Once you have your DJ consol set up ready and you have started the never-ending obsession of collecting music, the next step is to become familiar with the basic principles of mixing. The idea of mixing is to join records so that the music plays continuously rather than as separate tracks. To begin with, do not worry too much about beat matching (except you are feeling exceptionally confident). Instead try to get used to the main functions of the turntables and the mixer and with the idea of moving between the 2 selected tracks.
Cuing up a record is simply finding the start point from where you can begin mixing. Often this is the first sound you hear, but not always so it would be wise to choose a simple House record that opens with a strong beat to start with.
Listening for the cue point (Fig.1)
-Push the fader up for the channel you are playing on, and the crossfader to the correct side.
-Start the record's rotation with the start / stop button.
-Place the needle on the outer rim of the vinyl surface.
-Wait until the music starts then press start / stop to halt the record's rotation.
Lining up the cue point (Fig.2)
-Slowly wind the record back until the first beat slips by in reverse.
-Place hand on the vinyl (usually half way between the outer rim and the label at 8 o 'clock)
-Without applying too much pressure to the holding hand, use the other to start the record's rotation again. (The platter should still be spinning without resistance, but the record should be stationary).
-Manually push and pull the vinyl so that it passes back and forth over the first sound (cue point) and then in your own time release in place of one of the forward pushes.
Now repeat the same technique, but try to do it without stopping the record's rotation between listening and lining up the cue point so that the platter is in constant motion.
"I am the one because I know where the one is!" (Bernard Perdie- Drummer)
Some records do not start on the down beat or even with a beat at all! These are harder to use as the cue point is not as easy to define. It is important to listen to records before you try mixing it so you begin to hear the places where you should try dropping it in.
Anacrusis (Up beats)
Anything that precedes the down beat is called an anacrusis (up beat). Imagine a record of the children's rhyme "The Owl And The Pussy Cat"! If you recite this poem, the strong down beat is on 'Owl' not on the first sound which is 'The'. This means that 'The' is an anacrusis. Your cue point on this hypothetical record would there before have to 'Owl' in order for the rhythm to flow correctly.
Sometimes an anacrusis can have several sounds before the down beat, so listen carefully to where the emphasis falls. Usually in Dance music, this is accentuated by the kick drum.
Many records open with rhythmicly unaccompanied pads, synth stabs, keyboards or basslines before the entrance of the beat. You can deal with this in two ways. Firstly, play through the intro until the beat comes in then cue it up to the downbeat. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, try to listen through the record to see how the instrumental elements fit around the beat when it is present, then return to the start and cue up the record. Imagine the beat of the tune as you remember it and then release the record in its correct place so that the instrumental groove fits along to the drums that are accommodating it in your mind. (This is obviously much harder to do and will require a keenly developed sense of internal rhythm).
On a mixer, you have two main fader options. The channel faders (often called 'up-faders') and the crossfader (Fig.3). The up-faders control the volume of each separate channel, whereas the crossfader moves between the channels passing from one to another with a 'mix' in the middle.
It is probably best at this stage to use the up-faders with their preliminary curve from silence to full volume as the 'blending' faders and the crossfader as more immediate 'switch' between the two channels (assuming your mixer enables you to alter the crossfader curve). This is not a compulsory way of having the mixer set, but if you put a gradual fade on the crossfader, you will have the 2 kinds of fader doing the same job rather than fulfilling separate roles.
As well as setting your crossfader to a sharp curve, also ensure that the channels are properly assigned to the two sides. On mixers with more than 2 channels, you will need to design each channel to a particular side of the fader. If you do not do this, or leave the crossfader assigns off, you will not be able to use the crossfader to cut from deck to deck.
Before learning how to beatmatch, you should practice fading between two records in the way that the original DJs did before blending became precalent. You are likely to encounter some rhythmic clashes (known affectionately as 'train wrecks') while perfecting this particular technique, but try not to worry too much about this for the time being.
Fading between two records
-Cue up two records (1 on each turntable) then start to play the first record with the crossfader over to the relevant side for that channel. (Step1)
-Bring the up-fader for the second channel down to zero.
-When the first record has played for a certain amount of time, move the crossfader into the middle and start playing the second record. (Step2)
-Grally bring the up-fader for the second channel up whilst simultaneously bringing the up-fader for the first channel down until the second record is all that is left.
