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DJ How to: making a killer demo mixtape

Words by Kavina.

There comes a time in every DJs life when they are going to utter the words, “you should check out my mixtape.” A compilation of keen hopes for rumbling jungles, attaining gigs and starting career avalanches through the careful curation of sublime basslines and the back-catalogue Radiohead remix of Good Evening Mrs Magpie. TUNE! 

We’ve perused a very chill, one million inspirational articles out there breaking down the intricate art of the DJ mixtape. Plus read some comparative to modern-day literature written by Zen organisational philosophers such as Marie Kondo, and we’ve decided to humbly contribute our take on how to ensure your mixtape is killer. Alongside some banter, of course. It’s all pretty simple! 

So, let’s kick it with why this killer demo is so important?

Because fam, where words fail the mixtape speaks - daamn… we just said it.

Let me set the scene; it’s a cool Friday night. You’ve gatecrashed an after-hours gig in Coburg, with three of your closest new work colleagues, after clocking a 10-hour hospo shift, knockoffs in hand. Underground DJ crews are holding up walls to the left and right, and some clown yells out, “Oh my mate is a sick DJ, B Rabbit put your mixtape on!” A flash of gazes all glide to you, and you’re living a weird alternate reality Art Deco sharehouse version of 8 Mile. The vinyl needle stops, some random pulls up SoundCloud on their phone, and they find your account before you utter that it’s “B Rabbit without the E”. Chins start a’waggin, and you’re still standing there in disbelief that your moment is finally here. At the same time, you clutch the latest Garage Project pale ale a little tighter. Two mixes pass before the sea of denim parts, and the old mate with the retro Air Jordan’s and not-ironic 90’s hip hop t-shirt saunters over with a golden ticket invite to play a set for the next gig at his record store. Boom! A star is born. 

This is how every mad DJ starts in some shape or form, whether it’s breaking into someone's car to leave a mixtape in their stereo (bless), or eagerly handing a USB to their hero at a gig. CD’s discovered online, mixes blowing up; that set you played last weekend, which filled the entire dancefloor, it all starts with a mix.  

Make sure to get some preliminary mix stuff in check

Give it at least a week to prepare your songs and track list. Does this song spark joy? (ha-ha). Every track should make your heart flutter, every mix tighter than your record bag after a day of crate digging. Beatmatching on point, no clips, not a red line in sight, appropriate decibels in check, you got this. Just don’t rush it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I be “catchin a vibe” - Also the name of my favourite Quasimoto song

Give your mixtape some context by picking a vibe or feeling you like to create for audience listening. By doing this, you’re giving promoters and hirers a snapshot into the atmosphere with which your music can fill a room. It doesn’t have to be some powerhouse party mix, mainly because the listener is potentially not ready for a dance party when listening to your demo. Instead, try to show consideration for their mood outside a party environment and use the opportunity to uplift their day. Most of the time, the person wanting to hire you is in an office, at home, out for a run or a drive or chilling with friends - more relaxed activities that compliment thinking music. 

Genre - i.e. Would you be embarrassed to play this music in front of your friends?

Considering the genre is always good to keep you grounded when putting together something that doesn’t make you look like you're trying too hard. The music type defines the DJ and you are blessed with the power to educate and entertain. The DJs make the hits, not the other way around. Picking the genres for your mixtape ties into your expectations about the type of venues and events you want to attract. Mixing multiple styles shows your range and depth of knowledge, especially how you can cross-curate flow. Whether you want a full deep-house repertoire or a residency at a cocktail lounge, which can have a focus from rock, hip hop, to funk and electronic house all in one set, the genre fits the occasion. Keep it classy and stay away from a top 40 radio rehash. 

Also, don't be swayed by genre labels, focus on energy. Yes, that tech-house mix works well with that melodic-techno track. 

What even is a genre in these mad times? 

Make it long enough to keep em keen, but don’t look too enthusiastic

Translation: Make your demo mix longer than 45 minutes but way shorter than two hours. One-and-a-half hours is the sweet spot is what I’m trying to get at here politely. Showcasing around nine to eleven songs gives you time to build atmosphere, take people on a journey through the highs and the lows, a crescendo here, time to contemplate living there. You can then deliver them soundly at a relevant future point in their lives where the mix finishes, and they can’t believe it’s over. It leads to an immediate re-rinsing and hopefully, a re-up to all their social media networks, resulting in a fantastic song-play blow-up for you. Thankurr! 

Mixing styles - Drop it, power it, cut it, cross-fade it, three-min mix it. Just be casual about it. 

This is the time to showcase your repertoire of all the mixer kick-flips that your fingers can bring to the mixing desk. The quality of your mixing in a demo sets the professional level expected of your live performance. However, there’s a lot to be said for holding back on the showmanship. Technicality has more to do with how you showcase the way songs fit together; to create flow instead of scratching up every song or cutting over a vocal arrangement, which can be super harsh and ruin the mood on a dancefloor. 

Make sure your levels are on the level

The one thing that should remain entirely consistent throughout a mix and the hardest thing to perfect on a recording is your levels. Competing basslines, high-hats and vocals, all transitioning into each other is amplified in a mixtape, as opposed to a monitored output in a club. A certain level of delicacy and finesse is required, plus some help with internal mixing on your recording of choice. No one wants a booming bassline one minute and everything going quiet the next, as it ruins the flow and creates a disconnect between songs. Plus, it’s also going to give someone an anxiety attack - unless that was your aim, then proceed! 

Naming this killer beast, you’ve created 

Give your demo tape a memorable title that suits the sound of your mix or turn it into a series. Names are another way to stand out and provide a trigger when it needs to be remembered later. They let the listener know what to expect from the demo, instead of ‘Dave's January Demo mix’. Using visual words as titles can help as a storytelling cue, so descriptive words and phrases are a great way to illustrate your sound, especially if you want to play diverse underground genres. Take inspiration from albums like Café Del Mar - Sunset Mix. You can imagine sitting out the front of a club at sunset on Ibiza, as the night starts to cool down and the DJ takes the sounds from chill to party.

All the recording software 

There are heaps of tutorials online about free recording software, such as Audacity so that you can get that mix straight onto a digital audio workstation (DAW), so we won't get technical here. Recording onto your computer is the best way to go, and if you have it, an audio interface gives you better control over the sound quality entering. If you already use Ableton or another DAW, then it’s perfect for doing a quick cheeky sound edit. Otherwise, send it to your mix-master friend to give it a spruce and get it all sparkly for uploading online. 

Speaking of uploading… 

SoundCloud is king. 

Upload this killer demo to SoundCloud, share it on all your social media, link up your electronic press-kits and watch the world explode! It’s the number one discovery tool for DJs as well as a music-sharing platform. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “That is all I have to say about that.” 

If you’ve locked down this demo mix, then make sure you upload it to the Muso app-booking platform, so that venue hirers Australia-wide can check it out, and you can start linking up. If you’re unsure about where to start, then feel free to peruse the list of venues to see which vibe takes your fancy. You can proceed from there or get in touch with us at Muso to help you out. We handle the whole booking side of things, from discovery to invoicing and payment, which is too easy after you’ve wowed them with your mad skills. 

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