Over To You: How Do I Find Songs That Go Well Together?

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Everyone's happy, the floor is full. So what do you play next? That's where art and science meet, and it cuts to the heart of what DJing is all about.

Digital DJ Tips reader Robert writes: "Was curious as I'm trying to get a better grasp of DJing. Is there a method you use when grouping songs together to play, to make sure they go together? Is there any software out there that allows for you to go through your library and say 'this would go well with this?' or maybe 'consider this one with this?' What I'm trying to create is mini five-song sets that go well together. Do you think that is a good idea?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

This cuts right to the heart of what DJing is all about. A song is playing. The dancefloor is loving it. What do you play next? The answer to this comes from experience, and having a wide musical collection you know really well. Do you go for a great mix, or a great tune, or try and find both?

We've explored before the idea of whether you should plan sets or just "let it flow", and we've concluded that having mini-mixes is fine (say two or three songs that you know go well together for some reason or other), but any more than that is a bit too planned - so you're on the right track there. Technically, for beatmixing songs need to be +/- about 4BPM, and harmonically, you can use software such as Mixed in Key or the built-in harmonic mixing systems in DJ software like Virtual DJ and Traktor to match tracks by key.

There is nowadays some software out there that tries to help you in these areas - Mixed in Key has "energy level", and Traktor DJ (for iPad) has "recommended songs" that tries to make a guess in the same way, but really, as I said at the start, the best song to play next is the one the dancefloor wants the most - and knowing that comes from experience.

That, by the way, is why at the very heart of what Digital DJ Tips does is hammering home the idea that you simply HAVE to play in front of an audience, as early as possible and as often as possible - that's where you learn to DJ, not holed up in your bedroom. It's what our hugely popular video course How To Digital DJ Fast teaches.

So, over to you. I am sure you empathise with what Robert is grappling with. Have you got any advice you can add to mine? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. shuga*foot says:

    Listen, listen, listen to everything you have and what makes the songs similar and different. I listen for kick drums, vocals, baselines, tempo and even the feeling or mood the song creates. You have to know your tracks inside and out. I’ve also gotten into searching for when the song was produced or if I can find where the source samples came from of what inspired the song. I tend to pull out 15-20 tracks and play them over and over again till I could recognize them by ear. And then I pull out or add songs I think would play well.

  2. Donald Davis says:

    When I started to DJ 14 years ago with my brother we pretty much did safe gigs so that we would not stray far from music we knew. After a few gigs we started getting into places where we had to break out musically and I started to learn new styles of music and it did help me to be diverse for an ever changing crowd every night. Do not limit yourself because you do not like a genre or a particular song, it is not about you, it is about giving the most fun to the crowd at that moment. Some small sets are fine, no more than three songs though. Another trick I use is no matter what the top volume will be that night, if that is 10, start between 7 and 8, kick up the volume to 9 when the crowd really gets going, and if that perfect song hits at the perfect time push the volume to 10. Be sure it is the right time and the right song. I have pumped it up before, killed the crowd, and been left there standing alone with a very loud song looking both a bit confused and a bit upset that I thought I had it perfect and how could this happen.

  3. Be sensitive to the needs of your crowd! I learned this over the 14 years I ran my mobile DJ company and agree it comes with experience. Knowing your music library back and forth and keeping up with the latest music is so important! But the most important key, I think, is to play what the crowd wants and, not necessarily what you want to hear!! Yes, those may be one in the same but not always! As a very successful mobile DJ company, we always focused on keeping the dance floor filled. If necessary you can change quickly out of a song that loses dancers rather than forcing them to hear a song in its entirety! Fortunately it’s usually pretty easy to “feel the pulse” of the crowd early in the game and to gear your sets to their needs! I would usually do a 2-3 song slow set and then fire it back up for 20-30 minutes or so building the tempo up to a heightened frenzy and then give the dancers a rest with another slow set!
    This worked great for the over a thousand mobile DJ shows we did but the key is to Listen to your crowd and play to what they want! Oh and have fun while you’re doing it!!

