Todays information is a little bit different than before. Since I have a show tonight, I was working on a new mix today rather than production...but they can work hand in hand. Todays main tip is about mixing in key and using the circle of 5ths as a guide to mix within harmonies.
Many DJs switch to ableton live due to its versatility in mixing. I like to take this to the extreme, automating tons of things so my hands are free to do more remixing than actual tedious mixing things...after all, if I wanted to mix the old way, I would use vinyl or CDJ's.
The main secret to my mixing is the use of a program called "Mixed in Key". Its about 60 dollars, and dont think about pirating it, cause its just not out there. Its one of the most useful programs I have ever bought when it comes to mixing.
What Mixed In Key allows you to do is analyze all of your tracks to determine its key & bpm. Then it labels them with a useful ID like A1 or B2, etc etc. I will explain what all this means in a minute.
First of all, to use it, just download it, and drag your tracks into it. Set the naming settings to your likings, and then click analyze. Be sure to check your settings, because it will rename your files if you have that selected, and it will be a bitch for ableton to find your newly named files in your past sets if you want to go back. Think of getting this program as a fresh start to your ableton experience, and rename all your tracks and reorganize everything. Its a days work.
What is also nice is that the tracks can be drug right into ableton for easy use. Use of this program is pretty straight forward, just play around within the tabs.
Once you have it labelled, I like to make nice list within ableton so I can find harmonies easily. In this picture, I color coated each similar key (A1, B1, etc). The black ones are tracks I have already used in a certain mix that I was preparing.
Now what do these labels mean. Well pretty much, it follows the circle of 5ths. Meaning that, going from one piece of the circle to an adjacent part will be in harmony. Tracks labelled the same are obviously in the same key. You can get an idea from the diagram below -
Anything labelled B is in a MAJOR, and anything in A is a minor. You will see after analyzing your songs that most tracks are in minors, which give a little bit more serious sound to the track.
You can move from either (for example) 7A-7B, or 7A-8A or 7B to 8B. Just change either one number or one letter, and you have a nice harmonic mix. Changing from Major to minor can really change the feeling of the mix too.
This opens a world of possibilities when mixing on the fly, because you know for a fact that 2 selected tracks will mix, as long as you choose a nice place where the kicks arent to powerful, or the bass isnt too heavy.
Which brings me to my next point, "WHERE SHOULD YOU MIX within a track?"
Now, in a traditional sense, a regular vinyl or CDJ dj will change the EQs (especially the lows) and make to beats line up. This way you dont have an over heavy kick or bass. I NEVER like to do this. I think of it as a way of the past. I almost never mix with beats over top of each other, because I simply do not like the way computer EQs sounds. If I absolutely want to, I would probably use the clubs mixer...but again, I rarely do that.
I prefer to mix within the ambient sections and build ups of a track, for a more explosive changing mix. It is very hard to do this with regular CDJs and vynal, (because there is no beat to match them together) so your mix can sound more unique than most DJs who just phase between one track to another. After all, the db levels are usually lower in these parts, and mixes can get really spacey and powerful. If you look at the next 2 pictures, you can see that I chose 2 ambient parts to mix within. They contain a very light beat, or are totally ambient.
If I prepare some of my mix before hand, I like to use the loop marker as a marker to remember where I am mixing (even if loop is not activated). If you like to do it by memory, that is fine too, but I only play a few minutes of a track, so it can be hard when dealing with hundreds of tracks every few months.
I like my mixes to mathematically meet and end. So a nice build up will begin in a new track, and then I will have the end point of the old track end right when the explosion hits. Keeps everything clean.
Now back to the key part. Lets say you do want to mix some tracks that are different keys. One trick I love, and maybe even use too much, is the transpose envelope within the clip. This is also good when you have 2 tracks that just wont mix right. I like to make the key drop or rise until it meets the key of the next track....or just totally destroy the track by taking all the way down or up to + or - 48 semitones. You will find you can make tracks mix and use a cool effect at the same time. You can see I did this in the example below -
It can also sound really creative to drop the key in a straight slope if you have some nice chords or ambient hits. The crowd will notice too, because something seems too clean!
Another thing I really like to do is crop my tracks. I tend to really HATE diva vocals, but there are tons of good funky tracks that have great beats, but then some horrible diva singing. Just drag your tracks into the compose view and chop the track where the vocal starts (or whatever you want to remove). Experiment with which part to bring in after it, but you will be surprise as to how many sections after that part will match right up when you join the clip together. Since everything is warped, it usually slices well. After cutting it, bring them back together, and select the 2 clips, press APPLE J, and it will join them back together. Drag them back into your session view, and you have chopped out the part you dont want. This is also handy for breakdowns of tracks that you think are too long. I hate watching all the uneasy dancers at a club stand there when there is a 1 1/2 minute breakdown without a beat...so just chop part of it out.
Be careful when moving clips from session view to compose view because it will only take from where your start marker is, and if you have a loop marker in it, it will end where the loop marker is. Remove those if you want to see the whole track. Sometimes it can get confusing when you look and remember "oh, point 97 I want to cut" but then you move it into compose and it starts where your start marker was, and not the whole tracks...and that point will be point 57 or something, instead of 97.
Some other good ideas for mixing with automation is to throw on small delay or reverb at the very end of a track, so that when it ends, it isnt SO abrupt. Just toss your track into compose. Cut it at the very end of the track. Then route (usings abletons routing), from that track to an empty track (ins and outs). Record the new track with the effect on it. Save that. Then just drag it back into compose and connect it to your old track. The levels will be the same as long as both were playing at 0db.
Again, if you just want to do it live and by hand, you can do that too, but the cool thing about ableton is that you can automate things so you dont have to, and your hands are free to do other things.
Another HUGE secret of mine, is using filters instead of EQs for mixing, but I will save that for another blog.
Anyway, thats it for today. Enjoy mixing in key, and making your mixes as clean as possible.