17 posts tagged

DJing and performance

Time traveller’s archive — 14

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Aleksey aka Sonic Elysium on sound design
  1. Ultimate Kick and Bass Tutorial by Sonic Elysium. Kick and bass are probably two of the most frequently asked topics, people asking how to synthesise it, how to EQ, how to fit them together. And I’ve written pretty much all about it, see “Kick and bass” tag. However, if you prefer to watch rather than read, I highly recommend watching this tutorial by Sonic Elysium, he nailed it.
  2. TechMuze Academy podcast with Budi Voogt. Interesting talk about marketing, promo campaigns, and automations. “Do you see a benefit in paid ad campaigns for producers? I’m actually inclined to say no to Facebook and Instagram [...] Revenue streams in music are very indirect. ”
  3. Is DJing just about beat matching? Great blog, as always from John 00 Fleming. I’ve also written about it before, see Vinyl vs. Sync button.
  4. A Beginner’s Guide To Audio Cables. If you don’t know what is balanced or unbalanced cable or what the difference between RCA and XLR — this article on DJ TechTools is right for you.
Apr 7   DJing and performance   Marketing   Music industry   Music production   Time traveller's archive

Backstory series. Part 2

First local gigs as a DJ

Previously in backstory series I wrote about the Psychedelic community I created, and today I’ll tell how it affected my career.

Let’s get back in 2006. Psyplanet became a quite large website and our team grew up to twelve members. As a community founder, I had to do a lot of coordination, negotiation, and all in all it gave me a huge experience.

Psyplanet helped me to know the scene inside-out: I knew pretty much every professional and enthusiast involved, such DJs, artists, promoters, agents, deco designers, flyer designers, photographers, street teams. And to be fair, the Psytrance scene in Moscow was quite big at the time.

But it wasn’t just that. It also helped to build a trust. I didn’t have ambitions of being a professional DJ back then, but due to relationship with the party promoters, I played as a DJ too.

Flyers of the Psytrance party series in Rotonda Club, organized by Syntex Lab. The big flyer on the right is one of the first parties where I played as a DJ. It was July 6, 2006. See also Psytrance flyers 2005—2007

Here some are of the tunes I played at that time just for you to feel the mood:

For various reasons — mostly, financial — I had to shut the website down. Psyplanet didn’t make me rich, but it doesn’t matter because it gave much more than that — a priceless experience, networking, and industry insights from which I learnt a lot from.

Advice: playing local gigs is a good way to start a career, but don’t just come to promoters saying “Hey, I’m a DJ, do you want me to play at your party?” because the answer is most certainly will be no. Go to their parties a few times first, find out who is the main person in charge for artists, have a little chat. Ask if they need some help, perhaps volunteers or a street team to promote an upcoming event. Slowly but surely, you build a trust. And now compare it to that random guy who came up and said “Hey, I’m a DJ”, — who do you think have more chances to be a warm-up DJ at the next event? The answer is clear.

Bonus reading: The importance of proper opening DJs

Mar 19   Behind the scenes   Career   DJing and performance

Beat Repeat MIDI-mapping

Hi Daniel, as far as I’m aware you are using Xone K2 controller. How did you control Beat Repeat when played a set at PDJ TV (at 0:37 sec)? It seems that you turning on and controlling the repeat value by a single rotary knob, but I can’t figure out how to map it that way.

Neil Paterson

Well spotted, Neil! Yes, I use Allen & Heath Xone:K2 in my current setup, and I trigger Beat Repeat and controlling its value with a single knob.

Effects like reverb or delay typically have a Dry/Wet parameter, so it’s easy to adjust the desired amount of parameter and the rotary knobs of Xone K2 are perfect for this. But Beat Repeat is different, and basically you have to map two separate parameters: turning the device “on” and “off” and the repeat value. And this is very clumsy when playing a set.

