5 Music Prep Secrets Of The Best Mobile & Wedding DJs

Phil Morse | Read time: 7 mins
dj gig tips mobile DJ music prep Wedding Dj
Last updated 3 November, 2022

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Ever watched a really good mobile or wedding DJ at work, and wondered how they do it? How they manage to do a really good job of quick mixing everything from today’s pop to the oldest oldies, singalong rock to classic hip-hop, dance favourites to timeless country?

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Being able to mix properly, with simply the “radio” versions of the biggest songs from the past six decades, is increasingly becoming a necessity for today’s event DJs. After all, the couples and clients who book mobile DJs today were the first generation to grow up with EDM, festivals and superstar DJs – and so they expect DJs who can play just like the best club DJs do, but with the types of music typically played at weddings, birthday parties, corporate events and so on.

I’m going to let you into a secret here: You can kiss goodbye to ever being able to do this without the five secrets I’m about to share. If you turn up at a mobile or wedding booking, even with the best music in the world, confident you know what it’s going to take to get and keep everyone dancing, I can guarantee that unless you’ve done these five things, in some shape or form, you’ll find yourself coming unstuck.

Check out the course

Our Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs is the first DJ mixing course in the world made specially for event DJs. In it, you’ll watch “over our shoulders” as we help you to actually do the things I’m about to share with you for yourself, before moving on to learning all the mix techniques you need to elevate your mobile DJ mixing to the level of the very best in the business. Click here to learn more about the course.

The best bit? You don’t need any skill or talent to do any of this: It’s a formula, a set of instructions and procedures that has the power to transform how you DJ right now at mobile events into the way the very best DJs do it.

And it all starts with these five things you do before you even turn up at an event…

5 Music Prep Secrets Of The Best Mobile & Wedding DJs

1. Ensuring all beatgrids are accurate

Beatgridding is making sure your tracks have an accurate “grid” that shows your DJ software where the beats and bars lay in those tracks. The reason to do this is that it makes the “sync” button work accurately, and so makes fast, reliable beatmixing easy. (And no, this is not cheating – in fact, it’s essential for some of the quick mixing techniques the best mobile and wedding DJs use today.)

All digital DJ systems have a form of beatgridding; with the exception of Traktor, every DJ software can beatgrid tracks with fluctuating tempos.

The good news is that your DJ system will usually guess the grids correctly, and if it doesn’t, the “mistakes” will be predictable and easy to correct. Just occasionally you’ll need to do a bit more work with your tracks (typically when they are older, drummer-led music such as rock, soul or funk), but you’ll be rewarded with tracks you can suddenly mix like a dance DJ, even though they may be 30, 40 or 50 years old! What a great way to stand out from other DJs. No wonder nearly all “mixing” event DJs have got this prep skill nailed.

Do this: Figure out how beatgridding works on your DJ system. Find a track or two where the grids look “wrong”, and try to correct them. Now try syncing them – do you see the difference it makes?

2. Adding hotcues to all tracks

Hotcues are built into all DJ systems nowadays. Amazingly, I know DJs who still never touch them. (In fact, I know DJs who still “throw” their tracks into the mix as if they were playing vinyl, not even using the temporary cues on their digital systems!)

Yet hotcues are absolutely essential if you want to quick mix with every type of music. Think of them like bookmarks that you can add to your tracks to tell you where you like to play from, where the big things like choruses, vocals or drops happen, where it’s safe to mix out, and so on. Not only can you add these, but once you have, every time you load the track, there they are, remembered like magic.

Hotcues are like shortcuts or bookmarks, that let you jump quickly and easily to important parts of your songs.

It’s best to have a proper system – different colours for different types of hot cues, and labelling too. That way, you can extend the use of hotcues from simply marking places to start, stop and jump to within tracks, to also marking places where you do things in transitions, too, using them more like “mix markers”. This is a big secret of quick mixing DJs – labelling up their tracks like this so complex transitions don’t need to be learned, just “followed”.

Our Super Simple Hotcue System teaches one such way of doing this (it’s taught in both our Digital DJ Lab subscription training, and the Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs course mentioned above).

Do this: Make sure at the very least all of your tracks have an “intro” hotcue added, that shows you the exact place you like to start playing that track from. You’ll be surprised how often this is not the exact start of the track. Figure out how to change the colour of – and add a text label to – your hotcues.

3. Pre-planning loops

It’s hard to overstate the importance of loops in modern DJing. Loops “came of age” when they were combined with beatgrids, because taken together, loops and beatgrids meant that you could – at the touch of a single button – loop a bar (or division or multiple of a bar) of music, cleanly, with no need for exact timing. Result? An instant “bed” of music, which you could then use to beatmix another track over, or perform a quick mixing trick with, unlocking the chance to beatmix with sometimes the most unlikely tunes.

Indeed, such is the importance of looping when it comes to mixing, we actually refer to loops as “mixloops” in our training. And smart DJs know that figuring out the best places to loop 2, 4, 8 or whatever number of beats in their songs before arriving at gigs is a surefire way of being able to perform quick, bold and smooth DJ mixes and transitions, every time, at their gigs.

