How to Create a DJ Mixtape in Pro Tools
The following tutorial discusses how to create a DJ style mix using Pro Tools. Learn about track selection, how to use “Mixed in Key” to choose tracks that are harmonically compatible, dealing with tempo changes, using the Camelot System, removing unwanted audio, elasticizing clips, importing audio, etc.
We also will discuss sequencing the mix, volume and automation techniques, creating a submaster, tape slow-down effects, limiting and dynamics. and bouncing the DJ mix. This tutorial covers most of the critical aspects to create a professional quality Mixtape!
Feel free to utilize your own song selection to apply the following techniques, allowing you to create your own individual mix. You can also follow along with our song selection by purchasing the songs from Beatport, iTunes, etc...
With such an abundance of music being released worldwide on a daily basis. it can be difficult to know where to begin in accessing and selecting your music. There are two definite paths DJ’s can follow. There are DJ’s who follow the pack and play safe sets comprising of the hits, entertaining the masses and no doubt lining their pockets in the process; and on the flip side are the DJ’s who attempt to be different, exposing their audiences to unfamiliar sonic landscapes on a journey of musical exploration. Whichever camp you fall into the art of selection is crucial. A great place to start searching for musical content is Beatport, another is Soundcloud. Along with web-based services, there are also many DJ / Record Pool services available such as: Promo Only, DJCity, Dixie Dance Kings, Franchise Record Pool, BPM Supreme, and many more. For the purpose of this article we will be utilizing material purchased through Beatport.
Beatport is an online music store geared specifically towards DJ’s and those wishing to discover and purchase new music. The Beatport monthly Top 100 offers those wishing to go down a mainstream route a guaranteed selection of crowd pleasers, whilst the DJ looking to be more original can browse the numerous sub-genres or DJ charts to find more obscure material. Music featured on the website can be previewed before purchase and the built in player also states the tempo and key of each track.
In this tutorial we will create a DJ Mix using 4 tunes listed on Beatport’s Top 100 (November 2014), which are as follows:
1. ‘Calabria’ (Firebeatz Remix) by Rune RK
2. ‘Young Again’ (Extended Mix) by Hardwell feat. Chris Jones
3. ‘Back to Life’ (Original Mix) by Don Diablo
4. “Saviour’ (Original Mix) by Bassjackers
*** You can follow along with the tutorial using your own song selection. ***
If you wish to follow the tutorial using the same songs we are using, please download the song selection from Beatport, iTunes, or another online store of your choice.
Tempo & Key
For a DJ set to flow naturally, the music selection should generally be of similar original tempo and should also be mixed by the DJ harmonically , or, "in tune". This concept ensures a seamless transition from track to track, with songs blending effortlessly from one to the next. Whilst the songs downloaded from Beatport feature information regarding tempo and key, what about the songs sourced elsewhere? This is where a handy application ‘Mixed In Key’ comes to the rescue. The idea behind Mixed In Key is that it analyzes the harmonies and melodies of your music and shows you the musical key of every track to help you choose tracks that are harmonically compatible with each other. Mixed In Key
Mixed in Key analyses your music and assigns each song one of twelve ‘key codes’ based on the ‘Camelot System’. The ‘Camelot Wheel’ then provides a visual representation of which songs have keys that compliment one another. The simplest way to ensure mixes are in key would be to use only songs assigned with the same key code, but there are also other rules that apply. Key codes that appear adjacent to each other on the wheel would also result in a harmonious mix, for example 1A could mix into either a 12A or 2A, it could also mix into a 1B but in this case the key would change from minor to major (an ‘A’ suffix denotes a minor key and a ‘B’ suffix denotes a major).
Mixed in Key’s ‘Camelot Wheel’ created by Mark Davis
Selected songs after analysis using Mixed in Key (note both the Camelot Key and tempo written at the end of the file name)
Organize Your Song Sequence
Once you have analyzed your content, the tempo and key code metadata information can be written into the file in various ways, for example appearing in the file’s name. A method I personally like to use is to write the key into the file’s comments section, once the analyzed set is then loaded into iTunes the songs can then be organized by comment. This can give you a good general starting point for how your set might flow in order to avoid key clashes (this can also be done in more recent versions of Mixed in Key).
To organize your set in iTunes follow these steps;
1. Import your songs into Mixed in Key and analyze the selection (ensure that Mixed in Key’s preference are set to ‘Overwrite Comments’ with the Camelot key code).
2. Create a new Playlist in iTunes and import your analyzed songs.
3. In the iTunes View menu select ‘Show View Options’, in the window that opens make sure ‘comments’ is ticked (you may wish to also un-check some of the other options to tidy up your Playlist).
