Whether you’re a dedicated bedroom DJ or you’re hoping to get into your city’s DJ scene, every DJ needs to master transitions. A DJ with great transition technique can let one song flow into another without disrupting the energy of their audience. This guide will introduce you to what transitioning is and what tips and techniques you’ll need to master it.
- What is Transitioning in DJing?
- What is the Easiest Genre to Transition When DJing?
- What is the Hardest Genre to Transition When DJing?
- What DJ Gear Do You Need?
- Important DJ Transition Tips
- Five DJ Transition Techniques
- Final Tip: Practice Your Transitions Regularly
What is Transitioning in DJing?
In the world of DJing, transitioning is the process of switching from one soundtrack to another so that the change isn’t noticeable.
For example, a DJ will introduce a second soundtrack as the first soundtrack nears its end. The second soundtrack begins at a low volume and steadily gets louder to match the first soundtrack’s volume. To complete the transition, the first soundtrack’s volume slowly fades until only the second soundtrack is left playing.
What is the Easiest Genre to Transition When DJing?
EDM and house music are some of the easiest music genres to transition as a DJ.
Both EDM and house music tend to have natural breakdowns, allowing DJs to switch out tracks gradually. Both genres also tend to have predictable BPMs and a 4 bar structure that allow fairly straightforward beatmatching, which we’ll get into later in this article.
A breakdown is when the music naturally fades to near silence.
Because EDM and house music tend to have steady build-ups at the beginning of their tracks and natural breakdowns at the end, a DJ can steadily add or remove layers of a new track to transition as needed.
Anyone new to DJing can use these longer transitions to practice and perfect their art.
What is the Hardest Genre to Transition When DJing?
One of the most challenging genres for DJ transitions is funk. The intros and outros of this genre tend to be short, which reduces the amount of time you have to transition between tracks successfully.
Funk music is also recorded with a live drummer, so the tempo of a funk track could fluctuate as the track goes on. Lastly, unlike house music or EDM, the average BPM of most funk music can vary an extraordinary amount.
If you’re really into funk, don’t despair! While it’s challenging to mix with funk tracks, it isn’t impossible. With enough time and practice, you could eventually find yourself mixing with this genre, too.
What DJ Gear Do You Need?
Before we launch into DJ transition tips and techniques, you’ll want to ensure you have the best tools for your success.
If you want to get into DJing, you’ll need a good setup to get the ball rolling. Because DJ gear can be an expensive investment, you might want to investigate different options available to get the best gear for you without breaking the bank.
There are numerous setups to choose from. Among the most popular DJ setups is the classic turntable setup or the CDJ DJ setup.
Many professional DJs believe the classic turntable setup remains superior to all others. The turntable setup is usually composed of two separate turntables connected to a central mixer. If you choose to go this route, you’ll also need two cartridges, which are the needles that read vinyl records.
To protect your records, it’s recommended to invest in slipmats, which rest between the deck and your records.
Turntable setups can also be connected to a computer or laptop to benefit from DJ software. There are many different kinds of DJ software on the market, some specially designed to work with turntables and vinyl.
CDJ DJ Setup
The CDJ DJ Setup is what you’ll most likely find at a club. This setup became popular when music shifted from vinyls to CDs.
The CDJ DJ setup usually has two CDJ units and a central mixer. Because CDJs are popular at clubs and used night after night, CDJ units tend to be sturdy.
CDJs can hook up to your laptop to access your music library. Rather than lugging around a crate of vinyls, you need only bring your laptop or even a thumb drive to get going. CDJs also have access to many different features you wouldn’t have on a turntable. While this doesn’t make a CDJ setup better than the classic turntable setup, it should be considered.
If your end goal is to DJ in nightclubs, you’ll likely want to learn how to mix on a CDJ DJ setup. This setup is notorious for being expensive, so knowing someone who already has this gear and who is comfortable with you learning on it might be the best way to start.
DJ Controller Setup
The DJ Controller setup is a budget-friendly setup that still offers tons of mixing options.
A DJ controller makes it easier to mix if you’re mostly working with a computer. Instead of mixing audio like a DJ mixer does, the controller sends commands back to the computer and the software you’re using to mix audio.
DJ controllers are cheaper than full turntable or CDJ setups and are portable.
You can also kick off your DJ career without investing in a huge setup. Instead, you can solely rely on a computer.
Relying on a computer means you’ll still need to invest in some DJ software to mix tunes.
You’ll want to consider investing in a nice pair of headphones for both practices at home and for performing a DJ set.
