This is a little article is for those of you who want to learn a thing or two about the art of DJ-ing and about correct song mixing, and they don’t know where to start.
For the past 4 years, I've been DJ-ing as a hobby, I've played music at a few events, I've created online mixes and I've been practicing a lot.
Looking back, I just can't believe how much ground there is to cover for someone who's just now starting up.
So here are some very basic hints about where to start learning how to mix dance / pop music.
Software: Traktor Pro 2 (although Virtual DJ will do just fine).
We’re going to pick two oldies songs, by the 90's band La Bouche
- Be My Lover
- Sweet Dreams
As the first song is playing, we want to mix out of it and to start mixing in the second song. We also want to properly blend them in them in together.
So, without further ado, click play to listen 25 seconds of what I am talking about:
So, how did I do that? What skills do you need to learn to start mixing like that?
At a first glance, it seems really easy and natural. But truth be told, a novice DJ needs to develop some basic know-how, before he can confidently mix music like that, consistently.
Let’s go step by step.
1. Match the two songs’ BPM (beats per minute)
The song La Bouche - Be my lover has roughly 135 beats per minute (138.83).
Whereas the song La Bouche - Sweet Dreams has roughly 134 beats per minute (133.69).
The two songs we're mixing must have the same number of beats per minute (or BPM), or else we'll get something which is called a trainwreck.
From a DJ's point of view, a 15 seconds trainwreck sounds like this:
So now you know why we must match the beats per minute.
The original song BPM’s don’t have to be exactly the same. But, as long as they are in close range, playing any song at a slightly slower or faster tempo will still sound good, in most cases.
All major DJ software and DJ gear will let you adjust and match the tempo of any song that's playing, either manually or via the predefined sync function (magic!).
2. Beatsync the two songs
Now that we have matched the tempos of the two songs, we must also beatsync them. This means the beats of the two songs must hit at the same time.
If they don't, you will hear something very unpleasant to the ear. Listen below. The songs have the same BPM, but they are slightly offbeat.
When we started bringing the second song up, you could hear the beats were misaligned. It sounded like two horses galloping at the same time.
We’re trying to DJ here, not to tame horses.
Even if you don’t start playing the second song exactly on beat, you can quickly adjust it such that the beats overlap.
Either from software or from your DJ gear, you just have to slow down or speed up the second song to catch up with the first one.
Have a lookie:
Of course, if you press the sync button, the software will do this automatically for you, including BPM matching.
Then why should you learn all this you might ask, if the sync button magically does so much for you already?
Well, the politically correct answer is that learning the basic DJ skills is what differentiates real DJ’s from someone who simply presses buttons on a laptop.
Let’s leave it at that, the debate for what makes a real DJ is ongoing for decades. And it's outside the purpose of this article, anyway.
The next step is to…
3. Learn Phrase Mixing
Mastering the first two steps is a great start with mixing music and getting to very basic level. But it’s not enough, if you are serious.
If you want your mixes to sound great, you must understand when to start start bringing in the second song in the mix.
You cannot start mixing anywhere you like, in the middle of the song. More often than not, it will sound bad, even If you have your beats aligned in place.
You must understand the musical structure of a typical dance / pop song before mixing.
I am talking about …
Beats, Bars and Phrases
We’ve already covered what beats are, so let’s have a look at Bars.
In dance and electronic music, Bars are groupings of 4 beats.
We have 1 Bar = 4 Beats.
And one musical Phrase groups several bars together.
How many, you ask?
Well, it depends upon the musical genre, or upon what the song artists wants to emphasize.
You will usually find 8 or 16 bars per musical phrase.
Some musical genres will even go up to 32 or even 64 (like classical Trance music).
Let’s see how many beats we have per musical phrase, depending upon the length.
8 bars = 8 x 4 beats = 32 beats
Or if the phrase is 16 bars long, then:
16 bars = 16 x 4 beast = 64 beats
Makes sense? As you can see, it’s just simple math.
To mix two songs correctly and make it sound good, you have to match musical phrases
Randomly mixing and matching beats or bars will not work, because you will get mixes that sound weird.
You must learn how to spot these musical structures when listening to the songs you want to mix.
For this, you must train your ear to recognize When does a bar start? and When does the next musical phrase start in the song?
Don’t be worried. I know it’s a bit overwhelming for a beginner, and you have so many questions.
But every serious student of the Art of DJing goes through this and comes back alive and unscathed.
There’s so much more to talk about, like:
- How do you learn to count beats, bars and phrases?
- Should you mix only over the outro of a song, or can you mix in earlier?
- What does harmonic mixing mean?
I’m saving the answers for future articles 😉
As you might suspect, the DJ Rabbit hole goes very, very deep.
You know the drill, if you got any value out of this, do Upvote.
That’s it for now, all the best.