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The 7 Steps to Make a Good DJ Mix

If you're wondering how to make a DJ mix, this is the ultimate resource for you. DJing is so much fun to be involved with, although there are several stages and techniques which need to be mastered to make sure your mix sounds good.

From understanding keys to matching BPMs, and finding the coolest new music - most DJs need to spend years refining their mixing skills with trial and error before creating killer DJ sets.

I've put this guide together to educate new DJs (and even those with experience) with all the key knowledge I've learned from a successful DJ career.

After you've read this guide, you'll have all the knowledge and tools you need to get stuck in with DJ mixing! Did you know that you can even start mixing on your laptop without having to buy new hardware?

TL;DR - How To Mix Music and Make A DJ Set#

  • Curate your music library and playlist.

  • Learn how to properly arrange DJ sets, and how to choose matching tracks.

  • Get creative with transitions.

  • Record and share your mix!

How to make a good DJ Mix

Making A DJ Mix: Step-by-Step#

This guide is split into different sections relating to the various stages of creating a mix.

Here is a brief overview of the process to make a DJ mix, after this I'll explain each stage in detail and give you some helpful tips:

  1. Choose the tracks - Download songs that you want to include in your mix. You can choose tracks based on a genre, theme, or mood, to tell a story, or just choose songs that you enjoy.

  2. Determine keys and tempos - Once you've chosen your tracks, determine the tempo and key of each song. This will help you mix them together seamlessly.

  3. Arrange the mix - Decide on the order you want to play your songs. You can create your own order, or use DJ software to automatically map out your mix.

  4. Mix your tracks - Use DJ software or hardware to mix your tracks together. This involves using various skills like beatmatching, filtering, effects, EQing, and crossfading to transition smoothly from one song to the next.

  5. Record your mix - Record your mix using recording software or hardware. You can then listen back and make any necessary adjustments.

  6. Master your mix - Once you have your recorded mix, you can use mastering software to improve the overall sound quality, loudness, and coherency.

  7. Share your mix - Share your mix on platforms like SoundCloud, Mixcloud, or YouTube to get feedback from listeners and grow your audience.

Now, let's look at each of these stages in more detail!

A DJ Mixer

1) Track Selection#

Arguably the most important part of DJing is track selection. Even if you have the best technical skills in the world, if you choose an awkward mix of songs, then you'll sound like a bad DJ and people won't want to listen to you. Find out what's popular in the DJ community or what tracks your DJ friends play.

Here are some key tips for track selection:

Mix Music That Goes Together#

Every DJ has a different strategy for choosing their tracks. You want to choose a selection that shows a good mix of your interests, but perhaps not too diverse.

Ultimately it depends on what the intentions are behind the mix. If you're doing a techno set in a nightclub, then pick your favorite techno tunes. If you're doing a guest mix on a radio, or just putting your mix online, then show the tunes you love the most, that show the kind of sound you want to be associated with.

Choose Music That You Love#

DJing is all about expression. I think the best mixes show the audience what kind of music you enjoy listening to. Don't mix genres you're not interested in for the sake of "being cool", of course. Even if you have niche and unusual tastes, you should be proud, not ashamed.

When you are passionate about certain music, that passion comes through in your mixing, which will resonate more with your audience. A core component of being a good DJ is that you love music in general, and mix music that you love to listen to.

Listen to as Much Music as You can and Build Your Music Library#

This is probably the biggest key to being a great DJ. The more you expand your musical tastes and awareness, the better you will be able to educate your audience and keep the party entertained.

You will see new connections in music, and be able to take listeners on a more interesting journey. Explore as much music as you can, and push yourself to listen to stuff outside your comfort zone.

Organize Your Collection#

When building music collections, it's super important to be organized. Ultimately the method you use is up to you. You could organize your collection of folders in the same genre, vibes, and eras, alphabetically, or in any other way that makes sense to you.

Even making YouTube or Spotify playlists can be a good place to start when exploring music, then go back and buy high-quality downloads. In the end you will need to buy your own music, because you are not allowed to create mixes with streaming songs. But you can use Spotify, or iTunes to explore available music

Organize your tracks by genre

Download Files of the Highest Quality#

Remember that WAVs have higher quality capacity than MP3s. It's something that beginners often overlook, but if you compare a WAV and MP3 file of the same song side by side, the differences are clear.

