Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Monday, 11 April 2011

How to make a 'Mix Tape'

This week I'm going to show you how to make a 'mix tape'. I do not mean a tape to give to that girl you like with all your favourite love songs on. This type of mix tape is probably not going to get you laid (but you never know). What I mean is a selection of songs mixed together to show your ability as a DJ. It should be about an hour long and you can give it to bars and clubs or potential DJing venues (house parties are always good) in the hope of getting a set. You can also just give it to friends and family or keep it for yourself. Remember that if you want to DJ in a club or bar you should probably practice a lot before you try to get a set. In the last post I outlined some of the things you'll need to become a DJ, but to make a mix tape you'll just need Ableton, headphones or speakers and some tunes. Later I'll show you how to turn your mix tape into a live set.

I'm not going to teach you how to use everything in Ableton in this tutorial, there are the built in tutorials or if whatever you are looking for isn't there – just google it. What I am going to do is to
explain a few techniques that I use and that I haven't seen tutorials for anywhere else (this doesn't mean they aren't there, just that I haven't seen them).

Progressive Music

The idea of a mix is to get a nice progression going throughout your set. You might want to start with some chilled out stuff first, then build to your heavier tracks. Overall the mix should gain energy, although some DJs like to build it up and take it down, it's just one of those rules that are there as a guideline but can be broken when necessary.

Picking Your Tracks

The first thing you need to do is pick some music to mix. I usually mix hip-hop or electronic music but you should just pick something you are into. It's nice to find songs that not many people know, but it's important that you keep your audience in mind. If you start a mix with minimal tech then mix Thriller by Michael Jackson over and over for 2 hours, people might get annoyed. Some DJs stay in one genre and some mix it up by adding in things you wouldn't expect. Just keep it interesting and I'm sure everyone will love it.
Another thing to bear in mind when mixing is tempo. Although Ableton is capable of changing the tempo of individual tracks, you shouldn't really try to mix anything that's too different. Any more than 20 bpm difference will probably sound weird (depending on the style of the track). I noticed that bass starts to sound a bit weird at about 5bpm difference. Also, if the tracks you mix have any real instruments, changes to tempo could mess them up. Just use your ear.

The next thing to listen for is the key of the music. If you aren't very musically minded then just forget about this for the moment. You should be able to notice whether something sounds good or not when mixing.

Depending on the length of the tracks you have chosen and how much you decide to use of them, you should pick about 10-20 tracks (bearing in mind that some of them might not work in the mix). Now copy all the tracks you want to a new folder on your hard drive. This will avoid the possibility of you moving a track – Ableton won't be able to find it and your mix could get ruined.

Mixing In Ableton

So the first thing to do is go to preferences and change some settings. Under the warp menu change the Loop/Warp short samples setting to 'Warped One Shot', make sure Auto Warp Long samples is on and change the Default warp mode to 'Complex'. This should make it easier for Ableton to Warp your tracks (although you'll almost always have to finish warping it yourself).

Now change to the arrangement view of Ableton, delete the midi track (right click it > delete midi track) and add a few extra audio tracks. I start with about 3 or 4 and add them later if needed. Add an EQ Three to each of the audio tracks and drop 3 or 4 of your tunes in. I always change my mind when mixing and the tune you pick as first now might not be the same later. Ableton will try to warp the tunes for you, double click the tune you want to show the sample view below, right click the beginning of the sample display and choose 'Warp from here (straight)'. Now go through and make sure that everything is warped properly. It's important that you keep your eye on the Seg BPM because this will show you the beats per minute for each of your tracks. If it's vastly different between tracks (like 70bpm or above) it's probably a problem with warping, go back and sort it out. Now you can either choose an overall tempo that is somewhere between your tunes, or you can control the tempo as the mix goes on (I sometimes do both). But again, if you change the tempo too much it'll sound weird. Make sure all the tunes are all around the same volume and you're ready to start mixing.

Now you need to make a decision. What sort of mix do you want (or need) to do?
If you are lucky, the person who make the tune will have thought about the DJ when they made their tune but this might not be the case. If the song has a strange intro or if it just won't fit where you want it to, then listen to your tune and take a look at its wave. If you can see from the wave that there are quieter segments later on in the tune, then maybe you can cut that part out and use it as a way to mix the tune. Look and listen for any breaks or parts where the drums, voice or whatever else are on their own. Then you can take this segment and loop it. Here's a graph showing a common structure used by musicians. A lot of the time there is a period of rest just before the final drop (see the graph) in this segment (the break) musicians give the listener a 'break' from the main parts of the song. This can be utilised by us to make our mix. Copy a bar or 2 and add it to the beginning of the mix, then you can mix the new track into that. Below is 'Electric Worm' by the Beastie Boys, altered with a loop at the beginning (faded in).

Looping and controlling hi by abletonian

There are another 4 types of mixes that I do often, and they are enough to get me through. Here's what I have decided to call them:

Cut it off
This is the easiest technique but it's hard to make it sound good. It's where you just cut it at the end of one tune and drop the the new one straight in. Works best when 2 tunes are similar sounding in key, tempo and/or rhythm.

Supreme People to Parachute Pandor by abletonian
Fuck it up
This is where you apply loads of effects and fuck the tune up completely. Then you can mix the new tune into the mess you've created.

Time to Bang the floor 2 by abletonian

Make It Fit
This is the most time consuming but often makes for the best sounding mixes. It's where you take part of the tune and loop it, but also cut it up and make it fit with the other song. It's kinda like remixing. In the example I use a voice sample found in the second track (where the voice is without any background music) and loop it. The drum sequence from the first tune is looped and cut up to match the second tune then when the drums from the second tune come in the first drums are cut.