  4. i think the organisaztion technique i posted in the ” 5 reason’s to organise your tunes properly” article would help allieviate this problem greatly , espcially as your going through the songs yourself and grouping them, here’s what i put

    ”…i wanted to be SO organised that i can not even need to make a setlist and can go from song to song choosing exactly the right type of song everytime, i have about 1000 great dnb songs alone so i organise by firstly making each genre completely seperate folders, using drum and bass as an example i then made loads of folders inside that genre and decided on what i needed to to be able to know about the next tune i should play, i went for

    Energy: how it makes you feel, does it make you want to nod your head with your eyes closed or get up jump about and break stuff ? low medium or high

    Speed/tempo: slow , medium or fast

    Singing/vocals: does it have any singing , prominant vocal samples etc

    Dark/light: after using just these other things to seperate my dnb i found it was good but some stuff would be really evil/dark sounding and some stuff would be light and happy , so i decided to go and add this

    the only problem after this is it created a lot of folder switching , so im currently thinking of how to structure it so that i can still define everything by these different things but in minimal amounts of folders to make it easier to flip between them

  5. What goes well with what and equally important, when, and where….yes that is what djing is about. imho it’s even more important than mixing skills.

    The bpms, key and maybe genre is a good way to start but not always a rule so i don’t think there is a magic program at the moment that can do this for you with a 100% success. ive tried some of these programs mentioned above and was quite surprized because i found combinations that didnt think would work.

    By the way I got some good ideas by listening to megamixes. That covered some of the older (classic) stuff for me.

  6. Everytime one of these types of articles comes up, I say the same thing: Beatunes. I dont know why everyone talks about Mixed In Key and no one seems to know about Beatunes even though it does the same thing, if not more, for less.

    http://beatunes.com

  7. John Rodriguez says:

    There is no replacement for knowing your music. The key detection software approach is fine if you’re desperate for a suggestion because you’re track is running out, but it has some major drawbacks:

    – None of the applications are close to being 100% correct
    – A lot of dance music isn’t in a single key, they may only play a handful of notes that cover multiple keys

    So, if you rely on the key detection applications, you’ll wind up with a few key clashes, but more importantly you’ll miss out on a LOT of really good combinations.

    Your best bet is to really spend time listening to the tracks you plan on playing, and making a crate before you play. Choose 50-100 tracks to pull from that you know really well, preferably made up of lots of 3-5 track mini-sets that you can weave together different ways depending on the mood of the dancefloor.

    Really, track selection is what makes you unique as a DJ, don’t leave it up to software. Use it as a tool to suggest things if you want (experimentation is always good for a musician), but don’t let it guide you.

    • You speak a lot of sense, although I have to say the vast majority of melodic dance music is of course in a single key. I hear what you’re saying though – but the solution is the realise that you should use the key detection systems as a guideline, but trust your ears as the ultimate decision-makers.

      • John Rodriguez says:

        By single key, I don’t mean that they change key, but that they don’t play enough notes to be placed into just one key. The software then has to just pick one.

    • + 1000 with rodriguez

  8. John Rodriguez says:

    Also, if you’re just starting out –

    – Start small. Pick 10-20 tracks that are a similar genre and try mixing different combinations. You’ll learn your music much faster as you try mixing tracks over and over again.
    – Practice a LOT. This holds true even after playing for 20+ years.

  9. A tip that helped me was to arrange by genre and then producer/artist.

  10. Beating the same cat, but just listen to you tunes. I have taken 1200 tracks and built 3-4 song sets out of the majority of tunes. Don’t go any bigger than that tho, too many will lead to dancefloor failure. You’ve got it when you start singing the next tune before you’ve found it. Never let the “tools” tell you what to do! This is the big thing noobs do and it’s why old heads hate us! There is no magic wand, but there is time tested processes that always work! Good Luck!

