DJ TIP: How to mix on time

This DJ TIP: How to mix on time is not quite what you might think. It’s not really about beat matching. It’s about timing both tracks so that they harmonize during the mix. Sounds confusing but interesting? Read on…

What’s in a mix

There is more to mixing than one can think. Besides selecting nice tracks, reading the public, keeping in line with your style, with the vibe of the location and the crowd, you also have to know your technical stuff. Operating your gear is a necessary know-how and you will probably learn to beat-match. Although I find beat-matching a must, nowadays this can be obsolete depending on your choice of gear and if you choose to automatically sync your mixes. But one thing that remains essential, regardless of whether you play with a laptop, CD players, USB players, or vinyl, is mixing on time.

The idea behind mixing on time

The first time I heard about this concept sounded like a puzzle and caught me by surprise. After I was playing for a few years, someone told me that my mixes were “in time”, but not “on time”. What?
Back then I’d leave mixing to chance. Feeling adventurous, I would introduce new tracks at different times, with nothing but my feeling to follow and what felt OK at the moment. Sometimes this approach would result in interesting sound combinations. At other times, not so much. Leaving my mixes to chance was cool for the sake of creativity. The thing is that, the more you play the better you want to mix. So of course, the result is better if you have some level of control.

Phrase mixing

Mixing on time relies on the simple idea that music has a structure. Usually, you can say that a standard 4×4 track is formed of beats in counts of 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, and so on. Normally on every 16, 32, or 64 beats, you can have a potential moment to introduce a new track or to add cool effects. These points are also called phrases. According to Hello Music Theory:
“A phrase is a single unit of music that makes complete musical sense when heard on its own.”
So what does this mean to you?
Let’s say you’re mixing in a new track at the end of a 64-bit phrase from the track that’s playing. Then when this track ends and the new one starts, both will be at similar phrase points. This phrase combination will make the mix sound good and make sense to the listener.

The best spots to mix

For me, the sweet spots are 32 and 64 beats. At the end of each of these musical phrases, you’ll feel it’s a good moment to add a new sound. Also, if you’re a big fan of longer mixes like I am, it allows the phrases in different tracks to combine and flow together. So it makes sense as a track turns 16, 32, or 64 counts, that the other track is also turning 16, 32, and 64 counts at precisely the same moment. This creates an interesting mix of sounds, also because often there are nice effects and tricks placed at the same key points in the music.

To count or not to count

Do you need to count, you might ask yourself.
Not really, but it depends. Once you’ve been doing it for a while you will just feel the transition points, they will become obvious to you. Your ears will get more and more trained and you will just know when these points happen. But until you get there, maybe counting is not a bad idea. Whatever works for you.
If you’ve never heard of this concept, give it go and see where it takes you.

Examples of mixing on time

If you are looking for examples, you can check some of my mixes below on Soundcloud. You can hear how they flow between the transition points.


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