The skill-set of mixing House music is essential for any electronic music DJ. This is not just due to the genre’s increasing popularity, but due to the multitude of possibilities to branch off into different sub-genres.
Its commercial appeal is also endless, and the genre boasts some of the largest playlist-followings on digital streaming platforms like Spotify.
If you’ve always dreamed of becoming a House DJ but have no idea where to begin, don’t worry, read on to find some essential tips to becoming a professional.
Hone In On A Sub-Genre
This may feel like an audacious tip to start as you would assume that subgenres derive from an understanding of the main genre itself.
Truthfully, House music is an amalgamation of sub-genres, and so it is important to know what kind of sound you are looking to develop prior to even starting.
Subgenres of House music include the following: Deep House, Acid House, Future House, Tech House, Tropical House, Progressive House, Electro House, Disco House, and Bass House, to name just a few.
You can discover which subgenre your style suits by focusing on the BPM of your specific track, for example, Deep House usually has a BPM in the 115-140 range. It also has a more relaxed feel than Bass House and tends to include vocals/samples.
That’s not to say you have to stick with just one sub-genre. As long as two or more types of House music complement one another, you should absolutely experiment by blurring the boundaries of established categories.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with a few different styles of House music, so you’re always prepared to match the energy of a time and venue.
For instance, if you’re playing an earlier show, you might want to boost the happy factor with some funk- and soul-inspired House beats, but later on, when you’re playing the club or a dingy (in the best way) bar, it’s best to mess with something more primal and raw like Deep House.
Get A Feel For The Beat Structure Of House Music
I’ve got some good news for you… House music is by far the easiest type of music to mix — hooray! The reason is, it was created by DJs for DJs.
It follows the typical 4 on the floor dance music format, meaning that it’s always in 4/4, and on each beat, there’s a robust kick drum sound. On every other beat, there’ll be a snappy snare or clap sound, and sometimes, there’ll be some hi-hat or cymbal work on the offbeat.
Now that you know this (if you didn’t already), you should find keeping on top of the beat, matching beats, and mixing, a total breeze, but there’s more to know about the structure of House music than it’s 4 on the floor beat structure.
Take Stock Of Phrasing
The next structural element of House music you should consider is the phrasing. A phrase is composed of multiple bars of beats. Each phrase makes up a discrete section of the track. For example, a verse is a phrase, as is the chorus, the buildup, or breakdown.
Towards the end of a phrase in a House track, there’ll be some form of embellishment (usually a drum fill), and this signals to the listener that they’re about to hear the next phrase.
These embellishments smooth out the transition from old to new, making them the perfect point in a track to mix in a new beat without it sounding too jarring to the audience, so it’s good practice to learn how to sync phrases.
Using Hot Cues
Hot cues are what you’ll be using to mark out all the different phrases you plan on using in your tracks.
Not only do they split phrases into distinct sections that you can see clearly as you perform, but they allow you to cycle to the start of a phrase with the push of a button, which is incredibly helpful when it comes to mixing.
If you’re using a laptop-lead setup, you can set hot cues on your DJ software, but if you’re using CDJs or a DJ controller with USB support and a display, you can organize all your hot cues on-unit.
Not every label you place on the waveform of a track has to be a hot cue. You can also use them as general prompts. For example, if you’ve identified a section of track B that will blend well with a particular phrase in track A, you can label them both with a little “B”.
Then, when you want to start blending, you can align your “B” sections and merge them with confidence, rather than playing it by ear, possibly making an error, and ruining the flow or vibe of the mix.
If you’re going to beat match two House tracks, they need to play at the same pace, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t have the same native BPM, as you can use the tempo adjust on your controller, computer, or CDJs to get the tracks in sync.
If you end up reaching the limit of your tempo shift controls, you can recenter them by ever so slowly increasing or decreasing the tempo of the current track. And when I say slowly, I really mean it.
You need to move your tempo adjuster so gradually that nobody in the audience picks up on it. Go too fast, and it will disrupt the flow of your set and ruin everyone’s buzz.
Next up, we have harmonic mixing, which basically means that mixed tracks are in the same, or at least complementary, keys.
Now, unless you have perfect pitch, you may struggle to identify the keys of your tracks by ear, but not to worry, as your DJ software, controller, or CDJ can lend a helping hand.
Whether you’re using software or hardware, it should inform you of each track key.
Some software, such as Rekordbox, will even highlight the other tracks in your playlist with a complimentary key, so you always know which will work together and which might sound a little awkward or shoehorned into the mix.
Creating Impact With Your Second Track — An Example Of How EQs Can Be Helpful When Mixing House Music.
Most House music is really quite subtle. It’s not quite as hard-hitting as some other forms of electronic music such as Drum and Bass or Dubstep, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the facilities of your mixer to manufacture some huge impacts.
