An Introduction to MP3 Mixing

These days there are dozens of ‘virtual DJ' programs available for mixing MP3 and other audio files on your PC. Some of these have been developed to the point that they are actually replacing CD mixers and turntables in clubs. Native Instruments' Traktor, Alcatech BPM Studio, and MixVibes Pro are three of the major players in the MP3 DJ scene, and this week we take a look at how to get started with the free version of MixVibes.

Getting Started

First up, download and install MixVibes FREE from http://www.mixvibes.com. You will need to have DirectX installed, as well as a sound card and, of course, a few MP3 files to mix together. Once installed and opened, you should have something on screen that resembles Figure 1.

The MixVibes Interface

The first thing you will notice about MixVibes is the dual audio players (or ‘decks') at the top of the window. These are based on CD mixers, but are almost identical to other software media players with the exception of a few extra controls. The green LED display shows the track name, position and other attributes such as speed and tempo, which we will get to in a moment.

Beneath this are the playback controls. The Track Search buttons move back and forth through the playlist (shown below the players and above the crossfader). The Search buttons are nothing other than fast forward and rewind controls. The pitch buttons allow you to speed up and slow down the track, so that it can be mixed in with another track that is of a different tempo. You will notice that these buttons affect the speed slider control to the right of the display. Using the pitch and speed controls are directly parallel to the same controls on turntables or CD players -- the more quickly you play a tune back, the higher the pitch will be; conversely, slowing it down will lower the pitch. This is where one of the benefits of using software comes into effect. By using the tempo slider instead of the speed and pitch controls, you can speed up and slow down a track without affecting the pitch! The best way to understand the relationship of these controls is to drag an MP3 file onto one of the decks and try it for yourself.

Beneath the Search buttons are the standard Play/Pause and Open/Eject buttons. In addition, there is a button labelled "Cue". This allows you to set a start point for playback, rather than using the start of the file. This function is inherited from the same feature on CD mixers. On the right of each deck you will find a simple three-band equaliser, a balance/pan control, a volume slider, and a volume level indicator. At the bottom of the screen you will see the crossfader, which is linked to the two decks' volume sliders, allowing you to adjust the relative volumes of the two either by dragging with the mouse or using the arrow keys on your keyboard.

Getting Down to Mixing

The full version of MixVibes incorporates automatic beat-matching, allowing you to mix almost automatically. Arguably, this takes a lot of the skill out of DJing -- but let's face it, it's a top feature. You can try it out by downloading the demo of the full MixVibes Pro version. Another benefit of the full version is that it supports multiple sound cards, enabling you to output your mix via one sound card to your speakers, while another sound card can be used to monitor in headphones. With two sound cards you can manually set up your mixes and perform your skilful beat-matching by hand! (See Figure 2). The free version doesn't allow you to preview tunes while another one is playing, so some preparation is required -- as well as a bit of practice. First, you need to load each MP3 file that you intend to use in your mix, one at a time. Then, simply right-click on the deck into which you've loaded the file and select Beat Counting from the menu. Now play the file and hit at the start of a measure. Count 16 beats and hit . Now click Calc and the Beats Per Minute (BPM) will show up in the BPM Count box (See Figure 3). This will be saved in the MixVibes database, allowing you to beat-match by adjusting the speed and tempo values as you mix.

Bear in mind, however, that just because two tracks have the same BPM doesn't mean they're in sync! If you find that you're having difficulty getting your tracks to mix perfectly, then you will no doubt need to investigate either the full version or an alternative mixer that supports previewing and/or automatic beat-matching!

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