Review: Mixed In Key Mashup Software
Mashups are a bit of a holy grail, aren't they? DJs are always being told they should get into production, start making music, do more than just play records.
Trouble is, most DJs are still hooked on the immediacy of DJing. Great next tune, throw it on, find another, throw it on. To these guys, the music collection is everything. Production, with all its promises of long nights in the studio going over the same thing time and time again, no crowd, no reaction - well, it's just not particularly appealing.
Throw in the fact that you also need a level of musical theory knowledge that many DJs frankly don't have, and you begin to see the big divide that's opening up between "just play the music" DJs and the mashup, production and beat generating crews.
Into this divide comes Mixed In Key Mashup. The makers claim you can "make a mashup in five minutes" with it. Well I just had to test that out, now didn't I? (By the way, there's an iPad version too: Here's our Mixed In Key iMashup review.)
Mixed in Key is the company behind the popular software of the same name, that uses digital algorithms to work out the musical key of your music, tagging it with a clever system to allow you to then have a go at harmonic DJ mixing without really understanding the theory. Our audience can't get enough of this particular piece of software.
So it'll come as no surprise to learn that Mixed In Key Mashup builds on this. To start with, it is simple in appearance - really simple, actually. Secondly, once you being to play with the software, you realise that it uses Mixed in Key's ability to guess the musical key of a track to do all that complicated stuff in the background for you. It holds the promise of your just dragging tunes into a window, and - well, and it doing all the hard stuff for you.
The bottom half of the screen is where you drag the music you want to work with to. The software then analyses this (to basically see how closely related the musical keys are) and gives you the result as a percentage. So in theory you then drag a track from here into the top window, and it immediately tells you how well matched the other tracks are. It's up to you if you want to go for tunes it thinks are well matched or not.
(By the way, it never actually gives you the key, so if you want to know that, you still need to own Mixed In Key 5).
This analysing can take quite a long time if you have a lot of source material tracks, although the software "remembers" tracks, and can work with Mixed In Key 5's information too.
Whichever tunes you pick for your mashup, once you drag them to the top window, it lays the waveforms one above the other, "snaps" them to a beatgrid, makes the tunes the same speed, and attempts to harmonically match them for you. You then move them around until they are laid over each other where you wish, and in theory, bang! There you go - instant mashup.
OK, let's start using it and reveal a few more features along the way. Firstly, you can't throw two finished full productions over each other and expect it to all sound great. This is software, not magic. So the first thing you need to do is choose wisely.
The classic cliche of mashups is to take an accapella and throw it over an instrumental or a track with few vocals, and that's exactly what I did for the purposes of this review, pairing Adele's Rolling In The Deep with the Guy J Falling Apart mix of Bent's As You Fall. These were the first accapella and the third musical track I tried, after less than 10 minutes of auditioning. Heavily worked out my example mashup certainly is not!
Once your tunes are together you need to make it so that your second element begins at exactly the same time as your first element, so you use the zoom function to zoom right in to the part where you want this to happen and then clip the second track so it starts in the right place. While it will automatically "snap" to the beat, there are "phase" adjusters, which let you change milliseconds in order to make tiny final adjustments.
While Mixed In Key Mashup attempts to guess the BPM of tunes, and did a really good job even on the accapella (no mean feat, seeing by definition accapellas have no beats), it may not be quite right, and you can hear this easily enough by seeing if your vocal "drifts" forwards or back as you listen through. A dialogue box lets you make changes to the BPM, and again by zooming and watching the waveforms (and listening of course) you can keep things tight.
Each waveform has a three-band EQ and it's represented by a line for each frequency band, selectable via a dropdown. You can pin levels to various parts of the tune, by which I mean you can add a "pin" on the line then drag the level up or down before or after the line and it will alter depending on where the pin was (see the screenshot). This is useful for mashups, because for instance you may wish to drop the midrange out of a track to remove from significance the occasional vocal to allow the vocal of another source to drop in better.
Finally, you can mute sections of the tunes by selection the beats and bars (again, your selections snap-to-grid) and hitting "delete" - useful for trimming the end of a project or just dropping out unwanted elements.
