When I was trying to get my first DJ Controller I always wondered why DJs have 4 decks. I will answer that in this article and even show you the difference between old and new 4 deck mixing.
So why do DJs have 4 decks? The reason why DJ's have 4 decks is to
I will show you how classic 4 deck mixing goes in a video down below, after that, I will go into more detail about the subject of mixing with 4 decks at the same time and showing a video about the modern way of mixing with 4 decks on a 2 deck controller.
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I think this is a great classic 4 deck mix, it really shows the potential you have when mixing with 4 decks, Underneath there is a mix done with the modern way of mixing with 4 decks (meaning mixing on 4 decks on a 2 deck controller). The big difference is having a toggle on your DJ controller which toggles between decks. This way deck 1 becomes deck 1 and 2 essentially and deck 2 becomes deck 3 and 4. This can be harder to operate than the classic way but a good thing is that you have everything very near.
Also, modern decks tend to make it very easy for you to know on which deck you are playing and they are showing useful information about the current deck being selected such as BPM of the selected track. Down below is a wonderful uptempo mix using 4 decks on a 2 deck DJ controller.
A couple of basic techniques are important to keep in mind with the modern way of mixing is knowing that a lot of other controls than the jog wheels alone are shared between deck 1 and 2 and respectively deck 3 and 4. Such as the play button, EQ (equalizer), cue points, master faders, faders tempo and FX (effects).
Something you should keep in mind is that you need to select the path your headphones separately of all the 4 decks. I have made a detailed post on why DJs wear headphones which you can check out.
Another thing that you should pay attention to is when playing 3 or 4 tracks at the same time in combination with too much signal going through the faders which means you could overload your gain. This way your sound could get distorted or you have the chance to screw up any electronics in case if it is not set-up right.
Also paying attention to your decks and remembering what song is on what deck is really important as well. This way it will not get chaotic and you will not lose tempo in your set. Switching quickly between decks simply requires you thinking quickly and paying attention as well.
Mixing in the right key is very important. This one goes for mixing with 2 decks as well but it is a very important factor when mixing with 4 decks as well. Mixing in the wrong key makes your whole set sound awful. That is for sure something we do not want. The important thing to note is that you should always take a key relevant to the other key or the one dominant or subdominant from one another.
This one starts with a bit of an older video but in my opinion, this one really shows the key point I am trying to make.
As you see mixing with 4 decks allows you to cut quickly between songs. Great DJ's combine this with really dynamic different songs for a great rollercoaster of emotions in their set.
Another great reason DJ's use 4 decks to mix is so they can easily combine the mids and highs of one song with the bassline of another. But this one stretches even further. Perhaps you only need the bassline and the mids of one song and the highs of another song. This could go endlessly as there are as many combinations as you can experiment with.
This one goes even further by having the bassline of 2 songs combined with the rest of another song. This means you can totally customize the output of your mix. But be careful, this one takes a lot of skill. Not only by executing it but also by knowing what goes together and what does not. This truly comes in handy with a track that lacks lots of bass tones, this way you will ensure you have the proper amount of bass output which the crowd will love. Pro Tip: A great way to practice is to just experiment and trying to remember great combinations you tend to find by experimenting.
By having more decks you, in turn, have a larger standby library ready to play. This way you can cue up songs earlier and set your song at the right time spot before having to mix it in instantly. This one goes great with the other techniques discussed before as you will be able to have them all set up right before mixing them together. By using the decks as a way to store your songs on decks 3 and 4 you can just simply switch decks when mixing the new songs in. This also means you will be faster with having new tracks ready in order to keep up the energy level.
Maybe you have a great drop or another melody you would like to mix in your set next to the 2 songs playing. This is a great way to do so. Sound effects and samples are also really great to have stored on the other decks since they will really spice things up in your mix.
Something great that you can do with certain 2 deck DJ controllers is adding CDJ's to your setup so you can view your timeline without the need of watching your laptop constantly. You may also connect a digital vinyl system. This way you can keep deck 1 and 2 as your normal controller deck and deck 3 and 4 to your digital vinyl controller.
In Traktor Pro 3 you can easily use your other decks to load samples and loops in an easy to control 64 cell sample matrix. You have 64 samples ready to play in your mix. By having extra kicks, snares, high-hats and endlessly pieces of recorded audio you will be able to mix the most diverse sound effects in your songs.
You can use lots of sample packs which include not only melody's or plain sounds but also complete basslines to mix in lots of different layers into your set. On the other hand, if you are producing your own samples, basslines or audio you can mix them in even better because you know exactly what sounds good together. You can cut, loop or mix certain audio for an extensive multi-layered audio experience.
How many decks should I start with? For a beginner, I recommend starting out with 2 decks. Although having more decks could come in handy when preloading songs. It is best to focus on being able to DJ with 2 decks than trying to learn too much at the same time. Focussing on 1 thing at a time is key to getting a better DJ.