How To Make A Mixtape / Podcast: 6 Basic Steps by DJ Shiftee + New Mix

Words by DJ Shiftee

Much like a cat to be skinned or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup to be eaten, there are many ways to make a mixtape. There are different strokes for different folks, different eggs with different yolks, different angles: acute, obtuse, this run-on sentence was brought to you by Dr. Seuss. What I’m going to present here is my own typical way of constructing a mixtape. I’m not calling other approaches stupid, or saying other methods’ mamas so fat when they put on a red dress people yell, “Hey, Kool Aid!” This isn’t my way or the highway. This is: here’s my highway. Come take a drive.

In an act of both education and deeply shameful self-promotion, I’m going to use my latest mixtape GROWNSTEP as our instructional example. Download and read about the Boundless Radio release here:

Download – Boundless NY Presents – DJ Shiftee GROWNSTEP

Step 1.  Brainstorm.

 

There are a whole lot of songs out there.  Some scientists even say there are more songs than atoms in the universe (note: this is a lie).  Thus I usually begin by developing a concept for the mix in order to focus my search for appropriate tunes.  The idea doesn’t have to be relativity or sliced bread (new idea: sliced relativity!!!, new new idea: relative bread!!!!!!!!), just some guiding principle.  It can be as simple as: my favorite songs from the Summer, or extreme House face-melters to destroy a Scandinavian dungeon, or Prince’s most hilarious records, or children’s folk songs mixed with gangster rap, or music to which I like to chillax to the max, etc.  Just something!

Step 2.  Research & Compile.

 

This stage of the process usually takes the longest amount of time for me.  Here I look for all the songs and samples that fit with my idea.  Many might already be in my library.  However, I always like to give an extended additional search for the sake of thoroughness and unturned musical stones (Note: Cavemen actually played musical stones instead of musical chairs.  Note: Also a lie.).  Here are some resources I use to find new songs:

(a) Beatport:  Beatport is a digital music retailer, specializing in styles of electronic and dance music.  My favorite part about Beatport is the ease with which one can discover new artists.  Hear a new track you like?  Click the artist’s name, and you’ll be able to listen to almost everything he/she has released.  Like a remix of said artist?  Wham!  Now you have a new artist you can delve into: the remixer.  Blaaaam!  And the cycle repeats!  Oh wait, the remixer has remixers!  Whooop!  Oh wait, two of the artists were on the same label.  Kablaow!  Now you can check all the releases of the label and their artists.  And the cycle repeats!  Then you also have genre charts, artist top 10 lists, and weekly recommendations.  Smash, Bang, Boom! And the cycle repeats!  Plus you don’t have to worry about quality, because everything is available in 320kbps mp3s or waves.  Other sites I like for purchasing music, depending on the idea, include: TurntableLab.com, Juno.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

(b) Blog Aggregators: Everyone and everyone’s mom has a blog in this day and age.  Even my mailman has a blog: mailtales.blogspot.com.  Blog aggregator sites like hypem.com and elbo.ws can be excellent tools to help sift through the mass and discover useful new blogs and, of consequence, new artists.  All you do is type in an artist or song you like, and a list of blogs with said song/artist will appear.  Then explore the blogs and see if they got that head nod ish to make you break yo neeeeeeeck!

(c) Other Mixtapes/Charts:  I like to check out the mixes and monthly top 10 charts of other DJs I admire and relate to stylistically: (1) to make sure my own project doesn’t resemble theirs too closely, but also (2) to get new leads.  Any artist they list can function as seeds to plant into options (a) and (b) above.  Music is like carpentry.  When in doubt, you can always go to an expert.  Hit me up at shiftee.carpentry@gmail.com.

(d) Friends: Two heads are better than one (especially when playing doubles).  I recommend: “Hey, buddy.  I’m working on a mix.  Want to swap some big chunes?”

(e) Artists:  It never hurts to try contacting artists directly, explain your mix, and see if he/she wants to contribute some juicy nuggets for your 20 piece combo.

