Crossfading – Making The Mix

It’s probably a good idea to mention that once you have your two tracks beat matched and playing along nicely together, you still have to make the transition from one to the other using the mixer.

Roland DJ-2000
Creative Commons License photo credit: Wolftrouble

This is fairly straightforward, and you’ll probably get the hang of it very quickly – all you have to do is bring the crossfader from one side to the other. The trick to this is timing and smoothness – you’ve got to start the transition at the right time, and move the crossfader smoothly from deck one to deck two (or vice versa).

How quickly you move the fader across is important too – you’ll often want to bring in the cued record very slowly, and sometimes the overlap might be measured in minutes rather than just seconds. This is more likely if you’re playing very long dance/trance tracks, but part of being a DJ is knowing when to transition and how long your crossfade should be.

Generally speaking, your crossfades shouldn’t be too abrupt – there should be a discernable overlap, where you can hear elements of both tracks playing at once. Of course, as you become more confident, you’ll start breaking these basic guidelines on purpose – and so you should, if you feel it suits the mood of both the music and the crowd.

The Mixing-Desk Approach To Crossfades

The previous mixing technique (that is, using the crossfader) presumes that you have both channel faders at the same level, and you’re just transitioning between the two.

However, you can also mix by keeping the crossfader in the middle and using the two channel faders to change the levels directly. Depending on the distance between the channel faders, you might be able to move them both with one hand – but it’s probably a good idea to use both hands, and have one hand on each. This will give you greater control and is certainly much easier. When you get to the showing-off stage, then you can try it one-handed…

There is one golden rule when mixing like this:

ALWAYS fade up before you fade down.

That is, bring your cued record level up before you start bringing the live level down. You don’t have to bring the cued record up all the way, but make sure that you can hear it through the PA before you start reducing or killing the live channel.

Mixing this way is much more difficult than using the crossfader, because you need to keep the overall level of the music more or less constant through the transition – this is done automatically when you use a specialised crossfading slider.

Timing Your Crossover – Mix Placement

When you think about it, the single most important part of a successful mix is not to do with how you do it, but when you do it. Timing is critical, particularly if you’re excerpting a segment of a longer track into your set. Most tracks you’ll be mixing end-to-intro (outro/intro overlap), but even then the timing of your release is critical. This is why it helps to have a basic knowledge of the structure of the tracks you’ll be working with, and a broad understanding of song structures in general.

Timing Your Crossover – Song Structure

Each song can be broken down into bars, where a bar may be defined as the basic building block of the song. Many tracks have a central hook or riff, which lasts for one bar – this is the fundamental rhythmic cycle of the track. The most common structure is to have four beats per bar, and the most common tempo (speed) is 120 beats per minute.

If we make up a fairly typical (albeit simplistic) song structure, it might look like this:

INTRO (16 BARS)

VERSE (16 BARS)

BRIDGE (8 BARS)

CHORUS (16 BARS)

VERSE (16 BARS)

BREAKDOWN (16 BARS)

CHORUS (16 BARS)

OUTRO (16 BARS)

Now, this is just an example of one possible structure – many tracks will have all of these sections in them, and many won’t. The order of the sections may be rearranged, although obviously the intro will always be at the beginning and the outro will always be at the end.

Intro/Outro Mixing

If you have two tracks that have intro and outro of equal length, then it really is a simple matter of cueing them up so that the intro of one track begins at the same time as the outro of the other. If you time it right, this creates a very smooth mix and everyone keeps dancing as if the two tunes were one.

Depending on what instruments are in the intro/outro, you may need to use your EQ to keep the overall balance of the mix intact. If the hi-hats of the intro are a bit tinny, you could bring the treble slider down or kill that frequency altogether. If there’s a bass part in the outro that doesn’t fit in, you could remove it or bring it down a bit.

Using EQ To Emphasise Your Crossfade

If you change the EQ settings for the crossover of the intro/outro, you can snap them all back to centre once the VERSE of the cued record kicks in. If you do this in sync with the crossfader, it can give the mix a great punch and really launch the new track with a bang.

If you want to add a bit of variety to your set, you can try mixing different sections of the songs across one another. As mentioned earlier, a big breakdown can be a good point to bring in a mix, but the downside is that you’ll lose whatever part of that track comes after the breakdown. However, if you feel that the track wasn’t working the crowd anyway, you can use it as a get-out and bring in a new track that might suit the mood better.

Basically, good mix placement will be determined by the reactions of the crowd – once you get the hang of reading your audience, the atmosphere of the venue should be your guide to timing your crossovers and track selection. The more you get into the vibe of the gig, the better your set will become.