Introduction: How to Produce a Mix

Whether you are a DJ or a general music lover, a mix is a good way to share the music you love with the community around you. This guide will take you through the necessary steps to producing a mix of music you might typically hear on a radio show so that you too can communicate through music, provided that you have the necessary technology.

Step 1: Immerse Yourself in Music

To produce a mix, you need to create a mix of songs that you enjoy and want to share with your audience. The first step in producing a mix of music is to start incorporating music in your life on a regular basis. Start going to concerts, listening to music on the Internet, and even thinking of mundane sounds as music. By doing this, you will start to realize patterns and connections between artists and genres of music, leading you to a better understanding of your own taste. Solidifying a taste is essential to picking a mix of music that you enjoy.

Additionally, since music normally elicits a significant emotional response, immersing yourself in music will lead you to a fuller emotional awareness of your connection to music and thus, your taste in music. Both the technical and emotional knowledge of music will help you to realize what types of sounds can create desired emotional effects in your mix.

But in more concrete terms, to produce a mix of music you will need to be consuming music so that you know what the sounds are, how they vary, and how they might be mixed together to create your mix.

Step 2: Establish a Taste

As mentioned in the previous step, in order to move towards creating a mix of songs and sounds, you will need to first have a musical taste to share. Step 1 will start you on this never-ending process. But what is a music taste?

A music taste is the set of genres, artists, albums, record labels, and sounds that you are particularly fond of. It is the music that you view is better than other music, and the music you label as good or bad.

Establishing a taste is a highly subjective activity. Often it is something people “just do” rather than think about. But, paying at least some attention to the genres, artists, albums, etc. of music that you are naturally drawn to can provide you with information about your taste. Often the factors for your music consumption decisions are based on more than just the music itself, and that’s okay. Music tends to be a social activity, so things like where and with whom musical consumption happens are important things to pay attention to.

You may never be able to fully define what your taste of music is, but it is necessary to ask yourself questions. Do you tend to go to noise shows? Do you enjoy listening to old rock music on your parents’ record player? Are you drawn to the acoustics of classical concert halls or the sound-systems in nightclubs? Be constantly inquisitive and thoughtful about the music you consume and you will establish musical taste.

Step 3: Own Your Music

Once you feel you have established some kind of musical taste, you will need to start acquiring your own music. Because your music taste will be constantly changing, the music you own will likely reflect your changing taste, and that’s a good thing. Having a diverse music library is often appreciated amongst radio DJ’s and music nerds.

There are many methods to go about owning your music, the first of which is going to a record store. Record stores have physical copies of music in the form of CDs, vinyl records, and sometimes cassette tapes. Dig through their selection of records and CDs and preview ones that seem attractive to you. But, if you don’t want to pay a premium price for your music on vinyl, you can acquire your library digitally.

The online marketplace for music is advancing quickly, and anyone with Internet access is now able to purchase music with a few clicks of the mouse. Vendors like iTunes, Juno Download, Bleep, Amazon, and Bandcamp have endless libraries for you to digitally dig through. Here too, pay attention to the styles and genres at each record store and on each site to find marketplaces that you prefer over others. If one of the stores or sites doesn’t have the album or track you are after, another probably will.

Step 4: Understand the Technology Involved

Now that you have an understanding of your music taste and actually own some music, it is time to learn about the technology that enables your mix to come to life. There is a complex set of hardware and software that goes into making a mix, but as a future DJ you will only need to know about a subset of that equipment.

The first technologies to understand are the turntable, the CD player, and digital inputs. A turntable plays vinyl record, and the CD player plays—you guessed it—CDs. A turntable operates by converting the patterned grooves on the vinyl to electrical sound signals. The needle, which you move from the resting position onto the vinyl while the record is spinning, transmits this out of the turntable to the mixer. A CD player is much simpler: put the CD in and press play. Although a CD contains digital songs, digital inputs differ. These are devices that are capable of storing large amounts of songs. All three of these are connected to a mixer with audio cables.

The mixer is the second device you want to familiarize yourself with. A mixer controls the balance of each of the turntables, CD players, and digital inputs to the mixer. Most professional sound mixers have anywhere from 4 to 16 possible inputs, and basic mixers have 2 or more. Make the mixer your best friend. It is by far the most important piece of equipment in producing your mix.

Step 5: Select and Order Songs From Your Library

When you have a good grasp on the technologies and equipment your mix requires, it’s time to begin selecting music from your library that you want to share with listeners. This is usually the most difficult part in composing your mix, because selecting tracks that fit and flow together means considering the semantics of the music and the emotions that they bring.

This is where your music taste shines. The patterns you have noticed and emotions you have paid attention to have finally come to your selection of tracks that speaks about who you are. Maybe you would like to select songs that drastically contrast each other and play them one after the other. Or maybe you want to build your show like the structure of a novel, reaching some kind of climax. Regardless of how you choose to select and order a series of tracks, make sure that you dedicate time and effort to this task, as it is the most difficult to get right.

Step 6: Perform

In composing a mix, the culminating performance of the mix is the most fun. All of the time you have spent around music establishing a taste and collecting albums has come to playing it in sequence and transitioning between tracks. The combination of song selection and understanding of technology is what enables you to make easy transitions in your mix.

Gather your ordering of music and play the tracks on the relevant technology for the medium. Use the mixer to fade songs in and out from their inputs or to start and stop songs abruptly if necessary. If the tempo of one song matches or is not far off from the next song, you can even beatmatch the songs over one another. Turntables, CD players, and digital software have features that allow for this. So, before you start each song, you should have an idea of how the previous song ends and the new song begins. This will help you to use a transition that best fits the music to create a dynamic and finished mix of music.