Published On: Wed, May 20th, 2020

What is Harmonic Mixing and How Will it Take your Music to the Next Level?

Harmonic mixing, which is also called key mixing or ‘mixing in key,’ is used by DJs to create memorable tracks that share the same key, including long blends and mashups; with the goal of eliminating clashes in the music. Sawyer the DJ of Moonlight Mobile DJ states that harmonic mixing is a new, advanced mixing technique used by some of the top DJs around the world to create innovative new music that energizes audiences and provides a memorable live show experience. 

Innovative mixes created with the harmonic mixing technique are made with smooth transitions between the songs, which reduces dissonance in tone throughout the set. It can be used to blend entire music tracks, or for just individual samples, vocals, melodies or basslines. This may prompt more interest in music lessons.

When music professionals choose to use the harmonic mixing technique, it can take the art of mixing and mashups to an entirely new level, helping DJs entrance and excite crowds and ensure a memorable experience for audiences.

To use the harmonic mixing technique successfully, DJs must understand two major elements of creating engaging mashups and mixes. This includes the key of each song that will be used throughout the mix and what keys are compatible with one another. To begin using the harmonic mixing technique, DJs first start by discovering the keys of each of the songs to be included in the piece. 

How to Get Started

For DJs who can’t do this themselves or with a piano or tuner, Sawyer the DJ notes that professional DJ software is available with easy-to-use features that scan digital music files and identify the key of each song. One of the most common software tools used in the DJ industry to do this is called Mixed in Key. The Mixed in Key software is available to download for either Windows or Mac operating systems for around $60. 

Sawyer the DJ explains that in addition to Mixed in Key, there are other free tools out there that can perform similar tagging functions, including Rapid Evolution by MixShare and KeyFinder by Ibrahim Sha’ath. In addition, the version 2.6.1 and above of Traktor from Native Instruments can also perform song key detection.

DJs new to harmonic mixing should use the Camelot wheel, which was created by Mark Davis, to help better understand what keys are most compatible when mixing music. For a first try, consider mixing songs that have similar key codes (like 1B and 1B). 

photo via pexels

Mixing Compatible Songs

Once you’ve gotten a good handle on the harmonic mixing technique by mixing compatible songs, take your mixes to the next level by combining other compatible groupings within the wheel. By trying new mixes using this creative mixing tool and the Camelot wheel for guidance, DJs are finding new ways to combine old songs with captivating results. DJs can use the mixing technique within and across music genres for interesting results as well. 

How or why does the harmonic mixing technique work? By matching keys, a DJs music mixes and mash-ups sound like they belong together. To take it to the next level, instead of sticking with the same key for an entire set or mash-up, which can feel redundant or safe, DJs are using the Camelot wheel to mash together similar keys across the wheel. This can help add complexity and diversity to mixes, as well as grabbing the attention of the audience at key moments. 

For example, creating a mix using the wheel that brings together songs identified by keys in the inner circle outwards to the edge of the circle is both harmonically compatible, but also more diverse than just selecting all songs from the same grouping. Using the wheel, combined with electronic key-detection tools, gives DJs the peace of mind that they are mixing compatible songs, while still interjecting one’s own creativity and personalization to the mashup. 

The Possibilities are Endless

One DJs get this simple technique down, the creative alternatives mixers can create are endless. For example, try going around the wheel in different directions – clockwise or counterclockwise. Or, add non-matching ‘curveballs’ to a set – which will grab the audience’s attention and add additional complexity of feeling to the mashup. Using the harmonic mixing technique helps music professionals to better understand why adding a dissimilar song in the middle of a set has a corresponding effect – and how to do it most effectively. 

Song Danceability

In addition to a song’s key, the Mixed in Key software tool also ranks the ‘danceability’ of a song on a scale from 1 to 10. This is a patented technology that can only be found with this product, but it can add additional complexity to the harmonic mixing technique.

When in use, the software ranks a song from energy level 1 (little to no beat/songs that don’t really belong in a club setting) and 2 – 4 (elevator music/restaurant music) to levels 8 – 10, which encompass powerful, festival-like anthems that all club goers will recognize. Experienced DJs know it’s impossible to dance to level 8 – 10 songs all night, which is why it’s a great tool to use to make sure you’re including a mix of song energy levels for ‘danceability’ as well as corresponding keys. For example, songs rated energy level 5 are usually used to get people to start dancing – from the genres of Deep House, Techno and Tech. 

Consider the Time

Another thing to consider when mixing energy levels is what time of night, you’re starting a live set. If it’s opening the house, you won’t want to start with a song ranked energy level 9 – 10. Rather, you’ll start with a 5 – 6 to get the dancing starting and move up, building naturally from there. This means mixing levels 5 and 6 in the beginning, adding in some level 7s to increase the excitement and ensure your mix is danceable and fun, and then considering higher energy levels depending on the venue, crowd type and size, time, and other factors. Sawyer the DJ explains that if you’re opening for another DJ, you need to consider how high a level you want to go before you hand over the dance floor for the night so that you do not overshadow the rest of the evening. 

Author: Jamie Cartwright

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