So you want to be a DJ but don't know where to start? The primer below should answer most of your questions.
If you still have questions, call us at +31 23 5749408 or contact us via the contact form.
- How to connect your gear
- Choosing your equipment
- Learning to mix
- Beat structures
- Mixing techniques
If you're looking to become a DJ using vinyl, then there are a few basic things that you are going to need:
Two Cartridges (with stylus) for the Turntables
One Pair of Headphones
Something to amplify the signal (Stereo System, Amplifier and Speakers etc.)
If you are connecting CD Decks (instead of Turntables), you will not need slipmats, cartridges and needles. Everything else is the same.
2. How to connect your gear
The Mixer is the "Brain" of your DJ setup. All signals pass through the mixer that produces a stereo (left and right) signal which ultimately is amplified by an amplifier which powers the speakers.
For discussion purposes, we will use a mixer with two channels (CH1 and CH2) and three outputs - MASTER, BOOTH, and RECORD.
The three important things you have to remember in connecting your mixer are these:
1) Connect the colors together
2) Make sure to plug into the right inputs
3) Secure the ground wires (when using turntables)
2.1 Connecting turntables
Look at the leads that are coming out of the bottom of the turntable. You'll see two Phono or RCA plugs and a third, thin wire with a hook at the end.
The two Phono/RCA plugs will be of different colors. One of them will (or should) be RED, the other is usually white but can sometimes be yellow or black. The important thing here is the RED one, as it's nearly always a constant convention to have it RED (Tip: the RED one is the RIGHT input, R ed - R ight).
You'll notice that in each channel, there's an input for PHONO and an input for LINE, turntables go into the PHONO input, everything else goes into LINE.
So you have your three wires. Conventionally, the left hand-side deck connects into CH1 and the right hand side into CH2. Connect the RED phono/RCA plug of the left hand deck into the RED socket (MARKED PHONO) of CH1. Connect the other one to the other socket in CH1. Do the same with the deck on the right - RED to RED, other plug to other socket.
The third, little wire with the hook, or bare wire at the end connects to the little screw on the back of the mixer marked GROUND (or GND or EARTH). To do so, unscrew the GROUND connector on the back of the mixer, place BOTH of the metal ends of the ground wires from the decks in the gap you've created by unscrewing, then screw the screw tight again, wedging the wires in place. You've now earthed/grounded the decks.
Some decks are designed to switch between 110/230 volts. Make sure to set the turntable to the correct voltage (on the Technics SL-1200 and 1210's this selector can be found under the turntable platter).
2.2 Cartridges and Needles
Cartridges are what transfer the vibrations caused by the grooves in the record to sound. The needle (or stylus) itself sits inside the groove of the record which causes it to vibrate as the record passes through it. The cartridge holds the needle and is screwed onto the headshell, which is locked onto the tonearm. These components work together to translate the vibrations into an electrical signal which produces the music that you hear.
Properly setting up your tonearm/cartridge is crucial for optimum sound and performance. Some cartridges (e.g. Shure M44-7, Stanton 500, Ortofon OM Pro) are meant to be installed on your turntable's headshell via mounting brackets and screws. Some cartridges come with headshell weights - it is recommended that you do not use these unless the needle does not hold up after normal setup and tweaking. Other cartridges (Ortofon Concorde Series, Shure M44-7H, Stanton Trackmaster/Groovemaster/Discmaster, etc.) come with their own mounting system which eliminate the need for a seperate headshell and is internally wired.
* Many people ask whether certain cartridges are compatible with the turntable that they are using. The answer is that virtually every cartridge on the market these days will work with your turntable as they are designed to universal standards in terms of design and fit.
After mounting the cartridge onto the headshell you must mount the headshell into the tonearm. Holding the tonearm tube in one hand, insert the cartridge-headshell assembly into the tube lock with the other hand. Turn the lock-ring clockwise (when viewed from the rear) until the headshell is locked tightly into the tonearm. Remove the needle protector from the needle and place the needle at the end of the cartridge. View the needle from the front and make sure that it is perpendicular to the surface of the record. You can adjust this by loosening the lock ring and rotating the headshell assembly, then re-tightening.
This is where you adjust the tracking force. Start with a needle mounted onto the tonearm and a record on top of a slipmat. Set the Anti-Skate dial to "0". Be sure not to let the needle drop onto the record. With the tonearm free, adjust the counterweight by rotating the rear section until the tonearm lies parallel to the record surface. Try to balance the tonearm as horizontal as possible. Once the tonearm is balanced correctly, set the stylus pressure indicator ring to "0" by rotating the ring while holding the rear section (the section with the rubber grip) in place. Next, rotate the rear section of the counterweight until the desired stylus pressure reading on the marking ring is matched with the line on top of the tonearm.
Anti-skating helps keep the needle centered in groove during playback. However, anti-skate will actually cause the needle to skip if used while scratching or back cueing. To set anti-skating for playback simply turn the anti-skate dial to the same number setting as the stylus pressure reading (ex: 1 gram of stylus pressure = 1 gram anti-skate). If you are using a straight-arm turntable or scratching, leave anti-skate at "0".
Tonearm Height Adjustment
This is the final adjustment and sets the tonearm pivot point and needle relation with the record. For most applications, the tonearm and needle should remain parallel to the record. Unlock the tonearm lock located on the base of the tonearm. Rotate the height adjustment ring to read the correct height for your cartridge. Be sure to relock the tonearm lock switch on the base of the tonearm when completed.
2.3 Connecting CD/Tape/MD/MP3, etc.
Basically, this is the same as the turntables, but the BIG difference is that these cables all go into the LINE input jack on the back of the mixer. You also don't have a ground wire to deal with.
