For a DJ, using DJ effects can dramatically enhance the way your music sounds both in the mix and during transitions from one track to another. At first, using effects can be tricky, but the more you practice and master the art of using effects the more creativity and expression you can add to your sound.
While some DJs do not use effects at all, there are DJs that overuse their effects which can hinder rather than enhance your performance. This is something to keep in mind when practising, less is more in regards to DJ effects.
Below we have written a short and informative guide to DJ effects, we will be explaining what they are and how they are used. We will then take you through some of the popular and distinguished effects used by DJs across the world.
What Is A DJ Effect?
Effects used by DJs alter and change the sound of a track in an extensive number of ways, the most common of which is known as EQing – this is when you use a high pass filter to cut out the lows or a low pass filter to cut out the highs.
There is an array of effects that can be applied to a track, all of which have a different result on the audio signal, some of the core effects are;
- Time Based Effects – Delay, Reverb & Echo
- Dynamic Effects – Distortion & Compression
- Modulation Effects – EQ & Panning
- Filters – High and Low Pass
Almost all software and hardware of any level will come with at least some basic effects, with the more advanced and professional equipment adding an ever-growing amount to their devices. This can be daunting for a beginner DJ, but the more you practice and learn the basics the more fluent and effectively you can use them effectively.
Effects add a lot of creativity to your sound when used correctly, remember to not overuse them, less is definitely more when it comes to effects.
If you’re in the process of looking for a DJ controller, having a selection of good effects is definitely something to think about, at the beginning you may not use them often but as you progress as a DJ you will realise what they can add to your sets. Below are a few buying guides to DJ controllers of all levels.
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Controlling The Effects
In order to control the effects being used, there are a few controls you will need to become familiar with;
The button is as simple as it sounds when the button is active the desired effect will be applied to the track, whilst when it is inactive there will be no effect on the track.
FX Select Control
This allows you to choose the desired effect, on hardware this normally comes in the form of a knob and the number of effects varies on the device whilst most software comes with an array of effects built-in.
This tells the device or software where you would like the effect applied to for example you can assign it individually to deck A or deck B or to the mic while some devices or software have a master setting which means the effect is applied to all outputs.
Tempo controls are a vital part of music in general, using them with effects is an extremely effective way of manipulating and reshaping the sound. You can time the effect to the beat of the music, or you can choose how frequent the effect occurs, for example, every 1/2 beat or every 4 beats.
Wet & Dry Controls
The wet and dry signals control the amount of effect applied to the track. A dry or dryer signal means less or no effect will be applied whilst a wet or wetter signal will mean more of the effect is applied to the track, these are sometimes referred to as FX levels depending on the device or software being used.
Parameters & Color FX
Some but not all DJ controllers come with a sound colour FX and a parameter knob to adjust and fine-tune the FX to your liking, check out our comprehensive reviews on Pioneer’s DDJ-RZX and Denon’s Prime 4 for more on this.
Let’s take a look at some of the more popular effects used by DJs, what they do and how they can be used in the mix.
Starting out with the well-known filters, these are used often by DJs in order to change and manipulate sound, the most commonly used in DJing are high and low pass filters. How a filter works is when it is applied it will alter and control the harmonics of whatever signal is being passed through it, the most common being a hi-pass and low pass filters which allow you to block out low and high frequencies respectively.
Filters are used frequently by DJs in a myriad of ways, they can be used during breakdowns, enhancing a vocal or a particular frequency an instrument is emitting, or they can be used to create tension and anticipation before the DJ brings the music back in. They can also be helpful during transitions from one track to another, the DJ can adjust, refine and tweak the filters to create new frequencies and sounds.
Like anything, this takes practise to master and will enhance your abilities in mixing, a great tool for any DJ.
Have you ever been in a cave and shouted your name? You will hear the sound reflected from the surface again and again back to the listener and it will begin to slowly fade out into nothing – this is exactly the same in music, it can also be referred to as a delay as well as an echo and can be applied to a section of music that will repeat until it slowly fades away.
