Every time you load a track, you’ll need to do level control to make sure you neither blow the room away nor lose the dancers. But levels aren’t all there is to matching the vibe of the previous track. You’ll want to spend a bit of time fine-tuning your EQ. There are tracks in everyone’s set that require serious work. Let’s check out a few techniques to adjust the lows, mids and highs of your set in a surgical way in order to tame problem songs and add consistency to your overall sound.
Know Your Songs
Equalization is a tool used primarily to clean the sound of a track. Many tracks now are self-produced and haven’t had the luxury of being tested out in professionally treated acoustic spaces. The result is that a track can sound good in the creator’s home studio and on Beatport. But when played through a high-end system or in a club environment, problems with EQ can cause ear fatigue. When you’re compiling your set, you should obviously be listening for songs you like, but also for any potential EQ issues. If it helps, make a note on your phone or in the software so you can anticipate problem tracks up ahead in your set. The art of EQing is preparation.
EQ Real Estate
The frequency spectrum is often separated out into four bands: lows, low mids, high mids and highs. Often, the problem is in the high mids. There’s a harshness or crunchiness to this range. This may be because of poor production, but it’s also where all the melodic content (and most of the harmonic content) in a song lives. In the high mids, there are a lot of different frequencies competing for space. It’s a busy part of town! This makes a track which immediately begins with harmonic or melodic content pretty difficult to mix with one that’s ending. The high mids of one will clash with the high mids of the other.
One technique for addressing this harshness is to roll back the mids before you drop the next track. Dial the new track back to 9 o’clock (ie turn the knob so it faces to the left). Give it a listen through your cans, but if you’re unsure, also take a quick walk around the front of the desk to give it a listen through the front of house speakers. A large part of learning to DJ is track selection. The rest is making sure your mix sounds smooth on different systems.
One of the first things you learn when bringing a new song in is to cut the lows. This is because low frequencies on two different tracks don’t play well together. There’s too much competition for the space, and bass frequencies are the bane of music producers the world over. So once you’ve mastered the art of taming the lows, the next place to focus your efforts is on the mids. Being a student of DJing requires patience and above all, good listening skills. If you aren’t already riding that mid pot every time you bring in a new track, you might be subtly scaring off people standing close to the speakers, right where you want them.
Getting good is about repeating your good habits and cutting your bad ones. The most common bad habit is laziness for the sake of looking cool. But your fans will outgrow this, and hopefully you will too. DJing is about curating a vibe for an audience, large or small. Use techniques like a surgical approach to EQ to treat your work as an artform instead of a medium for fame and popularity. You’re more likely to stand out of the crowd and wind up enjoying it.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.