Mixed In Key Review - Part 2

mixed in key review crowd

Palm Beach made a great venue for me to test out mixing in key for the first time.

In my Mixed in Key Review - Part 1, I looked at the theory behind mixing in key and how Mixed in Key (US$58) can help DJs to take advantage of harmonic mixing to play better sets. In this part I'm going to put it all to the test by DJing at a proper gig for the first time using the Mixed in Key / Camelot wheel system.

I've got only one rule: every mix has to be harmonically matched using my new-found musical data. I'm about to show you all the mistakes so you don't have to make them yourself!

Getting ready to play
The gig was at a beach bar here in my home town (Estepona, Spain). The bar, called Palm Beach, is a great venue - a big wooden shack right on the beach with a spacious interior and parasols and sun loungers all the way down to the Mediterranean, which laps just a few yards from the front of the bar. It has a nice big sound system and screens for the weekend sports (without the volume, naturally), plus good food and a wonderful drinks and cocktail menu.

The place attracts everyone, from sun worshippers to families out for the early evening paseo, to hippies, to youngsters starting their evenings out. It is popular with many nationalities - Spanish, Dutch (it's Dutch owned), English, Germans and whoever else happens wander past as the evening progresses. It's a great place to play a DJ set as the sun sinks behind the Andalusian mountains, and it's one of the venues I've been using for my Sunset Rocks sundowner parties this year.

mixed in key review sunset rocks

With such a wide variety of music, BPMs and genres, my Sunset Rocks night would give mixing in key a great first test.

I rolled up nice and early at 4pm, with a Vestax VCI-300 and Serato ITCH in tow. My set would be till 9.30pm - long after the sun had set. My tunes would be a mixture of deep house, Balearic, dubstep, soul, hip hop, tango and whatever else fitted. I would play happy beach music until twilight, then chill-out as the sun set, then build up a more driving night-time sound towards the end. A load of genres, a load of BPMs - and a great test for mixing in key.

Whoops! No key information
First problem: No key information showing in the DJ software library, even though Mixed in Key had scanned all my MP3 for tonight's set. I hadn't realised that I'd need to rescan the tags in Serato ITCH (pretty obvious with hindsight) and as I'd never done this before and didn't even know that you could indeed rescan ID3 tags, I ended up re-analysing all the tunes.

With 350-odd in my set it took a good half hour. (Only later did I see on the "Files" menu there was a "Rescan ID3 tags " button that would have done it in about 90 seconds!) Lucky I was early...

Starting the set
So finally, I was all keyed up and ready to go. Starting at around 90 BPM, The Roots "Right On" segued well into the Fugees "Ready or Not" (2A into 3A). My first same-to-same mix was the Williams cover version of the old Tangerine Dream tune "Love on a Real Train" (that Chicane "borrowed" for "Offshore") mixed into the Tangoterje edit of Chris Rea's "On the Beach" - and wooah! That was fun! As soon as the guitar riff from the latter hit my headphones, I buzzed with anticipation at doing the mix for real, and it fitted like a hand in a glove. I was hooked already.

Searching for the key information
It was within the first 20 minutes that I realised it would have been really good to have the key information displayed on the virtual decks as well as in the library. I kept forgetting what key the current track was in, so had to refer back to the library until I got into the habit of remembering it.

Turns out that some DJ software will display the information right there in the decks for you; Traktor can display it, and Serato ITCH can from version 1.7 which was actually released today.

(While on the subject of DJ software, it turns out that Virtual DJ already determines the keys of songs in a similar way to Mixed in Key,but it uses the "real" keys - ie Gm, F, C#m etc, so you have to either have a Camelot wheel to hand or know your traditional keys off by heart. A shame.and if you click on the key information, Am, F, G# etc, it toggles into Camelot notation too - excellent.)

mixed in key review dj booth

With a view like that, you really don\'t want to be staring at your screen for too long trying to work out what key the next song is going to be in.

Top one, nice one, get sorted
I also realised that I had a conundrum on my hands - do I sort the tunes by BPM (as I normally do) or by key? I ended up switching between the two often. What would have been nice in my DJ software would have been some way to sort within the sorted results - once by key and then by BPM. That way, you'd have all the 1A's arranged from slowest to quickest, then the 1B's, then the 2A's etc. Maybe there is a way to do this, but I couldn't find it. I tried clicking one column then the next with Shift, Cmd etc held on, but nothin seemed to work.

