by Rob Clark
Rob Clark Entertainment, LLC
I. The Premise we get paid, not just to play music, but to create an atmosphere an atmosphere that is conducive to people getting up on the dancefloor and getting involved. The typical crowd at a wedding reception is not likely to be the type of folks who are out at the dance clubs every weekend. People generally feel awkward when dancing. We should, therefore, try to do everything possible to create a comfortable and energetic atmosphere on the dancefloor. Smooth, seamless segues from one song to the next without any awkward pauses, dead air, or difficult transitions are most helpful.
Whether it is recent dance music, dance classics, oldies, Motown, rock, swing, or country, EVERY dance set can benefit from beatmixing. It is NOT just for club music with a heavy bass beat.
At private parties (yes,
even wedding receptions), we should try to use as many helpful tools as possible
to help create an atmosphere of dancing and celebration. There are all sorts of
tools that we should use such as:
- solid music programming (knowing what to play and when in order to create the best response)
- reading the crowd - good MC skills to be able to shape the atmosphere that the couple wants
- experience with wedding protocol so that you can take care of the behind-the-scenes issues smoothly so that the bride and groom are never even aware of the careful coordination that is going on
- appropriate sound system for the size of the room, number of guests, etc.
- appropriate lighting to help create more visual energy to compliment (not overtake) the atmosphere
- etc., etc., etc.
The list of important and useful tools could go on at length. One skill, that I DO think is very important, is being able to create smooth segues and seamless transitions between songs. Far too many DJs mis-use their microphone by talking over bad mixes. Far too many DJs have no clue about beats per minute of their music and end up sending their dancefloor crowd through all sorts of unnecessary hoops trying to keep up with the beat of the new song.
The fact is, people dance to the beat. They move their bodies to the beat. It stands to reason then that if the beat is going to change from one song to the next, the people on the dancefloor will likewise need to stop, listen for the beat of the new song, adjust their body movements to the beat of the new song, then start dancing again. That adjustment is enough to send some people, who might already be uncomfortable dancing, back to their seats to "sit this one out." I don't want to provide any such excuse for the crowds on my dancefloors.
That means that EVERY song -- regardless of the musical style -- has a BPM that should be taken into consideration when picking out the song to follow. It does not ALWAYS need to be the exact same beat. It might be somethat that is a jump UP in BPM (to create a jolt of energy). It might be something slightly higher in BPM that IS beatmixed on the 32 count to help the people on the floor continue dancing without interruption. There are all sorts of skills that DJs need to be good DJs. I personally feel that beatmixing is a critical skill that is not the most essential but certainly belongs on the list.
Let's look at some of the definitions of terms, getting into the basic elements of mixing, then outline some sources for further inforomation.
Definition of Terms
Before we can even get to the interesting stuff, we all have to be speaking the same language. Here are a few terms we should know as we discuss beatmixing.
Bar - Individual time divisions in a musical score, represented by vertical lines on the staff, are bars. Each bar normally contains the same number of beats and are also known as a "measure."
Beatmixing (also referred to as: beat matching, beat synching, hot mixing, mixing) - The art/skill of bringing the beats of two different songs into phase with one another and fading across. For example, if the song the crowd is hearing (song A) is 118 beats per minute (BPM), and the next song you want to play (song B) is 122 BPM -- you either slow song B down to 118 BPM using pitch control, or slightly speed up song A and cue it up to the beat. When you are ready to bring the song B into play, "throw" the CD (i.e., hit the play button on the "1 count") so the beats stay aligned and listen to it on your headphones. Listen to the two songs play (song A through the speakers and song B in your headphones) for at least 32 counts to ensure that they are in sync.
If they are not, use the + and "Pitch Bend" buttons to gently speed up or slow down song B in your headphones. Once you are sure things are in order, use your cross-fader or individual channel controls to let the new song blend into the old one, and eventually go completely across so only the new song is playing. This will give the illusion that the song never ended. Once you get the hang of getting beats into sync, you will quickly find many more interesting ways to fade in and out of songs.
