Its great to get the thoughts and opinions of the DJ’s and producers who make the trance we love and one such artist who voices theirs fairly frequently is John OO Fleming. This time, he answers the question, does he mix in Key?
There have been many thoughts from John over the years who is one of the more opinionated artists on the dance music circuit. His thoughts and comments with today’s age of social media have never been more accessible and it’s a wonderful insight to how his extremely talented music mind operates. If you’re into trance then you will always want to hear what an artist with the reputation and standing in the scene like John has to say.
The topic this week is mixing, in particular does he stick to mixing records that are in the same key? In his own words, he explains that no, he does not with a very good reason to why.
THE THOUGHTS OF JOHN OO FLEMING
I often get compliments upon my smooth style of mixing, followed up by the presumption that I mix in key to make this happen. It’s a question that comes up time and time again, often from fellow colleagues.
I don’t mix in key, the main reason being the key of a track shouldn’t dictate what track that I play next, especially if my DJ instinct is telling me when to play a specific track, if it’s not in key I turn to my DJ skills to ensure that it will mix in flawlessly. Not playing that track because it’s the wrong key makes no sense, the most import thing for me is to keep the musical story flowing, especially if you’ve worked hard building to that specific moment.
My personal rule when mixing, you shouldn’t be mixing two main musical elements like vocals or melodies together, regardless if in key, as these clash anyway, if you’re doing that then you’re mixing in the wrong place. You need to let the track finish breathing, it’s the reason we have intros and outros, these are DJ mixing tools/moments.
Many of the tracks playing could either be pitched up or down on the players, so this alone takes the track away from its original key. To enable it to keep its original key when pitching you need to hit master tempo on the players, this instantly kills the sound quality, you can hear the players processor in a cycle trying to work hard to re-pitch (especially if a large percent away from original BPM), almost adding a phase to the sound. Even professional music software with a powerful computer and audio engines struggle to keep sound quality fully intact when pitching, the players and DJ software have none of this. Another reason why I avoid.
I can hear instantly in my headphones if my next track selection is in the wrong key and that’s when I get to work figuring out how to make this work. It’s imperative to learn every part of your music, with today’s tools it’s much easier and you can write many reminder notes and add markers onto each track in your playlists. You may only have 3 minutes remaining on the outgoing track, so you need to think quickly and identify parts that you can use. Generally the intros and outros are quite sparse consisting of kick, bass, percussion and may be some atmospheric moments. The bass frequencies can be the most forgiving when it comes to key clashes, but they are still there so be careful.
I will use what others to perceive as a problem, the create a moment to my advantage, for example I’ll create a key change, thus giving an extra injection of power while transitioning. This can be done creating an end loop at the most workable part of the outgoing track, while in the mix this buys me a little more time to identify possible key clash parts from the atmospheric/musical moments and carve them out using the eq. The incoming track will have the low end cut, and will also identify possible clashing parts to deal with on eq. Adding a little reverb masks offending musical element frequencies on the outgoing track, but also creates a white noise tension moment due to the metallic ring of the reverb, then at the moment of change over I’ll use that advantage what others perceive to be a problem and create a key change by cutting the outgoing bass, and bringing in the new tracks incoming bass, this alone can create a very powerful moment.
Thats one small part of my DJ mixing knowledge and tool box, whilst behind the decks. There’s a whole lot of work, thinking and technical tweaking happening while DJ’s are mixing.
John OO Fleming