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In a previous post about how to DJ, we talked about the basics of 2 deck DJing. In this post we’re going to talk a bit more in depth about one essential part of this; mixing techniques.

If you are working with a basic 2-channel mixer there are a couple standard moves that you can use to transition from song to song. Before getting into the specifics, one important thing to be aware of is the mixer’s visual level meters. Most mixers like the Rane 62 will have some sort of dynamic colored meter that shows the gain level of each channel. You want to keep your master output at a fairly consistent level, so you should keep an eye on your individual track levels. Not all tracks were created equal, so you might have to adjust your gain, volume or EQ controls for each new track to keep it at a similar level as the currently playing track. As a general rule, you want each tracks level to stay in the ‘green’ zone with occasional peaks into the ‘red’ zone on the mixer.

The easiest mixer action to take is a simple slow transition with the crossfader. Assuming that your tracks are at balanced levels, slowly moving the crossfader from one side to the other should fade out the old song while simultaneously fading in the new song at a constant rate. You can accomplish this same transition with the volume faders by having the crossfader in the center and then slowly bringing the volume fader of the current track down at the same rate that you bring the volume fader of the new track up.

Another way to use the crossfader is by doing a ‘hard cut’. You start with both volume faders up and the crossfader to one side, but instead of slowly moving it the other side you very quickly push it across. This will instantly cause the songs to switch, so you want to be sure that they are beat matched and are at a point in the song that makes sense to do this.

One of the most effective ways to transition between songs is by using your EQ controls. This takes a bit more practice than simply moving the crossfader, but if done properly will result in extremely smooth mixes. The basic idea behind this type of mixing is to keep the overall levels the same by swapping out different frequency bands. For example, instead of bringing the volumes up and down to transition, you might want to bring the low EQ up and down. This will gradually swap out parts of the song but keeps other parts still audible. You could continue this with the mid and high EQ controls until the full transition has been achieved. What EQ to use and how much of it depends completely on the tracks that you are using. For example, you might not want to kill the low frequencies on an incoming track if there was only a kick drum and/or bass line playing because the track will barely be audible.

One aspect that is crucial to a successful song transition is picking the points in each song where you will fade in and fade out. This can depend a lot on the style of music that you are playing as well as several other factors, but there are a couple of places that generally work well. Most dance music is broken into fairly distinct phrases of 8, 16, or 32 bars. A good place to start when learning to mix is by matching up these sections in both songs. For example, if you have a 32-bar ‘verse’ section in the middle of each song, try to get them to start at the same time. You can then transition however you want and the song structures will still line up. This can be applied to any part of the songs such as the intro/outro, chorus, build, bridge, etc.

All of these techniques take practice and you want to use your ears as much as possible. The crowd can’t see what you’re doing, so if it sounds good to you it probably sounds good to them. Most DJs use combinations of all of these techniques to transition between songs in addition to constantly adjusting their EQ controls to make everything sound as balanced as possible. If you’re just learning how to DJ, practice a bit of everything until it sounds perfect!

You can view other part’s on our How To DJ 101 series below:

Part #1 – Two Deck Djing fundamentals

Part #3 – Playing for the crowd, how to play an opening set

Part #4 – How to organize your tracks in iTunes

Part #5 – Playing for the crowd, how to play a middle of the night set

As someone who has always had a great enjoyment of less mainstream genres of house such as Tech, Tribal, Disco even a bit of deep house, getting the chance to review the Allen and Heath Xone DB:4 was a great opportunity as the mixer seems to built towards these genres of music.

The effects in the DB:4 are nothing short of overwhelming at first. It’s something I had to play with for a bit before I could really use it well. The big thing I could say about the effects are: know what each of the effects sound like, and set up how you want to use them. They take a bit of tinkering to get the hang of especially the built in menu, these are not knobs you can flip around at will, I found the best way to use them was to plan what effects I wanted to use with breaks or loops. Pumping the dry/wet and expressions too far can make the output sound unpleasant so again you have to know what you can get away with.
That being said the beside-the-fader filter knobs that Allen and Heath love on their mixers handle as good as always. I like these a lot because they’re simple to learn and handle beautifully and sound fantastic on top of it all.

When I first saw the small EQ knobs of the DB:4 I was a bit hesitant. But these are easy to get used too, and I found them comfortable by the time I was done with the mixer. I was extremely impressed by quality of the EQing. When you bring out the lows completely you can really hear it removed from the track. I was also extremely happy to see the depart from the 4 EQ bands on older mixers, I thought the 3 bands handled much better, especially when I was also trying to handle the dry/wet and expression knobs I couldn’t imagine also having to mix with 4 bands of EQ.
Although the effects sound very good, the more complex uses took a lot of effort to pull off. Using the dry/wet and expression knobs took two hands and I only felt really comfortable using them on long breaks.

One thing I loved about this mixer was the looping. It works really great. When you create a loop the mixer saves 8 beats, so even if you start a 2 beat loop, you can expand it out or roll it up.
Just in general the mixer itself offers loads of really great features, it has a very good effects unit it it, but it leans towards a very effects centered workflow. The effects offer a lot but it means more time spent at the mixer and less queueing up your next track.

Overall it felt fairly solid, the problem I had with it was the large wet/dry knobs felt pretty flimsy as well as the faders felt like it wouldn’t be hard to knock them off if someone’s going crazy on the decks.

In Conclusion
It’s easy to see that this is a very effects focused mixer. And the effects live up to this. The big difference I saw with this was that you have to be sparing with the effects, pushing them too hard can sound too sharp. The workflow of the mixer lends itself to long mixes and perhaps longer tracks, this is by no is a drawback as the mixing is extremely smooth sounding. The mixer didn’t feel durable like a nightclub standard mixer as it should, but overall the Allen and Heath Xone DB:4 felt well designed and very fun to use.

