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13 Tips to Make Better DJ Mixes: How To Properly Mix Music

In the realm of music, where beats become stories and melodies stir emotions, a DJ's skill is akin to that of a musical maestro.

Crafting the perfect mix is an art that transcends the turntables and reaches deep into the hearts of listeners.

Whether you're a seasoned selector or just starting your journey, this blog is your backstage pass to mastering the craft of making better mixes.

Get ready to unlock the secrets, finesse your technique, and take your DJ mixes to soaring new heights. It's time to make the crowd groove like never before!

TL;DR - How To Properly Mix Music#

  • There are several core concepts to understand which lay the foundation for mixing music.

  • As a DJ, you need to consider harmony, tempo, energy flow, and dynamics.

  • The more you push your comfort zone, the better you will get at mixing.

  • DJ.Studio gives a refreshing take on the mix creation process.

Is This The Right Guide For You?

The term 'mix music' has two meanings:

  1. Mixing multiple tracks together to create a DJ set.

  2. Mixing the volumes of individual elements within a song, to create a 'mixdown'. Like setting the levels of the drums, bass guitar, and vocals.

This guide focuses on the 1st meaning, as DJ.Studio is a resource for DJs.

If you are a music producer looking to learn about audio mixing, you'll need to look somewhere else sorry! Maybe consult a mixing engineer.

13 Top Tips To Make Better DJ Mixes#

If you learn and implement these techniques when mixing music, you will instantly start to hear better results.

1) Know Your Music#

dj music library

One of the most important skills as a DJ is having a good knowledge of music in general, and also knowing your own music library in detail.

The more you understand about music, the more you open your ears to the broad possibilities of sound - the wider your horizons will become as a DJ.

People with limited taste and interest in music will only be able to deliver a limited mix, but DJs with an infinite passion for music will be able to create much deeper and more unique mixes.

Additionally, it helps if you know your music library inside out. If you don't know your tracks very well, you will struggle to create professional-sounding mixes.

The better you know your music, the more professional and exciting you will be able to mix - because you won't be mixing in the dark.

Organizing your music is also super important!

2) Plan Out Your Set#

planning dj set

Another key tip for making a great DJ mix is to plan it out in advance. While there is definitely something to be said about being a good improviser, and 'playing to your crowd', in some situations it can be a massive help to plan out your DJ set in advance.

Read more about How To Plan A DJ Set.

This can be helpful for several reasons:

  • It helps to create a more coherent set, which can be calculated to flow in a smoother way.

  • By experimenting and testing out mixes and orders, you get the benefit of refining your DJ set through the process of trial and error. You can make the mistakes and bad choices at home, and work out what the best combinations and decisions are.

  • You can more easily take advantage of advanced skills like harmonic mixing, phrasing, and beat matching (all of which will be explained later in this guide).

There are a few ways you can plan out a DJ set. The most basic method would be to write a tracklist order down with a paper and pen, or on a digital note - however, this is a bit limited. DJ software can make this job easier, as it lets you set cue points, analyze phrases and keys, and create pre-ordered playlists in your software library.

Imagine having a piece of software that does all the trial and error for you. An algorithm that tests out every possible order and combination of songs in a playlist to work out the best order... Well, this does exist. DJ.Studio is a perfect tool for planning out a DJ set (and more) because it uses key detection, tempo detection, and other analysis to automix your tracks.

But I'll explain this in more detail in the second half of this article.

In regards to planning, it's worth thinking about how long your DJ set is going to be, and designing the set accordingly. If you only have a short 30-60-minute set, then make sure you pack the set full of your biggest bangers. If you've got a longer, 60+ minute set, then you can spend more time building the energy up and breaking it down, it also gives you a chance to show a larger variety of music.

At the same time, don't let yourself become too reliant on planning out DJ sets. It's a great idea to plan, but at the same time, you should also practice your improvisation skills - as this will help you to become a more versatile DJ.