Look at the front panel on your mixer (where all the knobs are). You'll see a swith/button with PHONO/LINE marked on it. For each channel, set the switch to whatever device is going into it. If CH1 has a turntable in it, then flick the switch to PHONO, if it's a CD, then flick it to LINE.
You've sorted out all the inputs to your mixer. Just start everything up, make sure the gain control isn't at 0, the same with the MASTER control, then move the channel faders up, and the cross-fader from side to side. Look at the LED's on the mixer which show that you have a signal going into it, if they're lighting up, you're fine otherwise you have either not turned on the mixer or there's something wrong with your connections.
On a typical mixer you will find a MASTER output which goes to the amplifier, a REC (record) output, which goes to a tape recorder/MiniDisc, and there's the BOOTH output, which goes to a separate monitor speakers in the DJ booth which are used to monitor the mix. You can also connect the BOOTH output to your recording device if you do not have a recording output.
This output goes to the Amplifier. You can use a standard amplifier or anything which amplifies the signal before sending it to your speakers. It can be a stereo receiver or a set of powered speakers. The important thing is that the signal coming out of the mixer is amplified to a strength where it will drive a set of speakers.
Look at the back of the system you're using to amplify your signal. If it's a separate amplifier, then you will see a series of inputs on the back of it, one might be labeled PHONO, one may be labeled LINE IN and some might be labeled MIC. Make sure that you plug into the LINE IN ports. Even if you're just using turntables through your mixer, the signal that the mixer sends out it is at LINE level, not a PHONO signal.
If you're using a stereo system, look at the available ports on the back of it. Chances are, if it's a reasonable system, that you'll have three of them. There might be a PHONO jack (which is for turntables only) a CD jack, and an AUX/TV set (it may be labeled LINE IN). It's probably better if you use the AUX/TV one, as you've probably have a CD player attached to the system already, but if you lack an AUX/TV jack, or if you want to use it for some other purpose, then you can plug the output of your mixer into the CD jack.
If you're using powered speakers, like the JBL Eon's, then just plug the cables from MASTER output of the mixer into the powered speakers. If it's a basic set of powered speakers, then there might be a only a 1/8 inch jack on the end of the cable (an 1/8th inch jack is the size of the one for a personal stereo). If this is the case, then you'll have to purchase an adaptor or special cable to turn this into two phono plugs.
* Some of our customers ask for the pro's and con's of having a powered speaker versus purchasing a speaker and amplifier seperately. In most cases, mobile DJ's prefer using powered speakers as it eliminates the need to carry a heavy amplifier to gigs. They are also easier to set up, occupy less space and there is less to troubleshoot in the event that something goes wrong. On the otherhand, if something does go wrong with the amp then you will be out of a speaker AND an amp, and if something goes wrong with the speaker then you will be out of an amp as it gets repaired. As to the plugging in, just follow the same principle as when you plugged your decks into the mixer. Red to Red (right) and the other one to the other one.
Having seperate components makes it much easier to expand as your system grows. You can always add more amps and more speakers to increase your power, it can get a bit tricky when expanding your system with self-powered speakers in the diagram.
This is the one you use to send the signal out to a separate Tape Recorder, MiniDisc player or any other recording device (If your tape player is built in to the stereo you are using to amplify the signal, then don't worry about this connection, still use the master output for the stereo).
Look at the back of your tape recorder, you should see two sets of jacks, one marked LINE IN (or REC) and the other one LINE OUT (or play). You want to use the LINE IN (REC) sockets. Plug as you did your amp.
Just follow the same instructions as with the MASTER output. The good thing about this feature is that you can adjust the volume you're hearing the mix out of the speakers without adjusting the amount of signal going out to the tape recorder/main amplifier.
By using the booth control, you can turn down the monitor without it affecting the sound on the floor, or signal going out to the tape recorder.
Question 1 - I've connected everything, but I can't hear anything out of the mixer through the headphones.
A - 1) Do you have your headphones plugged in, turned up, and switched to monitor the right channel?
A - 2) Is the switch between LINE and PHONO set to the right one?
A - 3) Is the mixer on?
A - 4) Have you plugged the input device (CD/Turntable) into the channel you expect to hear it from? Check all the other channels to see if you can hear it in one of them, if it's in the wrong one, then plug it into the right one!
Question 2 - Everything is playing fine through the mixer, but I can't hear it through the amp.
A - 1) Is the amp turned on, volume up, and switched to the correct mode?
A - 2) Are the speakers connected to the AMP? (stick a pair of headphones into the amp, see if you can hear it then).
A - 3) Have you used the correct inputs of the AMP, and the correct outputs of the mixer?
A - 4) Is the MASTER control on the mixer turned up?
Question 3 - Why is everything distorting badly when using my CD players?
A - 1) Check the inputs of your CD players into the mixer. Make sure you've put it into the LINE input. It will distort badly if you accidentally put it into the PHONO inputs.
Question 4 - Why is everything really quiet when using my turntables, even when everything is turned up to maximum?
A - 1) Check to make sure you've plugged your turntables into the PHONO input. If you've put them into the LINE input, they'll be very quiet.
Question 5 - Everything sounds nice through the mixer, but distorts through the amp.
A - 1) Have you turned up the input level on the AMP too high? Turn it down a bit, see if that helps.
A - 2) How strong a level are you pumping out of the mixer? (Try not to put it above +5dB)
A - 3) Check to see if you've plugged into the PHONO inputs by accident (Change it to the LINE IN inputs)
There's probably a hundred other things that could go wrong, send us an email if you're still having problems.
