Beatmasking: 5 Ways To Get Out Of A Terrible Mix

Sad Face

In a see of happy, smiley mixes, even the best DJs have been known to drop a clanger. Beatmasking describes the steps DJs take to get out the other side with some of their dignity intact…

Our friend @thedjgospel over on Twitter is always good for a rant or two, even if we don’t always agree with what he says – but we think he hit the nail on the head recently in a tweet about some dodgy DJing he heard at a party.

“The filter and effects buttons are not for beatmatching, that would be beatmasking and proof you can’t mix…” he tweeted. I bet that you’re either nodding your head in fervent agreement with him right now, or just maybe you’re shuffling your feet somewhat guiltily (It’s OK, we’re all friends here.. :) )

But the truth is, I’m sure we’ve can all remember our last complete, terminal, no-hope, trainwreck, abomination of a mix. And while there’s no excuse for using the filter controls or echo effects as your main method of mixing, it still pays to have a few tricks up your sleeve to rescue a bad mix if you end up dealing with one in front of an audience.

After all, we all make mistakes: It’s how you deal with them that counts. So here we go:

Five ways to get out of a terrible mix

  1. Use the EQ – If your mix is clashing harmonically, beats-wise or anything else, your first port of call is the EQ. It’s always risky mixing two tunes with bass, mid and treble all fully on, anyway – so if things are clashing, try taking elements away from the tune you’re getting rid of, starting with the bass. Indeed, it’s very rarely you want two basslines playing at one. Very rarely
  2. Use the filter – Using the filter on the channel you’re bringing out can immediately move the audience’s attention to the track you’re bringing in. It’s down and dirty, but it can save you from any manner of bassline clashes (high-pass filter) or vocal/percussion clashes (low-pass filter), because one knob does an awful lot, leaving the other hand free to attempt to do something else to rescue your dodgy DJing (and I don’t mean air punching)
  3. Using music effects – Especially echo/delay and reverb. These also push the outgoing track “back” in the mix (think about it: If something echoes or sounds reverb-y in real life, it’s normally because it’s not right next to you). Bringing the new song in crisp and clear, while pushing the old one back in the mix, again switches the audience’s attention to the “new” track faster
  4. Use deck effects – On vinyl, a stock trick for escaping a bad mix is to execute a skilful spinback on the outgoing deck (grabbing the vinyl and making it go very fast backwards). Alternatively, switching the deck off makes the record slow down to stopped, something you can speed up with a finger on the edge of the platter. This gets the outgoing track out of the mix letting you switch quickly 100% to the new tune. While not advisable every mix, this is actually pretty good once in a while. Most DJ software has simulations of both of these “deck effects” – find them, work out how to trigger them quickly, and consider them a pair of “panic buttons” in your bad mix armoury!
  5. Just switch immediately to the new tune – The trouble with this one (all the way over to the new tune, no bells and whistles) is that typically DJs do it having tried any combination of the rest of the above first. Sometimes if a mix seems bad, it’s best just to bang the new tune in and move on… it won’t sound great, but this is about damage limitation, not covering yourself in glory! And people forget mighty fast…

Finally…

Remember that people have primarily come to dance, not hear mixing. This ain’t DMC, it’s a dancefloor. Sure good mixing adds an awful lot, but it can’t replace great tunes played in an excellent order. Concentrate on these things and people will forgive the odd dodgy mix. In fact, they may even like it (it proves you’re human, and that you’re actually doing something up there).

So if it’s bad (as in slightly to moderately bad), don’t make a fuss – get your head down, find the next tune, and by the time you look up, hopefully everyone will be grooving away again. But if it was really bad? A big smile, the international “what, me?” gesture with your arms and a bit of a laugh with whoever is around will diffuse the situation, and make you out to be a nice guy at the same time.

