Complete Guide To DJing With Radio Edits

Phil Morse |
November 21, 2022

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If you’re a wedding, mobile, party or hobby DJ wanting to figure out how to DJ with radio edits – nothing more than the commercially available versions of songs – read on! In this article I’ll outline the exact way to do it, based on how we teach it to our students here at Digital DJ Tips.

Radio edits – versions of songs that you hear on the radio, in Spotify playlists, and so on – are the easiest to get hold of, and the ones everyone wants to hear. So why do so many DJs jump through hoops to avoid DJing with them?

Whether it’s joining expensive professional download pools (once you’re getting gigs and can justify the expense), or meticulously making your own edits with intro and outro beats to make them easier to mix, you may fid yourself tempted to spend a lot of time and effort getting versions of today’s pop hits that are easier to beatmix with, for your DJ sets.

But what if I told you that you could mix easily with just the radio versions? No searching for special edits, no expensive DJ pools, no hours preparing your own mixable versions? Just grab the latest hits, and mix! It’s a much more purist way of doing things (“I’ll work with what I’ve got”), is a lot more fun… and the incredible power of today’s DJ systems mean it is actually easy to do.

So if you’re a wedding or mobile DJ, a party or hobby DJ, or just a lover of the craft wanting to figure out how modern DJ systems can help you to mix better with nothing more than the radio versions of songs, read on! In this article I’ll outline the exact way to do it, based on how we teach it to our students here at Digital DJ Tips.

Contents

  1. Prepare your music
  2. Learn the skills
  3. Make the right decisions when performing
  4. Taking this further

Let me to talk you through this in a video


Prefer me to talk you through this? We’ve got a special recording of a live lesson we did on our channels recently that you can have. It not only brings to life everything in this article, but you get to watch the community ask questions, and ask your own too in the comments. Plus, there’s a free downloadable, printable cheatsheet to help you master this. Access the video and get your free cheatsheet instantly by clicking here.

How To DJ With Radio Edits

Firstly, if you want to see some examples of the kind of DJing we are talking about here, I’ve got a place where you can go to find them. We recently released a DJ course called Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs, which is all about mixing with radio edits. Click here to go to the course info page, and watch the five-minute video there – it has many examples of us performing this type of mix in it.

Photo by Zac Bromell

Right, are we all on the same page about what we’re trying to achieve here? There are three things you need to do to transform the way you DJ and start to mix like this. They are:

  1. Prepare your music – To mix with shorter radio versions, your music has to be ready, as you’ll have no time to search for tracks and figure out mix points etc. “on the fly”
  2. Learn the skills – Don’t worry, they’re basics, but once you have them, you’ll be able to achieve that holy grail of “mixing anything into anything”
  3. Make the right decisions when performing – Even with your music prepared and the skills nailed, there is still a right and a wrong way to programme your sets and execute your transitions when performing like this, and that’s where the decision-making advice that ends this lesson will help you

Get the free cheatsheet

There’s a lot of info coming up, so we’ve made a cheatsheet that you can download, print and keep that outlines this whole radio edit DJ system, and that will jog your memory as you transform your library, your skills and your performances to achieve this style of DJing. Click here to get your free copy, and the accompanying free video lesson for this article.

Let’s look at each of these three areas individually…

1. Prepare your music

There are five things you need to do to every radio edit you want to use in your DJ gigs:

Check your beatgrids

Beatgrids are the beat and bar lines your DJ software lays over the top of all your songs when you analyse them upon adding them to your library. Beatgrids show the software where the beats and bars of the music are, so that when you press sync, loop the song, or use a rhythm-derived effect (echo, delay), it all sounds tight.

Having the beatgrids correct on your songs is the first step towards this type of DJing, because you are going to be unashamedly using sync, quantize and the other powerful features of your DJ set-up to mix like this.

Read this next: The Easy Way To Beatgrid Acapellas

2. Add relevant hotcues and visual cue markers

Cue points are like bookmarks on your tracks, showing you the important points in the track (when used as “visual markers”) and letting you jump to specific parts of the track like the first beat or the drop (when used as hotcues).

It’s a good idea to use the same colour cue point for each “type”, and to use text features to label your cues, if your system allows. Every time you load your song, there they all are. Here at Digital DJ Tips, we have a “Super Simple Hotcue System” that we teach our students, and that is explained further in our Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs course and our Digital DJ Lab programme, but essentially, any system will work as long as you’re consistent.

3. Add mixloops

“Mixloops” is our word to describe loops that are tied to beats and bars in your tracks. We call them “mixloops” because nearly all of the time, they’re used to mix or transition between songs. And once your beatgrids are correct, they’re simple to apply.

Read this next: 3 Ways To Use Loops (Without Annoying Everyone)

Looping a part of a song (could even be a single beat or two) to provide a steady rhythm to mix something else over the top of is a fundamental of DJing, and especially important when DJing with short radio versions of songs – and spotting these parts of songs is fun!