There are more songs in some keys than in others
As the set progressed, I noticed that some keys are more popular than others. That meant that it was harder to mix in certain areas of the Camelot wheel, as the choice of tunes was less. (Also, I learned that most of my songs are in a minor key. Is than normal or do I go for that kind of tune, I wonder?)

Switching musical genre became ridiculously easy
Nicholas Jaar's "Nico's Feelin' Good" - a spacious mid-tempo house number - mixed perfectly into The XX's take on Womack & Womack's "Teardrops", allowing a great genre change thanks to the key matching. I got from AC's re-edit of Michael Mcdonald's "I Keep Forgettin'" into Alice Russell's cover of "Seven Nation Army" flawlessly, switching from downtempo Balearic to full-on reggae in the process. I was really, really liking this.

Don't let the trainspotter get the better of you
One thing that you end up doing is simply looking for tunes that are in key and trying to mix them for the hell of it. This actually suits my "anything goes" DJ style to an extent, but I can see how sometimes it could be a bit much and how you could come unstuck.

Also, you end up getting annoyed when you can't find a good tune in the same or a related key, so addictive is it once you get the taste. I hate staring at the screen when DJing, and I found myself doing a bit too much of that because of having to take the key into account too.

Stretched to breaking point
As mentioned in the first part of this review, it is important to key-lock the decks so the material is time-stretched, or your key information will be useless away from zero pitch, and this introduced issues sometimes. Time-stretching is a funny one: Some songs are really tolerant of it, but others sound rubbish plus or minus even a BPM or two.

You have to trust your ears here, and you end up riding the pitch faders back towards zero to improve the audio quality quite often. Admittedly playing a straight-up house set I guess this wouldn't be so much of an issue. Later, much later. Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind Part II" and Estelle's "Come Over" blend so well people look up and show their appreciation. It's all going swimmingly. But just when I'm really convinced this is the future... I run out of key mixes to do.

Seems like even a 350-tune set list is not enough for a 4.5 hour set if you're applying tight key matching rules! So as we hit the last hour and tunes by Hot Chip, Two Door Cinema Club and Vampire Weekend fly by, I've thrown the Mixed in Key info out of the window and I'm DJing by tune selection alone.

mixed in key review estepona

It\'s more sand under feet than feet on dancefloors as night draws in on the beach, but as the smell of barbeque fish wafted along the shore, did anyone notice the harmonic mixing?

Did anyone actually notice?
One of the bar managers was in on my "secret", and said that it was noticeable to him how much better the music blended than normally. However, my sun-loving partner just yawned when I told her my new software was rocking it for me. Guess not everyone listens closely enough to hear the difference! Overall, though, having the key information that Mixed in Key gives you was a good thing. You instantly spot matches and make the most of them. You attempt more adventurous mixes. You definitely have more fun.

Things will never be the same again...
I believe that from here on in, I will always make sure this information is available to me when DJing - it's just too easy to pull off stupendously good mixes seemingly effortlessly.

As with most things, it doesn't work perfectly, and there is a learning curve, but next to having this information built in to your DJ software (like Virtual DJ has), Mixed in Key is the best way to get the harmonic information into your DJ software.

Doing so to enables you to play smoother, more professional and more impressive DJ sets: I just proved it by playing practically a whole night with barely a hiccup - and having a hell of a lot of fun doing so.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences, I think I'll have to dash out the (fairly reasonable) amount for the program.

    I have tried to do some manual key finding on my own, and with help of the open source program Rapid Evolution, which actually works quite well, it is however a bit buggy: http://www.mixshare.com/software.html

    My experiences are also good with mixing in key, as an example you can listen to the "Duckstep Mix" I've made here: http://tenzer.dk/music

  2. Adam 8 Trak says:

    I feel you on key mixing i use vdj and the info is available i have used it from time to time.In bar rooms its never really mixing because people arent to keen on it in the states once in awhile when there drunk i start dropping some electro tunes to get em dancing and i love using mix in key when you get a good set of strings and such to blend really adds nice atmosphere.

  3. Boney Cpllins says:

    VDJ also show camelot, i remember when i used vdj there was an option to view the camelot no the other one. Also because vdj uses a database to store the info it does not write it to the id3 tags.

    When you mix in key it is really important to not stay in the safe area to much, cause it make monotonous sound, you have to make jumps in the scale for that upscaling sound, if i remember going 2 up ex. from 8a to 10a sounds really good.

    Also much of the electronic music is made in minor keys, almost all my produced songs are in minor keys.