Have you ever had to “beatmask”? Can you remember your worst mix, and what you did to get out of it? Was it as bad as you thought at the time, and did it wreck your set, or was it soon forgotten? I’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. Guilty as charged – during times of weekly radio shows and the urge to play new tunes (which you dont know as much as your old ones) it happens that the mix doesnt quite go as you thought it would!
    My ‘go to’ beatmasking if this happens, is to cut the bass of the incoming track, then slowly rise the reverb or delay effect on the outgoing track – after 4 or 8 bars I introduce the bass back in the incoming track while I mute the outgoing track, leaving the effect’s decay (last echoes or the decay of the reverb) to make it sound like a recorded sweeping-kinda effect.
    I hate it because I know its beatmasking but, its true, most of the time the audience doesnt notice!

  2. Pro Audio & DJ Tutor says:

    You could also smash up the decks, blame the gear and jump into the ground in a final blaze of glory? (Hopefully avoiding looking as ridiculous as Billie Joe Armstrong)

  3. Pro Audio & DJ Tutor says:

    Also the old ‘disbelieving expression’ morphing into an accusing look followed by close inspection of the gear as if your vinyl or CD skipped may also work.

    • Hahaha I saw John Digweed of all people do the old ‘disbelieving expression’ routine after a very rare trainwreck in Dublin many years back. To be fair theres few better Dj’s in the world for immaculate transitions, so maybe something really did f*ck up on him, but it can happen to us all i guess…!

    • Dirty Dan says:

      lolz, I thought I was alone in this BS move.

  4. Martidog303 says:

    Superb point “it proves you’re human, and that you’re actually doing something up there”….

    Only last week I recorded a mix & people were asking for a download. It included 2 x clashing beats 2 x leaning on the platter incidents. I cringed & was about to edit as best I could. But inspire by an amazing mix by Eddie Flashin’ Folkes I heard recently with a few errors I decided “that’s live that’s real”.

    I got props for the fact it was real & to quote from a listener “it adds character proving that software & midi controllers aren’t just sync & auto-mix”.

  5. After a million mixes, this is bound to happen once in a while. But man there is nothing worse than the sound of a bad mix, which is akin to the sound of sneakers tumbling around in the dryer. Great tips. I have one more – You can always talk, or have the promoter make an announcement – over the awful mix at a much lower volume.

  6. Sometimes I am playing tracks with wildly different BPMs so “beatmasking” is the only way to go!

  7. DJ_ForcedHand says:

    Does anyone else use the technique of manually drumming out the beat of the out going beat with the first beat cue of the incoming song and then slamming the incoming song when the first song changes?

    • Michou007 says:

      Yes, Jonathan aka ellaskins on YouTube does it quite frequently especially if going up/ down a massive number of BPM or mixing old genres that are next to impossible to beat grid/ beatmatch!

    • I do that as much for effect as for just mixing

  8. Oh god this just brought back the memories of all my trainwrecks.
    Good article.

  9. I’m just about to get started on digital mixing, had been mixing with vinyl for some time previously and pleased to read that a mix can still go wrong, but how much can really go wrong when you gave auto sync and the mass of other tricks?

    • You don’t have to USE those features – many of us don’t.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      You’d be surprised sir. Synching works when you have songs within +- 5%… after that, things get weird… also there’s the matter of a song being beat-gridded wrong and then you have the syncopation problem you have with vinyl. Computers help you do things like number crunching, they can’t help you with reasoning.

      Oh and BTW, keep at least one of those turntables, you’ll still be able to scratch digital files (with a Scratch version of DJ software and hardware).

    • tt or controller if u cant mix…u just cant mix

  10. So you just manually beat match instead of the auto function then? I’m probably going for twitch and not sure I would see the point in doing it manually and anyways since mixing vinyl since 94 basic beat matching is something I’d be happy to be done for me and give me more time doing more interesting stuff

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      That’s exactly the right point to take on this. If you’re not doing something creative with the time the computer gives back to you, you’re just being lazy.

    • The SYNCH button is a blessing and a curse. The ways it can be misused have been covered here extensively, and it is about the only element of the analog-vs-digital argument where I find total agreement with the vinyl crowd. To wit: if you rely on SYNCH, you’re not doing your best.