4. Click on the ‘Comments’ title in the iTunes Playlist to organize by comment (in this case the Camelot key).
We now have a starting point for our DJ mix. In some case the first song may need to be substituted if it doesn’t contain material suited for an introduction. In my example, by moving song title 1 to position 3 we will create a more harmonious mix at that point (as the Camelot wheel illustrates a 7B will match with a 6B).
Due to the fact we are only using 4 songs we also have a gap in the key codes, this could be resolved by either adding additional content in the desired key or by using DJ techniques that we will explore later in the tutorial.
Pro Tools Session
The first thing to address in Pro Tools is the tempo differences between the four selected songs that range between values of 126bpm, 128bpm and 129bpm.
‘Back to Life’ (Original Mix) - 126bpm
‘Saviour’ (Original Mix) - 128bpm
‘Calabria’ (Firebeatz Remix) – 128bpm
‘Young Again’ (Extended Mix) – 129bpm
In this case it would make sense to aim to create a mix that has a final master tempo of 128bpm as it represents not only the middle (average) tempo but will also result in less work.
1. In ‘Manual Tempo Mode’, set the session’s tempo in the Transport’s MIDI controls area to 126bpm to match the first songs tempo.
Removing Unwanted Audio
1. Import the first song in the sequence, ‘Back to Life’ (Original Mix), on to an audio track in Pro Tools, lining up the start point of the clip to the session start.
2. Zoom in on the beginning of the clip, note the unwanted audio at the start of the file, this must be removed to align the first beat of the clip with the first beat of the project (shown above).
3. Enable ‘Tab to Transient’ in the Pro Tools Tool Bar.
4. Press Return to place the play-head at the beginning of the project.
5. Press Shift > Tab, this creates a selection from the Playhead position to the next (first) transient.
6. Press delete to remove the unwanted audio at the start of the clip.
Note: With keyboard focus enabled you can also use the key command ‘A’ to delete unselected audio prior to the Edit Cursor.
7. Re-align the clip’s start to the start of the project.
8. Create a Click track to check the clip is synchronized to the projects tempo and grid (Track Menu > Create Click Track).
Our first track should now be playing in sync with the metronome; unfortunately the current tempo of 126bpm needs to be changed in our final mix to 128bpm. In order to keep the first song synchronized to the session we will use Pro Tools’ Elastic Audio function. This will enable the track to change tempo to match the project.
1. Make sure your track’s time base is set to ‘Ticks’ by clicking on the tracks Timebase selector (the small symbol at the lower left side of the track header shown in green).
Tip: A blue clock symbol represents a ‘sample’ based timebase, a green metronome represents a ‘tick’ based timebase.
2. Choose the preferred Elastic Audio plug-in for processing your audio by clicking on the grey box to the right of the Timebase selector. In this case the most suitable plug-in is ‘Polyphonic’ which is suited to multi-instrument mixes.
3. The track will go offline momentarily while Pro Tools analyses it for transient content. When the analysis is complete, change the session’s tempo to 128bpm. The clip should still play synchronized with the Click Track at the new tempo. The clip will now follow any change to tempo that occurs in the session.
NOTE: If your audio needs further adjustment see Section 7 ‘Fine Tuning Using Analysis and Warp Markers’.
Importing Audio using the Workspace Browser
A second method for importing Audio files involves using the Pro Tools Workspace browser. This browser offers greater functionality when compared to the computers browser, including the ability to search for file types specific to Pro Tools and the ability to preview audio files at the session tempo.
To open the Workspace browser, choose Window > New Workspace (Option>I).
Use the disclosure triangles located in the ‘Locations’ pane (left side) to navigate the folders on your hard drives. Once you have located the desired folder, select it to show its contents in the ‘Browser’ pane in the center of the window.
Selecting the file name and pressing either the play button located in the browser toolbar or the space bar previews audio files that are listed in the browser pane via the Pro Tool’s ‘Audition Path’. The up and down arrows on the computer keyboard can also be used to navigate through the displayed files whilst previewing.
Note: If there is no Audition Path set in Pro tools, an error message will appear asking you to set the audition path. Go to Setup > I/O, on the Output tab at the bottom right, select the desired audition path
Files can be previewed at the Session tempo by pressing the ‘Audio Files Conform to Session Tempo’ button (shown below in green). Right clicking on the button also allows you to choose the default Elastic Audio plug-in used when previewing (polyphonic is best suited for complete songs).
‘Preview in Context’ functionality also allows elasticized preview files to play back in tempo, and at the corresponding bar and beat location of the session.
