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Music Mixing

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You're at a party. You can feel the bass vibrating your insides. People are dancing. And the DJ spinning the vinyl is adding a little of his or her own style and soul to the mix.

Maybe you're watching the DJ curiously: hands moving across mixers, sliding buttons, fingers flying across vinyl, headphones on. Maybe you're wondering what it takes. If music moves in you, if it's in your body and your soul, you might want to give music mixing a try.

Music mixers have to be sure they're using their talent to create a fun atmosphere for the crowd.
Courtesy of: Tobias

The terms DJing and music mixing are pretty much interchangeable. That's according to a DJ and producer known simply as Tobias. And he says DJing is the preferred term when you talk about the type of DJ who manipulates vinyl on at least two turntables.

DJs can be found wherever people gather for fun: nightclubs, special house parties, raves and school dances. Four walls aren't necessary, though. "I have done several gigs in southern Washington and Vancouver Island, out in the woods, spinning for just a few hundred people," says Tobias.

And it isn't even required that you leave your house. With the music and proper playing equipment, you can start at home.

"You need two turntables with pitch control and a mixer that can fade between the two turntables. You can also use CD players with pitch control and instant start," says Morgan. Morgan is a DJ.

At minimum, you need to know how to beat match. That's "matching the tempo of one record or CD to another by using the pitch control to slow down or speed up the new song until it matches the playing song," explains Morgan.

If you played an instrument or are a good dancer, you might have an edge. The reason is the beat -- dancers and musicians train their ears over years of practice, explains Dee Hanscom. He was in a band for 20 years. Tobias played violin for seven.

Understanding beats is a simple task for some. But others might have to work harder for it. "It seems very difficult for some people. If you don't get some concept of the beat, DJing would be difficult," says Hanscom.

The technical skills needed to operate the equipment can be learned from an expert. Or you must be "very good at following written instructions from the manual," says Hanscom.

Tobias says DJing is a craft. "A good DJ is an artist and it is an art form," he explains. You must be able to listen carefully, pick out good vinyl and have nimble fingers. You need a sense of the music. That means understanding what will make people dance, or think, or react.

"You must be a self-promoter, but one with integrity and honesty. You've got to be a loner, someone who can practice for hours alone. You've got to be able to save money in order to afford all the gear and records. You've got to be able to hold down another job," says Tobias.

According to Tobias, DJing is growing in popularity. "It is doing so because more people see more DJs and understandably want to do it. And because many major corporations are trying to cash in on what was an underground art form and movement," says Tobias.

Brian Graham of Tennessee has noticed more people conversing on the newsgroup. "It seems there are more and more people who are interested in this field," he says.

Getting Started

So how many records or CDs do you need to begin? Probably only a few. But once you get hooked, you may find yourself owning thousands of records.

Tobias owns about 16 crates, with each holding about 200 records. "A large collection can easily approach 30,000 records," he says. Imports cost up to $20 and domestics cost $4, he says.

Add to that the price of equipment, which can be in the thousands of dollars. "You can start with two direct drive turntables, two DJ needles or cartridges, a cheap two-channel mixer, headphones, speakers and an amp," says Tobias.

Morgan recommends a pair of good cartridges, even when you start out. "They run about $100 a piece, and...they can seriously extend the life of your vinyl."

You can upgrade equipment later. The preferred industry-standard decks run about $1,000. And a decent mixer is about $500-plus, says Morgan.

Beware, though. Thundering sound systems can damage the ears. "The best way to avoid this is to bring some earphones. And turn down the volume in the headphones when you can," says Morgan.

Hanscom says there are dangers associated with high-power electronics. "Do not use standing in water or in rain," she advises.

The equipment also can be heavy. So she recommends proper lifting technique, as well as a cart to move gear. "Do not carry [the equipment] without wheels, if possible."

Many DJs get money for their ability. For Hanscom, it is a full-time business, as it is for Graham. Morgan and Tobias both do gigs that pay money, but they do not DJ for money.

The experts recommend that you try it with someone else's equipment to see if you like it before investing in expensive decks, mixer boards, amplifiers and microphones.

"You can learn on home equipment somewhat, especially if you have two CD players. The above equipment is necessary for professional applications. Home gear won't withstand the abuse and is not powerful enough," says Hanscom.

Richard LeBlanc first learned on his cousins' gear before investing in his own. "I went to help them out for free every chance I had, and I had a lot of fun. That's what inspired me to go off and buy my gear and start myself." The DJ now owns his own equipment that totals a little under $10,000.

For those just starting out, Morgan recommends patience and practice.

Add passion to that, too. "Buy one old turntable. Buy some records. Now think about what you are doing. Are you really enjoying this music? Do you want to live it? Do you want to spend your life savings on it? Does your mind and soul ache for the music that can burn within?" says Tobias.


Off Its Face: DJ Database
Plenty of links to DJs, magazines and radio and Internet stations

Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences
Make more out of your love of sound
Check out the library section, where you can watch real player videos to learn about beat and timing

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