Expanding Your Sound Palette

Expanding Your Sound Palette

Everything that you can hear could be considered to be music. At the heart of it, DJing is about playing back tracks that people want to hear (duh),  but how about learning to DJ by controlling the overall ambient sound in the room, too? Atmosphere is the name of the game, and not every set has to be back-to-back bangers. Break out of the mold by looking for alternative sound sources and expand your DJ sound palette.

Foley

During the leftfield electronica boom, artists like Shigeto started popularizing music that was interleaved with everyday sound recordings. Keys jangling, birdsong and ambient noise often interplay very well with sparse electronic beats. While you’re scrolling around for your next track, stick on a recording of ocean waves in the background for 30 seconds and see what the crowd thinks. Breaks can be so tasteful. Creating real moments allows you to connect with the audience.

Vocal samples

We’ve all heard tracks where a monologue vocal sample plays back over the break. It’s usually someone with something wise or thought-provoking to say. Often the sample originates in the distant past, and the audio quality is clearly lo-fi. Moments like this might allow an audience to stop and take in the message. If you listen to podcasts or talks and something relevant appeals to you, consider including it in the next break between tracks. But do it sparingly and try to keep it targeted at the audience you’re serving. DJing isn’t a platform for you to air your own views on life!

Performance

Playing a live instrument with your set is arguably the best way to create extra energy. People go bananas if a DJ can also play along to the track. But you don’t have to learn an instrument to create moments. You might consider adding some intriguing, easy-to-play percussion to the music. For example, hang some wind chimes alongside the gear and run it through your delay effect. Bring a small radio and scan the dial for different noise sounds. Even a contact microphone can add to the vibe. Extreme as these suggestions may be, they create talking points and the perception of artistry in your work. And they often sound cool, too.

YouTube

Software allows for serious creativity in blending music and all other audio. With a strong idea, you can make a blonde kid sound like a purple demon. And what a joy it is to have a hotline to basically every piece of music ever published and more. YouTube can be thought of in many ways, and one of them is as an audio source for your own creations. This type of open-source DJing is a matter of finding the sound that appeals to you the most and integrating it into the music you like the most. Learning the artform is as simple as that.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ

Compression: Part 2

Compression: Part 2

Compressors used to all be physical rack-mounted devices, but are most commonly used as software plugins like VSTs today. Compressors are super-useful devices for smoothing out volume spikes, giving quieter sounds more punch and presence. You’ll find a compressor on almost every main audio bus in a modern mix. They’re an indispensable part of recorded music. Learn to DJ with compression tricks by checking out some of the parameters you’ll find on your DJ program’s onboard compressor.

Attack

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Attack and release parameters are concerned with the time during which the compressor is active. Changing the attack will change how quickly the compressor kicks in and begins reducing loudness. Both attack and release are measured in milliseconds (ms). An attack value of 0ms means that the compressor begins to work as soon as any incoming audio reaches the threshold. Low attack is good for punch in drum sounds. A higher attack value allows a certain small time interval before starting to work. This is good for vocals and organic sounds, which might sound unnatural if they’re too ‘instant’.

Release

Release uses the same principle, but applies to the end of the incoming audio rather than the start. A release value of 0ms means that the compressor will stop working very suddenly. In fact, it will stop as soon as the audio dips below the threshold, and not a millisecond later. You might hear a noticeable dip in the sound level. This is useful as a way of cutting off drum and percussive sounds that do not need to linger in the mix after they’re done playing back. But at higher release values, the sound fades away more gently. Again, this is better for vocal and natural sounding instruments.

So, while threshold and ratio are concerned with volume (amplitude), attack and release are concerned with time. At 0ms, the signal would sound like a mute knob has been pushed. At higher values, it would sound like a volume knob has been turned down. How quickly depends on the value in milliseconds.

Knee

A knee is also a time control. It controls the suddenness with which the sound is compressed as it approaches the threshold. Like the attack value, it changes the start point of the audio by making it smoother or more sudden. But unlike attack, it actually anticipates the incoming audio, beginning to smooth it out even before the threshold is reached. A softer knee means a smoother sound while a harsher knee means more abrupt changes in volume as the sound dips and jumps around the threshold value. Make sense?

There’s plenty more to learn about DJing and using compression in your productions and performances. Make sure you get the right info from the pros by signing up for a DJ course online today.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


Compression: Part 1

Compression: Part 1

Let’s start with the basics. A compressor is an audio device which condenses the dynamic range of a signal. Using a compressor, loud sounds get reduced in volume while softer sounds get raised. Most music heard today contains compression, particularly on vocals. Learn how to use compression and take your DJ career to the next level.

How does a compressor work?

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We use compressors to make changes to the sound’s amplitude (volume). Usually to make it more punchy and louder in the mix. Compressors allow you to fine tune a few key settings in order to control changes to both the amplitude and time of the signal as it passes through. All of those knobs on a compressor have different duties. Let’s look at what some of these knobs do.

Threshold

The threshold knob is a gatekeeper. When it’s set to 0dB, the full signal is allowed through unchanged. But as you turn it down (towards negative infinity), more of the audio gets processed. So the threshold is just a way of determining the volume level at which the audio begins to be processed. The lower the threshold, the more of the audio will be compressed.

Ratio

So, let’s say our threshold ‘gatekeeper’ allows everything under -12dB through to the next stage. What happens next? Well, any audio above -12dB is then due to be compressed. How compressed? That depends on the ratio. Ratio is the strength of the compression. A gentle ratio might be 2:1. This means that for every 2dB of audio above our -12dB threshold, only 1dB will make it through. The rest gets squashed! So if we the ratio is 2:1, 2db of signal louder than the threshold is only ‘worth’ 1dB. What’s the point of this function? Remember, a compressor is great at making loud peaks and spikes softer and more pleasing to the ear.

Make-Up Gain

Like most audio devices in a chain, compressors have an option to raise and lower the gain once its job has been done. Gain is the most simple and common parameter in audio processing. Remember, a compressor typically makes loud sounds quieter and more consistent. It reduces spikes in the mix. As a result, the overall sound is usually quieter after passing through a compressor. Make-up gain simply allows you to turn it back up to match the levels in the mix.

