Adapted from a post made to reddit/com/r/beatmatch, a community for beginner DJ’s aimed at helping people new to the scene. This post was considered so helpful that it was placed on the permanent sidebar of the community!
What you’ve been told about mixing using other characteristics is right, in that you shouldn’t just look to be playing one tune into another with thier bpms and beats in sync. Whilst that’s the absolute basic tool, and one that is used in 90-odd percent of mixes, you should keep the overall tone of the mix sounding clean and smooth, often with the transition between tracks sounding as if it was meant to be there, keeping the listener not quite sure where one track ended and the other began. To do this, you need to take into account other elements.
I’m not sure how much you know about the terms etc., so apologies if I sound condescending. I’ll assume you don’t know much, just to be safe.
There are really two parts to a successful mix between songs. Number one, is the beatmatch. Because D&B is quite fast, a lot of people find it easier to ignore the bass drum beats on beats 1 and 3 of a bar, and focus on the snares, which usually have a lot more emphasis put on them. That way, it feels more like mixing at 80-ish bpm, a lot easier. Number two, is how well the songs fit, and that is usually broken down into style, groove, phrasing and harmonics.
Firstly, you need to take into consideration the style of D&B. Is it liquid (London Elektricity, Netsky, Calibre, Alix Perez etc.), jump-up (Original Sin, Taxman, some of Hazard’s stuff), or more minimal neuro stuff (Noisia etc.). Or is it in between those? Or outside of those (are you dropping filthy drumstep at every opportunity?) Get a feel for each style and it’s hallmark sound. Keeping to within styles is helpful, as it’ll lead to cleaner mixes, and a sense of consistency.
Look at the way it’s beat is structured (or it’s “groove” as it’s known). This is very important, especially with D&B. Try and match tunes with similar grooves. If you have one tune with a syncopated, fast-paced amen break behind it, and try to mix it into a heavier 4-to-the-floor style beat, they’ll clash, and it won’t sound as good, even if they’re perfectly beatmatched.
You can also take into account the phrasing and structure of the song, and where a second song would fit in, which phrases complement each other etc. A lot of songs tend have a 16 or 32-bar intro, drop for another 32 bars, then a 16 or 32-bar middle break, drop again for 32-bars then outro out. (“Drop” has many meaning in DJing. Usually, it either refers to the act of mixing in a song e.g “dropping a tune in”, or the first hit of the main section of a song e.g “The drop on Reso’s War Machine blew my fucking mind”) Naturally, the easiest way to mix them in whilst keeping phrasing in mind is to mix the outro of one song with another. This leads to long, flowing mixes and is great if you prefer to showcase a whole song. You can also cue the second song up to drop in when the first song’s outro would kick in, preserving the middle break but keeping the first song’s energy through. You can also do what’s called a “Double Drop”, where you drop (meaning #1) a tune’s drop (meaning #2) into another tune’s second drop (yo dawg). That’s phrasing. Not all songs have that structure, and that’s where knowing your tunes really pays off.
You have to also look at the harmonic properties of the songs, i.e are they in similar keys. Mixing one song into another one of a conflicting key can sound terrible, so mixing by key can really help. This is very true for sub-generes like liquid, where there is more emphasis on harmonic elements.
Note: I am in no way attempting to be any authority figure on DJing Drum & Bass. I’m merely sharing what I’ve learned from my experience.