How to use FX to shape your sound | Beat Making Basics #7
Let’s get stuck into the bells and whistles of beat making: FX. This is where you polish and refine your beat to sounding professional and ready for outside ears. When reading this, remember that all of the FX we mention throughout come included when you download Serato Studio.
A good understanding of the ins and outs of how to use FX is the difference between getting a track that’s 90% there and a track that’s 100% there.
That’s all it is – but it’s a crucial 10%.
FX (effects) are how you add flavor and life to your track. They bring everything to life, creating sonics and dynamics that are crucial in developing your own unique sound.
Have you ever heard a song, and thought: “I really like this but it’s missing something, and I can’t figure out what.”
FX. That’s what.
Basic FX overview
Put simply, FX are functions that you can apply to instruments/samples in your song that manipulate the way they sound. There are many FX that do different things, so here’s a quick overview of five popular FX, and when to use them:
The reverberation of the sound you play after it has done so. Think of it like an audio shadow – it’s a tail of sound that remains after the instrument is triggered.
Adding delay means that as a note is played, there is an after effect of a quieter version of this note being played again after the note has finished.
Phasing is an FX device that purposely draws an instrument from the highest frequencies to the lowest ones, and back again – creating a metallic sweeping effect.
Panning is all about left versus right. It comes in the form of a knob that can be hard turned to the left, the right or transition from one to the other. It’s a really great effect for creating a sonic, immersive listening experience – especially when wearing headphones.
Sidechaining is a little bit abstract, but hearing the difference in sound in the embedded player below should clear things up.
Sidechaining is a style of compression which you apply to one channel, and link it to another. If you link channel A to channel B, it means that when channel B plays, channel A ducks out.
Here’s a practical example.
If you put a sidechain compressor on a synth, and assign it to a kick drum (one of the most common forms of sidechaining), when the kick drum hits, the synth ducks out. This creates a pumping effect for the synth instrument that is widely used in genres like House and Future Bass.
Give your track more ‘space’ and texture.
Space and texture are pretty vague terms, but they seem to get thrown around a lot.
When referring to space, it’s about appropriately filling the gaps in sound that are present in your track. As mentioned above, effects like delay and reverb which extend the duration of an instrument’s sound are a great way to achieve this.
Texture is all about layering – bringing depth to an instrument so it doesn’t seem so ‘thin’ or one dimension. FX like phasing, which generate new sounds from the existing ones you’ve created are an easy way to do this without having to try and add any new layers.
Three hot FX tips
There are so many FX techniques for so many different reasons that it would be impossible to list them all. Here’s three that you can try out, but remember: using FX is all about experimentation. Play around with all the different features and see what they do – you’ll eventually develop an inclination towards the ones you prefer to use.
Sidechaining: try sidechaining all held keys instruments and pads. To counter it, have a short, snappy bass line (not sidechained) with minimal reverb and release. They’ll sit together with a nice contrast.
Compressors: great for making drums sound squashed and polished – especially in EDM. Work the compressor and reverb together, you’ll get a great result.
Delays: don’t create busy key patterns – create simple ones, and make them a bit more tricky with a delay FX. It comes across a lot smoother and is far easy to change back if you end up deciding against it.