Most DJ software includes the ability to add compression to a mix. It’s tempting to crank it all the way up, but do be aware that too much compression makes a mix sound lifeless and flat. Find the balance by learning how to DJ with care and confidence that your mix is sounding good. Sign up for a DJ course online today and kickstart your DJ career!

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


4 Myths About A Life In DJing

4 Myths About A Life In DJing

There are about as many myths about audio engineering as there are people with a copy of Traktor. One definition of audio engineering is the art of taking a finished track or composition and preparing it for commercial release. This means paying serious attention to the mix and the room in which it’s mixed. So let’s take a look at a few popular falsehoods that have been around for too long.

Myth #1: Macs are better than PCs

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It doesn’t really matter whether you use a Mac or PC when DJing. Macs tend to make DJs look more expensive and cooler. But let’s put that unwelcome level of superficiality aside. Event bookers and audience members aren’t that easily swayed by your image. It’s got far more to do with what you play, how much you enjoy it and how in tune you are with the crowd. That said, there are time-worn differences between the two. Macs do tend to be more reliable in a live setting, while PCs have the advantage of customizability and software accessibility. Most of the hardware components in both camps are manufactured by the same companies. This means that you’re often only paying for a different casing and operating system, not speed or hard drive space. Whatever you choose, get the most out of it. While you’re learning the art of DJing, don’t let your current machine get in the way of your current workload.

Myth #2: Egg cartons absorb sound

Let’s get something clear: egg cartons on the wall do very little to dampen internal sound reflections. The fact that they look like corrugated acoustic foam is where the myth starts and ends. There is very little absorptive property in the empty spaces they create. Only very dense material has the effect of stopping waves from bouncing around a room. Curtains or blankets do a better job than a bare wall. But the ideal for a DIY approach would be proper corner-mounted convoluted traps. The quality of your mix is directly related to the quality of the acoustic treatment in your room.

Myth #3: Proper mixing is expensive

Not any more. As software has become more affordable and accessible over the past 20 years, home recording has blown up. Around the world, there are audio production spaces that rival the studios run by the golden era major labels in terms of production output quality. Sure, there is a reason film scores and big productions aren’t mixed on a pair of Rokit 5s. But the general state of the art is that the top 10% of studios (measured by expense of equipment) aren’t exactly providing audio production value that dwarfs the competition. The status associated with procuring their services might explain inflated budgets. Bottom line? Unless you’re buddies with Armin and Tiesto, don’t part with your hard-earned cash too quickly. There are plenty of freelancers out there with the gear and expertise you need. Form relationships with them.

Myth #4:  Popularity is the only way

Don’t be fooled by the hype. The hype claims that the only way for you to create a career as a DJ is to write a banger, top the charts and hire someone to field the daily overload of lucrative inquiries from around the world. It’s mostly untrue, and a powerful myth used to sell unnecessary equipment. Instead of competing with hordes of impressionable others, start looking for gaps in the system. Where do people require music that aren’t receiving it? Get good at writing business proposals. Don’t be afraid to approach local live music joints, bars, restaurants and event organizers. They’ll want to see videos of you in action. Make sure that every time you have a crowd, you get a video of it. This sells you like nothing else. Popularity doesn’t always win you the business. But a positive work ethic, reliable reputation and a solid selection of music might.

A good chunk of making a name for yourself as a DJ is learning how to get around these types of entry-level distortions and do what works. If you’re serious about learning to DJ and produce audio, sign up for a course today.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


Getting An Edge With Vocal Tracks

Getting An Edge With Vocal Tracks

Let’s face it. Tracks with vocals perform better in the charts and on the dance floor. Lyrical vocal tracks encourage people who aren’t into dance music to join the groove by providing them with a hook, a feeling or a phrase to latch on to. Signing up for the DJ game means using the methods that work. Techno heads might be there for the sound system itself, sure. But if it’s numbers you’re after, getting a vocal into your production is a good idea.

Make it female

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Regardless of where you fall in the gender spectrum, female vocal tracks are more popular and in demand than their male counterparts. We won’t get into the reasons for that here! So find your local upcoming singer and start offering her a part to play in the production of your next track. You might have to hunt a few different options. Sometimes collaboration is like that. You don’t always hit a good working relationship right up front. But collaborate anyway. But be persistent and keep the intention to create a hot vocal track alive. Something will come of it.

Make it trained

There’s a difference between someone who can sing and someone who is trained. The difference is not so much in the quality of the vocal delivery. Trained singers have higher expectations. They are generally more professional, arriving on time and prepared. And, most importantly, they’re less in need of coaching and reassurance in the studio. Nobody wants to work with an inexperienced artist or someone subject to the dreaded ‘red light syndrome’.

Make it yours

Making a name for yourself. It’s what we’re all after, isn’t it? But for DJs, it’s especially difficult. We need our own stuff. We need to have tracks that others don’t have. We need to be in the know. So create a sound around your work. Start by recording your own vocal samples. Tune them, layer them, pitch them and compress them until they sound fat. Then invite a singer around to collaborate. Write out parts. Don’t expect gold to just land in your lap. Listen to music that isn’t dance music for inspiration. How about the passion of a tango track to inspire your next techno track? Either way, the recipe is simple: make your own stuff. Copy only as much as you need to. It’s the only guarantee that nobody else has what you have.

Make it good

Production quality and the controversy around the loudness war is a fierce debate. Pop and dance music producers are particularly obsessed with the ability to make a track sound loud and good across a range of systems. But within this art, the art of meaningful composition can be a little lost. So focus on writing good melodies and lyrics above production quality. Especially when you’re starting out, and you’ll probably only hear your music on mobile phones and the occasional, run-of-the-mill PA system anyway. Make people want a song because of its memorable content, not it’s polished packaging. It is more likely that you’ll get requests for a good but poorly produced song than you will for an excellent production with no spirit or soul to it. Do the best you can with what (and who) you’ve got. And when you’re done, write another one.

Making your tracks stand out starts with good songwriting. Not a songwriter? Doesn’t really matter. Collaborations with songwriters, musicians and especially singers is a great way to leverage your skills into great tracks. Sign up for DJ classes today and pick up more tips from the pros.

John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ.


