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DJ Mistakes: Mixing

So we all know that the most important thing a DJ has to do is supply the very best music, programmed in a way that will facilitate a sublime musical journey that creates a genuine sense of community for all concerned. Easy. However, once the DJ has got all that stuff nailed, they must mix it all together, using whatever technical ability and technological help they can muster.

Luckily for us, sync technology has now pretty much ended the familiar ‘person falling down the stairs’ sound of someone truly crunching up a mix into a train crash and you are unlikely to hear that kind of mistake unless you’re at a vinyl-only night. However, despite how technically simple DJing has become, you do still occasionally here DJs make mistakes in the mix.

  1. Having the tunes synchronised, but not in time – ie: the kicks are matching, but the claps or snares are not. It’s such a simple mistake, but do it to a big room and you can throw several hundred people off their dancing game at once. If it happens to you just pretend you meant to do it. This advice can be applied to pretty much any mistake you make whilst DJing, and if that’s not an option, frown at the sound engineer and move on. 
  2. Awkward, lumpy, or sudden transitions – DJs have an entire suite of tools and techniques to ensure a smooth blend between tracks, so there’s really no excuse for poor transitions – use that EQ, filter, and volume controls, and listen hard to what you’re doing – just because the tunes are the most important element it doesn’t mean that any other element of DJing should be neglected. Strive for excellence Grasshopper! Making two (or indeed more than two) tunes work together is one of the most exhilarating moments you’ll get when DJing, and when they’re really complimenting each other, it can lift the energy in a room to new levels – just a tweak here and there and you can take the roof off. It’s always worth bearing in mind the words of underground stalwart Mr C, who famously said that the best parties were where the crowd didn’t cheer the breakdowns, they cheered the mix.
  3. Key clashes – Key clashes happen when a pair of tracks are in musically uncomplimentary keys and sound horribly discordant. Key clashes are not so much a mistake as unfortunate proof that at least the DJ is not playing a pre-planned set, because surely no one would plan to mix two tunes together that sound so horrible. If you find yourself in the key clash zone when DJing, you just have to get out of it. I’ve heard many a DJ try to tough it out, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the screwed up faces of their dancers as the melodies of one tune completely ruin the chords of another, carrying on the mix as though it’s fine. But it’s not fine, it sounds horrible.
  4. Power failure – One of the worst thing that can probably happen to a DJ is to completely turn the mixer off by accident – either by somehow accidentally hitting the mixer power button or pulling out the power supply. You usually get a couple of seconds where all you can hear is the whir of the lighting rig and the chink of glasses from the bar, before the crowd erupt in whoops of faux applause. Always a great moment.
  5. Pressing the wrong button – Specifically, accidentally pressing play on a CDJ that’s already playing. When you do this, it plays a quarter second loop of the tune like this “BABABABABABABABABABABABABA”, which is obviously amplified over the club sound system and makes everyone jump out of their skin. There really are only so many times you can frown at the sound engineer in one gig, at some point you might just have to accept some responsibility and try to put the blame on one of your mates instead. 
  6. Overusing FX – Who doesn’t love FXs?  Even the words themselves – Phaser, Exciter, Flanger – sound cool. And the swirling face-melting sheen that a decent ramped up phaser can put on a tune is a lovely thing. But keep an eye on the crowd – like many things in life FX need to be administered carefully and with restraint, or you risk quickly becoming an FX bore. Always leave them wanting more, rather than wanting less.

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