Live DJ Remixing #3: How To Get Ideas

D-Jam | Read time: 5 mins
live remixing mashups Remixing
Last updated 13 November, 2017


DJ Enferno performing live mashups was what inspired me to write this series of articles. The full video from which this image was taken is at the end of the piece.

The video that you can watch at the end of this piece is what led me to write this three-part series on live DJ remixing (missed the other parts? They’re at Live DJ Remixing #1 – Get The Software & Sounds and Live DJ Remixing #2 – The Gear). I’ll happily admit: as a traditional “A-to-B” DJ, I was awed and inspired. It’s what drove me to push this idea of “taking it to the next level” – because let’s be honest, growing in this industry isn’t going to come from just playing music, but performing as a live act.

Before you get that feeling of being overwhelmed, be calm! I’m about as new to this as many of you are, so we take the journey together. Let’s get into some ideas we can all try on our own.

Idea 1: Map and play out a known keyboard riff

Go and watch the DJ Enferno video at the end if you haven’t already. If you notice in the first minute and a half, all he really did was map the main keyboard riff of Levels to his Maschine and play it. You could do the same thing with any drum pad controller I mentioned in Part 2. Best way to approach this would be to set up the notes as hot cues on your MP3 of the tune you choose. Now try to play it on your own. I don’t mean press play and let it play, but simply tap out the individual notes the way it plays. Tap your foot for rhythm so you keep time, or put on a loop of a basic beat to help.

Next, try varying things and having fun with it. Do some doubling on notes or change it up so you’re literally playing a new riff. Don’t worry if it sounds rough, we’re brainstorming. You might find something cool out of it you’ll remember, and then you can work to perfect it. Change the beat. Maybe you were tapping out the keyboard riff to the intro beat of Levels. Toss it on a breakbeat, or a different popular tune you like to play, or even slow it down onto a dubstep tune.

If you’re using Levels as the tune to try this exercise on, imagine you’re at the club and you’re just playing Levels for the crowd, and they’re liking it. Then you suddenly do a vinyl stop effect (like when press the stop button on a turntable). Suddenly, like Enferno, you start tapping out the synth, and then change it up, then you play the starting beat of your next tune, and then stop playing the synth when the next tune kicks in. Simple… but you’ll wow the non-DJ (and probably many DJs, too).

Idea 2: Play with an accapella

After that minute and a half, DJ Enferno then tosses in the accapella of Love Lockdown, but you see he doesn’t just straight play it. He scratches a little, a very basic scratch, and then he transforms the accapella as it plays. Transforming is a known and popular way to scratch, but it doesn’t mean you have to just scratch. Enferno is only doing the crossfader part of it. My friend, DJ, and producer Patrick Wayne made this great tutorial on transform scratching if you want to see more. (And if you’ve not got the free Scratching For Controller DJs video course from this very website, go and sign up for it now). If you seemingly can’t make the fader move that way, try mapping a button to transform. Look in your Midi mapping setup. It’s in there.

Other ideas to play with when you’re toying with vocals would be to bounce the vocal around, stutter it, toss it on with some filters and other effects, or even just chop it up in hot cues to make it say something else. It really comes down to your imagination. So maybe you just pulled off your Levels trick we just went through and now you going into Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey. Say you obtained an acappella of the tune. You can try transforming the main chorus like Enferno did with Love Lockdown, or even just tease the crowd with it as the tune builds up. You could be looping and filtering “I got that summertime…” and applying a filter until the actual tune kicks off. Just a nice accent.

If you want to go further, then just drop a looped beat and play the accapella with any additional effects / trickery you desire, then have the tune ready at the main chorus with a cue point so you can switch and have the full song blast to the crowd. Guaranteed they’ll go crazy.

Idea 3: Make a live mashup

Now we could claim all these “exercises” are making live mashups, but we’ve only been toying with dance tunes that are all neatly laid out and will perfectly sync in your weapon of choice. Now what about something not necessarily meant to be pumped out as house, dubstep, trap, or whatever you like? I remember hearing Chicago DJ Mark Grant loop a beat on the DJM-800 and then drop Prince’s When Doves Cry on it. I later heard other DJs toy with the acappella of Oh Sheila (Ready For the World) with beats.

Serato beatgrid
Use ‘elastic’ beatgridding in Serato, MixVibes or Ableton and you can ‘tame’ non-regular BPM tunes to a constant tempo that can then be looped and chopped for instant remixes.

Today, with the ability to expertly beatmap tunes not even meant to be synced, we could go further. Maybe you’ll decide to play with that opening bassline of Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes) with a dubstep beat and then drop the accapella of Prodigy’s Firestarter on it all. At this point, you’re not just making an “accent” or cool “add on” to your set. Now you’re literally creating new remixes of tunes on the fly. Granted you’ll have to plan these in advance and have the files set up someplace so you can toss them on quickly, but this is where you’ll get from just DJing music to live production, and even later you might find yourself producing music.

When to try these in a set

Playing around in your bedroom is fun, but eventually you’ll want to see how this fares in front of a live crowd. Here’s a few pieces of advice:

  • Practise at home until you have it perfect – Messing up in front of the crowd will hurt you more than help you. Work not only on doing your remix correctly, but work on pulling it up and performing it while you’re DJing a normal set. You don’t want to realise you need to stop the music in order to “set up”
  • Treat these moments like scratch solos – You don’t just go all night doing one to the next, but have it as a big highlight in your set. Bad Boy Bill once spoke in an interview that fans love to see him scratch, but he won’t do it all the time through a set because then the excitement/magic gets diluted. Think of your live remix/mashup in the same way
  • Pick moments when the crowd is happy, receptive, and excited – If you’re opening somewhere, then I wouldn’t go nuts with live remixing, not unless it fits an opening set. If your crowd seems unreceptive to your normal set, then be careful if you toy with them. Sometimes a major change can backfire rather than enhance
  • Go for the performance only if you can see they’ll love it – This is like when you’re picking your next tune to play. You don’t want to toss something on that clears the floor. Being a DJ and reading the crowd does come first
  • Share your performances – When you pull off something amazing, have someone video record you doing it. Post it on YouTube. I’m serious here. These become promotional materials for you. Others see it, share it, talk about it, and suddenly promoters are emailing you for bookings… because you have buzz. Look how much the Enferno video probably raised his “stock value”


Your final assignment…

One last piece of homework. Show me something. Come up with some cool idea. Make a video of it. Post it. Share it. Link to it in the comments. Show us your imagination at work and thus we all grow. I invite you all to post your performances below or over on the Digital DJ Tips forum and let’s take our DJing to the next level together!

Check out the other parts in this series:

So – go for it! show us stuff you’ve already done or head off and make something special, and come back and share it with us…

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