Sorting your playlists by Energy Level: Tutorial for DJs

Tools Needed: Mixed In Key 8

One of the most loved features of Mixed In Key is automatic Energy Level detection. We invented this idea, and got a patent on it, and then made it available for all Mixed In Key customers.

Mixed In Key analyzes your music files, and shows you the Energy Level number for each track. The numbers go from 1 to 10. You can create playlists based on these numbers and group similar vibes together.

Energy Level 1-5

The lowest Energy Level is 1. That music doesn't have a beat, and it may put everyone to sleep. You might come across these songs if you're analyzing Ambient and Chillout genres. Typically, these songs don't belong in a club DJ set.

Energy Levels 2, 3 and 4 are considered Chillout and Lounge music. It's hard to dance to them. You may hear some rhythms and some drums as you get into playing Energy Level 4, but it's usually music that's playing in restaurants. It's relaxing music.

Energy Level 5 is important. This is where people start dancing. Typically, Energy Level 5 covers some Deep House, Tropical House, and Minimal genres, as well as some types of Techno and Tech house. Level 5 is not mainstream music that you hear in most Top 40 clubs. It's music for people who love their specific genre and know how to dance to it. We consider most Level 5 songs to be underground music.

Energy Level 6 and 7

Energy Level 6 is easily danceable. At this level, the average person in the club will be able to dance to your beat. You can think of Energy Level 6 as music that's danceable but won't make people get sweaty. It's groovy, fun, but it's usually not "hands in the air" music that has everyone jumping. It's very common for Tech House, Techno and House genres because it has a constant beat, a nice bassline, and a groovy hi-hat pattern There are many DJs who play Energy Level 6 and sound amazing doing it - you can play it the entire night, and people won't get bored.

Energy Level 7 is super high-energy. The percussion and hi-hats are pumping, there's often a sidechain on the bass, and the entire dancefloor is expected to dance to it. The difference between Level 6 and Level 7 is the amount of noise and pump in the song. Level 7 is more of a party atmosphere, it's not underground music. Typical "big room" sound, including Progressive House, EDM, Trap, and other nightclub anthems are usually in the Energy Level 7 category. Think about a group of 5 girls who just walked into the club - are they going to dance? If the answer is yes, you're probably playing Level 7 or above. It's immediately danceable without getting into the mood first.

Energy 8, 9 and 10

Those are the festival anthems. When we analyzed Armin Van Buuren's DJ sets, we saw that he plays a lot of songs with Energy Level 8. The feeling of a Level 8 song is that it's powerful, it has a huge drop, a hands-in-the-air moment, and that it would feel appropriate playing it in front of 2000 people. There are lots of EDM songs that reach Level 8, but even those songs often have lower Energy Level sections. To be blunt, it's hard to dance to Energy Level 8 all night. It's exhausting. Most people who produce music at this level insert a lot of breakdowns and chillout sections into their music to give people a moment to rest.

This becomes an even bigger challenge for people who make Energy Level 9 tracks. The drop is so big that people run out of breath in 1-2 minutes. Usually, Level 9 songs are Dubstep anthems with a huge synth line. You will sound great playing Level 9 songs if your crowd is already worked into a frenzy because you played an amazing DJ set. It's not OK to just show up at the club and start playing Level 9 songs because you'll lose the crowd. You have to warm them up to it, and play Level 9 as the climax of your DJ set (if you even want to go that high).

There are lots of incredible DJs who never play Level 8 or Level 9 songs. They book massive venues and play to huge crowds. It's definitely not a requirement to play Energy Level 9 or higher, but it can sound interesting when it's done successfully.

Finally, Energy Level 10.. what can we say? In our entire collection of music bought from Beatport, we only have a few of those tracks. They are monsters. It's like a tornado coming through the speakers. If you find a way to play a Level 10 in a club, let us know.

How to play with Energy Levels in a nightclub

The most important thing is to play the right music at the right time. If it's 10 PM and the club just opened, playing an Energy Level 9 will get a nasty look from the management. There needs to be a natural progression as you build up your DJ set and entertain your listeners.