Once the desired file has been located and previewed using an Elastic Audio plug-in in the Workspace Browser, it can be dragged directly from the browser to the session’s Tracks List. Dragging audio to the Tracks List automatically creates a new audio track with the elastic audio plug-in activated. Audio files can then be trimmed as necessary and fine-tuned (if required) using the warping techniques described in Section 7.
Preparing Song Two
1. Mute the first track and import the second song ‘Savior’ (Original Mix) 128bpm onto a new audio track using either of the methods discussed above.
2. Use the ‘Tab to Transient’ methods described earlier to remove unwanted audio from the beginning of the clip.
3. Re-align the clip’s start to the start of the session.
4. Play the session to check the clip is synchronized to the projects tempo and grid.
5. Elasticize the clip (if not using the Workbase Browser import method).
6. Make sure the track’s timebase is set to ‘Ticks’ by clicking on the tracks Timebase selector (the small symbol at the lower left corner of the track header).
7. Choose the ‘Polyphonic’ Elastic Audio plug-in by clicking on the grey box to the right of the Timebase selector (Elastic Audio plug-in selector).
8. When the analysis is complete the clip will follow any change to tempo that occurs in the session.
Preparing Song Three
1. Mute the previous track and import song number three ‘Calabria’ (Firebeatz Remix) on to a new audio track.
2. Follow the steps described above for song two.Preparing Song Four
1. When you have completed the process for song three change the session’s tempo to 129bpm to accommodate song four.
2. Import song four and repeat the necessary steps.
3. Change the session tempo to 128bpm to return to the average tempo for the set.
Fine Tuning Using Analysis and Warp Markers
Although Pro Tools performs well in most cases, there may still be times where you need to make slight adjustments to the timing of your audio in order to synchronize it precisely to the grid,; this can be achieved using 'Analysis and Warp' Markers.
Once you have chosen an Elastic Audio plug-in for a track, two further track views become available ‘Analysis’ and ‘Warp’.
This view allows you to view and adjust the position of the transient Event markers created by the Elastic Audio plug-in, this can be useful in material where the transients are not clearly defined and have been assigned incorrectly.
This view allows you to view and adjust the position of Warp Event markers created by the Elastic Audio plug-in, to fine tune the timing of audio events in relation to the grid through time-stretching.
If you have trimmed unwanted audio content from the beginning of your clip and positioned it precisely on the grid, it is likely that the beginning of the audio file plays correctly aligned to the session grid; problems generally occur over time as slight timing drifts become emphasized. For this reason it is always advised to check the position of each clips ending.
If you are experiencing timing drifts in your audio use the following method to correct the synchronization of your elasticized audio.
1. Enable ‘Warp’ view for the track you wish to correct from the Track View selector.
The track’s view updates to show the Event markers as black vertical lines on top of the waveform, by double clicking on the Event markers Warp markers are created, which can then be dragged left or right to position them to the grid (holding Shift whilst double clicking also creates Warp markers on the previous and subsequent Event markers).
In the example above you can clearly see that the transients at the end of song three’s clip are no longer aligned to the grid.
2. Turn on the Click track for reference, and enable Grid Mode (to ensure the Warp markers snap to the Grid precisely). Now drag one of the transients to the correct grid position.
TIP: As a general rule you only need to re-position one transient point at the end of the clip. Look for a transient close to the end of the file that is clearly defined, such as a kick or snare drum. The first beat of a bar is normally the safest option as subsequent transients may have slight ‘swing’ or ‘groove’ timings applied.
Be careful to position the file to the correct beat in the bar, if the time slip is severe it can be easy to make mistakes. Play the clip from the start of the session with the click track to double check.
In the picture above you can see the newly created Warp Event marker (blue) at the end of song clip three, which has repositioned the clip exactly to the beat using Grid mode.
Sequencing the Mix
The next part of the process is to arrange our individual song’s start positions, when creating electronic music with the DJ in mind most producers create a sparse intro or outro to aid mixing. By zooming out sufficiently the start and or end of these sections is normally clearly visible.
In the image above you can see where song one (blue) waveform becomes less dense at bar 153, this position would be a good starting point for the placement of song two’s first beat. If you wish to create denser mixes with longer mixing periods bring the entering songs position forward by 8 bar steps until you find the desired blend (electronic producers normally work in 8 bar sections). In this case I have chosen the position shown above (bar 153).
Using the same principle for the placement of song three does not produce the desired result (shown above). The mix loses momentum due to the longer drum build up in the intro of song three. By moving song three’s start position forward to bar 265 (shown below) a more consistent mix point is achieved. Now as song two ends song three’s saxophone hook enters and carries the momentum.
