Harmonic Mixing… The KEY to Successful DJing
Today, we see many DJs who feel that they can mix a few songs together via a simple crossfade, become confident about their DJ skills, and act as if they are up to par with DJs such as Tiesto, Armin Van Burren, and Sebastian Ingrosso, just to name a few. However, as we know, the truth is that DJing is not simply mixing songs together via cross-fades and cuts, but rather an art of mixing and mashing up songs that sound good together. This may sound vague but most DJs, after several hours and years of in-studio and live experience, have trained their auditory senses to detect and think of songs that will go together in terms of pitch, key, and BPM; these songs, when played together or one after another create a harmonious sound that sound sublime together. The question is, besides experience and listening to songs several times, how does one know which songs and sounds should be mixed together or one after the other? It is the answer to this question that differentiates the beginners from the experts, the iPod DJs from the pros, the DJs from the musicians, and so on and so forth. This KEY to mixing that makes someone’s wedding, private, or corporate function a huge success and guarantees you a competitive spot for a job as the preferred in house-DJ or resident DJ of a club.
For many decades, DJs such as David Guetta have been combining different sounds with similar beats by determining the key in which the song is recorded with a keyboard. Although this may work, it seems very tedious to determine the key of each song through trial and error, especially if you are a DJ like myself and have thousands of songs in your collection. There is new software out in the market such as Mixed In Key and Rapid Evolution 3 that will help you to accurately assign keys to your music. You may ask why keys are even that important that you spend the time and care about them or that you don’t even know how to play an instrument so how would you be able to learn all the different minor and major scales and associated keys (F#, G#/Ab, A#/Bb, etc.). If you fall into the first category, I will help you to understand how harmonic mixing using song keys will make you stand out as a DJ. If you are in the latter of the two categories, I would probably question whether or not you are actually fit to be a DJ; a DJ not willing to learn new techniques or spend the time to make oneself succeed in the industry and take his or her role seriously should spend some time reflecting on why it is he or she actually wants to be a DJ. If it is simply a hobby, I am not saying quit but I am saying that DJs have a passion for music and what they do so force yourself to learn what you can and I am sure it will pay off.
So now, why harmonic mixing? Have you ever played two songs in sequence that just did not sound right together? Of course you have! We all have, even myself! Well, the reason for the odd-sounding mix is most likely because the songs that you were trying to mix together were not in the same key. Vorobyev, an author of Beyond Beatmatching: Take Your DJ Career to the Next Level, explains that mixing in key “virtually guarantees that your next track will compliment the one you’re playing, and that your mix will sound musically seamless.” The good news is that with the click of a button and using one of the following recommended softwares mentioned above, the key of every song will be precisely assigned to every song in your collection. Even more, the software converts the different keys into an easy-to-understand alphabet of twelve numbers (1-12) and two letters (usually A and B). After I explain how you can use a few resources to mix harmonically, you should be good to go!
Below, you will find two images, taken from the Mixed In Key website, representing the Camelot System of Harmonic Mixing and Related-Key Mixing. Mixing in key or harmonic mixing is actually pretty simple. Just to explain the structure of the Camelot System quickly, you have an inside wheel in which you will find all minor scales, denoted by the letter A, and the outside wheel where you will find all of the major scales, denoted by the letter B. The goal here is to mix two songs that have either the same letter and one number above or below the current letter or a different letter with the same number on the scale. For example, if you are currently at a 3A track, you have the option of moving from 3A left to 2A, right to 4A, or up to 3B for an undisturbed and continuous melody. Another way to look at the wheel to help you in understanding how to use it better would be to think of it as a continuous rainbow where you want to move from a colour that is similar to the colour of the song you just had playing. For example, this would mean moving from red to orange (backward one), red to pink (forward one), red to a darker red (up one to B, a major), or if you were already at the darker red move to a lighter red (down one to A, a minor). It is also important to mention that you can most definitely stay in 3A if you choose and your mix will sound perfect.
Now, for the harmonic mixing pros. Mixing in key and moving right, left, or up one seems boring way too easy for some of you so here is a top from David Guetta himself. Guetta mentions that jumping to the right four numbers in the same minor (A) or major (B) scale can bring some really cool and captivating results, eg. moving from 12 A to 4 A. This doesn’t always work but this is where it is up to you to experiment with the Camelot System and find your own unique way of incorporating it into your sets. As you continue to understand and make use of the Camelot System, you will learn other patterns such as diagonal mixing where you can jump from an A of one number to the B of another number because the keys are harmonically related, eg. 9A to 8B or vice versa. Vorobyev asked, why would 8A to 7B work but not the other way around? Answer: dissonant intervals. Again, it is up to you to figure out what sounds right when trying other patterns and methods.
Now that you have all of your keys assigned and you know how to mix harmonically, how do you input every single key to every single song in your thirty-thousand music collection? It is with pleasure that I can tell you Mixed In Key and Rapid Evolution 3 sync seamlessly with your software whether it may be Native Instruments Traktor Pro, Serato Scratch Live, Algoriddim djay, or Ableton Live. These software have been specifically updated in the past to display keys and organize them according to the Camelot System.
There you go, the KEY to being a successful DJ… I am not saying that mixing in KEY should be your number one priority and focus. If everyone did it, it would be nothing special. You have to be unique in terms of your style and brand as a DJ. For example, if everyone spinned the way Avicii, Alesso, or Skrillex did, they would not be noticed to the extent that they are today. The point to take home is that very few people know what harmonic mixing is and understanding it and making it a practice in addition to what you are currently doing will bring you a step further in the music industry. Be yourself but be willing and take the time to learn new techniques that will help you to succeed as a DJ. Remember, do not rely on this solely; keep on using your auditory senses and skills so that when software like this does not function as intended, you will still be able to do what you love to do and be good at it. Finally, I have to continue to say this because I see many amateurs hitting the SYNC button to beat match every single song: there are times when you should use the SYNC button but every other time it should be your expertise and skills that guide you to properly beat match. Nowadays we have all the software and technology to make DJing much easier that let’s say 30, 20, and even 10 years ago. If everyone pressed the SYNC button, there would be so many DJs in the in industry and the funny but sad truth is that this is happening right now. Let’s help stop it and keep us DJs alive.
–DJ Mocha Love (DJML)
Vorobyev, Yakov, and Eric Coomes. Beyond Beatmatching: Take Your DJ Career to the Next Level. Ed. Bill Murphy. 1st ed. Florida: Mixed In Key, 2012. Mixed In Key. 3 May 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.