Once you have them, you can save them (as with cues), and you can often change the colour they display with on your software and performance pads, and even have them auto trigger when you play a track (called “active” loops).

4. Analyse for key

Mixing in key (“harmonic mixing”) is a revolution in DJing, and makes all DJing – especially DJing with radio edits – sound much better for your audience and ultimately more fun for you. Mixing like this makes it sound like the musicians who made the records you’re playing were all in the room together, making sure their instruments sounded great when played at once – it’s amazing.

To mix well with radio edits, you need to have a basic understanding of how to mix in key, and also of how shifting the key of songs to match them to each other can help you to mix “anything into anything” – we call this fuzzy keymixing, and it is really the “second” revolution in keymixing for DJs, after key analysis itself.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that for creative DJs, the combination of key analysis and fuzzy keymixing has changed everything – and it is easy for all DJs to grasp, no musical knowledge necessary. Just bring a pair of ears!

Read this next: The Ultimate Guide To Keymixing For DJs

5. Build minisets

A “miniset” is a small playlist of tunes you tend to play together. If you play one tune, then you often play this one next, then another, in a little “cluster” in your DJing – that’s a miniset. For this kind of high octane,”quick” radio edits mixing, you need to pre-plan and formalise this.

You do this by setting up “minisets” in your DJ software or system, where you group together small clusters of tunes that you often play together. Once you’re “in” a miniset, chances are you’ll play at least some of those tunes next, before moving away from the miniset.

You won’t necessarily play them all, or play them in the same order every time, but DJing this way means that as you progress through a DJ set, you play from “miniset to miniset”, not “song to song”. This is a far less stressful and achievable way of DJing, and it will give your audiences the impression that the tracks are “flying out of the crates” effortlessly as you play banger after banger – a great state of affairs!

Before we move on, if all of this sounds intimidating, don’t feel you have to go and do all of the above to all your music immediately – just start with the songs you want to play at your next gig, for your next mix, or on your next livestream, then add a few at a time plus all the new music you buy from now on.

Get the free cheatsheet & video lesson

There’s a lot of info here, so we’ve made a cheatsheet that you can download, print and keep that outlines this whole radio edit DJ system, and that also contains a video lesson taken from our teaching channels where I talk you through it and you get to eavesdrop on our students and community asking questions, too! Click here for your free resources.

2. Learn the skills

You know when you’re watching a TV chef, and they have all the right kitchen equipment, and they’re about to start a recipe with not only the cooking gear but all the ingredients artfully arranged around them, ready to effortlessly make the recipe in front of your eyes?

Just by owning any modern DJ controller or system, and preparing your music as described above, you’ve got yourself to the DJ version of that point. Now it’s time to “cook up the magic” – and so what follows is a summary of the skills and techniques of mixing with radio edits of songs:

1. Basic counting – beats and bars

All your tracks have a beat (duh, it’s dance music – tap your foot to any song – that’s the beat), and those beats are arranged in sets of four – those sets are called “bars”. And things tend to come and go in songs every four bars (vocals, basslines, verses, choruses etc). These sets of four bars (or multiples of four – usually eight or sixteen) we call song “sections”.

That’s it – that’s basic counting. Once you can spot these sets of four (four beats, four bars) in songs, and arrange them in your head into rough “sections” (intro, verse, chorus, breakdown, drop – the names aren’t important), you already know the right places to mix in and out. Bottom line: If you can count to four, you can do this!

Don’t let anyone tell you you need to be somehow “musical” to perform complex and impressive DJ mixes – this is the simple trick that underpins it all. What’s more, it’s instinctive. Everyone on your dancefloor knows where the drop is, right? They’re counting and they don’t even know it. So are you.

2. Basic beatmixing – sync and quantize

No you do not have to laboriously manually beatmix like vinyl DJs did a generation ago. Your DJ gear has two functions, sync and quantize, that mean you can beatmix in an instant, as long as your beatgrids are correct (see above).

You need to know how these work on your gear (sync lines up the beats and bars, and quantize keeps your timing tight automatically when you’re DJing), and know how to turn them on – that’s it. Again anyone can do it. Don’t be intimidated by this, and everything that follows builds on this. So skill number one: Always be counting your beats in fours!

3. Cutting between tracks

The very basic DJ mix is simply to cut from one track to another in an instant. No blending or mixing at all. It’s all about the timing – lining up those beats and bars (with the help of your ability to count to four!) and the sync/quantize features on your DJ gear. It’s the technique that most radio edit quick mixing DJs use, most of the time.

