Your Questions: How Far Should I Deviate From The Original BPM In A Mix?

Last updated 3 August, 2017

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Master Tempo
Today’s DJ gear lets you make wild tempo changes thanks to the Master Tempo / key lock feature, but how much of a change is allowable when mixing dance music? This is what our reader wants to know in this week’s question from our mail bag.

Digital DJ Tips member Mark25H writes: “I wanted to find what people’s thoughts were on how much you should deviate from a track’s native BPM when mixing. For example, some of my music is 120 and actually sounds better at 125, but I just want to find what the general consensus is.”

Digital DJ Tips says:

As a rule of thumb we say 5% up or down, so 95 to 105 BPM for a 100 BPM song. You could simplify this further by just saying “5 BPM up or down”. Some people prefer 2% or 3% as a rule. Truth is there are no hard and fast rules here. Trust your ears.

One thing it depends upon is whether you’ve got key lock on. The good thing about key lock is that it’ll stop songs sounding too deep or high if you move a long way from the original BPM, which can be good to give you a bit more leeway – but that bad thing is that the further you move from the original BPM, the harder the software has to work, and generally the result is the sound quality drops. Again, trust your ears.

If a song sounds better to you faster or slower, especially if it’s an “underground” tune that people aren’t familiar with at the “right” speed… go ahead! Play it at your speed…

One little trick if you want to move around the BPMs when mixing is to apply your chosen general rule of thumb to both tracks. So to go from 120 to 130, you could push a track originally at 120 to 125, then slow down the incoming one to 125, meaning the first track is just under 5% faster than it should be, and the second just under 5% slower. This “pushing” is done by very slowly altering the speed of the track while it’s playing, and again, there’s an art to knowing how quickly you can do this without the audience noticing!

Finally, if the only reason you’re doing the above is for smooth beatmixes, consider trying other mixing techniques to alter the BPM in our set. There’s nothing wrong with a clean “drop” from one speed to another if done correctly. It can add energy and signal a change of direction in a set, neither of which are a bad thing. Beatmixing isn’t all DJing is about!

How do you approach using music away from its original BPM? Do you have rules you apply in your own DJing? Do you think there’s a point where music starts to sound strange when altering its BPM? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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