Beat Repeat default parameters

The trick is to make some starting point where nothing happens whilst the device is “on”. It can be achieved in few different ways, you can just set the same parameters as I do:

  • Interval to 1/4
  • Grid to 1/6
  • Gate to 4/16
  • Turn on “No Trpl” button

You see, since we turned on the “no triplets” button and set the initial grid position to 1/6, nothing really happens. it means we can map this as a maximum left position of the knob to emulate the “off” state.

Beat Repeat trick

Half work is done, now we have to make a proper mapping. By default, when you map the Grid parameter, it sets 1/256 as a minimum value (left position of the knob) and 1 Bar as a maximum (right position of the knob). Obviously, we don’t need that.

First, you need to do the right-click choose “Invert Range” because we want our knob to control the grid in the opposite way. And now set the minimum value for 1/6 as this is Beat Repeat initial state as described above. I also suggest limiting the maximum at around 1/48 because 1/256 is way too extreme.

Mapping the Grid parameter with inverted range.

That’s it — this is exactly what I used during the set at PDJ TV.

But we can go further and bring this effect into a level by adding an extra EQ that would cut the low frequencies along with the intensity of the Beat Repeat. Here’s how to do it.

Add EQ Eight with a low-cut filter after the Beat Repeat and group them into a new Effect Rack (Select both → ⌘+G). Now do the right-click on the Grid and select “Map to Macro 1”, and then do the same for the EQ’s filter frequency:

Mapping both parameters into a single macro knob

Now open macro mapping tab by clicking on the “Map” button and set a maximum value for the filter frequency at around 1000 Hz. It doesn’t have to be precise, but I suggest limiting the frequency that way otherwise the signal will be completely filtered.

And here is a tiny video I’ve recorded (excuse the shaking camera and the editing, I’m not a pro on making videos). You don’t need to do this effect that often obviously, this is just for the demonstration purpose:

Track playing on the video: Daniel Lesden – Ignition (Waveform Remix).

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2017   Ableton   Advice   DJing and performance

Time traveller’s archive — 11

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Richie Hawtin explains his DJ setup with gestures
  1. How I play: Richie Hawtin Model-1 DJ Setup. Despite that this video has a solo marketing purpose for promoting the Model-1 mixer, it’s still nice to know what happening in the mind of such an experienced DJ as Richie Hawtin.
  2. Roland TB-303 vs. TT-303 vs. TB-3 vs. TB-03. Great audio and visual comparison of the legendary TB-303 with its modern reincarnations, made by ADSR. This might be useful especially for those who planning to buy one of these synthesizers.
  3. Everything you hear on film is a lie. Nice and entertaining insights at TED from sound effects designer Tasos Frantzolas on how our mind tricks us when we hearing sounds; most “authentic” sounds (to our ears and brain) are actually fake. Now every time I watch a rainy scene I hear crispy bacon.
  4. 7 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me About Releasing Music. It’s good to read a confirmation of what I’ve written about myself. Particularly, this part: “There are lots of labels out there who may offer to release your music, but the reality is, unless they’re really putting in some serious promotion efforts, and have a strong, well established fanbase who are keen to follow the label, and not just the producers they have released, then you’ll probably not see much come from it.”.

    And this: “Let’s face it, you’re highly unlikely to make enough to live on just from selling music. Those making money from music are doing LOADS more than just releasing. We’re talking releasing music, remixing, DJing or performing live, doing sample packs or patches, tutoring, licensing, producing for other people, running events, and more. And even then, some will be doing other things to supplement income that are not related to music.”
2017   DJing and performance   Music industry   Sound design   Time traveller's archive

Dealing with party promoters prior to the event

What to do when as a DJ you don’t know your set time and promoter ignores you

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Hi Dan, I have been asked to play at a festival here in my city and it was originally supposed to be situated in a very beautiful bushland place near by. Due to some issues that I don’t know exactly that have had to change venues and it has been moved to a showground, so totally not a natural environment. People have purchased pre-sale tickets and there is a large number of them that are very upset of the changes as it was last minute, with only 4 days till the event opens.

