What makes a great DJ

DJ tip: This is what makes a good DJ mixtape

Create a good mixtape - but how?

Mixtape is revolution

(Image: Fotolia, Credits: Kramografie)

A Japanese friend had"Mixtape is Revolution"stand on his shirt. I've thought a lot about this saying. In fact, the mixtape is to the DJ what the single or even the album is to the musician: the lasting and repeatedly audible representation of his art.In the best case, mixtapes can represent completely new connections between different music styles. Self-producing DJs can use it to put their own music in the desired context. In any case, they are your musical calling card.

It also shows how DJs surround with music. Give 10 good DJs the 20 identical records and they will deliver completely different mixes depending on the character and mood.

Perhaps that is also the reason why some colleagues are downright afraid of creating a mixtape: While on the set in the club, mix-technical mistakes are not so important and after a few minutes are overlaid with the impressions of the next track, the The quality of the transitions on a mixtape can be checked over and over again.

And so you make excuses like:

a) no time

b) no desire

c) no inspiration or natural

d) all at once

Mixing should actually be a weekly routine for a DJ. And even if you hang up every weekend, home mixes are an important exercise, simply because as a DJ you have to know the tracks you are playing. Ideally, records should be like good friends you know inside out. And it doesn't always have to result in a BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix. So: make mixtapes.

Tape

But why do we even talk about "tape"? The “tape” in “Mixtape” comes from “Cassette”. When a tape deck was installed in every car parked in front of the club long before digitization, mixtapes of the favorite DJs were inserted for the parking lot disco. These were mostly very exclusive recordings of a set recorded directly on the recording walkman from the mixer, or radio recordings - from Marusha to Steve Mason - to mixtapes that were mixed at the after-hour at my friend's Sunday afternoon with the records that were there standing around.

What all these mixtapes have in common - apart from the background noise, poor level and meanwhile dripping tape - is their "imperfection" and their absolute authenticity. Pure gold! Sometimes I almost cry when I hear old mixtapes where the records jump, howling and pitching are pulled and in the loud crackling break the ecstatic howling of the crowd from the dance floor is recorded via the pickups.

CD

The days when mix CDs were a lucrative business are long gone. Successful series like DJ-Kicks auf! K7 are the big exception. Commercially distributed mixes take a long time to prepare because all tracks used have to be licensed beforehand. And that can take time. Some tracks cost horrific advances that cannot be refinanced or will not even be approved. A replacement must then be found for this.

Due to the long lead time, the tracks used should also be super fresh so that they are not hopelessly out of date when the mix CD is released. But mix CDs also offer the opportunity to present yourself as an artist with all his shades. And reaching for older tracks not only helps you to locate yourself, you also take the pressure off the planned mix from being up to date.

A good DJ mix can be like traveling. In 2001, “tourist guide” Mijk van Dijk took his listeners from Berlin to Tokyo on the mix CD “Essential Underground Vol. 01”.

Cloud

Nowadays, platforms like Soundcloud and Hearthis are the modern mixtape substitute. And the net is full of all kinds of DJ mixes. Nevertheless, every DJ needs fairly up-to-date sets on the net. On the one hand, to give fans the opportunity to hear you hang up, even if you are not playing near them. On the other hand, to give organizers an impression of the style you drive. And also for yourself, as a sounding diary, so to speak. I really enjoy listening to older mixes of my own to feel how I was playing a year or two ago. Sometimes you rediscover a great track that has long since slipped into oblivion in the memory or in the playlist timeline. Soundcloud is the largest and best-known platform, but it is no longer recommendable due to frequent copyright claims.

Mixcloud is free, specializes in hosting DJ mixes, and pays royalties, albeit minimal amounts, to the authors of the tracks used in the mix. The relatively young German portal Hearthis offers very interesting import functions. Individual mixes as well as entire profiles from Soundcloud and Mixcloud can be imported to Hearthis in one go. Very convenient. I load z. E.g. my mixes are always uploaded to Mixcloud first, then they are easily exported to Hearthis via the Mixcloud URL.

In general, especially for Traktor / Serato DJs: Record everything! It's so easy and almost negligent not to do it. You can always delete the recording later if you don't like it. But mixtapes from the club are simply the most authentic form of recording a DJ set. The mood at home is always different. The tension and the volume in the club create a different mix feeling.

Hearthis.at offers the option of importing individual mixes, but also entire profiles from Soundcloud and Mixcloud.

