Digital DJing has ushered in an age where it is possible for DJs to play a new track every minute if they want to. Mixing-friendly features like sync and key mixing, and access to thousands of tracks on a USB or laptop, make it technically simple than ever to play “verse chorus, out of there!” sets.
Also, public acceptance of the kind of quick mixing style means it’s not even necessary to beat match to play a passable open format set nowadays. Indeed, not only is playing just a small part of a song possible, it’s often expected! (“I know hip hop Ds who never touch the EQs!” someone from one of the big DJ software companies told me recently.)
Yet to many DJs, carefully crafting a set and smoothly blending from track to track is what DJing is all about.
So who’s right? How much of a song should DJs play? On the one side, the quick mixing proponents argue that with today’s alleged low attention spans among our audiences, quick mixing is the only way to keep them interested. On the other, old school purists hark back to an age where DJ sets were more considered and paced more slowly
YouTube videos are not real life…
Maybe some of the pressure to do mix this way, especially among new DJs, has come from YouTube, where – just like those 90-second cooking videos where you see the hands and a sped-up cooking pan and watch a dish cooked from start to end – DJ mix videos similarly show a variety of techniques in just a few minutes.
They’re great to watch, undeniably skilful – but ultimately, they’re manufactured to get Youtube views, not to get dancefloors heaving. It should be pretty obvious that DJ routines like this will not sustain you throughout a six-hour set, for instance.
Quick mixing isn’t new…
Turns out that this style of music does have history – like most things, when you dig deeper, it isn’t actually new. Many will remember the “Stars on 45″ records from the 80s where early mashup producers put a dozen hits into one 7” single, achieving chart hits of their own in the process.
In the mobile DJ world, a version of this type of segued hits, the “mega mix”, has also existed for decades: Tracks designed to give event dance floors a feel of a certain type of music (sixties, Abba, whatever), all pre-mixed so the DJ doesn’t have to do anything.
When to quick mix?
As A DJing technique, quick mixing is often used to “up the energy” in the room as part of a longer set, the general formula being the quicker the mixing, the higher the energy (this type of mixing doesn’t really make sense in a warm-up, for instance).
But just like a movie can’t be all car chase (pacing the energy is about dynamics and the contrast, above all), a DJ set probably shouldn’t be all mixed this way.
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Also, quick mixing can be useful when you’re playing older music that’s kind-of “spent” – a quick “verse, chorus, out” of a track that was number one for three months this time last year is probably enough to give people the vibe, or fulfil a request.
Of course, there is no such thing as a 100% rule on this: It differs by music style, age of crowd, geography, what the venue expects and what it is known for, and other factors too.
Finding a balance
Maybe the best way to approach the question of how much of a song DJs should play is to practise quick mixing techniques, practise individual quick mixing routines so you’re confident you can do them, and then experiment in your sets. Introduce quick mixing at higher energy moments and see of the crowd likes it.
Just like beatmixing, scratching, key mixing, live mashups, loop layering, and all the other techniques of modern DJing, open-format quick mixing has value, has an audience – and is definitely having a moment!
And while that doesn’t mean you HAVE to do it to be relevant, at the same time, it’s certainly fun to experiment with and have up your sleeve should you want to perform a quick mixed segment at some point.
• This post was inspired by a thread in our Global DJ Network Facebook Group. If you’re not already a member, click the link and apply to join now – it’s by DJs, for DJs, and it’s free!
Some thoughts from our community…
“A track worth playing is worth playing in its entirety but I’m old. Screw kids, they won’t die hearing full tracks. Shit most modern tracks are just over 2 minutes anyway, so they’ve done the work for me lol.” – Chad Smith
“I usually play one verse, one chorus. If it’s new or huge hit, I’ll let it play a second verse and chorus” – Michael Clarke
“Nothing wrong with mixing fast if it’s called for! I’ve done it many times, but it’s about reading the crowds reactions and sometimes mixing out before they get bored!” – Jim Maloney
“I think mixing fast it great to create energy, but if it’s over done it can just tire the crowd out. Song are made a certain length for good reason, it’s a bit like when people over do deck effects etc. In my opinion only do fast mixing and deck effects when you want it to really count, otherwise it dosen’t fell special to the crowd any more.” – Lloyd Jordan
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“It annoys the shit out of me to not hear most of a song. It’s a shame that the younger generation don’t care. I was even listening to a radio station do it the other day. Some of the best bits of tracks are after the second or third chorus. I rarely do quick mixing but I understand why it’s there.” – Mark Pieman
“It’s one of the reasons I dislike multi-channel silent disco events. The DJs are competitive with each other and tend to play less than radio edits of their tracks. It feels like one hook after the next, just to grab someone’s interest. Glad I don’t play to that kind of crowd…. Sounds exhausting! Play longer versions of the favs!” – Kimberley Bry
“It doesn’t always work and can actually be very irritating! I remember once being in a club somewhere in Manchester and the DJ kept dropping the next track right after a build up of a previous one, so the crowd were missing the all important piano riff or baseline from the build up. It really depends on how well you know your music, when and where to bring in and mix out.” – Stuart Harmar-Meakin
• What do you think? How much of a song should DJs play? Let us know in the comments…