From a Dj perspective, I haven’t been given any information about set time, start time, genre, event flow, nothing. It’s very frustrating because I want to deliver exactly what should be required for the event. So I guess I’m asking for your thoughts on this as you probably have a bit more experience dealing with promoters and other Dj’s.

My feelings on the issue is that I’m getting very grumpy about it all. Part of me actually wants to withdraw from it all together, purely on principle. Another part of me wants to go and perform, but from where I am, I don’t feel as though I am being respected or treated properly as a DJ for the event. I’ll leave it there – hopefully it all makes sense.

Vernon Jones

Thanks for sharing this, Vern. I totally understand your pain, and sadly, this is a pretty common situation for up-and-coming DJs. Let’s take a look at this from two points of view.

Party organizer’s perspective

First, think from the organizer’s perspective. It’s no-brainer to predict that changing some nice venue to a worse one would piss people off, so I bet they wouldn’t do this without a strong reason.

Party organizing world is full of surprises, and mostly those aren’t the kind of surprise you would like to get. And if they encounter some serious issues, they probably simply don’t have enough hands to both handling the issue and communicating with the artists. It’s easy to blame someone, but I wouldn’t suggest doing this until you know all the details, it’s really anything can happen.

A DJ’s perspective

Now from your perspective. The fact you don’t know event’s genre, start time etc is actually your fault. If you dealing with the promoter directly without some manager from your side, the first thing you should do once the gig is confirmed is to get info: who’s the main person in charge or ‘emergency contact’ for the occasions like this, what’s your set time etc. 

Preparing for a live set

Sometimes it’s simply impossible to know the exact timetable in advance, but at least you should know what kind of set they expect you to play, whether it be an opening set, a warm-up set before the headliner, or a peak-time set, or a closing set.

Opening DJs

Advice

If you want me to give some advice on what to do in this situation, I would certainly not suggest withdrawing from this because it would be unprofessional from you not arriving at the event at all. Just come at the place, look around for some of the organizer’s crew, ask if everything is alright and do they have timeslots for DJs because you still don’t know when you supposed to play. Keep it calm, don’t start with yelling even if you really want to. Even ask if they need some help.

The worse thing they might tell you is something like “sorry man, we no longer have a slot for you”, so you’ll get your days off for nothing. It’s frustrating, but not the end of the world. At least this way you’ll do everything you can do.

When you act like a professional, people feel it. Because it’s a real pleasure to deal with people who control emotions, keep rational thinking, and even offer some help in the stress situations like this.

I hope it makes sense.

The picture on top is here to help people notice this blog on their Facebook feeds. Thanks to Trey Ratcliff for this beautiful shoot from Burning Man Festival.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   DJing and performance

The bridge technique in DJ mixes

Hi Daniel. I follow your advice about harmonic mixes and it helps a lot. I have a quick question: how would you mix two tracks if they share the similar feeling and you really want to put them in a set, but they have different harmonic keys? Would you sacrifice harmonic mixing to keep the vibe going?

Timothy Huff

Timothy, harmonic mixing is not a rule, you have to trust your ears and instincts. If the mixing doesn’t sound right, you probably should find another track to mix with.

But sometimes you may really want to mix some tracks with a similar vibe while they aren’t quite compatible for different reasons: because of different tempo or rhythm structure. And I’d like to tell you about a technique which I call “the bridge”.

February’s Rave Podcast edition was quite a special as it was 5 Year Anniversary, so I’ve decided to play two of my all-time favorite tracks from the 90’s:

I wanted to make a slow-paced mix allowing each track to reveal it beauty rather than instantly switch one track to another one.

The problem was that these two particular tracks are driven by different elements with different stress patterns. On top of that, the key of the second track is one semitone lower than the first one, as the result, it would give a not quite pleasant transition.

