Why DJs Should Know How to Mix In Key

April 19, 2017

The title DJ is a common moniker nowadays. It seems like anyone who can get their hands on a turntable, mixer and controller–or even an iPod, in many instances–can consider himself a “DJ”. If that’s the case, then anyone who picks up a paintbrush can call himself an artist. It’s just not true. As there are many elements of understanding colors and their complements on a painter’s palate, so too must a knowledgeable DJ know the tools that will make his sets more colorful. One such tool is harmonic mixing, or mixing in key. If you’ve ever wondered why you should know how to mix in key as a DJ, here are several ways it can enhance your DJ business.

Better Blends Beyond Beatmatching

Mixing in key, or harmonic mixing, is simply mixing two songs that are chromatically similar or complementary in key. If you are keenly familiar with the songs in your library, you’ve done yourself a great service when it comes to harmonic mixing. Knowing the general key of your songs, like knowing the general BPM of your songs, will help you innately make better mixes. Why? Well, because you won’t have to rely on searching for BPM numbers in your library, or limiting yourself to that. Practically every digital DJing software service today has a key labeling feature that is accessible and available, but it won’t hurt to have that intrinsic understanding of what songs are in what key beyond looking at a number-letter combination in your virtual deck.

Many DJs are content with ensuring the song tempos are consistent when they blend songs, but honestly, that’s DJing 101. Counting beats can be limiting if you only consider songs based on similar BPMs. Mixing in key will allow you to finesse a mix outside of the BPM border. Apply a keylock to your deck, and your songs can be in tune AND practically any BPM you need for your mix.

Bass Is the Key (Literally)

Another reason DJs should work to mix in key is to avoid low tone clashing, especially with tracks that have prominent bass elements. Much of today’s hip-hop-influenced rap and R&B, as well as a fair amount of electronic music, use 808 sounds for song melodies as well as for kick drum sounds. Played in big sounds systems, these sounds dominate the overall melody of a track. Harmonic clashing is very noticeable in these environments, and your listeners will definitely notice. When you apply and utilize compatible keys with your song selections, sound clashing will be less of an issue throughout your mixes and blends.

Progress Your Track and Mix Energy

Knowing the keys of your songs will help you work on creating quick, effective energetic transitions. Having keys appropriately labeled, whether that’s the actual key scale or the Camelot Wheel number reference, will make this fairly simple. With a typical chromatic scale, going up one or two semitones between songs will perfectly create a heightened energy effect. This can be really effective for uptempo songs and peak hour sets, and will undoubtedly bring people to the floor.

Many DJs would argue that harmonic mixing isn’t necessary. And they’re right. It isn’t necessary. No one knows your music and skills like you do. But mixing in key is an advanced tool that can help make near-perfect mixes and continuous, undetectably smooth track transitions for engaged people that, in the moment, want a consistent, uninterrupted vibe. That’s your job, DJ, and mixing in key can help you achieve that. Remember: a set created with unnoticeably smooth mixes makes a happy crowd that will credit you for hours of dance floor bliss.

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About Mixcity Inc

Mixcity Inc was founded in 2008 with the mission of creating innovative software solutions and engagement tools for the working DJ. The team's first DJ product, KueIt, was groundbreaking when it was introduced years ago, and still remains an industry standard software solution to this day. Mixcity's latest innovation, JammText, is a revolutionary text to screen software solution that allows DJs to reach exciting new levels of crowd interaction and audience engagement.