Practical Advice For Students Of DJing

Practical Advice For Students Of DJing

Like a crowded bazaar, the marketplace for DJing is saturated. There simply isn’t enough space for everyone to gain opportunities to raise their profile by performing to the ‘right’ people. Yet time after time, new DJs emerge with a ‘started from the bottom’ approach, expecting that both financial and creative success is simply a matter of time. But there’s one question every new student of DJing should be asking themselves: what is it about me that makes the people care? If you haven’t answered that one yet, here are some alternative approaches to the cookie-cutter approach.

Get the gig

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How have the world’s best DJs made their name? Regardless of how you decide what ‘the best’ means, it was probably through a combination of good taste, charm and luck. But one thing is certain: all of us are a dirty MP3 rip or a speaker fail away from losing the gig. There are armies of others pushing up to take your place at the table. You need to be unique and indispensable to your community. Even when they’re offering lower pay or a kids birthday party, you want to be the first person they call. The gigs you don’t want to do are the ones that enable you to do what they want. Let your surrounding marketplace subsidize your passion. It’s still better than a day job.

Do the admin

Nobody really wants to act on the following piece of advice, but those who do want to learn DJing for real and follow it have an advantage. Here it is: for every hour you sit on YouTube getting ‘inspired’, you’ve lost an hour of practice. The idea that you’re going to make a name for yourself as a DJ without doing a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work is a little bit poisonous. DJing is as much about curating databases and libraries of files and clients and social media schedules as it is about playing music. The music is the fun part, which fuels the excitement for everything else. Without it, there’s no career. Remain inspired by it, but get your business set up as early as possible, if a career is what you’re really after.

Gear up

Unlike most other art forms, mastery of DJing is about mastery of technology. No matter how outstanding your taste in music, there’s nothing stopping someone else from playing the same exact setlist besides you getting the tracks first. Get to know the gear inside out. If you’re a laptop DJ, practice on turntables. If you’re decks, practice on controllers. Find new ways of making your set interesting. Nicholas Jaar plays a ghetto blaster at his events. It doesn’t have to be that offbeat, but certainly expand your range. Always remember, though: the gear doesn’t make the DJ. The music makes the DJ.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.


Alternative Approaches To DJing

Alternative Approaches To DJing

Some DJs make a name by their music selection alone. Some are outstanding producers. Some employ stage gimmicks in combination to the above. Some don’t stop at playback, and create mashups, remixes and live performances on the fly. Some employ whole instrumental ensembles. Whatever approach you take towards learning how to DJ, you’ll want to stand out. Check out a few examples of non-traditional DJ methods that have put selectors on the map.

Be discerning

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In this pretty cool interview, Lena Willikens describes how even the smell and temperature of the room can influence her track selection. It’s a great example of following your own judgment to create an identity out of your track choice. As you develop a sophisticated taste, communicate it clearly. You are the one that the people look to for advice on what’s hot and worth listening to on a week-by-week basis. Keep an eye on the charts, but spend as much time as possible crate digging and finding the music that fits your personality.

Technology selection

Technology plays a huge part in the arsenal of the more alternative DJ. Your choice of weaponry says as much about you as your music choice. And with the options available to DJs today, even a little technical understanding will take you a long way. From the technical overkill of Daft Punk to the simplest laptop setup, the level and character of technology you harness will say as much about you as your track choice. You’ll probably find yourself lumped in to one of a few camps. But labels like hip hop, techno, house, EDM don’t really matter. Becoming a DJ is about how you use the gear.

Live performance

Having a pair of bongo drums or a guitar on stage with you is a great idea. If you’re able to enlist a friend or even play it yourself, you should seriously consider it. There are still enough solo, non-instrumental DJs in the world to make a bit of live action a massively intriguing part of your set. You don’t have to be this guy and play twenty instruments (you are a DJ, after all), but get some percussion in there and watch the difference it makes to the crowd.

Advancing your DJing skills and reputation means learning the DJ trade by going the way that the others aren’t going. It’s not rocket science. Pretty soon, whatever is trending becomes boring. Start looking for alternatives to the norm and position yourself as someone original as early as possible. You’ll feel the difference in the satisfaction with your work.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

Playing The DJ Long Game

Playing The DJ Long Game

Most DJs wouldn’t consider themselves students. Maybe it’s because people always treat DJs as really cool people. DJs generally appear to be people in touch with the party scene who have interesting friends and stories from backstage. So many DJs ride the wave of popularity for doing something that’s in vogue with the a minimum amount of effort. But they’re not the names that you remember five years from now. Here’s how to stay in the DJing game long after the others have given up.

The big picture

How do you financially succeed as an artist in the 21st century? First, you make sure that what you’re offering is required by the community you aim to serve. Whether it’s local weddings in your city, club nights all over your country (or even the world), do what people want. Not only what you want. Also make sure you’re steadily building up a body of work around what you do. You need to be releasing mixes regularly, yes. But also capturing cool video from your events and editing it in a unique style that says something about what you do.

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Don’t act cool. Be cool.

Talk to people at your events. You might not like to consider yourself staff, but if you’re being paid to do any job in entertainment, the host of the event will always prioritize his or her guests over you. Here’s the truth: you’re there to serve an audience, not to gain new fans. Spin the right numbers and express your own personal taste. But you’ll need to put the needs of the audience first if you’d like to continue working with that booking agent.

Say please and thank you

The band leader for Beyonce isn’t a DJ. But she’s at the top of the game. Her advice is to be humble and have a good attitude when dealing with event promoters and industry people. She reminds us that being really talented is only one facet of an entertainer’s appeal. Many very talented artists have lost out on work to less talented people who are more of a pleasure to work with. Keep in mind that having a huge following makes you a hot item, but also that word gets around.

Level up

Getting good takes time. ‘Fake it till you make it’ is a useful way of bluffing your way into higher profile gigs. You are almost expected to promise the clients the most banging party every before you’re totally confident that you can deliver it. Thas bidness! But lucky breaks aside, it’s the experience that high-profile clients are after. The knowledge of how to handle difficult guests, tech trouble and other unexpected meltdowns. See your career as a DJ as just that - a career. A direction. Make sure you’re slowly improving over time.

