Along with the volume faders, the equalization knobs on your mixer are among the most commonly used features. EQ allows you to surgically control the high, mid and low frequencies’ presence in the room. But it is also used creatively to build tension and release. Check out a few techniques to use your EQ pots creatively when learning to DJ.
A hard swap can seriously stoke the crowd if it’s timed well. A hard swap is when you quickly trade the EQ range of one track for another one. For example, cutting the bass suddenly on Track A while dropping it on Track B. It’s not very common in EDM, deep house, progressive house and trance. Within these genres, it’s more common to do one of two things: either slowly crossfade the bass while running the intro of one track over the outro of another. Or to cut the bass of track A entirely and let the mids and highs run until dropping the bass of track B over them. So if you’re looking for a fun way to bring in a new track, minimize that time interval and see what your crowd thinks about it.
Bringing it back
DJing typically follows quite a linear format. Track A becomes Track B becomes a new Track A. One underused technique is a throwback. A throwback is when you bring back the bassline or mids of an earlier track. It’s something that should find its way into everyone’s set at least once, especially if it’s a recently released track that’s not too familiar. Or one of your own! The effect is that the crowd tends to perk up because they’ve already been primed by hearing the track earlier. Don’t overdo it, and definitely don’t play back the entire song you’ve already played. It’s just a way to tickle the listening part of your crowd a bit while also showing off some of your technical chops. Pick a track with a distinctive, recognizable bassline that you played earlier. Cut the highs and let it run for 32 bars over your next track. Then plough on with the mix. It’s just a nice little easter egg for those who are paying attention.
Anticipation And Phrasing
Using the high-pass (aka low-cut) filter to cut the low end during a breakdown and create anticipation is one of the oldest and most reliable tricks in a DJ’s repertoire. When will the bass drop? This is the question that stokes a dance crowd. For a DJ, the answer is all about timing. Too soon, and you lose some suspense and hype. Too late, and people start wandering off the floor. There really is a precise, predictable time to drop the bass. It’s almost always going to be an increment of 8 bars from when you cut it. So, either 16 bars, 32 bars or even 48 bars for super drawn out suspense.
The important thing when doing this is the length of the phrase. If a melodic or harmonic passage lasts for 8 bars, it’s up to you how long you want to draw it out. But if it only starts to repeat after 16 bars, dropping the bass in the middle of the phrase might have the effect of losing your audience’s attention. The majority of your audience wants predictability, not creativity. Execute the most time-worn tricks until you’re in the position that you’re surrounded by a regular audience which is asking for something more personal.
For students of online DJ courses who are starting out with performance EQing, it’s better to practicing mixing if one of your two tracks is a glue track. Glue tracks generally don’t have a lot of harmonic content and therefore mix well with a broad range of other tracks. They’re mainly rhythmic, easy-going and allow you to focus on EQing the other track while they ‘hold the fort’ in the background. Get good at matching the sounds of two tracks. And every so often, throw an elbow. The audience is there to dance, but also to see what you’re up to. Give it to ‘em!
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.