Really, what's conspicuous at this point is the absence of pretty much anything else. There's no looping, no effects, no real cut & pasting. Even for a 1.0 piece of software, this is really very sparse. I get the impression the developers wanted to get it out there, get feedback and then work out what functions really matter to their audience, and then add them slowly without detracting fro the overall simplicity of the program.
All that's left for me to add is that you can enter new metadata to describe your mashup, then export as either WAV or 320kbps MP3.
I really have to say, I thought this was way too minimal to be of any use to anyone when I first opened and tried it. That's why I decided the only real way to test it would be to make a mashup from start to finish.
Because the system matched the key instantly for me, I didn't have to worry about that (it is perfectly possible to match keys in certain other DAW software but to do it manually you need an ear for it and it takes time to get it note-perfect). Because the system also time-stretched the sources, again there was zero time spent sorting that bit out.
I dropped the Adele accapella at the start of the musical information on the Bent tune, adjusted its overall level, removed a bit of the mid from the instrumental to dim the few vocals in it, altered the BPM of the accapella slightly (Mashup guessed it a bit too fast), made a few EQ adjustments as I listened through, and within 30 minutes, had a mashup finished.
Of course it isn't studio quality, and given more time on more powerful software I could start to polish it but that's not the point - the point is, it's done! Finished! Ready to test in a DJ set and see if it's worth any extra work or if it's a bum idea.
Yeah, sure, purists are going to say you can't time-stretch compressed MP3s and resample them to match the keys and then re-output it all without it sounding rubbish - but rubbish compared to what? Compared to a studio production, lovingly mastered by professionals (and lord knows there are few enough of those around nowadays)? OK, you're right - compared to such productions, anything made here is going to sound poor.
(Actually though, I asked about the algorithms and apparently it uses the same as Ableton Live's complex time-stretching, and the software works fine with WAV inputs as well as MP3s, so really the quality is in your hands.)
But compared to a DJ's performance? Remember what DJs do. They drop tunes over each other using volume and a bit of EQ. DJs don't worry about production-style nuances - they bang their live mixes out and move on to the next one. People dance. Everyone smiles. Now imagine if you can prepare a few little homemade mashups to add a bit of extra sparkle to that?
If you can do it with your whole collection laid out in front of you, and you can do it knowing that something clever will stop it sounding truly awful, and that it isn't going to take over your day (or your life), wouldn't that be good?
In a nutshell, that's what Mixed In Key Mashup does. If you can DJ well enough, you can use this well enough. It won't help you if you have no idea about beats, and bars, and what might go well together, nor if you're tone deaf and aren't in a position to judge how good the results actually are.
But as long as you're these things, Mixed In Key Mashup will allow you to basically drop accapellas over instrumentals, or some similar fusion of other source material, and make something passable.
Now, is it worth the money? Well that depends. If Mixed In Key gets a buoyant community going for the product, listens to feedback and carefully integrates the features people want the most, rolling these changes out without extra charge at least until it's got a bit more functionality than it currently does, then yes, I'd say it is. There's nothing else quite like it out there, the harmonic mixing algorithm being the killer feature.
Personally I'd like to see some extra features (some better editing functions, definitely looping, a few effects including filters, a simple gain on each channel) thrown in for the price, and apparently at least some of those are coming. For instance looping - one of the biggest requests from beta testers - is due soon, and the makers assure us that all updates to v 2.0 will be free.
If you're itching to make simple, rough-and-ready mashups that you can use to make your DJ sets a little bit different, without worrying about most of the technicalities that normally make this kind of thing more time-consuming than many DJs can stomach, you should give it a go right now.
Oh, the mashup. I couldn't manage to turn out a mashup in five minutes, but in half an hour? A rough cut was indeed possible, and to be honest, most of that half an hour was working out how the program works. (It's a Flash widget, so for iOS readers here's a link):
If you can DJ well enough, you can use this well enough. It won't help you if you have no idea about beats, and bars, and what might go well together, nor if you're tone deaf and aren't in a position to judge how good the results actually are.
- Mashup Software
- From: Mixed In Key
- Price: $39
- Reviewed by:
Have you been looking for something that makes it really, I mean really, simple to make mashups? Do you think it's important that DJs try and improve their sets in this way? What do you use for this kind of thing? Please let us know in the comments.