Using software effects while DJing is about more than just slapping a reverb or flanger on the mix at a random time. Like transitioning and EQing, effects should be practiced and used sparingly to create significant moments in your set. Check out a few tips for using effects effectively.
Saving your effects
Learning to DJ generally begins with beatmatching and transitioning. Effects usually come a bit later. So when you’re ready to start customizing your effects, here’s a tip. The more time you spend preparing your set, the less time you’ll spend mousing around while DJing live. The ideal set is one where you don’t touch the mouse even once. Effects can be saved. Traktor has a great way of preserving your effect craftwork. The ‘Save Snapshot’ feature will allow you to keep tweaking but return to your favorite effects groups whenever you want. Your library of saved effects shouldn’t contain anything that you don’t use pretty regularly. Otherwise you’ll spend time hunting for something on your drive when you could be checking out the crowd. Customize your library. More prep means more fun.
Effects by genre
Marcro effects are a combination of two or more effects. In Ableton Live, they’re auto-mapped to the 8 knobs of your APC controller. In Traktor you can select from a list of awesome macro effects to bring fun and interesting combinations of space and modulation effects to your set. These effects are generally pretty whack and out the box, and the tendency is to overuse them. So, you’ll want to use them at appropriate times and for appropriate genres. Beat-masher and loop-slicer effects tend to work better in musical genres which have bigger gaps (silences) in the beat. Unlike deep house, which generally uses sustained harmonies, genres like rap and dubstep contain more aggressive rhythms and breaks. For these styles, it’s more appropriate to use beat chopping so that you can take advantage of the play between silence and sound. For smoother styles, reverb build-ups and space effects work better.
Resetting with effects
DJing dance music is about phrasing, which is being aware of where you are in the 8, 16 or 32-bar loop. Along with performance EQing, effects can help you sound great when you use them to demonstrate that your phrasing is on top form. Use effects during the last 2-4 bars of your phrase and cut them off for the start of the next phrase. This is called a ‘reset’ or a ‘palette cleanser’ moment. For example, use a filter sweep or a reverb tail at the end of the phrase and cut it off harshly in time for the drop. If it’s a well known track, using effects in this way informs and reminds your audience that you’re being active and gives them a sense of your musical identity.
At a glance, overusing effects is the hallmark of guys and girls who are learning to DJ and who want to be noticed and have fun more than they want to curate a background vibe. Whichever side you identify with more (and both are cool), use effects in your set appropriately and watch the crowd come alive.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.