Drop The Bass
Where you (either slowly or all at once) drop the bass from one track and add the bass of another. Use the EQ Three to control only the bass. This is how most DJs mix, especially house and techno DJs. I don't use it very often because the tunes I mix don't really suit it.

And just carry on from there! Hopefully, you should be able to finish your mixtape (and pretend you are an awesome DJ) with these techniques.

So that's it for now, next time I'll show you how to take your mix tape and turn it into a live DJ set, and how to get the most out of your effects.

Also, if you've got any questions or if you make a mix, I'd love to hear them! Drop me a line: abletonian at gmail dot com

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Becoming a DJ

There are loads of ways to become a DJ, but one of the cheapest ways that I have come across is by using a laptop. You may need to buy a few things, but you probably have some (if not all) of them already. This guide will show you one way of becoming a DJ and mixing your favourite tunes in no time at all.

First of all, what do we mean by DJing? Well what I really mean is mixing. The idea is to mix two or more tunes together to create a smooth progression from one track to the next and so on. You might also want to create a new and interesting section in the music by looping parts of your tunes and adding sounds from other tracks or even adding effects. I'm going to be using this blog as a way to show you some of the techniques I use when mixing and maybe even to learn a few new things (and share them with you) as I go.

Getting Started

What you'll need:

A computer or laptop
Obviously, the better your computer, the quicker it'll be able to deal with the processing needed to DJ. If you are planning to DJ at parties/clubs or anywhere away from your own house you'll want a laptop. If you are just planning on making mixes to give out on CDs or post on websites then a desktop is fine.

Some speakers or headphones
Never use your built in laptop speakers. They are (or 'it is' if you are really unlucky) probably very shit. You are a DJ so start acting like one! Listen to your tunes through some fairly high quality speakers or if you don't have or can't afford any yet, use a pair of good quality headphones.
You might be able to hook your computer up to a Hi-Fi you already own by using the 3.5mm jack output on your computer and an input on the system. This could be the cheapest way of getting a decent sound for a small price. It'll need to be in the same room as your computer and preferably in a room away from other people. Your housemate/mum/dad/wife/husband/partner/other person won't thank you for playing incessant dance music while they're trying to watch their favourite T.V. programmes.

Don't forget that if you are making a mix for other people to listen to, then you probably want it to sound as good as possible. Make sure your speakers are at head height (and pointing towards your head) and are equidistant if possible.

Ableton Live
I love Ableton. Don't get me wrong, I'm not 'IN LOVE' with it. No. I just think that it is easy to use (once you get the hang of it) and you can create some really neat stuff straight out of the box. Plus there are loads of free and non-free VSTs out there (some of which I will cover) so the possibilities are pretty much endless (in a confined sort of way). Ableton wasn't really created with DJing in mind at first, but loads of people caught on to the fact that it lends itself very nicely to the task. Later incarnations are loaded with features for any budding DJ to utilise so if you don't have it already, there is the free trial version over at the Ableton website. You might use a different program (Logic, FL or whatever) and that's cool, man. Each to their own. Some of the stuff I cover will be pretty Ableton specific, but some of it will be cross platform so don't be put off just yet...

Some tunes to mix
This is where using a laptop excels. External hard drives are getting smaller (in centimetres), larger (in Gigabytes) and cheaper (in price) and if you don't have one already you should probably invest. It's now possible to carry about 250,000 songs on a one terabyte hard drive that fits in your pocket (if you were mixing with vinyl you'd need an army). You probably have loads of tunes on your hard drive already, and most file formats can be played on Ableton. You might want a converter for some of the more abstract file types but there are loads of free ones online. I'm not condoning anything illegal ;) but you can get loads of free tracks online and I'm sure you do already. Also, sites like beatport or itunes offer single tracks or full albums for lower prices than buying a CD. Upload all the tunes you want to mix to your hard drive if you haven't already.

These are the minimum requirements but there is also an almost unlimited amount of extra hardware and software that can be used when DJing.

Here's a list of some of the extra things you could buy...

A nice set of speakers with an amplifier or a set of powered monitors
If you don't have any already you could really do with these. There are so many variations of ways of setting up sound for your computer that my fingers would probably fall off before I could explain them all here. Obviously it'll depend on how much money and space you have, and also how serious you are. It's not a good idea to spend over 9000 (insert readers' currency here) on equipment if you are just a beginner, but you can find some really nice set ups for a reasonable price. Shop around, and don't rush into anything you might regret.

An external sound card
If you want to DJ live you're probably going to need one of these. It'll give you the option of listening to one tune on your headphones whilst playing another through your speakers. If you like creating your own tunes it could be handy to have one with an input on it but these can be more expensive. The basic models are pretty cheap and most are powered by USB so you won't need an extra power socket.

A midi controller
Midi controllers are a very helpful addition to any laptop DJs set up. You can assign any parameter on your to to any button or fader on your midi controller. Again these vary greatly in price, quality and usability depending on what you are looking for. Some are made specifically for DJing and some aren't. I use the Behringer BCR 2000, which is not made specifically for DJing, but has loads of rotary faders and buttons which can be programmed to do whatever you want. Plus, I like making and playing my own music, and it's handy to have so many assignable controls. Even with 32 faders and 20 buttons I still sometimes run out (but maybe I'm just greedy). It's all about figuring out what works for you and setting boundaries.

A decent pair of headphones
This is important for any DJ because if you can't hear your tunes you'll find it hard to mix. As always, prices and quality range greatly so go with your gut (or ear).

And that's pretty much it, stay tuned for my next post when I'll be getting to actually mixing tunes!