Rhythm structure basics

In other words, this wouldn’t work:

Luzon Age Of Love

To solve this, I’ve decided to put one more track in between. But not some random track, it had to be very specific. On the one hand, it should keep the original vibe going rather than drag it into another direction. On the other hand, it should have some common elements of both tracks and prepare the ground to become a bridge between these two.

Luzon → The Bridge → Age Of Love

Here’s a screenshot from my Ableton project that sums it up visually:

Ableton project overview. The bridge used in Rave Podcast 069 along with some extra loops

Note how “the bridge” overlaps the Track A, it almost didn’t sound by itself. You may also notice that the bridge is chopped in several pieces — that’s because I didn’t need its breakdown and climax; basically, I just looped the intro.

As you can hear, this bridge keeps the original vibe and haunting vocals while bringing a new drive in the lower spectrum and percussions which will also appear in the Track B.

Here’s another, more fast-paced example. This time, I wanted to put Thomas Datt’s “The Psychonaut” at the end of the mix but its bassline didn’t quite fit the bassline pattern of the previous track. So I’ve put one more track in between, “the bridge”, and mixed it on a triplet grid.

Ableton project overview. The bridge used in Rave Podcast 068 is preparing the ground for “The Psychonaut”

I’ve been using this technique for years, and you can hear much more examples in my mixes, lives sets, and radio show.

I hope it helps.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   DJing and performance

The importance of proper opening DJs

How to warm-up, not burn

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Who are the “opening DJs” and what’s their role?

Patrick 

Good parties are made of many different aspects: good venue, good sound system, good artists, good bar, and even good toilets. There are much more things that all together make event stands out, and today I’d like to focus on one of them — an opening DJs.

Opening DJ is a person who playing first at the beginning of the event. Alternatively, they called a warm-up DJs. And I believe that opening DJs have the hardest and a very underrated role.

The problem

A DJ think: “Finally I’ve got a gig, this is my time to shine! I’ll show everyone how talented I am!”. And he drops the most banging tracks on the empty dancefloor, or to some people who are completely not ready to this yet. As the result often we see something like this. Please don’t be like that guy. Just don’t.

Laidback Luke explains opening DJs at Dancefair Seminar

The philosophy

An opening DJ should:

  1. Welcome guests.
    People won’t rush to the dancefloor as soon as they come in to the club, even if you drop the top hit track. They want to meet with other people, drink something, i.e. get into the right mood.
  2. Fill up the bar.
    “A bar? I’m a DJ, I have to fill up the dancefloor!”. That’s not really true. First few hours after doors opening is the most profitable for the bars (look at p1 above). If you’ll play a proper background music like it should be at the beginning, party organizer or venue owner will appreciate it.
  3. Prepare crowd for the headliner.
    Prepare means gives them anticipation that something big is about to happen. Tease them, but don’t give those “big things”. Let the headliner bang it. Warm-up dancefloor, not burn it.
A small remark to this picture: this is pretty rough “energy lifetime” scenario for an 8-hours long club event. Primetime energy level may be vary depending on the lineup, as well finishing up time scenario could be different: from rough stop on top of the energy to a very long gentle slowing down. Warming up part is what we’re talking about in this article, so the rest is grayed out.

You see, during the first hour, energy level must be very low and almost not growing up. Just enough to welcome the clubbers on positive vibes. At the end of the second hour, you can start to slowly increase energy, and nearly at the finish of your set you can drop a few tracks with a similar energy level as the headliner will play, but not higher.

John 00 Fleming gives very insightful talk about warm up DJ’s in his vlog

And this not only one man’s opinion, many credible artists think the same. John 00 Fleming, who’s in DJing for two decades now, is one of them.

