Saturday, 12 October 2013

Beat vs Mood Mixing

One of the main conventions of DJing is beat mixing or beat matching - the method of creating a transition between two tracks with a matching beat. If done well this can create a seamless transition from one track to the next. Perfect for the dance floor. This can be so satisfying for a DJ that it is all too tempting to build a set comprising similar tempo tracks even if the musical demands are not so dance orientated. I tend to play pretty eclectic sets so I find that my challenge is not how to how to create seamless beat matched sets but how, for example, to create a transition between one track at 128 bpm's and another that takes it down to 100 bpm. 

At first I started looking for tracks that had a similar music breakdown and start up. That is to say, if I could find one track that broke down at the end into a solo piano and another track that started with a solo piano, they could be butted up to each other to create a seamless transition. However, this is quite limited as there aren't too many tracks which fit this description. I then realised that the greater challenge is mixing moods not tunes. How can I create a sense of light and shade in a set. Do I really want to keep to the same tempo or has it got a bit intense? Maybe people would appreciate a breather with a lighter tone. 

Once I started playing with the idea that there is much more to DJing than beat matching, a world of possibilities started to open up. I could mix two tracks simply because they contained the same obvious word in the song lyrics, be it love, tears or, in one case, the word 'caravan' (The Doors Spanish Caravan mixed to Caravan by Mojo Rising). Although in this case the second track is an instrumental version so any possibility of people seeing the link would have been dependant on people knowing the original vocal track.

Another element now available to DJ's is mixing in key. That is to say, when playing digitally it is possible to identify the key of a track. I think that this technique is largely employed by club DJ's to create continuous seamless sets. But I don't want seamless sets. With seamless sets you stop noticing the music. Sometimes it is fun to be jolted out of complacency with something unexpected. However, I have started to use mixing in key because some tracks break down at the end to a single tone with the beats minimised. This means that the outgoing tone can be used to bring another track in the same key, which although initially quite subtle will then take off in a completely different direction. 


All of this is only available thanks to my devotion to the digital mixing software, Traktor.  The track listing window of Traktor helpfully provides information on track name, artist and genre etc but also allows for a comments section. For years I limited my comments to such descriptions as, 'Banging house good bass line' or 'Chilled mellow'. Then I started to realise that I have hundreds of tracks which might fit such a description so why not try to use more adjectives. It occurred to me that as the whole data base is instantly searchable I could make it as complex as my brain would allow and so I started to use many more adjectives and keywords. My data base has now been modified to such an extent that I can simply put in a word search for such terms as stimulating, muffled, anticipation, jubilant, heartfelt, crystal or many other emotive or descriptive terms that might be appropriate for the moment. For example, if I type in the word 'detective' it will immediately bring up about 30 tracks from all genres but with each features a sort of film noir theme. 

The problem with such multi layered mixing is that of endless possibilities. It is also means that caprice of my mind has suddenly presented me with two tracks which I have never mixed before. Add to this my personal dynamic that even when I have chosen a track to follow on I do not stop contemplating about the current mood in the bar or club. Frequently I will be hit with the thought that I want to change direction and mood when there are only around 30 seconds left of the outgoing track and I have to work at breakneck speed to find the replacement to mix to otherwise I will envelop the floor in silence. Of course such erratic behaviour means that I drop a mix every now and again but at least it keeps me amused and hopefully the audience too.

I was rather ardently explaining my method of DJing to a very patient and much more experienced chap one day and noted that probably no one had any idea what I was doing when playing a set. He said, 'Yes of course they won't, but that doesn't mean you should stop doing it.' It does however explain why, at the end of a six hour set, I feel brain dead ;-)