Finally, remember that learning to DJ requires staying on top of trends and being realistic about what the industry demands of you. Don’t try too hard. Just take your time. There will always be people around you who appear to be doing less work and receiving more rewards for it. They are the ones that are not always around five years from now. Stay humble and keep working to improve your art. Sooner or later, it becomes evident where the good stuff is.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.


Riding DJ Trends

Riding DJ Trends

Keeping up with what’s hip is a big part of being a DJ. The crowd wants to hear what they know. While there is room for experimentation at some types of events, DJing is primarily about combining music that’s in vogue with music that you think should be. Tricks like harmonizing your tracks, EQ sculpting and creative crossfading are the icing on the cake, but you really should be thinking more about what music you’re playing than anything else. Here’s how to get the crowd going by changing your vibe from wannabe to ‘with it’.

Keep an eye on the charts

Make regular visits to your music providers of choice. Generally speaking, by the time the music has hit the charts, its time is up. In the past, songs stayed in the charts longer. These days, a hit song’s shelf-life is a week or two. An upcoming DJ helps songs to become popular by hearing what’s being played at hip events and by choosing their next track with ultimate discernment. If you’re in a pinch and need a crowd-pleasing set, head over to Beatport and download the Top 20. If you’re out to make a name as someone with a bit of a refined taste, dig deeper.

Stay in comms

You’ll definitely want to be on a few of your favorite labels’ mailing lists. Labels survive by the power of their reputation alone. That means that when they send out an email, the tracks they choose to push have to be the hottest and most newly available stuff they can find. Trust in this process by finding and following labels which reflect your tastes. The smaller the label, the higher the risk and rewards can be if you stumble on a real hit. The bigger the label, the more you’ll hear everyone else playing the song. Sign up to the artists’ mailing lists too. You’ll want to know when your favorite artist puts out something new. Often it’s under the radar.

Look elsewhere

There are plenty of DJs in the industry looking for a shortcut to success. If that means playing whatever comes up when you Google ‘best dance music this year’, it shall unfortunately be done. But as someone learning the art of DJing, you’ll need to find your own style. That means finding your own music. Enter the sub-culture of crate digging. This doesn’t mean you have to be a vinyl DJ and literally source old records from small retailers. It means looking for music where you might not typically find it. Your parents friends’ houses. Public domain music websites like Archive.org. The private Soundcloud of someone you know. And remember: just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad. Follow your own taste, and treat everyone else’s as a guideline only.

Listen more

Think you listen to a lot of music? Listen to more. While you do, think critically. Learn to analyze what it is about the music that you enjoy. Is it the way the groove isn’t exactly on the beat? Is is the complex quality of the vocal warping? Finding these personal preferences for music makes discovery easier. You’ll stop searching for generic stuff like ‘dance music female vocal’ and start searching for ‘marimba drum n bass’ or ‘vintage rock n roll sample house music’. Getting really specific means knowing what you’re looking for in the first place, and is the only way to discover the true gems.

Becoming a pro DJ is all about making a name for yourself and using that name to serve the needs of your music-loving community. Becoming an artist necessarily means going a little further and being a little more original than those simply in it for the ride. Be inspired!

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.


Short Glossary Of DJ Slang

Short Glossary Of DJ Slang

DJ slang is a language of its own. With roots firmly in the hip hop turntablism of the 1980s, DJ jargon is based on the technical novelties and subculture of the artform. You want to play the part while learning to DJ like a pro? In this fun list, we take a look at a few things you might hear inside the booth.

Bite: To blatantly copy another DJ’s techniques. Big no-no in DJing (example of use)

Break: Part of a song where only the drums play, usually for 4-8 bars. Can be looped or sampled as a springboard for a new track or for an MC to rap over. Sampling the drum breaks from gospel and jazz records formed the basis of early hip hop.

Cans: Headphones

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Crab: A scratch technique named after the shape of the hand as it controls the crossfader or fader. Crab scratching involves using the thumb and fingers to alternately raise and lower the fader, tapping quickly to create a rapid gating effect.

Coffin: massive flight case containing DJing equipment, typically two turntables and a mixer.

Cut:

  1. To lower the volume or EQ gain.

  2. To transition instantly between two tracks without cross-fading.

Downbeat: The first beat of the bar.

Hamster switch: A switch which reverses the crossfader channels temporarily. Using a hamster switch is a common scratch technique to create clear cuts between the tracks.

Hard swap: Quickly trading part of one track for another using EQ. For example, cutting the bass on A while simultaneously raising it on B.

Hot: Loud

“If you aint redlining you aint headlining”: Common yet controversial phrase describing how loudness (rather than selection or technical skill) is the most valuable weapon in a DJ’s arsenal.

Juggle: Turntablism technique wherein musical samples are rearranged to sound like something new. Two copies of the same songs are required. Favorite technique of Kid Koala and many others.

Scribbling: Simple scratching technique where the record is moved back and forward around a chosen sound.

Spinback: finishing a song by giving the disc a backwards finish.

Throwing: Giving a disc a small push to reduce lag time as it speeds up. Critical technique for beatmatching with any skill.

Tip: Speaking in the context of something. For example, “On a breakbeat tip” means “in the context of breakbeat.”

Tag: Two or more DJs performing a set by playing alternate records.

Trainspotting: Annoying practice by wannabe DJs who crowd the booth in an effort to see what track is playing. Trainspotters often interfere with the DJ.

Trainwreck: Failing to match beats, resulting in two kicks playing slightly out of sync. Sounds horrible, but happen to the all DJs at some point.

Hanging out with other DJs is pretty normal when you share a bill, and there’s often a lot of time between soundcheck and show. So while you’re actually learning to DJ, do some reading on the history of DJing and its subcultures and then head out and pick up some cool lines.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

 

4 Ways To Get Good At DJing

4 Ways To Get Good At DJing

Production quality is the difference between a track that sounds hot and a track that ‘has potential’. There are so many ways a mix can sound flat and lifeless, poorly recorded or badly mixed. But if you’re someone who is failing to release your music and mixes because you’re worried they’re ‘only MP3s’ rather than WAVs, here’s some advice: get out of your own way. Here’s how you raise the quality of your productions while avoiding creative blocks.

