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 #4 – How to organize your tracks in iTunes