Mixed in Key 5.5 was launched today, and brings a headline new feature to the popular key detection software: Dancefloor energy level analysis. Now, as well as automatically analysing your digital music collection to tell you which tunes will be likely to mix well with each other harmonically, the software can also give you an "Energy" rating for each tune, to help you manage your dancefloor's energy levels better.
How does it work?
The software "listens" for tell-tale elements in your track - hi-hat patterns, white noise (ie "whooshing" sounds that add tension and excitement in build-ups) and other elements, and then scores each track from 1 to 10 for energy. Banging Swedish house might be 9 or 10, while that one piece of classical music in your library is more likely to score 1 or 2. Deep house may come in at 4 or 5, and so on. It's important to note that the new value isn't necessarily associated with BPM, so it could help multi-genre DJs to change BPM rapidly while maintaining dancefloor energy - especially useful when used alongside Mixed In Key's harmonic analysis to ensure two tunes with wildly varying BPMs in a mix are also musically matched
While even the makers don't suggest this new algorithm should replace knowing your tunes well, it is a useful extra way of quickly browsing your tunes for likely matches. The energy level number can be written by the software in various places within the metadata (including the Grouping column, added at Digital DJ Tips's suggestion), and can be added to the filename too.
Mixed in Key is all about achieving smoother, cleaner, more professional mixes, and the harmonic mixing system the software has championed has revolutionised many DJs' approaches to mixing, so it will be interesting to see how this new Energy algorithm will work.
How well does it work?
In an initial test analysis of a typically varied selection of my own music, the software got it about right ("Nightfall" by Borealis was correctly identified as a "1", which isn't surprising as it's an ambient tune, while a chillout Cafe Del Mar-style tune got a 4, and a more jumpy Friendly Fires remix by Air France scored a floor-filling 7).
We have always encouraged DJs to use iTunes's star ratings system in this exact way manually, but if it turns out that Mixed In Key's alchemists have indeed found a way of translating dancefloor energy into an automated rating that can be useful for DJs, they could have provided a shortcut that'll be useful especially when you're DJing with unfamiliar material or in a hurry with a pile of new tunes.
However, nothing will ever replace context ("the right tune at the right time"), or familiarity (tunes people know fill floors, tune people don't know struggle more), and it also won't replace mixing skills (a tune lovingly worked into the mix by a DJ who knows it inside out can lift a dancefloor - the same tune trainwrecked in can clear it).
Just like harmonic mixing analysis itself, the tool should be seen a tool to be experimented with alongside all the other tools available to the digital DJ, to be used alongside (and not as a replacement for) any of the other skills of DJing. In that spirit, I for one am looking forward to seeing how useful it turns out to be for me in my sets.
• Mixed In Key 5.5 is available now from the Mixed in Key website.
Do you like the idea of having software tell you energy level as well as musical key? Can you see this helping you organise your collection? Or do you feel it's taking something away from the job of the DJ? Have you found Mixed in Key useful in your DJing? Please share your thoughts in the comments.