An unheralded advantage to pulling tracks from a properly managed record pool is having access to quantized versions of classic dance tracks. If you mix only modern electronic or hip hop music, just about everything you play likely comes already quantized. It was made on a computer, and even if the producer opted to swing the beats a bit to give the song a more human feel, it’s still going to be locked into one tempo. The moment you step into the arena of mixing indie rock, classic rock, disco, or any music performed by live musicians, all bets are off when it comes to having a consistent tempo.
If you aren’t familiar with quantization, or only know it as a function on a controller that helps you keep your pad-tapping on beat, let’s take a trip together down DJ Memory Lane, to the days when vinyl records were the only show in town.
When mixing with vinyl records was the only option, a DJ had to know every song inside and out. If the drummer speeds up from 114 BPM to 117 in bar two, then lags on one beat in bar four, before slowing down to 111 BPM in bar five, your mix was going to be way off if you weren’t anticipating those changes. And as changes like that happen in nearly every song recorded before the advent of drum machines in the 1980s, that meant that disco DJs had to keep a library’s worth of tempo changes cataloged in their head. I speak from experience! In the 1990s I was the resident DJ at Club 181 in San Francisco, where I played disco tunes on vinyl every Friday night. I had to remember every tempo change in every bar of every intro of every song in my crates, along with the same information for the breaks where I’d be mixing out of those songs. I wasn’t alone. Every DJ of that era had to be a part-time mnemonist in order to avoid train wrecks.
As it has done for most aspects of DJ’ing, digital technology has made our lives easier. Using Ableton, or similar software, I can now quantize a song, and lock every downbeat to the “1” of every bar, and make sure every snare hits precisely on a 2 or a 4. Of course, I don’t do it to that extent— I want to retain the human feel that those old tracks have— but I do make sure my intros and outros are locked to a precise tempo so that mixing disco, Motown, rock, Britpop, or any non-computer-created music is as easy as mixing EDM.
Happily, my workload decreased significantly once I started playing the pre-prepared, fully quantized, tracks available through Heavy Hits. Here’s a great example of a playlist of quantized tracks to make for seamless mixes at your next performance.