Best Practices for DJ Effects

Best Practices for DJ Effects

So, you may be been watching the World Cup 2014 (specifically the Switzerland vs France game) and happened to read my post on how to beatmatch like a pro DJ.   Now knowing how to use effects is the next thing.  Knowing the best practices for DJ effects can greatly help a DJ make beautiful transitions between each track… but only if they are used correctly.  The most common effects DJs use are the flanger, echo/delay, reverb, low-pass/high-pass filter, and beat repeat.  Note the beat repeat can be done in different ways, but each of these result in the same effect.  I will explain each of these below.

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To summarize, I am going to go over these best practices for DJ effects:

  • Flanger
  • Echo/delay
  • Reverb
  • Low pass/high-pass filter
  • Beat repeat

NOTE: If you have not read my article on the #1 rule for DJ effects, then check that out before proceeding any further.  It will definitely help you improve your use of DJ effects as the tips and tricks I show you are essential in the knowing the best practices for DJ effects.

Flanger

Sound:  The sound the flanger gives is a “woosh” sound.  This is done by resampling the track and playing the resample slightly delayed (about 20 milliseconds) from the original track.  This gives a comb effect which produces the “woosh” sound you hear when enabling the effect.

How to use:  Depending on your mixer or effects processor, there is a “dry/wet” knob.  When the flanger is enabled, turning the knob from dry to wet will allow the “woosh” to be produced.  The “woosh” will be more pronounced the closer the knob is turned to “wet.”  Some effects processors also have a built in LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) which can be set to match the beat of the song.  The LFO can then control the amount of “wet/dry” for that track.  For example, if the LFO was set to 16 beats, it would take 16 beats for the flanger to go from dry to wet.  This is an automatic process and very helpful if you need the hand turning the dry/wet knob for some other task.  Using LFOs with the flanger can be very helpful and is utilized in a lot of the best practices for DJ effects that I am going to show you.

When to use: Although the flanger can be used for transitions, most DJs typically use it during the build up or breakdown of a track.  However, after you create your own style then you may want to use it in another part of the song.  This is totally fine, however I highly recommend ensuring you are in time while you use your DJ effects.

Why to use: This gives the DJ control to add their own touch to the track.  The flanger can add depth and energy to the buildup of the track, or add emotion by drawing out the breakdown of a track.

Note about flanger:  Some flangers sound different than others.  I really like the sound of Behringer’s flangers while the flanger on Pioneer and Numark equipment is not as good sounding to me.  So, if I use a piece of Pioneer or Numark equipment, I will not use their flangers as much.  This personal preference, and you can decide to do what you like.  Just remember that these best practices for DJ effects are not set in stone… they are just very common among pro DJs.

Echo/delay

Sound: The echo/delay effect is often used in many DJ sets a like and common among one of the best practices for DJ effects.  The sound of an echo/delay is a continuation or repeat of the track over the original track when the echo/delay effect is enabled.

How to use:  Turning the dry/wet knob from dry to wet will increase the amount of echo or delay (the amount of signal) in the mix.  For example, having the dry/wet knob at dry, then turning it half way between dry and wet will give half the amount of the echo/delay signal.  Turning the dry/wet knob all the way to the right will produce the full available signal for the echo/delay.  This can be really cool and give you more control over the effect.  If you don’t want as much echo/delay coming through, keep the knob closer to the dry side of the dry/wet knob.  If you want more echo/delay, then turn the knob closer to the wet side of the dry/wet knob.

When to use:  Using the full single (turning the knob all the way to the wet side) is on of the best practices for DJ effects while using echo/delay.  Furthermore, another best practice is to use it on the last 4 or 2 beats of a 32 beat segment  (so the 29th or 31st beat).  This will give a full sounding mix and not give an unfinished feeling to the transition.  You can also use the echo/delay at any part in the song, but sometimes this can make it feel bit clunky of a mix.  If you do use the echo/delay in the middle of the track, I would suggest not giving the full amount of single (all the way to the wet side of the dry/wet knob), but give partial signal (1/3 or ½ the way to the wet side of the dry/wet knob).

Why to use:  The echo/delay is used in order to connect two pieces of music together.  For example, if you are mixing one track (track 1) into track 2 and need a good way to transition them, using the echo/delay is a great way to do so.  Right before you plan to transition the track 1 into track 2, enable the echo/delay 4 or 2 beats before the planned ending for track 1 (NOTE: make sure you only have the echo/delay enabled on track 1).  So now since track 1 and track 2 are both playing at the same time,  let the echo plays for 4 or 2 beats on track 1, then press pause and it will trail off into track 2 which will be playing.  This is a great way to have a solid transition which sounds clean and smooth.  Utilizing the echo/delay is essential in being one of the best practices for DJ effects.