  11. Pre-determined sets are fine if you’re just getting started or you’re playing brand new pre release stuff that nobody is familiar with and you’re first introducing. However, this format doesn’t allow for consistently reading your dance floor. I personally never plan sets, I let my dance floor tell me what they want. Only with experience comes getting the feel for where to go with your crowd, when to change speeds, when to flush the dance floor, etc. And don’t be afraid to flush the floor, after all, you’re there to make the club money, and when the crowd isn’t drinking, the money isn’t flowing. I’d much rather brake or backspin slam to the perfect next song than do a great mix to a song that I know won’t do it for my floor. Also, if you want to hone your mixing skills, work on mixing retro/ funk stuff, you know, from when the musicians actually played instruments and had talent. If you can learn to mix that, then the new stuff will be a snap.

    • Was with you right up to the bit about old style musicians having more talent.

      • OK, maybe the editorial comment was unnecessary for the purpose of getting my point across, but I’m just saying, look at new dance, house, dub, trance, pretty much anything but country and rock, the “instruments” are computers, and the beat is exact and consistent, making it much easier to mix. However, in defense of that comment, I would LOVE to see a current group that can show me anything close to the raw musical talent of, oh say, an Earth, Wind & Fire, Commodores, Parliament Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield? They just don’t exist any more. There is little to no personality, flair, or any true human element other than vocal tracks in the vast majority of today’s music.

  12. One thing I’m noticing in my short DDJ career is that when I listen back to my mixes, it sounds a lot better, and more fun if I mix up, my mixing style. I got into the habit of slamming every track in at 75% volume. Sometimes at the drop, sometimes at the breakdown. This style lends itself well to my Electro-House tracks while longer, smoother transitions work well with my Tech-House tracks. All the tools mentioned, genre, bpm, key, and energy level are helpful. If two songs seem to go particularly well together, I make a note of it in my comment 2 column. Knowing your tracks and listening very carefully is so important. I also make notes on what songs (~10% of my collection) have major changes mid-phrase. This all helps making things sound seamless as if your mixes were meant to be. Practice!

  13. I generally go by my ears first, key second, BPM 3rd. A lot of track in traktor that traktor says won’t match key wise actually will bc the beginning of the track is drum and bass….building into the synths and everything else. If u str8 mix into the synths when the keys don’t match, and try to do a blend, of course it will sound “off”. But mix into the drum and bass and it’s usually smooth. Depends a lot on your style of mixing, the music genre, etc….

  14. I think it’d be a bit much to start right away with using programs to help you create better blends and mix flow; as everyone has pretty much passed on the few concepts you need to grasp to get started and develop your own style (i.e. practice, know your music).

    I love my digital toys, but I don’t think they can replace the basics and this question definitely falls into that category. Stick with it (if you feel like you could really see yourself DJing and love the craft) and you’ll get past this. The faster way isn’t always the best way, in some regards turntablists still have that right.

  15. You need to put in time and effort in every hobby/sport/work related activity you want to learn/perfect.
    So finding out what works with what and when, is a matter of a lot of practice. A lot of play-time and trial and error.

    Some things work great, some don’t … some events you can take some risks, some times you have to play on autopilot.
    Most of the time you fall back to autopilot, standard mixes if the party doesn’t start off. Once the roof is going off you have a lot more credit and you can let the musical flow guide you.

  16. When I started to DJ many years ago (only vinyls), there were no thousands of new releases each week like today (and most of them are garbage). So you have time to listen and practise a lot with the vinyls that you bought and you would start picking up the rhythm of each song. By then you would start noticing which song will go with another song smoothly. This is the same with harmonic key.

  17. Well, first you have to define “go together”. I see two possibilities:

    1)The songs share a common “theme”. And this can really be anything. I like to play this kind of “miniset”:

    Rihanna-S&M
    Example-changed the way you kissed me
    Afrojack-take over control
    (in no specific order)

    OK, the theme here is porn. Plain and simple, grab me and fuck me type songs. They form a “theme” what the audience can follow.

