"DJ Edits" are a misunderstood thing, and that's partly because they can be anything from a personalised version of a song with the profanities removed for that under 18s disco you've been booked to play at, to a complete rework of a tune that took you weeks to get right! What "re-edits" (another word for them) all share in common is that they're down and dirty, they're made from the original tune that inspired them (no long studio sessions with synthesisers, sequencers and musicians and stuff here!), and they're made for a particular, specific reason.
They're nothing new, either. They've happened since DJs could cut up tape with razor blades and reassemble it to make better results. (True story: I used to do this as a child to remove the talking from my recordings of the Top 40, and I did it on the beat and everything - I was destined to be a DJ from a very young age!) Here's some more up-to-date reasons why you might want to re-edit:
- You may have a long, dubby, dancefloor-remixed version of a pop song that after five minutes, breaks into the pop song itself - at which point, you lose interest in it. So you make a "re-edit" where you keep all the long, dubby bits but cut out the vocal parts
- Or, you may have a three-minute pop song you love, but it has precisely four beats at the start before it "kicks in" - so you do a "re-edit" to give it 16 bars of clean beats at the start to allow you to mix it more easily
- You have an old funk or soul tune you really want to beatgrid / sync mix with, but its BPM varies - so, you use software to "tighten up" the BPMs at the start and finish (the parts you want to mix), to give you your own unique easy-to-mix version
- There's a groovy builder of a house track you like, but it has a two-minute long break in the middle where nothing much happens and which you don't like as it kills the vibe in your sets - so you do a re-edit where you turn it into a tighter version that holds the groove better
- There's a seven-minute epic builder of an anthem on an EDM artist's album, that you're sure is going to be a single in the future (and of course, when it is, someone will edit it down to a three-minute radio-friendly version)... but you can't wait, and want that three-minute version NOW for your mobile sets! So you take the original and turn it into a version that will hold people's attention better
- You want to make a mixtape, but to fit everything in, some serious editing is required. So you turn a pile of tunes into shorter version, especially for the mix (for the ultimate example of this, check out this Greg Wilson Essential Mix talkthrough; you can listen to the mix below)
Are you getting the idea? This isn't "production" (as you're not really "producing" new music) - although it's a great first step towards doing that, because it forces you to work out how songs are structured. And it's not the same as making "mashups" either, because re-edits typically are done as a "new" version of the same track, whereas mashups creatively imagine a hybrid of two or more songs. (However, again it can lead into that.) No, it's just quick re-makes of stuff to make it more useful for you in your own sets or mixes.
Why do it?
So apart from the fact that it's fun, and as I just said that it can give you the version of a song you want for your DJs sets rather than limiting you to one of the versions that's available, creatively this is a really healthy thing to do to advance your DJing.
Personally, I find just having "(Phil Morse Edit)" in my music library after a favourite track's name makes me smile every time I see it! It reminds me that to DJs, music is a tool, not a finished product - and so that my relationship with my DJ music is very different to my relationship to that album I slap on when people are round for drinks before we go out. There's music to listen to and there's music to DJ with!
As I touched on above, the act of editing a tune forces you to work out its structure, and you find yourself drifting into the mind of the person who made it - it's inevitable. Gaining this deeper appreciation of how a tune is put together is hugely beneficial when you want to start dabbling in producing your own music. Plus, as a DJ, you can test your "re-edits" on your dancefloors. Now, you're learning about how the changes you're making affect the way the dancefloor reacts to the tune. When one day you start to make your own music, you'll draw on this experience and be streets ahead of people who buy expensive production software, sit down, and wonder why they haven't got any ideas. You've got a headful!
But most of all, learning to re-edit is just a highly effective way to get ahead as a DJ. To start with, it's simple. You can do it on your existing DJ software if you want. Any old free audio editor that you can import a track to and chop it up with will do fine. Also, you don't need any "musical training" whatsoever - just an ear for what works and an idea of what you want. Cut, paste, copy, listen, repeat.
That's not to say there's no skill involved - far from it. But it's not a formal musical skill as such - more a "dancefloor sense". What better way for a DJ to get more involved in his or her music than to make exclusive versions of that music in this way? DJs are probably the best equipped people to make re-edits, as we have firm reasons for wanting them, and we have a better sense than anyone as to what dancefloors want!
