advice listed by Mr. Tunney
is sound, but I feel it is inappropriate for the node how to DJ
. Perhaps it should be listed under something like “Gear needed to DJ
” or something, as this tells you very little about the actual technique of beatmatching and mixing.
I’ll do my best to illuminate further on this specific topic, in light of techno
ing, and give pointers on how to get started, although this is a daunting task. It’s rather like trying to write a manual on how to bicycle
. You just have to do it.
First, if you’re burning and itching to get into DJing. DON’T SPEND GOBS OF MONEY
ON IT FIRST. You may not like it, and it’s not for everyone. If you dream
of being an unholy arrogant rock star god
of the wheels of steel
, do yourself and dancers
everywhere a favor and go buy a guitar
. Forget about DJing. The electronic music dance movement
, IMHO, doesn’t need any more rock stars
, and tends to reject them
anyway. It’s just not about that, at all.* It’s about the music
. No amount of attitude, arrogance, or drugs
will make the music
you play, and the mixes you instigate, sound better. Only excellent records and skill will do this. 90% of being a DJ is the procurement
of records, once the skills are acquired.
( * This is one of the main reasons I became involved with this musical subculture, a bit over a decade ago now. The ‘artists
’ and ‘performers
’ were rarely differentiated from the ‘audience
’. Usually performers were right down on the dance floor, behind or between some ungodly pile of speakers.)
Humbly find someone who knows what the hell is up.
Approach DJ’s whose style and musical tastes you like, and ask questions. (Preferably not in the middle of their set
. It’s really, really hard to beatmatch
well while some fool is drooling over your records and turntables and asking gobs of questions.) However, DO watch what they do, and DO “trainspot
”. Become familiar with the equipment, the process, the titles and labels the DJ plays. I still trainspot. It’s the only way to find the really dope shit
, musically speaking. You hear something you like, you go see what it is. Talk to the DJ
after (or even before) his or her set. Many DJ’s are quite friendly, enjoy feedback and interaction, and like helping someone else get involved. It justifies the massive amounts of time and money they’ve wasted on their addiction
. Addiction loves company
, you know?
This is the only point I’ll make about hardware, mostly in rebuttal to Mr. Tunney’s comments. Yes, the Technics SL-1200 MK2
turntable is industry standard. Yes, it is a mouth wateringly sexy piece of hardware
. If computers were designed as well as this turntable, we’d all have pocket supercomputers that never crashed or lagged, that are waterproof, and could be used to hammer nails into concrete all day long. The SL-1200 is just that good. They’re tank
s. You can (but don’t!) stand on the platter
, hit the play button, and it will slowly begin to spin you up to 33.3 RPM
. They are also expensive
. The absolute lowest, genuine verified price I’ve ever seen for them new, in the box, factory sealed was about $400.00 US dollars, each. So, two of those, and a decent mixer will set you back about $1000-1250 US. That’s not including an amplifier
s, slip mat
s, record needle
s and cartridge
s, or even record
s*. Ouch, huh?
(* An excellent friend of mine who really knew what he was doing with these things spent about fifty grand on records in about two and a half years. He could have bought a house, but instead he’s got a bit over ten thousand pieces of delectable
, and top quality experimental acid
, a tiny room packed with records and no bed, and a really crappy car.)
There is a cheaper solution for a DJ rig, and perhaps an even better one at that. Go scour swap meet
s, thrift store
s and pawn shop
s for ANY turntable
that allows pitch control
. Don’t spend more than 10 bucks for it, unless it works exceptionally well and has an intact cartridge, head shell
, and needle
. (A decent cartridge and needle combo is 15-150 bucks, each. Remember you need pairs.) Realistically, you can put together a flimsy little practice rig, with an amp and some speakers, for under 100 bucks. I know, I’ve done it a dozen or so times now, for myself and friends.
And, there’s a hidden benefit to this. If you can learn to mix and beatmatch
reliably on some POS
, sloppy as hell DJ rig
, you’ll rock on a set of 1200’s. You’ll be used to cue
ing your records on some jittery, bouncy floating beltdrive
platter that takes 15 seconds to get to speed. You’ll get used to riding the pitch on some tiny-ass knob that’s nearly impossible to control, and the lag
time from twisting the knob to the time for the platter to compensate accordingly could be counted in multiple seconds. This is actually a benefit.
Imagine you’re training for a triathlon
. You ride a rusty-chained huffy beach cruiser
with halfway flat balloon tire
s. You jog the beach in oversized, untied combat boot
s. You swim in sweatpants
. You train like a madman with this sad excuse for gear. Come competition day, you switch to a 4 pound graphite-composite bike with a waxed drive-train, shoes that are Kevlar-soled sprinters that are weighed in grams and a shark-skin drag reducing swim suit. Suddenly, you’re a god among mere mortals, and after all that slogging you feel like an exceptionally fine tuned machine.
