Very often when you’re listening to an experienced DJ doing their thing, you will notice that their set has no pauses between songs and one track effortlessly morphs into another and this is one of the fundamental skills a good disk jockey is expected to have and is called beatmatching.
Ask any reputable DJ if they know what it is and you’ll find that pretty much all of them know how to do this very well.
What is beatmatching? As the name suggests, beatmaching is the act of synchronizing two tracks, so that their beats are matched both in phase and tempo which is essential if you want to be able to play and mix tracks together. So, if you want to be a serious DJ, you need to have that skill under your belt and have the ability to bust it out any time you want or need to.
It’s important to note that beatmatching is actually one of the important components of beatmixing which is that seamless transition from song to song mentioned above. It came about because DJs were looking for a way to keep people on the dance floor and no breaks in the music meant no time suitable for sitting back down. Nowadays, this is something employed pretty much universally throughout the club scene.
Here’s a quick video to demonstrate beatmatching…
The technique of beatmatching was invented by the American soul music disc jockey Francis Grasso in the late 1960s. In the beginning he was making stashes of records that have the same tempo which he determined manually using a metronome. At a later stage he was able to take advantage of two technologies simultaneously that are still at the core of modern DJing.
Let’s take a look back at where and when this technique originated. Although the quality isn’t the greatest, you can hear the technique in action and the appreciation of the crowd.
First of all, Francis had a mixer that allowed him to listen to different channels in his headphones independently of what was playing through the PA, and secondly, he had turntables that had pitch control. This allowed him to mix any two tracks that he wanted and the core techniques he used are still in practice today despite the fact that they might have evolved or become more powerful and diverse. With our little history lesson out of the way, let’s look into the terminology and techniques themselves.
Main Concepts and Terminology
In order to be able to explain the most common techniques for beatmatching, it would make sense to clarify a few simple concepts that we are going to be working with. First of all, we have the tempo which is a measurement of how fast a song is and it’s usually measured in bests per minute or BPM.
Songs coming from the same genre of music are likely to have similar BPMs, but there is no hard-and-fast rule and there are always variations. Still, we can talk about particular genres having most songs falling into a particular range. For instance, while dubstep tracks usually fall in the 135-145 BMP range, house tracks tend to be a bit slower usually occupying the 125-135 range. This means that if we needed to beatmatch two typical tracks form those genres, we would need to manipulate them in such a way that both tracks would have the same tempo.
But this isn’t the end of the story. Having the same tempo would not mean that the two songs would actually be in sync, because they might be out of phase. When two tracks are in phase, their beats are not only in the same tempo, but are synchronized in such a way that they align and corresponding bars of each song begin at the same time. The third thing that usually gets affected in the classical process of beatmatching is the pitch of a song. The most basic way a DJ might affect the BPM of a certain track is by changing the speed with which the turntable spins. If the turntable spins faster, the BPM will be higher, but so will the be the pitch. Nowadays, there is equipment that might change that and that could affect the tempo and pitch of a song independently through effects like timestretching that changes the BPM without affecting the pitch.
Here’s another video showing some beginner tips for beatmatching. Depending on how good your ear is, beatmatching is a skill you can pick up over time and get it perfect.
If you start with the basics and go from there, not worrying about anything fancy, you should be in good shape!
- While the current record is playing through the PA, start a second one through your headphones. Adjust your headphones level in a way that you would hear both comfortably. Have only the second record in your headphones without the first.
- Restart and slip-cue the second record at such times that it starts on the beat of the record playing.
- If the two records are not at the same tempo, one beat is going to start coming before the other. If the second beat starts coming earlier, it means the second beat is faster and you need to reduce its tempo until the beats are at the same speed. If the second beats starts coming later, it means that the second beat is slower and you need to increase its speed to match it up.
- Repeat this process until the two records are in sync and don’t try just match up the tempo, but adjust the second record manually to try and put the two records in phase.
- After you have matched the tempo, play both tracks in your headphones to compensate the fact that the PA is not pointing at you but the dance floor and you are likely to be hearing it with delay. Make sure the two beats are in perfect sync.
- Start fading between the two tracks, keeping one eye (or ear if you’d pardon the pun) on the two beats keeping their sync and make manual adjustments if necessary. Fading between the tracks can be done repeatedly and is the artistic part of this exercise
Please note that beatmatching is an essential but not the only part of beatmixing and if you want a great result you would also need to look at the pitch as well and make sure that not only that the two tracks have matching beats, but also that their pitches go harmoniously together.
Additionally, you might want to employ other manipulation of each track like aggressive equalization in order to achieve more professional or artistic sounding results. But start with the basics first, make sure you have perfected them through practice and then widen your arsenal with other techniques.