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... time to Start Mixing!

A word of advice here:

Unfortunately it is not uncommon for professional and semi professional DJs to have ear damage. This should not come as a big surprise if you realize that at some clubs/venues the sound system can pump out 120 dB of soundpressure or more.

When you are mixing, either at home or at a club/venue you should make sure that the the volume of the monitor is JUST high enough to overshout the delayed sound and echos from the dancefloor or livingroom.

If you feel the urge to really blast then turn up the master volume. Try to avoid turning up the monitor and headphone volume any more than you require to mix properly. Wearing ear protection in the form of simple foam earplugs is not a valid option. Using custom made professional earplugs is. (They are made-to-fit, formed to your own ears and do not make mixing more difficult because they take off a given constant amount of dB over the whole audible frequency range.)

Impaired hearing, if you are not careful enough (Read: if you are stupid enough) and actually get it, is something you will have to live with for the rest of your life!

Keep this in mind, it wouldd be a waste to ruin your ears. Now, it's time to start mixing...


With the master out you have control over the music volume for the crowd, monitor out controls what you hear directly yourself. And next to that there is the headphone out to control the music volume of your headphone. The first one of these 3 should be controlled with care: Big changes in music volume for the crowd should only be a result of the records themselves! During a performance you can slowly build up the volume towards a climax at the end or you can use the master out to boost a particular record a little more. The other outputs can be set according to your own needs.

Like the balance between the volume of the monitor speakers and the dancefloor speakers, there is also the need to balance the volume of your headphone and that of the monitor speakers. Set the volume of the headphone in relation to the volume of the monitors in such a way you can hear both records equally loud. This will give you the best chance to hear any possible difference in phase or speed.

In order to explain the use of the mixer to make a proper transition I'll use what is called reverse engineering: I start with the desired end-result and reason backwards how you can possibly use the equipment to achieve this result.

There is beat-matching, bar-matching, loop-matching and stage-matching. However, there is something else that is important: matching of music volume. The procedure was also described in the beginning, Sound checking.

End result: provide the crowd with music. Use the master out to set the music volume for the dance floor. As it was already mentioned: Try to avoid any abrupt changes in music volume, unless they are part of the track that is playing. If you are using a home system you only have to set the monitor out to your own liking.

Incoming records should have the same music volume as the currently playing record. There are more ways to achieve this, but the easiest one is setting the gain for each record before you start mixing it. Play part of the body and use the gain to adjust the maximum peak height. The value you use is somewhat arbitrary but whatever you choose, it is wise to set the limit somewhere between 0 dB and +3 dB on the VU meter. The mixer I use myself needs special attention. If one channel (or more) is cued the value of the VU meter is about 3 db lower than normal. So: make sure to test your own mixer.

At any rate, if you have a record playing on a fully opened channel, no channels cued, then you should have set the gain in such a way it will show peak values between 0 dB and +3 dB because this is the signal that will be send to your amplifier(S). An occasional peak to +4 dB is no problem, but if the output of your mixer continuously peaks to +4 dB or more you can get a distortion of sound and/or clipping. Gently reduce the gain of the record or, if this happens during a transition, pull one or both sliders a little bit back to solve the problem.

Keep the maximum peak value in mind. It is not so much this value that is important, but you need to match the music volumes. The easiest way to set it is before you start getting record 2 up to speed and in phase. Put the needle somewhere in the body of the track (or at least at some point in the track where music volume is at it's normal level) and adjust the gain in such a way that you get your desired peak height.

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The Transition

Get your equipment set up, master- and/or monitor out set right, headphone on, all channels closed and channel 1 cued.

  • Start a record, set the gain right and restart it. (Now you have Record 1 going.)
  • Open channel 1 and throw it onto the speakers and (imaginable) dance floor.
  • Pick another record with about the same speed and music style as record 1.
  • Uncue channel one and cue channel 2 to set the gain for record 2.
  • Locate the first beat of record 2.
  • If you did not start this way: put your headphone on one ear only.
  • Jumpstart record 2 in phase with the beats and the bars.

... And now the REAL fun starts! It is time to adjust the speed for record 2. Re-read Beat Matching, Continued for details. Getting record 2 up to speed will probably involve some restarting as well. For now, I assume you have, after an unknown number of re-setting, record 2 at the right speed.

  • Pay attention to the phase of record 1. Wait untill after the break.
  • Jumpstart record 2 right at the return of the beat, at the climax.
  • Make sure record 2 is not only at the right speed, but also in phase.

Now it is time to make the actual transition between the 2 records. There are numerous ways to make this transition. I will only describe one of them as example.

