There's been a great sense of anticipation ever since it was announced that Ryan Elliott had been enrolled for the 88th fabric mix instalment. The American Berghain/Panorama Bar resident has grown into something of a fan favorite since 2009 following his move to Berlin from his hometown of Carleton, just outside Detroit. Much of this is down to his productions, many of which have come through Ostgut Ton—but it is his skills as a DJ, both in the studio and in the booth, that have driven him towards these higher echelons where he has long been firmly established. Evidence of these skills was laced throughout his 2014 Panorama Bar compilation, a quite stunning addition to the acclaimed series that was voted RA's top mix of 2014—and there is even more joy to be heard in this latest mix that dropped on June 17. Seamlessly blending a selection of 24 tracks, including contributions from Robert Hood, DVS1, James Ruskin and many more, Elliott affirms his place as one of the world's finest selectors. While it is common for contributions to this Artist Tips series to focus on the production side of artists, we're sure that Elliott's tips on recording a studio mix will serve many of you out there very well.
Understand the context
Is this mix being done for a certain club? Or is this mix part of a series that has a common theme? My Panorama Bar mix and my fabric mix were focused on a certain club, so it's important that you capture the energy of that club specifically. Other mixes like the old Back to Mine or DJ Kicks series can focus more on a non-club (or listening) experience. Or the older Global Underground series even focused on trying to capture the energy of a certain city during a night out. All these different contexts mean you need to approach the mix in a way that is specific to your project. If you're doing a podcast for a specific website, you should know what people usually frequent that website; or if you are doing a mix to just put on your social media or Soundcloud page (directly from you) you should have a specific idea in mind before you start the mix.
Know your audience
Who are you doing the mix for, or who is going to hear your mix? And how or where will they be listening to it? Will they be listening at home, or at their office, or in the car, or on the train? And will they be listening on headphones or on a stereo system? You need to understand your audience in the same way that you need to understand the audience that would be standing in front of you at a club. You should also remember that you are never going to totally recreate the club experience with a mix that is going to be heard outside a club, so you should always aim to try to give people something a little different because it will be listened to in a different environment.
Use tracks that you actually play in sets
I know this probably sounds like a given, but you have to make sure your mix actually sounds like you. The way you do that is by using tracks you that actually play in your sets. Try to avoid putting brand new tracks that you’ve never played before in the mix. Also, by using tracks that you actually play, you can usually ensure that the songs will hold up over time. You should really avoid making a mix that may sound dated after a few months.
Make sure the mix has a live feel
There are a million different ways to make a mix now. You can record it live on turntables, CDJs, use Traktor, or do a studio mix in Ableton or Logic. However you do the mix is up to you, but I think it's really important to make sure the mix has a live feel. It adds a human touch to the mix and gives it a little more flavor. Even if you do the mix in Ableton, you can use a MIDI controller and map the faders and knobs to the channel faders and EQs in Ableton. When you do that, you can manually fade in and EQ tracks in the Ableton file, instead of drawing them in. This can really make a difference in showing that that mix was actually done by a human.
After the mix is done, get away from it for a few days
When I do a mix it really consumes me, and when I’m done with it I feel like I’ve lived inside it during the process. I can’t judge it neutrally for a few days. Give yourself a few days away from it so that you can go back and listen to it objectively as if you didn’t make it. Then you can tell what you like or dislike about it and make changes if needed.
You can pre-order fabric 88 here.
Photos: Jimmy Mould / Nick Ensing