By Brian Buonassissi
Being a keyboardist who took piano lessons as a kid and even dabbled as a semi-professional in a cover band (before my DJ’ing days started), I am well aware of key signatures and the importance of staying in key. If you played any part of a song with clashing keys, it would sound god-awful. Pretty soon, I could play by ear and would easily be able tell if something was in key or not.
Fast forward to the late 90s / early 2000s when mashups were the rage as a DJ (RIP DJ AM, the man who brought this genre to life). Production technology had progressed by that point where anybody could find instrumentals online or make a decent DIY acapella and mashups were popping up everywhere. Unfortunately, most of those making them had no music theory background and they relied on matching tempos and put matching keys on the backburner.
To this day, I am shocked with the amount of out-of-key mashups they are. I am very selective with the ones I use and discount 9 out of every 10. Worse yet, I see live mixing that is done in the same manner. I cringe when I hear it, and though your crowd may not know technically what is happening, trust me when I tell you that they can tell when it’s off.
Eventually, in-key mixing tools came to the market that helped non-trained DJs tremendously. Line up the numbers and you are set. Recently, Serato has integrated the technology into their software. There is really no excuse now NOT to have things properly aligned.
All of that said, I still do believe that there are occasions when “out of key” mixing is OK. It is related to just that – mixing from one song to the other. It actually can help build energy or transition from one feel in your set to another. There are a couple keys to this. You don’t want to stay too long in the mix and never do this with vocals. If you’ve listened to me mix live or heard any of my posted mixes online, you’ll notice I sneak it in there every now and then.
What are your thoughts? Do you believe in mixing in key? Does it matter?
Based out of NYC, DJ Brian B is a successful nationally traveling private event headlining DJ/MC. He runs a multi-city mobile business with offices in Orange County, Calif, Destin, FL and New York City. You can check find him at djbrianbofficial.com or bboyproductions.com