for post-party wind-down, but not something you are likely to hear on a Saturday night dancefloor:
3. Diagram Your Set’s Direction
A helpful tool dance music producers swear by is creating a diagram that illustrates the energy levels they are looking to reach throughout the course of the song. Applying the energy diagram to a mix can be just as helpful.
The most common include:
- The Ramp: a steady rise from slow BPM to high with matching energy
- The Mountain: a rise to a peak halfway through the mix and asymmetrical descent
- The Wave: a series of peaks and valleys where you bring the listener up and down throughout the course of the mix.
France’s Joakim embraces the “wave” diagram in his innovative DJ sets with tracks moving between euphoria and frantic energy and back again for the duration. His mix for DJhistory.com is a good example.
4. Track Selection & Order
Track selection is largely a product of personal taste and your target audience, whereas track order is determined by the energy levels you hope to achieve. Choose tracks you love that represent the direction of your music collection you want to display, not necessarily the most popular tracks on the Beatport Top 100.
Don’t be afraid to mix old tracks and new; there is nothing like connecting the dots.
DJ Rupture is notorious for weaving together an eclectic mix of sounds on three turntables for mind bending sets:
Stereotypically, dance music DJs favor beatmatching, Hip Hop DJs cutting, and radio DJs fading. While you can make an excellent mix with any single transition type, using a combination of transitions can both help some tracks fit together that may not otherwise, and/or create variety in your set. If your mix has a mixed bag of genres, change it up transition-wise. If you are playing a single genre, like Drum n’ Bass, seamless beat matching all the way through is the way to go.
West coast-based turntablist and producer DJ Anubus uses a variety of transitions, effects, and impeccable timing in his latest “The Dude Mix”:
6. Mix In Key
Despite being of the same genre and BPM, some tracks simply don’t fit together. While a some DJs have an innate sense about tracks that complement one another, others will find it frustrating without a good explanation. To musicians, the answer is often found in the track’s key. Mixing from one track to the next that is in the same or complimentary key. In his early DJTT article (2007!) “Are you mixing ‘in key’?”, Ean Golden explains that mixing in key is “