This was probably the first question I ever asked myself when trying to learn how to be a DJ. How do DJs Transition between songs? I can imagine if you want to start to learn how to DJ yourself, you’re asking the same question right now. In this article, I’m going to try to explain in full detail how to create these smooth song transitions like a real DJ, so you can start to practice it yourself.
To create smooth transitions between two songs, there has to be an overlap between the songs. DJs create this overlap by playing the next song before the current song ends. By using the crossfader or the volume fader, the EQs, and potentially some effects, DJs can make a transition between songs sound very smooth.
Before you can make these smooth DJ transitions yourself, you have to learn a couple of basic DJ skills. In the remainder of these posts I’m going to explain these to you in full detail, so make sure you keep reading and practice everything you learn in this article.
What Do You Need to Create Smooth Transitions
Transitioning from one song to another song can be done with any media player. Creating smooth and cool transitions like a DJ requires a little bit more advanced software and preferably a DJ controller. However, a DJ controller is not required, but it makes DJing a whole lot more fun and easier.
Let’s start with DJ software. You have a couple of different options to choose from here.
Here is my top 3 DJ software for beginners to use, with a link to the download page.
In my opinion, your best option at the moment would be Serato DJ Lite. This is free DJ software that you can download straight from their website and it’s a great software to use if you’re a beginner DJ.
Other DJ software would be good as well if you have a little bit more DJing experience. I’m going to assume though if you’re reading this article, that you’re at the very beginning stages of learning how to DJ.
Again, a DJ controller is optional and not required. You can DJ with just your laptop and DJ software.
However, speaking from experience, DJing with a DJ controller is 10x more fun.
If you have a DJ controller, you can connect it to your laptop. Your DJ software will automatically recognize that there is a DJ controller connected.
Now the DJ software will respond to everything you’re doing with your DJ controller. If you adjust the volume fader the volume on the DJ controller, for example, your DJ software will adjust the volume of the music accordingly.
When you don’t have a DJ controller, you can use your computer keyboard. Every function will correspond to a certain key or combination of keys on your computer keyboard.
What to Learn to Create a Smooth Transition Between Songs
I remember being a complete beginner and really wanted to get this down. I didn’t want to call myself a DJ before I could make a smooth transition between songs. If I can’t do this, I might as well call myself an Mp3 player just playing one song after the other.
So now that you’ve got your DJ software and maybe a DJ controller, let’s start with learning how to transition between songs like a real DJ. It’s really where all the fun starts.
Timing is Everything in DJing
What happens if you’re playing one song, and you start the other at a random moment when the current song is playing?
I recommend that you try it out for yourself, and come up with words that accurately describe what you’re hearing.
I think the horror of it is pretty indescribable. It’s terrible, I have no other words.
So, what do you need to learn? You have to learn to start a song at the right moment.
Every song has different parts. You recognize these different parts very easily.
When a song goes from the chorus, the most popular part of the song, to a verse, the music will change a lot. Often the verse will be much calmer.
Listen to your favorite song at the moment and try to see if you recognize when a different part has started. I think you’ll understand what I mean.
We call these “parts” phrases. From now on I will continue to use the word “phrase”.
Every genre of music has different song structures. Pop music has a very different song structure than house music. Hip Hop has a very different song structure than EDM.
Here is an example of song structure to help you understand this concept a little bit better.
Drop Mixing and Overlap Mixing
To make a transition between songs not sound terrible, the first thing you have to do is start the new song at the end of a phrase.
There are 2 types of mixing you can use.
- You can drop mix. This is cutting the current song out and starting the new song. You won’t hear the two songs playing together.
- Mixing with overlap. This type of transition between songs is often the smooth transition that you hear.
In the EDM example above, you could start to mix in the next song at the start of the outro.
When you drop mix, you would cut out the current song right before that outro starts, and start the next song at the same time.
DJs often use a crossfader to perform drop mixes. If you don’t know what a crossfader is, read this article first, it opens in a new window so you can come right back to this one after that.
If would mix the EDM song with another song, you could also use overlap mixing.
To overlap mix with the EDM song, you could start the next song at the beginning of the outro.
The next song will start with an intro, so you’ll mix the outro from the current song with the intro from the next song.
So, what will happen is that the current EDM song and the next song will play simultaneously for 1 whole phrase.
When the current song reaches the end of the outro the song will stop playing automatically. At the same time, the new phrase of the next song will start, so it will sound very smooth.
The timeframe where the two songs play simultaneously is where you can use effects and filters to make the transitions sound even better.
To start learning to make these overlap mixes sound better, you can play with the filter knobs a little bit.
Here are all the steps in order, from start to finish.
- Turn the filter knob of the next song to the left, before playing it.
- Let the current song reach the beginning of the outro.
- Play the next song at the beginning of the outro of the current song.
- Simultaneously turn both filter knobs. Turn the filter knob of the current song, from the 12 o’clock position to the left and turn the filter knob of the next song to the right until it reaches the 12 o’clock position.
This last step should be performed slowly and little by little during the outro of the current track. Make sure you reach the 12 o’clock position before the outro is finished.
When you get better and make your transition between songs sound smoother and smoother, you can start to implement more EQs and Effects.
There is one more important aspect to these smooth transitions, and that is counting along with the beats of the music.
You see every phrase of a song has a certain number of beats. This is important to know because what if the outro of the current song has 16 beats and the intro of the next song only 8 beats?
The outro of the current song will still be playing when the next phrase of the next song will start. The transition between the two songs will sound a lot less smooth, and probably not that good.
Learning to count music is something that I can’t really teach you in a blog post. That is why I have placed a video below, where you can learn how to count music from one of my favorite DJing teachers.
Watch the video below until you understand the concept of counting music. Then continue to read the rest of this blog post.
DJ Friendly Songs for Better Song Transitions
A smooth transition between one song and another song might be basic DJ stuff, but it still takes a lot of practice to get it right.
The easiest way to practice song transitions is to transition with instrumental intros and outros of a song. This way you won’t get clashing vocals.
When you listen to the radio a lot or listen to a lot of music on Spotify, you might notice that these instrumental intros and outros aren’t that long or, in some genres, might not even be there. A great tip, when this is the case, is to create an intro using a loop.
That is where DJ pools come into the picture. These DJ pools are subscription-based music libraries where you can download DJ-friendly edits of songs.
These DJ edits have instrumental intros and outros added to the songs, and are a great tool for mixing songs.
Most DJs get their music from these DJ Record Pools. If you want to learn more about DJ pools, I recommend that you read my Beginners Guide to DJ Pools.
If you want to create smooth transitions like other DJs, the first thing you have to learn is song structure and counting music. Once you master those skills you can practice different transitions between songs. You can choose to drop mix or to mix with an overlap of the two songs.
Use DJ-friendly song edits to practice transitions and make your DJing life a whole lot easier.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me!