3. Choosing your equipment
Most experts say that it's a good idea to spend as much as you can on the turntables, then whatever you have left on the rest of your gear. You can use a decent mixer with good decks without too many problems, but not even the best of mixers is going to compensate for bad decks. Plus, it's a lot cheaper to upgrade a mixer when you get to that point than it is to upgrade your turntables.
The first thing you really have to make sure of is that there is a control on the turntable which allows you to adjust the pitch (the pace at which the record will be played at) of the record. Just a 33 or 45 RPM setting is not enough. You're looking for something that will allow the pitch to be adjusted by AT LEAST + or - 8%. The larger the pitch control, the better (but the less precise). One that runs most of the right hand side of the turntable is preferred and is the industry standard for pitch control. The length allows more fine adjustments than just a small control on the front of the unit.
The next, and biggest choice you have to make when you are on a shoestring budget is whether to buy DIRECT DRIVE or BELT DRIVE decks (another word for Turntable or CD unit). Direct drive decks are by far the preferred means of powering the deck. Belt Driven decks use a rubber belt and an intermediate mechanism to drive the deck, a lot of the power and accuracy is lost through the transfer of power. This means that the pitch settings that you choose might not be held long enough, meaning the tempo or speed of the song you are playing will change while in use, causing havoc when trying to beat match. It also means that the deck does not have the power (or TORQUE) to withstand the vigors of scratching, and has a slower start-up time.
The purpose of the slip mat is to reduce the friction between the record and the turntable to the point where you can hold the record still, and the turntable will still turn underneath it.
At the very bottom, is the deck plate or platter. Make sure to take off the removable rubber mat that comes with the deck (NOT the rubber coating, the rubber mat). On top of the platter goes the slipmat, and on top of that goes your record.
The purpose of the mixer is to change the sound you hear from one devices output to the other ones - without having a break in sound. Typically, this means that deck 1 is in Channel 1 and deck 2 is in Channel 2. To change from one channel to another, a cross fader is normally included on the mixer, which, as you move it, moves the sound from one deck to the other.
The problems that you'll encounter with a very basic mixer should only add up to sound quality issues.
Most mixers have a headphone cue feature. With a headphone cue, you can listen to (monitor) the "Cue" turntable or deck that ISN'T currently playing out of the speakers. A cue dial may allow you to listen to the unheard turntable deck and the "Master" (playing through the speakers) deck at the same time. Some will have a slider or a rotary knob which lets you adjust the volume at which you hear either of them. This allows you to be more precise when it comes to matching the beats.
Do not underestimate the need for a really good set of headphones. When you're in the middle of a noisy booth, they're your only way of monitoring and making sure the mix goes well.
Things to Look for when buying Headphones:
Lightweight - So they don't hurt your head and ears after they've been on for a couple of hours
Closed back - So that they cut out a lot of background noise
Wide frequency response
High Sound Pressure Level measured in dB.
The top of the line Sony, Pioneer and Technics DJ headphones have swivelling ear pieces to make single ear monitoring more comfortable. You may desire models with a cable on only one side so they don't end up twisting around your neck.
The signal that comes out of the mixer is barely strong enough to power your headphones, so you need something which will amplify this signal, enabling it to drive a pair of speakers.
There are three choices on how to do this:
1) Buy a separate amplifier and speakers. This can be a bit costly, but it is a great way of doing it.
2) Plug the output cable into either the CD or AUX port in the back of your stereo (if you have one).
3) Using POWERED speakers. These are speakers with a built in amplifier, so you plug them into a power socket.
4. Learning to mix
Place two identical records/CD's on your decks, and set the pitch to 0. On most decks, a green light will come on to let you know it's at 0 and it'll probably click into place. By starting the decks at the same time, the two tunes should be playing at the same tempo, so you don't have to worry about the pitch control.
Set your mixer up so that the channel faders are both up and the crossfader is in the middle position. This means you'll hear both tunes when they're playing. Don't worry about your headphones for the moment.
Go to one of your decks, and put the needle on the record near the beginning, and let it play. Now put your finger on the record, and turn it backwards until you pass the beginning of the first beat.
Now (with your finger still on the record) wind the record forward a bit, until you hear the bass beat. Then go back a bit until you've hit the very beginning of the beat again. Some will advise that it's nice to do a small scratch with the tune, rocking back and forth over the beat so you're comfortable with where it is.
Now press stop, leaving the needle just before the beat. Start the other deck and let it play. Listen to the tune that's playing and hear where the bass beats are occuring.
Go back to the stopped deck. Put your finger on it, holding it still, and press start. The deck should be running underneath the stopped record.
One tune should be playing out through your amp (master) and heard on your speakers, and the other one (cue) stopped by your finger. Try to rock the cued record back and forth in time with the master record that's playing. Then, when you feel comfortable with hearing the beat you're rocking back and forth at the same time as hearing the beat from the tune that's playing, let it go.
Chances are you haven't let it go at a point in the tune where everything will match audibly, but as long as the bass drums are occuring at the same time, that's all that matters for now.
So. You've let go of the cued tune. One or two things might have now happened.
1) You let go perfectly in time.
2) You let go too early (Stop the tune, wind it back, try again).
3) You let go too late. (see above).
Number 2 and 3 are common problems. You'll either have choked at doing it and let go too soon or late, or maybe it's just that the deck wasn't running at full speed when you let go, so though you let go in time, it's not at the same speed as the other deck, and thus is out of time. What to do if you suspect this is to give the record a light push when you let go, sending the deck up to the correct speed - and hopefully making both beats happen at the same time.