      I use the SYNCH function occasionally, BUT NOT TO BEATMATCH. You say “HUH?” That’s right. It helps line up your BPMs when for some reason you can’t get them close enough on your slider. My slider has a +- increment of like 12% for some selections, and no matter how hard I try, track (A) is playing at 120.4bpm and I’m cueing track (B) but it’s clocking in at 114 or 126bpm depending on how I move the tempo slider. Not good enough for good mixing.

      Enter the SYNCH button. Apply the dark magic, and VOILA! the cue track is now automatically played at the exact tempo of the previous track! YAY COMPUTERS! But now of course comes the actual DJ part; doing the *actual* music synchronization yourself, on spot. Don’t rely on wave-riding either, actually L I S T E N for the match.

      At this point, with the aforementioned running shoes no longer tumbling in the dryer, you have absolutely no excuse not to come in on the ONE. And thanks to the freed up time, you better come in nicely EQ’ed. :-)

      • “Tempo matching”, in other words. I actually use it 100% of the time, and only manually take over if for some reason it doesn’t get it right. But once I’ve tempo matched, I DJ like I always have – by ear. I like the granularity of it. I like being in control of where my tunes sit over each other. That’s just me though, and no way is “right”.

  11. MastahDario says:

    Brings back those memories of music clash. For some reason there is always that one person who catches the beatmasking.

  12. lordamercy says:

    I actually just mix like this in general just to keep myself entertained lol

  13. My Nightmare happened when I thought I’d mix in a Santana track, “Oye Como Va” … and No one told me the intro speed , and main hook were at different speeds! In fact alot of latin jazz records, often have different time signatures to create fun musical exercises, i.e. show off their musical chops. So before you let a track with a human drummer, ride together, try to rehearse beforehand. Or your mix will sound like wild galloping horses:(

  14. man i usually just turn off the turntable to give it a traffic jam slow down it works all the time, sounds profesh to me

  15. I trainwrecked for the first time EVER in a live performance last weekend when I used some really old CDJs that have seen better days. I laughed it off and slowly EQ-outed my outgoing track. Funny thing about this was that I made an agreement with the owner of the CDJs, that I would probably trainwreck at least once on his equipment, so we took a shot and cheers to it. When he heard the trainwreck from the other end of the room, he ran over to me and we had a good laugh about it. :D

  16. That sounds a bit like the old “real DJs use Vinyl” discussion to me..pretty narrow minded…
    Why not use effects and EQ for mixing ? It can really enrich your performance, if you do it well. Sometimes you have no other chance, specially when not using the “boring house or techno beat”.
    My standard comment to the “Vinyl” Discussion also fits in perfect for this issue:
    Its all about slection and makein the people dance.
    The more creative you do it, the better…and yes, i use the Sync Button, too ! ;-)

    • I absolutely agree on that! What’s all about the development from gear-providers (e.g. Pioneer, NI, et al) if it shouldn’t be used during the mix? Only for re-edits, remixes, cut&splice, etc of a song and all to forget while trying to beatmatch two tracks? NOP! Use this damned gear and be creative, also during the mixes! For sure, the selection of tracks, the flow and the interaction with the crowd are the most important things for a DJ.
      But hey, we’re living in 2012 and not anymore in the 80′s where DJing was all about beatmatching and soft mix from one track to the other. There so many FX (not only EQ, reverb, delay). How about beatmasher, spin, hard cuts, etc.? With these effects you can easily bring the crowd onto the next level. They keep dancing while being curious what comes next… To be honest: use beatmasking! (since a track is more than just beats. I assume that most of the DJs already heard that tracks often have a melody, bass, stabs, :-) )

      • I’m an advocate for effects. What I’ve seen/heard is the use of overeffecting. It makes poor choice in tunes sound even shittier in an attempt to make it sound “cool”. Yes, there are plenty of ways to use effects, but a lot of it comes from just having a badass track collection and knowing when it’s great to drop it in.

        IMO, I absolutely loathe overeffecting.