Dive in

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Stagefright is a common cause of poor performance when playing live. But have you heard of studiofright? It’s when you admire your beautiful decks sitting in the corner of your room but are afraid that if you touch them, your transitions and selections won’t immediately make you sound like Richie Hawtin. Of course they wont! You probably haven’t done the 20 years of hard work required to truly own a sound yet. So if you truly want to learn to DJ well, you’d better get practicing. There’s no other way to get good than to be a beginner. Make friends with unfamiliar functions. Learn keyboard shortcuts. Listen to loads of good music. Keep your drive for DJing alive. That’s really all it takes in the long run.

Keep at it

Everyone who has succeeded has gone through the process of making loads of bad work. Sure, learning to DJ is about gathering mad hype from your promotional efforts. But in the long term, you really want to be making work that shares itself. That means being good, not just appearing to be good. So resist the urge to download the Beatport Top 20 for your next gig and start creating a unique name by creating and releasing music that you (and people like you) might want to hear.

Release lots of music

Become a music release machine. Get good at the admin side of releasing tunes. Automate as many processes as you can. Track your stats and analyze who is liking your stuff. Keep a spreadsheet and make notes of where your most reliable source of music is coming from. Use platforms like LANDR to centralize your work. Something that nobody really tells upcoming artists is that making a career in DJing is mostly about boring, behind-the-scenes work. You have to earn the right to appoint someone else to do your admin. Until you do, it’s up to you. Get good at it!

Break your rules

Artists break rules all the time. The rule that says you shouldn’t layer 50 kicks. The rule that says you need a pair of Adam A7 monitors to make techno or an MPC to make hip hop. Remember, your mind is swimming with products and images of success which have been noisily advertised in order to influence your purchasing decisions. It’s way more important to spend a few hours a day doing the task than owning all the gear. An entire era of sound was created from sampling low quality YouTube rips. Listen to Stimming or Bonobo and hear how lo-fi and basic their sound is at times. Then go and break some rules.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

 

6 Types Of DJs

6 Types Of DJs

Career success is one way to measure DJing, but not the only way. Truth be told, there’s plenty hype around how to create a big name for yourself already. You have to choose your own level of involvement. So whether you’re only starting out learning to DJ or want to raise your profile to the next level, here’s a roadmap spanning the career of a successful DJ.

Bedroom DJ

Leaving the house and performing out and about isn’t top priority for bedroom DJs. At this stage of a career in DJing, the priority is refining technical and track selection skills rather than sharing them with others. Bedroom DJs who want to progress their career should be live streaming and uploading their mixes to Mixcloud and sharing them for increased exposure. Joining forums is also a good idea to spread the word. Focus on positive feedback and ignore trolls. Having a DJ hobby is a great way to keep your creative spirit alive.

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Mobile DJ

The early days of DJing involves getting to know people in the area. But you’re likely going to be playing Top 40 material and stuff with really broad appeal. This is because you have to earn a reputation in order to play exactly what you want to play. A good idea during this phase is to upgrade your equipment. If you’re planning on taking it further, you need to begin looking and sounding pro. That means having all the necessary accessories (adapters, cables, microphone) to be able to problem-solve on the fly. And stay humble. You’re basically there because as an alternative to the house music system. Mobile DJs are still closer to an accessory than a feature until they begin crafting their own sound.

Wedding DJ

Wedding DJs differ in one main respect: they’ve learned how to talk the crowd. Being able to hype up guests is the next skill in being a bookable asset. Rather than being in the background, the DJ booth serves as a focal point during the event. This is where you start getting hit by requests, so you’ll need to be prepared for that. Requests are generally pretty typical, so leave your rare Uzbek folk recordings out of the crate. The money is fairly good and the general expectation is that you’re kept fed and watered.

Bar DJ

The most important thing when DJing at a bar is to have fun. This is not the type of gig where you’re head down in the laptop or decks. You need to connect with people and keep the music choice varied. You’ll definitely be a little more free with the song selection, and the whole evening doesn’t have to revolve around hits, although it will likely end that way. Depending on the length of the gig, you might have time to experiment a little bit early in the evening. Just keep the selection fairly simple. The crowd probably cares a lot less about your taste than their own.

Club DJ

Becoming a club DJ is the holy grail for most aspiring selectors. You have a trusted name and a loyal fanbase, and often have total freedom with song choice. The audience is there for the music and your role has shifted from behind-the-scenes to focal point. This coveted position is worth defending by continuing to refine your skills and taste. The more you play once-off gigs, the stronger your chance of being selected for a residency at some point. From there, it’s a matter of scaling up your appeal and supporting big DJs when they’re in your area. In other words, making it.

Radio DJ

Getting on the radio is a massive shift for the breed of technical selectors known as DJs. It might mean a major timeslot shift, starting with the graveyard. But you get to select what you want to play, and the position comes with some serious respect. Once you’ve done your time in the trenches, it’s a good move to end up with a weekly show on daytime radio. You’ll be able to greatly influence people’s listening choices and will start to get loyal listeners. But if your mission is lights, crowds and nightlife, pick a different path. Keep your music passion alive by signing up for an online course.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ

How To Live Stream Your DJ Sets

How To Live Stream Your DJ Sets

Streaming your sets is a good way to get a few more fans into your taste in music. But the real benefit is that by putting a bit of pressure on yourself to get it right, you simulate real world gigs. So get good by opening your work up to the world and learning valuable DJ skills from your fans’ feedback. Here’s how to live stream your DJ sets to fans.

Keep your setup ready

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It’s important to remove any barriers to your live stream. You shouldn’t have to hunt for cables or download apps every time you want to broadcast your set. Make sure a corner of your room is set up, that there’s a tripod for your camera or phone ready and in position. Make sure the audio routing into your computer, audio interface or phone is prepared. In other words, do a little maintenance so that when you’re in the zone, doing admin doesn’t kill it.

Pick a platform

Chew.TV is built for DJ live streaming. Their about page describes them as “the live streaming platform that connects a community of over 350,000 amateur, up-and-coming and professional DJs, producers and personalities from over 130 countries around the world with an audience in over 190 countries.” You’re able to search by genre and easily create an account to start streaming your own stuff.