For samples, I heavily use a program called Audio Hijack that allows you to record any sound being played on your computer.  Then it’s YouTube, YouTube, YouTube.  How else are you going to make your Charlie Bit My Finger mixtape?  I also like a program called Lips that bounces aiff files of any entered text in a variety of wacky voices.  How can you resist the sound of a deranged old man saying your DJ name?

Step 3.  Narrow & Prepare.

 

Now that I’ve surveyed the field, it’s time to pick the finalists.  I usually choose about 20-30 songs as potential candidates.  Not all will make the final cut. A lot of it has to do with the interview process, SAT scores, letters of recommendation, charity work, and who their parents know.  It also helps if they are good at football.

I additionally like to run my tracks through Mixed In Key [link]. Mixed In Key automatically determines the musical keys of your songs and then displays them in an easy to use system.  I find this dramatically speeds up the process of finding a harmonically pleasing path between tracks.

However, probably the most important factor I consider is the overall flow and energy of the songs.  Mixing/key considerations aside, how do I think the track selection should progress?  How am I going to begin?  How am I going to end?  Is the energy going to build consistently?  Move up and down?  How would I draw a graph of the mix (x-axis = time, y-axis = energy)?  And how are the samples going to fit into the greater picture?

Finally, I go through my “hijacked” samples in Ableton (but any basic wave editor is fine), edit them down to the essential snippets, make sure the volume levels are acceptable, and then bounce them as wave files.  I then drop the samples into Traktor, and I’m ready to get my mix on!  Aw yeah, mixalicious.

Step 4.  Record.

 

My preferred method of laying down the mix is recording everything live transition by transition.  (I use Traktor’s built-in recorder and the Audio 8 box.)  For example, suppose I’m working with “Song 1” and “Song 2.”  First, I’ll spend some time figuring out my favorite way to switch from 1 to 2. Then I’ll record several takes of the transition and immediately listen back.  If I like what I hear, I’ll move on to thinking about how I get from Song 2 to Song 3, otherwise more takes and revision!  Once I’ve recorded a good chunk of transitions, I’ll bring the mini-mixes into Ableton, splice them all together, and review the current state of the mix like a president assessing the union.  I find these listening breaks very helpful in determining the best path forward and establishing the strongest foundation for the future of the mix and its children.

Why do I record in this manner?  Well, for starters, I’m currently not quite comfortable creating mixes in a multi-track DAW environment.  I want my DJ mixes to reflect how I actually DJ.  Furthermore, I enjoy seeing how far I can push a live DJ setup and to what extent I can figure out new ways to produce intricate mixes on the fly.  Feet are fair game.

 

Step 5.  Edit & Limit.

 

The mix is recorded.  Hot damn!  Time to disco?  Time to disco nap?  Time to eat disco fries?  Not quite.  At this point, I meticulously go through the mix and polish any sloppiness via Ableton.  Occasionally, I’ll add samples on a separate audio channel on top of what’s already been recorded.  It usually ends up looking something like this:

Once the audio is sounding spick and span, I run it hard through a limiter to get that extra umph!  Bada bing, bada boom!  We got ourselves an oven fresh mixtape!!!!

Step 6.  Distribute

The mixtape is finished, but there’s one problem.  No one has heard it yet!  Mix distribution and online promotion can (and will!) be a whole topic unto itself, but here are some steps I typically take (steps within steps! we like M.C. Escher up in here!, sidenote: D.J. Escher is a solid DJ name):

(a) Art Up – The more senses you hit, the more likely you are to grab someone’s attention.  I’m still trying to figure out a scratch & sniff digital mixtape.  Enlist a buddy, annoy your sister (my usual method), construct something yourself, or drop some dollars and cents.

(b) Partner Up – I often will do joint releases with other companies, brands, and/or DJ’s.  This way I not only hit my own network, I hit theirs.  Double network action FTW!

