It is amazing how many people don’t use EQ on the mixer, but even more interesting to see how a lot of DJs don’t use EQ correctly or effectively. When used in a creative way EQ can really help support your DJing to a new level of expertise.
What Does EQ Mean in DJing?
EQ stands for Equalizer. EQ switches on a DJ mixer adjusts loudness in decibels of low, mid and high frequencies within the audio spectrum. EQ filters are controlled by 3 dedicated knobs on a DJ mixer for each channel. It allows control of frequencies of each music track playing per turntable.
Using EQ can support better DJing mixes of one song to another. It’s actually a really great foundational skill to have as a DJ. I love using the EQ to blend Drum & Bass tracks together, but I know it’s not always as effective for all genres. So if you’re wondering “How do I use EQ when mixing?” then let’s delve into some ideas and tips for using EQing effectively for DJing.
Before we get into the EQing tips for DJing, we need to explore some of the basic points of audio and definitions surrounding EQ and audio.
Sound is produced by waves vibrating at different frequencies interpreted by our ears. Different instruments create varying frequencies, however if two of the same frequencies are played at the same time then the audio increases in loudness, or decibels (dB).
As you get to practice using EQ on a DJ mixer, you’ll notice how twisting the EQ levels anti-clockwise reduce the volume of a specific frequency and clockwise to increase the volume of the frequency.
This is where EQ is important for DJs to know how to control EQ effectively allowing the overall sound of a DJ mix to be smooth throughout the entire mix. Especially important for recording DJ mixes and listeners ears.
Hertz (Hz) – Is derived by the cycles per second of an audio wave.
Decibel (dB) – Is a logarithmic unit to measure sound volume.
Pitch – Pitch is dictated by audio wave frequency.
High EQ – Ranges from 5,000 to 20,000 Hz. This frequency range generally includes higher pitch range instruments including hi-hats. cymbals, vocals and synths.
Mid EQ – Frequencies which range from 200 to 5,000 Hz. Associated with lead instruments and some percussion, including piano, rhodes, snare, lead synths etc.
Low EQ – Frequencies between 20 & 200 Hz, generally associated with sub basslines (20-50 Hz) and kick drums (50-200 Hz).
Full Kill EQ – EQ switch that completely kills the volume until silent for a specific frequency.
Shape EQ – Frequency shaping without making a specific frequency silent.
1) Understand the Goal of EQ in DJing
When DJing the overall goal when using EQ is to:
Utilise EQ to allow audio frequencies to sound clear to the listener with also managing the overall amplitude of the audio via the use of the DJ mixer.
This means that you need to use EQ switches to balance frequencies of two separate tracks to not increase overall amplitude, otherwise the sound will be rather muddy and awful to listen to. You can also use gain (trim) switches to control and compliment EQ too.
So the advice here is to make sure you counter balance the EQ of each channel. For example say track A you turn down the EQ by 40%, turn track B up by about the same amount. This works well if you’re playing two tracks in the mix, then you can blend out the two tracks thereafter with an EQ transition or using the cross fader.
2) Know Your Mixer EQ Intensity: Full Kill vs Gradual
Certain brands of DJ mixers have set EQ on kill switches to different degrees of shaping EQ. Some indeed fully kill EQ for a channel that sound is arriving to and others will taper down EQ by a certain level of dBs.
Point being it’s worth being aware of the EQ model for each DJ mixer that you’re playing with, all mixers are slightly different.
My Behringer DJX750 DJ mixer has extra EQ kill switches, for example to immediately cut the bass or high treble out of the sound without a gradual progression. If I cut the bass with the low using the kill switch button, I can then still apply the low EQ filter knob to further filter adding to the EQ effect.
3) Bassline Swapping in Mix Transitions
If you’re into your music, and specific genres such as Drum & Bass or House music, then you have more than likely heard DJs cut the bass of another track when mixing into another.
Keeping the flow of a DJ mix is really important. It keeps the energy high and the crowd dancing.
A great technique to blend in a track into another is by dropping a new tune [a] into the mix AND cutting the bass of the existing tune [b] playing. Low bassline frequencies can really sound awful and clash tremendously. The result can sound unprofessional and distorted.
Once the new track has been dropped into the mix, with the existing bassline cut and filtered out, you can start to use the mid and high frequencies to fade out allowing the new track to shine through.
4) Add ‘Mid’ EQ for Vocals to Stand Out
In the midst of a transition between two tracks, you’ll sometimes face a situation where the vocals get overshadowed by an existing track that’s playing.
The sound in the mix can sound really muddy and not fun to listen to, especially as you’re bringing in the new track to attract the attention of your audience.