-Move the fader over to the relevant side for the second channel and stop the first record (Step3)
You have just completed your first mix! Now try to cue up a different record on the original turntable and repeat the progress from channel 2 back to channel 1.
It is advisable to choose, if possible, sections of a record where the track breaks down to its musical elements only (ie no drums, but strings / pads, keys etc.) for uncomplicated fades. Even without beatmatching, this will result in a more natural blending of the two records.
Beatmatching was first introduced by the early Disco DJs such as Francis Grasso, Steve D'Aquisto and Nicky Siano. As the equipment improved, this technique, rough at first, became perfect. Another major step in the history of beatmatching was the introduction of music that used beats manufactured on a drum machine rather than live breaks where drummers' beats were subject to fluctuations in tempo.
On modern turntables (both vinyl and CD) and on software programs it is totally possible to beatmatch with 100% precision. This is one of the principal skills that needs real practice in order to perfect. There are very few people (even trained musicians) who succeeded the first time, so do not be discouraged by any initial failures. You will not be the first or the last person to produce some real 'train wrecks'! Some superb DJs have taken months or even a couple of years to perfect the technique of beatmatching. It is also fair to say that your progress will be very helpful if you team up with a friendly and patient DJ who can already beatmatch. This DJ 'buddy' will be able to show you where you are going wrong, and how to correct the mistake!
Varispeed Controls On Turntables
Fig.1 shows you the basic varispeed functions of a typical turntable. DJ turntables enable you to alter the speed within the margin of + 8 / -8%. Some turntables extend this to + 16 / -16%, but a record played this far away from its original speed will not sound at all good! The varispeed slider controls the pitch in a smooth gradient between these two extremitudes.
You should start by experimenting with the effect this has on the sound of a record. The further into the minus speed you go, the slower the record will play. The key will drop (approximately by a whole tone eg G to F), vocals will sound deaf and more ponderous. In contrast, as you more into the plus speed area, the faster the record will spin. The key will move up (again by roughly a whole tone eg from G to A) and any vocals will sound higher and chirpier.
Records will either run at 331/3 rpm (revolutions per minute) or at 45 rpm This is usually dependent on the length of the track. 45 rpm gives a louder and more detailed cut, but will only allow a maximum of 8 minutes of music per side. 331/3 rpm is quieter and slightly less defined as the grooves are closer and smaller, but allows more running time.
The red strobe light located below the power switch has little use in practical mixing terms, but it is a good way of checking whether the motors of the deck are working properly. With the platter spinning at 0 speed, the largest set of dots will appear stationary. At -3.3, this will be the outer set of dots, at +3.3 the 2nd inner set and at +6, the innermost set. The target light shines across the path of the cartridge and allows you to see the progress of the needle as it moves through the track. All records play from the outer rim into the spindle with the exception of a bizarre early 90's Techno record by Reece called Funky Funk Funk (Network Records 23) that plays from the inside out!
Beatmatching Two Records
There are numerous analogies for beatmatching two records together; one of the best being the idea of two cars driving along a motorway. One may be a VW Golf, and the other a Peugeot 306 (different makes and looks but similar vehicles). The aim is for both cars to drive side by side with their front bumpers in parallel. In order to do this, they will each need to concentrate on their speed in comparison to the other. If one starts to pull away, it will need to come back into line or the other will need to edge forwards to match it. Pre-planned acceleration and agreed speed will help, but extremely it will come to the use of eyes and feel.
Now replace these two cars with two records of a similar style (House vs. D & B is like a VW Golf vs. a Ferrari!) With one on each turntable. The aim is now to align the beats and bars of the two records so that they are riding in parallel (Fig.2).
The two records above are beatmatched. Notice how the beat count and all the elements of the drums are falling in exactly the same place; kick for kick, snare for snare and hat for hat. Even allowing for variance in the tonal sound of these elements (ie Record 1 might have a snappier snare, more hollow kick or tinnier hi-hats) these two beats would mold into one.
Headphone Cueing (Fig.3)
-Take two records of a similar style (House is recommended as it will almost certainly be 4-to-the-floor) with a strong, simple beat at the start.