Echo or delay is a clear and easily distinguished effect, and when used correctly, it is extremely effective in creating atmosphere and drama in the set. It is a key effect and is the basis for other effects such as Chorus and Reverb. The duration of the effect is applied by the DJ using the FX controls, this can be manipulated in many ways in order to create a sense of depth and space in a mix.
Delays and echos are fun effects to play around and practice with, they can be used to help during transitions between tracks, they can be used to fill out the vocals or in creating a swirling type sound to synths.
The reverb has an amazing effect on the sound, so much so that has been used by many musicians over the years to create some of the most stunning and well-known music of all time.
Reverberations are created when a sound occurs in space, the sound then bounces and reflects off the surfaces which decrease in volume until it eventually dies off. For example, if you play music in a cathedral or a tunnel compared to an outside venue you will have an idea of what reverb is, does and can do.
Reverb is used by DJs to provide depth and space in your mix and can create an atmospheric and expressive environment, it generally makes the mix sound bigger and more full. It can be used to help create smooth seamless transitions between tracks, to build up anticipation for a drop or ambience and space during a breakdown, this is commonly used in EDM music.
Flanger & Phaser
We have coupled this together as they sound alike but there are some key differences between them;
- Phasers are frequency based and works with a phase delay while a flanger works on a time based delay.
- Phasers uses all pass filters that create peaks and notches in the sound while a flanger doubles the the input signal to create peaks and notches in the sound.
Flanging was introduced by the Beatles whilst the voice of C-3P0 from Star Wars was created by taking the actors voice and applying a phaser, both effects were made famous in the guitar world.
A flanger will copy a signal and mix the signal with a delayed version of itself creating a swooshing or drainpipe sweeping effect similar to the phaser which again splits the audio signals into two paths and treats one path with an all-pass filter, again creating a swooshing or jet plane effect similar to a flanger.
Both are used by DJs to create a sweeping, swirly and ambient sound and the soundwaves can be modified in length and depth using the FX controls. Another effect that can be fun to practice with and very effective to use when mastered.
Using DJ Effects For Transitions
One of the most common effects used are filters, these are used in order to remove elements of one track, i.e the main track playing in order to introduce other elements from the other track, for example, cutting the bass from one track and introducing the bass from the other track, this is a great way to control the energy of the mix.
You then can use time-based effects such as delays, echoes or reverbs to aid you in transitioning, these can be applied to vocals or synths on one track i.e the main track in order to assist you in subtly bringing in elements from the cued track which helps create seamless transitions.
Modulation based effects such as flangers and phasers help in transitions, they create a euphonious and melodic sound when applied to different frequencies and elements in the tracks.
Remember to use the FX control parameters, these will allow you to control the amount of influence the effects have on the sound, too much can lead to distortion or clipping, while delicate and creative use of DJ effects can take your mixing and DJing skills to another level.
Begin by practising and playing around with the effects on your hardware or software, apply different effects to different frequencies, from the lows through the mids and to the highs. There are multiple parameters and controls to be used with FX to manipulate the sound, adding extra elements and layers to the mix.
Start out with a simple straightforward track, you could even loop a particular phrase and apply different effects to it, using the FX controls in order to see what they sound like and how much they change the sound.
Practising this will help to give you a deeper understanding of how effects, when used in the right way can reshape and modify your sound, you will have endless fun exploring new effects, finding out what works for you and what doesn’t, eventually, you will master the use of effects and using effects is another important skill you will have in your DJ arsenal.
As much as effects can enhance your sound by allowing you to manipulate a track in multiple ways, be sure not to overuse effects, they can lead to your mix sounding messy with no rhythm or structure.
We hope you have learned something from this short guide and can take some of the information away and apply it to your mixing in order to become the best DJ you can be… now it’s time to have fun and get practising.
Thanks for reading.