Embrace this, and you’ll be able to DJ anywhere, on anything, with any media
. You’ll never, ever complain about some beat up 1200 with a spotty pitch control, or having to use something other than a 1200, ‘cause the chances are it’s better gear then you’ve got at home. (I’ve met way too many DJ’s that are prima donna
s, and practically refuse to DJ on anything but a freshly unboxed pair of Technics 1200’s. So sad.
A true DJ can use anything and I mean anything. Tape deck
s with speed control
boxes, crappy belt-drive turntables. ANYTHING.
(Sorry, so far, this has turned into yet another tirade about equipment. Without further ado, specific advice about how to DJ.)
Sequence of actions for a basic beatmatch and mix, with a slight focus on the how and why of doing it live
First some statements: For this exercise, we’ll state that Turntable #1 is on the left as you face the rig from the operator’s position. Turntable #2 is on the right, and each turntable is plugged into it’s respective channel
s - Channels #1 and #2, which correspond to the left vertical volume slider for channel #1, and the right for channel #2. This is obvious, but needs to be stated.
We will also be assuming this is occurring in a live audience environment.
Track (X) is playing on turntable #1, and has been playing for approximately 45 seconds. Turntable #2 is empty, the tone arm set aside on it’s stand. By looking at how much groove is left for track (X) to end, and noting how much groove
has been consumed, you guesstimate that there are approximately 4 minutes and 30 seconds of track (X) remaining. You also note to yourself that you actually want to begin and then finish your mix much sooner than that. This is because (A), there is a interesting break
and shift in the patterns of the song in approximately 2 minutes, and (B), track (X)’s complexity of rhythm, sound and melody gradually decrease from said interesting point onward. You note that the dance floor is grinding, and the last thing you want to do at this particular moment is dwindle into minimalist ambience
(Though other times, that would be the perfect break to tease the crowd
with. Just not this time. You just know it’d be wiser to take it up a notch at this point. People are looking at you, wanting more. Some are even waving their hands in a manner that seems to say, “Up! Push it up, please, Mr. DJ man!”, pushing their palms at the ceiling. You know you should usually give them what they want, and occasionally only what they need, else you’re breakfast fodder.)
You go to select your next track, searching with the thoughts in mind of what is in range, what would create an interesting and new sound
with this, and where it is you’re going next. Like chess
. Think as many moves in advance as you can, but be prepare to rapidly adapt and react to the dynamic situation. You’ve found your next track, a terse, simple, almost minimalist
and grindingly bass heavy floor-stomper
Knowing your records, you know the track (Y) you’ve just selected is a bit slower than track (X) that’s currently playing. You know because these two tracks have played together before. Coming up to face the rig after likely squatting on the floor to browse your record bag
, you note the pitch control
slider of turntable #1 is sitting at about +2.5%. You know that track (Y) is about –2.25% slower than track (X). You set the record containing track (Y) on turntable #2, and visually check the state of the mixer
’s controls to make sure turntable #2 is not live, or sending, and drop the needle part-way into track (Y). You also set turntable #2’s pitch control to a rough placement of about +4.75%.
You put on your headphone
s. For this, one ear or both ears is user preference. You’re simply listening to track (Y), ignoring track (X) that’s blaring all about you. You listen for the downbeat
in track (Y), or any convenient rhythmic point you can match to track (X)’s similar rhythm signature. You float your hand over the record on the far side of the tone arm, giving yourself enough room to backslide once you’ve grabbed the edge of the record by simply placing your fingers on the edge of the record and preventing the record from spinning with the turntable. (This may be obvious, but you need a slip mat
You’ve found your downbeat
, and you grab the record. You slide it back and forth a bit, backing the downbeat backwards and forwards under the needle, noting where the beat actually begins in relation to your hand position. You may want to readjust your hold point for easier point finding.
Now you listen to track (X), on turntable #1, continuing to hold the record with the needle resting just before the downbeat you’ve just selected. If you need both hands free, keep holding the record and slap the start/stop button, waiting for the platter to stop completely, and leaving the tone arm in the groove.
If you have a pre mix cue
on your mixer, use it. (We won’t get into that here. I’ll assume if you have it, you can use it.) If you have monitor
s near your rig, you’re lucky. If you have none of these, you’re listening to track (X) on the PA
speakers. Keep one ear in the headphones, and one ear out there listening to track (X). (Some people find one ear works better than the other for each task. Remember, each ear sends to a different hemisphere of the brain.)
Prepare track (Y) for cueing, one hand holding it, the other hand on turntable #2’s pitch control.
On the downbeat of track (X), release track (Y) to synchronize
the two downbeats. You sort of toss the record forward in time, helping the record accelerate rotationally from 0 RPM to somewhere near 33.3 or 45 RPM
You should immediately have a hand on the pitch control
of turntable #2. If you’ve gotten a good synch off of your release, it might not be apparent immediately which way turntable #2 needs to be adjusted.