Advice

  1. If you don’t know a headliner that will play after you, make a research before the event: listen to his tracks, try to find his recorded live shows — it will help you programming the set.
  2. If you haven’t played in this particular venue yet, try to find out as much as you can: some specific things in local crowd habits and behaviors. Speak with the venue manager, the party promoters, the other DJs or people who’ve been there before. In fact, this advice might be useful not only to the opening DJs.
  3. Never, never play tracks with higher BPM than the headliner. If the headlining DJ of this particular event plays a 145+ BPM Full On PsyTrance, it’s okay to start with Psy-Progressive at 130 BPM. If the headliner’s music is 135+ BPM Psy-Progressive, then start with 125+ BPM deep Progressive or even Techno.
  4. Don’t play at full loudness — drop it down up to 90~95% of total volume. Here is the hint: the louder music is, as better we think it is. That’s our body language. That’s why “loudness wars” exists is the music industry. So, if you playing at 90~95% of volume and then the headliner will increase it to 100%, his music will sounds “better”, harder and more pumping.
  5. Don’t play tracks made by the other artists that will be playing after you.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   DJing and performance

Criteria of professional production

Part 3. DJ-friendly arrangement

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What are criteria of professionally-made tracks?

Daniel

In this third and the final part of the “Criteria of professional production” series let’s talk about a DJ-friendly arrangement.

Part 1. Sound design
Part 2. Fills and transitions
Part 3. DJ-friendly arrangement

First things off, let me tell a quick “Mixing 101” for those music producers out there who are not familiar with DJing at all. If you know how Dj mixing works, just skip the next paragraph below.

At first, DJ is looking for a starting point of the track — usually, it’s the first beat following the intro — and marks it as “Cue”. Let’s call this track as “Track B”. Then DJ sets the tempo of this track to match with another track playing on a background, “Track A”. Then DJ waits for a proper moment — usually, the climax of the Track A — and starts the Track B from the Cue point. Track B fades in, and then the crossfade occurs usually at the 32nd bar since dance music usually progresses in 16-bar sections. Roughly speaking, that very basic mechanical part of DJ mixing looks like this:

Rough visual demonstration of DJ mixing basics

You may ask, why I’m telling all those DJs stuff, and why music producers should care about it in the first place?

Well, from the marketing point of view, DJs are one of your target audience group, they are professional consumers of your product (Gosh, I hate speaking this language). DJs hosts radio shows and podcasts that influences on people’s taste. Artists that make a living off music are plays as a DJs, too. DJing is an inseparable part of electronic dance music culture, that is just fact. So, unless you write some Ambient/Easy listening or experimental music, as a music producer you should keep DJs in mind when making a track.

Here are some common DJ problems, and how to avoid them by making a DJ-friendly tracks structure on the music production stage:

Transition occurs after the 16-bars section

Picture 1a. Do you remember fills and transitions from the “Part 2”? When such transition occurs after the 16-bars section, it shifts the entire structure of the track for the extra 1~4 Bars or whether your transition duration is. This is not a DJ-friendly arrangement.
Picture 1b. The transition occurs within the 16-bars section, the structure remains unchanged. This is a DJ-friendly arrangement.

The break begins too early

Picture 2a. The breakdown starts too soon after the intro, it might be not enough time for DJ to mix the tracks. This is also one of the reasons why DJs prefer full-length tracks rather than their 3-4 minute-long radio versions.
Picture 2b. There are at least 32 bars between the intro and the breakdown. This is a DJ-friendly arrangement.

Too long breakdown with no anticipation

Picture 3a. The long breakdown that has no tension. Some tracks have one-, two- or even three-minute-long breakdowns with nothing but an ambience sounds, which literally sucks the energy out of the dancefloor. The only way for DJs to play such tracks safely is to cut those breakdowns off.
Picture 3b. The breakdown rising it’s energy level over time which led to more anticipation of the drop. This is a DJ-friendly arrangement.

Of course, these are not strict rules, but just general recommendations and a sort of “good manners”. It is up to you to follow these manners or not.

