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What is DJ mixing?

If you want to learn to DJ for fun or professionally, the first thing you need to learn is the basics of DJ mixing. While there is a lot involved in creating Marshmello or Avicii level DJ mixes, you can still start building your own sets in your bedroom with just some basic knowledge. In this post, I’ll explain a bit about what DJ mixing is, why it became popular, and how it works.

TL;DR What is DJ mixing#

  • DJ mixes blend multiple songs together to create one continuous track.

  • It helps elevate or maintain the atmosphere in a club, party, or venue.

  • There are three key principles to keep in mind - beat matching, harmonic mixing, and volume control.

  • DJ.Studio can help you create your first mix quickly and easily.

DJ Mixing Basics#

What Is a DJ Mix?#

DJ mixes (also known as DJ sets) are when songs are blended together to create one continuous track that doesn’t stop. Usually, a mix will involve one song being blended into another song, and then the old song being transitioned out so the new song is playing on its own. This process is repeated throughout the DJ set, and there are thousands of different mixing skills for transitioning between songs in cool, unique ways.

As with a lot of dance music history, it's difficult to pinpoint the birth of DJing. Many of us in the industry trace the very beginning to the release of early DJ equipment like RCA's DJ mixer in 1963. The mixer had two turntables and allowed DJs to crossfade between two songs they played simultaneously.

In 1965 in New York City, DJ Francis Grasso developed the technique known as beat matching, which allowed him to move between two tracks without dropping the beat. By 1973, DJ Kool Herc emerged on the scene and became the father of hip-hop DJs. He used two turntables and mixed between two of the same records to extend certain parts of the song. 

Early DJs used hip-hop and disco tracks for their mixes, although some got creative with other genres. Mixing became popular in clubs, where DJs could keep popular beats going, and parties could be truly non-stop for the first time.

In 1992, modern DJ mixers started to enter the market, which let DJs mix between digital files and led to a rise in electronic music. In the following decade, companies developed more software to allow for beat-matching and other important features. Today, DJs have easy-to-use applications that enable them to mix without a lot of technical know-how.   

What Is the Purpose of a DJ Mix?#

Blended mixes have the greatest effect at live events like clubs or parties. A short pause before the next track can completely ruin the atmosphere. I’ve seen this first-hand at my gigs a couple of times after accidentally causing the music to stop. DJ mixing was invented to keep people on the dancefloor and avoid interrupting the flow of the music. It lets DJs have immense control over the vibe and atmosphere within a room.

DJ mixing was invented to keep people dancing on the dancefloor

How Does DJ Mixing Work?#

While there are a huge number of techniques and effects involved in DJ mixing, there are three main principles that every DJ uses as a foundation - harmonic mixing, beat matching, and volume control. Developing a solid understanding of these principles is a good start if you want to learn how to mix.

Beat Matching #

As you transition from one song to the next, you want the number of bass drum beats per minute (tempo or BPM) to match up so that the mix sounds perfect and feels seamless. Your mix will feel off if your beats are out of sync, and the crowd will probably notice. Beatmatching is a mixing technique used by DJs to match a music song's tempo with the upcoming song.

For DJs who are just getting started, this can be done easily with DJ software like DJ.Studio. You'll use a simple drag-and-drop feature to sync the beats between two songs, starting and stopping wherever you like. You can use the pitch fader on your console or deck to manually match the beats as you get more advanced.

Match the beats of the two songs

Harmonic Mixing#

Also known as key mixing, it's the idea of selecting songs for a transition that sounds good together. Not all songs are a good match, but if you get it right, you’ll be able to get even the toughest of crowds on the dancefloor. Musical tracks that transition well together tend to be in the same key, are relative, or have a dominant or subdominant relationship.

If you’re like me and hate complex musical theory, the Camelot Wheel will help you. It simplifies harmonic mixing with a visual representation of how the 12 notes in the chromatic scale relate to one another. The outer circle contains all the major keys, while the inner circle shows the minor keys. You can use this circle to help you figure out which keys will work well together. To create smooth mixing, choose any two keys touching one another on the wheel.

Before loading a track into your deck, you'll need to check that it mixes in key with your current song. The best way to do this is by using key detection software like DJ.Studio to analyze the key signature of all of your tracks. From there, you can use the Camelot Wheel to figure out which keys work well together.

Volume Control#

Different songs can often have varying volumes, and a sharp contrast in volume during a transition can be jarring or upset the vibe of the dancefloor. You’ll also need to fade the volume of songs in and out during your mix, so knowing how to use the volume sliders and gain knobs is essential if you’re new to DJing.

Learn to control the volume

Time to Get Mixing#

Now that you know a little bit about what mixing is and how it can elevate the experience of your crowd, it’s time to start learning your first few transitions. Just remember the three principles of DJing - beat matching, harmonic mixing, and volume control.

Noah Feasey-Kemp
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!

FAQs About DJ Mixing

Do DJs always mix in key?
Does the DJ mixer affect sound quality?
Should I use the crossfader or channel faders?

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