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).
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?
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