Twitch.TV is also an option, but more geared towards gamers and live musicians. YouTube is the most ‘TV’-like streaming service, with audiences generally expecting higher production standard than other platforms. It’s also impossible to get found on YouTube unless you’re paying to promote yourself, and they’re increasingly strict about mature content. Facebook Live is a good place to start. Live streaming (of anything) generally ranks more prominently in your friends’ feeds, and many people are active in the evening.

The technical stuff

To stream a DJ set from your your computer, you’ll need a webcam, a broadcasting app like OBS and an audio connection from your decks or laptop to the computer. This is just a basic overview, so if you’re using a computer then check out other resources that can help you with this setup. You’re also able to use your phone to stream your sets using Periscope and other services.

Grow your audience

The cool thing about live streaming your set is that DJing gives you loads of time to chat to your viewers in between mixes. Unlike playing an instrument, you can perform while engaging your audience by typing. It’s a perfect match! Treat everyone as a potential fan by being friendly and open. Even the one guy who rocks up at 3.30am their time with nothing to say but ‘I’m so high right now’. Besides, more comments means a higher news feed ranking. Growing an audience takes time, so keep your sets regular, post setlists and links after the show, connect with the artists and keep the music fresh! Get better at DJing by signing up for one of our online DJ courses.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ

3 Things That Make DJ Mixers Awesome

3 Things That Make DJ Mixers Awesome

New DJ mixers are released almost on a monthly basis. Making a decision about where to buy can be tricky, especially with such competitive value for money on all fronts. We take a look at what makes a mixer worth getting by checking out a few features that you might want to consider when shopping for an industry-standard DJ mixer.

Sound sculpting EQ

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As pro audio’s love affair with hardware continues, more operators are opting to move away from GUIs and towards parametric EQ. Given that professional DJs’ careers rely on close listening and tweaking live sound, it seems to make sense to stick more EQ curve and amplitude control in their hands. It might hike the budget, but mixers like Allen & Heath’s Xone:96 have included a sculpting EQ function alongside the standard Hi-Mid-Lo filters that will allow for unparalleled control as well as the ability to get creative with filter sweeps. Super-selective boosting and cutting? Check.

Software compatibility

We’re seeing more and more talk about ‘unlocking’ software in 2018. DJ mixer software is no exception. A must-have feature for end user ease-of-use should be the ability to use any audio interface with any bundled mixer software without needing to apply for certification through the manufacturer. This prevents the need to purchase all components from one retailer and promotes competition among brands, allowing you to get the best deal. Other than closed-door inter-profitability which locks out end users (and those studying DJing), there’s no reason this shouldn’t be the case for your equipment.

Kill switch

They’ve been out of fashion for a while now, but kill switches were once the rage of battle mixers. The ability to instantly cut (rather than slowly turn down) the highs, mids or lows makes musical sense in genres like rap, hip hop and drum and bass especially. Like scratching, using a kill switch rhythmically and creatively is a pretty impressive art! Mixers have evolved to suit the needs of more mainstream genres, but having the ability to throw down old-school techniques over old-school sounds will probably make a comeback at some point. But is it worth the surface space? We think so, especially for the abrupt tonal changes in newer genres like minimal tech.

Manufacturing a good DJ mixer is clearly a not something you achieve over the course of a weekend. The most important factor to consider is the needs of the DJ community and balance out cost and functionality to create good value. Start learning DJ tips and tricks today and join the growing and evolving league of global music selectors.

The Shortest History Of DJing Ever: Part 2

The Shortest History Of DJing Ever: Part 2

We’re dropping the needle a little earlier in time. DJing has been around for a while. Why not generate a bit of respect for the artform by knowing where it came from. And more importantly, where it’s goign. Learn more about DJing by checking out some of the highlights in the ever-changing character of the artform.

1980s: Chicago and Miami Own The Night

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In the 80s, a club in Chicago called The Warehouse began one of the biggest contributions to DJ culture ever. Resident DJ Frankie Knuckles’ use of a solid 4/4 beat, simple basslines and almost exclusive use of samplers and drum machines gave birth to a new genre - house. Clubs in Detroit responded by stripping the disco element from the tunes and focusing more on the electronic timbres, giving birth to techno in the process (pretty good piece by Red Bull about this). During this period, DJing conferences started to pop up. Ultra Music Festival was held in Miami for the first time in 1985.

1990s: Day-Glo Nights

The advent of rave and acid house hit the scene in the 1990s. Digital music also began blowing up, allowing a broad base of DJs to begin producing their own records and headlining festivals with celebrity status. Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox, Sasha and duos like The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk became household names at massive festivals. Recorded music distribution was changing, too. and CDs and MP3s allowed more sharing of music than ever. Music production software lowered the barrier to entry for musicians, who now largely no longer needed to learn an instrument to record an album. As a result, electronic music started to take on a far more varied and colorful identity, pioneered by experimental producers like Aphex Twin. In 1998, Final Scratch was released, opening a door to the development of vinyl emulation software which allowed DJs to perform with MP3s and essentially putting an end to the mainstream popularity of vinyl.

2000s - Today: Into The Clouds

Despite its hopelessly antiquated name, DJing has continued to evolve into all sorts of sub-identities. Examples of DJs might also include scratch DJs, controllerists, producers, live performance DJs and, of course, the iTunes DJ. The programs and products have continued the onward march with functionality that allows for performance-oriented sets. Live stem remixing, live mashups, live looping, scratching and instrumental performance are all standard features of most software today. Popular functionality today includes integration with an online database, removing the need to actually have a collection of files, allowing the DJ to select from the cloud on the fly. The fascination with blockchain powered music platforms continues to grow. We’re not entirely sure where we’re going, but it’s clear that we’re getting there fast. Get on board by signing up for a DJ course today.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ

The Shortest History Of DJing Ever: Part 1

The Shortest History Of DJing Ever: Part 1

Dial back the clock. DJing isn’t anything new. From the invention of vinyl records to today, musicophiles have been selecting and building their names by playing back recorded music to wake up the room. Stick around, this isn’t a history class. You just might need to show a little interest in the artform at your next gig. So keep learning to DJ by checking out some of the key moments in the evolving lifespan of DJing.