The single biggest block some DJs have with this is that they are scared the dancefloor will notice. Of course they’ll notice! This isn’t “stealth” mixing – it’s obvious, clean, functional mixing. You jump from one good song to another, respecting the songs’ “flow” (beats, bars, sets of four bars) and the dancefloor collectively goes, “Oooh, a new song – I love this one. Great!”

Job done.

3. Using vinyl effects for flair

Vinyl? Sounds scary and hard! Nope, it isn’t – and it’s one of the best ways to win over your dancefloor. I’m not talking about scratch routines or “turntablism” – that kind of thing couldn’t be more inappropriate for party/mobile/wedding DJs using radio edits.

Nope, it’s more about tapping into the fact that for every single person in the world who isn’t a DJ, DJing is a “vinyl” thing – and records have a particular “sound” when manipulated, that modern DJ systems let you reproduce. Do this, and you’ll immediately sound much more accomplished.

The three big things you can do easily are:

  1. Vinyl brake – You can set your DJ system so that when you hit the “stop” button, instead of the song stopping instantly, it takes half a second or so to “slow down”, like a record would. It sounds great, and tells the dancefloor a new record is about to start
  2. Spinback – You grab the jogwheel and spin it anti-clockwise as fast as you can. The record “spins back”. As soon as it stops “spinning back”, you stop it. It’s a more extreme way of signalling the end of a record, and takes a few practice sessions to get right, but when you nail it, it’s a wonderful way to end the night or change style completely in your sets
  3. Baby scratch – The only “scratch” you’ll ever need, and the only one people will tolerate (love, even!) at DJ events where they’re there to dance, rather than gawp at a scratch DJ. Ever “lined up” a song in your headphones by moving the platter forwards and back so you can hear the first beat over and over again? That’s the baby scratch! It’s nothing more than that, and you probably already do it. Now, do it with the fader “open”, and use it to make the start of tracks more interesting

4. Using “cue play” to start your tracks playing

You know those hotcues you added to your songs back in prep? That one you put on the first beat at one of the places you may typically want to mix in your song from? Locate one of those hotcues. Now, count a beat in your head. (“1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4…”). Now on a set of “1, 2, 3, 4″s, press that cue button each time. On the fifth time, instead of pressing the cue button, press the “play” button. That’s a basic “cue play start”.

It adds drama to the start of a song, and you can do it “cold” or over the outgoing song. Either way, it’s a simple, fun way to quick mix when you’re using radio edits that don’t have easy beats for proper beatmixing. Use it with Quantize, and your system will even correct all the timing for you if you happen to be a bit sloppy. Easy!

5. Using effects for added polish

Your DJ system has powerful, professional-sounding effects built in. Many DJs don’t use these often enough – probably because they’ve heard lesser DJs totally overusing them and ruining DJ sets! But three effects in particular, when used sparingly, will always enhance a quick-mixed radio edits DJ set. They are:

  1. Reverb – Hit reverb on a track when you want to mix into something else, then stop that track. You’ll get a gorgeous, “big room” sound that has a long “tail” (the audio continues for a few seconds after the track stops playing), which gives you the perfect breathing space to wait 1, 2, or 4 beats, then start the next song playing. It sounds clean, intentional and musical
  2. Echo – Same deal, but this time, there is an actual echo that carries on after the track has stopped. Usually you’ll set this to a single beat in length, so the echo carries on the last beat of the previous track, but DJs also often use a half beat setting. Either way, it keeps the beat going but tells the audience the song has finished, making it sound completely natural when you start the next song playing on its first beat, just as the final echoes of the previous song fades out
  3. Filter – Your DJ gear (usually) has a knob (under the EQs for each channel above the channel volume fader) that is called the “filter”. Turn it to the left, the track immediately sounds like you’re hearing it through the walls from the next room, Turn it to the right, all the power goes out of the track, with just the hi-hats and cymbals left. Both have the effect of minimising the impact of the record, which means as soon as you start another song that doesn’t have a filter applied to it playing, the audience’s attention switches naturally to that one. It’s a great “one knob” trick to use when quickly beatmixing between two songs

So – the trick as a radio edit DJ is to mix and match the techniques above, always based on accurate counting, to keep your DJing varied, simple and functional.

Get the free video lesson & cheatsheet

I know there’s a lot of info here, so we’ve made a cheatsheet that you can download, print and keep that outlines this whole radio edit DJ system, and that contains a video lesson taken from our teaching channels where I talk you through it and you get to eavesdrop on our students and community asking questions, too! Click here for your free resources.

Also, know that we teach all of this in a full course, called Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs. It’s a fantastic investment in your DJing if you’re serious about learning this – click here to watch the five-minute video and learn more about the course.

Photo by Sam van Bussel

3. Make the right decisions when performing

With the above dialled in, you’ve got both the ingredients (prepared tunes) and the skills to be able to mix well with just radio edits. But what about the thinking process as you’re actually doing it? What should be going through your mind when you’re mid-set, to ensure you’re making the right decisions about your mixing? That’s what this final part of the puzzle reveals, and it is divided into three parts: Choosing, preparing, and mixing.

