DJing and mixing

  • Find out what technology is needed to DJ.
  • Listen to examples of top DJs including Joris Voorn, Peggy Gou and Euphonique.
  • Explore key concepts of DJing such as mixing, cueing and scratching.
Watch DJ Jordss talk about how she started mixing music and how you can too!

DJing is the art of mixing two or more tracks together.

It emerged in Jamaica, the USA and the UK in the 1960s and 1970s with DJs mixing vinyl records on sound systems and at parties.

You can listen to some DJs mixing music on these BBC shows:

DJ equipment

  • Vinyl record decks. The first DJs used vinyl records and some still do today.
  • CDJs - mixing CDs is a popular alternative to vinyl.
  • DDJs - DJ decks that play digital audio files (eg. MP3, WAV, AAC) - carrying music on USB sticks is an easy way to transport thousands of songs.
  • A laptop running software containing a collection of songs.
  • Phone apps mixing streamed songs.

One key function that all types of equipment have is the ability to change the tempo of the track. This can be done without changing the pitch. This means you can speed up or slow down tracks so that they can be mixed together more smoothly without clashing (or clanging, as DJs sometimes call it).

DJ decks

Mixer

Whatever equipment you use, it will usually have a mixer which has:

  • Volume faders - for each track to fade in or out.
  • Cue control - so you can decide which track you want to play next.
  • Crossfader - to blend between two pieces of music, controlling what the audience hears out of the speakers. Normally moving the crossfader from left to right will blend from one track to the other. When in the middle, the crossfader will let both tracks play out loud.

Headphones

Headphones are essential so that the DJ can hear different pieces of music to what the audience hears. For example, the DJ will be listening to the next track on their playlist and getting it ready while the audience is still listening to the one currently playing. This is called cueing.

Using a mixer

Sound system

A sound system is something you connect the mixer to so you can play the tracks out loud. These are usually speakers which can allow the audience to hear the tracks clearly. The early pioneers of DJing, especially Jamaican artists, were famous for their sound systems, combining their decks with huge speakers.

A sound system at Notting Hill Carnival.

Key techniques

Mixing is the process of using the decks, mixer and headphones to blend one track smoothly into the next. Usually this is done by changing the tempo (or speed) of the second track to match the first and then using the volume control, crossfade and EQ to blend them together.

EQ (or equalisation) is an effect which allows you to control the amount of bass, middle and treble - or the low, middle and high parts of the track the audience hears.

As well as mixing records for the dancefloor, some DJs add turntablism to their selection. Turntablism is when DJs combine techniques, like scratching and juggling beats, to transform their turntables into an instrument in their own right. They create new sounds and performances from the records.

Listen to these examples of DJs mixing music

Listen to Incident by Joris Voorn. In this track, he mixes his own composition with The Reese Project’s The Colour of Love.
Listen to It Makes You Forget (Itgehane) by Peggy Gou. She mixes her vocal track with synthesiser, bass and percussion tracks (among others).
Listen to Glow by Euphonique. In this drum and bass track, the fast drum beat contrasts with the slower melodic vocal line.

Try DJing

The key to being a DJ is knowing your music and being able to keep the audience or dancefloor happy. This is called ‘selection’ and most DJs agree this is really the key to being a great DJ.

Try finding a collection of tracks that you want to mix into a DJ set. Look for tracks that you think would work together, that maybe have a similar style or tempo, and that you think would work well if you played them in a party or to a group of your friends.

Now try blending tracks if you can. There are many different free apps or software that can be used on a computer or mobile phone. Once your selection is ready, play it for your friends and see what they think.

Keywords

KeywordDefinition
DJingMixing together records live.
crossfaderA tool that blends between two pieces of music, controlling what the audience hears out of the speakers.
EQEqualisation - the part of the mixer that allows you to adjust the amount of the bass, middle and treble you hear from each track.
turntablismUsing the turntable to create new sounds with the records.
selectionChoosing the right tracks for the audience, to create a great experience for them.

Next steps

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