1800s - 1950: Point Of Origin

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Ever think about why it’s called a track? Recorded sound was invented in 1857 with the phonoautograph, which may have looked like a cement mixer but made history by using a needle to leave grooves (‘tracks’) in sheets of paper. That’s right. The first records were paper sheets! Then came wax cylinders, acetate plates, then vinyl discs. The phrase ‘disc jockey’ only came about in the 1930s, but selectors were spinning records as early as 1909 when a 16-year-old guy called Ray Newby started broadcasting music he’d selected via radio while still in college. But it was probably still a little weird if you went out to a party in the 1940s and danced to a guy playing records instead of a band. But by the 1950s, dance parties and nightclubs playing recorded music were as normal as they are today.

1950 - 1970: Getting The Groove On

Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, gets some serious cred for its contribution to DJ culture. Groups of party promoters started calling themselves ‘DJs’, hijacking the term from radio presenters. They created brat packs of entrepreneurs called ‘sound systems’. Reggae, ska and dancehall fuelled the fire for the dancers at all-night street parties. Speakers were stacked one-storey high, and still are today!) Meanwhile, discotheques continue to pop up around Europe and the United States. Beatmatching also started in 1969, allowing the crowd to dance continually for the first time. Like learning to DJ today, skills and styles started to develop when it became clear that DJing wasn’t just something anyone could do without practice.

1970s: Hit The Streets

Hip hop and disco took off in the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc began throwing block parties in the Bronx of New York City, mixing two identical records to extend the ‘break’ of a song. This was where the technicality of DJing began to command respect from crowds. Turntablism started to be considered an art form, and DJs were elevated beyond mere selectors of popular music. A hip hop DJ called Grand Wizard began revving his audience with a new technique called scratching.  Sampling found its way into electronic music productions. With the blending of hip hop and electronic music, disco music started to take off. Check out a great piece on the history of hip hop DJing.

Coming up: the arrival of warehouse parties, day-glo nights and the digital music of tomorrow. Getting excited about the future yet? Sign up for an online DJ course to join the force of music curation as it evolves.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

Why Pack A Microphone

Why Pack A Microphone

Most people think of a DJ as one of two things. Usually, you're either the guy/girl in the corner of a house party or a super famous Dutch national on a massive stage. Neither of these scenarios involve addressing the whole crowd. But if you’re still learning to DJ, you’re going to need to start taking a mic to your shows. A wireless mic if possible. Here are a few good reasons why.

‘I Lost My Keys’

DJs wear a bunch of hats. If you haven’t had to be a babysitter yet, that time will certainly come. Inevitably, someone who has been drinking will look to you as their saviour and ask if you can address the crowd to help him/her find their lost phone, keys or wallet. Of course, nobody’s going to blame you if you don’t have a microphone, but you’re a polite helpful person, right? And besides that, it’s a good opportunity to show how awesome you are by helping out the poor lost soul in front of everyone. Small things like that make an impression.

Speeches

Forget the impromptu crowd address. DJs are most often responsible for technical requirements, too. This is wearing the sound engineer hat. The wedding or birthday client has a schedule of events they’ve been planning since the early 1840s. The speeches follow the pre-drinks music. Make sure you deliver on the technical requirements and ride that gain knob throughout the speech. The crowd might struggle to hear a quiet speaker but when the loudmouth best man comes out guns blazing, you’ll want to be on hand to prevent mass hearing loss.

Teaming Up With An MC

Everyone and their left hand is a MC or rapper, innit? But some of them are actually good. Maybe you’ve heard a local artist’s stuff on Soundcloud, and now he’s at your party. Passing a mic over to him/her could be an absolute hit and quickly revive a dying party. But obviously don’t bend to pressure. It’s one of many possible mistakes. If some guy is really bugging you to rap, it’s probably not worth it. Rule of thumb? The DJ invites the MC on, not the other way around.

For DJs and (students of online DJ courses), having a mic on hand is a pretty good idea. It’s a show of professionalism and also puts you right where you want to be - in control of the room. Pretty much all mixers have an input for a mic (so bring an adapter if needed). And one more tip: don’t flash the mic around. Leave it in your bag if you don’t need it. The more people drink, the more they long to be a karaoke star. And whoever’s going through your system, make sure one hand is ready to cut the gain.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

3 Tips On Using DJ Effects

3 Tips On Using DJ Effects

Using software effects while DJing is about more than just slapping a reverb or flanger on the mix at a random time. Like transitioning and EQing, effects should be practiced and used sparingly to create significant moments in your set. Check out a few tips for using effects effectively.

Saving your effects

Learning to DJ generally begins with beatmatching and transitioning. Effects usually come a bit later. So when you’re ready to start customizing your effects, here’s a tip. The more time you spend preparing your set, the less time you’ll spend mousing around while DJing live. The ideal set is one where you don’t touch the mouse even once. Effects can be saved. Traktor has a great way of preserving your effect craftwork. The ‘Save Snapshot’ feature will allow you to keep tweaking but return to your favorite effects groups whenever you want. Your library of saved effects shouldn’t contain anything that you don’t use pretty regularly. Otherwise you’ll spend time hunting for something on your drive when you could be checking out the crowd. Customize your library. More prep means more fun.

Effects by genre

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Marcro effects are a combination of two or more effects. In Ableton Live, they’re auto-mapped to the 8 knobs of your APC controller. In Traktor you can select from a list of awesome macro effects to bring fun and interesting combinations of space and modulation effects to your set. These effects are generally pretty whack and out the box, and the tendency is to overuse them. So, you’ll want to use them at appropriate times and for appropriate genres. Beat-masher and loop-slicer effects tend to work better in musical genres which have bigger gaps (silences) in the beat. Unlike deep house, which generally uses sustained harmonies, genres like rap and dubstep contain more aggressive rhythms and breaks. For these styles, it’s more appropriate to use beat chopping so that you can take advantage of the play between silence and sound. For smoother styles, reverb build-ups and space effects work better.

Resetting with effects

DJing dance music is about phrasing, which is being aware of where you are in the 8, 16 or 32-bar loop. Along with performance EQing, effects can help you sound great when you use them to demonstrate that your phrasing is on top form. Use effects during the last 2-4 bars of your phrase and cut them off for the start of the next phrase. This is called a ‘reset’ or a ‘palette cleanser’ moment. For example, use a filter sweep or a reverb tail at the end of the phrase and cut it off harshly in time for the drop. If it’s a well known track, using effects in this way informs and reminds your audience that you’re being active and gives them a sense of your musical identity.