When you master both techniques, you can make sets that are semi-planned but have room for improvisation. It also means you'll always be ready to drop a banging DJ set.

3) Harmonic Mixing#

harmonic mixing

Harmonic mixing is another key tool for creating better-sounding mixes.

Have you ever mixed two tracks together, and felt an uncomfortable clash in the melodies, harmonies, chords, or other musical elements? Well, this is probably because you mixed two songs together that don't have compatible keys.

Without getting into too much detail (you should check out our full guide), harmonic mixing is the process of considering the musical keys of tracks and using this analysis to your advantage.

By looking at the keys of tracks, you can work out which other tracks are more suitable to mix with, as they are in the same, or well-related keys, and share the same notes.

Using harmonic mixing in your DJ sets has several advantages:

  • Avoid awkward and uncomfortable key clashes.

  • Create more seamless mixes by mixing tracks that are in connected keys.

  • Take advantage of energy mixing, and use key changes as a tool to guide the mood of the dancefloor from track to track.

Harmonic mixing is one technique that distinguishes the beginners from the pros. While it may seem daunting if you don't know much about music theory, it's actually very easy to implement thanks to the tools found in DJ software, and online resources.

Most DJ software has key analysis, meaning you just need to check that the two songs you are mixing are in connected keys. The Camelot Wheel helps with this. but you can also use smart software like DJ.Studio to automatically work out which tracks are compatible, tell you whether your choices are good, and suggest tracks to bridge keys between songs that don't fit well together.

Learning harmonic techniques is a key to mastering the mixing process, and will help you to create a more professional mix.

These days, thanks to the power of key analysis tools built into DJ software, key mixing is much easier. The software automatically analyses and displays the key of each track, so all you need to do is work out which songs to play together. Again, this is easy thanks to the Camelot Wheel, and Automixing offered by DJ.Studio.

4) Master Beat-Matching#

dj studio beat matching

If you don't know about beat-matching, then your life as a DJ is about to rapidly change. Beat-matching is a core skill for DJs and lets you create seamless mixes between any track. beat matching is the process of changing the speed of songs so that they play in time.

This is essential if you want to keep a consistent groove throughout your mix, and don't want the audience to experience rapid and clunky rhythm classes and tempo changes.

The DJ should always be in control of the groove time and pulse. You can use non-beat-match techniques for a more dramatic effect, but it's an essential skill to have as a DJ.

Also, most DJ software features some kind of auto-sync feature that does the beat-matching for you. But, this isn't always accurate, and you shouldn't rely on these systems, as it means you will struggle to mix on gear that doesn't offer sync. Make sure you actually know how to beat match before using auto-sync features, otherwise you might have trouble later on.

The process can take a while to learn, so check out our full guide for a detailed tutorial on how to use this skill.

Here is a basic explanation of how to beat-match:

  1. Pick two tracks you want to mix together.

  2. Assess the BPM of both tracks - most DJ software does this for you.

  3. Play the first track.

  4. Match the speed of the new track to track 1.

    1. Set a cue point at a kick drum at the start of a bar in track 2.

    2. Press and hold the cue button on the first beat of a bar in track 1, you should now hear both songs play together.

    3. Listen to see if the 2nd track is faster or slower than the 1st.

    4. Adjust the pitch fader accordingly.

    5. Repeat from step 3 until the tracks are playing at the same BPM.

  5. After you've beat-matched the tracks, you can wait for the right time to start track 2 and bring up the volume.

  6. Repeat this for each song.

5) Practice Phrasing#

dj studio phrasing

Phrasing is another relatively advanced DJ technique that can make a huge improvement to the sound and professionalism of your DJ mixes.

Learn How To Use Phrasing in your DJ mix!

The technique of phrasing revolves around studying the arrangments of tracks - like where their verses, choruses, intros bridges, and outros are, and how long each section is.

By learning this information for tracks you want to mix, you will be able to start new tracks in better locations and timings, so they flow in a good arrangement with the other song.