Beats Per Minute (BPM) - The number of beats during one minute of a song. An identifier of a song's tempo. To calculate this, take a stop-watch and count the number of beats in 60 seconds (or count for 30 seconds and double the number). See software section below for tools that you can use through your computer. Some mixers have this feature built into them as well, providing a digital read-out of the BPM of the songs on each channel.
Cold/ Fade This refers to the type of ending of the song. A cold ending will be abrupt and sometimes dramatic. A fade ending does just that it fades away. When it does fade, the energy decreases as well. So it is usually best not to play songs all the way through if they do fade. At the same time, songs with a cold ending require a quick and smooth transition so that there is no dead air during segues.
Cross fader (alias: x-fader, fader) - A slider control which moves from one input channel to another in a very smooth fashion. The volume on each channel is inversely proportional to each other, so if the x-fader is completely on the left side, you will only hear the input for that channel. Once you start moving it to the right, you will gradually hear the right channel becoming louder. When the x-fader is in the middle, each channel will be of equal volume. As the x-fader continues to the right, the right channel will approach full volume, and the left channel will diminish.
Cueing Playing the music only through your headphones (without the sound coming through your speakers so that the crowd could hear) to find the spot you want to start the next song. Once you have determined the best place within the song to start (most times on the 1 count), you can hit the Play button (or throw the vinyl record) on the 1 count as you are listening through the headphones, and adjusting the speed as necessary in order to line up the beats to the song that is playing through the speakers.
Measure - A measure is a musical notation device that distinguishes a specific unit of time comprised of a fixed number of note values (whole, half, quarter, et cetera) of a particular kind, fixed by the meter and bracketed by two vertical lines across a staff of music. The two vertical bar lines are separated by the distance required by the number of notes contained in the measure. This portion of musical notation does not determine the rhythm, tempo or note values; the measure does contain the notes and various note-types. Tempo, rhythms and note values are determined by time signatures and tempo markings. Each measure of a time signature of 3/4, for example, will contain three beats, one for each quarter note. If a dotted half-note is contained between the two vertical bars, it will receive three beats and the measure will be over. The measure can also contain six eighth notes and a number of different combinations of note-type fractions depending upon the musical context. How fast the respective beats are is determined by the tempo.
Phrase - A natural division in the melodic line, similar to a sentence or part of a sentence. (Usually 4 groups of 8-counts for a total of 32 beats)
Pitch bend - The temporary changing of pitch to get beats in phase. These are the little + and buttons next to the PITCH button on your CD players. This gives you the ability to "nudge" the speed up or down temporarily to get the song on beat. It has the same effect as placing your finger on the vinyl to gently slow it down or speed it up. Once you release the pitch bend button, the song will go back to the current pitch control settings.
Pitch control - The ability of a device to change the tempo (speed) of a song. Essential feature on your CD players if you are going to beatmix. Most pitch controls allow the song to speed up or slow down plus or minus 8 %. (Some players allow plus or minus 16 %).
Key Lock or Pitch Lock- The ability of a device to change the tempo of a song, without changing the key (e.g., on Denon 2500 and Pioneer CD decks). This lets you drastically speed up songs with vocals without a "chipmunk" effect.
Segue - (pronounced SEG-way) -- Italian for "follows," a segue is used to indicate a smooth, flowing transition from one section of a composition to another without any pause or interruption.
Tempo - The speed of a song. Usually measured in Beats Per Minute (BPM).
Throwing - Starting the song in at full volume on the 1 count (the first beat of an 8 count). The term originates from vinyl DJs who have the turntable spinning at full speed while lifting the record off the platter with their finger holding it with the needle in the groove just before the 1 count. When the DJ wants to start the record, he "throws" the record, giving a record a little push when it starts up so there is not any lag time while it gets up to speed. This effect is simpler with CD players that have "instant start" (normal CD players may take a few tenths of a second before a song starts).
