mixing styles

Tips and techniques of the trade

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mixing styles

#1 Post by invisibleagent » Tue Mar 15, 2011 2:59 am

This is my first post on swingdjs, I wish to introduce myself.
First off, Thank you for letting me join this forum. I've been reading posts and I look forward to trying to contribute in the future.
My name is Warren and I've DJ'd electronic music for over 10 years. I live in Cambodia.
I've been attending Swing dance lessons in Cambodia http://www.pppswings.com for over a year and I'm enjoying it immensely. I'll be learning the swing-out for life, right:) I love music more then I can say.

Anyhow....I am attending the Vietnam Lindy Exchange http://www.vlx2011.com/ and have been gifted with 2 DJ slots. I am super excited. I have DJ'd swing a number of times locally, but since this is an International event, I have a few questions regarding mixing. I want to ask the experts at swingdjs.com.

I know as a dancer I don't want to cut a song short or in the middle. But on the other hand I am experienced in 'cutting', 'fading', 'beat matching' other styles of music and I am not sure if any of these techniques are used heavily while playing Swing? What is your mixing style as a professional swing DJ?

I'd like to play more instrumental based stuff, does this mean I can mix / be more creative (without disturbing song structures)? or is this a 'no no'.

Is it okay to blend and even beat match the the end of a track with the intro of another? obviously I don't want to exhaust the dancers, but is there a strict rule on providing a break between a certain amount of tracks?

If I read the crowd and wish to change the BPM (either in my own set or following on from another DJ) is it okay to just drop in at the end of the current track with a group of tracks at the new BPM? (Club DJs can get a bit annoyed that you didn't 'warm up' for them or you've started faster then their set)

So far I have a good selection for a 1 hour set with the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmy Witherspoon, Maxine Sullivan, Nat King Cole (after midnight), Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald etc..

I don't intend to play any Neo swing or mix in pop & hip hop tracks (as I've witnessed before).

Any tips on being a better Swing DJ (specifically mixing) would be appreciated.

Thanks everyone. You guys rock, step:)

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#2 Post by Platypus » Tue Mar 15, 2011 11:29 am

I usually leave a few seconds between songs...enough time for the couple to thank each other, walk off the floor, and find a new partner.

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#3 Post by mr. e » Tue Mar 15, 2011 1:54 pm

People like the ends of the music, too: You can do some poses, you can bring your current partner off the floor etc.

Also I usually will start dancing at the beginning of a new song. So if you remove the beginnings, I might actually dance less often, since there are less "proper" points to start dancing.

In my opinion, dancers have a completely different take on music than "club" people. Essentially, dancers care about every single song you play. They might like it or not, it might fit their mood or not, it might be too fast or too slow for their liking. They will walk off the floor and on the floor. They also like change in the music.

"Club" people are primarily concerned with drinking, flirting, joking, talking. The main benefit of the music is to avoid any "awkward silence". They are proud if they manage to hit the beats, so keep the rhythm going for them so they don't have to re-sync all the time. Every couple of minutes they will actually pay attention and be happy when they recognize the tune you're currently playing. They usually will only leave the floor to grab some more drinks. Much of the time, you could play some prepared mix and they would not notice or care.

I figure that here, when you'd crossfade songs, dancers here would complain and you wouldn't get a second set ... There shouldn't be a long gap between the songs (I've once had someone play a CD with 10s pre-gaps; that was very irritating). But say, 1 second is okay. No need to go "negative".
Better spend the time on choosing songs, or pay attention to cutting off long intros or endings of live recordings. Occasionally you'll have a great recording of a great song, but they talk like 30 seconds before starting. These need to be cut appropriately.

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#4 Post by lipi » Tue Mar 15, 2011 3:42 pm

I was in the Netherlands ten years ago or so at a lindy event (yes, ancient history) and I danced straight from one song into the next without noticing until the vocalist came in. I found it incredibly annoying, but some of the people there were used to that DJ fading tracks together and didn't seem to mind.

In general, especially at an exchange, where you'll have folks from all over, I'd avoid it. You should give it a try at your local event, maybe in a small twenty minute mini-set, and see how it goes over. (And tell us! I'm curious, for one.) Oh, and late night at an exchange you can get away with a lot more stuff, so you could try it there, maybe. You could make an announcement warning people that they should feel free to change partners in the middle of the ten minute group of tracks.

There's no etiquette, I think, on following a DJ. Ending your set before another DJ: yes--try to make it possible for the next DJ to keep the room dancing (ending on a mid-tempo, high-ish energy tune works best, I think).

What else? Oh: when I DJ at my local dance here I always leave a few seconds between tracks. Another DJ I hear often doesn't leave any space (but he doesn't fade or blend together). Both seem to work fine.

Good luck, and definitely tell us how it goes!

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#5 Post by trev » Tue Mar 15, 2011 5:53 pm

The only time I've ever used cross-fading is for an event NOT for swing dancers, where I was hired simply to provide some retro background music.