How to get started
Best way to get hooked is to get going. Here are a few tips to getting started in re-editing:
- Start, edit, finish - Don't spend ages on this. The idea is to get an idea, do it, finish it, play it. DJing is about immediacy, and re-editing should be the same. A quick, down and dirty version of a tune with something changed you don't like. Make a single change to a tune, slap "([Insert Your Name Here] Re-edit)" after the title for bragging rights when people peer at your software when you're DJing, and try it out in your next DJ set
- Use what software you've got - I'll bet you've got a wave editor sat on your PC or Mac that you downloaded once and didn't ever use. Use that. Go to download.com and grab a free one if not (there are 306 potentials on that link!). Or, turn beatgridding and "snap" on on your DJ software, use cuepoints to mark out where you want to jump to, and from, and "perform" your re-edit on that; just hit record first, then your recording is your re-edit. Name it and import it into your DJ software - done. Use Garageband, whatever. All you need is software that'll let you somehow chop up and play back a music file; Virtual DJ 8, The One... whatever. Sure, use Ableton, or Logic, or FL Studio, if you have them - but they're huge overkill for quick re-edits
- Have an idea of what you want to do before you start - This isn't "blank canvas" stuff. Go through your DJ tunes and find one that's got a bit that's really annoyed you in the past, or that you don't play because of [insert reason here], or that's too long, or too short, or that has a rubbish vocal, etc. etc. Your re-edit is going to make that tune playable for you, in your sets. Nothing more
- Try your edits out on a crowd - Re-editing is about making tools that are more useful to you in your DJ sets. It kind of doesn't make sense unless you try those tunes out on people - watching their reactions is where you do the learning. But don't worry if you don't DJ out: you can "try them out" on yourself! The key is to do your re-edit, record it, and then listen to it away from your studio (bedroom, headphones...) at least a day or two later. Trust me, after that time you'll be hearing it as an audience would, not as a DJ would, and you'll spot what works and what doesn't about your "version" right away
Are they legal?
We get asked this all the time. No you can't release, sell and make money from re-edits. (Well, you can, but you need to licence the tune etc. It's not easy.)
But as long as you own the original, you can play it in your DJ sets. And you can use it in your DJ mixes on legal mix sites (like Mixcloud). Basically, in this instance, the legalities are the same as playing the original.
One of our students, Simmo J, re-edited a tune, uploaded it to DJCity (a digital download pool), and instead of getting in trouble, got praise from the original artist, who played his re-edit in Ibiza... when Simmo J was on the dancefloor to witness it!
I'm no lawyer, but I love the saying: It's better to ask for forgiveness after the event than permission beforehand! It certainly worked for Simmo J. Just don't take the mickey, don't profit from it, and most of the time you'll be OK. We're living in a "mashup" culture nowadays. This kind of thing ain't going away. (Ahem, once again, I'm no lawyer...)
Where to go to get inspired...
This article has been designed to get you excited about the idea of doing re-edits, because we firmly believe they're the best way DJs who don't have musical training and who don't produce can do more than just mix, and start to get a deeper understanding of their music. They're a great first step into becoming a much better DJ, basically, and they definitely get you noticed. And... we're amazed how few people are doing them! We want you to have a go. They can give you an edge.
So we thought we'd end by linking to lots of resources that'll hopefully help you see the possibilities, and realise that you - yes, you! - can do this!
- For the incredible story of how Simmo J got that re-edit played in Ibiza, check out Interview: How I Got My First Remix Played In Ibiza
- If you think you want to eventually end up producing your own tracks, and want to re-edit as a "stepping stone" to doing this, this article explains how production and DJing work together: Why Become A DJ/Producer?
- If you want to know how Ableton Live works for this kind of thing, check out Making Your First DJ Intro Edit In Ableton Live from DJ Tech Tools
- For inspiration on what's possible, check out these two groups on SoundCloud: Club DJ Edits Open Format and For DJs Only - Remixes, Edits, Mashups, Transitions
- This article is really short, but it has an incredible detailed and useful comments section underneath it where our reader discuss all kinds of editing and production software, from free little MP3 editing programs all the way up to industry-standard pro packages
Recently we became convinced by both our own DJing and by the success of other (Simmo J is just one of many examples) that re-editing is an essential part of digital DJing. So convinced, in fact, that we made a brand-new DJ course ("How To Make Your Own DJ Edits") that shows you step by step how to do it. Actually, the course is only available at the moment on a pre-launch offer to our members - but if you're interested, it'll be on sale in just a couple of months right here (keep an eye on the courses page).
However, in the meantime, please - just have a go! It's not rocket science. You have or can get the software. You already have the tunes. I know you have the ideas. So - what are you waiting for?
Do you make your own edits for use in your DJing? What software or techniques do you use? Have they got you recognition and gigs you feel you might not have got otherwise? And if you don't do this, is there something holding you back? Please share your thoughts (and ask questions) in the comments...