In our ongoing “making a mixtape” article series, here we move on to something that’s close to my heart – all the different ways it’s possible to screw up a recorded DJ mix! I’ve committed all of these sins myself, and it took me many years to work all of this stuff out by trial and error.
Sadly, judging by mixtapes I’ve heard from new and not-so-new DJs over the years (usually when I’ve been asked to judge a competition or audition potential new club residents), all of these mistakes are still far too common out there. Simply by fixing these, your mixes – whether online, for radio shows, or through physical media – will stand a far better chance of achieving something for you…
5 ways to screw up a mixtape
- Record it distorted – Like overexposure on a camera photo, or too much salt in a meal, distortion is terminal. It can’t be fixed. It is a dealbreaker. We say it time and time again, but the solution is so simple: Just stay out of the red! Learn to do this religiously wherever you see an audio meter in your system, and your mixes will never be distorted – it’s as simple as that
- Mess up one or more of the transitions – Sure it’s good (perhaps better) to hear the odd slightly off beats, just to show someone’s doing something. But I’m talking about total train wrecks, the kind of mixes that you try and correct and they just get worse. Worst thing is, they usually happen when you’re right near the end of a mixtape. I know, I’ve done it countless times. And we all know: It sucks. But giving up and leaving a trainwreck in a finished mix? Hmmmm, never good
- Get the levels all wrong – I’m taking about the levels between individual tunes here. Here’s a cool tip: Listen to your finished mix in your (or anyone’s) car. For some reason – maybe the fact that there’s road noise, you get distracted by actually driving, whatever – it is much easier to spot unwanted level changes in the car that sounded OK when you were recording or listening back on your “main” system. Wildly differing kick drum volumes are the usual one, but by no means not the only level disaster committed here…
- EQ it badly – This is not the same as getting the levels all wrong, because here we’re talking an overall EQ issue – the whole tape’s too tinny, or too bassy, for instance. It is an easy enough mistake to make, caused by EQing for the room you’re in, not the recording, and to fix it, you just need a bit of care and awareness of where you are – and some trial and error
- Use poor quality music files – OK so you can’t resist the urge to use that recording you made of that FM radio-ripped hot new track that’s not out for ages. It’s understandable, but it still sounds rubbish. Ditto 128kbps old tunes, tunes streamed from dubious blogs, and so on. Rubbish in, rubbish out – so use bona fide, well mastered, high quality 320kbps MP3s, 256 AACs or lossless files. Your mixes will sound immeasurably better because of it
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Have you been guilty of dishing out mixes with any of the errors above in them? Anything we’ve left out? What’s the thing you find hardest about recording DJ mixes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.