II Getting Started
First we need to know the beats per minute of our music. As defined above, the BPM is simply the number of beats in a song in 60 seconds. You can use a stop watch, or, if you would like to take advantage of your computer, you can use a BPM counter (see shareware URL sites in the resources section below).
It is helpful to know the intros of songs and the 8 counts.
8-counts and Phrases
So whats an 8 count?
Let's take a very basic
song that most people will be familiar with, "We Are Family" by Sister
Sledge. Sing the song to yourself while tapping out the beats
We are fam-i-ly......I've got all my sisters and me.....
We are fam-i-ly......Get up everybody sing!.......
These 4 groups of 8-counts form one 32-count phrase (4x8=32 for the mathematically challenged). It's best to mix at the 32 count. In other words, the best place for the new song to come in at full volume will be at the first beat of a new 8-count at the completion of this 32-count phrase. Got it?
Note: in many songs, as in "We Are Family," the first note of the song is not always the first beat of an 8 count. In this song above, the single and album versions have a drum riff that is actually number 8 beat. So if you want to begin matching the beats on the 1 count of the first 8 count of a 32-count phrase, you may want to skip over the drum riff while in cue in your headphones.
Many songs have 32-count intros (32-counts of instrumental track) which make them much easier to mix. With these songs, you can listen in cue to song B through the headphones while song A is playing through the speakers. Once you have matched up song B on the 1 count of the 32-count phrase so that it is in sync with song A playing through the speakers, you can bring the volume up and you have 32 beats to make sure that is right on track. At the end of that 32 count phrase of song A, song B is already at full volume and is ready to take over.
What if the song does not have a 32-count intro? Ive heard this reasoning used by some DJs over the years to say that they dont mix because not all music has 32 count intros. Ive heard others say that you can only beatmix with "House" music or "Club" music. My answer to that is that it does not matter what type of music it is or whether or not it has a 32 count intro. Songs do NOT have to overlap for a full 32 counts to produce an effective beatmix segue. For example, when segueing 2 "oldies" songs, if song A ends cold on the 8 count and you hit song B perfectly on the 1 count so that the beat is continuous, then you have created a smooth beatmix. The same holds true for virtually any type of music, be it rock, alternative, country, etc. Beatmixing is not just for "disco" or "club" music.
Putting Sets Together
Once we know the BPM of our music, it is easier to think about what songs might go well with each other. Generally it works well to group songs together that are of a similar style. For example, if we are putting together an oldies set, it generally works well to put several songs from that same era together. That way, people who enjoy that type of music will enjoy several songs together. Mixing an oldies-song into a hip-hop song into an alternative rock song even if done perfectly on beat -- might not create the desired effect of continuity on the dancefloor. The oldies fans might exit once they hear a hip-hop song. And the hip-hop fans might depart as soon as they hear crunching guitars from an alternative rock song. Granted, in some cases, these types of transitions might be exactly what the crowd goes for. But generally its good to put sets together that are of a similar style.
Here are some examples of songs (and their associated BPM) that might go well together:
Runaround Sue - Dion
& the Belmonts (156)
Let's Twist Again - Chubby Checker (164)
I Saw Her Standing There - Beatles (160)
Great Balls of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis (174)
Rockin' Robin - Bobby Day (174)
Rock Around the Clock - Billy Haley & Comets (174)
ABC - Jackson 5 (96)
Respect - Aretha Franklin (112)
Ain't Too Proud To Beg - Temptations (124)
Sugar Pie Honey Bunch - Four Tops (127)
This Old Heart of Mine - Isley Brothers (127)
Love Shack - B52s (134)
Our Lips Are Sealed - Go Gos (134)
Mony Mony - Billy Idol (137)
Love Shack (134) [then pitching up pretty dramatically to...]
