Did you just buy your first set of turntables? Are you learning how to mix? Have you been working at it for a few months but still having trouble breaking through to that clean beat match? This article assumes that you already understand how to beat-match and mix but could use some advice to help you execute both. Included here are some of the mistakes that you probably didn't know you were making.
In 2001, I began to teach DJ beat-matching and mixing technique through private one-on-one instruction. After teaching dozens of students, I was surprised to find that they shared a common set of mixing-style mistakes that I had rarely heard discussed, even among experienced DJs. Since then, I have worked with hundreds of students at the NorCal DJ and Music Production Academy in San Francisco and have synthesized these relatively unknown technique problems to a short, critical few. Work on the tips below, and you will find yourself free to focus fully on beat matching and mixing.
TUNE IN TO THE MASTER
It is a familiar scenario for beginners: You have the master record rocking out of the main speakers, and you drop the first beat of the cued new record to listen to it in your headphones — but you just cannot tell if the cued record is faster or slower than the master record. Often, this is because you cannot hear the master record clearly enough for one of three reasons.
The monitor is not positioned correctly. This is a common mistake made by both beginning and experienced DJs. First, be sure the monitor speaker (or one of the main speakers if you only have one pair) is directly facing your open ear and is also at the same height as your ear. If you do not have speakers on stands, safely secure your speaker at ear height and pointing toward your open ear.
The master volume is not turned up loud enough. Many beginning DJs express insecurity about their skills by practicing quietly, sometimes even sending each mix back and forth at lower and lower volumes. Be sure your master record is not playing too quietly. It is difficult to beat-match and mix quietly, so switch the master volume from a whisper to a thud.
The headphone-cue volume is drowning out the master volume. This is the most common reason that you may have difficulty beat-matching. When beat-matching, it is easy to become preoccupied with listening to the cue record: turning up the volume on the headphones more and more and listening primarily to the cue record. Reverse your focus by turning down the volume on your headphones in relation to the master record playing in your open ear so that the cue record is slightly quieter than the master. Experiment with the volume ratio to find the combination that works for you.
YOUR TOUCH ON THE TEMPO
Your technique while touching the cue record or platter to manipulate the tempo may also need some fine-tuning. The most common technique used to speed up the tempo of a record by hand is to push it faster using a finger on the label, and the most common technique to slow down the tempo of a record by hand is to drag a finger along the side of the platter. While doing either of these during a beat match, many beginning DJs tend to not use enough force to create a change in tempo.
To perfect that force, play just one record out loud and practice speeding it up with your hand until you can hear it play faster but not so fast that you cannot count each beat. Then, practice slowing the record down with your hand until you can hear it play slower, but don't push so hard that you stop the platter. This practice will get you used to the feel of speeding up and slowing down your record by hand.
GET A MENTOR
Sure, maybe you have buddies you spin with, but nothing can top having a seasoned veteran by your side to answer your questions and give you their attention as you practice. You want someone who will serve as your teacher, advisor and counselor: your mentor.
Although beat matching and mixing require dedicated, individual practice, a mentor can provide encouragement and constructive feedback. To find someone you would be comfortable having as a mentor, get active on e-mail lists or Web forums that connect you with someone in your area, or go to events that feature the genre of music that you like spinning best. Keep your eyes open for someone whose style you respect and — this is very important — someone who is not only articulate but also able to describe clearly the finer points of his or mixing style while giving you advice.
Once you find someone you really connect with, then ask if he or she will be your mentor. Choosing a mentor is not a process you should rush, and it is unlikely someone will agree to commit time to you if you just ask out of the blue. If you are not able to connect with a mentor, a handful of cities across the country now offer DJ instruction at schools such as NorCal DJMPA in San Francisco and Scratch DJ Academy in New York and Los Angeles. Visit the school and talk with an instructor to check out the professionalism and experience of the staff.
If you are serious about your craft, find a mentor. Then, tear out this page and stick it on the wall near your decks. Give these tips a try, and with practice, you will bring the beats under your command.