How to Make a Mixtape – Make a Seamless DJ Mix in Ableton
Make a mixtape and learn the best DJ software – Make your own DJ mixes in Ableton and join over 3,000 happy students with this highly rated online course.
For an example of the skills I teach in this course, search for “Armada Night Radio 034 (Armada Music Year Mix by Ross Palmer)” on SoundCloud – it currently has over 220k plays, and uses all of the skills I teach right here!
This course is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and now it’s finally here! I’m going to show you everything you need to know to use the software Ableton to create a world-class seamless DJ mix, radio show, or mixtape, from start to finish, from beginner to advanced! Just like A State of Trance, Hardwell on Air, or great mixes of any genre, including hip-hop and more. Today, Ableton is the gold standard used by the vast majority of professional DJs for making commercial mixtapes, so it’s about time you learned how to do it like a pro.
I take you through a sample mix from start to finish, using very difficult, royalty-free tracks. This is to show you that if we can make THESE work, you can make YOUR mix with confidence!
My passion for listening to long mixes on headphones lead me to eventually become a professional DJ, and I was lucky enough to perform around the world. Not only that, but I was able to live my dream when I got a job working at Armada Music in Amsterdam, record label of Armin van Buuren. During those years, I was making and hosting a weekly mix radio show, getting about 50-100k organic plays on SoundCloud per week. I even mixed a few commercial compilations for Armada sold on CDs and some high-traction year mixes as well!
Since I was 11 years old, seamless DJ mixes have been not just a passion of mine, but one of the most powerful and beautiful forces in my life. Ever since I got my first CD player and high-quality headphones, I spent countless hours listening to DJ albums and mixes with my eyes closed, by people you probably haven’t even heard of, like Sasha, John Digweed, the entire Global Underground catalog, and many more. I was absolutely floored by the way these DJs were able to blend different tracks together, not just playing them in order like most DJs do today with simple transitions, (or worse, like Spotify!), but really creating an emotional journey that took over an hour to complete. I couldn’t even tell where one track ended and another began, and it changed my life!
Now I’m not saying that I’m the best out there, far from it! I just love it as much as I love life itself. And I’ve spent many many years teaching myself these techniques. Now I want to pass that joy on to you. I may never be as good as my own heroes, but DJing and mixes will always be a major part of who I am!
To really get the most out of this course, I recommend that you use this course in conjunction with my other course on how DJ live – if you can master the art of DJing for a crowd together with the art of making a radio-worthy mixtape, you’ll see that each skill greatly benefits the other.
For me, a mixtape isn’t about the genre, or style of music, or tempo, or anything else. It’s about one thing: creating a musical experience that lasts for an extended period of time. That could be house music, EDM, trap, hip-hop, pop, or anything else you can think of!
Don’t get caught up by the style of music used in this course, it’s all just royalty-free music for the purposes of demonstration. I assure you, these techniques apply to ANY style of music that YOU love, and you WILL be able to build your own sound, I promise!
I will say, however, that your life will be a lot harder if you want to mix bluegrass, since this course is really more useful for genres of music that at least have an electric backbone, so the tempo stays consistent within each song. Almost all modern music is like this now, from pop to drum and bass. With that said, I’m sure you could make a killer bluegrass mixtape with these techniques if you really wanted to when you’re done with the course!
In this class, I’m going to cover everything you need to know to build a seamless mixtape, from selecting tracks to delivering the final product.
These lessons cover all the topics you need to deliver a product that can compete with the top mix shows out there, so what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
*Please note: This course is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by Ableton in any way.
About This Course
Preface: Theory & Background
The word "mixtape" has a lot of different meanings -- it's very different to a rapper than it is to an EDM DJ, but I chose this term because the concept applies to both: In this course, a "mixtape" is creating a curated, seamless musical experience in which one song blends perfectly into the next. Obviously genre has NOTHING to do with this core concept!
So have an open mind! These techniques in this course will benefit you no matter WHAT kind of music you make, and if you think it's not for you, maybe you can be the first to bring these techniques to YOUR genre of music! ;)
The pinnacle of a seamless mix was, in my opinion, achieved by the British DJ Sasha. Listen to his "Involver" mix on his official YouTube channel to see just how seamless seamless can be! Try to tell when one song ends and another begins!
