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This was the topic of one of our Tuesday Tips Live shows – watch the show again here:
A “live” mixer is just another name for a mixer of the type that is usually used to mix live bands – an example would be the mixer you see half-way back in a concert hall, making everything on stage sound great.
But I’m not saying go and buy a 24-channel monster mixer. For DJs, a small version – maybe, one with six channels of inputs (two microphones and two stereo inputs) is more apt. And it’s almost a must-have, certainly once you start playing out at parties, bars, BBQs etc.
In this article I’ll explain why.
How do you use a live mixer?
You simply plug it between the speakers and your DJ controller or system. So rather than run a lead directly from your DJ controller to the speakers, you run it into a stereo input on the live mixer first, then out to the speakers. That’s it.
Now let’s look at why…
7 Reasons To Use A Live Mixer
- To EQ the room – Let’s say you’re playing a set in a bar, and they don’t have their own DJ gear. You usually just plug into their PA. But the speakers are a bit ropey – they sound harsh with not much bass. You end up DJing with your controller EQs set to compensate, right? That’s not optimal. Much better to use the EQ on a live mixer to sort this out, then you can DJ with all your controller EQs at 12 o’clock, using them creatively, as they were intended
- To plug in multiple microphones properly – Many DJ controllers won’t let you plug in more than one mic, may not have EQ, often won’t have reverb (useful when working with a singer), definitely won’t have phantom power for mics that need it… basically, DJ controller mic inputs suck (not always, but often). A live mixer lets you plug your mics in somewhere you get that control back
- To split your controller’s output – If your controller only has one set of outputs, you can be stuck if – for instance – you want to have booth monitors too as well as the main dancefloor speakers, or you want to record your set along with other DJs, musicians etc, or you want to run a cable off to someone else who may be livestreaming the event. A small live mixer immediately solves that as it is very likely to have at least two sets of outputs
- To plug in a backup music source – Many controllers don’t have an Aux In. What if your laptop crashes? With a live mixer, you’re sorted – you just have a smartphone or iPad etc with music prepared to hit “play” on if anything goes wrong. You should always have a backup – live mixers make it easy to switch to that backup, fast
- To record to another computer – Assuming you go for a digital mixer (ie one with an audio interface built in, that has a USB socket on the back to plug into a computer as well as analogue outputs), you can plug directly into a computer that isn’t your DJ computer to record or to livestream. No need to own a separate audio interface – just get a live mixer with one built in
- To hook up with other DJs – Wanna play back to back? Playing a pool party or BBQ with different DJs all day long? A live mixer can take two DJs or more and you get ultimate control over who is “live” at any given time, for smooth transitions and switchovers – and no radio silence as you fumble around with cables
- To DJ with other instruments and musicians – Want to play with an electric violinist a saxophonist, a singer? Want to bring your drum machine, sequencer, synth and DJ a hybrid live/DJ set? At the heart of all of these types of set-ups there is usually a small, workhorse live mixer…
Do I really need one?
Now it’s true that if you have an expensive DJ controller or system, you can do some of the above anyway. Or, if you own a DJ mixer, it can also do some of this. Yet I’ve carried a live mixer in my DJ bag for 25 years, and I seriously would not be without it.
My current one (a Peavey PV 6BT, digital with Bluetooth too) cost £140 a few years back and it has honestly been a Swiss Army knife for me, being used for all sorts, from charity events to mixing multiple sources for our Digital DJ Tips livestreams.
One of the big five areas of DJing we teach (alongside music, techniques, playing out and promoting yourself) is “gear”. DJs are geeks. We’re problem solvers. We get the music playing when everyone else are scratching their heads.
And your friend and ally in all of this is a good live mixer.
Learn all about essential beginner DJ gear: The Complete DJ course
You can get them upwards of $50, and there are many choices under $100. Look for names like Yamaha, Behringer, Mackie, Peavey – there are countless more. Digital is best, and make sure you have at least two stereo line inputs and two mic inputs, with EQ on at least half of the channels. Effects (echo, reverb) can be good if you’re working with vocalists.
That’s it. You can’t really go wrong. Buy one and I guarantee you’ll never sell it – except to buy another one!