If you’re trying to break into the DJ business or if you’re already in it and want to get more work, then you should already know you need a solid demo mix CD. Putting together the right mix is no easy task. In fact, it’s like a work of art. This CD will represent you, your style and vibe. It can turn someone into a new fan or even inspire another DJ. It can also turn someone completely off. So do you just push record and start mixing? Some do however I see things quite differently.
Planning your mix
There is absolutely nothing wrong with pre-planning out your mix. If you want to record a live set and put it out there that’s fine too, but more on that later. Think about how long you want it to be and how many tracks. Most CDs should be about 60-75 minutes in length and about 12-16 tracks depending on the length of each one. A 30 minute mix is just a tease to the listener and only adds up to about 6 or 7 tracks.
Personally, when I plan a mix CD I have a goal. My goal is have that CD LIVE in your car. I have a CD in my car that has been there for over 10 years. It’s so good and fun to listen to that it has moved from car to car with me over the years. I want my CDs to have that kind of response from those who listen to them. I recently had someone come up to me and say “I have a 6 CD changer in my car and 5 of the CDs in there are yours.” Talk about making my day! Now that is a real fan that came from handing out quality CDs on a regular basis.
Normally, as a DJ, track selection is 75% of your job. Blending and adding effects is the other 25%. I know many DJs will argue this with me but you can do all the hot blending and tricks you want, if the track selection is whack then who cares? The one listening to your CD must like the music or you’ve lost them. However, in a mix CD there are people evaluating both equally.
Breaking new music
Good track selection doesn’t mean play all the latest hits. The real trick here is to play tracks that will get their attention whether they know them or not. I’m always most impressed with a great mix filled with tracks I’ve never heard before. This is also your opportunity to expose people to new music unlike the radio or music video shows. I use my mix CDs to help get my audience more familiar with the current music that I’m playing.
When I plan my tracks it is my primary focus to always break new music. However, I almost always drop a classic or two right in the middle of the mix that you weren’t expecting. I usually try to find a hot new remix or make my own so it comes across with a new twist. This gives your audience something to connect with that is familiar and fun. It also shows your diversity and depth in music.
Vocals vs. beat tracks
I love a hot and nasty beat track but a good balance of tracks and vocals is important. Vocal tracks are essentially “songs” and songs, of course, have lyrics. A strong, well written and well performed vocal track can be very powerful. It gives the listener something to grab on to. A great chorus can provide the potential for people to sing-a-long to it. “Songs” tend to be the biggest hits because of this. How many pop songs do you hear on the radio without vocals? Or should I say how many beat tracks do you hear on the radio? People may love to dance to beat tracks but a great vocal allows the listener to connect with the music in an entirely different way.
Having a hot remix of a known track gives you an edge. It can be what sets your DJ sets apart from others. Creating your own edit or acquiring one that is hard to find will definitely catch the listener’s attention.
Creating a theme for your mix can be fun too. Themes can also guide the listener’s expectations too. You can use a theme like old school, freestyle, disco, Latin, 90s, etc. It may even get more noticed. However, theme mix CDs can create another kind of expectation. They can wrongfully pigeonhole you into than era or genre of music. So doing too many “old school” mixes can lead to people only seeing you as an “old School” DJ.
Let me just be straight here. If you have “train wrecks” in you mix, DO IT OVER! This is a representation of you as a DJ. It is expected that your blends will be sound. Not to mention they say “you’re only as good as you last set.” Well if your CD is the last thing I listened to from you and it has beat crashes all over it, I’m not going to be very impressed. When you proudly give someone a mix CD as a demo it’s like saying here is the best of my work. If your latest mix sounds like a horse galloped all over it then don’t expect anyone to get excited over it.
Effects can always add extra flavor to a mix….if you’re good at them. However, too many of the same effects can get old fast. Do your thing but try not to go overboard. It’s also important to watch your recording levels when messing with effects.
Always watch your recording levels when making a mix CD. If your levels are too high the mix will come out distorted and it may not be worth listening to. If they are too low it may be hard to hear the CD and truly experience it. It’s also ok to run it through some mastering software or have a sound engineer clean it up for you. It can really make a difference in the quality.
Live mixing vs. digital
There are a lot of software programs out there that will do the work for you. You can literally compose your mix and burn it within the software. I know people have different feelings about this. My feeling is that as long as you can back up the quality of that mix in a live performance than it is ok with me.
Having professional announcers chime in with a voice dropping you name or “you’re in the mix with….” can be kind of cheesy. However, I think it’s definitely okay to remind people of you who their rocking out to. Just don’t overdo it. What I do like though is when other well known DJs chime in and say “this is (insert famous DJ here) and you’re in the mix with….” This gives the DJ a certain level of credibility and can sometimes even be impressive. Also not to be over done.