This was the last post from the “Criteria of professional production” series, I hope you find it useful. Make sure to click the tags below for more posts.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   DJing and performance   Music production

Preparing for a live set

Based on a true story

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Please tell about your first live set: what kind of equipment did you use, what preparations have been made prior to the event technically and organizationally, and all that stuff in details. Once you agreed with promoter to play on that event, what was your next steps? I really wondering how all these things works behind the scenes, everything from the moment until you get to the turntables.

Evgeniy Dolgih

Evgeniy, I’m not sure that you’ll get anything useful out of my story because every artist’s experience is unique. Some things that worked well for me doesn’t necessary will work for you, and vice versa. Also, keep in mind that preparation for a local and international gigs are quite different things. But anyway I’ll try to answer your questions and add some practical tips by the end.

I started to play live in 2012 — before that I played with a DJ sets only. At this point I want to clarify: I call set a “live” when you do some live real-time manipulations and edit/transform or change tracks on-the-fly (and these tracks doesn’t necessary have to be yours), as the opposite to traditional DJ sets when you simply mix track A with a track B. It was a Progressive-Psy night with Serbian headliners, and I was a closing artist. Obviously, as an up and coming musician, I was very happy about this opportunity.

Live and DJ sets difference

As soon as my set was confirmed, I asked promoter to show full lineup and timetable — who and when is playing. I’ve checked every single artist (including local DJs), found their social profiles and listened to their music. Also, I went to the venue website to see photos from the previous events. That allowed to me to get an idea of what can I expect from this event, whom I’ll meet on the stage and what music they gonna play.

Once I’ve got all need information, I started preparation of my set. Don’t be confused here: “preparation” doesn’t mean pre-record a set as some people think — at this point, I just test tracks to see what works together, and edit arrangement if necessary — cut too long breakdown or fix non DJ-friendly intro/outro. I always keep in mind those pairs that work nicely, so when some track is playing to the sound system, I know which track will fit in the mix next.

How to make smooth mixes

I was nervous a lot, obviously. That was my first live set, after all! To calm down shaking hands and get more confidence, I practiced hours and hours long. By practice I mean turn the world “off”, and playing 1-2-hour sets like if I would playing on the stage for real. And this actually helped a lot.

At that time my setup was the following: Novation 25 SL MKII MIDI-keyboard/controller connected to a MacBook Pro by USB, and external audio interface Native Instruments Traktor Audio 2 connected to a DJ-mixer via stereo RCA-cable to Line-In channel.

I’ve chose this midi-controller due to it unique specifications: 8× encoders with infinite rotation, 8× 270° knobs, 8× channel faders, and the keys. Faders are quite rare things on the MIDI-controllers, and this is exactly what I wanted to use with my setup. As being said at the beginning, this works for me, but doesn’t necessary will work for you too, so please don’t buy this equipment just because you read about it here. Just for the record, nowadays in 2016 I use Novation 25 SL MKII in the studio only.

Ableton Live is the heart of the setup. In 2012 I posted my Ableton setup I used at that time, so if you don’t mind I’ll just quote myself:

My Ableton setup for performance at stage, posted on Facebook on July 31, 2012

“I’m using from 8 to 10 channels. The first three Audio channels – main decks for mixing. Channel #4 is for mashups (melodies, voice etc). On top of this channel – a sidechain-compressor with 4/4 kick pattern from another MIDI channel to prevent kick overlay. Channels #5-6 for some extra hats and percussion loops. On each of this channels – EQ-Eight with Hi-Pass filter. Then some MIDI-channels with VSTs – I’m using it for live versions of my own tracks, playing some melodies or modulate synths in real-time. Then Send/Return channels with various effects such Reverb and Redux. I send these effects to other channels via return, except several effects, for instance, Beat Repeat. All of these things and many more such as scene select, play, stop, pitch control, filters, and more I control in real-time using MIDI-controller Novation 25 SL MKII.”

So that is how I’ve spent last few weeks before the event — preparing, practicing and tweaking the setup.