When playing with an extensive sound system in a club, your headphones are essentially your lifeline. They’ll cut out the loud and distracting sounds from the club and allow you to focus on creating a seamless mix.
If your dream is to DJ at a venue, you’ll probably need to invest in some DJ software somewhere along the line. This software can be essential for new and veteran DJs alike.
DJ software can do pretty much anything. Do you want to tweak the mid-frequency volume or filter out the kick drum? Done, and done quickly.
This kind of software also introduces tons of different effects you can add to your tracks. You can experiment with different sounds and styles endlessly.
Important DJ Transition Tips
Mastering DJ transitions take time and practice. Keep these tips in mind as you practice the various techniques we introduce next.
Time Your Transition
You’ve heard it before: timing is everything. The saying couldn’t be more true when it comes to DJ transitions.
Every soundtrack you work with has a mix-in zone and a mix-out zone, which act as your transition period. Some music genres have longer mix-in and out zones, which makes tracks easier to transition.
The mix-in zone is the beginning of a track. During the first one to two minutes of your track starting, you can steadily add in different elements of this track until it replaces whatever track came before it.
The mix-out zone is the ending of a track. During the last 60 seconds of a track, you can slowly remove the track’s elements from your soundscape.
The mix-in and out zones often work in tandem, meaning while you’re mixing one track in, you’re also mixing your current track out.
Prepare the Right Songs
Although you can theoretically transition between any two tracks, the smoothest transitions occur with soundtracks from the same music genre. The tracks are more likely to have similar BPMs, tempos, and pitches, which will allow you to transition seamlessly between them.
Professional DJs tend to work with groups of three tracks that complement one another, so you can practice choosing your set by following this method.
You’ll be able to tell if tracks are compatible if they don’t create conflicting soundscapes. To check if two tracks work well together, you can play them simultaneously or play them back to back and experiment with different elements from each track.
Learn to Beat match
If you haven’t learned to beat match yet, then you’ll want to take time to master this skill before diving too far into DJ transitions. Beatmatching is one of the foundational DJ skills that everyone in the industry needs to learn.
Beat matching is the process of playing two tracks at the same tempo, speed, and pitch, so each track plays on the same beat at the same time. To learn to beat match, a DJ must learn to recognize beats, bars, and phrases within a track.
The part of a song people are most inclined to nod their heads or tap their feet to is usually the beat. When counting music, knowing the number of beats per minute (BPM) is critical to beat match one track with another.
A track’s beats are divided into different bars. It’s easier to beat match and transition music that works in the 4 bar structure. Most electronic music has four bars.
These bars are grouped into different phrases. Phrases are rhythmic elements that occur at the same time, like a snare drum, a bass drum, and so on.
When you make each of these components happen simultaneously between two songs, you’re beatmatching.
Learn How to Match Tempos
Like beatmatching, matching tempos between two tracks is vital to create a coherent and likable soundscape with great transitions.
A track’s tempo is the speed at which the music is played.
If you try to transition seamlessly between two tracks of completely different tempos, your soundscape might become discordant and jarring for your audience to hear.
Five DJ Transition Techniques
There are five transition techniques every DJ should have in their arsenal. We’ll walk you through the step-by-step process for each method.
One of the most well-known DJ transitions is the fade. With this mixing technique, you can go from one track to the next seamlessly.
Don’t overlook mastering the fade just because it’s simple. Having this technique down can help you move from one song to the next, so you never find yourself completely stuck.
Step One: Decide When You Want to Fade
As we mentioned before, timing is everything. It’s important to decide when in a song you want to begin to fade so your transition doesn’t start in the middle of a well-loved chorus. Using this technique at the right time will keep the crowd’s energy and attention as you shift to the next song.
Step Two: Begin fading the current song out
To make sure your audience knows the current song is switching over, you might want to fade out the volume of the main track quickly at first. It’ll signal to your audience that the set is moving on and won’t leave anyone wondering what direction you’re going in.
After fading the volume out quickly, switch to gradually fading the music. This can take anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds or can even take place during a musical phase.
Step Three: Start the next song
You’ll want to line up the downbeat of your outgoing track with a downbeat in the incoming track. Your new song will start at the beginning of the first musical phrase just as the outgoing track ends, creating a seamless mix and a smoother sound.
Quick Tip: You can use the fade technique:
- If you’ve played the wrong song and want to move on to the next
- If you feel like a song has been playing too long, which can happen with popular oldies
- During a chorus or second chorus at the tail-end of a song
If you need to switch over to a track that’s impossible to beat match to, the Echo Out is the solution.