    2)Harmonic or contrasting mixing.

    Harmonic mixing is by far the more better known from the pair. You take track A that’s key B# and mix it with track B that’s key C. Then you take trak C in key D# and mix it with track B. This way you get the tracks line up harmonically with one another. ie. They “go well together”.

    Contrasting mixing means a situation where you take a baseline and mix some high-hats over it, or vice versa. Or a backing track with some a capela. Or any situation where the tracks being mixed can be seen as completely separate in nature with no, or little, relevant harmonics. These are really good for rhythmic effects btw…

    In time you learn how to choose between these mixing types and make the best with everyone of them. And in the end you’ll notice that it’s not so much about mixing but having fun. Experiment, experience and excite…

    • I’m not surprised B# mixes so well into the key of C ;-)

      You make some good points about themes, something a lot of DJs seem to overlook.

  18. Galvanized says:

    Of course everybody has different methods, but what I usually do is:

    – Listen to all of my songs, and group them together by style (Progressive House, Trance, etc.)
    – Listen to the regrouped songs again and sort them into banging tracks that get me fist pumping etc. and those that just get my feet tapping
    (The next ones I do in any order)
    – Try songs that are in the same key and mix them in at builds or breaks
    – Try songs made by artists of similar style. Hardwell and Tiesto, for example, generally mix together decently
    – Find a song that I absolutely want to play and see which songs have a similar feel

    Basically, the key here is to just listen to all of your tracks on a daily basis and think not only about how a song sounds but the structure of it as well.

  19. DJ Forced Hand says:

    The title is “How Do I Find Songs That Go Well Together?” It’s my feeling that the person asking for advice is looking for a deeper answer. There’s too much emphasis on Key and Beat detection here and not enough on DJ theory. Every DJ is different, because everyone has a different perspective. I could give 100 of the top DJs 20 of the same tracks and none of them will play them exactly the same because they have a push inside that tells them “Play this like this” and “Play this next.”

    Learning to be a DJ is a lot like finding love. First YOU have to love and find value in you so that others can love you. When you become competent in the basics of DJing, you will start to develop your style… that’s the ground work. You will then take prior life experiences and experiment with things… and you’ll either spend more time developing that part of you or you won’t. When you exhibit characteristics of something other people like, they will be attracted to you. There is no good DJ in this world that doesn’t love what they do.

    That being said, there is music you love. You can’t explain why, but you just love it and that’s where you start. You can learn from any source, anywhere to learn how songs work together. It’s not cheating to listen to skilled DJs do their thing. We used to call that form of learning “an apprenticeship” (the Apprentice learns from a Master). You can also learn from musicians, watching other people play or be part of a collaboration (I’m sure there are other ways to learn and all of them are valid… as long as you learn something from it). Ultimately, you will have to experiment for yourself, in front of your gear, and eventually in front of other people.

    You will eventually find songs that you think work together and you’ll want to figure out (in your own terms) why (examples: the beat, the lyrics, the pitch, how you played it, what part of the song you played, did you play on time, did you let it phase, did you glitch it, did you scratch it, etc.). Most importantly, you will learn how to play songs people like from trial and error and it really helps you if you accept that something works or doesn’t work with your crowd and don’t fight it, you’re better off than fighting it and demanding your way. Remember that DJing is a game of “Push and Pull.” You can push into certain areas, and your crowd may go there with you if they trust you, but they will want what they came there for and that’s to have a good time with (mostly) something they expected or they’ll non-verbally protest (by waiting for something good to play) and eventually leave (if you continue to not give the people what they want).

    You SHOULD get your hands dirty digging through real or virtual crates and Internet radio stations (to find good stuff), you SHOULD talk to people who dance to the music and ask them what they want to hear (it doesn’t hurt any to make them feel special), you SHOULD explore every avenue you can find to obtain good music… start asking DJ friends and people who dance.

