To wrap up this series on how to DJ hip hop, we need to cover one last crucial element: transitions. Mixing from one song to the next is one of the hardest parts of DJing, no matter what style of music you’re playing, and your skill level with transitions can ultimately make or break your set. Many of the transitions we use in modern digital DJ music came from the early days of hip hop, so learning to DJ hip hop sets will give you a wide set of transition skills that you can apply to all sorts of musical styles.
The Cut Remix Trick
In our first blog post in this series, we talked about the art of cutting in time. After you’ve spent some time perfecting your cuts between two tracks, you can start to get fancy and use the cut technique to create an on-the-fly remix sound by swiftly cutting back and forth between two tracks as they play out.
The key with this technique is not so much knowing when to cut (although that is a factor as well), but finding the right tracks to mix together. This will involve some basic knowledge of beatmatching and mixing in key. (If you need to brush up on your beatmatching skills, check out our how to beatmatch video series, and if you need some help with mixing in key, we’ve got a video tutorial on that as well.) Once you’ve found the right songs, this trick will create a sort of “instant remix” sound as you quickly cut back and forth between two similar or complimentary songs.
Smooth Transitions: The Fade
For smoother transitions that don’t interrupt the flow of your set, try using a transition like the fade. This move involves slowly pulling down the volume of one track while simultaneously pushing up the volume of the next track. This is a classic DJ move which works really well when you want people to keep dancing to a groove, almost as if you haven’t switched songs at all. Again, song selection is crucial for this type of transition, so make sure your beatmatching and mixing in key skills are in good order. The basic technique of the fade is dead simple, but the part that really matters is knowing which songs will work together.
Another option when learning how to DJ hip hop sets is to try to incorporate some of your scratching skills into your transitions. An example of this is the spinback, where you grab the record that’s playing and rapidly spin it backwards before cutting across with the crossfader to the other turntable.
If you’d like to see any of these transitions in action, DJ Kenya has a free video called 4 Essential Transitions where he walks you through all three of the transitions mentioned above, plus a variation on the spinback called the rewind.
Other Creative Options
Once you’ve mastered the basics of how to DJ hip hop transitions, the options are limitless. You can experiment with incorporating different scratching techniques, using different effects, or even take a page from the great Grandmaster Flash’s playbook and try to master some of his Quick Mix Theory and Clock Theory moves.
After mastering some of the basic skills of how to DJ hip hop like transitions and scratching, plus adjusting your mindset to allow you to get into the right headspace to play this classic genre, you should be able to pump out an awesome hip hop set. For more tips on how to DJ hip hop or any other genre of electronic music, check out our Spin Academy Online DJ School.
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Most of what you learn about how to become a better DJ involves technical skills – how to make better remixes, how to use effects, how to do cool transitions, and so on. All of these skills are important, of course, but often in learning the technical aspects of DJing we overlook an equally (if not more) important aspect of the craft – psychological preparation. Music, after all, is all about communication and emotion, so in order to be a master at playing music and getting people to dance, you have to know more about DJing than how to turn the right knob at the right time.
Here are a few factors to consider when preparing for your next DJ gig that will help you unlock your mind and become a better DJ.
Music Connects Us
Why do people love going to the club and dancing? Sure, it’s a good excuse to drink and party, but there has to be more to it than drinking and partying if people are willing to pay huge amounts of money to see some of the world’s top DJs perform.
There’s something about collective enjoyment of music that seems to bring people closer together. In fact, studies conducted on choirs have found that choir members’ heartbeats actually synchronize when they’re singing in unison. And the phenomenon extends beyond performers as well. Consider this excerpt from Daniel J. Levitin’s 2007 book, This Is Your Brain on Music:
“If music serves to convey feelings through the interaction of physical gestures and sound, the musician needs his brain state to match the emotional state he is trying to express. Although the studies haven’t been performed yet, I’m willing to bet that when B.B. King is playing the blues and when he is feeling the blues, the neural signatures are very similar. [...] And as listeners, there is every reason to believe that some of our brain states will match those of the musicians we are listening to.”
So not only does a whole crowd start to dance on the same beat when you give them the right song, but when they really get into the music their emotional and physical states will start to become interconnected as well.
Music Is Felt, Not Just Heard
Why is this important to remember if you want to become a better DJ? Because good DJs are masters of conveying feeling and emotion. So even if you don’t technically need to feel relaxed when you’re playing a downtempo set, or hyped up when you’re playing a techno set, getting into the right emotional mindset before you go on will help you communicate emotion more clearly with your audience, which, whether we identify it or not, is what most of us are really after when we go out to the club.
So the next time you’re preparing for a set, rather than running through your setlist in your head again and again, take some time to get yourself into the right emotional state for the set you’re going to play, and take some time to gauge the emotional state of the audience as well. Try to get a feel for what sort of “vibe” is in the room you’re about to enter, and then use your emotional communication skills (and technical DJ skills as well) to either match that vibe, or change the mood to one that matches the music you’re playing.
For more on the psychology of how to become a better DJ, check out our blog post on How to DJ When You Feel Like a Failure. Becoming a Spin Academy member also gives you access to our celebrity interviews page, where you can watch exclusive interviews with some of the world’s top DJs to see how they approach the psychology of becoming a better DJ.