  4. Great follow up post... I did notice that VDJ keys were diff when arranging all the tunes, and it is a bit of a deal having to rescan all ur tunes to get the keys but I think it is worth it...people noticing the music can be a double edged sword... on the one hand they may not notice the fact you were mixing in key - but on the flip side they may notice if ur not and the mix is off... i'd rather fall into the camp of mixing in key and having them enjoy it without noticing ...

  5. As my first post ever and after reading the whole site, i must admit that mixing in key rules!!
    I'm a begginer DJ and i'll have my first gig in a month or so and i could tell you that even in practice it sounds much better, i hope to impress someone at my gig!
    I rely on Rapid Evolution like Tenzer and with a crash every 5 min. i'm satisfied with the work cuz actually is more accurate finding the keys that MixedInKey software.

    Anyway and off-topic, thanks for sharing your knowledge, and your site rocks mate!! 😀

  6. Andy Taylor says:

    Really interesting read, I'm just getting into harmonic mixing.

    In virtual dj you just click on the track key info on the deck and it changes from A# or whatever to the camolot notation. And there's a browser column for "key (numeric)" and that brings up all the camolot notations.

    And also, about song selection, the best thing EVER (no, really!) for getting a bit creative is to make a "filter folder" (the blue folder icon on the browser section) and put this code in:

    bpmdiff<=4 and keydiff=0

    That gives you all the songs in your library with a camolot of the same, +1 or -1 number and a bpm difference of less than 4bpm to the currently playing song. Basically all the songs you have that will mix harmonically. Ta Dah!

    • I realize you somewhat spelled out the steps to making the filter folder, but it doesn't seem to be working for me (maybe it's b/c I'm using VDJ LE?). I created a folder (but it's red), how do I "put that code in"? Do I do it in VDJ or do I go thru the applications window and somehow drop in the code?

      • Andy Taylor says:


        I've just found a video that shows the whole thing

        If you don't have that blue icon (the one he clicks on 20 seconds in to bring up the box) then I guess it must be a limitation of the LE version, or the version you have came before filter folders had been invented.

        Hope that helps.

  7. Mixing in key truly does make your house mixes sound better. Used properly, the Camalot system will take your mixing to the next level. It is true, most bars/pub/saloon crowds do not care about the transition but, if you make mixes for publication it is the only way to go.

    VDJ's key scanner is pretty accurate, but does have its draw backs. It is a DJ system but was never intended to replace your ear. The same could be said of VDJs beat engine. You still need to work the mix. I strongly suggest double scanning your music using MIxMeister's key engine and placing that info in the comment section of the VDJ xml data.

    Happy mixing! TearEmUp VDJ forum moderator....

  8. Wicked review Phil, nice to see the system working in practice with examples of tunes rather than just a review of features, although im lusting for barbecued fish now....Im Pretty new to digital djing after years of persevering with vinyl for its tactile lovelyness and focussed on live remixing and scratching- only got traktor scratch pro a couple of months ago and never converted to cd's either so nows the best time to take things like key into consideration while digitising and adding comments, i also love the discussion after and links from others to open source versions...do you have any other suggestions for those who have already blown their budget and want more? anyway, nicely written review again Phil.... 😉 Penance

  9. Hi really nice review!! it helped a lot. but i have one question. You are saying that the software can put the key info into the id3 tags. But what happens when you use .wav files. I think they dont have id3 tags?

  10. Hey Phil.
    A lot of times when sorting tracks in most softwares, you can "double sort" by stacking your sorts on top of eachother. I know this works in VDJ- I don't have ITCH on my computer, so I can't check it there.
    Here's what I mean:

    First, sort by the secondary sort level- in this case, BPM. Then click on the key column to sort by key, and you'll notice that now all of your songs are sorted by key, but they maintain the BPM order as well.

    Hope this makes sense- shoot me an email if it still doesn't work.

  11. As well as learning to try this out, I really appreciated your song selection. There was some stuff that I liked, but I really loved the huge eclectic selection. I hope I get to catch you live sometime :)

  12. Hello. Nice write up!

    Regarding the "Top one, nice one, get sorted" section.
    I don't know about the other DJ software but with what I use, Traktor Pro, I use the search feature (set the search on comment, as I write my Camelot symbols in the comment tag) to filter say all 3A songs then sort it by BPM.
    Or, you can do the other way around, filter search for BPM first then sort with Camelot key (you can sort it with track key, F, Ebm, Bb, if you have the track key displayed.)

    Hope this helps.


  13. Hi Phil, yes you are right with MIK i can rewrite the names of the files, but do you know if theres someway to tell traktor that the key is in the begining of the file name?