Keep at it. Restart and keep doing it until you're comfortable with it, and you can do it nearly everytime.
The next part of this beginning stage is being able to fix little errors without stopping the deck and starting over. It's a bit difficult, because you have to know what you've done wrong, but the application is easy enough.
There's a few methods:
If you've started the beat too soon, and it's running ahead of the one that has been playing, then you need to slow the deck down a bit. By far the safest and easiest way of doing this is to rest your finger on the side of the deck plate lightly (where the bumpy bits are) and apply a little pressure to slow the deck down very slightly. When you've slowed it down so the beats are now aligned, take your finger away.
If you have not started the cued beat fast enough, and it's now lagging behind the other one, you need to speed the deck up slightly. Some DJ's place their finger on the label of the record, and 'help' it turn a little faster. There's a couple of problems that can be associated with this though. 1) You thump your finger onto the record, making the needle jump and 2) You mat not be helping the record round fast enough and you may actually be SLOWING down the deck.
Below are a few other methods:
1) Instead of using the label of the record to turn the record faster, grip the center spindle of the deck and turn that.
2) Instead of touching the side of the deck to slow it down, use the pitch fader on the turntable. Decrease the pitch until the records are in time, then return it to the original position. The only problem with this is that it's tricky to get the pitch fader EXACTLY back to the original position - unless that position was the 0 pitch mark of course.
Choose whatever method you wish - it's up to you.
Seems pretty basic doesn't it? Well, there's two reasons for learning this part of DJ'ing. The first is that it's vital that you can start records at the right time and get things happening the way you want them to at the points you want them to. The other point of this is that it gets you familiar with the feel of touching your records (remember, your parents have probably told you for years not to touch the main part of a record, just the edges), teaches you the feel of the deck fighting against you when you're trying to hold the record stopped, and just gets you used to the feeling of it all.
So you've learnt how to start a record. The next thing you have learn is how to change the tempo of the tunes using the pitch control in order to make the tempos of the two tunes be same.
This is the hardest part of basic DJ'ing that you'll encounter. You can expect the first part above to only take you a couple of hours or so, this next bit when taken to its fill extent can take people anything from a couple of days to a couple of months, or even worse, a couple of years. What it hinges on is:
(1) How much practice you put in.
(2) How well you can train your brain to listen to two different tunes.
(3) How much of an attention span you have.
(4) The decks you're using.
Still keep your two tunes on the decks, and still keep both channel faders up and the cross fader in the middle - you're still not using your headphones yet.
Move the pitch slider on one of the two identical tunes so it's now running faster than normal (to about the 2% mark or so).
Now, do what you were doing before, keeping the other tune at 0 pitch. Within a second or two after you start the deck, the beats will start galloping away from each other. Speed up the deck so that it is at 0 pitch and back in line with the other tune.
Increase the pitch. You're allowed to cheat at this point. You know that if you set it to 2%, the tunes will now be running at approximately the same tempo, and won't go out of time as quickly as you first tried it.
But, what will happen in about 98% of the time, is that after 20 seconds or so, the two beats will start to drift out of time again, and give enough time will start galloping again.
There's a reason for this. Though you've set the two pitch faders to 2 percent, it's a visual thing on the fader that you've used. You've not actually set both to bang on 2%, you set one of them to (for example) 2.1% and the other to 2.5%. This 0.4% of a difference in pitch can mean anything up to and even over 1 beat for every minute set this way of a difference.
So. When you hear the two tunes drift, what do you do? The first thing you'll probably think is "How do I know whether the cued tune I've just sped up and adjusted is now running too fast or too slow?"
The best thing to do for now is just go through a trial and error process. Just assume it's running too slow, and speed up the record a bit. Now, you've either just speeded up a tune that was already running too fast, thus putting it WAY out of whack, or you've just got the beats aligned.
If you've fixed it by speeding up, then move the pitch fader VERY SLIGHTLY up a bit. We're not talking a lot for now, just a little bit, a millitmetre if you can.
If you're not left with a galloping beat, then slow the cued record down a bit, till you are back in time, and then reduce the pitch a slight amount.
If you keep going through this process you'll eventually get both tunes running at the same tempo.
Repeat this process as long as you can. Set the pitch to different positions, on both decks, and learn to change and adjust the pitch, both in large course changes (from -6% to +3% etc) and from deck to deck.
Up until now, you have been aided by the fact you're using two tunes of identical Beat Per Minute (which is what the tempo relates to). So, by setting one pitch fader to +4%, you know that if you set the other to that area, you're going to be VERY close to getting the tempos correct.
The next step would be to still use the same tunes, but when changing the pitch, try not to look at the other one and match it, try to use your ears. This takes discipline, but it can be done. Just listen to what's happening to the beats, and try to decipher whether it means you have to increase or decrease the pitch.
4.1 Introducing your headphones to the process
The only things you're changing in your setup from the above pieces is that you now close the crossfader off onto the tune that you'll be playing live through the amp. The song you are bringing into the mix is the CUED track, and will only be heard through the headphones. That is until you move the crossfader across to that channel.
It is a good idea to learn about single ear monitoring. What this means is that you have one ear with the headphone over it, and the other ear is 'exposed' to the live sound coming from the speakers.
If you have a headphone mix control on your mixer, turn it so you can hear the tune that's playing live very slightly in the headphones, then rock cued record back and forth in time with what you're hearing - let go of the beat, and listen in your headphones to see if it's in time or not. You may want to increase, or decrease the volume of the live track that's playing through your headphones at any point - just to make sure things are going well.