Sometimes we record our live sets from an event. In most cases we end up saying “Damn I wish I recorded that!” Live sets can be tricky because it is more difficult to watch your levels. If you think about the recording too much it can become easy to loose sight of the crowd and the party. I do love it when a mix recorded live comes out nice though. I usually make live sets available for download only and never burn them to CD for distribution. A really good recorded live set is quite impressive.
Naming your mix
I give every mix CD a unique name that I feel captures the groove of the mix. I’m not fond of mixes titled “Mix 1,” “Mix 2,” or that simply list the date or month it was created. Naming your mix also gives the listener something else to grab on to and identify the mix. People don’t like saying “I love that mix. You know the one that has this song in it?” People like to be able to say “I love that Chocolate Covered Disco” CD you gave me. It also helps me identify what CDs people are feeling most. I always add the date as well because if someone listens to one of my mixes for the first time but it’s an old one, they won’t think I’m behind on my music. They will know when it was made. Naming the CD can also guide how you market it.
When preparing your mix to burn to CD, it is very important to track (or ID) your mix. This way the listener can skip through the CD from track to track. I really do hate one track mix CDs. As a promoter, if it doesn’t sound good right away….I’m done with it. At least allow me to skip through it. Also, some people fall in love with a particular track and want to repeat it. Tracking makes this a lot easier. You need audio software to do this and it can be a time consuming…but well worth it. I also prefer it when CDs are tracked before the mix begins and not after. When I skip to the next track I still want to hear the mix and not just the next song.
For every mix CD you should create an MP3 version and make it available online. This would be a single track file and should be at least 128kbs. In today’s market making your mixes available for online streaming or download is a great way to attract new fans worldwide. I always make my mixes available for free download and encourage people to copy my CDs. I want as many people to listen to it as possible.
Over the last year or so I’ve gotten in the great habit of creating cover art for each mix. This is a very strong marketing technique. You can create an image that will bring forth the vibe of the mix, add your affiliate logos, your name, your contact information and websites, etc.
I always label every track file with the name of the track and artist before burning the master CD because some CD player will display this. For the MP3 version, I also edit the clip information with the title, artist, date and even add the cover art to the file. This way when someone downloads it the artwork will display in their media player or ipod….classy!
Labeling your CD is where costs start to go up. A full color label for every CD means buying labels and a lot of ink. It also means a lot of your time. I only do this for very special circumstances. Generally, I just use a mailing label. You can get these at any office supply store and a single sheet of labels holds 30 of them. They also have enough room for the name of the mix, your name, phone number, e-mail address and webstie. This is all anyone really needs. However, a great looking label does allow your CD to stand out in a stack of them.
Copying your CD is where a lot of people run into problems. It can get pricey to go through a duplication company and doing it one at a time on your home computer can be tiring. I purchased a 1-9 CD burning tower a few years ago and it has been by far one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I can easily put out 100 CDs an hour and just label them myself with mailing labels. It only costs me about $20 to make 100 CDs including blank CDs, labels and sleeves. A duplication company charges about $1 per CD including labeling and usually requires a minimum of 100 CDs or more. So let’s do the math…$1/CD x 100 = $100 per 100 CDs. While doing it yourself is much more affordable, this is still a pretty good price for promoting yourself. However, at $20 per 100 CDs I can afford to give them to just about everyone and not horde them for only promoters or people I think will give me a gig. Remember, giving CDs to everyone will expand your fan base and if you have a strong fan base, promoters will come to you.
Okay so you have your mix CD ready to go. You’ve made several copies, it’s tracked, labeled, and in a sleeve or case. You’re. MP3 version has cover art embedded in it as well. Now it’s time to get the word out. CDs should be handed out everywhere you go. Or you can promote a CD release at you next gig which will attract more people to the event knowing that they will be taking home your new mix. If you want to get people there early you can advertise that only the 1st 100 people will get one. If you really want this to have an impact, don’t release it for online download yet. Make them come to the event to get a copy. When it’s time to get the mix online upload it to your own website as well as find other mix download sites and post it on all of them. Always show respect the artists and include a play list. Submit it to online radio shows and podcasts. Use your social networks and mailing lists to announce the new mix and display the cover art. Get people excited about your mix and interested in downloading it.
Some DJs release a new mix every week or every month. Personally, I feel this is too frequent for me. I want my mixes to be of high quality in song selection so I simply don’t make one until I feel I have the right tracks for it. This is usually about every two months. Releasing a new mix every week is going to lead to over saturation of your mixes, reusing tracks, and playing whatever is new even if it’s just mediocre. I try to treat all of my mixes like I’m releasing an album and I want people to enjoy the most recent mix for a while and build anticipation for the next one.