  14. Hi Daniel - Good point, and no, I don't I'm afraid. Anyone?

  15. Mixing in key is pretty cool,
    Ive been doing it for at least 5 months, and liked it. As you said, don't only use the key to choose the next song. Im surprised how after some practice you choose songs that match perfectly without looking to the key value! The interesting thing is that this skill got better as i started producing.

    And i like to share something too.

    A combination of Mixed in Key or Rapid Evolution and MP3Tag will solve almost all your "key compatible songs" problems.

    I use Rapid Evolution software to scan keys and it rarely crashes (im a linux user, i have no problems using it in ubuntu or xp but it works faster on ubuntu)

    RE writes the key on the "key" Value, then to make it easier to find a certain key while mixing (traktor user) I use a software called mp3Tag (great software BTW and its free) to copy all "key" values to the "comment" value. That way i just type A2, Ab, etc etc into the search box and it makes wonders :)

    The great thing about MP3Tag (im not making any kind of marketing, im just giving this information away because i think a lot of people could benefit from this) is that you can apply a set of personalized "actions" to complete folders. It saves a lot of time and it keeps your library clean and well organized.

    From Mexico,
    Viktor Dasher

  16. very good read! coming from a musician background myself, it really aggravated me to hear off-key DJ mixing (quite often...) i can key-mix by ear pretty well, but this will definitely speed things up! thanks!

  17. "What would have been nice in my DJ software would have been some way to sort within the sorted results – once by key and then by BPM."

    Well, in Virtual DJ 7 you can create some filter folders and use some filters like "bpm>110 and bpm<130 and keydiff=0" or "bpmdiff<=15 and keydiff=0" or something like that.

    This way, you will have same tempo tracks, sorted by key.
    I have a folder for every genre, and in there sub folders with my tracks sorted this way.
    For example:
    Musi c<-- folder
    Hip Hop <-- sub folder (filter folder: "genre=Hip Hop")
    bpm < 70 to 80 (sorted by key) <--sub folder (into hip hop)
    bpm 80 to 90 (sorted by key) <-- sub folder (into hip hop)
    bpm 90 to 100 (sorted by key) 100 (sorted by key) <--....
    Dubstep <-- sub dolder (fliter folder: "genre=dubstep")
    bpm <75 to 90 (sorted by key) (into dubstep)
    and so on. This way you can have your database sorted by genre, bpm and key simultaneously, nice and easy.

  18. Also, in rare cases you may find tracks with more than 1 keys (or with no key at all!).

    Remixes, mash-ups, mixtapes, mixtracks, etc may not have only 1 key. These tracks combine 2 or more songs, written in (maybe) different keys. So Virtual DJ or Mixed in key may display "A8" but in this track you may have A8+A2+A12 combined. From my own experience, I can say that usually, the key displayed is the last key that software can recognize in the track (the last song's key, in a remix). If you know some basic music theory and have a synthesizer (hardware or even a VST instrument) you can find manually what's the first and the last key in these tracks, but that's a little bit stressful if you do it live.

    A track with no key is a really rare exception. You will find these tracks in some sub-genres of classical music (or maybe jazz). Scriabin, Bella Bartok and Shostakovitch used to write tracks with no key, but this is something that a DJ should not be concerned (unless he wants to mix classical music! lol).

    Last, as Phil Morse said(correct), the majority of tracks are written in minor scales. And that's true. Minor keys tend to be more "harmonious" than major keys. That's why mainstream songs tend to be written in minor keys. You'll probably find major keys in Rock or Punk music.

  19. good read. i've started implementing key mixing too and its just so much fun!!! ill have to set up my system for 4deck playing, because oftentimes i just have some tunes running together, mashupstyle, and cause it sounds so great, i dont wanna cut any of them away.....
    im totally agreeing on the cross-genre thing. i think i can throw all my cleverly named genre folder out of the window and mix everything :)

  20. Thanks for that nice review! I use VirtualDJ and didn't even knew that it has this feature built in. The key is displayed next to the track infos. Great post! Great website !

  21. Adam Yarter says:

    Do NOT use Key lock unless you must. I keep two cd books, and I know that if something is about 6 % slower, its about a semitone behind. Then you don't get the rubbish sound!

  22. I use virtual dj, and have known for a while that you are able to determine the key, but i only could view it in the true (f#,d#,etc) format. However i have since discovered that you can add a field into the browser which is Key(Numeric), exactly the same as mixed in key, and whats more, by holding shift and clicking on the title of the fields, you can sort within a sort, fantastic. My mixes have become so much better thanks to harmonic mixing and everyone is noticing!

  23. Nice review. And also, NICE GIG!

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