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Last updated 17 August, 2023

Echo is one of the most commonly used and pleasing effects in music, and a great tool for the creative DJ. So in this article, we’ll look at what it is, why it’s a great effect to use, and how to get started experimenting with it in your own DJing. We’ll also point you towards some further training if you’d like to learn more.

What is echo?

Echo is an audio effect that creates a distinct repetition of a sound, similar to the reflection of sound waves bouncing off surfaces in a room or an open space. You can think of Echo as an audible repetition of a sound, that gradually fades away over time. It’s different from a reverb, because you hear distinct repetitions – a reverb gives you more of an overall sense of space.

Read this next: 3 Essential Effects Every DJ Needs To Know

It has always been used in music production to add depth, space, and ambience to recordings, but it has also been a feature baked into DJ tech for decades to create similar effects, initially on the microphone and later on the music channels. Along with filter, echo was one of the first effects to be widely included on DJ software and gear.

From Jamaica to the world

The first DJs to use echo were the sound system reggae DJs from Jamaica in the 1970s. The “dub” echo that defined the dub genre was created using tape echo to create psychedelic sounds and unique sonic landscapes, like live remixes – indeed, it’s so iconic that some DJ gear and software still has a “dub echo” effect to this day.

In modern gear and software, echo can have many different names and variations: Ping Pong, Low Cut, Dub, Echo Out, etc. It is also typically a “beat effect” – that is, it can be (and usually is) locked to the tempo of the track it is used on – although that can be changed creatively, as we’ll see.

The “Dub Echo” Sound Color FX built into Pioneer DJ’s DJM-A9 mixer.

Why use echo?

If you only ever use one effect, we’d argue that this is the one to master. Here are some of the places you’ll notice echo being used in DJing:

  • For creating / improving transitions – Echo is a great tool for seamless mixes between tracks, smoothing out the transition and adding a sense of continuity, for a cohesive flow between different songs or genres. It can also be used to create rhythmic effects during transitions, adding flair and interest to the mix
  • For creating / enhancing build-ups and drops – Echo can be used to build anticipation and create impactful drops in your DJ sets. By applying echo to specific elements, such as breakdowns, vocals, synths, or percussion, you can gradually build tension and excitement before releasing it at the drop, adding your own stamp to your tracks
  • For adding extra performance “spice” to sets – Once you have a simple toolkit of echo techniques in your skills, you can pepper them throughout your DJ sets to add performance flourishes, especially during the more “boring” parts of tracks. You’ll be a DJ who is actually doing something when you’re doing all those knob and button tweaks, that your audience can hear and react to, and you’ll be treating your decks more like a musical instrument to express yourself in the moment, rather than just a way to get from one track to the next
In one demo from our Digital DJ Lab “Action Plan”, we add a bit more excitement to the pre-breakdown of “Sting” by Tenacious. By using the echo effect and switching between beat values creatively (1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4), the synth line now bounces around a bit and adds more interest.

So – hopefully you’re convinced now that echo is worth mastering. Let’s move on to see how to use it when DJing:

Using Echo Like A Pro

As with most things to do with DJing, actually doing it – experimenting, and (ideally) recording what you do so you can listen back away from your gear – is the best way to figure out techniques that could work for you. Here’s how to start:

  1. Locate the Echo effect in your DJ software / hardware and find out how to assign it to different channels and enable / disable it on your gear – You may have various echo effects, so do experiment, but just using the most basic echo effect will be a great start
  2. Find out how to control the dry/wet mix for the echo effect – This is often called level / depth. Think of this as a volume control, determining how much of the echo you will hear over the playing music. If you have this control fully over to “wet’ – you will ONLY hear the echo
  3. Find out how to select the “beat value” of the echo effect – This is how many times the echo will repeat per beat. A one-beat echo repeats every beat and a 1/4-beat echo repeats four times every beat, for example
  4. Experiment with the three settings above, getting an understanding of how echo sounds over your music, and how it changes when you make adjustments to the level and beat values – One of the “Action Plans” in our Digital DJ Lab subscription package teaches many ways to do this, so if you’d like us to show you this, click here to learn more
  5. Add / remove EQ frequencies, and try combining the echo with the filter knob, to give further colour and versatility to how you use it – Doing so will help you to make the echo more subtle, and give it more colour and flavour, which can sound great within a beatmix with another track

Finally…

Whether using it during transitions, alongside build-ups and drops, or as extra spice to level up a performance, echo is a great tool for the creative DJ, so listen for opportunities to use it in your own mixing.

Listen out for echo in all the music you play. You’ll notice producers using it a lot. One of the best ways to think about echo when it comes to adding it to your DJ sets is to “complement and accentuate” – in other words, adding to what is already in the records. Here’s some ideas on how to use echo when DJing:

  • If you play a track with a nicely echoed vocal, why not play an acapella soon in your set, and add a similar echo to it, to “glue” that part of your set together, and offer some pleasing continuity to your audience?
  • If you’re playing a track where you hear echo being used to accentuate the build-ups, why not dial a similar echo in yourself to accentuate what’s already there, making people wonder “what’s this awesome, more extreme version the DJ is playing?”
  • If you play a dub track with heavily echoed percussion, why not echo the percussion on the tracks surrounding it, to create a mini-dub flavoured part of your performance, and show that you didn’t play the dub track randomly or by mistake?

Remember, inside our Digital DJ Lab subscription programme, alongside scores of other “Action Plans”, we have one dedicated to this topic, where we demonstrate how to use echo when DJing, and show you lots of ways of putting all of this into action.

Click here to learn more about Digital DJ Lab.

Click here for your free DJ Gear and software guide

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