We Got The Beat - Go Gos (156)
My Sharona - The Knack (160)
Whip It - Devo (160)
That's What I Like About You - Romantics (156) [pitching up to match 160, then pitching up more to about 168]
Dancing With Myself - Billy Idol (174) [starting by lowering the bpm to about 168 to match previous song, then after successfully mixing, slowly building the bpm back up to 174]
Dance Classics Set:
Macarena - Los Del Rio (106)
[for those rare occasions I am called on to play this, I usually only play about
60 seconds of the song before quickly mixing out of it seamlessly into the next
song such as...]
December 1963 (Oh What A Night) - Frankie Vallie & Four Seasons (106)
Stayin' Alive - Bee Gees (106)
Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry (108)
Get Down Tonight - KC & Sunshine Band (112)
That's The Way I Like It - KC & Sunshine Band (110)
We Are Family - Sister Sledge (113)
Celebration - Kool & The Gang (120)
Boogie Nights - (120)
YMCA - Village People (127)
Born To Be Alive - Patrick Hernandez (132)
Disco Inferno - Trammps (132)
Recent Hits Set:
Electric Slide - Marcia
Getting Jiggy Wit It - Will Smith (108)
This Is How We Do It - Montel Jordan (110)
1-2-3-4 - Coolio (116)
Now That We Found Love - (118)
Copacabana - Barry Manilow (122)
Don't Stop Til You Had Enough - Michael Jackson (127)
Dropped A Bomb On Me - Gap Band (127)
Pump Up The Jam - Technotronic (125)
Whoomp! There It Is - Tag Team (128)
Progression of BPMs
As a general rule, it is beneficial to transition from a lower BPM song to a higher BPM song. Increasing the BPMs tends to have the affect of creating more "energy" on the dancefloor. People move their bodies to the beat of the music. If the tempo of the music increases, so does the movement on the floor. As the songs tempo increases, people will begin to move their bodies at the same rate increasing the speed of their body movements and their heart rate. On the other hand, if we transition from a higher BPM song to a lower BPM song, peoples movements and energy level will decrease creating the sense of lost energy on the dancefloor.
Note the progression of the dance sets above. The song sets generally move from a lower BPM to a higher BPM. With pitch control, each of these segues can be created seamlessly, all the while gradually increasing the tempo and BPM. If we were to take these same songs, switch the order of them and play them from 120 to 106 to 127 to 112 it would force the people dancing to re-adjust their body movements each time. This can be awkward and might provide just enough of a reason for people to exit the dancefloor. Thats a chance I do not want to take.
This is also equally true for slow songs and ballads. Slow dance songs can vary in BPM from the 40 BPM range to 80+ BPM (generally speaking). The principle of transitioning from a slower BPM slow dance song to a slightly higher BPM slow dance song has the same effect. It is generally perceived as more comfortable to the dancers as opposed to transitioning to a slower song, which would have the effect of dropping the energy level even more.
Taking a Left Turn
"OK, so now that I am at 160 BPM in this dance set, how long do I stay there?" Obviously, your crowd is not likely going to stay out on the dancefloor for an extended period of time if the music is at a high BPM. Folks will get plain tuckered out after just a few minutes of dancing at that tempo. So how do we transition from that? It might be a good idea to change dramatically to a slow song or ballad to give people a chance to catch their breath. Or, we might choose to transition to a completely different style of music that is at a lower BPM. For example, we end up a dance set with "What I Like About You" by the Romantics at 160 BPM. After the last "Hey" of that song, it can work well to transition to something completely different in a hip-hop song (e.g., "California Love" by Tu Pac at 93 BPM); a dance classic (e.g., "Stayin Alive" by the Bee Gees at 106 BPM); a Motown song (e.g., "ABC" by the Jackson 5 at 95 BPM); a ballad, etc. Might you lose some of the folks on the dancefloor? Yes. But that might be OK. After all, we are typically trying to provide a mixture and variety of music to reach a wide audience. Some of the folks might stay on the floor; others might leave. But hopefully we have done a good job of "reading" the crowd to anticipate what is likely to work.
