The Art and History of DJ Mixing
by Alex Cosper

See also:
How to Find a Wedding DJ

Electronic Music 1980s
Electronic Music 1990s
Electronic Music 2000s

The Secret to Beatmixing

The secret to beatmixing has more to do with knowing and understanding tempo and rhythm than anything. Every record has a tempo that can be measured in beats per minute. Mixer DJs like to stick with electronic-based records because the drum beats are loudly and consistently pronounced in the mix. The reason Technics 1200 turntables had pitch control evolved over time. Originally the feature was to account for inconsistencies in record pressings. Ultimately it became the tool DJs used to match tempos with records of different timing. For example, if the current song playing has a tempo of 124 beats per minute and the next record is 120 beats per minute, the DJ can pitch the next record up to 124 bpm to create a better mix.

The general rule is to not mix tempos that are far apart. The idea is to gradually build the tempo up to an aerobic level leading up to a break. The break can be the DJ hitting the off button and the last record begins to slow down to a complete stop. Or it can be an announcement or it can just be silence. Or it can be any creative idea the DJ comes up with to basically mark the end of a set. Then the tempo-building process starts all over again, except not necessarily starting with slow music.

Increasing the tempo need not be from one record to the next as the DJ can gradually pitch up during a song, especially during a drum beat solo or musical break. A record that ends with a cold fade is a great introduction to increasing the tempo either with the next song having a faster tempo or pitching it up. Even though it's all based on the science of counting beats, the DJ must not feel restricted by rules in order to make beatmixing an art.

A good mixer DJ either counts the beats per minute of every song or already knows and categorizes this information. This way it is easier to select music when it is categorized by tempo. But just because two matching tempo records are played back to back doesn't mean the records will sonically match. It still requires artistic considerations when mixing from one song to the next regardless of tempo. There are concessions, though, that allow any person with any experience to pull off a great mix between two songs. The easiest mix is when the first record ends cold or with a cold fade, meaning the music has a natural ending as opposed to a producer's fade. The next record can literally be anything since there are no beats to trip over.

Mixing classic disco with newer electronic music can be tricky since the disco hits of the late 70s used technology prior to the advent of digital keyboards and recording, which became standard by the late eighties. The equalization is thinner on older music, so the DJ has to work a little harder with EQ to get a good mix when dealing with pre-1983 music.

DJs created beatmixing probably out of the necessity to keep the dance floor packed. No DJ likes to see a packed floor followed by an empty floor caused by one song. Instead of making the song the focal point, why not the beat? Then the beat can change cleverly when the DJ feels like it. One must remember, however, that no DJ is a god of all people. The real key is getting a specific crowd to the event in the first place, since not everyone likes the same kind of music. Finding a crowd that already likes forms of electronic music has always been the most important component to the DJ's success over the years.

Then again, some songs work in any mix and can ignite a crowd. One of those records that seems timeless and embraces pop, rock, soul and even country is "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson. The opening beats are so strong they fit after almost any record regardless of tempo. Records with strong drum intros are key components to an interesting dance mix.

When a DJ must deal with a random crowd and does not know what the crowd likes, it's a whole different scene than when the DJ already knows the crowd and the crowd already knows what to expect from the DJ. A random crowd is going to be a mix of mainstream, underground and hard to please people. A targeted crowd is probably the result of marketing, either by a social leader stringing together circles of friends or through media advertising, especially with flyer distribution. One other thing that distinguishes the mixer DJ with the traditional DJ is that the mixer is more in a position to be thought of as a scene leader, as opposed to someone merely delivering a paid service.

The Art and History of DJ Mixing
How Early Disco Shaped Dance Music in the 70s
Disco's Influence on Pop Music
Transition to Electronic Dance Culture
Soundbites and Special Mixes
The On-Air Nightclub
The Secret to Beatmixing
Why DJs Still Use Turntables

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