At this point, things will start to move up a gear in the realms of difficulty. Before, you were listening to the live sound, and just guessing whether to speed up or slow down the cued track when you were out of time. Then, once you've gottten a little better at it, you might be able to tell a bit easier whether the tune needs slowed or speeded up. This is still hard when done only through the speakers, but it's a lot harder to do when you've only got one ear of your headphones on, and the live sound is pumping out. Which brings us into the next section.
USING YOUR EARS
The main point is that when two tunes are slightly out of time, they will make a slightly different sound when your cued tune is running too fast or too slow. To put it in basic terms, when two tunes are in time, you'll hear "BOOM" - when the cued track is running to fast, you'll hear "B-Loom" and when it's running to slow, "L-Boom" Now, that's a pretty confusing thing for you to try to understand, everyone I've told it to has said "huh?" so I'm not really going to hold that up for everyone to believe and understand.
What is important for you to understand though is that there is a difference in the sound the two tunes make when the cued tune is running slightly too fast, and when it's running slightly too slow.
One thing that you might want to try is to trial and error your mix until you have everything bang on in time, then slow the cued tune down a little - then too fast a little, and try to hear the differences in sound that this makes in your headphones when you're hearing the cued track and the live one (at a lower volume).
4.2 Mixing two different songs together
This is where is gets a lot more involved. Up until now, you've had the safety of knowing that the two tunes you've got on your decks are at an identical pitch - we're now going to kill that safety net my introducing two different tunes, which will have different sounds, and different BPM's.
Try to pick two tunes that are pretty simple in their make up. Anything too complicated can throw a curve at you, and you'll be a bit lost for a while. If the tune you had two copies of is pretty simple, and you're not too sick of it, you might want to use that one, then pick another of a simple nature.
We now get into tempo's and BPM's (Beats Per Minute). You don't have to work out the BPM's of your tunes if you don't want to. Some people find it pretty handy when learning to know how fast their tunes are. When some DJ's start spinning, they count the BPM's of all the tunes they are going to learn with, once competant at mixing with known BPM's, they stop counting and start used their ears.
Let's assume that one of your tunes is 130 BPM and the other 135 BPM. Set one of them (lets use the 135) to 0 pitch, and start it.
When you line up and start the 130BPM tune at 0 pitch, you'll notice that the bass beats will start to run loose, and very quickly go out of time. So, what you need to do is increase the pitch of the tune with 130BPM's. You have a choice, you can either roughly set the pitch fader to a point on the scale, let the record play, and see if you've gotten anywhere near the increase you needed, or you get out your calculator, and work out what %age you'd have to increase a 130BPM tune to be running at around 135BPM (just under 4%).
It's your choice on how you do it - but you'll look a bit odd trying to DJ with a calculator!!
The point is, you know that the 130 tune will have to be increased to get to 135. Chances are though, you're not going to hit the exact point immediately, but you might be close. The problem is, what way are you close? Did you go too fast, or too slow? Well, at this point in your learning, you're not really going to know. What you have to do really is just listen to what's happening, but that's not the easiest thing to do - at all - when you're beginning.
But, here's what I suggest. You've increased the pitch of the tune. Now line up the bass beat, and start the cued track. Has it gone out of time? Well, we'll assume yes. Have a listen to what's happened first, listen to the bass beats, and try to see if you can tell just by hearing. No? Well, stop the tune and increase the pitch a little. Line up the bass beat, and start the record. Has it gone out of time again? Yes? Well, if it's gone out of time, and it went that way faster than before, then chances are you were already running too fast, and your pitch increase has made the beats slip out of time a lot quicker than before. So, decrease the pitch by the amount you just increased it, and a little more, and start again. And, really, just swing back and forwards, all the time listening to the sounds in your headphones, all the time concentrating on where the bass drums are happening. This is where it is sometimes helpful to tap your feet along with the live tune - you might be able to catch whether you're running too slow or too fast if you do this.
What will probably happen at one point though is that one moment you're running too fast, then the next you're running too slow. What's happening here is that the changes you're making to the pitch control are too large, try to tap the fader up or down if it's loose enough, or just be REALLY soft about it, so the increases aren't as large as before.
Another thing you might think of doing after your initial goes at matching the BPM's is not actually stopping and starting the cued record. By now, through the things you were doing with the two identical tunes, you should be able to fix two tunes back in time when they're out of sync. Ok, you're running at a different pitch setting right now, so when you get the tunes in line, they'll start to wander off again, but if you can fix the bass-beats so they coincide, WHILE making the changes to the pitch control, you're learning fast.
It can be a bit like patting your heat and rubbing your stomach at first when you're trying to change the pitch and slow down the record, but remember that if you're having to slow down the record to get it in time, chances are you have to reduce the pitch setting too - so they are related to each other in that sense.
Take all the time you need to get the tunes lined up - even go back to not using your headphones for the moment, until you're lined up again - then knock the cued tune too slow or too fast (don't touch the pitch control though if you've set it to the right point). Listen to the live sound, and to the sound in your headphones when you've got the cued tune running too slow, then when you've got it running too fast.
Once you've had a few goes at this, and managed to get the 130BPM tune to run with the 135BPM tune, now do it all in reverse. Set the 130BPM tune to 0 pitch, and then reduce the pitch of the 135 tune so it will now match the 130BPM of the one playing live.
Now, if you have five or six tunes, try different combinations through them all doing the same thing as above, take your time to get them matched together, then make them go out of time by varying degrees, at first just a little, then a bit more, then a lot - in both directions - and listen and learn the sounds that you're hearing in your headphones.
Remember that you're still learning at this point. Everyone had to learn how to do these basics. It IS VERY frustrating at times but if you practise - a lot, concentrate - a lot, and try to enjoy it - then you'll get there in the end.
