For bedroom DJs, one of the most fun things to do, even if you can’t get gigs, is to record your mixes and share them with your friends. If you know how to make a DJ mix, it’s a great way to practice, to learn and to get feedback on how well you did.
Recording mixes is also an important part of the job when you start looking for venues that will let you play. Nobody is going to take a risk on someone they’ve never heard, and giving them a mix to listen to will let them know what you’re capable of.
In this post, I’m going to be giving you an overview of making a DJ mix – but if you’re looking for info on some of the more technical aspects, you can check out this video before reading on.
And now, here’s how to do it.
How to Make a DJ Mix
Step 1. Gather your equipment
For this guide, I’m not going to assume any previous knowledge or experience as a DJ, so let’s start right at the beginning.
Before you can make a DJ mix, you’re going to need to gather the basic equipment.
Creating a DJ mix is a bit like making a compilation CD (when was the last time anyone did that?) or a playlist on Spotify – except there’s more to it than that because you also have to blend the tracks into one seamless mix, and to do that, you need the right gear.
The equipment you see DJs using at big clubs costs a fortune – a single Pioneer CDJ 2000NXS2 costs over $2000 and the new Pioneer DJM-V10 mixer will set you back over $3000 – but you don’t need to spend anything like this on your first setup. (Just check our DJ mixer reviews)
For beginners, probably your best option is to buy an entry-level controller that you run through a laptop. This will allow you to master the basics, and you can also start recording your mixes on it.
For me, the Pioneer DDJ-400 is a great place to start – although there are plenty of other solid options at the budget end of the price range. Another possibility is to DJ directly from your laptop, and this will cost you even less.
You’ll also need a pair of headphones, ideally ones that block out external noise, and unless you can play the music through your home stereo system, you’ll need an amp and some speakers too.
Step 2. Learn how to use it
Once you’ve got your equipment, you need to learn how to use it. You need to understand what the crossfader and the channel faders do, you’ll have to learn about the EQ knobs and how to listen to one track on your headphones while the other plays through your speakers.
Then you’ll need to learn about getting music in time. You can “cheat” and use the sync button or you can learn to do it the old-fashioned way by ear.
Once you’ve got that down, you’ll then need to work on transitioning smoothly from one track to the next. You need to know how to get the music playing at the same time, you need to learn different mixing techniques and, in short, you need to learn the art of DJing.
You can record things at this stage, but until you know how to play properly, you probably won’t want anyone else hearing the result.
Keep practicing until you’re good enough. The minimum is to be able to fade in one track and then fade out the other while making it sound relatively good – or at least avoid making it sound like a complete disaster. Check out this video for more details on this part.
When you can do this, you’re ready to start thinking about your mix.
Step 3. Choose your tracks
In my opinion – and I’m sure almost anyone who knows the first thing about DJing will agree – if you’re playing live in a club, preparing your whole set beforehand is a big no-no.
I have no problem with DJs who know the main tracks they want to play and who have practiced a couple of tricks or routines, but planning out your whole set before you turn up and then sticking to it rigidly goes against everything DJing is about.
However, when you’re recording a mix, this doesn’t apply because there’s no crowd for you to react to. This means there’s no problem with working out what you want to do before you start recording. Playing live and recording a mix are two separate skills.
This means you should think about which tracks you want to play, deciding which tunes you think will fit with others and in which order. You might also look at the key of the tracks you’re going to mix to make sure they won’t clash.
Remember, you’re not just trying to play a random succession of records, the mix you create should be a coherent performance, a story with a start, a middle and an end.
When you know which tracks you want to use, you can put them into a playlist on your DJ software to help organize your workflow once you start playing.
Step 4. Work on the mixes
This is an optional step – and some people might even call it cheating. However, as I’ve said, recording a mix is not the same as playing live, so if you want to run through a couple of the transitions to see if they work, there’s no problem with doing that.
Step 5. Start playing and record
Once you’re prepped and ready to go, make sure all your equipment is switched on, and you can begin playing. Just don’t forget to hit “record” on whichever software you’re using before you start the first track!
Step 6. Or just do it on the fly
The other option is to skip steps #3 and #4, fire up whatever equipment you’re using, load the first track, hit “record” and just go for it.
This can be a fun way to record a mix, and it will have more of the feel of a live set in a club than a recorded mix that you prepared and performed at home.
This is also a good way to learn because when you listen back to what you’ve done, you can pick up on any mistakes you made and try to work on improving them the next time you practice.
If this is what you want to do, just start playing and see where the music takes you. In any case, if you ever play out in front of a crowd, this is what you’ll have to do, so playing like this at home and recording it can help put a bit of extra pressure on you as you play.
Step 7. Upload it
Play for an hour or two hours – or however long you decide. When it’s done, stop the music and hit “stop” on your software to stop the recording.
With any luck, you will have recorded something you are proud of – or at least something you’re not ashamed of letting other people hear.
If it’s good enough, you can then upload it to something like Soundcloud and share it with your friends, fans or anyone else who wants to listen.
You might also get some feedback, in which case listen to what people say and take it on board.
Try to accept everything as constructive criticism that can help you improve in the future. If people give you suggestions for how you can make it better, try to incorporate those ideas into your next recording if you think they are valid points.
Tips for improving your mixes
Here are a couple of pointers that will help you improve the quality of the mixes you record.
Listen to the pros
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to improve your DJing skills in general – including the mixes you create – is to listen to what the pros are doing.
There is so much music out there now, more than ever before, and there are more DJ mixes on YouTube than you could ever listen to.
So start going through the work your favorite DJs have done. Take note of their transitions, pay attention to the tracks they choose and how they build their set – and then try to incorporate elements of what they do into your mixes.
There’s nothing wrong with copying them at the beginning – you’re only trying to learn. And once you become more confident, you will begin to create mixing techniques of your own, too.
Learn your equipment
The secret to being a great DJ isn’t having the most expensive equipment, but it is important to know how to use what you’ve got.
I mentioned the DDJ-400 as an entry-level controller earlier. It’s inexpensive and isn’t exactly packed with features, but there’s still a lot you can do with it, so focus on that. Concentrate on mastering all the functions on the equipment you’ve got because you can still put together great mixes on very basic gear.
Learn about mixing in key
You don’t need to know much music theory to be able to DJ, but learning how to mix in key will help your mixes sound smoother and more professional.
Check out this video for an introduction to mixing in key.
Practice, practice, practice
I’ve explained the basics of how to make a DJ mix, so if you’ve already got the equipment, you can give it a go right away.
However, if you want to make good DJ mixes, you’ll need to spend a lot of time practicing, and eventually, you will be able to start recording stuff that other people actually want to hear.