Intro, Outro, and Breaks
So where within the song is it best to mix? As stated earlier, it is usually a better segue if the mix is on the instrumental break and NOT over vocals. Many radio versions and album versions of songs do not have full 32 count intros. This makes it a bit more tricky to have overlapping segues. One of the great tools available to professional DJs is the many remix services. There is a list below in the Resources section which highlights some of these services. These can be invaluable tools to the DJ as they generally take popular songs and remix them, providing additional 32 count intros, built-in breaks during the song (during which you can mix to another song, loop back to an earlier point in the song, lay over samples, etc.), and 32 count outros. These versions can work well when programmed into a dance sets at virtually any type of adult function from wedding receptions to nightclubs. One type of function at which the use of remixes might not be fully appreciated is with middle school and high school audiences. The kids are usually so used to the version of the song they know, that anything other than the original creates confused looks and comments such as, "what did you do to the song?! Thats not the way that song goes!" As such, I generally dont use the remix service versions as much for youth functions.
The other thing to be aware
of when using remixes is that many times, the remix artist puts in all sorts of
samples, do-hingies, bells, whistles, etc. and the resulting effect is that it
is SO different than the original song that people on the dancefloor either dont
recognize the song at all and exit the floor, or think that it is too weird and
exit the floor. My personal preference for remixes, particularly when playing
at a wedding reception, is to use remix versions of songs that are fairly true
to the original. That is, perhaps they have taken the original version of the
song and have built in a 32-count intro and outro, a break or two, and have laid
over the song a more danceable bass beat.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Bobby Orr, my all-time-favorite ice hockey player legend from the Boston Bruins quoted one of my favorite lines: "practice does not make perfect, practice makes better." As we strive to increase our skills in all areas of our business, beatmixing is one of the areas in which we can constantly improve. So what is the best way to practice? One of the best ways might be to take 2 versions of the same song, adjust the pitch of one song, then try to match up the beat of the second song.
Another beneficial exercise is to practice putting some sets together. Knowing several sets of songs with similar stylings will help. Practice mixing those sets together until you gain confidence to use those mixes in a live performance. Tape the mixes (from the output on your mixing board) and listen to them, critiquing yourself. You will find that, as you continue to practice, the mixes will become that much smoother.
Sampling: As you gain confidence with your basic mixes, you can branch out to master even more challenging skills. Sampling is one of those. Sampling is simply taking a vocal phrase, a musical riff, drum loop, etc. and laying that portion of the track over the music that is playing through the speakers.
Take a classic example: "Gonna Make You Sweat" from C&C Music Factory has one of the greatest sampling lines, "Everybody dance now!" That phrase can be sampled and laid over the music to inject a jolt of high energy to a song. So how do you extract that phrase? You could digitally sample it. Some mixers have that capability; some CD players have that capability; and there are several types of digital samplers.
There are a couple keys to this. First, the sample needs to be the same BPM as the song that is playing. That "everybody dance now!" phrase is actually 4 counts of an 8 count in a song that is 114 BPM. If we were to sample that phrase and lay it on top of another song that is much different (e.g., 125 BPM or 100 BPM), the "everybody dance now!" sample will sound awkward an out of sync. If the sampler you are using has pitch control so that you can adjust the pitch of the sample, that is a great tool to use. If not, then you may want to consider using samples that are very close in BPM to the song over which you will be laying the sample.
Another issue to consider is where, within a 32 count phrase, you will want to lay the sample. Using our example of the "everybody dance now" phrase, that actually comes in on the 5 count of an 8 count. So if you were to lay that sample over another music bed, it will sound best if you lay it over at the 5 count of the song that is playing. Play the single version of that song and count out the 8 counts yourself. You will see that it comes in at the 5 count of the 2nd measure of a 32 count phrase.
This brings up the issue of where, within a 32 count phrase, is it best to lay a sample. Generally, it is best to lay a vocal track or sample over an instrumental music bed. Laying vocals from different songs over each other can sound jumbled and distracting.