4.3 Mixing Using Cd's
There are two main types of CD systems. Ones with a JOG wheel and another style that is a button only control. What tends to happen is that everything works from the "SEARCH" buttons, where if you press them once or twice, they will search through the tune frame by frame, but if you hold them down, the speed at which it scans through the track increases the longer you hold it.
1) Find the track you want (There should be a "SKIP" button to advance through the tracks).
2) Find the position you want to start the tune from. A lot of CD's are nice in that the tune starts from the very beginning of the CD, so you don't need to do any searching for the beginning of the tune. There's even more friendly ones that start right on the first bass drum, meaning you don't have to listen to the track until the point the first bass drum to starts.
If you know the first bass drum comes in about 30 seconds into the track, then use the fast search control on the unit to get there. If you can't remember where it starts, then just listen to the track until it happens. Either way, when this bass drum happens, press the PLAY/PAUSE button (most units combine PLAY and PAUSE) which will pause the tune at that point.
Now use the fine tuning control to get to the exact point when the bass drum kicks in. Some like to set the cue point to one frame before you first hear the bass drum. Once you have found this point, PRESS PLAY/PAUSE.
Press the CUE button on the unit. What will happen is that the CD will go back to the point that you have just set. If you don't trust it, then remember the numbers of the CUE POINT that you set, then when you press the CUE button, compare what it reads with what you remember.
3) Beat Matching Once you're sure you have set the correct cue point, press play on the CD unit in time with the bass drum of the live sound (what's coming out the speakers). Chances will be that you are slightly too fast or too slow.
With the pitch button on, you can now use the pitch slider to speed up or slow down the tune to get in time. You'll find also that there will be "PITCH BEND" buttons on the unit. As there's a chance the tune will have started to fast or slow when you pressed play, you'll have to get it back in time with the bass drums. If you're running too fast, press the - pitch bend button until you're back in time, and decrease the pitch control once in time (or while you're pitch bending). There's a good chance you won't have got it in time in one shot, so use the pitch bend and pitch control again to try and get the speeds matched again. Keep with this process until you're confident that both tunes are running at the same tempo.
4) Starting the Mix. Once you have everything set at the correct pitch, press PLAY/PAUSE to stop the tune, the press CUE to get the CD back to the cue point you have set. When the appropriate moment occurs, press PLAY on the CD unit. If you've been a bit hasty pressing the button, or were too slow, use the pitch bend buttons to get the tune back into time.
Using the loop you can stretch out breakdowns or beats to create longer and more funky mixes or tease the crowd with some messy swirls whilst bringing in a massive buildup. You may also use it to sample and loop snipets off other cd's.
The good thing about CD's is that the only way they'll go out of time is if you haven't set the pitch correctly, so as long as you have, and you've made sure that both tunes are in sync, then all you have to worry about it the controls of the mixer to make the mix happen.
5. Beat structures
In dance/house/trance music, you'll find in most cases the time signature is 4/4 this means that there are FOUR BEATS to ONE BAR.
In it's simplest form in dance music:
Beat 1 is a Bass Drum Beat 2 is a Bass Drum and Snare (or clap) Beat 3 is a Bass Drum again Beat 4 is a Bass Drum and Snare Drum (or clap) combined again
So what you'll find is that the normal simplified drum pattern for this one bar is:
Bass Drum - Hi-hat (tchss noise) - Bass Drum with Snare - Hi-hat (half a bar) Bass Drum - Hi-hat (tchss noise) - Bass Drum with Snare - Hi-hat (second half of bar)
In the beginning of most tunes is an intro. The intro can either take the form of a really basic bass drum beat, or it can be a musical intro, all those nice whizzes and noises and vocal samples. Or it could be anything else for that matter.
Realistically, an intro can last as long as you want - in this case we'll talk in terms of a 8 bar intro (with the most popular length being 8 or 16 bars).
It'll be a nice, simple intro, which at the end of our 8 bars will do something to let us know that it's about to hit into the meat of the tune, going into the verse. Our virtual tune will have a verse length of 16 bars. You'll notice in most tunes that after 4 bars of the verse, there will be something to mark the progression into the next four bars - which is when a lot of tunes will progress to something a little different (say they'll include more facets to the hook, include a more complicated bass or drum pattern - something like that). It'll probably just be a cymbal, or some kind of punctuation, but it's good to listen out for it.
So, let's say yhere are another 8 bars, with the same kind of break between the sets of four bars as before - giving us 16 bars of the verse two or four phrases. Then we go into the 'chorus' of the tune.
In summary then, there are 4 sets of four bars ( 4 x phrases) to the verse - with these four phrases split into two sets of two phrases.
So now we get into the 'chorus' of the tune. This is more likely to be only 8 bars (2 phrases) in length which could have a nice build up between the phrases and another nice punctuation when coming out.
More often than not in dance stuff, we now encounter the beloved mini BREAKDOWN or bridge. Here, the power of the tune will sometimes drop out - losing the bass drums, leaving only a low with a little hook like noises going in the background. Or it could be the other way round, the musical side drops out leaving only the bass drums and maybe a simple bass melody - or anything to set it apart from the rest of the tune, it all depends what they wrote!! For average every day bridges between the Chorus and the next Verse, these breakdowns will only usually last 8 bars, 16 at the most, otherwise the dance floor gets itchy! Normally a crescendo (build up) occurs in the last four bars, and BOOM, you're back into the meat of the verse again.
In the next verse, the same as before will happen - not necessarily with the sound of the tune, but still with the 4x4 phrase format.