I'm going to explain to you a bit about the history of DJ mixes in this lesson, and I'll explain a bit about what we are trying to achieve. That way we have a common framework for understanding the goals of this course!
Over the years, the technology for making and recording mixes and mixtapes has changed dramatically. The way we record our mixes profoundly influences how they will sound, and what we can do with them!
Obviously today, the GREAT majority of all professional mixes and mixtapes are made with Ableton Live, which is why it's the subject of our course.
You'll understand where Ableton fits into the greater context of the DJ movement as a whole, and why it's such an awesome choice for making your mixes now.
Imagine trying to do a jigsaw puzzle, when you don't know what the final picture is before you start...
It seems ridiculous, but most amateurs start placing pieces in their mix before they have any clue where they are going with it! That's how mistakes are made, and that's how you don't live up to your potential.
Everything in this course is about taking the right steps at the right time, so you don't run into major problems on the way.
When I had to do an hour mix per week, there was no room for error. With proper preparation, you will thank yourself so much down the road, I promise!!
Module 01: Preparation
There truly is only one right way to prepare your tracks to get the most from your mix. "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!"
In this lesson, I'll give you a nice approach for thinking about which tracks should go where. Our mixes - regardless of genre - should tell a story. That story should take a full hour (or CD length etc) to tell, or we're not doing our job!
How we pick tracks plays a major role in the vibe that we'll ultimately get, and at the end of the day, a great mix MUST have the foundation of excellent music.
Without great individual tracks, there can never be a great mix!
Finding out the key, tempo, and genre of your tracks is absolutely critical, before you start making your mix!
I wholeheartedly recommend you buy Mixed In Key - it's one of the most valuable programs you can have for all things DJing. This step expects you to have it!
In this lesson, I'll show you how to organize and tag your files like a pro, so you can build your mix in the easiest, most efficient way possible.
This small step is often overlooked, but it's critical! Taking the 10 minutes to do this step can save you hours of frustration down the road.
It's all about building a playlist BEFORE you make your mix, so you have a clear idea of exactly what you're going to do, and more importantly why you're going to do it!
This is the first lesson in Ableton live.
To start making a great mix in Ableton, just remember this three, handy words!
A mix template is a file that you can use over and over again as the foundation for creating newer and better mixes.
This is a very basic template that you can save. As we go through this course, we will expand on this idea until you have an amazing template that works for you.
We will start basic, then go much deeper!
Module: 02 - Making the Basic Mix
Programming is one of THE most important skills for both live DJing and making a great, seamless mixtape.
In short, you CAN'T get it right without this concept, and it's something you need to understand deeply in order for your mixes to "feel right".
For far too long, DJs and mixers just had to accept that whatever the track is, can't be changed.
Those days are gone! If two tracks don't fit, or if they can't be programmed to fit together naturally, I'll show you how to edit this tracks (the smart way) so that you can make your own programming.
If tracks didn't fit before - they will now!
NEVER accept what you're given, always try to find the best way forward!
Nothing ruins a mix faster than out of key tracks...
When tracks are out of key, it completely destroys the flow, and the mix will almost surely never be seamless. When most people get stuck with out of key tracks, they give up!
I'm going to show you some creative ways to handle this common problem. The example mix we are building in this course (with royalty free music) was designed to show you that we can create something good even with a terrible starting point.
Through learning how to deal with tracks that are not ideal and common problems, your skills will greatly improve!
This short lesson is about the importance of saving your work early and often, with a few ideas to chew on.
If we've done everything right up until this point, we're ready to block out our whole mix.
This is the step where your mix finally starts taking shape, and a lot of our hard work has begun to pay off.
You have some important homework in this step, so get ready to make a giant leap forward!
Module 03: Automation & Transitions
When you talk about automation, the first two parameters are always Volume & Tempo.
However, there's a right way and a wrong way to think about automating these two, and we want to make sure that we are confident in our rough mix before we ever automate ANYTHING.
You can get into a lot of trouble by automating things before you should, so we explore how to think about these things so you don't make mistakes.
Side note: As a student John Kim pointed out, slow automations (vs. "stepping" automations) can cause phasing issues. So if you're an audio engineer, keep that it mind!
Remember the goal of mixing: to make 2 tracks or more, playing at the same time, sound like only one track is playing throughout your mix.
To make two tracks blend together and feel like one at all times, we have to shape the tonality of the track. We do this through automating EQ and a few other basic parameters.
