Take Your DJ Techniques To The Next Level
At this stage, you should be able to beat match and smoothly mix any two songs that are picked at random from a collection of tunes that you’ve never even heard before.
If you’re not sure you can, why not invite a friend to come over with a few random records and see if you can DJ them into a set first time, without knowing what the tracks are. If you can, then you’re ready to develop some new skills…
A useful thing to do if you’re not sure of how good your DJing is, is to record yourself playing a set. You can do this on a tape if you’re using your home stereo as a PA, or you can put a feed into a MiniDisc or other recorder. Or you could connect the output of the mixer to the line-in socket of your computer and record it onto your hard disk.
Once you’ve recorded yourself, you can listen back to what you did and hear more clearly what was right or wrong. Listening to your mixing from the audience’s perspective can sometimes be very enlightening.
Another thing you should be doing is listening to DJ mixes from other DJs who perform in the styles you’re interested in. If you hear a particular combination of tracks that you find interesting, try getting a copy of those tunes and see if you can emulate the mixing yourself.
Anyway, once you have reached the stage where you can beat match any two tunes and mix them back and forth perfectly, you will then probably want to move on to some more adventurous techniques. Bearing this in mind, the following are some examples of things that are somewhat beyond the basic bread-and-butter of DJing. Once you get the hang of actually doing them and knowing when they are most effective, they can be, well, very effective…
This can be quite a dramatic way to mix between two tracks, and is sometimes used if the two tracks have a tonal difference that can’t be masked by using standard EQ. The dynamics of the spinback can draw attention away from the EQ difference so that it isn’t as noticeable – for example, if track A has a lot of hi-hats and track B has a huge bass drum but very little hi-hat action, then a spinback might be the best way mix them.
The technique: Beat match your two tracks as usual. Then, on the final bar of track A (just before the mix point where track B comes in), you stop disc A and sharply spin it backwards, whilst simultaneously snapping the crossfader so that track B comes in on the final beat. The means that the final beat of track A is effectively reversed, then cuts directly into a completely new track. This usually works best if track B comes in with a very strong beat.
The idea of the dead stop is similar to the spinback, but instead of spinning the record back over the last beat or two, you just hit the stop button. You’ll need to know the time it takes your deck to stop the platter if you want to get the timing right – most good decks stop in about a second. Once the live disc has stopped, snap the crossfader to track B which then comes in right on the beat and hopefully everyone goes nuts on the dancefloor. Don’t overdo this one though – if it goes wrong it sounds awful, so you’ll need to be very confident in your tunes and your gear to pull it off.
This works like the dead stop, except the slow down takes much longer. If you can work with the lighting guy in the club on this, get him to kill the lights when you do it, as everyone will think there’s an actual power cut. What you do is turn off the power to your deck so that the record slows down naturally; then, when the time is right, slam back onto deck B with a serious dance beat and you’ll take everyone by surprise (especially if the lights work with you)!
The breakdown of a track is the bit where the beat drops out and you get a sort of pulsing instrumental interlude which builds up into a new launch when the dancing takes off again.
The real key to breakdown mixing is choosing the right tracks. If you have a breakdown on track A that is the same length as the intro to track B, then just as track A goes into its breakdown you can bring up track B so that both tracks are playing at once. Then, when the breakdown/intro is over, move all the way over to track B so that the mix is complete. If the intro and breakdown are compatible then this can sound very good indeed…for example, the breakdown might have some synths and the intro might have drums and little else, so they fit together nicely.
Any decent mixer will have an EQ section – some only allow you to EQ the entire mix, but some have separate EQ controls for each channel. Typically, the EQ controls are divided up into three sections that control the level of the bass, midrange and high frequencies.
The most common usage of EQ in DJ work is in the bass and treble (high frequency) ranges. The midrange may sometimes be used to adjust the overall sound of a track, but is generally not as useful as the other two.
DJs frequently kill the bass on one track when mixing; there are a number of reasons for doing this. If you’re mixing two tracks that have very distinctive and rhythmically incompatible bass lines, the transition may work better if you leave out the bass on the cued track at first, mix across the mid and high frequencies, and then snap the crossfader across whilst un-killing the bass at the same time. This means the cued bassline will kick in with a greater impact, and the two basslines never get the chance to interfere with one another.
If two tracks are slightly out of key, but one of them either ends or begins with only bass and percussion playing, you can also mix them using the bass-kill technique. If you do it right, nobody will notice the slight key change – and it may even give greater impact to the cued track kicking in.
Killing the bass on one channel may also help if you’re experiencing unwanted phasing effects. As mentioned earlier, this occurs when two very similar sounds occur at almost the same time. If your two tracks feature similar bass sounds that are either reinforcing or cancelling each other out, killing the bass on one record will sort that problem out.
So what about the high frequency EQ? Well, if you’re killing the bass on one track, it often makes sense to take a bit of high frequency off the other. This means that the hi-hats and cymbal percussion of your cued record will be taking over from the percussion of the live record, but the live record’s bass is still dominant. This creates a sense of anticipation for the changeover, and may help the transition sound a bit smoother.
As with many DJ techniques, there are no absolute rules about how and when to use EQ – in fact, you can go through a whole set (or your entire career) without ever touching the equalisation sliders, if that’s the way you want to do it. But the fact is that having an intuitive understanding of how EQ works makes you a better DJ – you’ll be able to mix tracks that just wouldn’t go together otherwise.