Chorus - kinda the same as before really. Not much new here!
Now (in our virtual tune) we hit the monster breakdown. It could last 16 bars or so.
A lot of the tunes will use the first 8 bars as the proper breakdown, then use the next 8 as the build-up back into the tune.
After this monster breakdown, we're back into the tune again - most cases it's back into the chorus again, but in some cases it's the verse again, or a bridge (mini breakdown) between the monster breakdown and the next part of the tune (which, if the monster breakdown built up nice, will have a lot of power, (i.e. the bass line and simple drums will still be there) but it's still different from the sounds of the chorus or verse.
So, next we get into the chorus or verse, followed by their opposite (if it's a chorus then we'll hit a final verse - or if a verse we'll hit chorus territory again). If it goes into the verse then chorus thing after the breakdown, there's a good chance there'll be another mini breakdown which is then followed by two or four chorus's.
This chorus will either keep going until the end (DJ unfriendly fade out) or there will be 16 bars of just beats or something to help out the DJ when it comes to mixing the next tune.
So that's our pretend tune. There are numerous variations to this format, but the important thing to remember is that music is set into structures - or parts, which will help you in the mix.
We can now map out our pretend tune like this:
INTRO - 16 Bars
VERSE 1 - 16 bars (4 phrases) CHORUS 1 - 8 Bars (2 phrases)
BRIDGE - 8 Bars
VERSE 2 - 16 bars (4 phrases) CHORUS 2 - 8 Bars (2 phrases)
BIG BREAKDOWN - 16 Bars
CHORUS 3 - 8 Bars (2 phrases) VERSE 3 - 16 Bars (4 phrases) CHORUS 4 - 8 Bars (2 phrases)
CHORUS 5 - 8 Bars (2 phrases)
END - 16 Bars
6. Mixing techniques
1) Breakdown Mixing: This one can be funky if you pull it off. There's a few ways this is done:
Firstly, deck A is about to go into a breakdown. Tune B starts with a bass drum and not much else. The breakdown of A and the intro of B are the same length. Match the two tunes so they both run at the same tempo. Cue B to the opening Bass drum. As deck A hits the first beat of the breakdown, move the x fader to the middle, and let B go. Run them at the same time, and when A's breakdown finishes, the main part of B begins, all you have to do is move the x-fader over, and the mix is done. Try to avoid a big whoosh as you start deck B . You'll get the hang of it after a while, even if it means putting the x-fader quarter of the way when you start, and almost immediately bringing it to the center. As the breakdown in A starts to finish, move the X-fader so that it now favours tunes B , you can still hear A clearly, but B now has more clarity. This stops there being a sudden change in the music.
The second is when the intro of B is quiet. It's almost a breakdown in itself. As the break in A begins, drop in the intro of B . Can take a while to get right (Even longer to find two records that match) but with skillful use of kill switches to EQ out the bass, it can work out nice.
2)Reverse of above. Record A ends with just a bass drum. Record B starts as though it's a breakdown. Drop B over A, and when A finishes, B begins.
2b)With Bass Drum. This is exactly the same as the above, except that the intro of B has a bass drum running through, it. Use the kills to stop any clashes, wait for A to end, put the bass back into B and you're off.
3)Spinback. This can be great, but beware, use it too much and people will think the only reason you do it is because you can't mix! It can whip people into a frenzy though, and if things aren't going you're way in a mix, it can sometimes help you out. It goes like this, beat match two tunes, run them together so that both bars finish at the same time, then as A finishes the bar, and B is about to get into a pumping part of the tune, place your finger on the label of A, and pull the record back, reasonably sharply. as you spinback A, bring in B. With correct timing, A will stop spinning backwards as you bring the x-fader all the way across to the start of B. If the tune you're taking out has sharper, clearer Hi-hats etc than the one you are about to bring in, it can make the incoming tune sound really dull, so by letting A run overB a little, then using a spinback to take it out, the difference is not as immediate and noticeable.
4) Power-offs and Dead-Stops. On most higher level decks, which have a good braking system to the deck plate, if you hit the stop/start button during play, the deck will comes to a halt within a second.
The deal here is, on the final beat of a bar, hit the stop button on the deck that is playing out. Assuming the braking force on your deck is the correct length, the record will come to a complete halt in the space of one beat - meaning it's dead just in time for the next beat. Of course, the next beat is the first beat of a new section (or phrase) so you whip the crossfader across to your other record, which of course was already running in time with the first record. You'll have to work out the best combinations yourself of when, where and what tunes to use for doing this - sometimes it sounds incredible and the floor go nuts, other times you just sound like an amateur.
The power off is to turn off the power to the deck, as to make it gradually run slower and slower until it comes to a halt. This is a really good one to do if you have a good lighting jock next to you. Wait until you're at the point you want to do this, and turn off the power to the deck (using the proper switch that you use to switch off the deck at the end of the night).
Most mixers have EQ units for each channel, some will have a section on each one saying 'cut' which effectively kills the bandwidth selected.
a) Cutting The Treble. There's not many times you HAVE to cut the treble, but sometimes, a shrill hi-hat or voice can make a mix sound really fuzzy, or the two Hi-hats will key together, either cancelling each other out, or producing some (sometimes cool) phasing effects. So even killing the treble so that it's not quite as powerful as the out record - yet still present, can alter the state of a mix (Just remember to put it back in once you fully put in record. But a good trick is to cut the treble on the incoming tune for a couple of bars, then swap it over with the treble of the outgoing tune - it can really tidy up the mix. Just be careful not to take too much out - or you'll end up losing the dynamics of the outgoing tune.
b) Cutting the Bass. This can have many uses, cutting the bass can help to introduce two tunes that are out of key. Kill the bass in tune B , then drop it in, have A and B running at the same time, then as the bar ends, crash in the Bass in tune B , and crash out the Bass in tune A. This does work out better with tunes that are in key, in fact, if there is any melody or singing in the out of key tunes, even cutting the bass isn't going to help that much, the voice will still sound out of tune. It can take a lot of practice, sometimes killing the bass altogether sounds horrific, but leaving a little bit of it in sounds Ok. Practice Practice!!