  • Close the low range for record 2.
  • Open channel 2 to about 75% and reduce channel 1 to 90%.
  • Keep a constant eye on the VU meter, do not let it peak to high!
  • If you still have not reached the maximum peak limit, open channel 2 more.
  • Slowly open the low range of channel 2 while you partially close the low range of channel 1.
  • Re-check the VU meter and make sure the records are still in phase.
  • If they are out of phase: correct the record with the lowest music volume.
  • Equalise both channels without exceeding the maximum peak limit too much or too often.

A few occasional peaks above, to +4 or +5 dB, is no problem. At +6 dB you have to worry about mixers compressing the audio signal and amplifiers clipping. It is possible at this point to compensate by adjusting the gain of record 2. A dance crowd might not really notice a little distortion but they might not appreciate the too loud music volume.

Now, depending on how accurate you got record 2 at the same speed, you can pick your point where you want to finish the transition... or wait for the records to slightly go out of phase. As a beginner this will happen very quickly. The second part of the transition is a partial reverse of the process.

  • Close channel 1 a bit more, while further opening channel 2.
  • Finish the transition by fully fading out channel 1.
  • Now channel 2 and record 2 become channel 1 and record 1.
  • Incoming record has become current record.
  • Time to repeat the process.

If closing channel 1 will drop the peak level more than 2 or 3 dB below your desired maximum, while channel 2 is already fully open, you can adjust the gain of channel 2 to compensate.

So, here you have it: just one of many possible ways to make a transition between 2 records.

Another possible transition, for instance, is to close low, mid (if your mixer has a midrange control) and high range of record 2 and, when ready, fully open channel 2. You make the transition by simultaneously closing the ranges of channel 1 and opening the one of channel 2. It is up to you to pick the order: high, mid or low first, whatever will sound best.

There are 2 things important here:

  • Check the VU meter, stay within your set maximum peak value.
  • Constantly check if the records are still in phase.

If your mixer does not have a VU meter, then you have to listen carefully to any distortion of sound. Any sign of distortion whatsoever indicates that your amplifier or speakers are having a hard time. And if that is not the gain of amplifier itself, then it must be the outgoing signal of the mixer. Reduce the gain of the proper channel.

IMPORTANT: Just practice, practice and practice and don't be afraid to experiment: Try different things, figure out new tricks.

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Simple Tricks

This set of tricks is just the tip of the iceberg. Little things you can do with your records and equipment to, as it were, customise your mixing by adding your own effects to the records. The best way to find out more tricks is to watch other DJs (also called "trainspotting") and listen to mixed CDs. The same thing that has been said a few lines above applies here too: Practice and dare to experiment!

Also take a look at the Examples Section.

  • During a break and/or build up: Play with the balance, mid range and/or high range. If this will create a nice effect or not will highly depend on the specific record you play. Increasing the mid range is the most commonly used effect.
  • In the build up: If you turn off the power of a turntable, it will slowly rotate to a halt. 1 Bar before the climax you switch off the turntable and almost immediately switch it on again. The speed will drop down and when you have counted 4 beats, hit the Start/Stop button to let it catch speed again right at the climax. NOTE: Most turntables will power up in 33 RPM mode, so you will have to switch back to 45 RPM before you hit the Start/Stop button if a 45 RPM record is playing. (This one is quite tricky, use it with records you know very well.)
  • At the start of a transition: Instead of slowly and gradually opening channel 2, you can also briefly swap channels by throwing in 2 beats (3r and 4th beat of a bar). Fully slide open channel 2 and simultaneously reduce channel 1 to about 80 or 90%. Flick them back after 2 beats. Repeat a few times if you feel like, before starting the normal transition. As an alternative you can skip the gradual transition and, after swapping a couple of times, leave channel 2 and open close channel 1.
  • Between 2 transitions: cut out the bass of the 4th, the 3rd and 4th or all 4 beats of one bar. Either use the kill switches (if your mixer has those) to surpress the low range or use the regular knob to surpress the bassline. You can also slowly fade out the bassline over 1 or 2 whole bars and snap the bass back.
  • Between 2 transitions: "Preview" a sample of another record. This can be from the incoming record, but this can also be from a record you do not intend to play (yet). Select a characteristic sample or melody and roughly adjust speed. (You do not need to do this very accurate, the records only need to run synchronous for a one or two bars.) Get the start of the sample under the stylus and wait for the first beat of a bar. Then jump start the sample and open channel 2. Close channel 2 and spin back the record if you want to repeat it. This trick can be used for crowd teasing: take a sample or melody of a popular track, give them the impression that that is going to be the next record, and mix in a different record instead.
  • Finishing a transition: Sometimes the most simple solutions are best. Kill record 1 by hitthing the Start/Stop button. This results in a very characteristic sound which can, if you time it correctly with a starting break on record 2, create a very nice effect. Of course you still have to close channel 1. NOTE: this works fine on high quality turntables, cheaper turntables might have difficulty stopping the record fast enough.
  • Finishing a transition: Backspinning. Similar to the previous trick, it is important to time this right. Like the name says, you spin back record 1. Put a finger on record 1 and pull back hard enough to make the record spin back for a second or so. Make sure you close channel 1 right after that because, unlike the previous trick, the record will continue to play. NOTE: you can not use this with a record that is not entirely flat. The needle might jump.
  • If you have separate balance control for all channels: Try gradually panning record 1 to one side while you open channel 2 panned to the other side. This can create a bizarre split stereo effect. Make sure you use records that sound exceptionally good together, otherwise this might sound awful. During this trick you have to pay extra attention to the VU meter! Once you start closing channel 1 you have to pan channel 2 back to the middle.
  • Anything you come up with yourself...

