Last updated 15 November, 2017

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Software such as Mixed In Key has popularised harmonic mixing for DJs, but it's not the only way to slice and dice your music for your DJ sets.
Software such as Mixed In Key has popularised harmonic mixing for DJs, but it’s not the only way to slice and dice your music for your DJ sets.

Digital DJ Tips reader David writes: “I’m confused! I’ve spent the past few months researching the art of digital DJing, having followed your Learn To DJ Free email course and purchased the How To Digital DJ Fast video learning. I have also catalogued a lot of my collection using Mixed in Key, and have worked on small mixes using djay.”

“I have a lot of chilled Ibiza-style tunes and was thinking of moving through a set from say a Crazy P tune (Sweet Feeling) taking in some old skool soul (George Benson, Soul II Soul) and then moving onto some funkier Fred Falke/Louis la Roche, then slowing down towards the end of the set. I guess I need to get the structure of the set sorted in my head! But in particular, I think I’m focusing too much on getting the key changes right, whilst wanting to get some specific tunes in… am I over complicating it? Should I just let the music do the talking?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

I am presuming you’re talking about performing this in public. If so, your crowd are your first helpers. Watching their cues and following what you think the room want should come first, clever mixes a definite second. But with the kind of chilled set you’re speaking of, maybe your DJing is in a bar or lounge where it’s harder to get that kind of feedback, and so then it can be tempting to look for the “perfect mix” rather than the “perfect next song” – and frankly, it’s not such a big deal to DJ this way sometimes in these situations.

However, while mixing in key (or rather sorting your tracks by key) initially will suggest sone interesting match-ups that just might work, and so make your DJing more interesting, things can quickly get stale if you’re getting “addicted” to hearing key mixes and shying away from mixing non-harmonically matched material.

I’d say to remember a bar is a place where people are constantly coming and going, so whatever your “formula” it should follow a cycle, not a beginning-middle-end. Past that I’d recommend you experiment sorting by genre and BPM as well as by key, and don’t be scared to have chunks of your set where you ignore key mixing entirely. As long as you mix sympathetically (ie no clashing harmonies), this type of DJing is fine.

Over to you: Do you DJ similar styles of music to David? Do you mix in key, and if so, do you do it all or only part of the time? How do you slice and dice your collection to keep your sets fresh? Please share your thoughts in the comments.