Note about Echo/delay:  Some may be confused about the difference between echo and delay as they are very similar and can be used in very similar situations.  To clarify this, here are the main differences:

  • Echo: Echo repeats the signal multiple times as it slowly diffuses into nothing.  For example, if the word “Yeah” is used with an echo effect, it will go, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” with the fifth “Yeah” being much more quiet than the first “Yeah.”  Also, the first “Yeah” will not change its position or be delayed.
  • Delay: Delay repeats the original signal, but only does so once and does not fade out.  For example, using the word “Yeah” again except with a delay effect it would be, ”Yeah.” That’s right, no multiple Yeahs.  However, one difference is the position that the Yeah would be played.  For the echo, the first “Yeah” did not change its position/wasn’t delayed.  With the delay, the “Yeah” may be played a few seconds later then when it was recorded.  This doesn’t seem like it would do much, but it is a full song playing, then you can definitely hear the delay when enabled as it sounds a bit…. well… delayed!

Reverb

Sound: Reverb gives the effect the song is being played in a huge cathedral or big room (depends on whatever reverb is selected).  Either way, this adds depth to the track being played, giving it a “roomy” appearance.

How to use:  Just like the other effects, the closer the knob is moved to the wet side of the dry/wet knob, the more reverb signal there will be.  However, sometimes there is another knob which will allow you to change the time for the reverb.how-a-reverb-looks

The more time added to the reverb, the larger of a room it will sound like the sound is being played in.

When to use:  In the realm of the best practices for DJ effects, the reverb is best used when transitioning two effects together, or during the breakdown of a song.  For transitioning two effects together, having the reverb enabled on track 1 AND track 2 will allow you to do a nice transition between the two.  Slowly enable reverb on track 1.  Also, have the reverb enabled on track 2.  Slow bring up the volume of track 2, then bring down the volume of track 1.  Finally, slowly decrease the reverb on track 1 and then you will have a nice mix as track 2 will be the only track in the mix.  Keep in mind that with reverb you still want to keep the timing right (starting on the first beat of the 32 beat segment), however it is not as important.  This is because the reverb will mash the song together so the beats of the song will not be as distinct.

Using reverb on the breakdown can also add a very cool, mellow, and soft presence to the breakdown.  Since the breakdown is typically softer, and decreases the energy, using the reverb here is perfect for this.

Why to use:  Reverb can mash two songs together of a different BPM as it makes the sounds so euphoric that the beats of the song cannot usually be heard through the effect.  This can be helpful when you need to drop to a certain BPM or jump up to a higher BPM.  Also, reverb can decrease energy and make the sound softer by adding more resonance.  This is why the reverb is perfect for the breakdowns and can be used to intensify the emotion the breakdown withholds.

Low-pass/high-pass filter

Sound: The low-pass filter is the effect that makes the track sound like it is going under water.  Conversely, the high-pass filter is the effect that makes it sound like the track is becoming increasingly thinner.

How to use:  Low-pass and high-pass filters are great and can be used in the same way.  With this being said, I will refer to them as the filter (this meaning low-pass or high-pass).  Filters can be used with transitions, breakdowns, buildups, or any other part in the song to build tension in energy of the crowd.  For transitions, this is done by applying the filter on the “the one” of the 32 beat count. low-pass-filter-eq

Note that you can also use this on the 17th beat, but anything else won’t sound as good as the transition will be to quick.  Of course this is my preference, but drawing out filters to using them with 32 beats or 16 beats is what I think is one of the best practices for DJ effects such as filters.  If you’re confused about my references to “the one” and 17th beat, then refer to my article on the importance of musical time called: #1 Rule for DJ Effects.  However, as I stated in my article on style, you may prefer having shorter transitions with your filters, so maybe you’ll only apply it for the last 4 beats or 2 beats.

When to use:  So, apply the filter to track 1 for 32 beats, but keep it on dry of the dry/wet knob.  Then apply the filter to track 2 as well and keep it on wet of the dry/wet knob.  Now, match the beats of the two tracks (click here if you need to know how to beatmatch), and slowly start to bring up the volume of track 2.  This is going to be filtered out, so you will only hear whatever frequencies are not being filtered out in the mix (the mix as in what is coming through the speakers).  Once track 1 and track 2 are both playing through the mix, turn the wet/dry knob of track 1 to wet, while simultaneously turning the wet/dry knob of track 2 to dry.  I always do this slowly as I feel it builds more tension and sounds better.  Do as you please.  After track 1 is on wet and track 2 is on dry, you will only be able to hear track 2 in the mix.  Now, slowly bring down track 1’s volume.  This is one of the best practices for DJ effects.  There you go, you used filters to transition!