King Of My Castle

But there are also good reasons for the well-kept DJ set recorded at home. At home, important transitions can be planned in advance, vinyl and CDJ DJs do not always want to carry a recording device with them, the record-out on the DJ desk in the club is often already occupied elsewhere and at home there is also no need to keep a dance floor moving . But precisely because you have all the options for the perfect mix at home, many DJs set the bar so high that that flawless mix has to succeed. A big mistake!

perfectionism

In an increasingly perfect world, perfection becomes boring. I know the annoyance well when you screw up a transition in a great set. But you are probably the only one who is really tragic because you only know how you wanted it to be. Your audience doesn't know that. I've also started over and over again at home mixes when I made a mistake in the first 5 minutes. The mix became more perfect, but he lost that first impulse of the brilliant idea.

In a world where everything is getting more and more perfect, uniform and colder, the authentic first feeling is priceless. Make sure you try to find this raw moment of the club mix at home too. Better be 90% perfect but exciting than 100% perfect and slick. Because excellence comes from experience. With every carefully recorded mixtape you will get better.

concentration

Very important keyword. First of all: Internet off! Smartphone far away! That distracts everything. And even if you are so experienced that you can mix in addition to social media use and TV consumption, you will not have any tension and therefore you will not be able to generate any. When it comes to mixtape mixing, a DJ needs tunnel vision!

Mixtapes: DJs' figureheads, whether analogue or digital

authenticity

You have probably stumbled upon this headline on the web: "DJs intentionally incorporate errors so that the mixes look imperfect!" So that the audience notices that the sync button is switched off and the DJ is really working on the pitch control. Hoax or not: When you hang up with Traktor or Serato, it's super easy to create a perfect sounding mix via sync. With mixtapes you could get the idea to impress the future listener with wild scratching, digital showmanship and stuttering loop acrobatics.

Please don't do that: the audience is interested in the flow of the set, not in showmanship born out of boredom, unless a demo tape for the next DMC championships is pending. Therefore, you should feel comfortable with the mix, stay relaxed and use loops and effects sparingly and specifically. Trust the power of the tracks you play. Feel why this particular piece is so awesome. Then the flow comes naturally.

The audio editor is your friend

You are in the middle of the mix and then the mistake happens: the record jumps, the pickup smears or you have put in the completely wrong effect. No problem, because such small mistakes can be cut out. It's easy:

Load the mix into the DAW or audio editor. Copies a part that is as identical as possible and inserts it instead of the faulty part. If you proceed precisely, nobody will notice, not even you, if you listen to the mix again after several weeks. But don't overdo it. A good DJ set lives from a raw vibe, from a trace of unpredictability. That's the soul of the set. Make sure to stick to that.

Cue & Glue in Ableton

Turn it up

If you already have the mix in the DAW, then pump it up a little with a mastering plug-in. But the same applies here: Please do not overdo it. In Ableton z. B. the supplied audio effect rack "EQ & Glue Master" is very good.

Monthly mix routine

Prepare the tracks beforehand. Check out shortly beforehand whether they also go well together. From the vibe, from the dramaturgy and also from the pitch. If the pitch goes down in the mix, it usually seems a bit disconcerting, if the pitch goes up, it has an uplifting effect.

Especially with digital DJ software you can mix wonderfully in-key. The software often suggests a key in which the respective song is played. Enjoy the serving suggestion, but don't take it too seriously. Let your ears decide whether the mix also sounds good in harmony. The pitch spread between the tracks shouldn't be too wide either. Instrumental tracks sound e.g. B. with tractor also still good with plus or minus two semitones. With voices you quickly get problems, most vocals sound rather unnatural pitched by a whole tone. However, if you put on experimental electronics, then z. B. Tractor a good accomplice. Tracks played intentionally 30% too slowly, possibly pitched down by 12 semitones, create crazy, slow beats and drone tones.

A tip for this: First play a track with the desired BPM number as master (maybe just muted), define it as the master tempo track and then drag a track with a much higher speed in sync.

Playlist maintenance

For me, the best thing about digital DJing are playlists. Whether on the computer or on the Rekordbox USB stick: create a playlist of every set you play. When creating the list of a mixtape, the "histories" of the last clubsets played are helpful to remember which tracks go well together. And then back in the club, mixtape playlists are inspiring guides for choosing a track.

A topic is needed

Frustrated by the world situation? Mixes a dystopian Weltschmerz tape. Or a “peace tape” with corresponding messages in the music. Playing sample police: Does the vocal sample from the current Beatport chart hit sound familiar to you? Mix in the original. What may not necessarily be conducive to the dance floor in a club can be ingenious edutainment on a mixtape.

Get started now

Just now! Pick 20 new tracks and start mixing. And always remember, based on Erich Kästner: "There is nothing good unless you do it!"