Making a mixtape that’s good enough to enter into a contest can be a daunting task, but what you get in return is usually more than worth the hassle: valuable experience, exposure, new contacts, and so on … But how do you make a mixtape that distinguishes you, and only you, from the immense sea of other Djs out there? Guestblogger, Amar Amlani (Dice DJ) reveals everything he’s learnt about the subtle art of making contest-worthy mixtapes.

How To Make a Solid, DJ-Contest-Worthy Mixtape

Good Preparation is Really Half the Work

The write-up for most DJ contests will describe some kind of goal that your mixtape needs to achieve. For example, you might need to put something together that’ll get the crowd warmed up at a festival. In this case, you’re looking to grab the attention of those people drifting around the site sipping a drink and wondering what to do next. This is the moment to unleash an irresistable, crowd-drawing set!

Increase Your Chance

This is an open door to a great opportunity, but pay attention to the assignment! You’ll have way more chance of making an impact with your mixtape if it actually meets the assigned goal. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard a headline electro house mix submitted for a warm-up set. If you ignore the brief, you’re simply not going to get through.

Build Your Set Up

Preparing your set is also essential. While it’s great to freestyle and mix on gut feeling, good Djs will always have a sense of where the set is going, and construct it with a clear progression throughout the mix. For a warm-up set, it’s best to start more laid back, build to a light climax, then take it back a notch so that the next DJ on the bill has space to build the energy up again. You can, of course, decide to just go out with a bang. This might be risky but it might also give you more of a chance of getting noticed by the judges. Whatever you do, prep the track order of your set (at least roughly) and figure out your transitions so that you know the set will flow smoothly throughout. There are tools that can sometimes help with this. Mixed In Key, for example, gives you an idea of the energy level of a track, so that you always have a good idea of where it should be placed in the mix.

How To Make a Solid, DJ-Contest-Worthy Mixtape

And Then … Hit Record!

First, make sure that you’ve got the right gear to make a good quality recording of your mix. Browse some online reviews or scan through some YouTube channels to get an idea of what works best since most vlogging reviewers test out various gear and offer a closer look. Personally, I use a Focusrite audio interface to send the ‘recording’ signal from my mixer into the programme, Audacity: flawless!

Small Tweaks, Massive Difference

Just to be sure, make a little 5 minute test mix and listen to it everywhere. See how it sounds through your headphones, through your monitors, the built-in speaker of your phone, a cheap Bluetooth speaker, and in the car so that you’re certain that the sound quality will hold up no matter how the mixtape will be listened to by the judges. A little bit of trim and EQ adjustment on your mixer can also make a massive difference, and make sure to use good quality music files, so an absolute minimum of 256kbps. Tip: Set all three EQs knobs at 5 past 12 instead of dead on 12 o’clock. This gives the mix extra body. Make sure the trim is at a good level and isn’t slipping into the red.

3..2..1.. RECORD

Record multiple takes. You’ll often notice little improvements you can make when you listen back to yourself and spot problems with the running order, or a track that doesn’t quite work out. It’s also good to get feedback from friends so that you’re totally confident with what you’ve put together. To finish: Always, always mix live! Judges know that a mix can’t always be perfect, and that small beatmatch errors are part of the deal. What they’re interested in hearing is that you can fix it quickly. As a DJ with a trained ear, even you will notice these little slips at festivals and events and find yourself appreciating how smoothly the DJ pulled back the mistake.

Get Ahead

Bonus: If you really want to show how much you want to win, make a short video of yourself making your mixtape and include it with your submission. This will give you a nice, personalised edge over the other entries.

The Final Step: Sending Your Mix

Once you’re satisfied with your well-crafted mix, it’s time for the final step: sending your mixtape. Sometimes you’re asked to upload the mix to the website of the organiser, but usually they just ask for a link to a platform like Soundcloud or Mixcloud. In my personal opinion, Mixcloud is the better choice because by uploading to Soundcloud, you run the risk of them removing your mix if it includes any commercial tracks.

Say Something About Yourself

You can often add a little something about yourself alongside your mixtape. Whether it’s optional or not, always fill it in. Besides a link to your website/social media page, this is the only opportunity you have to make your mix more personal. Say something about yourself, why you’re taking part and where your love of music comes from.

Have you ever put yourself up for a DJ contest? Is there anything I’ve missed or do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments!

See Also…

» Where do Djs Get Music From?
» The Ideal DJ Lighting Setup
» All DJ Blogs
» All DJ Gear
» All Studio & Recording Gear

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