Song four requires an even longer lead-in time to keep the mix energy consistent, in this case I have opted for an entry point of bar 357. Due to the longer lead times some automation will be added in the next section to blend the mixes further.
Volume, Automation & Mix Techniques
We will now create a Master Fader to allow us control of our audio output from Pro Tools and make any necessary adjustments to the overall mix level.
The key command Shift>Command>N creates a new track; choose a ‘Stereo’ and ‘Master Fader’ from the track type option.
You can now see the Pro Tools master output is clipping; this is due to pre- mastered tracks layered on top of each other overloading the output.
Creating a Submaster to Trim Output
We will now create a Submaster for the session that will be used to reduce the combined output level of the individual tracks to avoid clipping the Master output.
2. Use the key command Shift > Command > N (Mac) or Shift > Control > N (Windows) to create a new track; this time choose ‘Stereo’ and ‘Aux Input’ from the track type options.
3. Rename the track ‘Submaster’.
4. In either the Edit or Mix window, assign the 4 audio tracks’ outputs to Bus 1-2 (not the Master Fader outputs).
5. In either the Edit or Mix window assign the Submaster’s input to Bus 1-2.
The Submaster now controls the individual tracks outputs prior to the Master fader.
6. To address the clipping on the Master Output attenuate the Submaster output level by reducing its fader value to approximately -6.5dB.
Session Tracks routed to the Submaster via Bus 1
Automating the Mix
A common mix technique used by DJ’s is to attenuate the low frequency of a song entering the mix, during the mix between the two songs the low frequency is gradually restored to its normal level whilst ‘fading out’ the low frequency on the song that is exiting the mix. This produces a kind of ‘crossfade’ of the bass between the two songs and this technique in most cases can avoid the need for volume automation, it can also be used to hide many clashing elements to great effect. The same technique can also be applied to mid or high frequencies in the case of clashing hi-hats etc.
We will use the low frequency automation technique to blend the mix between songs two and three.
1. In the Mix window click on the ‘Insert A’ slot of Song two and choose ‘multi- channel plug-in’ > EQ > EQ3 1-Band (stereo).
2. Open the EQ plug-in and make the following adjustments:
3. In the ‘Type’ section chose ‘High Pass’.
4. In the Filter section adjust the knob to its far right position to select a 24dB/oct slope.
5. In the FREQ area of the Filter section turn its knob to its far left position to select 20.0Hz.
6. We now need to enable the Frequency control on the EQ FOR automation, click on the button directly below the word ‘Auto’ (above ‘SAFE’) on the EQ3- 1Band.
7. The Plug-In Automation window will now open, select ‘Frequency’ on the left hand side and then press ‘Add’ in the center section to enable automation for the selected (Frequency) parameter.
8. Click OK,
The Frequency Knob on the EQ3 1-Band should now have a green light directly below it to indicate that the parameter is now enabled for automation.
9. Option>Drag the ‘EQ Tab in song two’s Insert A slot to copy the EQ to Insert A of Song three. You should now have an identical EQ on the channel strips for song two and song three.
10. Click the small disclosure triangle at the bottom left of the track headers for song two and song three in the Edit window to display the Automation lanes for each of the tracks.
11. To display the automation lane for the Frequency parameter, click on the ’Volume’ tab in the automation track and select EQ3 1-Band > Frequency. Repeat the process for song three.
12. Select the Grabber Tool
13. Click on the horizontal black line in song two’s Automation lane at the point where the third song enters (bar 265) to create a breakpoint.
14. Click again on the horizontal black line in song two’s Automation lane, this time at the point where the second song ends (bar 281) to create another breakpoint. Drag the break point vertically upwards to a value of approximately 150Hz to create a ramp in the automation. This process will gradually fade the low frequency out of song two over the mix area.
15. For song three, repeat the process to create a reversed ramp, double click on the horizontal black line in song three’s Automation lane at the point where the third song enters (bar 265) to create a breakpoint. Drag the break point vertically upwards to a value of approximately 2.kHz. Double click again at approximately bar 280 to create another breakpoint, drag this breakpoint down vertically to the bottom (20Hz).
For Song four we will create volume automation in order to blend the mix using a ‘fade in’.
1. Click the small disclosure triangle at the bottom left of the track header for song four in the Edit window to display the ‘Volume’ Automation lane for each the track.
2. Double Click on the horizontal black line in song two’s Automation lane at the point where the forth song enters (bar 357) to create a breakpoint. Drag the breakpoint down vertically to a value of approximately -18dB.