Here's our approach from 17 years of experience:

  • If you're playing in a nightclub, start with Level 5, and mix into Level 6 as people start coming in. It's great music regardless of what genre you play. The average person in the club won't get bored with Level 6, so you can play it as long as you want to.
  • If you want to get everyone on the dance floor and get excitement from the crowd, move into Level 7. This is guaranteed to be danceable and fun for your crowd if they are already warmed up.
  • Ask yourself: is it appropriate to play Energy Level 8? Those tracks are big. If you're the opening DJ, it's considered rude to play them, because it makes the headliner look bad. Let the headliner play Energy Level 8 and above.

How to move up and down in Energy Levels

Our suggestion is: one step at a time. If you're playing Energy Level 5, you can mix down into Energy Level 4, stay in the same Energy Level 5, or add more energy by playing Level 6. We don't recommend skipping from Energy Level 5 > 7, because that's too abrupt of a change. It'll sound like a different DJ got on the decks. It's overwhelming for your audience, and you might actually lose them from the dance floor.

Will people notice if you mix from Energy Level 5 to Energy Level 6? Yes, they will. There's usually a significant difference between those levels, and people will react. If you skip a level, it might be too harsh to enjoy.

How do top DJs use this technique?

We analyzed Armin Van Buuren from Ultra Festival 2017, and he played: 7, 8, 8, 8, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8, 8, 7, 7, 8, 7, 7. It shows that his set preparation keeps Energy Level in mind for sure - he's always going up or down 1 step. Armin's average Energy Level was 7.5 across his entire DJ set.

We analyzed a classic Skrillex DJ set from 2015, and got these numbers from Mixed In Key: 8, 8, 8, 8, 7, 7, 9, 9, 8, 8, 7, 8, 7, 7, 4, 8, 8, 7, 7, 8, 7, 8, 7, 7, 8, 8, 7, 7, 7, 8, 4, 6, 7, 8, 6, 6, 8, 8, 7, 7, 6. What's interesting is that Skrillex gives people a break by playing an Energy Level 4 track after playing a long sequence of big festival anthems. Then, he goes back into playing a Level 6 track (jumping +2 levels). It was like a temporary pause to give people a moment to cool down. Skrillex's average Energy Level was 7.26

Martin Garrix at Ultra 2017 played the following numbers: 8, 7, 7, 7, 8, 7, 6, 7, 7, 6, 7, 7, 6, 5, 7, 8, 7, 6, 8, 7, 6, 7, 7, 8, 8, 7. He gave people a short break in the middle, and then built up the energy again. We love that. It shows that you don't have to play the same Energy Level all night, and that you have total freedom in how you sequence your DJ sets. The most important thing to see is that he's usually mixing +1 or -1, and not jumping 6 > 8 too much. Martin's average was 7.0

Calvin Harris plays music with a lot of breakdowns and sing-along parts, so his Energy Levels look lower than other mainstage artists. He played 6, 6, 5, 7, 6, 6, 6, 7, 6, 6, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 7, 7, 5. It was a super-exciting DJ set even though the Energy Levels average only 6.22. People's ears (and feet!) will quickly get used to the Energy Level you're playing. As we mentioned in our tutorial earlier, Level 6 is perfectly danceable.

Let's look at one more example. The trance legend Dash Berlin played 5, 7, 7, 7, 8, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8, 7, 7, 8, 7, 7, 7, 8, 7, 8, 8, 8, 7. Notice how he started slow, and finished strong. That's an example of a great progression in your DJ sets.

Does it work with Hip Hop and Open Format?

Yes. The same principles apply when you're playing classic Jay-Z tracks and mixing into the latest Trap. Keep your energy level consistent, use your Mixed In Key playlists, and you're going to perform an amazing DJ set.

Analyze your music with Mixed In Key

Use the latest version of Mixed In Key 8 to analyze your music files and detect the automatic Energy Level for every song. This meta-data will show up in your Pioneer CDJs, your Serato, Traktor and Rekordbox libraries, and inside ID3 tags of all your MP3s. It's so easy to get started, and it'll lead to a lifetime of better mixing.

Hope you enjoyed our latest tutorial! Please tell your friends about our software. Thank you.

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