Whether you’re djing in your bedroom or in front of a hundred people, pick up some tips on how to blend those tracks perfectly
Even the earliest iPods could fade from one random track to another but what a true mixologist master strives for are those magic moments when the selection and mixing of tracks at the right time and in the right way creates something more than the sum of its parts. Armin Van Buuren calls it “the art of 1 + 1 = 3”.
Let’s crack open a little DJ friendly music theory and understand some fundamentals. Firstly a lot of modern music is based on the time old formula of tension and release in a rhythmic pattern. There is almost a tangible countdown till that baseline drops and your hands are in the air. It is at these moments that introducing a new track or part of a new track in the mix is what a DJ should aim for. The dance floor is expecting the change and so the ‘groove’ has remained to guide them through the ‘transition’ between tracks or new elements of the next track.
Typically the beat is the timekeeper, making the ‘groove’ of the track and what dancers dance to. As a DJ, you see this represented as BPM (beats per minute, which is the ‘tempo’) and your first guide in mixing any two tracks well is to match the two BPMs up.
Next step is to choose your ‘transition’ style. Two popular ones are: the ‘Cut Mix’, which very quickly cuts into the next track (popular with Hip-Hop Music), and the ‘Blend Mix’, which slowly introduces the next track over a extended period of time (popular with the various House Music styles). The key is to time it just right so you don’t disrupt the groove by transitioning at a point when the dance floor is not expecting a change in the original track.
So when do these changes occur? Usually there are musical clues to listen out for. For example there might be an extra repeating beat or an energy build-up in the bassline. A lot of DJ hardware and software actually display the wave form of tracks so you can see where the big changes are going to occur.
Where the Art meets the Science is in track selection. A good DJ can mix between tracks flawlessly but a great DJ creates a musical journey for their dance floor by picking the right music at the right time every time. Pumping out a thumping techno track to an empty dance floor at the beginning of the night usually doesn’t encourage that group of girls in the corner to get up and start dancing. There is a true art in being an opening DJ.
Understanding where and to who you’re playing to will guide your track selection. The trick is to keep your own style and tastes intact while working with the comfort levels of your dancefloor. It is a partnership not a dictatorship. You earn the trust of the dance floor and they will follow you to somewhere new.
Last but not least, trust your ears. Listen out for melodies that don’t mix together, vocals over vocals, mismatched beats, or too much bass – make lots of small adjustments to EQ and volume quickly to tighten up your mix. Also remember that some of the best moments in music can happen by accident, so if it sounds good go with it!