An interesting question appeared on one of my social pages: “How long should you play a song before you mix in the next song?” He elaborated by asking, “Also how long should you play the two songs together before switching over to the next song you want to play?”
This is an actual nuts-and-bolts type of question; it’s how you, as an entertainer, put your show together.
For me, the answer is all about the context: if I’m spinning a wedding or regular party, I play usually the whole song. One of the reasons I got into DJ work is because I COULDN’T STAND IT when a DJ would cut my favorite songs short!
When to Cut a Song Short
I’ve spoken to literally hundreds — perhaps thousands — of clients and guests at my parties and this is something that I hear a lot. The ONLY time I cut a song short is if it’s not working. After all, why keep playing a song that nobody wants to hear?
That said, when I was working nightclubs, the mix itself becomes a work of art. This is where you bring in the dubs, the beat records, samples and a cappella versions to ride over new beats.
It’s a very rare moment when a whole song plays all the way through, but when it does, it’s because it’s the highlight, or a “centerpiece” of the set. Your theme builds towards that one moment.
Several techniques come into play; you can ride two songs as long as they’ll remain synched (and with today’s technology, like Serato, that’s become much easier), and you can even bring in a third or fourth source — vocals from a completely different song, a sound effect or signature bit of sound from another and so on.
Remember the “Hey! WHOO!” sound from “It Takes Two” that was everywhere? This is a good example of a signature sound that got mixed into almost everything at that time.
YOU Are the Artist
You’re creating the mood and in control of the flow. So you alone determine how long two songs will ride together, at what point you transition completely over. This is your sound painting. Make it as unique as you are!
Don’t get so lost in beat matching that is starts to sound all the same or you risk your audience getting bored. Plan some dramatic moments!
Use slam-cues, or turntable shut-down effects. A sweeper sound effect, like they use in radio, is a cheap ‘n easy way to change tempo. Use those cold endings. Don’t be afraid to experiment! And above all, PRACTICE.
Perfect Your Craft
Every other discipline, like professional golfers, rock guitarists, Olympic competitors and actors spend hours and hours perfecting their craft. The performances you see are the culmination of years of effort, yet some DJs think they can just stroll into a booth cold and rock everyone’s world!