Make sure you download any new song in the highest quality available - this ensures it sounds great no matter where it gets played. If you rip songs off YouTube or use low-resolution MP3s then you'll lose a lot of quality, typically reducing detail in the high frequencies.

You want to give your audience the best listening experience possible, so make sure you focus on audio quality!

The key is building a large, well-organized music library that covers a range of different genres. Then, when you want to make a new DJ set, all you have to do is curate a smaller collection based on the kind of music you want to put in your set.

DJ.Studio playlist

2) Determine Keys and Tempos#

After you've picked out your playlist, it's helpful to work out the key and tempo for each of your chosen songs. This makes it much easier to arrange seamless mixes, as you can easily see which BPMs and keys match up across the playlist.

Some DJs choose to label their audio files with the BPM and key on each track, however with a lot of software available today, this isn't necessary.

For example, in DJ.Studio, any music imported into your library is automatically scanned for its BPM and key, which is then displayed next to the track in the browser window.

This makes it super fast for DJs to identify the BPM and key of tracks, otherwise, you might have to do it manually which can take a long time - especially if you have a large collection.

Determining these factors makes the next stage of making DJ mixes much easier, and lets you effortlessly mix in key, and beat-match tracks.

With technology like DJ.Studio you don't need to have the skills to manually work out the key and BPM of tracks, but I'll explain the techniques anyway.

Use BPM tapper to find the BPM

Working Out the BPM (Beats Per Minute)#

To work out the BPM, simply feel the groove of the song and tap along with the beat into a BPM counter, this will work for most songs, although is generally easier for electronic music.

Working out how to count beats is helpful when you're trying to work out the tempo of a song and manually beat match in DJ mixes.

Listen carefully for the beat. Often, the easiest way is to find the first kick drum at the song's beginning. This is usually beat 1. Then count 1-2-3-4 in repetition until you get locked into the tempo.

Use this groove with a BPM calculator to work out the tempo of your currently playing track.

Camelot Wheel

Working Out the Key for DJ Mixing#

Understanding musical keys let you mix harmonically, which makes a big improvement to the coherency of your mix.

Working out keys is much harder than counting BPM, and if done manually, requires some understanding of music theory and even the ability to play a musical instrument. This skill is too large to fit in this guide, so see my separate article explaining musical keys.

Thankfully, software like DJ.Studio can automatically work out the key for you. This is also much more accurate than working it out by ear.

DJ.Studio Carousel

3) Arranging a Mix#

After you've selected songs to make a playlist for your mix, the next thing to do is arrange a running order.

Structuring your DJ mixes can be hard, particularly for new DJs. There are a few different ways you can approach this, and you don't have to use the same technique every time you make a mix.

You can use any of these systems to arrange the playlist for your mix:

  • Harmonically - Line tracks up so their keys match in order.

  • BPM - Connect tracks based on their tempo, creating some kind of progression.

  • Vibe - Move through different feelings and moods in an expressive way.

  • Story - You can tell a story moving through different songs, without necessarily paying attention to any of the above three methods.

There isn't strictly a right or wrong way to select the order of your mix, and a lot of it is guided by the art of DJing and your own expressive intentions.

For example, say you are making a mix of 25 tracks, there are actually 33,554,432 different ways that you could arrange them.

Planning the arrangement of a mix can take a while if you're doing it manually, however, there are some smart tools like DJ.Studio that uses algorithms to work out a variety of optimal arrangements based on the qualities of the chosen songs.

You should think about the kind of journey you want to take your audience on. Perhaps you start off with a slower, more chilled vibe, and then slowly build up momentum to a fast-paced finale.

Or you could do this in reverse - start at high speed and slow down the tempo to become more relaxing. Many DJs even choose to jump all over the place in their DJ mixes. Listen carefully to the mixes that your favorite DJs perform to find inspiration.

Ultimately you need to think about the intent of the mix. The context of where it will be listened to, and how you want to make the audience feel is a large guiding force in how to arrange your set.

Whether you are performing in a live setting or pre-recording it at home also has a large influence on the way you arrange your mix.

Harmonic mixing table tells you which keys you can combine

Mixing Harmonically#

Harmonic mixing is one skill that sets professionals apart from beginners. If you just started DJing and getting involved in music, this can take a little while to get your head around, but it's definitely worth it.