Echoing: There is a lot of creativity that can be used with 2 copies of the same song. By playing them both at the same time, at the exact same speed, and ever-so-slightly "nudge" one a bit slower momentarily, it can create an effect that closely resembles the Doppler effect -- sounding like a jet going by. By placing a finger on the + or pitch bend button and slowing down a song then speeding it up, it creates an almost 3 dimensional effect to the music.
Another version of this would be play 2 of the same songs delaying one by one measure. In other words, the song in CD cart 1 is playing and the same song in CD cart 2 is a few beats behind (depending on the vocals and instrumental beds, it might be better to create the echo at a 1 count, 4 count, an 8 count, or even one whole 32 count phrase). You can then switch the fader back and forth between the 2 songs, giving the impression that the song is echoing itself.
Key Matching: True trained musicians will tell you that songs blend together best when they are not only on beat but in the same KEY. So how does one determine the key in which a song was recorded? I have long forgotten the musical keys from my pre-adolescent guitar lessons and piano lessons. If you are like me and you do not instantly recognize the key of a song, you might want to purchase a key whistle. It is a relatively inexpensive device that you could find in most music equipment stores (places that would sell guitars, for example). When listening to a song playing at its original speed (in other words, without engaging the pitch control), blow this little whistle and listen for what it sounds like. Try blowing the various whistle keys until you hear the sound that fits well. Something that is not in the same key should be immediately noticeable and will sound brash. Once you find the key in which the song was recorded, it should sound like a perfect harmony.
Once you have determined the key, you can write that down on the CD jacket or record jacket. This becomes one other piece of information that you can use when deciding what songs blend well with each other. When you mix two songs together that are both on beat and in the same key, it will sound incredible!
Shifts in Energy and Breaks: As mentioned earlier, it is generally beneficial to build the energy on the floor by gradually increasing the BPM of the music. There are times, however, when dramatic shifts in energy can create an energizing effect. Take, for example, Rockefella Skank by Fat Boy Slim. During that song, it slams along then, at a break point, it slows down until it almost drags to a stop. Then, it builds again, faster, then faster, then faster still until it is slamming at full speed again. The crowd (obviously it has to be the "right" crowd for that song) will be captured by the music and will let their bodies move in sync slowing down then increasing speed steadily until they scream when the music is back at full speed. It can be a fantastic effect. I have found, however, that it is best when used sporadically. Another example is the House Mix of "Fantasy" by Mariah Carey. It goes along at 125 BPM until a break where it goes back to the "Genius of Love" sample music bed at 102 BPM. Then, in dramatic form with a siren, it increases again until it is eventually back at 125 BPM. By the time it is back at full speed, the dance floor is jamming! Great effect on the crowd. I very rarely use this effect at a wedding reception because the effect will generally be lost an unappreciated by the aunts and uncles and friends of the parents of the bride, etc.
Beats Per Minute Counter Program - freeware download:
Songs by BPM
Current Top 30 Dance hits:
Disc Jockey Music Xpress (best prices and selection for DJ remixes and
other DJ materials. Tell them I sent you!) http://www.cdmx.com/
(just links to their phone number and a monthly listing of new releases)
(Looking Back Series)
(good remixes of Classics)
Tracks (Hot Classics mixes are awesome)
The Source (remixes, gear, etc.; a bit more expensive that DJMX)
song lists by BPM:
Source of DJ and entertainment links from the perspective of restaurant
Music (A company that puts BPM books together for you depending on what types
of music you are interested in. They also list the Top 15 Dance music songs, and
their BPM, each month):
source for Hit Charts for a number of categories:
radio (pretty cool site; current, oldies, and dance played through RealAudio):
Rob Clark 2001-2008
copyright 2001-2008 Rob Clark Entertainment, LLC.
No material from this article or this web site may be used without the expressed written permission of Rob Clark.
All Rights Reserved
Rob Clark 2001-2008
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