      • I’m sorry, but in my experience, and after lots of reviews from different types of people, I came to the pretty logical conclusion that party goers want to hear the songs from start to finish, without interuptions, without over effecting, and with some BS wisecrack breaking the music flow every 2 minutes because “he’s bored”.

        As DJs we are paid to entertain, we are paid to get people of their sits and to get them dancing for an X number of hours.

        With all due respect to NI, Pioneer and etc, they’re designing digital instruments for digital musicians. They don’t go around clubs and asking the custumers input on the set and the current DJ’s preformance, because it’s irelevant to them.

        That being said, the tips in the article are great in order to get out of any dodgy situation during the set, and that’s very helpful. thanks!

    • Of course it can. But this article is indeed very narrow: It’s focusing specifically on what to do when something’s already going wrong. We love all kinds of transitions, and I (for one) hate boring beatmatching, especially when it impacts on tune choice.

  17. I can see where he’s coming from, but don’t completely agree.

    Under certain circumstances (such as mixing two tracks that are of similar BPM but completely different genre’s) using the effects to mask one tracks sound while keeping it matched with the other works wonders. This adds flavor to the Master track and really keeps the crowd guessing, if done correctly no one knows what’s coming next until you fade out of the last effect and into the (beatmatched) track.

    As with a lot of things DJ related, this is one topic that I feel is best left as opinion/personal preference.

  18. Klaus Mogensen says:

    I’ve done all of them. Including grabbing the mike and saying something stupid very loud…

    But I agree that “Use the EQ” should almost always be done in the first place

    Another thing: when mixing 70th music I know that the mix isn’t going to be perfect going in, as the tempo of both songs are normally all over the place. Then I use a lot of waveriding and jogs to make it as good as possible – but it does sound very “live”, which I actually like as a mix variation

  19. Stazbumpa says:

    Whenever my mix sounds like a pair of trainers in a tumble dryer I slam in the next track and then announce my fail on the mic. On a big system few people will notice anyway.

  20. Good topic!
    I don’t use SYNC (not on principle, just personally like to have control!) so messy mixes do happen. I have used all of the suggested methods of escape.
    Sometimes it pays to make out you meant to do it – cut with the crossfader or twist the filter with a flourish!!
    But I am a big fan of the hand-over-the-mouth “oops” gesture! Don’t hide, make eye contact with someone who’s noticed, give the a “guilty as charged” look then laugh it off and get into the new track.
    I agree with the comments that if the crowd are enjoying the tunes, they will overlook the occasional fluff, and as one commented, it can actually work in your favour helping build a rapport with the crowd.
    It’s great to hear it’s not just me!!

  21. Dirty Dan says:

    Maybe I’m the odd ball here but Beat Masking is my bread and butter. My regular 3 nights a week gig is at a sports bar/restaurant. They want a mix of AC, Top40, 90′s, 80′s, country and veeeeeerry little urban. I do blocks of each, sometimes I’ll mash up a couple different styles back to back. On the upside I’m now in a very intimate relationship with my mixer and boy does she work hard for the money.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, with most of today’s radio hits they’re very easy to beat match and mix with. But sometimes man, it’s Masking for the win. And I find with a mashing of styles like I have to do, Masking tricks actually add to the fun. I’d say I’m at 80% cue juggling, looping and beatmatching to 20% of masking.

    • Dirty Dan says:

      And after actually bothering to read through all the comments, I find I’m not the oddball after all. Comforting.

  22. No one mentioned the old faithful spin back well if they did I missed it.

  23. DJ Sneakman says:

    I usually do the standard “Bass-cut mix in method” in practice (since i’ve never done a gig DX) but sometimes that method, while beatmatched well, can sound ugly (for example Deadmau5′s “I Remember” into “Hi Friend”) so what i usually do is do some quick EQing to make the incoming track quieter until i feel its time to make the big switch. When i make big errors i usually backspin or tapestop.

    Most of my music is like 128 BPM though so i feel like a cheater cuz i dont really have to adjust tempos.

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