If you want to beat-mix like a club DJ without developing serious turntable skills, computer software that automatically creates smooth transitions between songs may be the perfect solution. One such application, MixMeister Technology's MixMeister Express 6.0 ($49.95), makes it easy for novices to get good results with little effort, but it also provides adequate editing features to keep things interesting for the experimentally inclined. The only features we missed were pitch shifting and video-file mixing, both of which are supported in the costlier versions, MixMeister Studio 6.0 ($169.95) and MixMeister Pro 6.0 ($279.95).
To get started, we inserted the MixMeister Express 6.0 CD, ran the installation file, and clicked through a few setup screens, entering the supplied authorization code when prompted. Installation on our 2.3GHz Pentium 4 PC took approximately one minute. The first time we ran the software, an informative three-minute tutorial automatically launched, providing ample information for getting started with the software. MixMeister Express 6.0 worked perfectly with our consumer-grade Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Pro PC sound card.
The MixMeister Express 6.0 interface is logically divided into three main panes: Library (top left), Playlist (top right), and Timeline (bottom). To make your PC-based digital audio files available for use in MixMeister Express 6.0 projects, you click the Library pane's plus sign, then select the files you wish to add. You can add a single file or an entire folder of files, or you can set up watch folders from which files are automatically imported whenever they're copied into the specified directories. The software automatically scans each audio file to determine relevant information, such as its BPM (beats per minute). After a track has been scanned, it's available for use in any MixMeister project. During testing, the software typically took less than 10 seconds to scan each file.
To begin creating a custom mix, you drag files from MixMeister's Library pane to the Playlist pane. Any time a track is added to the Playlist pane, it also appears in the Timeline. You can drag and drop tracks within the Playlist to change their playback order in the project. When the order of tracks changes in the Playlist pane, it automatically changes in the Timeline pane as well.
MixMeister's real magic lies in its automatic track transitions, which can be selected using the orange pull-down box beneath each track title in the Playlist pane. The transition options include Short Beatmix (four measures/16 beats), Long Beatmix (eight measures/32 beats), and Crossfade. The Beatmix options gradually adjust the tempos of two adjacent tracks so that during the four or eight measures when the two tracks overlap, their beats match up, resulting in a smooth, beat-matched DJ-style transition from one track to the next. It's worth noting that adjusting a track's tempo doesn't affect its pitch. Lastly, the Crossfade function essentially creates a smooth volume transition from one track into another without adjusting the BPMs.
The only obvious snag is that tonal clashes can occur when two songs in different keys overlap during a beat-mix transition. A pitch-shifting feature would help match songs' keys as well as their tempos. When we created an ABBA mix, we worked around that limitation by being flexible about the order of tracks. When one track sounded bad transitioning into another, we simply changed the playback order. Another option is to select one of MixMeister's built-in sound effects, such as Whoosh, to help obscure any tonal maladies that occur during the transition.
The Timeline pane, which offers basic waveform-style track editing, lets you take a more hands-on approach to creating your mixes. But if you're a novice or just want to create a quick workout mix, you can get perfectly good results without ever venturing into this pane. Here you can manually adjust the durations and locations of transitions between tracks. The Snap To Beat function helps ensure that your edits don't cause beat discrepancies. You can cut, copy, and paste passages; reverse selected song segments; and adjust volume, bass, and treble levels. As with virtually all multitrack editors, you can zoom in on the waveforms for precise editing. The Undo feature makes for risk-free experiments.
MixMeister Express 6.0 allows importing of unprotected WMA, MP3, and WAV files into its library. Unlike many audio-editing applications, including the step-up versions of this software, MixMeister Express 6.0 does not support digital signal processing (DSP) plug-ins. It can export finished projects as 16-bit or 32-bit 44.1KHz WAV files or as WMA files at up to 128Kbps bit rate. Unfortunately, it can't export WMA files at higher bit rates, nor does it export to the MP3 format. The software can export finished projects to your PC's hard drive, to a connected portable audio device, such as an iPod, or to CD using its integrated burning engine. All three processes went off without a hitch in testing. It took approximately three minutes to export a 25MB project to our hard drive and approximately five minutes to export the same project to a USB MP3 player or to CD using a 40X burner.
In addition to the aforementioned multimedia tutorial, the software includes extensive digital help materials, which can be accessed via its Help menu. Free of charge, users can join the MixMeister community, Beatmixing.com, which includes active MixMeister forums as well as articles with MixMeister software tips and techniques. If a major software upgrade is made available within 30 days of your original purchase, it's free. Otherwise, upgrades range from $19.95 to $29.95, depending on how old your version is.
Considering it's every bit as addictive and fun as a good video game, MixMeister Express 6.0 is a great option for anyone who's interested in making DJ-style mixes without surmounting a formidable learning curve. Even if you don't know a beat from a measure, you can handle this software.