Creating a good mixed CD is one of the most vital components of the business aspect of being a DJ. You can be the best DJ in the world, but without a good demo, you can only look forward to a long life of playing sets for your cat. Not that there's anything wrong with DJing for your cat; hell, I do it on a regular basis. But most DJs (and myself) have higher aspirations than playing high-BPM lullabies for their pets for the rest of their lives. Eventually, you have to move past being bedroom DJ, and in order to do that, you need something to showcase your skills.

So you're going to need to make a mix CD. You could make a mix tape, or a mix minidisc, but there's several advantages to using a CD. First, the sound quality is higher on CDs than on tape. Second, just about everyone has a CD player, while tape players are quickly becoming defunct. Minidiscs just aren't common enough. So a mix CD is obviously the way to go.

But how to start?

First, you're going to need to do a bit of experimentation and planning. Mixing a CD is a bit different than mixing from the hip in that if you butcher a particularly tricky mix, you can try it again. You also have a bit of freedom in the sense that you aren't beatmatching against a timer, so you can pull some pretty interesting techniques when recording a mix CD. So fire up your equipment of choice, pull out your music collection, and do a bit of experimenting. Keep a notebook handy, and write down the names of tracks you want to use, how you want to mix them, pitch fader and trim settings, times to drop beats, etc. You're still experimenting, so don't worry about mixing a continuous set. Pull off tracks, fire up other ones, start tracks over, and drop mixes in odd places that would be inconvenient for a live mix. Be creative. Write down what works, write down what might work, hell, write down what doesn't work so you can make it work later. A mix that you couldn't work live to save your own skin may be golden if you have a chance to work with it. Just go for it.

After doing this for a while, you should be getting an idea of the soundscape you're looking for. What are you going to use as your opening track? Closing track? How do you want to peak the set? How do you want to break it down? Take these things, and write them down. Pretty soon, you should develop a tracklist that looks something like this:

Track #. Artist - Title - Pitch fader setting - ETA to next mix

1. Miranda - Eyedentify 2004 - +0.4% - 4:31
2. Wizzy Noise - Demented Drum Pt. 1 - +4.8% - 5:18
3. Infected Mushroom - None of this is Real - -1.3% - 6:24
4. Parasense - Love to Hate - +0.2% - 5:41
5. Distortion Orchestra - Sidewinder - -1.8% - 4:02


(This is called programming a set. You can do it for live shows too.)*
Now. You've got the perfect set planned. It's going to drop the jaw of anyone who hears it. You had to repeatedly wipe the drool off your mixer as you planned it. Now you just have to record it to CD.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A PC, preferably with some good equipment in it. A decent sound card is a must, as well as a large hard drive. You will also, of course, need a CD burner and software.
  • Your DJ gear. You should already have this.
  • An RCA to Stereo 1/8" adaptor cable
  • Possibly two RCA Y-Splitters, with two female ends and one male end.
  • Some audio capturing software. Audiograbber is a good freeware solution for this.
  • Some audio editing software. Wavepad is a good freeware solution, but if you have money or a predisposition for casual piracy, Sound Forge is excellent.

Take a good look at the output jacks on the back of your mixer. With any luck, you should see a pair labelled something to the effect of: RECORD, REC, RECORD OUT, REC OUT, etc. If those aren't there, try looking for BOOTH or BOOTH OUT. If those aren't there, try looking for MONITOR OUT. If any of these are there, plug the RCA connectors from your RCA-1/8" adaptor into it, making sure to match the colors. Make sure your computer is powered down, and then plug the 1/8" stereo jack into the "Line In" jack on your soundcard. You can find this on the back of your computer. (Note: Do not plug it into the Mic Input. This input is very sensitive, and you may fry your sound card.)

If you don't have any of the above outputs, you'll need to use the two RCA Y-Splitters to split your master output. Plug one Y-Splitter into the red MASTER OUT jack on your mixer. Plug the red jack for your master output source into one of the free jacks on the Y-Splitter, and the red jack for your PC into the other. Repeat this process for the white MASTER OUT jack.

Done? Good. Now you'll need to head to the volume control panel in your system, and set the volume levels for recording. Make sure the volume is turned up in the recording controls, and make sure the "line in" box is checked. Now play a record or CD on your DJ gear. If you hear it coming out of the PC speakers, then you're good to go.

Now, head into the recording program of your choice, and make sure your bitrate and sampling rate are set to 16 bits, 44,100 Hz (44.1 Khz), Stereo. There's no sense in lowering your sound quality.

Now, you're ready to record! What you're going to do is perform each mix individually, and use your sound editing program to splice them all together. For example, play your first track. Mix into the second track, and then cut the recording. Put the resulting file in an easily accessible location. Then go ahead and start the second track over, and mix into your third track. If you mess up the mix, trash the file and start over again. You have as many tries as you need. Once you have all your mixes recorded individually, you can use your sound editing software to splice them all together, creating the illusion of a continuous mix. You may want to give the finished result a run through with your sound editing software, and make sure all the levels are where you want them to be.

Update: In retrospect, it's much more effective to just mix the set live, and go back with your sound editor to smooth over the rough spots. It's much less time consuming, and has a more natural feel than the aforementioned method. You can do whatever you want, though. Either way technically works.

Now, burn a lot of CDs. (Please don't burn it as one long track. Please. Promoters hate that, and so do most listeners. So don't do it.) Make some really cool cover art. Distribute the hell out of it. Get famous, and then get disowned by your cat. You can thank me later.


Just J, "setting up to record your mixes," DJ Forums. <> (17 September 2004).

*mkb says: re How to create your perfect mix CD: programming like that for a live show is cheating!

I partially agree. While 'cheating' is a fairly subjective term in this context, the offense that I take to the practice is that the ability to read your audience and select tracks on the fly to please them is REALLY important. Programming your live shows takes away this ability. I, personally, don't think it's worth it, but you can do whatever you like.