(c) Post Up a.k.a. Karl Malone (yes I just used Karl Malone as a verb) – In the absence of a partner, I’ll post the mix myself.  My main site for archiving mixes is Soundcloud.  My favorite feature of Soundcloud is the in-track comment capabilities, where users can actually respond to specific moments of your mix.  Other sites I use include: Beezo.net, Dubset.com, Bandcamp.com

Dubspot Radio Podcast: Ep 3 DJ Shiftee by Dubspot

(d)  Blast Off: Now that the mix is out and about frolicking the town, I make sure to blast it on all my networks.  Email, Facebook (band page & personel page), lots of Twitter.  I’ll also write my own blog post about it on DJSHIFTEE.COM.  “Tell your friends, to get with my friends
And we can be friends
$%^! we can do this every weekend
Aight? Is that aight with you?
Yeah… keep bangin]”

Obviously Diddy was talking about social networking in this adlib.

DJ Shiftee is a 2x DMC World Champion and Dubspot Instructor currently heating up dancefloors around the globe with fresh beats and sounds! Check out his latest mix ‘Dancing Specialist‘,  follow him on Twitter, & find him on Facebook.

22
  • payton!
  • 12/2/2010

f*** yea this was helpful! thanks shiftee, you always know how to help.

  • How To Make A Mixtape / Podcast: 6 Basic Steps by DJ Shiftee + New Mix | Dubspot Blog « Les ressources d'Ableton
  • 12/2/2010

[...] How To Make A Mixtape / Podcast: 6 Basic Steps by DJ Shiftee + New Mix | Dubspot Blog. [...]

  • Michael M
  • 12/2/2010

Great article Shiftee, thanks!

One thing I would love to hear more about is how you “slice” together the mini-mixes in Ableton. So you have a bunch of transitions, how do you put them together? I’m thinking you merge the tracks but are there differences in volume, etc? Might be out of scope for this article.

Either way, great tips!

  • Shiftee
  • 12/2/2010

Hey Michael,

You are correct that I merge the tracks. When recording, I make sure I let songs start earlier and run later than I need them. Then I join tracks/transitions at a common point.

For level, I leave my output volume from the mixer at the same level. I then take note of the gain knobs if I take a break between recording sessions. This should minimize discrepancies in volume between your tracks.

If there any noticeable differences, I’ll just use Ableton’s clip volume adjustment. The limiter also helps neutralize volume differences!

Let me know if this is an insufficient explanation!

Shiftee

  • Michael M
  • 12/2/2010

Yes that is more than sufficient Shiftee….!

That is a great tip, I will try that out on my next mix. Thanks!

  • Phil Morse
  • 12/2/2010

Loves this, thorough and up to the minute. If you enjoyed this you may find some extra useful nuggets in our “how to make a mixtape” week of tutorials that we published here: http://www.digitaldjtips.com/2010/09/how-to-make-a-mixtape/

  • Nuno
  • 12/2/2010

Thank you very much, keep these tutorials coming, since the practice scheduling tips post you made I feel I’ve improved a lot. Once again, thank you, Shiftee!

  • Gregg Hollmann
  • 12/2/2010

Your Grownstep Mix CD was so polished – this blog entry illustrates all of the planning, preparation and editing behind the scene to get that glossy finished product. Listening to grownstep, I was amazed by the seamless transitions, and by how the abundant spoken word sounded clean and at a consistent level.

  • How I Make A Mixtape // Tips & Tricks | Shiftee's Palace
  • 12/2/2010

[...] How To Make A Mixtape / Podcast: 6 Basic Steps by DJ Shiftee + New Mix [...]

  • JK
  • 12/2/2010

Fun, thorough & great insights. Helps on every level of mixing.
So happy to understand more what goes into the process … Thank you!

  • johnny
  • 12/2/2010

Hi Shiftee,

Gr8 tips thanx.

My only problem is that audio Hijack is a mac application.Is there any othet sample-software i can use?

thanx

  • DJ TYCO
  • 12/2/2010

I really enjoyed you “How to make a mix tape” article and of course love your mixes. I am just starting to mix and producing electro and such. Are there other articles you wrote posted any ware? I was supper excited to find this one on dubspot! I would love to take classes there someday! Your email didnt work so I am hoping I can get a responce through this!