Killing the bass also helps when plain beat mixing. You may sometimes find that when you mix B (which has a bass drum intro) into A (which has a bass drum outro) the drums clash with each other. This happens one of two ways, they either go into phase, doubling the intensity, or out of phase, effectively killing each other. Cutting the bass on the in record solves this, then by either re-introducing the bass on B while gradually taking out A, or by crashing them in and out respectively, the mix can sound seamless. Again, it depends on the tune involved. Don't whinge if it doesn't work, some records just have to be beaten into submission.
You can create some smashing effects by using all three Eq's to their potential, experiment and you'll get it.
How fast you crash in the x-fader can have a lot to do with the sound of your mixes. You'll be able to tell how you're going to use the fader by really listening to your tunes before you slam them into mix. Some tunes have a great crescendo (gradual uplift of power in the music) beginning, meaning that you can mix them low over the outgoing tune, with the crescendo happening in the background. As the crescendo comes to its pinnacle point, the x-fader gets moved to the middle position (or favoring the incoming channel just a little), all eq's and faders for that tune are set to their optimum position (making the tune more powerful than the outgoing), and as the final POW of the intro happens, the x-fader gets moved full to the incoming tune.
If the tune you are bringing in has, for example, a very simple bass and hi-hat intro, the best way to bring it into the mix is on the hi-hats. Again, it comes down to the tune you're mixing out of, how complicated it is, but it is less obvious when brought in on the hi-hat beats, increasing the amount you can hear on each strike. It goes the same for taking out a tune, once the incoming has become dominant. You don't have to go with each hi-hat strike, doing that may make the mix happen too fast, but using them as a guide really does help.
You should end up with a comprehensive list of tunes that you know you can mix together perfectly. It's great for a while, but try not to limit yourself into thinking that only those tunes go together.
The other big thing though (and the most important of all) is your placement of the mix.
If you look at the virtual tune that was mentioned earlier then there are a couple of places that would make it nice to mix. Let's assume that the tune you're about to mix in has the same structure as the one going out. For example:
INTRO - 16 Bars
VERSE 1 - 16 bars CHORUS 1 - 8 Bars
BRIDGE - 8 Bars
VERSE 2 - 16 bars CHORUS 2 - 8 Bars
BIG BREAKDOWN - 16 Bars
CHORUS 3 - 8 Bars VERSE 3 - 16 Bars CHORUS 4 - 8 Bars
CHORUS 5 - 8 Bars END - 16 Bars
1) The first way we could mix these two tunes are using the intro's and outro's. Both of these last the same amount of time. Let's assume in this case that the intro is musical without any beat to it, and the outro is just a beat. Simply start the intro of tune two when the outro of tune one begins. This takes a lot of nerve to do because you're going to want to have the fader up around 3/4 of the way when you start tune two, increasing it to full in an instant. Any error in timing when starting this and it will be obvious. But it will work really well. It sounds as though a new tune has been cut completely in, but because the drum sounds of the last tune are still present, it's enough of a blend to keep most people happy.
Tune one ends with (say) a cymbal, just as tune two goes into it's build up into the main tune. Take out tune one, let tune two keep going at it's perfect level.
2) In the next instance, tune two still has the same structure, but this time the intro is a simple bass drum one. After the intro, it goes into a nice chunky tune. Tune one (the outgoing) goes into a simple bass beat as its outro.
Start the outgoing tune 16 bars before the end of the first tune (with 16 bars being the length of its intro). Kill the bass on it, and the hit-hats a little. Bring the fader up to full and at the end of the eighth bar, swap the hi-hat frequencies.
Tune one will build out of its last bar, ready to go into its outro. At the point, when it's about to hit the outro, whip the bass in tune two to its optimum position, with the fader at its optimum position, and either crash out tune one, or kill the bass on it and bring it out in time with the hi-hats for the next 4 bars measures. A great way to change the key of the mix.
3) Take the in point of the second tune back yet another 16 bars. Now what will happen, is that the intro of tune two will stop and go into the meat of the tune before tune one has finished doing its thing. Follow the same principle as above for bringing it in and for swapping the high frequencies (it might also help to do the same kind of thing with the mid frequency). And again with the bass, when tune two goes into the meat of its tune, bring the bass up to full, and take the bass out of tune one. How much of the bass you take out depends on the complicity of the bass line, and whether the two tunes have matching keys. Then, when tune one hits it's outro, you can either crash it out, or fade it.
4) Sometimes, it's cool NOT to follow the 8 bar / 16 bar format of the intro. By doing it that way, the mixing can become pretty predictable. So if you have the right two tunes, and are brave enough to risk the look of people going "huh?" then try the last two options, but instead of 16 or 8 bars before, try 12 and 4. Admittedly, 4 bars before the end will probably work lot better, even though there will be a few bars of just drums in this case, but that can add to the anticipation of the crowd - as long as the set's going so well that you have people in the palm of your hands by now anyway.
Slightly adapted and reprinted with permission of Top DJ Gear, New York, US. No reprinting permitted without written permission of both ToneControl and Top DJ Gear.