The Art of Mixing (notes) Active Listening: It's one thing to hear music; it's another thing entirely to listen to it. This means focusing your attention so you can begin to absorb a song's melody and structure. "Our brain relies on triggers, such as the end-of-phrase markers, vocals or even just looking at the different heights of the waveform to help you remember the structure of a song. Meaning that a song contains multiple cues that help you determine where you are. Once you familiarize yourself with these cues, you'll start to access them subconsciously. The key is to listen to the song's structure with an active ear, and to pin down such elements as the melody, the hook, and the start of a new phrase. By training yourself to pay attention to each element and what comes next, eventually you'll be able to navigate your way through the different sections of a song instinctively. Other considerations for song analysis is the Tempo (BPM) energy, texture, & instrumentations. Song Structure 1. Intro "Best In All songs have a specific beginning point. Some simple consistent beat, some with immediate vocals. The "Best In" is usually an impact or ID point of the song. In other words, the segue/mix has an impact point that creates energy or becomes easily recognized. An intro is typically a multiple of 16 beats in length, and often introduces a new instrument or sound every 32 beats. Some intros open with drums and gradually add layers of instruments. A buildup or other aural cue lets you know it's over. 2. Middle: a. Verses: In songs with lyrics, each verse is usually different from the next. The verse sets up the theme of the song and builds a natural progression to the chorus. b. Chorus: This contains the main message or theme of the song. It's built around a melodic "hook" and is the most catchy and energetic part of the song. c. Breaks: This is a transition from the end of the chorus to the beginning of the next part of the song. Dance tracks tend not to include percussion during the breakdown. d. Bridge: This is an optional transitional section near the end of a song, most often in pop music. A bridge will occur only once, and musically and lyrically it's different from the rest of the song. 3. End: Songs also have specific places to stop or change songs called exits. Cold or fade down to simple beats. The most obvious exits are found at the very end. Less obvious exits can be found in the middle of a song. Some songs the outro is the same length as the intro. Beat Counts / Phrases: When listening to a song, it can be analyzed & counted into blocks of 8. Most song choruses will have 32 bests or four 8 counts from beginning to end. Phrases A phrase is a segment of music, whether a melody or a rhythm, that has a complete musical sense of its own. Put more simply, it has a natural sense of structural completeness a beginning, a middle and an end. For example, you might hear a synth melody that repeats multiple times. Each repetition is probably a phrase; it usually consists of 32 or 64 beats (8 or 16 bars), but it can be shorter. It's like a sentence, where each beat is like a word. Each phrase begins with a unique element, like a cymbal crash or the start of a melody. From a listener's standpoint, this is a cue that the songwriter or producer has left for you to discover, so you know where you are in the track. Once you get used to thinking about beats and phrases, and their place in song structure, you'll notice that almost all the popular music in the world follows the formula we've described above. It just feels comfortable and natural. And once you can identify end-of-phrase markers instinctively, you won't need to count out beats and phrases; instead, you'll feel it when the music is about to change. Dance music is generally produced in groups or phrases of 32 beats. You'll typically hear a new musical element at the beginning of each phrase. Again, it's important to listen carefully and actively to identify the elements of each song you're mixing. You should almost always start a new song at the beginning of a phrase in the outgoing track. Train your ears to recognize a new phrase, and you'll know when to start the mix. In general, it's a good idea to mix out of the chorus so the crowd hears the most familiar part of the song, and then continue your momentum into the next track. The first verse of your new song should start as the chorus of the outgoing track is ending or fading, so that your mixes feel natural and blend seamlessly together. If you don't pay attention to the overall phrasing, you run the risk of your mix sounding awkward and forced. 4/4 Time Signature 32 Count = 8 Bars 1 2 3 4 8 16 32 Timing and Song Length Once a DJ understands the song structure, he/ she must learn to anticipate and use good timing when mixing. Timing can make or break the immediate response of a song. Knowing the music in detail, a DJ can pick the perfect spot/time to mix (edit or play out.) If a song is played out too long, it won't matter how well the next song is mixed. Types of Mixes 1. Slam: (aka "dropping on the one") The idea here is to match the bpm of the incoming song with the song that's playing (through your headphones). When the outgoing song is about to end, the DJ "slams" the incoming song in time with the outgoing song while simultaneously cutting the outgoing song's volume (there's no beat riding). The DJ slams the first beat (in 4/4/ time) of the incoming song where the first beat of a break in the outgoing song would have been. 2. 32 In & the 32 Out: This is the most common type of mix heard on commercial radio mix shows. The DJ will match the bpm of the incoming song with the song that's playing (through the headphones), and then when the outgoing song goes to break, the DJ will start the incoming song in time with the outgoing song and gradually bring the crossfader over. The DJ will beat mix a total of 32 beats before the crossfader's volume is completely pushed over (so that the incoming song's volume is at full level). Many remix services, such as Hot Tracks, design their intros and breaks for this type of mixing. It is conceivable to mix a "16-in-and-16-out" (or even shorter mix), although the DJ risks sounding unprofessional. a. Vocal to Vocal, Vocal to Instrumentation, Instrumentation to Vocal 3. Harmonic Mixing: Is not only matching beats correctly but beat matching in the right key. You can harmonic mix simply by understanding / knowing your music. With enough practice and learning your music inside and out, you will know which tunes go together and which ones don’t. To really master the craft of DJing, it is very important for you to put the time, patience, and effort into learning about harmonic mixing, because that will add a complete other dimension to your mixes. Harmonic Mixing is an advanced technique used by top DJs all over the world. By mixing tracks that are in the same or related keys, harmonic mixing enables long blends and mash-ups. The goal is to eliminate key clashes. Harmonic mixing consists of two elements: knowing the key of every song that you play and knowing which keys are compatible. Good timing is the magic that keeps people dancing, builds and maintains energy. It's great to know how to beatmatch without the aid of computer software, but phrase-matching is actually a more important DJ skill. Understanding phrasing helps you know when to start mixing out of the track you're playing and into a new one, so your mix sounds seamless. Mastering the skill of proper beat matching will set you apart from all others. Some may say that your not a real professional DJ unless you know how to match beats correctly.
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