Choosing the next song

Three things will decide if the next song just follows on smoothly, or indicates a bigger change to your dancefloor. They are genre (same genre usually means a less noticeable change), appeal (“does the next song appeal to the type of people already on my dancefloor?”) and energy (“is it a more or less energetic track, or about the same?”).

It’s important to realise that there is no right or wrong for these three considerations. Sometimes you want to carry on in one genre, and others – it’s time for a change. Sometimes, you want to continue to hold the people on the dancefloor who are there now – sometimes, not. And at times it is absolutely appropriate to move the energy up or down (and at other times, equally appropriate to keep it the same).

But here’s the truth – just thinking about these things is the battle practically won already, because many DJs don’t! And if you don’t, that means you’re just selecting the next track at random. Avoiding being random is the real lesson here.

(Remember the minisets, from the preparation advice above? This is where they help, because you’ve already made some of the decisions ahead of time.)

Read this next: How DJs Always Know What Song To Play Next (Without Ever Panicking)

Preparing it on the deck

So you’ve picked a next song, and loaded it up. There are two big considerations the creative DJ will look at here:

  1. What’s the BPM? – If it is faster or slower than the current song by some margin, you can’t beatmix it – and so you need to use one of the many techniques that don’t require beatmixing, or execute an obvious, synced, BPM shift. But if it is a close BPM, you can use a beatmix to transition. This is the first, fundamental decision
  2. Will I use keymixing? – You ALWAYS choose the song first, then decide how to mix or whether to match keys second. But if it is in the same key, or a compatible key, or you can key shift it (see fuzzy keymixing) to work, then you have the ability to do something more creative. In our course, Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs, we have dozens of examples of how this is done, all explained and taught, to help this important concept become a habit

Photo by Louis Hansel

Performing the mix

No matter which of the different typical mixes or transition techniques you decide to use, there are three crucial things to get right at this point:

  1. Mix position – You need to mix out of the outgoing song at a suitable place, and into the incoming one at a suitable place. The biggest rules of thumb are to do so at the start/end of a “song section” (set of four bars, as per the counting advice above), and – here’s the big one – to make sure the new song starts at an instantly recognisable, “big” part of the track for your audience. This is different from traditional DJ beatmixing, because quick mixing radio edits demands that the new song “wins” the audience over immediately
  2. Volume – Such a basic, but so many DJs get this wrong. The new song has to be as loud as the old one! Dropping into a song when the volume on the dancefloor halves is not acceptable, will drain the energy out of the dancefloor, and make you look amateur. So switch from one song to the other privately in your headphones to check, and don’t be scared to use the level/trim/gain control at the very top of your channel EQs to balance the new song to the currently playing one
  3. EQ – Those lo/mid/high EQ controls are there on your mixer channels for a reason. Especially when you’re a party DJ playing radio versions of the biggest songs ever made, and especially when those songs could come from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s and now – they will NOT all be EQed the same. You may have to make drastic changes to the EQ to make older songs especially sound as punchy as new ones, in tandem with the volume controls. So don’t be scared to – and again, check in your headphones

So few DJs do these three things it’s scary. They always start every new song at the beginning, and they never check EQ and volume. By DJing like this, they inadvertently and inexpertly alter the energy on the dancefloor in random ways, and thus perform average, forgettable DJ sets.

Get the free resources

That’s a lot of ground we’ve just covered! Remember we’ve made a cheatsheet that you can download, print and keep that outlines this whole radio edit DJ system, plus a video lesson taken from our teaching channels where I talk you through it, and you get to eavesdrop on our students and community asking questions, too! Click here for your free resources.

Finally…

This article has revealed how the very best modern DJs who play events such as parties, weddings, corporate gigs and so on, expertly mix radio versions of songs, in a way that gets them noticed, and gets them repeat bookings.

It is not enough to play records end-to-end nowadays, fading between them – today’s audiences were brought up with EDM and superstar DJs, and they know what good DJing sounds like. Your job as a mainstream DJ in the 2020s is to apply that showmanship, flair and technicality to the simple, radio versions of the biggest tracks ever made.

I hope this has helped you to understand how it’s done, and inspired you to level up your game. However there is only so much that words can do to explain music and musical technique..

That’s why we made Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs. As the world’s leading DJ school, we have trained thousands of DJs on these skills, and this hugely popular course – aimed at beginners and at DJs who know how to do the job but who haven’t yet mastered the mixing side of it – shows you how it’s done.

In short: If you want to learn this, Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs is a phenomenal investment in your DJing.

Click here to learn more about the course.

Now get good, get out there, and make the moments!

Last updated 22 November, 2022

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