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 10 helpful tips to keep in mind:
1. Mix A DJ Set Live or Digital?
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 possible 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.
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 (128bpm+), with seamless transitions, and an upbeat feel for people looking to burn calories and have fun while doing it. If it’s lounge, think downtempo breaks (118-122bpm), with melody and ambient flourishes that reflect deep feeling side.
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 Wave: a series of peaks and valleys where you bring the listener up and down throughout the course of the mix.
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 a symmetrical descent
4. Track Selection & Order
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 Deep House, seamless beat matching all the way through is the way to go.
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. Blending 2 songs that have very similar notes and when mixed they feel like a long lost friends that have finally found each other.
Unless you are looking to create discord, pun intended, mixing in key will improve the musicality of your set.
RekordBox is an impressive piece of free software you can use to update your music library’s ID3 tags with the musical keys of each track. These keys will then serve as a reference for playing tracks in the same or complimentary key via harmoic mixing.
7. Phrasing In Your DJ Mix
When to start mixing in the next track and the length of the transition between tracks is really a case-by-case situation. A common error is to line up two tracks at the same BPM, but, despite dropping in on the one, start the track too early or too late creating an unintentional lull in the energy. Knowing how one track ends and the next begins will be key to creating the right composition where the structure of one track compliments the next. This is good phrasing.
For example, if one track builds up to a big drop at the peak of the song, you want to create space before the next drop in the next track. If the next track you choose drops too early, you could burn out your listener.
If you are using records you will need to review all your tracks before you begin.
8. Looping, Filters, EQing, & Effects
Some feel that altering the songs with any creative combination of the above tools will destroy the purity of the tracks, while others will do everything in their power to bend the music to their will. The bottom line is that only by your own unique manipulation and mixing technique do you separate yourself from another DJ mixing the same tracks. A podcast needs to be simple, clean and effectif. Thing it this way "Less Is More"
9. Length Of Your DJ Mix
One hour DJ mix is industry standard. Unless you are making a live recording of an entire club night, or have been given a specific length by a podcaster, an hour will allow you enough time showcase your favorite songs of the moment and create structure their order with a clear direction.