HIM: Glossary

I have tried to write the How I Mix series in a manner both DJs and listeners can understand, but there does come a point where explaining every bit of terminology in detail weighs things down. I’ve decided to dedicate this article to some fairly standard mixing concepts and concepts found in music theory. Every time a term is referenced in future HIM articles I will link it back to this page and keep the glossary itself in alphabetical order. This glossary will also expand and evolve as I use more terms and determine better explanations for existing ones.

  • Beat matching: using either your personal sense of timing or software to take two songs and set them to the same beat.
  • BPM, beats per minute: Fairly self-explanatory. Much like heart rate this refers to how many regular significant points in the music occur per minute. I say significant points because it may or may not be based directly on the drum pattern; if nothing else count the number of times you’re nodding your head or tapping your foot to the rhythm.
  • Measure: Most music tends to be based on patterns or groups of notes called measures; this is a basic building block of a song. (More detail in the definition for time signature)
  • Phrase: Measures grouped together that have an overall repetition and signal some sort of change in the music. (More detail in the definition for time signature)
  • Phrase matching: Lining two songs up both on beat AND on phrase, which means the changes in the songs are also lock step.
  • Time signature*: This a term from what’s typically thought of as more “classic” music theory. Most music tends to be based on patterns or groups of notes called measures, and the time signature refers to the number of beats in one of those measures vs the number of measures grouped together as a larger unit of the song. The easiest example of this is of course the most common time signature in western music: 4/4. Four beats in every measure, 4 measures (typically) in every phrase. You can apply 4/4 to almost every song you listen to these days, from 2pac to Led Zeppelin. Count to four on beat four times and there will usually be some sort of change in the music. If it’s more than 4 then it (typically) is a power of 4; this is more common in electronic music as repetition is kind of the point for a lot of danceable, non-lyrical music.

* This is a very simplified version of the term, for all of the nitty-gritty I recommend Wikipedia.

How I Mix – Introduction

Writing is a bit of a passion of mine. I tend to enjoy writing fiction the most, but sharing ideas and concepts that are near and dear to my heart are also very meaningful to me. After watching some really well done Laidback Luke video posts I remarked offhand to several people that it might be interesting to write a series that focused on my specific mixing techniques and decision making process. Reception of the idea was positive, so here we are. I wanted to introduce some concepts and explain the format in this article before getting down into some of the nitty-gritty aspects of DJing.

There are of course a thousand ways to perform in this industry, and unlike a lot of pros or YouTube commenters I don’t really have any issue with any of them. It’s not necessarily how I would do things and I absolutely believe some decisions are sub-optimal or more prone to error, but at the end of the day you should always do you. About the only thing I frown on is the utter dismissal of other techniques and a refusal to at least try to understand another person’s methods. I tend to raise an eyebrow at clinging to methods that are provably not working for a person, but it’s still their choice that should be respected.*

The point of the above is that these articles are simply my opinion. I’m describing how I mix to explain how I get the sound I get and to hopefully present some alternate views that are thought provoking. These will also be my opinions at the time of writing; I am constantly seeking new methods and tips myself and updating exactly how I do what I do with any ideas I think are good. I’ll try to make a point of mentioning when my opinion has changed from a previous article, but I can also guarantee I’m going to forget what I’ve written about in the past.

It’s also worth mentioning that most of what I write about isn’t going to be novel or different; in many areas I come down on one side of a well known debate and I’m just explaining why I chose that side. There is no flash of amazing brilliance to share, and I won’t claim to be unique in any of these opinions. These are my perspectives, and the hope is that by explaining why I choose the things I do it can act as useful information for other performers – even if the only opinion they end up with is “his methods are great examples of how not to do things.”

I have used many methods to mix music ranging from the classic pair of Technique 1200s to an iPad with a specialized Numark controller. (While the immediate reaction of many DJs was to laugh at the iPad it was surprisingly flexible and easy to use – especially if you’re already using iTunes as your music library.) My current rig involves Traktor and an S8 and assuming NI doesn’t abandon the software I don’t see myself switching any time soon. I would LOVE to expand my home station to have my current setup plus a decent Serato controller plus a pair of XDJ 1000s, but that’s an expensive project. I do also eventually plan to add a touchscreen monitor to the mix, but I doubt that will ever be more than a showy alternative to my S8.

I mention all of this because a lot of my preferred methods play to some of Traktor’s unique strengths – and in some cases also require the S8. That shouldn’t necessarily be all that surprising, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Stay tuned for specifics!

*There’s a caveat of course: the attitude of the person in question. If they’re using methods I consider sub-optimal and being a dick or trying to lord their skills over other people I don’t hesitate to unsheathe my claws and start shredding. I also have no issue rubbing the nose of a person like that with a superior performance.