All swing dance gigs need short (1 second) breaks between songs otherwise it gets awkward to stop and change partners.

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#6 Post by invisibleagent » Tue Mar 15, 2011 8:08 pm

Thanks to everyone who has replied. Thank you so much.
My first set is 45 mins and the second set is the following night and is more then 1 hour.

I've taken some great key points:

1. Read the crowd and alter tempo if necessary (be a good selector:)
2. Small gaps between tracks
3. Keep rhythm in sync
4. Ending on a good note for the following DJ

I know at one exchange (late night) there were DJs mashing up everything from R&B, (Micheal Jackson), Hip Hop stuff and then Swing without any gaps at all. I will be avoiding this or mixing in POP etc..

I want to make it fun for the dancers, that's why the DJs play right?
So I am very pleased about all the feedback. I will let you know how I get on. I'll be playing the likes of 'Snatch and Grab', 'Accentuate the Positive', 'For dancers only' etc..

Only a few days to go, I'll grab some videos and send a tracklist afterwards. any other tips / comments are welcome. Thank you again.

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#7 Post by Haydn » Wed Mar 16, 2011 6:07 am

I think it's all about relating to the people in the room through your DJing. Cross-fading and beat matching are modern tools used in dance music and as we are providing music for people to dance to, why not use them too? The main reason not to use them is the 'partner dance' tradition of dancing to swing music. People are used to the ballroom-style habit of asking someone for a dance, dancing a few songs, then walking off the floor and looking for a new partner. If you can find a way for people to do this while you are cross-fading and beat matching a 20 minute mix, then great. But if you can't, then it's going to be embarassing for the dancers to leave their partners without an appropriate gap (i.e. the gap between songs).

If people were dancing solo, or in some way that is not with a specific partner, then I think it would be great. There's no reason not to beat-match, say, two 2.5 min songs to create one 5 min song, as that is usually not too long to dance with one partner.

In general, when starting out, I would try not to do too many 'new' things, just find music that excites you and you think will excite the dancers, and try to keep them happy. If I'm DJing, I often find it useful to get to a dance as early as possible to get a feel for the mood of the dancers and to try to notice what sort of music they are into that night. And talk to other DJs and try to learn from them - see what works and what doesn't.

It would be great to get any feedback from you after the exchange ... :)

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#8 Post by J-h:n » Wed Mar 16, 2011 7:43 am

Haydn says it very well.

Oh, and if by "Keep rhythm in sync", you mean stick to the exact same BPM for several songs in a row, I'd advise against it. It will get very monotonous to dance to the same tempo for a long time. You want to vary the tempo a bit, but not too much. Don't jump all over the place. Try to change the tempos gradually to see where the dancers are most comfortable. Then play around with that.

A lot has been said on this topic; take some time to browse the "DJ Skillz" forum and you'll find much useful discussion.

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#9 Post by Platypus » Wed Mar 16, 2011 3:19 pm

Someone once mentioned "20 BPM" as a good change up or down. Enough difference to notice, not enough to be too abrupt.

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#10 Post by penguin » Thu Mar 17, 2011 12:07 am

One thing about beat-matching with Swing music. Because of the musical structure and the general audio quality of old swing music varying the tempo by any more than 10-20% makes it sound funny. So if you are beat-matching it probably pays to start off with two tunes of similar tempo.

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#11 Post by chrisbe » Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:00 pm

About a year ago, I wrote an article about Swing DJing. There are some more thoughts about the topic.

14 Tips To Become A (Better) Swing DJ

Feel free to leave a comment on the website :)

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#12 Post by invisibleagent » Thu Mar 24, 2011 1:16 am

I had an amazing time, great fun playing music and dancing too.
I noticed DJs with ipods (the majority of tools) with large gaps (up to 10 seconds) - this caused some dancers to shout 'hey man, what's going on'

I was mixing tunes with longer intros in to tracks with lead outs, as the crowd were rather active, this lead to dancers staying on the floor and swapping partners.

I noticed that once in to mid-tempo tracks, with a large crowd dancing, dropping to downtemp or very fast tempo tracks 'killed off' the crowd.
Except for the super experienced dancers who stayed for the 200 Bpm tracks. :)

The following day I played about 8 mid tempo tracks in a row and the dancers stayed solid. Was great.

I had to find a balance between instrumental and vocal tracks. Vocal tracks tend to draw the crowd better. People like to sing along while they dance.

I observed during other DJ sets that beginner dancers didn't want to dance to blues or slower swing tracks. This surprised me.

Here were my top 5 tracks that received more attention then others over the 3 nights:
Benny Goodman - Sing, sing, sing (1936) but is too fast for many
Ray Bryant - Golden earrings
Abe Lyman - Hullaballoo (1930)
Gene Krupa - Let me off uptown (1940)
Ray McKinley - Stompin' at the Savoy (1940)

onward and upwards.