DJ equipment manufacturer Allen & Heath have recently teamed up with independent software vendor Mixed In Key to distribute a Xone branded version of their key analysis software. Claiming to “eliminate all key clashes, out-of-key vocals and muddy mixes from your DJ sets,” Mixed In Key is for DJs who want to mix with music theory in mind.
I’ve mentioned in the past how important it is for DJs to consider key signature when mixing. If two songs don’t have any notes in common, it will likely sound bad if you attempt to mix them over each other. With a tool like Mixed In Key, you can easily determine which tracks have the highest probability of sounding good together. DJs call this “harmonic mixing.”
So what exactly is Mixed In Key and how will it help you mix better? In short, it’s a specialized DJ tool that can be used to estimate the BPM and harmonic key of song. Armed with key information about your music library, you can (theoretically) come up with better sounding mixes. Read on for my mini-review and opinions about the product.
The user interface is straight-forward and simple. There are five buttons across the top which allow navigation between each major function of the program. As you navigate between these screens, other suboptions are displayed along the left side of the interface.
When you first launch Mixed In Key, the Analyze Songs screen is displayed. However, before analyzing any tracks, it’s probably best to configure the application’s various options. You can get to this screen by clicking on the Personalize button.
If you navigate to the Analyze Tempo section of the Personalize screen, you can configure the default behavior of how Mixed In Key handles decimals when calculating a track’s BPM. This is purely a matter of preference, although I just use whole numbers myself since I’m not interested in decimal precision. You can configure up to two places of decimal precision from this screen.
The next configuration screen allows you to control how (and if) tracks are renamed to include BPM and key information. Navigate to the Rename Files submenu to toggle this on or off. The default is “Do not rename files,” but if you select “Yes, automatically rename files after processing,” several new options will appear allowing you to choose a renaming behavior. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of options, and if none of the built-in methods fit within your standard naming conventions, you’re pretty much out of luck. Personally, I’d rather rename my tracks using a utility better suited for the job — something like Tag & Rename or The Godfather.
The Show Columns submenu allows you to choose whether or not BPM and date added information are displayed in the Browse Collection screen. I’m a bit surprised that this isn’t available on the Browse Collection screen itself. In my opinion, a more intuitive way of configuring column headings would be through a right-click on a column heading within the Browse Collection track listing view.
The last configuration screen is the Write ID3 Tags menu. Much like the Rename Files screen, this menu lets you specify how key and BPM information are stored in MP3 ID3 tags. Unfortunately, the number of ways in which this information can be tagged to a file is quite limited. You can choose to store BPM, key, or both but you are limited to storing this in either the artist name, track name, or comments field of the ID3 tag. Also, the program can’t store the BPM tag in the standard MP3 ID3 tag. Personally, I expected greater flexibility and more fields to choose from. I am told that the author plans on addressing these issues in a future version which will be made available as a free upgrade.
Once the basic configuration options have been set up, you’re ready to start analyzing some songs. The software author warns the user to try this out on a few tracks before throwing your whole collection into the program. There’s no undo function, so unless you’re fearless, it’s best to follow his advice.
To begin the analysis process, navigate to the Analyze Songs screen. (This is the default start screen when the program is launched.) From here, specific directories and files can be added to the analysis queue. Once you’re done adding files and directories to the queue, clicking on the Start Processing button starts the analysis.
For a large music collection, track analysis could take days. On a moderately powered IBM T40 laptop with an external USB 2.0 drive, it took about two days for Mixed In Key to process my test library of 1900 songs. Although it does take a long time for audio analysis to complete, you can temporarily navigate to other screens in the program while analysis continues should you so desire.
Once Mixed In Key has finished processing your audio files, you can navigate to the Browse Collection screen to see the results. Your newly processed tracks will appear in a new collection on the left side of the window. Clicking on a collection name displays the tracks within that collection, along with their key, BPM, and date added information. You can also do a general search from this screen.
You might be asking yourself what the funny notation is under the key column in the track list. This is actually a form of key notation known as the Camelot Easymix system. Instead of needing to know that D Major’s relative minor key is B Minor, or that D Major is a fourth apart from G Major and a fifth apart from A Major, you can use the Easymix notation to easily determine these harmonic relationships.
In the Easymix system, if two tracks have a relative major/minor relationship, they will be a single alphabetic letter apart. For example, the key codes of 10B and 10A have this relationship. Likewise, if two tracks have a fourth or fifth relationship, they will be a single digit apart. For example, 10B and 9B are a fourth apart and 10B and 11B are a fifth apart. Also, just like a clock, the number 12 is next to the number 1, so 12A is compatible with 1A.
The point of all this is that learning the Easymix system is a whole lot easier than memorizing complex key relationships (ie. C Major and A Minor have a relative minor/major relationship). By having key compatibility information available to you in Easymix notation, you’ll be able to come up with harmonically compatible mixes very quickly. And as any DJ in a live situation knows, finding your next track quickly is important.
If you’re still not sure what the Easymix system is all about, you can learn more about it on the Camelot Music web site or by reading about it in the program tutorial. You can access this tutorial by clicking on the Read Tutorial button at the top of the Mixed In Key window.
If you’re a trained musician or simply aren’t interested in the Easymix system, you can revert to using standard key notation in the track listing by right clicking on a track and choosing either “Views keys as Flat” or “View keys as Sharp.” Please note, however, that Mixed In Key currently does not support ID3 tagging your MP3 files with anything but Easymix notation.
And that’s about it. I don’t have much to say yet about its accuracy. I do know that the key detection code is licensed from an established vendor (zplane) so it does have an established track record. However, there has been some controversy in the past over how accurate the product is in comparison to Rapid Evolution and Mixmeister. That being said, your mileage may vary.
Mixed In Key does a few very specific things, and it tends to do them pretty well. It’s a solid product that I think every remixer, mashup artist, and digital DJ should own. My only misgiving is that I think it’s expensive, but if you’re serious about taking your mixing to the next level, then the money is definitely well spent. And while it probably won’t eliminate all “key clashes, out-of-key vocals and muddy mixes,” Mixed In Key really will help you come close!
- Easy to use
- Your mixes will sound better
- Both Mac OS X (Universal Binary) and Windows XP support
- Easymix notation support
- A bit slow
- No demo version available
- Limited file support (no FLAC, OGG, etc.)
- Limited tagging options
- Expensive ($58)