Bad news: Beatmatching proficiency alone is not enough to be able to mix well. For your blends to be smooth and natural, you also need to know and make use of the structure of the tracks you're mixing. Good news: It's not difficult. The key point here is phrase matching, which is what we are going to discuss today.
What is a phrase? As you already know from the article on track structure, a phrase is one of the basic building blocks of a track that consists of 4 or 8 bars (16 or 32 beats, respectively). Phrases are so important because each part of a dance track – be it chorus, verse or intro – contains 2, 4 or more phrases, the first beat of which is usually stressed in some way. Thus, the whole track is made up of phrases which follow each other from the very beginning of the song.
Now let's talk about mixing. When two tracks are overlaid on each other during a transition, ensuring that their beats are synchronized is just half of the work. For the transition to sound as natural as possible, it's important that the tracks' parts are matched as well. Aligning the track's 8-bar phrases is usually enough to achieve this.
It's better to hear once than to read a hundred times, right? Take a look at how a typical newbie's transition sounds. The guy can already beatmatch but hasn't figured out phrases just yet:
Here are my comments. At 00:20, the DJ begins to bring track B in to the dancefloor while taking out track A. At 00:36, B introduces itself with an instrumental intro and then completely takes over at 00:52. The beatmatching seems to be fine. However, you can instinctively feel that something is still wrong with the transition. That "something" is unmatched phrases (i.e. parts) of the tracks being mixed.
Take a listen again: at 00:10, the instrumental ending of track A begins with a new phrase. But B's 8-bar phrases are three bars ahead of A's ones, and so B's instrumental intro at 00:36 begins too early – three bars before A's ending completes at 00:42. The result? Messy sound and confused clubbers on the dancefloor.
Here's why the tracks' phrases are not matched:
Hear the DJ starting track B at 00:04? The beats of the tracks are aligned, but A's next 8-bar phrase will begin later, at 00:10. This is this haste that caused all parts of track B to begin 6 seconds earlier than those of A. If this error is corrected and B is started three bars later, the transition will sound just like it should:
Perfect! A’s instrumental ending completes at 00:42, and the incoming track’s intro kicks in immediately after that.
The rule for great transitions is very simple: The new track is always started on the first beat of the old one’s 8-bar phrase. Since the first beat of any track marks the beginning of its very first phrase, it means that right after the new track is started, its 8-bar phrases will be in sync with the old one’s. By starting the new track at the right moment, you won’t have to worry about the phrases till the next transition.
I am well aware of how complicated all this may sound at first. Beatmatching takes you most of A’s sounding time, and when it’s about to end, you don’t have the luxury of choosing when to start B. First beat of a phrase or not, there’s no time left!
There is only one way to fix this: practice, practice and practice once more! As time passes, beatmatching will be taking less and less of your time behind the decks, and you will be able to start the new track at the old one’s phrase of your liking.
Suggested exercise: Try to consciously take note of the phrases of each dance track you are listening to. In the beginning, you may have to actually count beats and bars, but gradually, you’ll begin to “feel” phrases and anticipate the beginning of the track’s next one. Develop this skill and learn to feel the music in order to be able to start the new track just in the right moment, without having to think about it.