– With the crossfader over and the up-fader at full volume for the relevant channel, start to play the first record.
-Switch the headphone cue to the second deck and begin to play the second record.
-Find the cue point for the second record and manually hold the record ready for release.
You will be listening to Record 1 through the speakers and Record 2 in the headphones. To compare the two, have one headphone cup over one ear but take the other cup off.
Comparing Records Ready For The Mix (Fig.4)
-First listen to Record 1 whilst holding record 2 in readiness (This is a little like a relay runner waiting for their partner to give them the baton before they take off on their own stint).
-Release Record 2 in time with the downbeat from Record 1.
-As the two Records spin together listen between 'headphone ear' and 'speaker ear'.
Starting To Beatmatch Two Records
Assuming you are not sufficient enough to have chosen two records with exactly the same bpm. (if this is the case reselect a different tune- this lucky mistake will not help you to learn the art of beatmatching!), there are two possible scenarios.
The first scenario is that Record 2 will start to pull ahead of Record 1, which means that it is a faster track. The second scenario is that Record 2 will begin to fall behind Record 1, which means that it is a slower track.
The bpm difference of the two records will decide how quickly this happens. If Record 2 is only 1 bpm faster or slower than Record 1, it will typically glide out of sync. If the difference is greater, they will fall out even within half a bar. Several seconds later they will be fighting like Tom & Jerry armed with pots and pans!)
Scenario A Record 2 Is Faster (Begins To Pull Ahead Of Record 1)
Fig.5 shows you what happens when Record 2 is faster than record 1. Notice how, since starting together, Record 2 is moving through the beat count and (unexpectedly its hits-points) faster. By the end of the bar, Record 2 is out of sync with Record 1.
In order to correct this situation, you need to do two things.
Correcting The Pitch Of A Faster Record (Fig.6)
-First manually restrain Record 2 so it comes back into line with Record 1. This only requires you to stroke the record against the flow, not actually pull it back. You may wish to apply light pressure to the side of the platter where the strobe dots are.
-Secondly, move the varispeed slider back so that the record is now also spinning a little slower than before. (You have to estimate the amount required. Sometimes you will change the speed too much or not enough requiring you to repeat the process).
Scenario B- Record 2 Is Slower (Begins To Fall Behind Record 1)
Either because it starts out slower, or because you have overstepped the mark in correcting a faster record, Record 2 way start to fall behind (Fig.7). Notice how, since starting together, Record 2 is moving through the beat count (and probably its hits-points) slower. By the end of the bar, Record 2 is again out of sync with Record 1.
Again, in order to correct this situation, you need to do two things.
Correcting The Pitch Of A Slower Record (Fig.8)
-First manually push record 2 forwards so it catches up with Record 1. This only requires you to gently encourage the Record with the flow, not actually shove it forwards. Too much push and it will lurch ahead.
-Secondly, move the varispeed slider forwards so that the record is now also spinning a little faster than before. (Again, you need to estimate the amount required. Sometimes you will change the speed too much or not enough requiring you to repeat the process).
You may well need to perform the above steps numerous times; each time becoming more and more accurate until you hit the correct speed. Correcting the speed to match the beats of two records is a process of elimination; trial and error until you have it.
Sometimes you will end up with the two turntables spinning 10% away from each other; other times the difference may only be%%
Even when you think you have the two records running in sync, you will need to keep focusing on the beat alignment incase one starts to drag behind or pull ahead of the other.
Performing A Mix (Fig.9)
When you are happy with the result, bring Record 2 in using the fading technique. If you have got it right, the two records will be mixed as one. If you have gotten it wrong, they will clash in an alarming way! Every DJ has done this many times, so do not worry. Simply re-cue the records and have another go! Often it is sensible to re-cue anyway so that you can choose a good place to drop your mix.
It is advisable at all stages to keep the headphones on your head so you can reference the second record as you mix it in. Many DJs lose a mix because they take their headphones off just as they bring it in. Unless you are very experienced at 'ambient mixing', this is a foolish thing to do. You may well correct the speed of the wrong record if the mix starts to slide out, therefore making the clash worse!
Remember, beatmatching is a challenge, so do not be disappointed if you struggle to mix two records at first. It takes time, and when you finally get it, you will have every reason to feel that you have achieved something!