Using effects in EDM is something that you just can’t run away from. While producing, you almost always end up using some sort of effect on your tracks. These effects can include compression, reverb, delay, distortion, or even saturation.
While none of these are “essential” to making a great track, they can improve the overall feel. They can also ruin your track. Today, we’re going to go over how to use effects In EDM like a pro.
As I got more and more into production, I started to become more and more comfortable using different types of effects in my EDM tracks. Because I was more comfortable, I felt like I knew what I was doing. Because I felt like I knew what I was doing, I never cared to do much research in how to use effects in EDM.
Until I was getting paid to work on other people’s tracks, I didn’t understand the property use of effects in EDM.
I needed to really focus on doing more research, and being open to learning. That’s when I realized I’d been using reverb wrong this entire time. I used to drown my sounds out with reverb, to the point that it was greatly affecting my mix in a negative way. Reverb is something that you will almost always use in many different instances. However, there seems to be a consistent trend with, even well put together tracks by producers: overuse of reverb. You can easily spot this when their songs sound “cloudy” or have a sense of an “overcrowded” feeling with few tracks.
An easy way to spot this is to look directly at how much reverb you’re using. If you have a lot of layered sounds, with 30%+ mix of your reverb on each track, it’s a quick assumption that you’re using too much. Think of it this way, the more layers you have the less reverb you want to use on each layer. The more reverb you add to each layer, the more reverb is floating around in space. However, I would still even argue that 30% reverb mix on one lead is too much!
Now, obviously, music is a very subjective format and there are absolutely no rules. Especially when it comes to Effects in EDM.
Except if you want to make, let’s say a top 40 Pop track. Then there are some rules to the use of reverb. If you’re going for a faraway, looming release sound, thenby all means, overuse reverb. However, if you want a more controlled mix, you’ll need to learn the proper use of reverb. What do I mean by “proper” use? Light reverb! Don’t destroy your track with a reverb mix of 60%, aim for something in between 5% – 15%, 20% at most! Learn to use less to give it just a slight edge, adding depth and the sense of a bigger sound.
Usually the goal with reverb, is you want your sound to seem bigger than it truly is, and that it has more depth than it truly does. When finding out what the best percentage is for your track, drastically raise it from 0% – 100%, back down to 0% until you find that happy middle. Move your mix up and down while you solo and un-solo the track. Eventually, you’ll find the right mix.
There’s another key element to your reverb, which is the frequency spectrum. This is usually shown by 2 different knobs or sliders, near or next to your mix knob/slider. This is where you’re given even more control over your reverb. If you have a lead that sits between 600htz – 1000htz, there’s no point in adding reverb to anything below 600htz.
However, I don’t like to add much reverb to my low mids/low end whatsoever. Even if you have a lead that sits around 400htz, I would suggest cutting the reverb out of that as well. When this happens, you clear out a ton of space and clutter in your mix, allowing all of your low/mid-low/mid frequency sounds to breathe and cut through the mix so much more. Just remember that reverb is all about small, subtle changes.
Delay is among other common effects used in EDM. Delay’s carry the same kind of characteristics as reverb.
As opposed to reverb, delay is an effect that duplicates the last signal process and continues to do so until it has met the end of the feedback loop. You can make this effect shorter, longer, faster, or slower.
Similar to reverb, you want to look for a more subtle and light use of delay. Unless you want a very chaotic sounding delay, make sure you keep your mix around the same place, 5% -15%.
This allows you to, again, gain more control over your mix and sounds that sit together. Just like reverb, within most delay plugins, you’ll be able to control which frequency you want the delay to be focused in, giving you even more control over your delay effect.
One of my favorite delay effects is the ping-pong delay. This is an effect that sends the delay from one ear to the other flipping back and forth in a “ping-pong” effect. Combine this with a pluck and some automation and you’ve got a really great delay effect.
When I was a younger producer, I always used to go straight for the tempo delays, ½, ¼, ⅛ delays. I felt like these were the best route to go. It wasn’t until a bigger producer friend of mine suggested the use of timed delays.
Flip that switch on your delay plugin and try it out, use milliseconds, instead of the global tempo of your track. You get much better control out of your delays, plus it gives you the freedom to make more minor adjustments. Ultimately allowing you to make cooler delay effect sounds!
Nick Fever’s Delay Calculator is one of the best free web devices to use to determine the length of delay, depending on the BPM of your track.
Like reverb, as I stated before, it’s all about being subtle with the use of your delay, adding additional reverb, compression, or saturation can be a great way to put emphasis on your delay.
Saturation is one of the more underrated effects in EDM that many seem to disregard.
Ever have a sound that you just can’t get to go that extra mile? You’re looking for something to add that will give it a grit, an edge, some real powerful character, but you keep falling short.
This is where saturation can help take over. Some light saturation will add bright harmonical colors to your sound that can leave a great feeling over your body, it’s that spine chilling feel that you just can’t get anywhere else.
Like reverb, you need to respect the use of saturation. Oversaturation can actually cause your sounds to lose energy. They land flat, and you destroy the dynamic range of your track, similar to compression. Saturation is harmonic distortion. As you saturate, your plugin is physically adding harmonics to your sound in a colorful distortion pattern.
This can lead the most boring sound to a powerful and energetic destination. That extra edge you’ve been looking for. One of my favorite saturation tool that I almost always use is FabFilter’s Saturn!
One last thing I’d like to talk about before I end this article is about the order in which your effects chain in EDM is setup.
The order in which your FX are placed in your chain will considerably determine the end sound you achieve.
Some people will tell you the order in which you MUST place things. Though there are certain things I think need to go before others in a processing chain, I don’t think it really matters at the end of the day. I trust that you know what sound you’re going for, and because of that the order in which you place the FX in your chain is up to you.
However, it’s important for you to really experiment with the order of your FX chain. As I said before, the order in which you place your FX will considerably determine the end sound you achieve, so experiment! Don’t overdo it, but try out different orders! You’d be surprised by the cool things you can come up with by simply putting the reverb before your compressor, or vice versa.
At the end of the day, your effects will come down to your taste. The order in which you place your effects in EDM will come down to your taste. But the most important thing to remember from this article is that less is more. Don’t overdo stuff, it can become confusing and convoluted. It’s vital to make things make sense for your listeners. It’s easier for them, and if it’s easier for them, it’s usually easier for you.