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Advanced DJ-ing

The following 3 items take you from practice into the serious business. Although in this document it is strictly separated, in practice you will slowly incorporate these things into your mixing.

Pitch-Only correcting

If you have mixed with CDs, you might have asked yourself why turntables are not equipped with a pitch bend facility. Good question... But if you are experienced enough as a DJ, you can do it yourself with just the pitch control on your turntables. It will enable you to mix very fast because you can do the last bit of error correction during the transition without anyone noticing. ONLY try this if you have trained yourself through practice to pick up very small differences in pitch, otherwise you will not be able to do this.

(Interestingly enough, there is a turntable on the market with digital control, a BPM counter and a pitch bend facility!)

How does it work? Unlike the pitch bending on a CD player you have to change the pitch back to the original setting yourself, which makes this very tricky. Once you hear the slightest out of phase of one of the records, determine if record 2 is ahead or lagging behind and adjust the pitch accordingly. Change pitch in the order of about 0,5 % or less. The difference will gradually diminish and after a few beats the difference will be gone. Then you slide the pitch control back to its original position.

It would be really nice if you are able to get the pitch control back to exactly the original position. If you manage to do that, you are either:

  • Very Very Very Good, or
  • Extremely Lucky.

Only a few people belong to the first category, everyone else may occasionally end up in the second category. If you do not belong in either category, you have to continue to pay attention. As soon as you hear a difference develop again, repeat the process to correct it. Even if you have to continuously correct the pitch of one of the records, it is, if well executed, still not audible for the audience. Perfect mixing.

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Stage matching

Another thing you do not have to worry about when you begin mixing is the overall track structure. Once you get to a stage where you can make transitions of more than a minute or so, you can get yourself into trouble. This trouble rises when you let 2 stages "collide". As was already mentioned in the part on Track Structure, one should not mix through a build up and climax.

In order to prevent this from happening, you have to start paying attention to the stages of both records. Similar to beat matching, bar matching and loop matching there is also stage matching . As long as you make sure you have record 2 with the first beat of a stage under the stylus and you jumpstart it at the start of a stage of record 1 you are safe. Of course you still have stages that do not necescarily consist of the same number of bars, but the chance of "collision" is minimised. This is the situation you can get in a mix (not taking into account that there usually is an additional break in a track:

           track 1    transition   track 2    transition   track 3
                       |      |                |      |
     ...Break & Climax | Exit |                | Body | Break & Climax ...
                       | Body | Break & Climax | Exit |

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"Doing a set"

This is your goal. In some way or another, for a crowd or for yourself, recording the mix or just for direct listening pleasure only, you are mixing: "You do a set". A set can be anything from, say, 5 records to several hours worth of records. There are no real rules for a set/mix, just guidelines. The best way to understand how it works is to listen to other DJs, either live or recorded. You can think of doing a set as telling a story, build up from little stories (that is: tracks). This analogy can be streched quite far.

There are 3 things that give a DJ his/her own style. The way they are making the transitions, what kind of records they select and how they build up a set. So, in order to stick to the analogy, I will tell you a possible way to tell the story, but it is entirely up to you to decide what "story elements" you want to bring in, and in which order you "tell" them.

When you tell a story, you don't start with the climax. So do not hit it off with the biggest floorfiller unless you have other records to top that throughout your set. Of course, when someone has been DJ-ing right before you and you take over, you can pick up the story where the other DJ left, and give it your own twist. After a gentle start you can tell more dramatic pieces of the story, play more energetic music. Keep in mind that you have to give the crowd a break once in a while, do not go full throttle all the time. So you can play some slower more melodious tracks to let the crowd cool down. You can adjust the master volume to follow the "suspense of the storyline". As you near the end of your story, you make the plotline more and more intense: building up the suspense and music volume. More energetic tracks and gradually louder music untill you blow the top off. (See the similarities between this and track structure ?)

The only way you can practice doing a set is to forget practicing on separate skills and just start mixing. Recording your efforts can really help because it enables you to listen to your own mixing without having to concentrate on getting 2 records in phase Recording your own mixing is also important because it can also give you some feeling for choice of records within a mix and you get to know your own records better. Once you are confident enough you can try to prepare a mix which is no longer for "internal use only". Get everyone to listen to your tape and get feedback.

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© 1999 - 2002. It is not allowed to duplicate this text or parts thereof without written permission of the author: Geert-Jan Pluijms.