The tip and trick here is to add Mid EQ by turning up the filter knob slightly. To balance out the sound, try turning down the Mid EQ of the opposite track to counteract the effect. This is a great way to pop out the vocals of a new track arriving to the DJ set. From there you can use the crossfader to then say good bye to the old track by fading it out or using the kill switch for a fast exit.
NOTE: Don’t mix two songs together that both have the vocals playing at the same time. My advice above is related to mixing a track with the instrumental aspect of a track with the new track being mixed in with catchy vocals standing out.
5) Tone Matching for Older Tracks
If you’re like me, I love the old Ibiza dance music from the ’90s. Older tracks can have varying degrees of EQ and mastering applied to them. In some cases I’ve come across older tracks with more muddy sounds to them, by this I mean less high frequencies applied. Also the final master is no way near as loud as the modern music of today.
The tip here is to know this for each track before mixing, or at least notice it on your laptop before mixing. This way you can apply the relevant frequencies to help stand out in the mix. This is especially important if you’re mixing in and out of new and old tracks.
6) Use Your Ears & Practice EQ Transitions
When you’re new to DJing in most cases it’s best to simply get to know your music by practicing different mixes of tracks. My advice here is to use two tracks that you really like and that you know mix well together.
This way it gives you the opportunity to not worry about where you are about to mix in the two tracks together in terms of matching phrases together. Therefore giving you room to really hone in your skills of using the EQ filters and/or EQ kill switches.
Trial and error is a fantastic part of learning EQ transitioning which allows your memory and musical ear to understand what works well and not so great for specific tracks and even genres.
7) EQ Only Full Mix Transitions
As discussed briefly above, some mixers enable full isolation of the EQ by cutting it completely.
You use this to your advantage by cutting all the frequencies of a track using the EQ knobs the lowest on all. Put the crossfader to the middle once you’ve got the beat matched together, then slowly utilise the EQ knobs to transition the new track in to the mix.
While doing so, using the EQ knobs of the existing live track, lower those until the new track has fully transitioned over.
This technique makes for a really great smooth sound transition if you’ve matched the sections of the tunes well together. Really useful if mixing two breakdowns together too.
8) Isolate Percussive Drum Intros into the Transition
You can mix in a track easily that has a decent sounding drum or percussion riff as an intro. If that the track doesn’t have a breakdown and purely builds up into the drop section then even better. Transition the new track by cutting the Low to about 90% & Mid EQ by about 60-70%. Use the crossfader to blend in the new track in the breakdown of the existing track.
The key here is to line up the two tracks so that they both drop into the new chorus (or drop into the basslines together). This way you can either 1) cut the existing track altogether on the new tracks bassline drop or 2) switch the EQ over altogether allow to the old track become the percussive sound and the new track to flourish with it’s bassline.
9) Harmonics Cannot Be Substituted by Using EQ
Various instruments emit different harmonic frequencies alongside foundational frequencies. Certain harmonies are compatible with each other. This is why it’s not possible to simply cut out harmonies and melodies of a track using high, mid or low frequencies using a mixer.
Therefore the point and tip here when DJing is that it’s important to still consider compatible harmonies of each track. This will allow for melodies to blend together smoothly without sounding completely horrific and unprofessional.
My advice here would be to check out a software called ‘Mixed In Key’. This software is great for showing tracks that are of compatible harmonies.
10) Test EQ According to Your Environment & Equipment
Not all gear is the same! All headphones, mixers and speakers are different, so if you’re using new headphones that you’ve just bought or using the headphones at the club your playing at test them out using EQ.
The same goes for speakers in a club too, turning up the Mid EQ might sound great on your speakers at home, but super harsh in a club.
Always test out the EQ in a new venue that you’re not familiar with, try switching down the EQ knobs fully down to see what it sounds like on the speakers and headphones. It will give you an idea of how sensitive the EQ is being played out of the speakers in relation to the EQ settings on the mixer.
11) Set EQ Levels Neutral for Your Next Track
Not going to lie here, I’ve used to do this quite a bit when starting out as a DJ. I used to leave the EQ settings of the old track on while I was mixing in a new track.
Before you starting mixing in a new track, always look to set the EQ levels to neutral beforehand. This will allow you to set the EQ levels correctly for the next track. Trust me on this one, you don’t want to drop in a new track with a heavy sub bassline with forgetting that you left the LOW EQ on full cut. Doh!
What does EQ do?
EQ stands for Equalizer. EQ can be used to subtract or add audio volume of certain frequencies within the audio spectrum. It can be used in DJing or music production to help make room for certain frequencies of two or more audio tracks. EQ helps multiple audio tracks sound clear when played together, preventing audio becoming too amplified or busy in sound.