If you want to learn how to dj and more about gear, we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School Spin Academy.

Two Deck Fundamentals

The most common form of DJing is the basic two deck setup.  Almost every club has a variation of this setup installed in the DJ booth and every professional DJ should be able to perform a set using one.

This setup uses two players (either turntables or CDJs) connected through a mixer (consisting of a crossfader, volume faders, and EQ controls, among other things).  Through these three simple devices the DJ creates a continuous stream of music by playing songs on each deck and transitioning between them using the mixer.

There are a few basic steps that are fundamental when learning how to DJ.  Once you have mastered these you can start experimenting with more advanced techniques.

Genre Selection
DJing is about playing music for an audience, so your first step should be deciding what type of music to play.  One of the easiest genres to learn the basics of DJing with is any ‘four-on-the-floor’ style of music (house, electro, techno, etc.) because the beat is very apparent and repetitive.  Even if these genres are not what you would ultimately like to play they can help you develop your skills in the early stages of learning.

Step 1 – Playing the first song
Once you have selected your first song to play you need to make sure the mixer volume is up, EQs are flat, and the crossfader is open.  Hit play on the deck and let the song begin to play.

Step 2 – Queuing the second song
Now that you have a song playing you will want to prepare the next song.  Knowing your music library is an essential part of learning how to DJ because it will allow you to quickly select songs that will fit in the context of your set.  You will want to select a song that is a similar genre and tempo to the currently playing song to make the transition between them seamless.

The most essential part to mixing beat-driven dance music is to match the tempo (in BPM, or beats-per-minute) and then synchronize the beats of both songs.  Almost all DJ software for playing digital music has automatic detection of both of these, making it very easy for the beginner DJ to synchronize beats.  If you are using vinyl records you will have to do this manually using your ears and the pitch faders on the turntables.

The best way to queue the next song is by using a pair of headphones.  All DJ mixers will have a headphone output as will as a queue switch.  This switch allows you to choose which deck you can hear in the headphones.  This allows you to play the next song and synchronize it without having it play in the main speakers.

Step 3 – Transitioning from song to song
Now that you have one song playing and the other song synchronized in your headphones it is time to transition between them.  Depending on the exact genre you are playing and the situation inside the club, there are different points in the song what might be ideal transition points.  However, for the beginner DJ it is more important to get the basic technical skills mastered before attempting to play with song structures.

There are three main ways that you can transition between songs; with the crossfader, the volume faders, and/or the EQ controls.  An easy way for the beginner to practice is with the crossfader.  If you have the volume and EQ controls equally set for both decks you should be able to make a consistent fade between the songs using the crossfader.

To start, make sure that the crossfader is positioned all the way to the left or right (depending what deck is playing).  Once you have the next song synchronized in your headphones, slowly start to push the crossfader to the other side.  This should fade out the current track while simultaneously fading in the new track.  Once the new track is playing and the old track has been completely faded out you can stop the playback of the first song and repeat the whole process.

This is the basic process of DJing with a two deck setup.  While there are many nuances to create great mixes as well as many other techniques to add complexity to your mixes, this simple process remains the backbone for many professional DJs.  Mastering this technique is a great first place to start when learning how to DJ.

You can view other part’s on our How To DJ 101 series below:

Part # 2 – DJ Mixing Techniques

Part #3 – Playing for the crowd, how to play an opening set

Part #4 – How to organize your tracks in iTunes

Part #5 – Playing for the crowd, how to play a middle of the night set

Introduction to DJing
This is the first on a series of posts explaining the fundamentals of DJing.  These articles will be aimed toward the beginners wanting to get into DJing.

A DJ or ‘disc jockey’ is someone who plays recorded music for an audience.  In a modern context this generally involves playing music for people at a bar, lounge, or club.

First and foremost, a DJ is a music lover.  They have in-depth knowledge of many musical genres and have a music collection that they want to share with the world.

The DJ’s purpose is to ALWAYS keep the music playing.  Silence or ‘dead air’ is the DJ’s enemy and he or she must keep the music flowing.  This is achieved through a continuous process of song selection, mixing in to the current song, and mixing out into the proceeding song.  Mixing techniques vary depending on the musical genre, style, and equipment being used.  The one thing that is constant is that the DJ must immediately start playing another song that meshes well with the preceding song.

There are several different styles of DJs and different contexts in which a DJ might have to play.  Depending on the venue your job may be to get people dancing, provide ambience and atmosphere, fill space between live performers, or provide background music to fit the theme of the night.  Within each context there are many different styles that a DJ may take.  For example, if you are at a seated cocktail lounge you might not want the latest club bangers full of drops and risers.  You may opt for something a bit more subtle like minimal techno, ambient, or indie pop rock.  The same is true for the opposite scenario; if you are playing at a large capacity dance club you will need some serious dance tunes to keep the crowd interested.

Knowing where you are, who your audience is, and selecting music appropriately is a basic requirement for any DJ.  The very best DJ’s go a step further and can read their audience throughout the night and subtly shift the mood of the music to control the vibe of the entire room.

With the myriad of equipment available today there are many different styles of DJing.  The ‘truest’ form (or at least the one that resembles the original style of DJing) is with two turntables and a mixer.  There are three main music formats that DJs use; vinyl, CDs, and digital files.  Each music medium has it’s own range of equipment and most DJ’s employ a combination of mediums and equipment.  For instance, the advent of ‘virtual vinyl’ has allowed DJs to exclusively use digital formats on equipment designed for vinyl records.

With each type of music medium, equipment, and musical style there are several different ways that a DJ can achieve his or her goal.  Over the next few articles we will go over more of the basics and expand your knowledge as a new DJ.

Is there anything that you would like us to talk about?  Let us know in the comments section!


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