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Use DJ Tricks in Your Production

June 30, 2014
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Spice up your original music by processing tracks in DJ software

Fig. 1. Image Line Deckadance 2 works as a VST instrument within a DAW, but its other advantages include the ability to effect the high, mid, and low frequencies independently. A demo version is available.
Even if you’re not a DJ, the effects within many DJing programs can lend your own music—either individual tracks or full mixes—some finishing touches that you may not find in your regular DAW and plug-ins (see Figure 1). Almost all of the programs offer uncompressed audio recording, so you can record your effects and bring the audio back into an editor. Native Instruments’ Traktor Pro (see Figure 2) sets the gold standard for DJ effects, but there are also very valuable effects in Serato’s various iterations, MixVibes Virtual DJ and Cross, One DJ, etc. You may have a limited version of one of these lying around from a MIDI controller you purchased, or you can often try a demo version before buying.

Fig. 2. Traktor Pro 2 offers all the basics, as well as wild, professional sound-design-grade effects. In Single effect mode, they offer the most variety of any DJ software and are amazing for remixes or transforming any song into usable but unrecognizable samples. A demo version runs for 30 minutes at a time.
Fun With Torque
Even digital-age kids know the sound of a song slowly coming to a stop as a turntable winds down. It’s been used on plenty of popular productions, and in many DJ programs, it’s available as an effect. For example, in MixVibes Cross 2.6 and Virtual DJ, it’s called Brake (see Figure 3), and Braker in Serato DJ. Turn the effect on, and the song comes to a “stop” as if it were being played on a turntable. However, the song doesn’t actually stop. It’s still playing in what some software calls “slip mode,” meaning that when an effect or other performance technique is applied, the song continues to play in the background. So when you turn off the Brake effect, the song resumes play in the position it would be in if the effect was never applied.

Fig. 3. The Turntable Braker, or Brake Effect, as seen here in MixVibes Virtual DJ, works great for creative pitching, transitions, censoring words, and more. The free Virtual DJ Home version includes effects.
A knob controls the length of the Brake effect, ranging from a few seconds to near-instant. You could of course use this effect simply as a different kind of fade-out to end a song, but in combination with slip mode in DJ software, you can get a lot more creative with it. By playing with the effect length and engaging/disengaging the effect rhythmically, you can use Brake as a sound effect to give vocals or instruments an alien, paranormal sound, enhance the lead-up to transitions within a full mix, or add a twist to part of a drum loop. While mastery of the effect is rather simple, it holds plenty of potential.

Brake could also be used to censor words if you’re creating a clean version of a vocal. You can hear an example of this effect on the vocal of Will.I.am’s 2012 single “Scream & Shout.”

Traktor Pro’s version of this effect, called Turntable FX, includes the option to add back-and-forth record scratching with variable speed, or to do a simulated quick record rewind with the touch of a button.

Fig. 4. DJ software offers simple effect interfaces, like the Roll stutter effect in MixVibes Cross 2.6, and uncompressed audio recording so you can bring the results back into a DAW. The Cross DJ Free version includes effects.
Did I Stutter?
Let’s have some more fun with slip mode. Another common DJ software effect is call Roll in Cross (see Figure 4), Repeater in Serato DJ, or Stutter in One DJ. When engaged, the song plays in a repeated loop of varying length, and when disengaged, the song resumes playback in the position it would have been in without the effect. An effect amount control will vary the length of the continuous loop. Loop length usually ranges from 1 bar to 1/32nd note.

For incorporating into full mixes or individual tracks of a song, the stutter effect tends to work best in the shorter loop lengths. Engage/disengage the effect quickly at loop lengths of 1/16 or 1/32 to add quick fills to drums, stutter effects to vocals, or again as a creative way to censor lyrics for radio-friendly versions. With the effect engaged, play with the loop lengths going from slower-to-faster or faster-to-slower to create dramatic build-ups or transitions. If your software allows you to turn off slip mode, you may enjoy this even more as a tool for inserting build-ups. In any case, try combining this effect with other tempo-synced effects like a flanger or LFO filter.

With Traktor Pro’s Beatmasher 2 stutter effect, you have the added abilities for slices to loop in reverse playback, to warp the timing of the stutters, and to mix in gated playback of the track while the effect is on.

Effects for Sound Design Many DJ programs have effects that will allow you to mangle either your music or any music you choose into unrecognizably twisted raw sound material that you can record and pump back into your own productions. However, Traktor Pro gets a special shout out here for having the most creative and infinitely tweakable palette. Try the Reverse Grain effect, where every bar of a track can be instantly transformed into a granularly psychedelic copy of itself, or reversed and inverted so heavily it can become a new glitch-hop loop guaranteed to evade the ear of sample trainspotters. Use Transpose Stretch to turn source material into perfect fodder for dub or downbeat remixes. Traktor Pro’s macro effects, like Laser Slicer, Bass-o-Matic, Event Horizon, and others, combine different tempo-synced effects into one-knob wonders that sound like magic even to those who think they’ve heard it all.

Markkus Rovito is a frequent contributor to DJTechTools.com, and a drummer, electronic musician, and DJ.

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