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How Music Mixing Software Works


Music Mixing Software Reviews
DJs have a choice of software programs to use when spining. Rapper Jay-Z, left, and DJ AM, right, spin together using music-mixing software.
DJs have a choice of software programs to use when spining. Rapper Jay-Z, left, and DJ AM, right, spin together using music-mixing software.
© Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Music mixing software varies greatly in price and functionality. The nice thing about most of these programs is that you can download a free demo and test drive the software for a few weeks before buying it.

In terms of virtual DJ software, one of the best-known brands is Traktor from Native Instruments. Traktor lets you view and preview every song on your hard drive from an intuitive folder interface. Drag and drop songs into one of four virtual decks and use the on-screen faders or a control box to switch between tracks. Traktor lets you create instant loops from inside a track and add effects to each channel or to the whole mix. A nifty add-on is Traktor Scratch, an interface that allows traditional DJs to control the playback of MP3s using their vinyl turntables.

Other popular virtual DJ software titles are PCDJ and Deckadance. PCDJ has companion programs PCVJ for video DJs and PCKJ for karaoke DJs. Deckadance can be used as a standalone program or as a plug-in with many poplar loop-based DAWs.

The most popular hybrid music mixing software is Ableton Live. Faithful to its hybrid name, Ableton Live doubles as a powerful DAW and a versatile non-linear composition tool for live performances. In addition to the standard timeline view, Ableton Live offers something called session view. In session view, all of the instrumental and vocal tracks have been broken down into clips, which are the same thing as loops. Every clip is listed vertically in different categories (drums, bass, guitar, vocals, et cetera). Additionally, each section of the song (verse, chorus, bridge, et cetera) is divided into tracks, which are listed horizontally.

This gives the non-linear musician several playback options. First of all, he could play back the song exactly as it was recorded in the timeline view. Or he could press the track buttons to play back whole sections of the song in a different order. Or, for added creativity, he can pick and choose individual clips from each different track and make a whole new creation. Additionally, every clip can be edited and modified with effects in real time.

As for music mixing plug-ins, a popular and versatile choice is Transfuser by Digidesign, the makers of Pro Tools. Similar to a hybrid program, Transfuser lets you pull in tracks from any Pro Tools session and slice them into editable loops. Every loop can be assigned to a key or trigger pad on a controller and tweaked with a seemingly endless collection of digital effects. It's a great way to turn Pro Tools into a real-time instrument for live performances. Re-mixes can also be recorded and sent back into Pro Tools for further editing and mastering.

There are also some great loop-based DAWs that, while not ideal for live performances, make it easy to assemble creative remixes in the studio. Some of the top names are Acid Pro, Fruity Loops and Reason.

For lots more information on music mixing, music recording and related topics, check out the links on the next page.