Phrasing has a bunch of benefits, including:

  • Avoid clashing phrases, like having two vocals playing at the same time.

  • Create more coherent mixes with a more dynamic and controlled flow

  • Control the energy of the dancefloor, by maximizing the use of different sections of a track's arrangement, like emphasizing choruses and using verses to your advantage.

6) Use EQ Carefully#

dj studio eq

EQ is another central tool in the DJ toolbox, although it needs to be used with clear intention, restraint, and precision.

Learn How To Use EQ For DJs!

It's not just a case of 'let's crank the bass up as high as it goes' but you should carefully consider the impact that changing the EQ balance can have, and learn how you can use this as a paintbrush for the vibe and energy of your mix. 

EQ is easy to learn, but difficult to master. And while you can get the grips of the basis pretty much instantly, knowing how to really use EQ artistically and consciously takes a lot of practice and consideration.

One key tip I've learned is that often it's better to cut than boost. Because a cut is a relative boost.

For example, rather than boosting the bass, you could cut the highs and mids. This means that the bass energy is still boosted in relation to the highs and mids, but you don't eat up your headroom by over-boosting a frequency band.

Learn how you can use EQ to control energy in a tasteful and skilled manner - which will show off your prowess as. a DJ. Beyond this, experiment with how you can use EQ to transition between tracks.

It's a reflective process that requires good listening skills - which you should always be developing.

7) Experiment with Effects#

dj studio effects

Effects are another interesting tool for DJs, which like EQ, should be used tastefully and not excessively.

Learn more About DJ Effects!

When used right, effects can really enhance DJ mixes, and give DJs a new level of expression and creativity.

However, if used too much or without proper thought, effects can interrupt the audience's listening experience, and distract from the most important element - the music itself.

There are loads of different effects out there, all with unique sonic characteristics and uses. The best way to develop your skills is to just spend time experimenting with each effect, and learning how it changes the sound of a track.

Spend some time just messing around and critically listening to the effect - then consider how you can use this in DJ mixes.

8) No Gain, No Pain#

dj studio redlining

To maximize the professionalism of your mix, you need to consider gain (or volume), the different types of associated controls, and the technical principles and science behind analog and digital audio.

Understanding these theories will help you to create more professional-sounding mixes, where the volume and dynamic are perfect.

A key thing to ensure is that the volume is consistent from track to track. you want to notice that some tracks are quieter than others, due to the way they were mastered.

To rectify this, make sure you use the trim control (channel/track gain) to balance out the tracks and make sure they are all at a relatively similar volume - this keeps the energy and maintains the impact of new songs as you mix them in.

9) Read the Crowd#

dj crowd

As a live performance DJ, it's super important that you listen to the crowd, and feel the energy of the room. The DJ is usually supposed to get the dance floor moving, not clear it out.

This is a skill that really just takes experience to develop - the more crowds and rooms you play to, the better you will get at feeling what the right moves and direction is.

Learn how certain elements of music affect how the crowd moves. For example, speeding up the tempo can bring up the energy and get people dancing more.

However, if you speed up the music in the wrong situation, you may end up scaring the crowd off if they feel like it's too early for the music to be going that fast.

It's also super important to think about the genre you are going to play and make sure that it fits with the setting and context of your DJ set. For instance, you probably wouldn't want to follow a mellow house DJ set with some aggressive hard trance - the crowd might find it too much of a drastic change.

10) Record and Analyze your Mixes#

dj studio recording

A really important practice for developing your DJ skills in the early days is to record your mixes, listen back to them, and analyze your performance.

When you're enjoying yourself 'in the moment', you might not truly take notice of how your mix really sounds - because you are concentrating on mixing, you aren't analyzing your set so much.

By recording your mixes, you can listen back to them and work out what areas you need to improve, what your weak points are - but also where your strengths lie. There's nothing better than listening back to a mix when you realize you pulled off some really neat transitions - it's a real confidence boost.