Modern DJ mixes often rely on looped music in order to create reliable sections over which to perform transition techniques.

Preparation can involve saving loops so they can be triggered with performance pads, setting “active loops” that trigger automatically, and/or using specially colour-coded and labelled hotcues to show where to loop tracks (see the previous tip). Whatever, preparing loops in your music is a must if you want to be able to quick mix it at your mobile and wedding gigs.

Do this: Figure out how your DJ system lets you save loops, if it does. If it doesn’t, pick a colour of hotcue (you can edit the colours of your hotcues in your software) that you reserve exclusively for marking places where loops may work in your tracks – look for places where it’s just beats or relatively minimal, and have a go to see how they sound!

4. Analysing for key

Apart from giving us the ability to carry all of our music with us to all of our gigs, I think the biggest thing digital DJing has brought for us is being able to easily “mix in key”. Mixing in key, or harmonic mixing, can make OK mixes sound great, and impossible mixes possible. It can open the door to far more creative DJing than before, and – especially for mobile DJs who mix every possible genre of music – keymixing can be the “glue” that holds everything together.

Read this next: Fuzzy Keymixing – The Easy New Way To Mix Anything Into Anything

The simple act of analysing new music for its musical key (which all DJ software can do nowadays), and then using that information to plan transitions between songs you know are likely to mix well together, is something that is easy to do. In fact, when you realise the power of this kind of planning, you’ll look forward to preparing your music in this way – because you’ll be excited to perform some of the transitions you discover!

Not only can modern DJ set-ups analyse and tell DJs the musical key of their tracks, but modern notation systems can easily show DJs which tracks are likely to mix harmonically with each other.

Do this: Make sure when you add new music to your library, your software is analysing the musical key (it probably is). Then, make sure you have the key showing in a column in your library and playlists, displayed in “Camelot” or “Openkey” notation. Sort by that column (click on its header). Then, try using sync to beatmix together tracks where the number in that column (disregard the letter) is the same or one higher or lower. Remember to have keylock on when you do!

5. Building “minisets”

If you’re turning up as many DJs do to play your gigs, opening your DJ software, grabbing a track from your library to start with, then another, then another… well, you can kiss quick mixing goodbye. Along with any sense of calm! You’re going to be DJing by the skin of your pants for the whole gig – and as your music collection grows, it’ll only get worse…

Only fools DJ from their main library. Good DJs know that they should DJ from pre-prepared playlists (our advice to beginners is to “pack” a crate/playlist with twice the amount of music in it that you need, which is enough to let you guide the music according to how the night is going, but not so much as you’ll panic with “analysis paralysis”).

However, great DJs – and that includes the best mobile and wedding DJs, quick mixing every possible type of music – take it further. They use “minisets”. These are small clusters of songs, maybe 3, 5, or 10, that you know work well together, and you are always likely to play together. Not necessarily all of them, not necessarily in the same order – but once you hit a “miniset”, you’re likely going to stay there for a few songs.

Preparing “minisets” of tracks that work well together is the best way of organising your music, so that you can perform your sets from miniset to miniset, not song to song.

Especially for mobile DJs, where playing a few songs in a given style before moving onto another style is basically the right way to play to a wide range of ages and types of people (ie all wedding/family party-type gigs), minisets are a true secret weapon. You play your events from miniset-to-miniset, not track-to-track, and in doing so, you spend less time looking for the next song to play, and more time having fun with the music, performing snappy, creative and most importantly, dancefloor-friendly transitions.

Do this: Figure out how to add playlists/crates to your DJ software (the left-hand side, next to your main library window). Start building sets of tracks that are similar or that you often play together. Note how you can rearrange the order of tracks in these playlists in a way you can’t in your main library. As a bonus, figure out how to add a folder to “hide” your minisets in when you don’t need them, to keep your software looking neat.

Finally…

The game is won or lost before you play your first song when it comes to quick mixing as a mobile or wedding DJ. If you’re not organised, the game’s up. But by building the above into your music preparation system, you’re setting yourself up for becoming a successful, modern “mixing” DJ.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. You need to actually be able to do the mixes. You need to understand and practice the skills of bar counting, beatmixing using tools like quantize and sync, knowing how to “cut” from track to track, you need to practise how to perform vinyl-sounding tricks like the brake, spinback and baby scratch, figure out how to use cues, reverb and echo for snappy transitions…

Read this next: 5 Things Mobile DJs Can Learn From Club DJs

More importantly, you need to understand how and where to use these tricks to produce accomplished DJ sets that entertain (but never annoy) your audiences.

But didn’t I just tell you it all works to a formula? It most certainly does. That’s why our Mixing for Mobile & Wedding DJs course is unique – for the first time anywhere in the world, this is a DJ course for event DJs like you, showing you how to do all of this – just like club and EDM DJs do, but with YOUR music.

It’s a myth that you need to be born with talent or a musician to be able to mix. It’s all in the prep, and understanding the basic techniques. So if you are a mobile DJ who knows you need to learn this stuff so as not to get left behind, or you’re a club DJ who wants to start playing mobile and wedding gigs, or you’re a hobby DJ who just wants to up your game, do check the course out.

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