Mixing Has Changed

I'm not sure I much understand the art of mixing anymore. Not that I have to – I mean I can just "do it", if I want. Never content to simply do, however, I am compelled to reflect on the nature of the mixes I produce and what's changed over the past few years.

It used to be, as a DJ, mixing primarily involved setting up two turntable in a live environment. And then having a crate of records as well as a mechanical mixing device that allowed you the ability to control volume crossfades between two simultaneously playing tracks. Then you monitored your transitions live on headphones and monitors while your audience grooved away.

Now it's all different.

First off, I've never been super comfortable playing out live. I'm just too much of a control freak and want to provide my audience with a tangible, physical "perfect mix" that they can play again and again. Hence, my weekly Mix Fixes, that provide me with the opportunity to consistently provide you with new, cutting edge music in whatever environment is most convenient for you to enjoy while reducing the anxiety I experience standing up in front of a large, potentially critical crowd.

When I first started distributing mixes online, I was purchasing vinyl records and manually using my turntable to beat match tracks and then recording invidividual tracks off of my turntables directly into my computer and using a program like Sony's (previously Sonic Foundry's) Vegas to layout it all out and manage track transitions.

Now, with the advent of easily obtained high quality digital files from online shops like Beatport, Juno, Traxxsource, Dancetracks, and Stompy (among many others), the manual recording aspect of creating the digial master has completely disappeared in my process.

But much more has changed, too.

For instance, in the manual, turntable era, it was impossible to independently match beat and pitch. Speeding or slowing up a track automatically meant the pitch would sharpen or flatten. And avoiding trainwrecks was not just matter of synchronizing beats but also tones. And so, despite occasional and frequently accidental moments of flawless beat and pitch synchronization the vast majority of transitions were best performed over sections of the track that lacked any strong tonal or melodic components—unless you were a mixmaster genius.

I now use Ableton Live to produce all of my mixsets. It's software than can access audio files and allow you to manipulate many aspects of the recording by adding live real-time effects, MIDI instruments and much more. And with Live, beat matching and pitch matching are two completely separate controls. And this allows for much more effective management of the emotional tension and release potential in every transition. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that, while important, beat matching is far less critical to a perception of seamlessness and emotional flow in a dance mix than pitch. The "wow!" factor of a fresh incoming song is dramatically enhance when its harmony converges and builds on the tonal layering of the outgoing track. The beat is just the glue holding the framework together.

Another feature of current mixset production that is even more different that older methods is the ability to radically cut up, reorder and resplice individual tracks in order to customize integrating them to one another.

In effect, mixes are becoming more and more like long extended mashups. I frequently will take two different mixes of the same artist's track and radically reorder them in order to weave together the highlights of each separate mix into one blended track. And in addition will customize intros, outros and breaks within tracks in order to set up the transitions between songs. The result has been a much tighter sense of seamlessness and flow and I think is reponsible for much of the positive reaction I've been receiving.

DJing for me now increasingly resembles what I do when writing an original track. I think in terms of both the organic holistic sense of the entire mix as wel as the most discrete aspects of the individual song, down to each individual bar. And while I don't have multitrack access to each particular song, live effects insertion, or my own MIDI instrument additions can significantly rework a song to the mixes favor—no matter how good or effective the unaltered, original track would have stood on its own.

posted on 12.3.2006 12:00 AM • Add A Comment