Yes, this is an opinion piece, but I think after reading it you’ll either agree or have some insight as to why you should consider learning to mix. It’s no secret that there is a long lasting dichotomy in the DJ and event industry amongst DJ’s. Some would say the “new school” vs. “old school” or the DJ’s who mix and focus on music, as opposed to the DJ’s who fancy themselves more as MC’s and get by on knowing what to play and when. I think this is something that will naturally get phased out over the years simply because the interest in a dance set when the DJ is not mixing is simply going away. Also, let me be clear by stating that
Also, let me be clear by stating that how you mix, is much less of a concern than if you do or do not mix. I know of a perfectly competent DJ–really, he is much more than competent and one of the most booked wedding DJ’s I know in San Diego California, where I am based out of. He is a great MC, but has never fancied himself much of a DJ. He uses mixmeister (an outdated version of it on PC, even) and can rock a dance floor from a wedding, to a group of wedding vendors at a mixer just knowing what to play and through his mixing skills via mixmeister. Even something as rudimentary as mixmeister can connect someone with the basics of mixing: BPM range, phrasing, transitions, song shortening, etc. Knowing these fundamentals is extremely important in being a DJ, not matter what anyone tells you. Can someone “get by” on knowing what to play and nothing else? Yes. Sadly the industry is overwhelmed with the underwhelming. Meaning, the issue is that wedding vendors and wedding guests alike rarely understand when they’ve been to an event with a mediocre DJ. Really knowing your music, how to mix it, even at a basic level, are going to improve your business and your skills as a DJ.
BPM – Beats Per Minute
Let’s talk about the fundamentals of mixing, and why exactly, this is beneficial to the task of DJ’ing. Let’s first start with BPM (beats per minute) and the range of those BPM’s. Over the years dance music tends to have genres that trend over time. That said, the genres are usually similar in their beat and tempo range. For example, house music is commonly in the 128 bpm range, anywhere from 120-130 really. This is similar to Disco music, Nudisco, ‘Indie Dance’ and various other genres. In the 80’s, there was a surge of music that was around the 80 bpm range, but it had a double time feel giving it a “footloose” kind of sound/beat. Songs of a similar genre would trend there for a while, allowing for great beatmatching within a range. The more songs you can mix together in a certain tempo range, the better. It not only sounds better, but it allows you to respond to the crowd. If they are enjoying the particular genre and tempo range, then continue doing so. If not, then you can try another genre and when you find one that works, you play more within that tempo range and genre until you notice a change, and then rinse and repeat.
The more you mix, the more you memorize songs that mix well together (making crates and cheat sheets work as well), the more tools you’ll have in your arsenal. This is something that a DJ who simply slams songs and pays no mind to it’s tempo (bpm), can’t do. Sure, you can know what songs get a reaction out of people and learn to play them in a manner that will get a crowd moving, and years can go by getting by doing this, but are you going to turn heads and get referrals for your abilities just by song selection? Most likely not. Not to mention, the art DJ’ing and mixing is more popular now than ever, and younger crowds, particularly the age of people getting married these days, are more and more savvy of what a good mix sounds like! Don’t be an MC with an iPod, be a DJ.
Shortening Songs with Proper Phrasing Through Mixing
Something else that is extremely important nowadays when mixing music, is shortening songs. Again, with more and more people understanding what a good mix ought to sound like, a DJ who goes into an event and plays the entire song is not going to turn any heads. This leads to some interesting points of discussion. Shortening a song does, in fact, offer those on the dance floor more variety. Especially if you go back to the 90’s for example, there were a lot of popular songs that had a great chorus, but the rapping during the verse was more or less forgettable (or at least not memorized to the extent of people singing along with every word).
Playing an entire obscure throwback song when really the guests just wanted to sing along to the chorus, isn’t going to go well. You are going to start the song out with people rushing to the dance floor or showing their enthusiasm, and towards the end of the song, you are going to have a lot fewer people on the dance floor. Songs like “Yeah” by Usher, for example, is very long in the way of a lot of dance music and if you were to play the entire song, you would have a similar effect. Strong interest at the beginning, nearly no one left on your dance floor towards the end.
So why should you do this through mixing and beat matching and not just slamming songs? It’s all about being smooth about it, and knowing how to do it through proper phrasing. I’ve actually heard a DJ attempt to shorten songs despite that he had no clue about phrasing. If you don’t know what this is, you might want to go over and check out our tutorial on mixing so you can get down the fundamentals of mixing. Phrasing is, in short, knowing some basic music theory so that you can shorten a song where it makes sense. It does not sound good, and it does not make sense to shorten a song in the middle of a verse. It startles people too and it sounds as if ‘something is wrong’. They look over at you thinking “that sounded like the DJ messed up” not “that was a cool mix”. I elaborate on what proper phrasing is, how to achieve it, and even more be creative with it, in our DJ 101 mixing tutorial.
Stand out. Mix. Get more referrals.
Any successful person in nearly any business will tell you that the key to success and marketing is through referrals. There is a lot to making yourself more “referable” but to think that being a great DJ and not just a great MC isn’t one of them is a bit naive. Every year, the are more people wanting to be professional DJ and we all must do everything in our ability to be better at what we do. If you don’t evolve with your craft, you get left behind. Not learning to mix has about as much relevance as musicians who state they don’t want to learn music theory because they don’t want it to stump their creativity by knowing too much about the rules (this is something I’ve heard from a lot of musicians!). It’s simply not the case and there is no excuse for ignorance. The more you know about mixing, the more you’ll understand the relationship between beats and music theory, different genres of music and how they correlate, and over time you’ll be able to have your peers view you as an expert on music.
We, as DJ’s, are above all else supposed to be music experts. Music connesseiurs of sorts. So if you don’t understand the tempo range (bpm), how to count music and time signatures and properly phrase music and of course, if you don’t know about different genres of music and which ones relate to others and how to use them as tools, you’ll never be able to compete with the wave of DJ’s who are starting out NOW. They are hungry, they are learning, and they are catering to those who have a demand for DJ’s who actually know how to mix and read a crowd.