  • DJ TYCO
  • 12/2/2010

I really enjoyed you “How to make a mix tape” article and of course love your mixes. I am just starting to mix and producing electro and such. Are there other articles you wrote posted any ware? I was supper excited to find this one on dubspot! I would love to take classes there someday!

  • Matt Shadetek
  • 12/2/2010

Be sure to check out djshiftee.com also use the search box on the upper right hand side to search Shiftee on our site.

  • DJ Jagged
  • 12/2/2010

Shiftee, do you have a link for this LIPS program that you mentioned at the end of Step 2? My google search didn’t find it. Thx.

  • Matt Shadetek
  • 12/2/2010

@DJ Jagged:

Check it out here:

http://homepage.mac.com/superpixel/lips/

  • Daniel
  • 12/2/2010

Does anyone have a link to that Lips program?

  • Mishka Presents Keep Watch Mix Vol. XXIII w/ Dubspot’s Shiftee | Dubspot Blog
  • 12/2/2010

[...] the highway. This is: here’s my highway. Come take a drive… Click here to read the complete article. // [...]

  • Mishka’s ‘Keep Watch’ Mix Series Vol. XXIII w/ Dubspot’s DJ Shiftee |
  • 12/2/2010

[...] Much like a cat to be skinned or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup to be eaten, there are many ways to make a mixtape. There are different strokes for different folks, different eggs with different yolks, different angles: acute, obtuse, this run-on sentence was brought to you by Dr. Seuss. What I’m going to present here is my own typical way of constructing a mixtape. I’m not calling other approaches stupid, or saying other methods’ mamas so fat when they put on a red dress people yell, “Hey, Kool Aid!” This isn’t my way or the highway. This is: here’s my highway. Come take a drive… Click here to read the complete article. [...]

  • Shiftee
  • 12/2/2010

Someone asked for further explanation about how I splice together the waveforms. Here’s how I responded:

“You need to find a common, untouched point between your transitions and use this as the spot where you join your recordings.

Hypothetical example, see if this helps.

I’m mixing 3 songs, A into B into C as follows (Ax:xx denotes the time of Song A, Bx:xx denotes time of Song B, etc.):

*start recording*
Song A plays alone from its start (A0:00-A0:30)
Song B is introduced from its beginning (B0:00)
Song A and Song B play together for 30 seconds (A0:30-A1:00, B0:00-B0:30)
Song B plays alone for 50 seconds (B0:30-B1:20)
(but the spot where we are going to introduce Song C is before we hit stop, so like B1:10)
*stop recording*
This is Transition 1.

*start recording (after you’ve practiced and determined the best transition from B to C)*
Start Song B at B1:00
Introduce Song C from its beginning at B1:10
Let the 2 songs play together for 25 seconds before you switch totally to Song C (B1:10-B1:35, C0:00-C0:25)
Song C now plays alone
*stop recording*
This is Transition 2.

In Ableton, drop both Transition 1 and Transition 2 into a single audio track with some space in between.
Both Transition 1 and Transition 2 have an identical section, namely that of Song B playing from B1:00-B1:09.

Pick a sound from B1:00-B1:09 with an easily identifiable waveform/transient. Locate this sound in Transition 1, “split” the waveform immediately before this special sound begins, then delete the 2nd (later) split. Locate the same sound in Transition 2, split the waveform right before this special sound begins in the identical spot as for Transition 1, then delete the 1st (earlier) split.

Now join Transition 1 and Transition 2, check that it sounds smooth, and you should be good to go.

This is the best I can do as far as a detailed, written explanation goes.

-Shiftee”

  • Shiftee
  • 12/2/2010

Yikes, I had bolding and paragraphs in my original answer. Hope you all can decipher the above!

  • Brandon Willobee
  • 12/2/2010

Hi, shiftee! Where can I find that Lips program you talked about?