Reader Johannes Maier writes: “I’m wondering what your thoughts are on returning a tune to its correct speed when you’re mixing – that is, the speed it was recorded at. Surely this is the best thing to do if possible? To respect the way the music was originally recorded? Or should we just mix at the BPM that suits us and not worry about this at all? I’ve searched online and can’t find any definitive opinions on this.”
Digital DJ Tips says:
That’s because there’s no simple answer to this, but I’d say generally, respect the tempo of your DJ set more than your individual tunes. As a DJ, your tunes are just your tools, at the end of the day, to do something “bigger” with. For instance, If you’re warming a crowd up and so want to start at 110 BPM and end at 125 BPM for the main DJ to take over, that gradual shift is what you’re looking for, not individual shifts from tune to tune. Having said that, it’s always a good idea when beatmatching to mix into music of similar tempo: + or – 4% is about right. This means that your tunes won’t sound “wrong” as they won’t be a long way from how they were recorded (and so there’s no need to “correct” their BPM back to zero).
That’s only part of the story, though. If you’re a multi-genre DJ, you may want to respect original BPMs much more: If you’re skilfully beatmixing music of all BPMs, using keylock / master tempo, effects and other tricks to make transitions that involve large BPM differences, getting a tune closer (but not exactly) to where it was recorded, BPM wise, is a good move once the mix is finished. It’ll sound better, because if you’ve got keylock on, the keylock won’t be working so hard, and if not, the pitch will be closer to what it should be). Working out how to do this without puzzling your crowd is all part ofd mixing, and you’ll often practise, record and listen back to such mixes at home to work out what you can “get away” with!
Also, if you’re a rock / pop / party / wedding DJ, where beatmatching is not important, people will expect the wide variety of music you’re playing to be at the BPM it was recorded at or close enough, so here, there’s no real reason to stray too far from the original BPM in the first place.
Just remember an overarching principle, though: BPM implies energy. If you want to use beatmatching take the crowd “on a journey”, the BPM is a vital tool in managing that energy within your set – in a tight, smoothly mixed set of house, for instance, you need to bear this firmly in mind in your song choice. Higher BPM songs aren’t always higher energy, but the BPM is a big factor in the overall energy level of a tune.
What’s your view on this? How do you “get around” playing sets with wildly differing BPMs? Do you know DJs who always play really fast, who annoy you? Do you try and keep your tunes close to their original tempos when DJing? Pease share your thoughts below.