Don’t Underestimate the Power of Beatmatching

screen-shot-2015-02-08-at-9-27-35-amA recent video from Ean Golden on DJ Tech Tools started a few cogs turning in my mind. The video, although an excellent piece of advice on a quick method of checking the beatgrid on your track, had me pondering it’s usefulness.

In the video Ean gives you links to download a keyboard mapping that helps you ‘quickly’ check and adjust the beatgrid of your tracks, to make sure that your grids are on point. A very noble cause.

However, a quick scroll through the comments unearthed a few points of confusion from viewers.

One comment, from “Mr. Crow”, read: “Umm, I’m not really sure, what is this good for? What just happened?

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Loading in keyboard mappings like the one Ean provides here, can mess up existing mappings, so as Ean kinda touches on, you need to disable your existing keyboard mapping and enable the new one. Making sure you switch back again before performance. This information might be included in the download, I haven’t checked. It also appears that the video from Ean is part of a 30 minute set of tutorials, which could be why there is a lack of information.

Why fine-tune your Beatgrids

Sometimes Traktor doesn’t get the beatgrid spot on, causing issues when mixing using your sync option. If one track is perfectly gridded and the other not so much, then despite the grids being aligned by traktor, the beats are not. This will make your mix sound awful and amateur.

Making sure that ALL your grids are tight is not a bad thing to do, however, if you owned the skill of manual beatmatching, a quick press of the nudge buttons will correct things up nicely for you.

Each deck has very handy ‘nudge’ buttons, or to use the correct term ‘Pitch Bend’.

nudge

The nudge, or pitch bend, buttons act like the edge of a CDJ platter, or a jog wheel. They are also often assigned to a button on a midi controller, the X1 has them. They are used to slightly and temporarily speed up or slow down a track, a little like holding your finger on a spinning turntable.

If you have ears, you can understand when two songs don’t sound in-time with one another and you can therefore use your ‘DJ skills’ to get them back in time again. This way, you only have to nudge the tracks when you need to and don’t have to waste your time setting up ALL your tracks just incase the grids are not perfect between two specific tracks that you are mixing together.

Upon the introduction of buttons for pitch control, several years back, I instantly hated it. I felt that it wasn’t as tactile and didn’t have the same response as a platter. Whilst I am huge fan of jog wheels and love the CDJ platters for mixing, I decided to jump back into using the X1 to manually beat-match.

For a recent set at a local bar, I decided to use only my X1 to mix tracks together. The tracks I was using had been ripped to digital from my old vinyl collection, so they were pretty much ‘un-griddable’ (except maybe with ableton), so I knew they would never sync.

Due to the years of manual beat-matching I had behind me, it was so easy to simply use these pitch bend buttons on the X1, I didn’t even have to think about it. Having that skill of beat-matching is something every DJ should acquire. It’s possibly the easiest part of DJ’ing, yet the entire essence around it. Yes, when I’m using modern music that’s got an exact tempo and a locked in beat-grid, I can switch back to sync if I like, no biggie. But at least I don’t have to spend countless hours and unnecessary twiddling to set up special set of buttons to do something I don’t need to do.

Knowing how to manually beat-match is a little like knowing how to replace a wheel on a car. In this day and age, you might never need to use that skill (courtesy of sync) but the day things all go Pete Tong, is the time you’ll be glad you’ve got a decent pair of ears and the ability to fix a bad mix. It’s the best back up skill any DJ can have. Plus it might solve your shameful predicament of “looking boring behind the decks“.

When a Nudge Alone, Won’t Cut It

You might find that once you’ve nudged the track forward or backwards to be inline with the other’s tempo, it might after a short while drift back out again.

If this is the case, you will need to permanently change the tempo of the track. This can be done by moving the tempo slider on the side of the deck, or by pushing the button on your midi controller that corresponds to the Tempo Adjust. If your track is synced, you will have to unsync it in order to change the tempo. If you have tempo faders on your controller, be wary when turning off sync because the tempo can instantly change if you don’t have soft take-over enabled on your tempo faders.

I definitely recommend learning how to beatmatch as a back up option. It is also the best way to take over from a previous DJ if you don’t want a break in the music.

Changing the Midi Set up to Suit Your Style

As I mentioned above, creating and importing mappings might not be your thing, in which case, you should be able to use your existing default mapping set up to manually beat-match, providing that the pitch bend and tempo adjust commands are pre-programmed.

If not, you might need to create your own mapping to achieve the results you want, or to find an existing one online.

How I changed the X1 mapping

As I don’t like the default set up on the X1 (having to hold shift as well as the pitch bend button) I decided to change it and have it work without the need for ‘shift’.

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I also changed the resolution at which the tempo adjust operates. If you head into the controller manager, and locate the tempo adjust command, you will notice that you have a few options, the only two I want to talk about are:

  • Min – the smallest increment increase / decrease by 0.01 BPM
  • Fine – an increase or decrease of about 0.5 BPM

I have set the ‘Fine Adjust’ to activate by pressing the tempo adjust button only and then if you hold shift and press the same button, it will operate the ‘Min Adjust’.

This way you have excellent control over the tempo options.

I have created a mapping package and video for the X1 should anyone want to grab a copy. This mapping also adds the functionality of the remix decks to the X1.

Do yourself a favour and learn how to beat-match. As I say, you may never need to use it, but the day you do, you will be happy your learnt the skill.