In How To Organise Your Tunes While DJing, Part 1, we looked at how using the BPM counts and star ratings can help you to keep your eyes on the crowd and out of your virtual record crates when DJing.
This time around, we are going to look at some advanced ways you can really stand out from the rest and look to all the world like you’re putting no effort at all into producing world-class mixes, time after time.
1. Use the ID3 comments field
One good technique is to simply add comments to your MP3s both when preparing or as you’re going along (so you’ve got them for next time), by adding them to the ID3 tag “comments” field. Then each tune has your own tailored notes.
You could write “mixes well with X”, or “sounds like Y” or “same bassline as Z”. That’s why it’s important to do it when you’re going along too (just don’t take all night – remember we’re trying to keep our heads out of our virtual crates here…); there’s more chance of you remembering a good mix if you note it against the MP3 within a few minutes of first performing it than waiting till the next day.
2. Use tags
Whether you tag from within your DJ software or from your music library software (in iTunes you can add tags separated by commas in the “grouping” ID3 field), adding tags to tunes can really help you to remember them in an instant.
Tagging is good because you can group tracks together for arbitrary reasons – “spoken lyrics”, “hoover noise”, “old skool” – even when those tracks may cross BPMs, genres and styles. It’s a way of grouping records together creatively. Just as long as your DJ software can search for these tags for you, it’s a mega-fast way of pulling up these tunes when you need them.
3. Use a key mixing system
Mixed in Key is a company that has made a name for itself out of teaching DJs to mix harmonically, or “in key”, so basslines don’t clash and tunes blend seemingly effortlessly into each other.
It’s an ongoing debate among DJs whether such systems are a step too far, taking some of the spontaneity out of DJing (see Should Digital DJs Be Bother About Mixing in Key?) and it’s outside the scope of this article to go into too much depth on this.
In brief though, you can tag the keys of each of your tunes (some DJ software now does this automatically for you), and you can learn a system to tell you instantly whether the next tune will mix well or not into the current one. Trance DJs, for instance, can continually add a sense of energy to their sets by moving up a note in the musical scale with each mix.
4. Use a DJ notation system
This one blew my mind when I first saw it, and if you don’t count yourself as a geek, I suggest you skip to the next section now! Still reading? Then have a look at the DJ notation system here, which as far as I know is unique.
I spoke to Philip Age, the inventor, who assures me he gets emails from people saying it’s been useful to them! Anyway, it’s a system for writing down using normal keyboard symbols the rough structure of a song, so you can post the song’s outline in a normal text field, such as the comments field mentioned earlier.
Sounds crazy? It actually makes sense if you look at it – I love the way you can take advantage of the fact that it’s a fixed-width font to plan DJ sets out in TXT documents. Have I lost you? I do hope so for your own sake, but if you have followed me this far and checked out his site, you’ll probably see also that to be able to write down a whole set accurately in a few keystrokes and then be able to play it again perfectly later may have its uses.
Moreover, if you got used to such a notation system, and could be bothered to mark all your tunes up before a gig, you could look like you had the best knowledge in the world of songs you’d only heard a handful of times.
5. Know your tunes!
We said it last time, and we’ll say it again, because in the end it’s the one that really counts. Knowing your tunes is the most important thing – even if only to know that certain tunes are really easy to mix with anything. Even Philip Age, the aforementioned inventor of the DJ notation system, admits that.
So you’ve got to know your tunes. Once you do, build on that with these techniques. Take the time to them write the odd well-placed comment, maybe find a few tunes that you know mix in key well together, add easy-to-search tags (“floorfillers”, “mood change”, “warm up”), and use some of the techniques from the first part of this article too.
In no time at all you’ll be jumping around like a loony in the DJ box AND pulling out perfect song after perfect song throughout your sets – and people will notice. You’ll have become a better DJ by being better prepared. And nobody need know what a geek you are at heart!
Are you a Camelot wheel addict? Do you feel like it ain’t DJin’ unless you’re notatin’? What’s your secret method for always knowing which tune to play next? Let us know.
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