Adjust and tweak, adjust and tweak. Your goal is a beatmatch between the two turntables and records that stays within 1/32nd of the song’s beat for more than 8-24 measure
s without adjustment of either of the turntable’s BPM via the pitch control, or touching* the record. This is a solid beatmatch
, especially if you can leave them alone for most or all of the song, and they stay more or less in synch.
(*In house/techno, touching the record is baaaaaad. It creates unattractive warping of the music in both tone and tempo. This doesn’t include scratching
, but most house/techno DJ’s rarely scratch. See Hip-Hop
. This brute force tempo adjustment is called “pushing” and “pulling”, IE, to manually force the record faster or slower. If you need to do this a lot, especially during a mix, you need to practice with the pitch control more. Note that “pushing” and “pulling” are different than “brushing” or “dragging”. Brushing and dragging a very fine, temporary adjustment of the turntable’s RPM by lightly spinning your fingers in the label area of the record to advance the turntable slightly, or lightly dragging your fingers on the label or rim of the turntable to decrease it slightly.)
Ok, so you’ve got a rock solid beatmatch set up, and you’ve done all the preceding in thirty-seconds to a minute’s time, right? Now it is time to play.
Tracks (X) and (Y) are synched nicely. You’ve matched your volume level
s without bringing track (Y) in yet, channel #2 is live, but the crossfader is still far left at Channel #1. You know that that interesting break is coming up in track (X) shortly, so you want to start teasing
track (Y) into the mix. Although at this point theoretically, and if it was what you desired artistically, you could simply toggle
back and forth like a hyperactive pong
game in time to the beat
, neatly splicing
track (X) and track (Y) into single beat slices for each track. Sometimes this rocks. Generally, it is to be used sparingly, and with great flourish, style and confidence when it is. In this instance, we’re going to do a subtle
and convoluted variation
of your basic, and simple, 1 to the 2 crossfade.
Listen to the tracks. What would complement track (X) from track (Y)? Softly bring those parts in, manipulating
the crossfader to the right a bit, in time with those parts of track (Y). You’re painting bits and pieces of track (Y) under track (X) at the moment, because you’re not taking the crossfader over more than 10-20% into track (Y). (Once (Y) breaks 51% on the crossfader, it is now over track (X).). Tease it and work it.
You’ve come to a bit in track (X) that’s reminding you that that break is just a few measures away. This part of track (X) has the bass kick drum and all accent percussion fall away, leaving only the melody for about 12 measures of it’s signature. You begin to bring (Y) in, firmly and heavily, timing it to reach about 50-50% on the crossfader as the break in track (X) arrives and (X)’s percussion falls away. The beats mix nicely as you’ve teased it in, and you’ve kept it all in synch with brushing, dragging or slight pitch control touches if at all. Track (Y) takes over the percussion of mix, but the melodies of each track are mixing together still.
Doing bridge gaps like this can be tricky. There’s no reference
other than the melody
from track (X), and sometimes you don’t even get that. Here’s where you earn your pay for the evening. If you’ve synched the two records rock-fucking-solid, they’ll give you no trouble, unless the music itself changes pitch*. If not, you need to pay serious attention to what is going on. If they fall out of synch, and track (X) comes back in with a beat over track (Y): Congratulations! You’ve just train-wrecked in front of 3,000 now annoyed dancers! Stay on top of it. It’s like trying to stand and balance on a bowling ball while playing with a yo-yo.
(*This happens, a lot, especially in trance
, goa trance
, or psychedelic trance
. those songs routinely change tempo mid song, and particularly on breaks. Watch for it. Also, it’s easy to train wreck
. Drop a record on each table, don’t bother to synch them, and play ‘em at the same time. Train wreck
So lets assume you’ll be clearing the breakdown gap in synch, and with ease. You let track (Y) ride solid at about 50%. As the beat that’ll come back in on track (X) approaches, you bring the crossfader almost all the way back over to 100%/0% on tables #1 an #2 respectively. On the measure
comes back in on track (X) slam the crossfader back to 50%/50%. (Either know where to stop, or put your free thumb down in the center of the crossfader to slam the crossfader handle into as a stop.)
Play with (X) and (Y). Maybe do some toggle switch cutups or ping-pongs. Play with the EQ. Have fun, work the crowd. Tease the crowd.
Stylishly and artistically fade all the way into track (Y). When you’ve reached 0%/100% on the crossfader, drop channel #1’s volume control to 0%, lift the needle and tone arm off of track (X), and put track (X) away in it’s sleeve and/or your record bag.
You’re done! Select the next record for turntable #1. Repeat the above with interpretive
June 6th, 2001 UPDATE:
Though this article was originally written here
, specifically for E2
, it now has been published with my permission also at eklipzemagazine.com
, in the June, 2001
issue now online. (And only slightly
edited, whoot!) I've insisted on my credit byline containing my alias
, and a mention of everything2.com
as the original source. Hopefully this is a good thing.
If not, my profuse and advance apologies. I believe the editorial power structure here will hold, regardless.