3. Double Click again on the horizontal black line in song four’s Automation lane, this time at the point where the third song ends (bar 381) to create another breakpoint. Drag the breakpoint vertically to a value of 0.0dB.
Creating a Tape Slow Down Effect
To make the mix even more realistic we can add ‘tape slowdown’ effects. This effect mimics the sound created when a DJ stops a vinyl record when removing a song from the mix. In this example we will put the effect at the end of song two.
1. Zoom in so you can clearly see the last beat of song two.
2. Trim the end of song two so it ends one bar after the last beat (bar 282).
3. Make a one bar selection on song two that ranges from the last beat to the new end point of the audio clip (bar 281 – 282).
4. Go to the AudioSuite menu and select Pitch Shift > Vari-Fi.
5. Set the ‘FADES’ setting to OFF to remove the volume fade from the process, you can audition your result by pressing the speaker in the bottom left corner. If you are happy with the result press ‘Render’ to commit the effect.
The effect sounds great in isolation but is a bit lost in the mix, let’s automate its volume to make it more audible.
6. Select ‘Volume’ in the track view options to show the Volume automation lane over the waveform.
7. Make a selection that matches the last bar of the audio clip.
8. Drag the selection up to its highest position to increase the ‘tape slowdown’ effects volume. The slowdown is now audible in the mix behind song three’s saxophone hook.
Limiting and Dynamics
In order to compensate for the overall output volume reduction created by Submaster used to avoid clipping the Master Output, we will now use the Maxim limiter to restore the overall volume whilst offering clip protection to create a nice loud mix.
1. In the Mix window click on the ‘Insert A’ slot of the Master Output and choose ‘multi-channel plug-in’ > Dynamics > Maxim (stereo).
2. Click on the Link button in the Maxim Plug-in (this makes it easier to judge the effects of the plug-in on the audio as the volume output stays constant and is not distracting).
3. Drag the Threshold slider down to approximately -6dB. 4. De-select the Link button.
5. Drag the Ceiling slider up to -0.1dB.
Bouncing the DJ Mix
When you are satisfied with the sound of the mix it’s time to bounce it as an Mp3 and share to the world via SoundCloud.
1. Select ‘Bounce to Disk’ from the File menu.
2. From the Bounce window choose the following options;
Bounce Source A 1-2 (Stereo): File Type Mp3: Format Interleaved: Sample Rate 44.1khz
3. From the ‘Share With’ options choose SoundCloud (if you have a SoundCloud Account).
4. Select ‘Offline’ to bounce the file faster than real time, give the file a suitable name and choose a directory to bounce to.
5. Press Bounce.
6. Write the ID3 tags (the information that will be displayed in the media player such as iTunes).
7. Select the desired Bit Rate for the MP3 the highest quality setting is 320kbps.
8. Press OK
SoundCloud vs. Mixcloud
Whilst SoundCloud is currently the most popular place to share and listen to music online, it does have some major drawbacks when it comes to uploading DJ mixes of this nature. This is due to the sites Copyright Infringement Policies. Mixes that are believed to have infringed copyright are removed shortly after an initial analysis. It is highly unlikely that this mix would escape the policy.
Because of the difficulties faced by DJ’s when using Soundcloud a migration has begun from Soundcloud to Mixcloud. Mixcloud allows copyrighted material to be uploaded and distributes royalties to the featured artists on the mix’s track list.
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FREE ONLINE TUTORIALS:
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Jason O’Bryan has over 20 years of music industry experience, having worked as a record producer, recording artist and sound engineer in London, Jamaica, Barbados, Los Angeles and New York. He was a member of the infamous UK band ‘Dub Pistols’ (voted best U.K live band 2011 by DJ magazine) for over a decade as producer and bassist and also recorded under various artist names including ‘Strange Nature’, ‘Avenue A’ and ‘City Hi-Fi’.
Throughout his career, Jason has been commissioned to remix many world famous artists including Bono (U2), Lily Allen, Scissor Sisters, Moby, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Rob Zombie, Ian Brown, Bush, Natalie Imbruglia and Robbie Williams and has co-written music with many influential artists’ including Busta Rhymes, The Specials, Massive Attack, Gregory Issacs. Freak Power, Rodney P and Lindy Layton (Beats International). His work and music is also regularly featured in advertising, numerous major Hollywood movies including ‘Zoolander’, ‘Mystery Men’, ‘Bad Company’ and ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’, TV series and Computer games.
Jason currently works freelance as a Record Producer, Remixer, DJ and Educator.