Reader Sameer Shenai writes: “I have found your website really useful. I have been bedroom DJing for quite some time. Problem I face is mixing tracks in key. Being an alright audiophile I can figure out the key of a track, but this is not possible always with so many tracks coming out everyday. I wanted to know of software that finds the exact key for a track (free software would be even better! :D) I have used Mixmeister, but I don’t think it does a good job. Looking forward to your reply.”
Digital DJ Tips says:
Hi Sameer. You’re quite right, it’s possible to work out the key of tracks yourself using a simple keyboard utility and a modicum of musical know-how, but it’s labour-intensive, and that’s why recently programs have appeared to automate it for you. The trouble is, as you have realised, some of them aren’t very accurate. Last year DJTechTools ran a test, and indeed it seems that Mixmeister was the worst key detection software of them all. But the truth is that none of them are perfect. There are many choices open to you, but the only free solution is Rapid Evolution (version 3 is currently in beta and we’ve yet to review it, but hey – it’s free! Give it a go).
Mixed in Key (US$58) is a popular program and one of the best accuracy-wise, and if you want a dedicated key detection program, this is a solid choice. This is the program I use, and alongside the rather expensive Platinum Notes 3 (US$98) from the same people I can perform great sounding, harmonically tight mixes most of the time.
Other programs have key detection as part of something bigger. You’ve already mentioned MixMeister Fusion (US$268), which has key detection as part of its DJ system. I would recommend beaTunes (US$31.95) which has some sophisticated iTunes library and playlist functionality as well as key detection to rival Mixed in Key. Also try the free Trainspotter which is great if you use Traktor as it is designed to help you organise your library too in that program.
Finally, if you DJ with Virtual DJ, it has key detection built-in.
One other point to note is that Mixed in Key and Virtual DJ are the only programs to use what’s called “Camelot notation” for their key information. This is a simple way of showing the DJ what tunes in his or her collection will mix properly into the current tune, making harmonic mixing much easier to master. It’s not essential to have as you can draw up a table of related keys yourself (and learn them off by heart over time), but it’s a great help.
Trainspotter lets you change how it represents key information to something custom, so you could alter that program to show you the key in any way you wanted.
What do you use for detecting musical key? do you have any good or bad experiences with the above programs? Let us know in the comments…