You can also use filters during the breakdown or buildup of a track.  Do so by having the filter on wet, and right before the climax of the buildup hits, or when the breakdown starts to build up again, turn the filter from wet to dry which will allow you to control the sound of the buildup.  You can also play around with the filter in different parts of the song.  This is one of the best practices for DJ effects like filters – its sounds great!

Why to use:  The filter is a great effect.  I used at every one of my gigs.  This should be used often too because it is a very popular effect.  My favorite is to use it to bring out the “unce, unce” sound of a song.  Most people use that sound to associate being at the club, so use it!  Really fun, and the crowd loves it!

Note about filters:  If using the low-pass filter, experiment with pulling out the low-end of the track (the bass) when having the low-pass filter on wet.  This way you can make sure the mix isn’t too muddy!

Beat repeat

Sound:  The beat repeat essentially sounds like a beat repeating at a quick pace. These are what creates the effect that would stutter a word or beat.  For example, in the case of the word, “Yeah.” It would go “Y-Y-Y-Yeah.”

How to use:  Typically the best practices for DJ effects will repeat beats in 1 beat, ½ beat, ¼ beat, 1/8 beat, 1/16 beat, and 1/32 beat intervals.  Depending on your effects processor, you select which interval you want to repeat, then, once you enable the effect, the beat will be repeated.  It’s pretty straightforward, but takes times to get the timing down.beat-repeat-dj-effect

When to use:  These can be used at any part in the song, but I really enjoyed using them when transitioning tracks.  For example, if track 1 and track 2 are playing together in a mix I would enable the beat repeat on track 1.  Right in the last 16 beats of track 1 (the track I was transitioning out of), I would start the beat repeat on the 17th beat.  Typically this would be the ½ beat.  Then, once I hit the last 8 beats, I would switch it to the ¼ beat on the 7th beat.  At the last 4 beats, I would switch it to the 1/8 beat on the 3rd beat.  This is one of the best practices for DJ effects.  After it reached the end of the 32 beats, I would then switch solely to track 2.

At times throughout song, you can also do a ¼ beat stutter, just for 1 to 2 beats, which sounds really nice – another one of the best practices for DJ effects.

Why to use:  Using the beat repeat gives your mix more energy and allows you to add your own artistic feel to the tracks.  Also, as such with the filters, the beat repeat is one of those “iconic” DJ effects that everyone knows about.  With this being said, it will be a very popular effect that you can use.  Test it out and make your own best practices for DJ effects!  Just remember, timing is critical with this effect.

Note about the beat repeat:  The 1/16 and 1/32 beat repeat intervals were ones I did not use much.  This was because they would repeat the beat so fast that it is hard to distinguish what it is.  This can be cool in some instances, but it is typically not one of the best practices for DJ effects.  Just keep that in mind, but do as you please.

So I showed you how to use the flanger, echo/delay, reverb, low-pass/high-pass filter, and beat repeat, use these best practices for DJ effects to help improve your DJing!  Just remember one last thing.  Effects are like anything – too much of them can be a bad thing.  With this being said, only use bits of them here and there.  A DJ who uses too many effects can become annoying to the crowd!

There you have it.  Now let’s see you put these best practices for DJ effects to work!

 

DJ Whrr
DJ Whrr
Starting at the ripe age of 15, I (DJ Whrr) started my DJ career. After buying up high quality equipment and teaching myself how to mix, I soon hit the DJ scene. From DJing graduations and weddings, to clubs and house parties, I tried it all! I have performed at many venues including the Filmore in Detroit, MI the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI and 5th Quarter in Ann Arbor, MI (if you want me to connect you with any of these venues, I’ll do my best – just shoot me an email in the lower right-hand corner). Finally, I also taught DJing at the University of Michigan for a little while. All these things inspired me to create How to DJ Quickly for DJs to learn online. However, aside from DJing, I am passionate about teaching others. This is why I created How to DJ Quickly. Starting out DJing can be tough (trust me, I know). Whether you are confused about DJ Equipment, How To Mix, How To Mix Like A DJ, Getting DJ gigs, or just need General DJ News, Tips, and Tricks and information about the DJ Lifestyle, I will help you! I know what it is like to be a each skill level and I want to help all! This is why beginners, novices, and experts can use How to DJ Quickly to learn more about DJing! Like I said, I am here to help, so if you have any questions, please email me using my email which you can find on my: "Questions? Contact Me." page. Check out How to DJ Quickly for more!
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