At a glance, overusing effects is the hallmark of guys and girls who are learning to DJ and who want to be noticed and have fun more than they want to curate a background vibe. Whichever side you identify with more (and both are cool), use effects in your set appropriately and watch the crowd come alive.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.

Getting DJ Effects To Work

Getting DJ Effects To Work

It matters what order your effects are in. Going from a reverb into a flanger will sound pretty different to the other way around. Thankfully, you’re able to reorder effects to suit your needs. Let’s take a quick look at a few tips when learning to DJ with effects.

Space effects

Space effects are reverbs and delays. They’re used for creating massive buildups. These are technically time-based effects, which repeat a part of a single signal at a later stage to create the illusion of an echo. Traktor has some awesome delay options, and with a little practice you’ll be able to use them to create really uplifting transitions. But remember to cut the lows when you’re really heavy on the reverb and delays. Low end reverb tends to sound really muddy and actually takes away from the cavernous sound you’re trying to create. Rather let the mids and highs do the work. Generally speaking, don’t throw a delay on a kick drum. It clutters up the mix.

Modulation effects

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Modulation effects make the sound move. Technically, modulation just means interacting one signal with another. The signal can even interact with itself. The flanger effect, for example, takes whatever is playing and shifts it slightly out of phase, allowing it to interact with itself and creating a wetter, more tonal version of itself. Flanger might be one of the most overused DJ effects, so pick your moments carefully and make them magic. But online DJ courses can only give you information. The proof is in the pudding, so keep practicing and watch the crowd.

Group effects

The whole idea is to create something usable. It’s actually pretty rare to crank up more than one effect to 100% at a time. Definitely don’t hammer out four effects on max! It might sound super weird and interesting, but the crowd usually isn’t there for creativity or spectacle. They’re there for a good night out with a solid, smooth selection of tracks. Practice restraint until you really know what you’re doing and can see the reaction in the crowd. Give your favorite artist a listen and hear how seldom they actually use the effects. Rule of thumb? Keep ‘em special by using them sparingly.

Effect tails

Creating a tail is a great way to transition. There are typically three control knobs: On/Off, Dry/Wet and a variable parameter which could be something like Decay/Length/Time/Rate. An effect tail allows an affected signal to decay or ‘ring out’ naturally, rather than being abruptly cut off. So, try it out. For this, you’ll need to make sure post fader level is enabled. Post fader ignores whether the volume fader is up or down. Now, during a transition, turn the reverb for Track A on and take the Dry/Wet up to 50%, Set the decay time to 10 seconds. Then then start mixing in Track B. When it’s time to cut Track A, stop playback (or let the track finish on its own) but allow the reverb to continue overlaying Track B until it decays on its own. You can do the same with delay. In combination with the tempo matching of the two tracks, the effect is a much smoother and almost mysterious sounding echoey transition.

Once you’ve got a solid tracklisting, there’s a whole world to embrace when using effects to augment your set. Rule of thumb? Modulation effects (flangers, phasers) first, space effects (reverb, delay) last in the chain. And, as always, keep an eye on the crowd.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.


 

The Performance Approach To EQing

The Performance Approach To EQing

Along with the volume faders, the equalization knobs on your mixer are among the most commonly used features. EQ allows you to surgically control the high, mid and low frequencies’ presence in the room. But it is also used creatively to build tension and release. Check out a few techniques to use your EQ pots creatively when learning to DJ.

Hard Swap

A hard swap can seriously stoke the crowd if it’s timed well. A hard swap is when you quickly trade the EQ range of one track for another one. For example, cutting the bass suddenly on Track A while dropping it on Track B. It’s not very common in EDM, deep house, progressive house and trance. Within these genres, it’s more common to do one of two things: either slowly crossfade the bass while running the intro of one track over the outro of another. Or to cut the bass of track A entirely and let the mids and highs run until dropping the bass of track B over them. So if you’re looking for a fun way to bring in a new track, minimize that time interval and see what your crowd thinks about it.

Bringing it back

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DJing typically follows quite a linear format. Track A becomes Track B becomes a new Track A. One underused technique is a throwback. A throwback is when you bring back the bassline or mids of an earlier track. It’s something that should find its way into everyone’s set at least once, especially if it’s a recently released track that’s not too familiar. Or one of your own! The effect is that the crowd tends to perk up because they’ve already been primed by hearing the track earlier. Don’t overdo it, and definitely don’t play back the entire song you’ve already played. It’s just a way to tickle the listening part of your crowd a bit while also showing off some of your technical chops. Pick a track with a distinctive, recognizable bassline that you played earlier. Cut the highs and let it run for 32 bars over your next track. Then plough on with the mix. It’s just a nice little easter egg for those who are paying attention.

Anticipation And Phrasing

Using the high-pass (aka low-cut) filter to cut the low end during a breakdown and create anticipation is one of the oldest and most reliable tricks in a DJ’s repertoire. When will the bass drop? This is the question that stokes a dance crowd. For a DJ, the answer is all about timing. Too soon, and you lose some suspense and hype. Too late, and people start wandering off the floor. There really is a precise, predictable time to drop the bass. It’s almost always going to be an increment of 8 bars from when you cut it. So, either 16 bars, 32 bars or even 48 bars for super drawn out suspense.

The important thing when doing this is the length of the phrase. If a melodic or harmonic passage lasts for 8 bars, it’s up to you how long you want to draw it out. But if it only starts to repeat after 16 bars, dropping the bass in the middle of the phrase might have the effect of losing your audience’s attention. The majority of your audience wants predictability, not creativity. Execute the most time-worn tricks until you’re in the position that you’re surrounded by a regular audience which is asking for something more personal.

For students of online DJ courses who are starting out with performance EQing, it’s better to practicing mixing if one of your two tracks is a glue track. Glue tracks generally don’t have a lot of harmonic content and therefore mix well with a broad range of other tracks. They’re mainly rhythmic, easy-going and allow you to focus on EQing the other track while they ‘hold the fort’ in the background. Get good at matching the sounds of two tracks. And every so often, throw an elbow. The audience is there to dance, but also to see what you’re up to. Give it to ‘em!

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.