    When you know what your crowd wants and you can adeptly play to them, you must perform to them (you’re an entertainer after all) like no one else. You will become better and people will show you more and more love.

    This is the core of being a DJ.

  20. I stumbled across these songs that “go together” Start with Air’s “Sexy Boy” at the break slam in Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” (set a cue point after the drum intro) then after a while mix in to “Welcome to the Terrordome” by PE. I forget if they are in key but it doesn’t matter because that little mini set keeps me grinning all night.

    I use mixed in key to get me in the ballpark but other times, I just play around and experiment.

  21. Hi all. Is anyone able to tell me if Masspoolmp3 is of any value?
    Currently, I’m looking at Zipdj as well

  22. In short? There are a few key fundamentals to find tracks that go well together.

    1. Listen to a lot of music and get to know it well.

    You’ll start hearing things that sound ‘similar’ or ‘match up’. You’ll stop hearing ‘songs’ and start hearing ‘phrases’ and similarities.

    2. Dance.

    It sounds crazy, but you aren’t normally playing for the wall flowers, but for the dance floor. Go out dancing and ‘feel’ the groove. In more than one book some very talented DJs have said, ‘A great DJ has one foot on the dance floor’ or ‘a great DJ respects his dancers’. Keep in mind the ‘connection’ to dance and how it ‘feels’ to be on the floor helps you to find tracks that ‘fit’ well together.

    3. Listen to other DJs sets and analyze them.

    Find a set from another DJ and look at the track selection. Why did they choose those tracks in that order? Was it happenstance? Or was it intentional? Why did they choose that mix point? Why did they pick that type of transition? Also, as you listen to a set, think about what you would play next and see if they make the same choice or something completely different.

    Keep in mind, analyzing a set doesn’t mean ‘critiquing’ the set. Deciding ‘good’ or ‘bad’ isn’t part of this – only analyzing and looking to learn about the choices they make and pushing yourself to think of alternatives on the fly.

    And this is important to mention:
    I do NOT condone nor do I think it’s a good idea to write down the ‘set’ they play. If you hear a great track, make a note to listen later – but writing down the set list will makes people think you’re ‘biting’ their set. Develop your own skills and style rather than trying to copy someone else. This will take you further than any amount of copying will every do…. Think about it – not one single tribute band has ever reached the level of fame of the band they’re imitating. (And you can quote me on that. ;) ).

  23. Gerbmeister says:

    Maybe not all that popular, but “cutting” tracks at the right time is also something you need to practice. Don’t beatmix everything, but instead let song A build up to the climax and play the climax once. When the song builds up to the second climax, cut it with the climax of song B. The crowd will not expect this, and if done right, will jump and pump! Crossfader is the way to go, and cutting at the exact right place is important.
    Also you can cut 2-4-8 measures before the climax, if the climax is postponed. E.g. Animals – Martin Garrix : You can cut right after “motherf*** animals”, but you can also cut right before it.
    Try it with – oh let’s say – cannonball by Showtek. You will notice that animals has a 4 measure text prior to the climax, and cannonball has 8 (show us what you got when the motherf* beat drops”. Try playing the first 4 (show us what you got…) prior to the “motherf*** animals”, and then cut Animals all together when cannonball goes “when the motherf* beat drops”.
    You can create a LOT of uplifting effects that way AND it allows you to jump from one key to another, since the melody stops for a couple of measures.
    My experience is not to do it too early in the evening, and not too fast all the time. People like an unexpected factor, but don’t be cutting Animals at the first chorus! People that really like the song might be mad at you for cutting out too early!
    You can do the same thing with breaks. After the chorus, cut in another break of another song. Here it’s best to have them in Key or matching keys. Don’t beatmix, but cut it in as if it’s the same song. There is a remix from “Locked out of heaven” with a terrific piano break that is just perfect to cut in.

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