An Echo Out filter is added to the master track as you introduce the next to provide seamless mixing.
Step One: Decide on Timing
Timing is yet again crucial for this technique. You’ll want to introduce the incoming audio shortly after applying the Echo Out effect to the master track, but you need to make sure you choose an interesting and fun place to start the second track.
Because you want the crowd to keep their energy, starting at a good point in the incoming track is very important.
Step Two: Echo Out the Master Track and Introduce New Track
Now that you’ve decided where you want the next track to start, use the Echo Out effect on the master track. As it fades, start your incoming track at the beginning of a breakdown or the build-up. Don’t start the second track at the beginning of a long intro – this will be too jarring for your audience. You can also choose to let the tracks mix before the outgoing song completely echoes out.
A filter transition is a straightforward solution to moving on to the next track. The filter is still the most common effect used since DJ mixers came out, and it’s easy to see why. Filters soften the sound of your tracks and allow for a smoother mix.
Step One: Turn High, Mid, and Low-Frequency Volumes Off for Second Track
As the master track plays, make sure the high, mid, and low-frequency volumes for your second track are turned off.
Step Two: Filter In High-Frequency Volume
Raise the higher frequencies on the incoming track, but keep the mid and low frequencies off. You want the mid and low frequencies of the master track to be dominant for now. At this time, the two tracks are playing, but the master track is still prevalent.
Step Three: Raise Frequencies of Second Track, Filter Out Master Track
Filter out the master track with the high-pass filter. When it’s time for your second track to drop in, cut the fader – then you’ll only hear the second track.
The bassline swap is one of the more advanced DJ mixing techniques that we’ve covered. The baseline swap relies on the formula that house, techno, and trance music are composed with. These genres tend to start with drums, add the bassline, then bring in everything else like vocals and drops.
Step One: Start the Second Track with Low EQ Off
You’ll want to let the tunes mix during the last 60 or 90 seconds of the song that’s already playing. When only that amount of time is left, begin the second track.
The second track needs to be started with low EQ turned off completely. This prevents the incoming track’s bass from jarring the audience. Turning off the low EQ will also silence the kick drums, which could also be distracting or disorienting.
With the two tracks playing, only the mid and high frequencies from the second track will be audible, which will allow for a quick transition.
Step Two: Swap Basslines
As soon as the bass line arrives in the second track, turn the low EQ for this track back up to twelve o’clock at the exact time you switch the low EQ off for the first track. This swaps the basslines of the two songs, creating a powerful transition for your audience. The two tracks can continue to play together, or you can quickly fade the outgoing track out.
Quick Tip: Although there are only two steps involved in the bassline swap, don’t mistake fewer steps for simplicity! The bassline swap is a difficult transition to master and requires you to know a lot about the music you’re working with in advance.
You can loop certain parts of a track that you love to play continuously until you’re ready to move on to the next part.
Looping doesn’t have to be as seamless as other transition techniques since you can use specific effects to dampen the initial impact a loop has on your audience.
You aren’t limited to looping sections of a track in the mix-in or mix-out zones. You can loop any part of the track that appeals to you.
Step One: Apply Effects
As your master track continues to play, you can experiment with different effects on the loop you’re about to introduce. The purpose of adding effects to the loop is to make its introduction to your soundscape less jarring.
Step Two: Fade-In the Loop
While the main track continues, you can slowly fade in the loop to about 50% volume. You can also choose to drop the loop in at 50% on the first beat of a 16 beat group to give your master track a background looping effect.
Step Three: Reduce Effects, Increase Hi, Mid, and Low Frequencies
To successfully transition after using a loop, decrease the effects you’ve added to the new track playing. Then increase the hi, mid, and low-frequency volumes as you reduce those in the master track.
Final Tip: Practice Your Transitions Regularly
Mastering these five DJ transitions comes down to the amount of time you dedicate to practice.
If you’re hoping to play a few gigs or dive straight into the DJing scene in your city, then it’s imperative to have these transitions down for you to transition between seamless mixes.
Just as you would with any other learned skill, you can set aside time to practice each of these transitions throughout your week. Keeping to a practice schedule will ensure you master these transitions in no time.
Adding various DJ transitions into your mix set will take your DJing game to the next level. You’ll impress your friends and your audience by keeping the crowd energetic and engaged as you seamlessly switch from track to track.
To get to the point of mastery, it’s important to practice your transitions in advance and learn what works best for you.