Mixing in key is one of the big revolutions of digital DJing – alongside things like portability, ease of use, and instant access to all of your music (or increasingly, the world’s music, as streaming services become standard in DJ software). But of all of these huge advantages of digital over analogue, maybe key mixing is the one that gives DJs the most pleasure.
Why? Because once you get a great key mix, you never forget it. It sounds like a hand in a glove, it sounds like the two tunes were just meant to go together. (So actually, maybe the first reason why every digital DJ should learn to mix in key is just that it’s a huge amount of fun, aligned with the fact that digital makes learning how to key mix potentially possible for just about anyone.)
5 reasons to learn to mix in key
So let’s look a bit more closely at exactly why it’s so much fun, and why you really ought to start doing it…
- For more interesting beatmixes – Beatmixes used to be hard, period, due to the need for manual beatmatching. Now with digital, anyone with one hand on a sync button (who can count to four) can beatmix. So how do you make your beatmixes more interesting, more outstanding? By mixing in key and attempting more adventurous musical beatmixes, that’s how. Mixes that are on beat and on key? Now that’s still impressive
- To make big genre and BPM changes – So beatmixing an entire single genre set… isn’t that a bit boring nowadays? Yup. So how do you make big, bold genre, BPM and energy level changes in a set, so you can play “open format” DJ sets that don’t sound a mess? One way is to ensure that your music is key matched, so the big changes sound right, rather than random
- To effortlessly include acapellas in your DJ sets – Finding a good acapella (a vocal sung on its own) to fit over a suitable instrumental track was a once-a-year thing in the old days of vinyl DJing. By “keying” your acapellas and suitable instrumental tracks, you can instantly spot potential new ways to play vocal you love, or make underground instrumentals more dancefloor friendly to “get away” with them in your sets, even on the fly…
- To make your own unique mashups – Using simple software like Mixed In Key Mashup, you can take elements of several tracks and almost instantly loop and create new tracks out of them, all perfectly in key. Hit “save”, drop it into your DJ software, and you’ve got an instant mashup to play at your next gig. what better way to have something that nobody else has got that sounds great?
- For intelligent music discovery – Nowadays, online stores like Beatport Pro, and DJ software like Algoriddim’s djay (that incorporates Spotify streaming) actually tell you the keys of tunes that you haven’t even bought/downloaded yet. So you can choose or even try songs that look like they may work in your key mixes or mashups before you even own them, cutting out so much trial and error
How exactly does digital revolutionise key mixing?
If you’re new to digital DJing, you may wonder what key mixing is, and how exactly digital DJing makes key mixing possible for “mere mortals”. Well, what it is is easy: Every piece of music is in a “key”, and if you mix music in the same or close keys, it has every chance of sounding fantastic… so I’m sure you can guess what happens if you don’t…
The reasons digital has made this all so easy are that firstly, digital software can tell you which of your tracks are key compatible with each other, meaning you don’t need to understand musical theory at all, like you had to “in the old days”. Secondly, digital DJ software can preserve your tunes’ musical pitches across tempo changes, so you don’t have to worry about that, either.
Result? Reliable key mixes for any DJ prepared to put just a bit of work in to learning the workflow and dos and don’ts.
What are you waiting for?
So if you want to get started, you should! Trust your ears always, treat it as a “tool not a rule” (don’t let key mixing dominate all else, there’s a lot more to DJing y’know), but go for it!
Use your DJ software’s key mixing feature to spot stuff that may go well together (software like beaTunes or Mixed in Key can do the analysis for you if you use DJ software that doesn’t have built-in key detection). Experiment. I promise you, when you find “your” first drop-dead amazing key mix, you won’t forget it in a hurry. Good luck!
• Next week in a second article on key mixing, we’ll be looking a bit more closely at software to help you to mixed in key, from DJ software you may already own to standalone key mixing packages, both free and paid for.
Do you key mix as part of your DJing? Did digital help you to discover it? What are your favourite (and least favourite) parts about what you’ve learned? Please share you’r thoughts in the comments.