Building Potential Energy
Before the drop comes the build up. If you want to make your drop hit hard you gotta raise the stakes before. It’s just like gravity. This article is all about making compelling build ups that engage and emotionally charge your performance and make it memorable. What goes up must come down, and if you want to do the best build ups you have to learn the balance of tension and release. As a DJ you have a bunch of software and hardware tools and effects available at your disposal.
Beat rolls are one of the simplest ways to create an easy tension in a live performance. These effects are called Beat Masher in Traktor and a Loop Rolling in Serato. This is about as easy as it gets but it’s foundational and done right still sounds amazing. You need to practice and build an intuitive feel to properly manage when to build the tension with the beat roll in a song.
Beat roll allows you to create tension immediately with the push of a button just before a major point in a song. Doing so will stop the song from progressing while a beat loops until release. At which point the song will play like nothing happened. Drop, drop, drop, the beat. This tension is created from stopping the track to focus on a specific beat rhythm.
One trick with the beat roll is to transition through the values through larger to incrementally smaller loops. That means start with a big beat value on the down beat, then engage the next smallest value on a down beat in the created loop, then smaller until a hyper fast beat is looped. For example you start beat rolling an 8 count, then on beat you beat roll it to 4 beats, 2, then one. The tension builds as the song hits a fever pitch. The release jumping back to the song will drive your audience crazy with such an amazing build up.
Sweeps and builds
These guys are a little different from beat rolls in they don’t pause the track to focus on a segment. Instead they work to create a new sound by making the existing track fuller and more hectic. Again this adds to the whole charging the audience before the release but it’s done in a different way. Practice will once again rain king as you learn when this works and when it sounds terrible.
So for this one you’re going to need a controller or mixer with a delay function. All you need to do is add in a small delay at around 1 beat, then over the course of a few beats (8 to 16) ramp it up to it’s max value to spike the energy of the song. Then quickly drop the delay and release the tension.
If you really want to get balls to the wall crazy and your gear allows you to set the delay to post fader or master. What you do is set your delay to your channel post fader. Then bounce this channel in and out using your cross fader. Basically you send parts of the song into the delayed channel through the cross fader by flicking it in and out making a ridiculously cool effect that builds some massive tension.
This works really well with the echo effects, but reverb and a few others also work real well. Experiment and definitely try new things to see how you can craft some amazing build ups through manipulating the energy of a song. Don’t just stick to the higher energy side of the spectrum, if you figure out ways to drop the energy you can make even deeper drops after the cliff as well. Also as with anything don’t overdo it. Sometimes subtlety is king. Practice will raise your intuition on what the perfect amount is and smooth out your show.