Right, you have heard all of this talk about making mashups. You know it's a better idea than making mixtapes. And naturally, you also know you've got a good ear for what sounds "right". So why are you still no nearer to making your first mashup?
Maybe you think you need special software. Maybe you're scared of beatmatching with acappellas. Or maybe mixing in key is what's holding you back. Today's article is designed to get you over all of these hurdles. You can use your normal DJ software, we'll show you how to beatmatch your acappella, and tell you the truth about key mixing.
Four easy steps to making your first mashup
So here's how to get going. It probably won't make you a masterpiece, but it will match the BPMs all up nicely for you, give you an easy way to experiment, and cut out all of the mystery. This should give you the confidence to then take mashup creation further.
- Find a tune that you have an acappella, a full vocal version and an instrumental of - If you haven't got one, go and look for one. It must all be the same mix - so for instance, an original version, an original instrumental, and then the accapella. (It's not as good having the instrumental of one remix and the vocal of another.) If you're just missing the acappella, try the excellent acapellas4u.co.uk
- Set the BPM of the acappella to the same as that of the instrumental version - Unfortunately you can't just press "sync", as your DJ software probably won't be able to guess the BPM of the acappella, as it has no beat. But because you have the instrumental version (and the vocal version), you already know the BPM of the acappella - it's the same as those two! So manually set its BPM to that
- Recreate the vocal version of the tune by dropping the acappella over the instrumental - This is a step that I've included to help you to get used to the process. As you now have an acappella at the right BPM, you can start the instrumental playing on one of your DJ software's decks, then at the right time, start the acappella playing. (Not sure where it starts? Refer to the vocal version - that's why we've got it.) Now you have effectively the same track as the full vocal version, but composed of a separate vocal and instrumental. Feel free to mess around with your EQs, crossfader, filters etc to "remix" the track on the fly
- Replace the instrumental with a different song's instrumental - When you've had enough of that practice run, stop everything, get the acappella back to the beginning, and on the deck that you have the instrumental loaded on, load the instrumental of a different song. Match its BPM to the BPM of the acappella - hitting "sync" will do it. (You know the BPM of the acappella is correct, because you set it earlier.) Now start the instrumental playing, and wherever you feel it is right to do so (hint: count in eights), start the accapella playing. Use your nudge controls to get it exactly in time if you need to. There you go - your first properly beatsynced mashup!
"But it sounds awful..."
I'd be amazed if your first mashup created in this way sounded good. For mashups to work, two extra things need to fall into place as well as getting the elements properly BPMed:
1. Getting the song structures right
First, the song structures have to match (it helps if verse / chorus / verse / chorus etc. all drop at the right time, for instance - if not, you have to start cutting and looping things, which gets complex for sa beginner). Also, it helps if other elements within these such as chord progressions "match" or contrast nicely - it's very much intuition and trial and error.
But that's fine - just keep choosing different instrumentals, start your vocals in different places - it's part of the fun. You may want to mark cue points on your acappella so you can start sections of it in the right place on your favourite instrumental.
2. Matching musical key
Second, you almost always need to pick an acappella and an instrumental that are in the same or a related musical key. However, I've left mention of this till last because you shouldn't let worrying about this stop you experimenting - I was doing mashups with vinyl for years just using my ears to decide if they sounded good or not. You should do the same.
Try with the "keylock" function on your software on and off (either or both decks), for no reason other than that this will usually give you a couple of different sounding options to audition.
Head into the "studio"...
What you're doing here is creating "live" mashups. If you want to record them, you have to hit "record" in your DJ software and perform the mashup live, hoping you get it all how you want it.
If you want to pre-prepare your elements to get everything just-so, you need to use digital audio workstation (DAW) software. Audacity is free, or you could invest in Mashup, a new and relatively cheap program that's designed to help you make such mashups fast.
Match those keys...
If you want to start mixing in key, the free Keyfinder software or paid-for Mixed in Key will analyse your collection - or if you're a Virtual DJ user, key analysis is built in. That will take the guesswork out of matching acappellas and backing tracks - although make sure you put "key lock" on on both decks.
As always, trust your ears above all else. If it sounds right, it probably is! If you're not sure, just save your efforts and listen again tomorrow - you'll soon hear whether they're good enough.
And if you're lucky enough to have a gig you can test your first mashup at, please do play it live - the audience reaction is the one that counts, and there's nothing like the feeling of playing something you created for the first time and getting a good reaction.
If this article has inspired you to have a go at doing your first mashup, please come back and let us know how you got on in the comments below.