This stage of self-assessment can give you great leaps in making your mixes sound better, as you learn which areas need to be improved!

The recording process is pretty easy too, although you might need some extra gear. Some DJ software has internal recording, but if you're using hardware decks you'll need to buy an audio interface to plug the audio output into your computer.

11) Proper Practice#

dj practice

Practice, practice, practice! The more time you spend practicing, the more natural you will find DJing and the associated techniques. After a while, the advanced skills will feel like second nature, and you won't really even need to think about the logistics and method of beat matching.

It is also important to consider what you are practicing.

There is the expression "Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect."

This is saying, that you need to be careful about what you are practicing. You shouldn't just be aimlessly messing around, but consciously choose certain skills to practice. This is helped by listening to wake points in your recordings.

Maybe set yourself some goals, like spending 10% of your DJ time practicing purely beat matching, 10% working on transition techniques, another 10% on harmonic mixing, and another 10% on phrasing. Ultimately it's up to you, but set yourself goals and be conscious of what you are practicing when you are in practice mode.

But also make sure you have some fun with it too! DJing isn't meant to be taken too seriously!

dj gear

DJing is a constantly developing landscape, and the trends, tools, and techniques are always evolving over time.

By staying up to date with the latest technology, you will have an advantage over DJs who don't, which means your creative horizons will be broader, meaning you will offer the audience an experience they might not be able to get from most others - making you stand out.

Make sure you read DJ tech news, find out about the latest software developments, and find new DJ tools that you think will improve your mixing tools.

13) Change Your Workflow#

You should regularly take a look at your workflow as a DJ and reassess if there are any ways you could make it more productive - if you want to take it seriously.

For example, I've recently discovered that the best workflow is a hybrid one, that uses both live and studio mixing software to get the best of both worlds.

Also, try out different options - test out different software, make sure you've tried out all hardware styles, including vinyl turntables, CDJs, and controllers. And always push yourself out of your comfort zone, because this way you expand your region of comfort and grow to be able to do new things.

Make Better Mixes With DJ.Studio #

dj studio carousel

If you really want to make better DJ mixes, you should consider using a tool like DJ.Studio.

DJ.Studio is a new piece of DJ software that is designed to offer a new workflow.

This makes the mix creation process much quicker and easier - and works in a different way to live DJing where you would need to record a live performance at a pair of decks and a mixer.

DJ.Studio works in a way similar to an audio editor software (DAW). But rather than being designed for music production, it's made for DJs.

DJ.Studio takes away a lot of the logistical tasks, so you can focus on track selection and being more creative and expressive with your mixes. This means you can spend less time worrying about technical details and fiddling with logistics, and spend more experimenting with the groove of your mix.

It also makes mix production much quicker, as you don't need to record in real time, and can take advantage of an 'offline report, letting the computer do the work in the background.

It also means you can refine your mixes in much more detail, as you don't need to worry about performing it and making mistakes. You simply make all the edits and arrangements on the timeline and then refine it in as much detail as you desire.

Using software like DJ.Studio can be a great tool for practice, and to get a new perspective on the core concepts. Check out the free 14-day trial!

Summary#

Now you know more about the music mixing process for DJs, you can start to make more professional mixes.

Like any art form, there is a lot of subjectivity in DJ mixing, and one rough mix that is 'technically bad' can still have a more positive result on the audience, if the feeling is there, and the context is addressed.

If you study and practice all the above techniques and concepts, you'll have the skills and sound of a professional DJ in no time!

Noah Feasey-Kemp
DJ/Producer
I started DJing when I was 15. Started a record label, residency by a club in Bristol. I’ve played at all the biggest clubs in Bristol (and the small ones) and have entertained thousands of dancers! I love writing about music, DJing, and technology. I've been blogging for DJ.Studio since the start of the project, and am always happy to answer questions and help fellow DJs out!

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