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Mixing with CDs

The principle behind mixing with CDs does not differ much from mixing vinyl. First, you need a starting point (cue point) and then it is a matter of starting, adjusting pitch, restarting and re-adjusting pitch until you have the speed right. When you reach the point where you need to jump start record 2 (CD 2 in this case) you start it, make sure it runs in phase and start making the transition.

Some years ago the music industry predicted that CDs would completely dominate the house scene and make turntables obsolete... That was one wrong prediction. Comparing vinyl records with CDs will be a battle without end because both systems have advantages over the other. CDs are lighter to carry around and are less vulnerable to scratching. Vinyl on the other hand is much better and more accurate to manipulate in a mix and you have a better idea of track structure because you can see the groove... But this discussion is outside the scope of this web-page. Decide for yourself.

CD mixers come in 3 different "tastes". Double front-loading CD players come with a separate front panel which holds the displays and controls for both the drives. Single front-loaders usually have the controls on the same front panel. Single top-loading single CD players are more like the turntables, drive and controls are incorporated into a single unit. Top loaders usually have a big flywheel which allows for better control. ( Other combinations are possible too.)

( Note: My own experience when it comes to mixing with CDs is limited to the now almost classic Denon dual mixer, the Denon DN-2000. So, the actual control of other CD mixers may very well differ from what is written down here. )

Mixing with CDs works as follows:

Any CD mixer will let you set a so-called cue point. You have to set this on the first beat of a bar of four, preferaby also on the first bar of the melody/theme. The first beat of the track will even be better point to start.

Once this cue point is set, you can start again and again from exactly that beat. Now it's a matter of starting it in synch with record 1, or CD 1 in this case. Adjust pitch roughly, go back to the cue point and try again. Re-adjust pitch, wait for CD 2 to go out of phase, and start using the flywheel/jog-dial or the pitch bend buttons to correct the problem.

Pitch bending on turntables requires a lot of skill, because it is difficult to return the slider exactly to its original position, (See the advanced section) but on a CD player it's a different story: as soon as you release the flywheel/jog-dial or the pitch bend buttons, the pitch is again as you set it. If you're still not close, well, go back to the cue point and try again.

Once you have CD 2 at the right speed, you return once again to the cue point and start it on the right moment. Use the flywheel/jog-dial or the pitch bend buttons to correct any out of sync-ness, and now you're ready to make the transition.

This would translate to the following steps:

  • Insert a CD, select the right track and hit play/pause.
  • When you hear your desired starting point (the first beat for instance) hit play/pause again.
  • With the jog-dial, track-search buttons or the flywheel (depending on the type of CD player you have) you can search the exact start of the beat. The CD player will repeat a very small timeframe which allows you to recognise the specific sounds. This is will become your cue point.
  • How you actually Store this cue point into the memory of the CD mixer depends on the brand.
  • Make sure you have activated the pitch control! Most players have the ability to switch off the pitch control, so make sure it's enabled.
  • Hitting play/pause starts the music exactly at the cue point . Make sure you time this with the beats and bars of CD 1 or record 1.
  • This is where you have to get CD 2 at the right speed. If there is a big difference in pitch, roughly adjust the pitch control and hit Cue. This will make the CD player jump back to the cue point.
  • Hit play/pause again, timed with CD 1, and repeat the process.
  • Once you have small difference in pitch you can use the flywheel/jog-dial or the pitch bend buttons to nudge CD2 forward or slow it down temporarily. Make sure to adjust the pitch too in order to eliminate the final difference.
  • Once you have pitch sufficiently accurate, return to the cue point you've set.
  • Start CD2 again in sync with record 1 by hitting play/pause at the point where you would otherwise jumpstart a vinyl record.
  • If CD 2 is slightly out of phase after jumpstarting, use the flywheel/jog-dial or the pitch bend buttons to correct the problem.
  • Start making the transition.

Depending on the quality of your CD player, you can also have sample memory and loop-facilities.

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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.