In my opinion, the best way to do so is by filter sweeping the low end of track A as you fade in track B (also with zero low-end), then diming the bass EQ on track B as you reach the tail end of the phrase.
The tinny, sweeping sound of track A clears the sonic space for the bass of track B to hit extra hard, helping to create a more dynamic and engaging set. I also like throwing some reverb on track A as the bass fizzles out to create a more prominent transition.
Step by step, it goes a little something like this…
- Choose a song with a fat bassline for track B.
- Turn the bass EQ all the way down for track B.
- Play track A.
- Trigger track B hot cue.
- Fade track B in as you gradually reduce the bass EQ of track A.
- Apply some reverb to really wash out what remains of track A.
- Once track B is fully faded in, on the 1 beat, crank the bass EQ, and slap the reverb off — if you leave the reverb on, the bass won’t hit anywhere near as hard. This last step has to happen incredibly fast, so it takes some practice to get down, but it’s well worth the effort!
If you’re finding it really difficult to get rid of the reverb before the bass of track B hits, or perhaps you don’t have any integrated reverb effect in your setup, you can follow the same steps and leave effects out of it. It won’t be quite as impactful, but it will still sound amazing.
What Should I Mix House Music With?
You don’t need any special hardware or software to get started mixing some dope House beats; you just need to amass all the usual suspects, including…
A DJ Controller/CDJs And A Mixer
Unless you plan on keeping things traditional with some hefty crates of vinyl and a pair of turntables, you’re going to need either a DJ controller or a pair of CDJs with a discrete mixer.
DJ controllers are essentially a full DJ set up in one device. They arrive with an integrated mixer, two jogwheels, and tons of sound sculpting options; however, unless they have an LCD and USB support, they have to be paired with a laptop.
I’d recommend something along the lines of the Numark Mixtrack Pro FX for beginners.
CDJs (also referred to as club gear) each have a single jogwheel, so you’ll need two of them to mix. You’ll also need a discrete mixer, but, on the bright side, they have screens and support USB, so you can work from a memory stick rather than a laptop.
This sort of setup is a little pricey, but if you’re interested, I recommend checking out the Numark NDX500.
A Sound Source
As mentioned a moment ago, not all setups require a laptop, but you will need to get the music from somewhere.
A Pair Of DJ Headphones
Headphones couldn’t be more important to the mixing process. They need to be able to feed you two separate audio signals, so you can align your tracks and mix them together without causing any awkward timing issues that clear the dance floor.
The Sennheiser Pro Audio HD 25s are seen as the industry standard, and they’re not that pricey either, so, if I was you, that’s where I’d start.
If you’re starting out with a DJ controller and laptop, you’ll need some DJ software to process and cue your tracks. There are a number of options out there, each as good for mixing House music as the next.
Which one you choose should come down to your hardware (a lot of gear is designed to fit into a certain software’s ecosystem), or, if you’re yet to pick up any gear, whichever program feels more intuitive and natural to you.
Serato DJ Pro is one of the biggest names in DJ software at the minute, but I’m also a big fan of Traktor DJ Pro and Virtual DJ. My advice to you is to take advantage of free trials and try out a selection of different programs. You’ll find one that feels right eventually.
When you’re playing live, your monitors feed you the music over the club mix, so you can hear exactly what your audio sounds like. If you’re just in the house, you can simply use a sound system to blast your tunes.
Where Do DJs Get Their House Music?
Most DJs will find their house music via websites like Bandcamp. This is because Bandcamp is known to support the artist and only takes a marginal cut in revenue.
Bandcamp also has a strong community with regards to Electronic (House) music. Locating new music via this website is easy as the listener/DJ is able to use hashtags and genre-specific searches to find music within any subgenre.
Many DJs will also source their music from Spotify and Apple playlists. Spotify, in particular, hosts a large variety of House music, incorporating every sub-genre into playlists that boast some of the largest followings on the entire platform.
A lot of DJs will also discover music on platforms like SoundCloud that enable underground talent to be showcased without the need for digital distribution.
Many different producers will also be willing to offer sample packs and promote different samples via this platform that will be readily available for download/purchase.
Some DJs will take the old-school approach of discovering new music at live events and DJ sets. Although traditional, this is actually a refreshing approach in an age of digital streaming dominance.
This also gives the DJ or producer the opportunity to discover new sounds in a setting where they are able to really feel the bass and different complexities of the music.
They are also able to observe how the music is received by a live audience and which elements provoke the best reaction in the listener.
There are also numerous YouTube channels that platform House music with a backdrop of different, relaxing scenes. Often holiday snaps or pictures of vast beaches are included to relax the listener and these channels often have millions of subscribers.
As a producer or a DJ, it is well worth approaching the curators of these channels in order to promote your work or to source new music.
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