Art of Deejaying, WK 15 – Spice Up Your Mix, Pt 3

Welcome to SKAH DJ Blog! This week our focus is still on skills, tricks and techniques that can make your DJ set standout. This week’s article is a continuation (or part three) of the last article. If you did not read the previous articles then you should go check them out – Spice Up Your Mix, Part 1 and Part 2! Moderation is the keyword here, there is no technical skill that beats a good playlist and being able to read the audience properly, of course that is if you are not train-wrecking. Without further ado, let us jump right into it.

 Acapellas and Mashups

Acapella is a vocal-only version of a music track, of course, without the beats, baseline and synths. Acapella tracks and loops are all available on the Internet, some for free download and others for sale.

As a DJ you need to dissociate yourself from being just a jukebox like every other music lover that can create an iTunes playlist and auto-crossfade the last ten seconds between songs. It does a lot of good to build real skills such as adding acapella tracks to your mix. Learning to use acapellas can really make you stand out as a DJ. You can use acapellas in the studio on a full music production setup to recreate an EDM, house or even hip hop remix of a track. This is easier based on the editing tools at your disposal and not being under pressure to keep a dance-floor rocking. However, in this article, we are more interested in   placing an acapella track over an instrumental track and adding some effects to it.

Here are few tips on using acapellas in a live DJ set.

  • Ensure your beatgrids for both tracks are properly setup and aligned.
  • Avoid instrumental tracks that have frequent changes in tempo within the track, you can try this much later when you have a better understanding and grasp of the concept.
  • Ensure the instrumental track and the acapella track are in the same key or related keys. Otherwise key sync both track using tools such as Serato Pitch ’n Time.
  • Ensure the instrumental track does not have vocals or hooks that will clash with the acapella track
  • If you do not have the luxury of 4 decks you can still achieve the acapella mix. You can simply use the sampler deck/slot (or remix deck) to play the instrumental track or the acapella track or the next transition track whichever works for you. This is one scenario where the sync button is justified.
  • Use the EQ, effects such as reverb, filter, loop roll and transform to spice up the mix during build-ups and drops.
  • Acapella tracks are also a great scratch tool or sample, since it is vocals-only track.

Using Samples

Samples are often over-used or wrongly used by upcoming DJs and even some Pro-DJs, at every transition you hear the popular air-horn over maybe a R&B track, while the air-horn is synonymous with reggae and dancehall music. Just like gunshots are synonymous with rap, hip-hop and more recently trap music every sample has an appropriate use and timing. You can even create your own custom samples to remain unique and not get lost in the crowd. Here are few creative ways to use the Sampler Deck;

  • Sampler Deck – Load up drum samples and synths sound (kick, snare, hit hat and synth) to the sampler slots. With Serato DJ you now have access to four banks of eight samples, which is a total of 32 samples. So you can use one bank for vocal samples, DJ liners and transition FX. Another bank for hip hop and trap kind of drum samples and synths. Another bank for reggae and dancehall kind of drum samples and synths and the final bank for different genres of instrumental loops (this is similar to my own setup). Use the four banks in the most convenient and creative style of your choice.
  • Finger Drumming – with the samples loaded, create your own custom beats over vocals and acapellas. If you are new to finger drumming then you should use Melodics to quickly learn and perfect your finger drumming skills as the case may be. Five to fifteen minutes a day is sufficient to build amazing finger drumming skills.
  • On-the-fly Loops – Most sampler decks allow you to copy loops from the track deck unto a sampler slot. You can use this to create an extended version of a track or use it to bring in an acapella. You can spontaneously create your own remix or Mashups with this skill.

Check out DJ BrainDead’s 6 minutes of greatness and what a live remix or mashup should be like.

These simple techniques can create amazing responses from your audience. However, it is pertinent to note that overusing a particular trick or technique or using the trick or technique at the wrong time can be counter-productive. The keyword here is moderation and timing. In subsequent articles, we will look at more of such skills, techniques and even advanced effects.

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Stay tuned for the next article.


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