The day “X” — the party time. My set time was 5 AM, as far as I remember. I’ve made a little mistake and came up around 1 or 2 AM, so I had not a chance to check out and see the stage routing in details prior to the event. I went to the stage in about 15 minutes before to my set, put equipment on the desk, and plugged cables. Okay, now is the time. People applauses, I pressed the play button... and heard no sound from the sound system. Damn! Luckily, I realized that I connected my sound card to the wrong channel on the DJ mixer and quickly fixed it, but it was the scariest 20 seconds of silence in my life!

Promo video 2012, recorded at that event

Recap:

  1. Do research: learn more about other artists in the lineup, local DJs, and venue.
  2. Prepare your set: make sure you know each track in your music library perfectly.
  3. Do rehearsal. This way you can get more confidence and take away the stress.
  4. Double-check your equipment. Make sure all your software and hardware piece of gears are up to date and works properly.
  5. Arrive at the venue prior to the doors opening, so you could do a soundcheck, get to know the venue and the crew.
  6. Take your fee on arrival if you get paid by cash.

Perhaps, dear readers would like to share their first live set experience in the comments below?

On cover images: myself is playing at one of my first live set. Forest Quest Festival, Russia, 2012.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   Behind the scenes   DJing and performance

How to make smooth mixes

A quick guide to harmonic mixing 

cover black

Daniel, I’m a huge fan of your mixes. How you do such flawless and smooth transitions? E.g. like at the first half of Rave Podcast 059 or your recent guest mix on Global Trance Grooves, you just nailed it, sometimes I can’t figure out when one track ends and another one starts LOL. Some advice will be appreciated.

James Mann

James, good mixes are made of few components:

Tracks selection. This is something that very subjective, it’s purely up to your taste, feel, mood, and a story that you’re trying to tell. Digging and finding good and original tracks is a homework of every DJ, and this is probably the hardest part. Unfortunately, I can’t help here.

Beat matching. This is one of the core principles of DJing, and It used to be a quite tough thing. In order to master beatmatching on vinyl and CDs you had to do everyday practice, but digital era has changed it entirely. The sync button and grids alignment makes your tracks play beat-to-beat so easily, so I won’t stop on this either.

Vinyl vs. sync button

Harmonic mixing. Basically, this is a technique which shows how to mix the tracks in a specific way in order to achieve those smooth transitions as you’ve described. I listen to tons of various mixes, podcasts and radio show, and I’ve noticed that only very few DJs use this technique. So let’s go deeper over this one.

To get started with harmonic mixing, you have to find keys of your track. You can see keys on some DJ stores, like Beatport:

... or use a special software to analyze tracks on your computer. There are several such kinds of apps, but I’d recommend Mixed In Key as the best one. Mixed In Key scans your entire music collection and displays key results in their special way, named ‘Camelot Wheel’. Here is how it looks like:

Organizing music library

There are two circles: the inner circle with Minor keys, and outer circle with Major. Most electronic dance music is written in Minor, so you will work with the inner circle mostly.

Now you need to know how keys are compatible with each other. That’s pretty simple, thanks to Camelot Wheel: compatibles are the same key ±1 one step to the left or right. For example, if our Track A is Am, to find a good Track B to mix with you have to look for Am, Em, or Dm keys, as highlighted on the screenshot:

Pretty much, that’s it! The transition between compatible tracks sounds smooth, pleasant and harmonic.

It is recommended to move only 1-side during the mix — either clockwise, either counter-clockwise. For instance, your harmonic mix could look like this: Fm → Fm → Cm → Cm → Gm → Gm → Dm → Dm → Am → Am.

Some more information and advanced techniques are available on the Camelot Sound website

I hope this is what you was looking for. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments box below.

On cover image: myself playing in Moscow back in 2011. At that time I had no idea about harmonic mixing and mixed intuitively.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   DJing and performance
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