We set up our Ableton template to mimic the knobs that a DJ has control over in a live mix, and EQ is a major part of all that!
Now one of the most fun parts of the course... FX!
FX is a Pandora's Box of endless possibilities, but in this lesson, we start with the basics: Reverb and Delay.
Now that we've added all the "bread and butter" automation lanes that we need to make a pretty decent mix, it's a good time to save our work as a much better template. With this template, you can do a LOT, and many a professional mix has been built with not much more than just this!
Now we go down the rabbit hole...
You should know that the ONLY limitation to what you can automate is your imagination... And how awesome you make your mix is a direct consequence of the uniqueness of FX you put into it.
You can do UNBELIEVABLE things with Ableton Racks, automation, and Ableton's stock plugins.
We'll just scratch the surface, and show you where to get some amazing, free Ableton racks that will spice up your FX in a major way.
We have to be careful when we are automating tempo... REALLY careful.
We can easily screw up our project in a major way. However, we don't have to be cookie-cutter in our approach either.
This is how you can be a little more bold and daring with your tempo automation, and how you can do things that a lot of DJs wouldn't even try!
The goal is and always was seamless transitions.
By now, we have a lot of different tools in our belt to achieve this. Let's see how we can bring all of the tools so far together, with the goal of creating a seamless mix!
Module 04: Advanced Techniques
One of my favorite features of Ableton is how it handles individual regions and clips. You can do SO much by editing these little clips, and mangling them in all sorts of creative ways.
I show you how to sample from your own mix, to foreshadow elements, and to create unique ambiences. This helps you make tracks "your own", and it opens up tons of creative possibilities!
These "utilitarian" functions in Ableton are often overlooked. But they are vital to getting your mix to fit in the right amount of time.
I used them extensively on every mix I ever made, and they are a very powerful creative tool.
This will definitely help you not get stuck in many common, problem scenarios!
As I mentioned before, we really don't have to accept what we're given... ever.
We have so much freedom to essentially remix any track we use, so let's take advantage of it.
Sometimes, we might feel a track is "missing something". Well, if you feel that way, here's what you can do about it!!
For the producers in the crowd...
If you are a gifted producer or instrumentalist, then there's a whole range of stuff you can do to make your mixtapes even more unique.
Did you know that Sasha enlisted the help of AC/DC drummer Simon Wright to do additional drums and programming for Involver?
NO ONE would have expected a progressive house DJ to use a rock drummer for a DJ mix, but that's precisely why that album stands out.
When you start remixing and thinking outside of the box, genuinely interesting results are possible.
Module 05: Voiceovers & Radio Shows
If you are brave, you might want to host your own radio show.
I'll give you some tips for making the most of your situation, and of thinking about how you can process your voice for maximum impact.
I'll also share with you a few industry secrets for getting a good recording when you don't have a nice, properly acoustic treated room.
One product I mention in this video is the: Reflexion Filter from sE Electronics
Getting this step right can absolutely add a layer of professional polish to your work.
The service I recommend in this video is found here (affiliate link): bit.ly/mrcreative
You don't need to break the bank, but you can make a big difference with doing this right!
Should you or shouldn't use sidechain compression when using voiceovers?
The answer is YES, and I'll show you how :)
Module 06: Finalizing the Mix and Publishing
Tiny details are what separate GREAT mixers from average ones. The more time you spend on the little details, the more polished your total mix will be.
There are diminishing returns beyond a certain point, however, so spend as much time as you need to get the best quality product your timeline allows!
This is where I talk about how to check your mix, to make sure you don't "miss" something that you never noticed before.
Skip this step at your own peril!
Should you be mastering your own mix? Or paying someone else to master your mix?
What does mastering even mean in the context of a mixtape?
In this lesson, we take a look at our final project before we do a full listen through in the next video.
The moment you've been waiting for...
This is a full listen through of the royalty-free tracks of this course, blended using only Ableton's stock plugins, free Ableton Racks, and the techniques taught in this course.
I hope you appreciate where we were able to get with VERY non-ideal tracks -- Personally I think we got them to sound pretty good considering where we started from!
We've certainly come a LONG way from tracks that didn't seem to fit together at all, didn't we?
I recommend you listen to this video on nice headphones!
Let me say THANK YOU for making it this far in the course, and THANK YOU AGAIN for enrolling, it means the world to me!