Choosing the right tracks for a mix is not always easy. Except for artist and label showcases where there are boundaries like a back catalogue you don’t necessarily want to exceed, the track pool for Helioscope mixes is very loosely defined. Nonetheless, I’m collecting new releases via Beatport, Bandcamp, AmazonMP3 and iTunes about two times each week and putting them in some kind of folder. For each show and format, I’ve got a text file with tracks I’d like to include in the upcoming episode together with their label, BPM and key.
Also, I like to avoid playing tracks more than once, regardless of the mix they first appeared in. The Helioscope Yearmix, Sol-Archives and similar ‘looking-back’ sets, however, are an exception.
The second step always goes hand in hand with the selection of tracks. The ordering is just as important. To me, the introduction – usually the first two or three tracks – is key to convince the listener to stay and listen, so these first few should be an indicator of what to expect. Similarly, the worst outros are those ending with beats and percussion. I like to have an atmospheric ending for most of my mixes and there is a small number of tracks with them in it.
2a. BPM/Key Tagging
The tracklist might change when I’m actually finished with the transitions later on, but most of the time I’m adding the BPM and key tags in iTunes and VirtualDJ, so I can easily swap two tracks if they sound better the other way around. Also, for future mixes, I can find those in my library a lot faster.
The majority of mixes are part of series and usually have a sequel. Since I don’t wanna throw away tunes which I couldn’t insert in the most recent edition, there’s always a new iTunes playlist ready. When I’m done compiling the tracklist, the remainder will be copied to it.
This blog keeps track of all my published mixes, as you might know. Every mix since May 2015 has a post with tracklist, some cover art / banner and the Mixcloud player at the bottom. However, there’s more behind that. There are tags and categories to be added by which you can find older mixes much easier.
After compiling the tracklist, most of the tracks are not yet in my library. The remaining tracks have to be purchased off the major music stores online.
Inside my DAW I often use Wave and OGG, because it has less latency issues with those formats. It takes a few minutes to convert MP3s, AACs and ALACs.
Tracks are inserted into the DAW by going along the tracklist. There’s no more than that.
This is the first of two difficult parts. Selecting the tracks is a lot fun, but putting them together so seamlessly that the listener doesn’t notice the transitions is incredibly hard. Naturally, I do not achieve this a lot. I’m no professional at any means. To me, the seamlessness is already achieved by selecting the right tracks and putting them in the right order. Furthermore, the mixes are diverse. Some require a lot of BPM changes, like Wildfire. Others, not so much. Some transitions are abrupt and sound well nonetheless, some smooth in a sense of crossfading. This depends a lot on the tracks themselves.
Except for ambient and chillout sessions like Planetarium, the adjustment of volumes between tracks is by far the most difficult task. They all must not exceed some kind of threshold and should also not be too quiet in comparison. This sometimes requires up to five times exporting and adjusting.
This step consists of uploading the MP3 file, attaching the cover art, adding a description and…
…writing a cuesheet aka timestamping on Mixcloud.
Written in April 2016.