This is quite a big topic too, so I'll give a short overview, but I'd recommend you check out my full guide on How To Mix In Key for a deeper dive.

In essence, songs can be categorized into 24 different musical keys based on the combination of notes they use. These keys are also sometimes called key signatures.

When looking at keys, some songs are better suited to follow each other. This is because certain keys have strong relationships (because they use a lot of similar notes), which means they won't clash when being played together.

Using systems like Mixed in key's Camelot wheel, you can see that changing between certain keys creates particular feelings. For example, you can raise or lower the energy of your mix, or even completely change the mood by switching from a major (happy) to a minor (sad) key.

Understanding how to mix in key is a valuable skill and makes it easier to create cohesive, seamless mixes when incorporated into your technique.

The Importance of Beat Matching#

One of the most important parts of a mix is making sure that you beat match your tracks. Beat matching is the process of matching the tempos of the two tracks you are mixing so they are playing in time, so you can mix tracks together seamlessly.

When you blend one song into the next, you want to make sure that the new song's beats are aligned and in sync with track playing currently. If you pull this off right, it gives the audience a seamless transition where they can keep dancing to the same groove. Using headphones is key!

If you don't match the beats, then it confuses listeners, as they will hear two separate grooves out of sync when you play the new track, which will pull them out of the groove and make it hard to dance.

You want to play songs at the same BPM when transitioning. Luckily, you can easily adjust the BPM of a song by increasing or decreasing its playback speed (test it in the headphones first). This technique is at the center of DJing, and is available in all DJ hardware and software.

There are also a few more advanced ways to get creative when mixing in regard to tempo.

Time is basically a grid, and there are several relations between different tempos. You don't only have to play songs in the exact same speed or same tempo.

For example, some EDM like drum and bass is around 160-175 bpm. A lot of hip-hop is recorded at 80-90 bpm. This means you can mix hip-hop tracks into drum and bass (and vice versa) because of half-time mixing. You can mix a track at 160 into a track at 80 because they have the same beat, just one will be at half the speed. This means you can change the groove, but keep the beats in time.

With other dance music genres like house, disco, techno, EDM, and all their various subgenres, they tend to be in a similar BPM - usually in the region of 120.

Beat matching manually takes a while to master, but computer software like DJ.Studio can instantly do all the hard work for you - so you can concentrate on the more creative areas of your mix.

Telling a story#

Alternatively, you might decide to use your DJ mixes to tell a story. You might be showing the history of a certain genre, or running people through the progression of your own musical tastes. The best DJs can tell a story while also using other techniques.

That's the great thing about DJing, it's a completely free artistic form of musical expression. minimizing the amount of effort spent on fiddly technical aspects means you are free to focus more on creativity and your artistic expression.

Smart Automatic Arrangement#

DJ.Studio has an incredibly powerful automatic arrangement feature, that can calculate the best mix in a matter of seconds. DJ.studio helps you to create DJ mixes without having to buy specific DJ equipment.

The step-by-step process for creating DJ mixes in DJ.Studio goes like this:

  1. Choose a playlist of tracks you want to arrange - add as many songs as you want.

  2. Hit the AUTOMIX button, and choose on a slider whether you want to focus on the key or tempo matching more.

  3. Let DJ.Studio work its magic. It will run through millions of potential orders to find the best flow.

  4. You will now be given an arranged timeline where DJ.Studio has perfectly arranged your playlist.

  5. Now it's time to tweak the transitions!

This AI DJ Software is a powerful tool for radio DJs and live DJs alike, as it makes DJ mixing super fast and easy. You can a deeper tutorial on how to make DJ mix here - Creating Mixes in DJ.Studio! There is also a free version to test out!

4) Mix Your Tracks By Crafting Transitions#

Beyond selection, beat matching, and paying attention to harmony, building transitions is one of the more skilled and expressive areas of DJing and mixing music. After you've chosen the arrangement, it's time to mix your songs together with transitions.

When moving from one song to the next, there is essentially an infinite amount of ways you can transition. Transitions are an Advanced DJ Technique that all professionals have mastered!

There is a huge range of transition tools, which you can combine however you please, and with whatever level of movement, speed, and intensity you feel works.

Different types of transitions

Transition options include:#

Volume fading - Basically you turn the volume of one track down, while you bring up the volume of the next. You can use this to mix quickly, slowly, soft, or hard - it's up to you and whatever you think sounds right. With this technique, you use the channel fader to fade in the next song before the first track ends. Find out more about DJ Crossfade Techniques.

EQ - You can manipulate the bass, mids, and treble for the two songs. Perhaps in one song, you cut out the bass and slowly bring in the bass of another track. Or you cut the high hats out and bring in the highs from the next track.

Filtering - Filters are more aggressive versions of EQs which cut out various parts of the frequency spectrum. These can be used to create upward or downward feeling sweeps. You might choose slowly remove the low and mid frequencies, thinning out your track to just the subtle high hats. Then drop the filter on the second track to bring in a new slamming bassline.

Other effects - Depending on the tools you are using, you might be able to access a range of other creative effects that are helpful for transitions. The common effects include delays, reverbs, stutters, scratching, and reverses. These are great ways to create an expressive transition by really playing with the feel of your music.

Get Creative - A killer transition is one of the most satisfying elements of DJIng. This is what makes DJing Djing, and not just listening to a playlist. Mixing records creatively makes you stand out from other DJs who don't use transitions, and makes for a better listening experience for your audience.

DJ.Studio transitions

The Power of DJ.Studio's Transitions#

When using standard mixing gear like decks and a mixer, (and your two hands in real-time) there are only so many things you can control at once.

An advantage of software like DJ.Studio (the best DAW for DJs) is where you can tweak and edit your transitions in infinite detail, letting you finesse your transitions like never before.

DJ.Studio also lets you combine all of these transition techniques at the same time, which otherwise would be impossible to do on a standard Dj setup (unless you are an octopus).

You can really develop your own unique style of transitioning, with more depth than traditional DJ mixing formats. Start off with a rough mix, then refine it with more detailed audio mixing.

Record your mix

5) It's Time To Record Your Mix!#

After your mix is arranged, and you've perfected your transitions, the next step is to save and record your mix. The way you do this depends on how you're mixing your tracks. If you're using decks and a controller, you'll need to run through the mixes manually while recording the audio into a computer. Some software like DJ.Studio lets you record your arranged mixers 5x faster than real time - which obviously saves a lot of time and lets you focus on having fun!

6) Finalizing The Mix - How To Use Mastering#

After you've successfully recorded your mix there are a few other things you can do to maximize the quality before you share it - namely mastering.

The mastering process is often overlooked, but it can make a difference in increasing the overall consistency and coherency of a mix and consolidating the volumes all to a good level.

This isn't a make-or-break stage, and won't save a bad mix, but it adds an extra touch of professionalism that helps your mix to compete with others.

Mastering is quite a complex process, with too much detail to get into here - but do some extra research if you want to find out more. In essence, you run the mix through plugins in DAW (digital audio workstation) like Ableton Live, FL Studio or Pro Tools.

The other thing to consider is the format you save and export your mixes in. You want all the sounds to feel in time, not clashing. Always aim for the highest quality resolution (choose WAV over MP3) to maximize the audio quality, and make sure that you aren't degrading the fidelity.

Export your mix

7) Sharing Your Mix#

After your mix is exported, all that's left to do is share it with your audience. There are loads of platforms you can share your DJ mixes on, and personally, I think the more the merrier.

The common platforms include

  • Mixcloud

  • Soundcloud

  • YouTube

Some platforms require you to list and credit all the artists whose music you used in your mix, so keep notes of your track list.

Follow these tips to make a good impression on your audience, and reach a larger crowd for your next party.

Summary - Now You Can Mix Like A Pro!#

If you follow the structure and tips outlined in this guide then you'll easily be able to produce professional quality DJ sets - no matter what genre you're interested in.

You don't even need to buy loads of expensive DJ equipment like a DJ mixer or decks to play tracks and start mixing music music like a pro.

Many DJs are turning to software like DJ.Studio to create killer mixes with a minimal setup. You get the same results (if not better), but you save a huge amount of time and money. DJ.Studio helps you to

If you're new to mixing, check out this guide on DJ Mixing For Beginners, and download some Free DJ Software.

FAQs On How To Make A Good DJ Set

What Program do DJs use to Make Mixes?
How do DJs get Songs to Mix?
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